Nov 27, 2017
Positive Coaching

As Head Football Coach at San Marino (Calif.) High School since 2011, Mike Hobbie helped the team win the 2015 CIF Southern Section Central Division and advance to the CIF State Open Division final. He has also been named the Pasadena Star News and Mid Valley Sports Coach of the Year.

But what he is most proud of is winning a Double-Goal Coach award from the Positive Coaching Alliance in 2016. This award honors coaches who strive to win while also focusing on teaching life lessons. In the following interview, Hobbie talks about his coaching philosophy, giving feedback to players, and how to coach character.

What is your coaching philosophy?

I believe the essence of coaching is getting people to do what most benefits them and the team. But you can’t expect to do this by pushing the same button for everyone. I’ve worked with athletes who come from varying backgrounds, and through these experiences I’ve learned how to get different types of people to follow me.

One of my core values is that players will do more for you if they know you care about them. So I take every opportunity to talk with them about their families, their weekends, or whatever they are interested in. Once the kids know I care, it becomes a lot easier to earn their trust. When they know you believe in them, they don’t want to disappoint you.

What are your strategies for giving feedback to players?

I let my athletes know when they do something right and when they do something wrong. And I take their individual personalities into consideration. I size them up as to how they handle criticism and positive reinforcement. But I don’t shy away from being frank with them when needed. I’ll let them know if I’m disappointed they aren’t playing harder. They have to learn to take it all as instructive and constructive.

How do you teach your players life lessons through football?

I always touch on something related to character building in the closing speech of each practice. It’s too valuable a subject not to do that. Also, about once a week, I will speak longer on a topic that pertains to life. Usually it’s about preparing for adversity. And I try to use the game of football in my analogies.

For example, I like to talk about determination and persistence. On the first play of a game, you can get a bloody nose or have the wind knocked out of you. That physical challenge becomes a mental challenge pretty quickly. You can dwell on the pain or you can take your mind off it and work on the task at hand. Pretty soon that challenge is past and you have become a tougher person from working through it.

Football is full of aches and pains and there are many chances to give up. So we teach our players to keep their eyes on the goal ahead. What they thought was a pretty tough deal at the time ends up not being so tough because they worked their way through it.

After a great 2015 season, San Marino went 5-6 the next year. How do you adjust your coaching in this situation?

First you have to figure out why you are having just an okay season. I knew we would have a difficult time this year because a group of high achieving players graduated. The next group wasn’t oriented the same way. Some people play football for the love of it, and some play just to have fun and hang out.

Having leadership that is more happy-go-lucky than serious can be tough to combat. You have to pull those leaders aside and remind them of their position. I may say, “You didn’t ask to be leaders. You are just here to play football, but by nature of being a senior you are a leader.” I tell them that they are their brother’s keeper, so if a player is not giving enough effort, they need to speak up.

It can be hard, because they don’t want to tell their friend that something he is doing is detrimental to the team. They feel like it isn’t their business. But I tell them that when it comes to this team, it is their business. If they want to succeed, they have to be able to speak up.

What are your goals for your team?

To get better every day. I don’t focus on championships or records. I do talk in terms of what championship teams do, but I don’t make it sound as though we have to win. Of course, everybody wants to win. But when you are focused on that and then you don’t meet a milestone, you have to settle for the next one, and then the next one. I don’t want my kids playing to achieve those goals. I want them to play, first and foremost, for the love of the game.

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