In every sport you grow up playing as a kid, you have a coach. I never questioned why there were coaches in every sport, I just assumed each team needed one. One day as I warmed the bench on my 10-and under baseball team, I had an epiphany. “Why is the coach considered so important if he can’t directly influence a player to make a catch, or get a hit?.” A coach can’t be in the game at the same time as the player, so why is there so much stock put into having a good coach? Is the role of coach mostly about planning, or can it be more than that? This led me to the big question. Does a coach have more influence in one sport than another? Let’s look at the major American sports to find out.
In my opinion, coaching matters the least in basketball. Any NBA team with a couple of All-Stars can easily make the playoffs, no matter the coaching situation. Case in point, Cleveland Cavaliers. A team who had a coach from overseas who the team didn’t respect, but still made it to the NBA Finals led by LeBron James. Case in point, the Golden State Warriors. A team with an untested rookie coach, was anchored by MVP Steph Curry and one of the most complete players in the league, Draymond Green. They still dominated throughout the season and won the NBA championship. In the NBA, the general manager controls the trades and has the final say, not the coach. The most a NBA coach can do is be a great player caller and leader, a la Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
A baseball manager also has little influence on a game. You can’t really call plays in a baseball game, besides signaling for a steal or bunt. These days, good baseball teams are often built by spending big money on the best players to create a super-team. Coaches often end up having to manger player’s egos more than the games themselves. The only in-game changes a manager can make are substitutions the lineup. However this can sometimes pay off in clutch situations. Ask Red Sox fans about pinch runner Dave Roberts.
Hockey is right in the middle of the list. A coach can be important because he creates the lines (players who are on the ice at the same time), which is important for the chemistry of the team. If a good team is playing well together, they can be hard to stop. You rarely see an NHL head coach giving specific instructions to a player, but is instead more likely to be seen encouraging a player. It should also be pointed out that a team with All-Star caliber players is far more likely to do well that a team without them. Pieces are added and subtracted over the course of the season by the General Manager to try and make his team better In the NHL, the coaching position is a revolving door, and you never know who will be fired next.
Surprised? A lot of people (Americans) don’t know much about this sport. But as a long time player and follower of soccer, I’m here to tell you that being a football manager is one of the most important jobs in athletics. They are called “managers” because they are expected to manage the game using tactics, and also need to decide what combination of players to use. It doesn’t matter if it is a small team in the MLS, or a global entity like FC Barcelona, people’s eyes are always on the manager to perform. In soccer, a club’s success is directly linked to the manager. You can tell when a team enjoys playing for their manager. The effort is there. The swagger is there. And more times than not, the results will be there too.
Football is the most situational sport I can think of. During each play, 11 players on each team set up in different positions on the field with the intention of running a different place on the field than they did on the last play. A coach needs to prepare for every situation, and be able to count on a player to make a play no matter how goof they are. Patriots rookie corner Malcolm Butler was asked to make a play in one of the the biggest moments in Super Bowl history. Needless to say, he had been coached on the exact same play during practice earlier that week. I don’t need to tell you what happened next. Bellichick turned him into a star, and now his talent can’t be denied. Football coaches also must scout and build their team through draft picks. A player’s career is short in the NFL because of the violent nature of the sport, so a coach is tasked with finding the cream of the next crop of young players. Football is the ultimate team game, and a great coach is the mind behind a great team.