In 2008, Tom Sexton began surveying athletes of all levels regarding the effectiveness of their coaches. Many of the stories in his book are the result of that survey. Some are inspirational, others are disappointing, or even disheartening. The wisdom gained, however, is priceless. Coach Sexton skillfully weaves nearly five decades of highly successful coaching, along with the living testimony of current and former athletes into a compelling and insightful book that is not only for coaches, but for anyone in a position of authority. It addresses the timeless question of how to gain the full cooperation of everyone involved, so that a team functions as smoothly and as effectively as possible. Creating A Team Like No Other clearly provides the answers.
Tom Sexton was born in Philadelphia in 1939 and raised in Oaklyn, New Jersey. He graduated from Camden Catholic in 1956 and immediately entered the Marine Corps and served honorably for the next few years. Tom attended St. Jerome’s College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada from 1959 until 1963. He then attended Villanova for one year obtaining his B.A. in philosophy. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Education from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Tom Sexton taught English for 37 years and learned early on that the more students felt respected, valued and appreciated by their teachers, the more motivated they were. This approach brings out the best both in the teacher and the students. Tom taught a course in Educational Psychology for over 10 years to teachers entitled Invitational Education which stressed the importance of positive reinforcement.
Tom knew from his own coaching experience that this same approach was effective with athletes yet he saw quite a bit of negative reinforcement in the world of coaching. Tom had his share of authority figures use this approach with him and he never found it to be motivational. When coaches would insult him or his teammates, Tom would simply turn them and their words off but would continue to work hard in spite of these coaches and their misguided approach. It always bothered Tom to see a young person have to stand there and take verbal abuse, embarrassment, insults, personal criticism, public humiliation etc. from a coach as the kids had no voice.
In 2004, Tom decided to create a similar course to the one he was teaching to teachers for coaches entitled Characteristics Of Inspirational Coaches. He began sending out surveys asking people to answer two questions: What did your coach do that was helpful and what did your coach do that was an obstacle to your development? Tom did not want his course to be based solely on what he believed. Therefore, he wanted to include the testimony of former and current athletes. He collected hundreds of stories, some inspiring and some disheartening. One thing that quickly became obvious was that coaches certainly leave their mark on their athletes in a positive or negative way. People had strong feelings about their coaches and could recall what their coaches said and did ten, twenty and even fifty years ago.
From 2004 until 2007 Tom read extensively on the lives of successful coaches and also read and reread the survey responses looking for recurrent themes, patterns etc. to see if he could draw any valid conclusions. He did draw two. The first one was that there is a coaching strategy that will keep most athletes motivated most of the time. The key ingredient in this strategy is how much athletes feel the caring and support of their coaches. This is what helped athletes the most. The biggest obstacle that stood in the way of the athletes’ motivation was how coaches made their players feel disrespected. Time and time again athletes as a group felt that being disrespected was always an obstacle to their development and motivation.
In 2007, Tom came upon an excellent book entitled Beyond Winning—The Timeless Wisdom of Great Philosopher Coaches by Gary M. Walton. This book contained the story of a truly legendary coach named Doc Counsilman who has the best win and loss record of any coach in the history of collegiate swimming. He coached at Indiana University from 1958 to 1990 and he based his coaching strategy on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Counsilman tried to meet certain basic needs of his athletes such as the need for safety, self-esteem, affection, a sense of belonging etc. He treated his swimmers like gold while having very high standards for them and his record speaks for itself. His teams were so successful that Life Magazine did a feature article on Doc and his program in 1954.
Tom thought to himself, “Now I have a face for my book as Counsilman promoted a coaching strategy I knew was effective, according to my own fifty years of coaching, according to the results of my survey results and according to the reading I had done of the lives of certain successful coaches.”
After reading the article, Tom Googled Doc Counsilman. After a series of phone calls, he was fortunate to make contact with a man named Dave Tanner, a very successful high school swimming coach in Bloomington, Indiana. Dave swam for Doc for four years and was his assistant for two years. More importantly Dave Tanner was like a son to Doc, visited daily in a rest home in Doc’s final years and truly loved Doc. Once Dave and Tom began to talk and exchange countless e-mails, the writing of Creating a Team like no Other really took off. Dave was thrilled that Tom was writing a book about Doc and he provided Tom with story after story and so much valuable information about Doc. Tom states that his book could not have been written without Dave Tanner coming into his life.
After reading and researching from 2004 until 2007, Tom had an abundance of material to work with: survey stories from current and former athletes, stories about Doc Counsilman, notes on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, additional notes based on Tom’s own extensive reading, and Tom’s own stories from fifty years of successful coaching.
What followed from 2007 to 2014 were seven years of writing and rewriting, and organizing and reorganizing. Tom was fortunate to find three excellent editors along the way who kept reminding him that his manuscript needed more work. Tom finished Creating A Team Like No Other in August of 2014.
Tom truly believes that his book can help coaches create the right environment so that true team formation takes place, which will result in high motivation and individual and team success. This book can help coaches avoid problems like hazing, coach-athlete confrontations, poor coaching behavior, and conflicts with parents, administrators, etc. Coaches who employ the strategies in this book will also enjoy their coaching more as they will be approaching their coaching from a more positive perspective.
Tom’s challenge is to get his book in the hands of coaches so they can consider a more positive and respectful approach with their athletes.