New book from Hugh McCutcheon gives a glimpse into why he’s changing jobs

Hugh McCutcheon’s announcement that he was stepping down as Gophers volleyball coach at the end of the season and moving to a new role in the athletic department had a whiplash effect that has not been apportioned. That’s mostly because he doesn’t want to talk about the transition until after the volleyball season.

But McCutcheon’s new book out Tuesday, “Championship Behaviors: A Model for Competitive Excellence in Sports” gives the sense that he has a clear idea of ​​what he wants to achieve as an administrator.

It can best be described as a refocusing of the direction and meaning of athletics.

“Our world is comparatively increasingly fixated on results – especially on winning. So much so, it seems, that anything less is often quickly dismissed as failure,” McCutcheon writes. “It’s as if doing your best and finishing second is somehow embarrassing or disgraceful.

“That doesn’t sit well with me. … As much as we all want to win, we can’t win all the time. So there has to be more to it.”

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It’s that “more for her” element that sheds light on McCutcheon’s view of the purpose of coaching and participating in sports, and provides insight into what he might bring to his role as an assistant athletic director/sports development coach.

His book questions the idea of ​​the all-powerful coach, breaks down archaic ideas about gender, discusses how to treat disruptive players with empathy, zeroes in on players’ mental and physical health and emphasizes the incredible learning opportunities that come from they fail.

So why the career change?

McCutcheon’s writing shows that he believes his approach to holistic player development – culled from neuroscience, physical science and philosophy – is transferable. That any coach and player can apply to themselves to create a better, healthier relationship with sport while also striving for excellence.

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And, just as importantly, that coaches have a responsibility to share what they have learned to improve sports across a wide spectrum.

If this is McCutcheon’s goal—to foster an environment where Gopherscoaches will work together in an attempt to improve the lives of student-athletes and foster success—then it becomes easier to understand the pull of his new role.

Throughout his book McCutcheon interviews former players including U of M standouts Daly Santana and Sarah Wilhite and members of the USA men’s volleyball team that McCutcheon coached to a Gold medal in 2008.

The interviews share a common thread: initially the players doubted McCutcheon’s process due to periods of futility. Ultimately, that gave way to incredible success that reoriented how the players saw what they had been through.

Can that process work at university level?

That’s the trade-off risk for McCutcheon. He will miss the intimacy that comes with having a volleyball team buy into his process each season in hopes that he can use it to benefit the entire Gophers athletic department.

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Will other coaches listen to his advice? Will there be players? Will U of M leaders consider holistic development as much as gains and losses? Will they use resources to show that all student-athletes are equally important on and off the court?

Those kinds of questions arise from reading McCutcheon’s book in the middle of his career moves—and in some ways give an idea of ​​why he made the decision he did. Taking on new challenges is not just for athletes.

He writes that growth is deeply personal and that our traditional ideas of success fall short. So we should not avoid the difficulty of trying to improve ourselves because in that area we can find a life well lived.


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