Dr. Marty Durden completed his United States Sports Academy doctoral degree with a dissertation that researched how “servant leadership” from high school coaches motivated their athletes on the basketball court. Now, Durden says he’s become an evangelist for the servant-leadership style of coaching.
Durden is the athletic director at Presbyterian School in Houston, Texas. He earned his Doctor of Education degree in sports management from the Academy in 2016 and is the author of a recent Sport Digest piece titled “The Call for a Higher Standard Than Winning” that also touches on the subject of servant-leadership in coaching.
“Servant leadership is an idea that I learned about from a book by William Turner which detailed how the successful business man treated his employees,” Durden said. “I read the book in one day and quickly began to realize the same principles Turner talked about in the book can be applied to coaching. In the book, Turner wrote that he always placed more value on the people who worked for him and less on the product. He found that the more you show employees that you value them, the better their production became.
“The coach has the potential to be a positive role model and influence for an athlete, but they can also provide a harmful, negative experience for a young person. A coach needs three things to be successful: they must be competent in their sport, they must treat their athletes fairly, and they must prove they care about their athletes. If you do that, your kids will trust you and will in turn play harder for you.”
Durden’s Sport Digest piece suggested that some of sport’s bigger problems – the NCAA basketball scandal, athletic trainers who prey on female athletes, and fraud and bribery at FIFA – could be held off at the pass early on with more coaches and administrators who hold themselves to a higher ethical standard.
“My research has shown that servant-leadership coaching elicits a higher level of sustained effort,” he wrote. “Young people who view their coach through the lens of trust tend to face the crucible of athletics with a higher degree of determination…The Higher Standard is the antidote to the insipient uptick of unethical incidents in our beloved (coaching) profession.”
Durden is a veteran coach whose teams have won state championships in basketball, baseball, football, and golf over the span of nearly five decades. While he’s the athletic director at Presbyterian School in Houston, he also has worked as an adjunct professor at Belhaven University, Concordia Texas University and at Houston Baptist University. He earned his Doctor of Education degree from the Academy while working full time in the profession.
“The Academy means the world to me,” Durden said. “I knew I needed to get my doctorate for my career, and Dr. Fred Cromartie (Academy Director of Doctoral Studies) and the faculty and staff at the Academy were just so helpful to me. Dr. Cromartie really embraced the concept of servant leadership in coaching and helped me along throughout the dissertation process. I can’t say enough about how great he and the Academy faculty were to me.
“To me, real learning happens when you are free to explore ideas. The Academy helped me to grow and to learn by giving me the freedom to explore the big ideas. Everything I learned from the Academy has been absolutely applicable to almost everything I do professionally on a daily basis.
“I was working as a coach and administrator while I pursued my degree, and the Academy really helped me as a working professional. I was able to keep my job while furthering my education. I would recommend the Academy to anyone and everyone.”