Russell Smelley’s Philosophy of Coaching

Russell Smelley is in his 36th year as a faculty member and athletics coach at Westmont College in Montecito, California. He has developed his “Philosophy of Coaching” during his time with the Warriors and has been asked to share his coaching experience, tied deeply to his faith, at events such as the 2012 London Olympics. Coach Smelley was recognized by the NAIA in 2014 as its Coach of Character.


By Russell C. Smelley – Westmont College
Professor of Kinesiology and Head Coach Cross Country and Track & Field: Fall 1979 to present
(Renewed 8/19/14)

Russell Smelley

Russell Smelley

I coach to encourage and influence the physical, emotional, social and spiritual growth of students. I want them to be lifelong learners who are able to develop healthy relationships and be part of a supportive community as followers of Jesus Christ. Through participation in Athletics, students are tested in body, mind and spirit. These athletic tests involve hard work and personal challenges which require a coach’s input and feedback for introspection which can lead to the transformation of their character.

I am continually learning to put on the character of Christ in answer to his call to be a servant to others as a teacher and coach. Therefore, I am committed to mentoring each team member to encourage a personal and energetic faith in Christ that leads to growth in maturity and wisdom. I believe that Athletics is an integral part of a liberal arts education as it adds breadth and depth to the academic curriculum and a student’s life. Athletic endeavors can provoke deep expressions of the soul that can reveal to a young person their need for personal growth. My passion is to facilitate student growth through my coaching and personal care for the individual so they might be transformed by their athletic participation.

Athletics is not an end unto itself. Athletics is an opportunity for training and developing character in the unfolding story of an individual’s life. I believe that Athletics can be a safe crucible of experiences for learning valuable life lessons. Coaching should be transformative for young people by fostering the development of trust, confidence, self respect and a sense of hope. A transformational coaching style is about relationships. It seeks to encourage, challenge and guide young people through a transitional time in their lives which positively influences their maturation through participation in Athletics.

All willing students can participate on my teams, regardless of previous experience or ability. Athletic competition offers the opportunity to fulfill an innate human desire to learn whether one can be depended upon to perform to the best of one’s ability under pressure. In this context, winning is best defined and reflected in each team member learning how to train and compete to the best of their ability. When this occurs, the athletic goal of winning contests can be attained in a positive and affirming manner. This is Athletics at its finest, whether in a dual meet or at a national championship.

I will admonish the young people in my charge to seek to perform with excellence in all aspects of their lives. An important character trait to engender for excellence is taking responsibility for their choices and outcomes. I want them to know they are supported as they develop a resilient spirit that allows them to persevere and recover through the vicissitudes of life. Athletes learn valuable character lessons during the self-imposed adversity of athletic training and competition. Growth occurs through adversity and learning from disappointment and failure. I want students to learn how to uphold a life of integrity by practicing Christ like values in their training, competition, and team relationships. I want them to live with discipline, including the perspective of how to relax and recover from the hard exertions of life through Sabbath.

Athletic participation offers the opportunity for young people to experience a unique community that is bonded into a team by their shared goals, values and efforts. They can learn to give beyond themselves in support of the community. They also learn how to be trustworthy to themselves and to others as they recognize that everyone is working out who they are within themselves on a daily basis. I want them to learn to value personal relationships and to contribute to the team camaraderie by their own unique personalities. I want them to have a positive self-image that is not dependent on performance.

Athletics should be a transformational experience for an athlete that is guided by a coach who cares about the athlete’s personal development more than the transactional events of winning and losing. The process of training and competing will help team members to gain insights into their character. This is coupled with learning from disappointments and the joy of personal and team successes. Through this process I aim them toward becoming more cognizant of living lives that are not defined by what they do (transactional results of winning, losing, grades, prestige), but who they are in the transformational life of being in Christ. If God is to be glorified in athletic efforts, then it is not in the winning and losing, but in each individual embracing the process that leads to living a life that reflects Christ growing in them.