In the early morning, before the sun has baked the mist of night from the green expanse of Skokie playfields in Winnetka, Illinois, you can find Coach Mike Hohensee mentoring student athletes. He’s adjusting the technique of a talented young quarterback. He’s focused on footwork, posture, and the nuances of elite performance. The athletes he’s working with have barely wiped the crust from their eyes. It’s early, but they listen intently to Coach Ho. He’s worth listening to.
As a player, Coach Ho started at quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. His career their landed him in their Athletic Hall of Fame. After college, he played for the Washington Federals in the USFL (United States Football League), the Toronto Argonauts and the Ottowa Rough Riders of the CFL (Canadian Football League), the Pittsburgh Gladiators of the AFL (Arena Football League), and spent a season with the Chicago Bears. Mike Hohensee can play.
And he can coach. He coached 343 games in the Arena Football League for 5 different teams, racking up 7 conference championships and the Arena Bowl XX Championship with the Chicago Rush in 2006. Mike was inducted into the Arena Football League Hall of Fame in 2012.
Coach Ho’s success is a product of his clear expectations. With all of his athletes, his assistant coaches, and himself, he holds three values above all else. In keeping with the Good Athlete Project’s “anchor and tether” method, Coach Ho’s anchors provide a solid ground that has allowed a rare level of unquestionable success.
Integrity is the foundation of any Coach Hohensee team, and there cannot be any cracks in the foundation. Integrity in all things, he preaches. From open and honest communication to not cheating oneself in position drills, integrity is essential. Little things matter. Honesty matters. Character matters. “If you’re married, I don’t want to meet your girlfriend,” he said in a recent podcast with the Good Athlete Project (available in late fall, 2020). That is simply not part of the culture he hopes to create. Without a foundation of integrity, a team cannot build anything special. If participants cannot expect trust, and trustworthy behavior, an organization cannot expect elite outcomes.
Be Fully Vested.
There is no room for a player or coach to be halfway in on a Mike Hohensee team. You’re either in or you’re out. Coach Ho wants to surround himself with people who are fully vested. The experience he shares with members of his organization has to be meaningful to all parties. That goes for the starting quarterback, the defensive backs coach, the team president, and the equipment manager. He wants his teams to be “fully vested from top to bottom.”
In fact, Coach Ho makes special note of the equipment manager on the Chicago Rush team which he led to the Arena Bowl XX Championship. Jeff Henderson, “Hendo” for short, was as important as any member of the organization. Hendo took pride in his job. Equipment was clean and always ready on time. Orders and updates were made as needed. Hendo took initiative, was creative when necessary, and followed through on the tasks to which he was assigned. He was fully vested. The team eventually knocked off the Orlando Predators in a 69-61 shootout, and when the organization handed out championship rings, Hendo accepted his with a smile stretching from ear to ear. Being fully vested pays off.
Listen with Intent and Purpose.
Over and over again, and in all areas of Coach Ho’s life, he recognizes the value of listening – really listening – to those he is engaged with. It didn’t always come easy for him. As an assertive, “alpha male” starting quarterback at a Big Ten university hoping to play professional football, Coach Ho was sometimes so focused on action that he found it difficult to slow down and listen. But he has adjusted. He evolved and grew early and credits that ability to listen as a key component to his success as a coach. He insists that you can’t guide young people without first listening to what they have to say, what they think, what they feel and what they want.
This is especially important now, he notes. COVID-19 and the associated quarantine, the recent conversations surrounding Black Lives Matter, and the countless young people whose athletic futures are uncertain all present powerful opportunities to talk to, listen to, and learn from student athletes. It’s time to listen, he says. When coaches listen with sincerity they stand a chance of truly impacting a student’s life.
Albert Einstein once said that “if I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.” That patience to listen and understand the concerns of young people will give mentors the best chance of being successful.
In a Coach Ho environment, anchored by Integrity, Investment, and Listening with Intent and Purpose, the outcome is empowerment.
When he gets it right, he says he’ll find himself on the field during those early morning sessions saying things like “see that? you’re already coaching yourself!” It’s the moment when it clicks with an athlete or with a team, when they have heard and received the coaching and can begin to self-manage. That’s when Coach Ho knows the process is working. The athlete is empowered.
At scale, the outcome is a culture of empowered players and coaches who together have the opportunity to do incredible things. Like win championships. Like grow as athletes and people.
At 60, this might just be the start for Coach Hohensee. He’s now coaching for QBU (Quarterback University) and again is having unquestioned success. Those he works with improve. Period. In smaller group settings, he has been able to address the nuances of the game and fine-tune mechanics.
He is also able to have conversations about those things that matters most. Coach Ho’s practice will always be about both performance and character. In his methods he will always be both tough and kind.
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