Creating a Culture of Excellence - by Tom Cuffe: Coach, Athletic Consultant and Motivational Speaker
As we close out the 2020 calendar year, we may be looking inward at the best way to improve ourselves professionally going forward into 2021. Gone are the days of the old school, traditional coaches and their antiquated ways. The modern-day coach will take a more well-rounded, comprehensive and integrated approach to interacting with their athletes; in contemporary jargon we now call this the holistic or humanistic methodology. The goal, in part, is to develop positive relationships, instill lifelong values and build a sturdy and sustainable athletic and life foundation by creating a culture of excellence in which each athlete is treated with dignity, respect and a sense of worth. Granted over the years there have been some progressive, as well as, successful coaches who have utilized many of the ideas I shall espouse here in their leadership philosophies, the goal is to get more “outside the box” thinkers on board.
Here I will give you some of the impactful strategies I have employed over the years, and I’m still utilizing, in order to get the most out of not just the athlete but more importantly the person I’ve been trusted to guide and mentor. The four areas of concentration I have focused on in my career over the years, in order to develop the entire individual, the entire athlete and the entire citizen are to evolve and enrich them academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. Whereas, these four topics are not new by any means combining them into a cogent, cohesive and actionable plan can be challenging but quite rewarding. I will give some fundamental thoughts on each, which you can expand upon.
▪️ Academics: Always be diligent to check on the academic progress of your
student-athletes, this concern is vital. Be sure to have a peer tutoring program for
your athletes that may struggle in the classroom or for those that may need
assistance with advanced theory. Tutoring by a member of the team is very effective
and builds a strong bond between teammates. If necessary, put your lower achieving
athletes on a daily report to be signed by their instructor and returned to you to chart
progress and to catch any deficiencies.
▪️ Athletics: As the leader you need to be as knowledgeable as possible in your
main event. But you should also be well-versed in all disciplines/techniques of your
sport. Be sure to continue your athletic education by going to clinics, seminars and
to be a voracious reader of technical journals. Be sure to share your knowledge and
expertise in a professional way to enhance the athletic experience of your team
members. Intelligent design is the most important way to approach your training
plan and competition plan. Be sure to be thoroughly prepared for every practice
session. Be the consummate professional at practice as well as at your competitions.
▪️ Social: Whereas it may not officially be in our purview to oversee our athlete's
social interactions we can set a high moral standard of ethical and moral behavior for
them to emulate. We can set standards and guidelines (see the list below) for
interaction on the team which can then spill over into their personal lives.
▪️ Spiritual: By spirituality I am not speaking about religion, no far from it. By
spirituality I mean a way of life, a joyous celebration of nature and an appreciation of
all that surrounds us on the planet. The American Indians speak of the “spirit in the
sky” - in Indian/Eastern philosophy they speak about “karma” - Platoism and Kantian
(Immanuel Kant) theories are at the root of transcendentalism. Interestingly Ralph
Waldo Emerson was one of the original pioneers in the idea of spirituality as a
distinct field. Lastly, spirituality is related to humanistic psychology and certainly
there can be a mystical quality to it but at the end of the day the individual is looking
for the true self, free expression and inner peace. There is some fascinating reading
out there on this particular topic.
These four pillars when studied, analyzed and incorporated in your program will give you the underpinnings to continually enhance your coaching and life acumen. At the end of the day, as coaches, we have been given a monumental responsibility to guide young people in all facets of their life, not just treat them as an athletic machine who delivers on the day. It has been my experience that whatever level: professional, recreational, collegiate, high school, or middle school that every coach can benefit from studying, understanding and implementing the principles of these four diverse areas of concentration which are intricately intertwined. Remember, that we all need to be advancing as well as evolving in our profession and sharing our knowledge with others, which is the greatest gift to give. I enthusiastically endorse adding these to your coaching tool box!
I will leave you with the 10 major tenets which I have found to be tremendously impactful on leading and guiding young people to the top of the mountain. They are:
3. Collective Responsibility
About Tom Cuffe:
Athletic Consultant and Coach Tom Cuffe has a wealth of coaching and athletic administrative experience. After guiding successful programs at Monsignor Farrell HS, NY, Duke University and the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) he now works organizing track & cross-country meets as a meet director and director of operations. He is also a personal trainer and designs training programs for athletes around the country. Tom has spent 48 years in the sport of distance running & athletics at various levels including an All-American running career both on the track and on the roads and still trains at a high level daily. He has coached high school and collegiate athletes to the highest pinnacles of success nationally including NCAA championships, ACC championships and numerous All-American honors. He has mentored both young and old to personal best athletic performances, Coach Cuffe's success formula has been proven to produce results.
Tom's experience extends beyond the coaching ranks, as he has anchored the Penn Relays Sports Desk for Nike with world class athletes Ashton Eaton (2 time Olympic Champion and World Record Holder) and Trey Hardee (World Champion). Coach has also done race commentary for Flo-Track and MileSplit over the years. He served on the original selection committee for the Nike Team Nationals Cross-Country Championships, now Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) and was the New York Ambassador for Nike. Coach Cuffe spent 15 years as the Editor for the New York State Sportswriters Association weekly cross country poll. In addition, Tom has worked with the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation (NSAF) in putting on the indoor and outdoor National Track & Field Championships as well as the USA Meet of Champions as their director of operations and logistics.
Regarded as one of the sport's top motivational speakers, Coach Cuffe has previously been a guest speaker at the United States Olympic Training Center, the US National Coaches Convention, the New York State Coaches Convention and numerous summer running camps across the country most prominently the Duke Running Camp, Five Star Cross-Country Camp and The Running Academy.