Dec 1, 2017
Year After Year

As Head Coach at Wheaton College (Ill.), Mike Swider has amassed a 189-49 record, which ranks in the top 10 among current NCAA Division III coaches. The Thunder have reached the NCAA playoffs nine of the last 11 years and have won eight College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) titles over Swider’s tenure.

How do you develop and maintain a winning team for over two decades? Swider says the keys are being passionate about inspiring others and teaching players to develop a deep trust in each other.

Q: What has helped you shape a winning culture?

Swider: One thing I preach is that you must be driven by causes. Things like glory, ego, pride, and playing time are bad motivators. But causes are great motivators. What we try to do here is get 120 guys motivated by the cause of Wheaton football rather than by personal glory.

We talk about how true personal fulfillment never comes through self-gratification. It comes from putting a cause in front of yourself. We have a football team that is driven by something bigger than one person, and everybody is ready to fight for the guy next to him.

Q: What are some ways you accomplish this?

Swider: To do this, we focus on building relationships. Rules and demands without a relationship equals rebellion. Rules with a relationship equals a response.

I tell our coaching staff that when a player walks into your office, talking with him for 20 minutes is more important that watching film or scouting. When you take time to develop a personal relationship with a player, he will respond — and respond with passion — because he knows that the leadership loves and cares about him.

Q: What are your strategies for hiring and developing assistant coaches?

Swider: When hiring, the first things I look for are humility, selflessness, and a mentality that people matter. I’m interested in somebody who gets joy out of helping others and contributing to a cause. He must be passionate about providing a service to our players and our team.

In working with my staff, there is one main thing I tell them: “When you’re confronted with a decision, don’t ask yourself whether it will help us win. Ask yourself whether it is right or wrong. If it’s right, do it. If it’s wrong, don’t. If we do enough right things, we’ll win.” When coaches have this mentality, players will fight for them and our team will be successful.

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