*This is a newly revised version of a post I did a few years ago.
When I was in junior high school, my parents opened a bookstore. For the next 8-10 years, I worked there in the summer and on various weekends. One of the best-selling books throughout my years working there was a book called Dress for Success.
The way I remember it, the book was for business people to better learn how their choice in clothes affected how they were viewed. I remember pictures throughout the book with a variety of combinations of shirts, pants, coats, sweaters, shoes, and accessories, all designed to create an image that would lead to success.
Of course, each profession out there would have its own unique situations that would lead to ideas on what was appropriate to wear for a job within that profession. While for one profession a 3-piece suit or dress would make sense, for others it would be casual or dress slacks and Polo shirts or nice blouses.
Teaching & Coaching Attire
As I moved into my profession of teaching and coaching, I too, had to learn what was considered appropriate attire for each of my jobs. At my first school, a private Catholic high school in the suburbs of Chicago, male teachers were required to wear a button-down shirt and tie with slacks and nice shoes or boots. Jeans and gym shoes were not permitted. (Due to the unique nature of the demands of their classes, PE teachers had a different dress code than the rest of us.)
This first job of mine laid a good foundation for me when it came to what constituted professional attire.
While my future schools were far more lax in what they considered acceptable attire for teachers, I still tried to do my best to “look professional” each day. While the idea of what constituted professional attire was a bit different in rural Montana and Washington compared to the Chicago area, there were still standards that I tried to follow.
When it came to coaching in each school, there were also some standards that I tried to follow. At that first school in the Chicago area, my fellow coaches impressed upon me the importance of “looking the part.”
The first sport I coached was football. At practice we would wear t-shirts and Sand-Knit coaching shorts or sweat shirts and sweat pants. (You older coaches know EXACTLY what I’m talking about when I say “Sand-Knit coaching shorts.” Do I dare say, “Those were the good ol’ days?” Many of you might disagree with me on that one!)
No matter what choices we made with our clothing, we were to make sure that everything was what would be deemed professional-looking. We did not wear ripped t-shirts, cut-off jean shorts (popular at the time), or anything with any inappropriate content on it. Baseball-style hats were worn forward, not backward.
For games we wore polo shirts and slacks, a type of uniform that was the same for all of us. Of course, when the whether turned ugly, cold and rainy/snowy, we bundled up. But still, we tried to look professional.
Ultimately, no matter whether it was for practice or for games, there was a look about us that said, “We are professionals. We have come here to work and take care of business.”
Once basketball season rolled around, there was a similar level of attention to our attire for practices and games. We mainly wore polo shirts, those same Sand-Knit coaching shorts, and gym shoes. We occasionally wore t-shirts instead of polos. During colder months/days, we might wear nice sweat pants and maybe a nice-looking sweat jacket or sweat shirt. We never wore hats while coaching, in practice or games.
Not much of this was ever spoken, but there was almost an unwritten rule that we were going to look professional, and the best way to do so was to dress in the manner described above.
Like so many things we do as coaches, we took our cues on how to dress for coaching from the professional and college coaches we saw on TV and in videos. We weren’t only getting their offenses, defenses, and ideas on practice from them. We were also trying our best to look like them.
What Does “Looking Professional” Mean?
The concept of being professional and looking professional can mean so many different things to so many different people, and it can be interpreted differently depending on the situation.
I think the key is the word professional.
Is what you are wearing something that you would consider professional attire for the job that you are doing?
Also, within the context of that job, is it professional to wear the same thing in one situation as it is in another?
For example, as a basketball coach, I learned early on that I needed to look the part of a coach. I was 21-years-old, and I looked a lot like many of the junior and senior boys I was coaching. I needed to establish a distance from them. One way to do that was by how I dressed.
I always wore some kind of polo shirt and shorts or coaching sweats to practice. As the years went on and I got older, I loosened up the shirt thing a bit and started to wear t-shirts . . . occasionally. Over the last few years, I have worn t-shirts more often, but I make sure that any graphics on them are appropriate and that the shirts are professional looking. I also often wear 1/4 zip jackets now, a style that has become very popular in the coaching world, and one that I believe helps contribute to the professional look of coaches.
When it comes to games, though, basketball coaches have traditionally gotten more dressed up than for practice. In my first 15 years of coaching, shirts and ties, slacks, and sport coats or even suits were the norm. That style has changed over time for coaches of high school and younger ages, with most of them opting for nice slacks with polo shirts, button-down shirts, and/or sweaters, with dress shoes or nice-looking gym shoes.
For the most part, the suits and sport coats style stayed with college and professional basketball coaches through the years. However, after the Coronavirus pandemic threw a lot of curves at us, basketball coaches at all levels seem to have loosened up their game attire quite a bit.
Now the most common attire you will see on basketball coaches are the aforementioned 1/4-zip jackets, polo shirts, dress-up sweat pants, and gym shoes. While it is a much more relaxed look than ever before, it still carries with it a sense of professionalism.
We do not look at these coaches and think, “Gosh, what a slob.” We usually think, “S/He looks like what a coach should look like.”
Every sport has its clothing that would be deemed professional, depending on the situation and moment. No matter what sport you coach, consider what it means for you to be dressed in professional attire and then do it.
Is It Important?
Some of you might be thinking, “Come on, Scott. Is this really all that important?”
Maybe not all that much.
However, I think it’s important enough to at least consider it as you are getting dressed for your practices, games, and other times you are with your team.
I’m not saying I want us to have a Dress Code Police for Coaches.
However, I will say that how you dress gives people an impression of you. Whether that’s fair or not, it is true.
If that is the case, though, those of us in professions of leadership and authority should at least consider what the image is that we are portraying.
What messages are you sending to people simply by your clothing choices?
I totally get that your clothes do not make you professional; your words and actions do.
However, your clothes contribute to the overall look and feel of your professionalism or lack thereof.
If you act professionally in everything else you do, people will probably overlook your attire if it is not what many would consider professional.
But if you have a lack of professionalism in in how you handle yourself, even in the smallest way, your clothing choices will contribute to people’s perception of you being unprofessional.
Again, I’m not saying that’s fair. I’m just saying it’s the reality of our situation as being leaders in a very public role and in the example we set for young people, other coaches, and fans.
So why not do all you can to exude professionalism to the world by starting with the choices you make with regards to the clothes you wear? After all, before you open your mouth to speak and before you perform any action, your clothing is a big part of the first impression that people will have of you.
And you know how powerful a first impression can be.
Not only will your professional-looking clothing choices convey a message that you are a professional, but they may, at times, help remind you of your obligation to act professionally at all times. The more ways we can be professional, the better off we will be.
Speaking of “ways we can be professional,” I will be continuing with this topic of professionalism for coaches next week by talking about how our words and actions contribute to our professionalism or lack of professionalism.
I’m sure I have touched a nerve with some of you on this one. I would love to hear your thoughts.
What do you think? Do a coach’s clothing choices matter, or should we not care about such things?
Leave a comment below.