Joe Maddon’s 13 Core Principles of Managing

I recently read The Cubs Way, a great book about the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series championship season. As a Cubs fan it was great to relive the season through the book, but I was surprised at how good this book was for gleaning leadership and management lessons. I highly recommend it.

The book refers to head coach Joe Maddon’s 13 Core Principles of Managing, and it is worth sharing these and giving my own commentary on how they might apply to a youth football coach.

  1. Make a personal connection first–everything else follows
    • Your players are more than just a jersey number and position. Take the time to learn more about their background, what they like in school, what they struggle with.
  2. There is only one team rule: Respect 90
    • Respect 90 refers to the distance between bases, 90 feet, and the expectation that players respect that distance and run hard. As a football coach, this means establishing that you demand players give maximum effort. Regardless of talent.
  3. Freedom is empowering
    • Have enough rules but not too many. When a player is working hard and delivering results but has a slightly different way of achieving their assignment, give them the freedom to do it their own way as long as it is safe.
  4. Never hold a team meeting in your home clubhouse
    • This probably isn’t too related to being a youth coach. Maddon has this rule because team meetings are almost always to discuss problems, and he doesn’t want to poison their home clubhouse with the negative vibe that comes from these meetings. So he takes them elsewhere.
  5. Do not have a fine system
    • Fines imply that you can break the rules if you are able and willing to pay for them. Instead, have clear expectations and deliver natural consequences when players don’t follow through.
  6. Wear whatever you think makes you look hot
    • Again, maybe not something to translate to youth football. Rather than demanding suits for travel, Maddon uses this simple rule and allows the players to express themselves. And they have fun doing it.
  7. Empower your coaches
    • There are many, many ways to coach (and manage) effectively, and different coaches have different styles. They can all work. As a head coach, pick your criticisms and corrections carefully while you allow your coaches to find their own path to success.
  8. But don’t allow your coaches –- or veterans –- to be harsh on young players
    • With my revolving-door 8th grade team rotation each year, there’s not much “young player” dynamic though we do have a new player dynamic at times. Apply situational leadership principles and recognize that different players will require different levels of support and coaching. Get your coaching staff on board with this kind of thinking.
  9. Question data with feel
    • Data and analytics are great, but the more you coach the more you’ll have instincts and feel. Use both to prepare your plans.
  10. Pre-game work is excessive
    • Jitters are common before games and keep pre-game warmups to a minimum, allowing players to get into a routine and prepare themselves mentally. I’m glad our league doesn’t allow us to begin warmups more than 60 minutes before game time.
  11. Keep signs simple and to a minimum
    • Translate this to “playbooks” or “no huddle signals” etc. Keep things simple and remember that your players aren’t spending as much time on this as you are!
  12. A lineup card is all a manager needs in the dugout
    • If you are mentally prepared going into a game, you probably don’t need a complex call sheet. The act of preparing a call sheet is probably more important than having one.
  13. Forget “The Book.” Making the first or third out at third base is okay.
    • This is his version of “it is OK to break the rules.” You don’t have to punt on the 4th down. Or do conditioning the same way you were taught as a player in the 1970s.