How Do You Pick Your Team Captains?

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I’ve done it all when it comes to team captains.  The team picks.  The coaches pick.  A combination of both of those.  I’ve even gone without captains.  I believe in team leadership and the athlete’s ability to manage each other and keep each other motivated through the normal highs and lows of a season.

But how do we stack the deck in the favor of team captains who will, you know, actually be good leaders?  According to How To Build A Team That Works by Tony Robbins, there are some things we can help our teams look for when voting and characteristics our captains can aspire to once they’re voted captain.

Some questions we can prep our team with before they vote for captains:

  • Can they do the job? Do they have the respect of their teammates?  Because if their teammates aren’t willing to follow them…can they actually be called a leader?
  • Will they do the job well long-term? No matter the sport, the season is long. No matter how well your team is doing, you’re going to have some downs that go along with the ups.  No matter how motivated the team, they’re going to have flat practices.  Can your team captains help the group through the tough times?
  • Are they the right team fit? I talked before about personality types and how important it is to know your team’s dominant personality and what it could be missing. If you’ve got a strong group of leaders who aren’t keen on getting the younger athlete’s opinions, you may want to stack the deck for your more collaborative personalities.

Here are qualities of good team leaders:

  • Envision an Outcome: Can they help the team come up with season goals and keep the group on track?   A lot of us coaches think this is all up to us, but I’d disagree.  We’re not with our teams more than we’re with them.  We need the captains to help us here!
  • Understand Others: Here I go beating the personality type drum again, but this is crucial. People are different and respond to situations differently.  Our team leaders can help us with team conflicts by understanding this dynamic.
  • Inspire Others: I’ve had players who inspired their teammates through their words, they could get everyone fired up for conditioning…which is almost a miracle. And I’ve had athletes who were inspirational without opening their mouth.  They basically shamed everyone into working hard because they worked so hard.
  • Understand Themselves: I don’t want captains who are pretending to be someone they’re not.  For example, you don’t want your quiet leader trying to lead a rallying cry at game time.  They’ll be stressed out and they won’t come across as believable to their teammates.  My general advice for captains is, “Do you”, with the caveat that they’re doing all of these other things.

Giving our athletes the tools they need to be leaders worth following has got to be a top priority for coaches.

Coach Dawn’s Guide To Motivating Female Athletes Is Available For Purchase!

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I wrote my book because I saw a need for coaches of female athletes to be excited about working with female athletes.  Up to that point, every post I’d written about coaching female athletes received such a strong (and positive) response.  If you’ve not had a chance to purchase the book, I hope you’ll think about it.  The second edition also comes with a Pyramid of Success powerpoint. It’s only 56 pages long, so it’s a quick read that you’ll be able to apply to your team right away.

As you can tell from the picture, I’m very excited that my ebook is finally available for purchase!  I’m new at all of this selling business, so it’s been a bit of a process to figure everything out.  It was all worth it, though, because I’m confident that there’s good information that you’ll use in Coach Dawn’s Guide To Motivating Female Athletes.

I’ve written before about how important I think professional development is for folks with our jobs.  I mean, how can coaches not want to learn more?  And if you learn one thing from my book (and I think you’ll a lot more!), then it’ll be well worth the $10!  It’s a 56-page guide with tangible tips, action items, anecdotes designed to help your team excel…and because it’s a PDF, you’ll be able to start reading immediately!

I’m super excited about all things ebook, right now!  I’m excited about that snazzy cover, I’m excited about figuring out how to set everything up, but mostly…I’m excited that I can get more info out there about how to get the best from your female athletes!  I don’t want to rewrite what I said before, so you can click here to read what I wrote when it was an upcoming book rather than a published book.

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I hope you’ll buy the book and enjoy it…and tell all of your friends about it (hint, hint)!  $10 and it’s all yours…enjoy!  Once you complete your purchase, you’ll immediately be able to start reading the book.  Just click on the “Add to Cart” button and you’ll be well on your way.

I pre-launched the book with the folks on my subscriber list last week and I’ve been overwhelmed by the response.  Lots of people are looking for this information and enjoying the book…hopefully you will too!

5 Ways To Help Our Teams Find Self-Esteem

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I’m a huge fan of TEDtalks.  I watch them, I show them to my team.  I think everyone should be watching them.  Well, it turns out that TED has a website with written articles and it’s just as good!  So when I saw 5 ways to build lasting self-esteem, I thought this would be great to talk about in relation to our teams.

Here are some ways we can help our athletes when their self-esteem needs a boost:

  1. Use affirmations correctly. “Grit” has been in the news lately as a way to help children succeed, but I think folks of all ages can use it.  For a player who’s struggling with self-esteem, saying “I’m the fastest runner on the team!” won’t ring true and won’t actually motivate or encourage them.  But saying, “Surely, I’ll succeed if I keep running these workouts as hard as I can!”
  2. Identify competencies and develop them. This one is about digging in to a skill they’re good at and keep working at it.  Not that we don’t want to create well-rounded athletes, but we’ve got to give them enough reps (and compliments) at their particular skill that they feel confident…even when the occasional mistake happens.
  3. Learn to accept compliments. People with low self-esteem aren’t receptive to compliments will have a million reasons why the compliment isn’t true.  Learning to simply say, “Thank you”, will take our athletes down the road to higher self-esteem.
  4. Eliminate self-criticism and introduce self-compassion. If you’re not helping your athletes with their self-talk, that’s a great area of growth.  The best way to start is just to ask them what they’re thinking when they’re having a bad spell.  Odds are, they’re saying negative things (“Don’t miss this free throw again” or “Please don’t pass me the ball”) instead of gritty things like, “Even Michael Jordan missed some free throws!”
  5. Affirm your real worth. When this player who needs the self-esteem boost is feeling particularly low, maybe they could even write a list of why they’re good at their sport. As cheesy as it sounds, it forces them to articulate why they do what they do.  An effective spinoff of this strategy is to have their teammates write the list for them.

According to the article, “when our self-esteem is higher, we not only feel better about ourselves, we are more resilient as well, we are also less vulnerable to anxiety, and we release less cortisol into our bloodstream when under stress.”  And those things will help them perform better…and increase their esteem!

Using Personality Tests To Increase Your Team Chemistry

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As coaches, I think we all know that we’ve got different personality types on our team and I’m sure we’re all pretty conscious about how those personalities will interact.  When we bring recruits on to campus and we sit down and chat with them, we wonder about their “fit” with our teams…how their personalities will mesh with the current players.  Sometimes we don’t want to rock the boat and try to recruit like-minded players.  Other times, we want to shake things up a bit…whether it’s bringing more toughness or more fun…we know that the team needs a different makeup.

But do you think that your team recognizes that some folks are just made differently than them…with a whole different perspective on things?  I’ve used personality testing in the past with pretty good results, because the team gets to hear about themselves and also put the people that they know into categories.  The testing is pretty informative and can help them with their relationships outside of their team as well.

There are lots of personality tests out there: Myers-Briggs, colors, animals, and DiSC…and that’s the one that I use.  DiSC breaks the personalities down into four different categories.

D’s are dominant.  They’re what folks would call Type A personalities.  They like to get immediate results, make quick decisions and love to manage trouble and solve problems.  They’re decisive and competitive…natural born leaders.  That’s the good stuff.  The down side to D’s are that they are too self-reliant, the one’s who hate group projects in the classroom (can you see how that could negatively impact your team?!), and can be so blunt that they’re hurtful to others.

i’s are your people of influence.  They’re the one’s who everyone gravitates toward, the life of the party.  They’re your players who will pull the team aside in practice and fire them up if they feel that the effort isn’t where it should be.  They’re the folks who will immediately walk up to the newbies on your team and make them feel right at home.  i’s just need to remember that life isn’t all play and no work…that they’ve got to get down to business at some point.  And they try so hard to be everyone’s friend and not to hurt feelings that their teammates may not feel a true connection with them.

S’s are Steady Eddie’s.  They’re quiet, but very loyal and love the teaminess of teams…the one’s who stay on your team even though they know that they’ll never get any playing time.  They are skilled at calming an explosive situation and calming the scene down while others are freaking out.  S’s need to learn to assert themselves in group situations so that their teammates don’t overlook their contributions.  Since they can be overthinkers, S’s should learn the difference between the time for thinking and the time for acting.

C’s are your conscientious workers.  They’ll drill all day long and never feel as if they’ve gotten it down…they’re perfectionists.  C’s are good in the film room because they’re so analytical.  Come game time, they’ll know the opponents tendencies without a doubt.  Their downside is that they ask so many questions that they may drive their coach to drink!  And they have such high standards for themselves and their teammates that they may be destined to fail.

As you were reading this, I’m sure you were thinking of your team and where they fit.  Obviously, having a strong mix of folks is pretty key…but most important is that your team understands to positives and negatives of their personality and how they can be perceived by others.  Also, it’s pretty huge for us coaches to know the rough mixes.  Your D’s are going to think your i’s are screwing around too much and that your S’s need to toughen up.  Your i’s will constantly get their team in trouble for getting practice off-track with their incessant yapping.  Your S’s will either toughen up or continually get their feelings hurt by the too-blunt D’s and the hard-to-read C’s.  Speaking of C’s, should you deign to change the lineup or change a play without significant notice, get ready for their world to be spun off kilter and they’ll be pretty useless to you for a few plays.

Do you use personality tests with your team?  How do they respond?  At what point in the season do you administer your test?

2 Tips To Break Big Goals Into Smaller Milestones

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“One of the difficulties with achieving great things is knowing how to get there.”– To Achieve a Major Goal, First Tackle a Few Small Ones

By the time our seasons roll around, we need to have our vision for the season cemented.  Teams that make it to NCAA’s, or have All-American players, or other team accolades can probably work backwards (Weeks? Months? Years?) to a point where an intentional action toward a goal started.

The author of the article linked above says there are two critical things necessary to achieve a big goal:

  1. It is hard to envision the specific tasks that actually need to get done to achieve a big goal. I think this is critical as we think about our athletes.  They want to win conference and everyone’s fired up about it when you have a team meeting to talk about goals.  We’ve got to help them hammer down to smaller, measurable milestones.  In our conference championship scenario, a few smaller goals could be: 100% completion of the team’s off-season workouts, commitment to team-building activities, no missed classes during the season, come in early/stay late 3x/week.
  2. For very large tasks you often do not get feedback on your success until many of the pieces of that project are in place. The ironic life of coaching says that we may not know if our team has fully bought in to what we’re selling until we’re in the middle of the season.  It’s critical that coaches identify a clear communication strategy to make sure that every player knows what we value and what we expect about and from our team.  It’s also imperative that we continue to bring the big goal back as a focal point for the team.  We can’t just bring it up at the beginning of the season and think we’re good.

Equipping our teams with the tools to achieve goals will help our seasons be more competitive and more successful.

Communication Principles For Creating A Leadership Strategy

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In the post, Do You Have a Leadership Strategy For Your Team?, I talked about the importance of having a leadership strategy: How do we pick captains? What characteristics should they have? How do we make sure the process is transparent and can be replicated from year to year?

So that’s what we’re going to focus on!

The following communication techniques are from this post and will keep us focused on our ultimate goal of creating an effective leadership strategy:

  • Formal communication:  I’m sure most of us do this whenever we’re in our captain-picking time of the year.  We say something like, “Hey, we’re going to be voting for captains in a couple of weeks (or whatever your time frame), here are some things we look for in captains.  These qualities should be present on and off the court.  Being a captain is a big deal, it’s an honor, so make sure you’re paying attention so that you can use your vote wisely.”
  • Informal communication: I use this in two ways.  The first being those players who I think will get voted captain.  I start talking to them about it at the end of our season…I want them prepared and I want them acting captain-ly so that they are seen as leaders.  The other way I use this type of communication is in weekly captains meetings where I ask the team leaders how things are going.  Early in the season, I may ask if any of the newbies are feeling homesick.  Later in the season, I’ll keep checking in to make sure there aren’t any interpersonal conflicts that need to be addressed or to find out if the behind-the-scenes tone is generally positive.
  • Communication related to the organization’s rituals and symbols. Older players, alumni, coaches who’ve been around for a long time are essential to helping paint a picture of “who we are” and give context to team culture.  This year, we brought back a championship team to be recognized during one of our matches and our players enjoyed hearing from the alums and seeing the fire that was still in their eyes about competing in our gym.  Those folks can give a fuller picture of the impact being a team leader has had on their life.
  • The messages that leaders send through their every action. I think we, as coaches, are pretty aware of this, but are our athletes?  I’m one of those fake it ‘til you make it kind of coaches.  I tell my team (at least) weekly that their enthusiasm for being at practice isn’t as important as everyone (the coaches, their teammates) thinking they’re enthusiastic about being at practice.  Didn’t do well on a test? I shouldn’t be able to tell by looking at them.  Got in a fight with their best friend?  They should be the loudest talkers in the gym.  A freshmen took a senior’s starting spot?  That senior should be screaming her face off in support.  Leaders/captains put the team first.  This could be the greatest gift we give our players: the ability to control their emotions and how they express them.

I like this strategy!  These are principles from the business world that can be easily adapted to the coaching world.

Do You Have A Leadership Strategy For Your Team?

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One of the coaches I work with always says that we’re the CEO’s of our sport…we’re running the show.  So when I ran across this article (Why Every Company Needs a Leadership Strategy), it made me think about all of us head coaches who work so hard to create a winning culture, environment, and winning expectations.

We know we need leaders.  We know we should train them, but how?  Beyond that, do our athletes know our coaching priorities?  What will consider to be “success” at the end of the season?  Is it only winning?  Does winning without honor count?  Do they know why they’re on your team instead of at another school?  If not, we’ve got to create an information/training strategy that ensures that the same information is passed down year after year, team after team.

How about amongst your staff?  Is everyone on the same page as far as what you’re looking for?  Not just positions, but what about personalities?  Do you need more gritty players?  Or maybe enthusiastic players?  How will you tailor your recruiting schpiel to increase the odds of filling your team needs…both tangible and intangible?

There are three requirements for an executable leadership strategy with our teams:

  1. A leadership selection system, to ensure the team gets the leaders it really needs.  How do you pick your captains?  Does the team vote?  Do the coaches decide?  Does the team understand the requirements of being a team captain?  Are they able to opt out?
  2. Leadership development efforts that support leaders so they can adapt to the team’s needs.  Once you’ve got team captains, what training is involved?  How often do they meet with the coaching staff?  Are they given decision-making authority? (It could be something as small as deciding where to eat after the game.)
  3. A succession management process that identifies, accelerates, and supports the identification and accelerated growth of the next generation of leaders. That’s super business-y sounding, but it’s true.  We’ve got to identify future captains and groom them so they’re ready once they’re elected.  What would that process look like? Would it entail formal or informal training?

Personally, I need to think a bit more critically about how me pick, educate, and cultivate leaders on our team.  For many reasons: to make sure we’re being fair, to make sure the staff isn’t blinded by personal bias (sometimes you just love a player, but they’re not ready to be a captain), and to make sure the team buys in to their captains.

I’ll be back next time to discuss a communication strategy from this same article that will help us make sure the entire team is on the same page.

How Should We Define Success In Coaching?

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Sometimes social media gets a bad rap for being a time sucker, which it can be. But most times, I find good stuff there.  Whether it be a good leadership article, a timely motivational quote, or (like this time) a great tweet from team building expert Jeff Janssen.

How can we be successful coaches?  Or maybe a better way to put it is how can we measure, at the end of the season or school year, that we’ve been successful?  Janssen has some ideas.

9 requirements of success:

  1. Purpose: Why do you coach? As I mentioned in my another post, loving the sport isn’t your purpose (it’s your passion)…why do you coach? Why do you have player meetings?  And stress about your practice plans? Why do you watch so much film? What is my why?  I believe that athletics creates better humans (I’m biased, I know) and I believe us coaches equip our athletes with the tools they’ll need to make the world a better place and I’m honored to have a part in it.
  2. Passion: Do you love your sport? Is there a fire in your bones for it?  Then that will translate over to your players and they’ll be infected by your zeal.
  3. Perspiration: I feel like this is obvious, but you should be working hard, Coach. Like, really hard.  You’ve got to work hard to create relationships with your players.  You’ve got to work hard to know the different personalities on your team and how to motivate them.  You’ve got to work hard to keep your team chemistry balanced.
  4. Plan: How will you handle the inevitable quarrels between teammates? How will you handle having to bench a starter?  How will you prepare your team to be clutch at the end of a competition?  How will you make sure they’re ready for post-season?
  5. Patience: Can you wait for your “potential player” to bloom? Can you try different ways of teaching your leaders how to lead? Can you trust the process?
  6. Persistence: I think it’s a great idea to write down your coaching goals. That way, when you hit the inevitable speed bump, you won’t be moved.
  7. People: Coaches don’t succeed alone. We need mentors and assistants.  We need recruits to buy into what we’re saying.  We need families who support the coaching staff in the background.  We need an administration who’ll advocate for us.
  8. Principles: Do you want to be a win-at-all-costs coach? Do you want to sacrifice your values in order to win more games?  I think a coach’s goal should be to win with honor.
  9. Perspective: My guess is our definition of success will change as we grow as coaches, as we gain a bit more life experience, and as we’re humbled by our profession.

It’s hard to feel successful.  It requires a lot of work.  Let’s get ready to put the effort in so that we can be whatever our version of success looks like!

How To Last In Coaching

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Since I work at a small, Division III school, I wear lots of hats.  One of them is Social Media Director for my team.  Our latest series I’m doing with the team is one where they give me their favorite motivational quote.  Everything they’ve given me has been varying levels of good.  The most recent quotation I received made me think of our wonderful coaching profession:

“It never gets easier, you just get better.”

If that doesn’t perfectly sum up what we do, I don’t know what does!  So many start off in this career and think, “I love my sport, I was good at it when I was a player, I want to coach.”  I generally challenge new coaches with this mindset, because quite honestly, that’s not a good enough reason.  Those are the coaches who fizzle out, get overwhelmed, and burned out.

There are a lot of things we do that don’t really have to do with why we enjoy our sport…but they are a part of coaching.  So think about it.  Why do you coach?  Check out this post that talks about why knowing your “why” is so important.  This knowledge is part of what makes things get easier as we move along in our coaching journey.

Take heart.  If you’re new and feeling like you’re the worst coach ever, that’s probably not true.  Keep learning, keep asking questions, keep getting better.  For those of us who are oldies but goodies, the advice is the same.  Getting better doesn’t just happen, we’ve got to be intentional about it.

Helping Our Captains Lead With Integrity

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“The most effective form of leadership is supportive. It is collaborative. It is never assigning a task, role or function to another that we ourselves would not be willing to perform. For all practical purposes, leading well is as simple as remembering to remain others-centered instead of self-centered.”—Great Leadership Isn’t About You

Teaching our athletes to lead is a big job.  Failing to set the ground rules for what you want leadership to look like can lead to hazing, “mean girl” tactics, cliques, and ultimately ineffective performances. We can’t expect our athletes to know what we want if we haven’t explicitly laid it out for them.  In the absence of a coach’s direction, the athletes are going to fill in the gap and I’m sure we can all agree that that probably won’t go well!

I believe our team leaders want to be taught and I know our teams want to be led by captains who make it easy to follow them.  What leaders are easy to follow? The author listed some characteristics in the quotation at the beginning…those are a good start:

  • I rely on my captains to be a go-between. They work closely with the team as well as the coaching staff.  Ideally, they understand that they perform an important role in the team’s success.  They should be close enough to their teammates that they know when things are going a bit sideways and they need to tell the coaches.  But they should also know when not to tell the coaching staff.  My most effective team captains squashed issues before I even knew what was going on!
  • Our teams are faced with the conundrum of needing to be both collaborative and competitive.  If you’ve got two players who play the same position, they will both benefit from in-practice competition, but surely they know that once the whistle blows at game time, they’re expected to support the team…whether or not they’re on the court.  Collaboration should be built into our team cultures, our captains should always be looking to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate.  Asking the younger players questions and not creating a “captain clique” will help create those collaborative feelings on the team.
  • In the trenches. I don’t want captains who say, “Freshmen always do ________ (insert task here).” Freshmen (or newbies) shouldn’t always carry stuff, be expected to defer to upperclassmen, or be treated in a second-rate manner.  That kind of behavior signals insecurity in the leader.  It’s hard for players to follow a captain that lacks confidence and tries to raise themselves up by pushing their teammates down.  Everyone pitching in helps to create good feelings among the players, regardless of how long they’ve been with the team.
  • Other-centered. I’ve had captains who would stay after practice with a lesser skilled teammate and help them with skill work…that’s great.  I’ve had captains who’ve told me about a teammate who beyond-the-norm homesick…that type of concern is necessary.  And we’ve had captains who, after I’ve announced that perhaps an extended conditioning session would be more productive than working on skills, gather the team together to figuratively whip them into shape.

Of course I’ve had ineffective captains as well, but that’s not what this post is about!  It’s about giving our team leaders the necessary skills that make them easy for their teammates to follow.  If we set the standards high for our captains, they will rise to the challenge.

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