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Coaching for a Greater Purpose

By Geoff Richman
Coaching for a Greater Purpose

                     “Look out!”
                              “My bad!”
   “Nice catch!”

On a Saturday morning in the middle of January at the International School of Dusseldorf (ISD), from my perch above the bleachers, I have a look-in at both of the school’s gyms. In one are two games of three-on-three hoops, coed squads setting screens, rolling toward the rim, and popping out for contested jumpers.  The other hosts a ferocious game of dodgeball, players leaning back, Matrix-style, in an attempt to avoid the seismic thump off their chest. Now this is how to begin the day at a professional development conference!

More than one hundred of us have traveled to the “Home of the Lions” for the second iteration of Coaching for a Greater Purpose (CGP,) where, as the website proclaims, “what we do is bigger than teaching the Xs and Os of our particular sport; we teach the Ys of life through the medium of sport.” Coaches, trainers, and athletic directors from Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Spain, and the United Kingdom arrived for the opening speaker, community dinner, and (unsurprisingly) super-competitive sports trivia competition.

The keynote presenter, Mark Hull of 3D Institute, reminded us, “One coach will impact more people in one year than the average person does in a lifetime.” Forty-five minutes later he concludes his inspirational presentation by challenging each of us, “What legacy will you leave as a coach?”  

The first day’s program included workshops and roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “Coaching to Your School Values,” “Performance Nutrition for Student-Athletes,” and “Coaching Female Athletes.” I attended a conversation led by student-athletes from ISD. One of the adults asked our young panelists, “What makes a good coach?” The answers were:

“A good coach has a personal relationship with me as a person, not just a player.”

“They know my goals.”

“They make time to help me improve.”

“They recognize we are still teenagers.

Then they are asked, “What doesn’t work for you?” Their responses to this question are equally measured, if more immediate:

“A coach that leaves right after practice, not giving even one extra minute.”

“Focusing on the best player.”

“Winning is way more important than improvement.”

The seeds of Coaching for a Greater Purpose (CGP) were planted in the years preceding the pandemic by a handful of athletic directors ensconced in European independent schools, a pair of whom attended a gathering of their colleagues in Bangkok. Desirous of a similar event in Europe, Will Moncrief at Frankfurt International School (FIS), Lee Rosky of International School of Brussels (ISB), John Farmer at American School in London (ASL), and Gil Grant, transitioning at that time from Copenhagen to Dusseldorf, recognized an opportunity for coaches to learn and grow from one another. Leading up to this conference, Grant mentioned unique considerations for the member schools, “We have to take into account our limited time that our coaches have–we’re not coaching five days a week year round.” Farmer concurred, “We operate with similar constraints and populations, and we all aspire to programs that are competitive and participatory.”

The overarching desire to “teach the Ys of life” pervaded our two days in Dusseldorf. We coaches appreciated the opportunity to talk to and learn from like-minded practitioners. Hanna from ISD said, “I like that we are here as coaches to talk about mentality and goal-setting rather than training and competitive strategy. Roundtables allow coaches to share experiences with fellow coaches.” Job from the International School of Amsterdam agreed, “I especially like the make-up of the group–international school coaches–and that the topics discussed are also for us. I feel a sense of belonging.”

These insights align with Farmer’s appreciation for what it means to coach at an international school. “It’s not just about best practices on the pitch; there are social and emotional components to what we do. So much of our world is about winning and losing. We are not about winning and losing.”  

During day two, Janelle Meisenheimer from ISB presented “Girls Joy and Participation in Physical Activity.” Our hour together focused on increasing the number of middle school girls trying out for teams. “We need female-centered physical activity offered. Too often, the male standard is used as the norm–including ‘unisex’ jerseys.’” While both statements are self-evident, we do not always take into account the differences of our athletes, physiologically and, perhaps more often, psychologically. Being reminded of the sui generis needs of our players is both refreshing and crucial–just like Coaching for a Greater Purpose.

So how might we include more coaches from more schools, more countries, and more continents?  How do we spread ideas of athletic inclusivity? Rosky, the host of the first CGP, wondered if scaling up might weaken some of the power of “coaches connecting with coaches.” His idea in response to this concern is to create satellite CGPs for different regions.

Until then, see you in Frankfurt in the summer of 2025.


Geoff Richman teaches and coaches at American School in London.


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