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Book Review- “InSideOut Coaching”

Dr. Mark Hamilton

In the 2003 book Season of Life (Simon & Schuster) journalist Jeffrey Marx recounts his 1970’s childhood as a ball boy with the Baltimore Colts and his search to reconnect with many of these players twenty-five years later.   The book primarily focuses upon his reacquaintance with Joe Ehrmann, a former all-pro defensive tackle.   As a young player on the Colts Ehrmann loved to play football, but also loved life and he lived life on the edge actively engaging in a partying lifestyle.   Now many years later Marx discovers Ehrmann is a pastor in inner city Baltimore, with an active social ministry and is coaching football coach at Gilman High School.  Marx spends the 2001 football season shadowing Ehrmann and the Gilman team and writes of the unusual approach to coaching and relating to high school male athletes that Ehrmann takes.  Ehrmann teaches the players that being a man involves finding a transcendent cause bigger than themselves, accepting responsibility, and learning to love others.  Season of Life is quite inspiring and opens many doors for Ehrmann to share his approach to coaching nation-wide.  Now nearly a decade later Ehrmann had penned his own book describing in details his unique, humane, and might we even say his Christian approach to coaching. In our contemporary age when the church has become so worldly, it is refreshing to find a Christian who is seriously attempting to approach coaching youth within a truly Christian framework.

InSideOut Coaching is divided into two parts.  In the first part Ehrmann describes how he has developed his philosophy of coaching by relating numerous incidents in his youth and in college contrasting two types of coaches he had experienced.  The first are coaches who were impersonal, authoritarian, and sometimes abusive which he calls transactional coaches; this is in contrast to the humane coaches he calls transformative coaches.  The narratives he tells are powerful and detailed.  In this part of the book he emphasizes the opportunity and the power that coaches have to influence lives.  Coaches must face this responsibility because we all remember our coaches. “This is the awesome power and responsibility of coaching:  You give your players memories, for better or for worse that stay with them until the day they die” (46-47). In the light of this he asks, “What is the moral and ethical composition of their program?  What are they teaching about living an honorable life? Or do they only focus only on the win-loss record, mastery over the Xs and Os, and promotion of their own images and reputation?” (47). He explains the qualities he believes a coach should possess including dignity, integrity and grace.   In the first part there is also an excellent section describing and critiquing bullying coaches.  In the final chapter of the first part Ehrmann explains his own approach to relational coaching and the goal to make men of boys and women of girls.

In the second part Ehrmann specifically describes the pillars of his philosophy of Transformational Coaching.  It centers on manifesting and teaching virtue, including such ideas as liberty, respect, and moral courage.  In the second chapter of the second part Ehrmann argues for the educational value of athletics “and describes it as a classroom and thus cocurricular rather than extracurricular.  “The term ‘cocurricular’ designates sports as an educational activity with the potential to develop the academic, social, emotional, moral, and civic competency of every player….Extracurricular sports merely need players and a coach; Cocurricular sports demand student-athletes and a teacher-coach” (159). In this second half Ehrmann describes numerous virtues and how they can be applied both inside the athlete and manifested outside. Included are such values as empathy, justice and discipline.

Throughout the book Ehrmann interweaves amusing anecdotal narratives to elaborate on the staid moral points he is trying to establish.  One of the best is his description of how he became a better player and person through his twice a year square-offs with all-pro offensive lineman John Hannah.  These stories make the book very readable and entertaining while teaching countless lessons.  Ehrmann’s wife is trained in psychology which gives her access to a number of related studies that contribute to the accuracy of his cultural assessment but also causes the book to sound a bit too psychological at a few points.

Ehrmann states his well thought out revolutionary goal, “My intention in this book is to take back the spiritual and transformative side of the games our children play and restore sports to their original intent” (10).  Christians often speak about redeeming all of life but few think about applying redemption to the realm of sports.  Ehrmann seeks “reclamation of coaching” (43) or what could be called redemptive coaching.  Everyone who coaches should have a succinct philosophy of coaching; this is especially necessary for those who coach impressionable children.  This book will assist every coach to think through their philosophy of coaching, their motives for coaching and what their coaching goals ought to be.  To get a good introduction to Ehrmann’s approach watch a ten minute explanation on Youtube (A Different Way – Joe Ehrmann) found at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQRRGIaZjNs

Joe Ehrmann, InSideOut Coaching.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, Pp. 251, paper $24.00.

Posted in Book Review, Commentary.