Brian Polian’s book outlines what it takes to coach the next generation
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – The landscape of college football has changed- not just from 20 to 30 years ago but continually with each new class of student athletes.
This past off season- Notre Dame Special Teams Coach- Brian Polian released a book- written during the pandemic- that is focused on keeping up with today's players.
"'You have to honor the relationship before you can ever ask them to honor a task.' And that one sentence really crystalized every (inaudible) that had been rattling around in my mind."
Advice from a Catholic high school head master while on a recruiting trip- resonated with Notre Dame Special Teams Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Brian Polian- and he called upon that conversation as he started writing his first book, “Coaching and Teaching Generation Z: Honor the Relationships.”
"It was always a part of my DNA, but that was just my makeup. I mean, the relationships are the reason I got into the profession."
Brian has some pretty good football genes- his father is pro Hall of Fame Executive- Bill Polian- who led the Buffalo Bills to 3 straight Super Bowl appearances and eventually won the championship with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007.
"I think more than anything else he taught me and I have subscribed to this my entire career. It is a people business. It is people first. And that was him. He always treated the players, coaches and support staff with the utmost respect. Because he knew it was their blood, sweat and tears that went into trying to win. And I've always taken that with me."
“I think it's true of any business. The only one I can speak to is the football business. But, you know, when you leave you miss competition. You miss, as Vince Lombardi said, 'the sound of fury.' But most of all you miss the relationships. You miss the friends you come to rely on day in and day out. In many respects for life. It underscores the fact that life is about relationships."
Polian also drew inspiration from Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly- after the Irish went 4-and-8 in 2016, Kelly revamped the entire program- and it started by listening to his players needs.
“That has been the single biggest learning experience, that someone who's that accomplished was willing to listen and say you know, they're right, here’s what we need to get fixed. And we went out and fixed it and since that time we're 43-and-8."
The book also focuses on how Polian has seen a change in the way he needs to communicate with his players.
"I'm part of this generation that's been forced to adjust (inaudible) if you don't adjust, we get left behind. Some guys are just out of the profession. This group is so different than what it was even 4 years ago. You really have to be mindful that they've grown up on technology. The fact that I can have a really meaningful, impactful discussion with a student athlete now via text, 10 years ago would have been crazy, right? But, there are portions of this generation that grow up with social anxiety. They don't want to sit in your office, they kind of fidget in their chair, look at their seat but then at night you can get a guy in a text for 45 minutes and he'll bare his soul."
Polian says what worked in the past no longer works today.
“Very careful when we are critical of a performance, if it's something that really needs correcting, I'm going to do it in a 1-on-1 setting. When I'm really trying to make a point, I'm not going to raise my voice, I'm gonna lower it. I'm never gonna use foul language when I'm making a correction. Now, when they do something great, I may use it as an exclamation point to celebrate it, because we're still dealing with college kids."
“Maybe some old school guys might say this generation is soft, you have to coddle them.”
Allison: “How would you kind of characterize this generation and how it's different?"
Brian: “There are things we can't do in practice that we did 10 years ago. There are ways that we adjust that we physically do things, so why can't we adjust the way we teach and approach them mentally and emotionally. An approach to mental health didn't exist 10 years ago. Now it's a really important thing, an important part of how we care for our student athletes... Look kids are kids. In the end, you have to learn who's buttons you can press and how you approach them and that's the challenge of being a coach, or a teacher or a parent. Learning that I have to approach each of them individually."