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Coach Kyle Magoffin Has A Theory About Setting The Foundation Of A Good Esports Program

The unabashedly upbeat former volleyball player talks passing down wisdom, learning from defeat

THOM FAIN
May 25, 2021

It’s no secret that starting an esports program at a high school or college requires broad buy-in from the institution along with a dedicated coaching staff, but when it comes to building team culture it’s the players who will set the tone of the program moving forward.

“If you control the process, the product will come,” said Kyle Magoffin, a PlayVS Super Coach. “And I can't remember how many times your players need to hear ‘process over product,’ but it’s about preparing these kids to be better people – and I think in esports, we can prove that you can develop a kid’s attitude over the course of their high school, collegiate career.”  

There aren’t a lot of playbooks for esports coaches at the amateur ranks.

For his part, Magoffin draws inspiration from the legends of other sports. He’s thumbed through the pages of books like Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings and the infamous Division III men’s volleyball coach Charlie Sullivan’s manifesto, Winning the Game of Belief.

He has won 11 of the past 12 national championships, and he credits that to the cultural grit instilled in the team’s culture across Springfield’s two decades with Sullivan at the helm. 

“I think it really speaks to what I’ve done to build our program,” said Magoffin, who once played for the decorated volleyball coach. “My number one thing is learning resilience, and having belief. It took our team a long time to realize that, yes – a lot of things are going to have to happen to win at esports, but we have to believe. And so I’ve coached that sense of belief that even though we're down, we can still win.”

His Mahar Disruptors became the first team in western Massachusetts to compete in esports, and he took it personally when a student approached him about being able to field a team to challenge the stigma of competitive gaming. Their quest to build out something that would last well into the future started with hallway conversations, turned into weekly practices and eventually grabbed the attention of news reporters as their school developed its League of Legends team.

“I think that through the culture of our program and with esports in general, you can really mold these kids into better people.” 

A big challenge for modern high school teams, be it in esports or another arena, is teaching kids how to learn from failure and coach the sort of long-term commitment required to build resilience and optimism that fuels a winning culture. For that to develop, according to Magoffin, it’s all about teaching to learn from failure and helping players finding moments of clarity throughout the course of a season.

“You need to have an undoubted positive belief that you are going to be successful,” Magoffin told us. “In PlayVS Season Zero, my team couldn't understand why I was happy all the time and always finding the good in where we might have lost, gotten spanked and beaten in 18 minutes.”

And, a big reason his team has come such a long way in two short years is a belief in progress over perfection, and the idea that by not yielding to defeat – or giving up – means choosing the power of passion and perseverance and maintaining a growth mindset. 

The Disruptors are now competing in multiple games while competing with a greater variety of teams in the region, and their coach can rest his laurels on creating a well-developed group who understood the bigger picture. Some of the students who were challenging to coach are now helping teach the freshmen what it means to join a culture of grit.

“I think everyone here understands that it's not just about winning and losing,” Magoffin said. “In all our esports teams I could care less if we go, 0-16. I want to prepare these kids to be better people than I got them, and that’s what drives me.”

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