Monthly Archives: September 2010

How To Spot A Loser…And Keep Them Off Of Your Team


When you hear the word “loser”, you think of awful people with no ambition in life.  But that’s not always the case, sometimes they are incredibly talented, charming, and fun people to be around.  Sometimes they’re your captains, your leaders, and the people of influence on your team.  They’re tricky, those losers.  They can sometimes even look like winners (for more on winners, click here)…until you delve a little bit deeper.  Both winners and losers are skilled, but losers have an innate quality that will eat away at the fabric of your team.  Want to learn how to stay away from those losers?  Well, read on!

10 Traits Shared By Losers…and Feared By Coaches

1.       Indifference: While winners are passionate about their sport and getting better at it, losers are just “meh”.  They’re the folks you look at and think, “if only they would work hard, they’d be so good.”  But they won’t work hard, because they’re fine with just getting by.

2.       Disorder: Winners thrive on discipline…of mind and body, while losers are free wheelers.  You may think that your player is a winner because you haven’t done anything that negatively impacts them.  But bench them for a play or sub them out of a game and you’ll see that they are unwilling to follow the game plan…which will of course lead to disorder.

3.       Selfishness: Losers are selfish, it’s all about them.  If they do something great in a game, they’re excited and seeking out high fives.  But if they make a mistake, they withdraw and reject any efforts by their teammates to console them.  These are the players that make it difficult to maintain any sort of team chemistry.

4.       Disrespect: While winners spend tons of time studying film and finding out how to be a better athlete, losers slide by on natural talent.  As the rest of the team is scouring over their scouting reports pre-game, the loser sits in the locker room texting their friends…they don’t respect the game or the effort that is essential to become good at it.

5.       Narrow focus: You can tell a winner that their teammates are essential to the team’s success and they’d agree, but a loser?  They’re so focused on themselves and what they need that they may have forgotten that they even have teammates!

6.       Fear: Winners take chances while losers hold back.  Losers are afraid to take risks, so they do things that they’ve always done that have always worked…they are firmly entrenched in their comfort zone.  Their coaches will scratch their heads wondering why the player hasn’t gotten any better, but unfortunately they will be the dreaded player with “potential” that is never realized because they’re afraid of making mistakes.

7.       Weakness: Sometimes losers can camouflage themselves as winners…until crunch time.  While winners will rise to the occasion, losers inevitably shrink under pressure.  They don’t mind being “the man” when everything is great, but when you need them to make their free throws…you can’t find them.

8.       Freedom: Leadership is something that winners willingly take on, but losers will shirk this responsibility.  Don’t get me wrong, they may be a captain, but that certainly doesn’t make them a responsible leader.  Losers want the freedom to slack off on their summer workouts, go halfway in the weight room, and be contrarian in practice.  With all of that freedom, who has time to be a leader?

9.       Defeatism: As we talk about these losers, I don’t want you to think that these are bad people.  It’s probably quite the opposite, you probably really like them.  Sometimes a player becomes a loser because they’re soft-hearted and can’t let go of a mistake or a loss or a criticism.  They ruminate, they play it back in their heads over and over…they’re so stuck in the past that they’re of no use to your team in the present.

10.   Reality: Losers can only see what’s in front of them.  The winners on your team can close their eyes and see their goals coming true in the future.  Losers only see what is instead of what could be.

There you go coaches…now stay away from those losers!

The 10 Essential Characteristics That Winners Must Possess


“I want winners!” –Mike Singletary, Head Football Coach, San Francisco 49ers

Recruiting is any team’s lifeblood.  You need new people for different ways of looking at things, different skill sets, and to take your team to the next level.  Beyond the measurables, what makes one player a winner and another fall short?  If I knew the definitive answer to that one, I could retire in the south of France!  I’m sure most coaches and leaders believe that there’s more than just skill that contribute to making someone a winner.  Let’s use the book Values Of The Game by Bill Bradley to help shed some light on the intangibles that separate those who are just highly skilled from those who carry the qualities of a winner.

1.       Passion: A winner loves to play and they have fun playing, they’re what some coaches call gym rats.  No one to play with?  They’ll play alone…the opportunity of playing the sport brings them joy.

2.       Discipline: Winners follow the game plan.  Think about the running back that has to patiently wait for the offensive line to open up a hole…that’s discipline.  Winners understand that they need to not only discipline their bodies through practice, they also know that their minds need to be reined in through that same practice.

3.       Selflessness: Winners know their role on the team and are inwardly and outwardly happy with it.  You won’t find them grumbling in the background or trying to get others to be disgruntled with them, they put the team first.  If you’ve got a team full of folks willing to sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team, then you’re well on your way to a close-knit team and a team of winners.

4.       Respect: Winners respect their coaches, their teammates, the department’s support staff, the officials.  Beyond that, winners are students of the game.  They love watching video, studying up on the next opponent, and working on any weaknesses within their own game.

5.       Perspective: Winners know two very important things.  They know that they need to practice…no matter how good they are and they know that they need their teammates…no matter how good they are.

6.       Courage: Winners have the courage to give 100% for their team, to risk failing or falling short.  They courageously play through the times when their game is “off”, because they know that the team is counting on them.  Winners are willing to take chances.

7.       Leadership: A winner knows that it’s their job to get their teammates to truly believe in their team goals.  Beyond that, they’re usually your most prepared players…for preseason, for practices, and for games.  Finally, and most importantly, winners are respected by their teammates…after all, can you really be a leader if no one follows?

8.       Responsibility: Winners know that they owe it to their team to complete their off-season workouts, to follow the rules, and to be a friend…not just a teammate.  They also understand that it’s their responsibility to stay mentally and physically focused at practice.

9.       Resilience: Defeat, bad games…winners know how to let those go.  As a matter of fact, the game right after their disappointing performance is likely to be one of their best.  Winners know how to bounce back.

10.   Imagination: Winners are winners in their minds way before they win on the court.  They visualize their success and then go about the hard work of making it happen.  Winners imagine themselves as great.

There you go coaches…now go out and find some winners!  (Click here if you want to recognize a loser when you see one!)

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The Paradoxical Leader: Be In The Present, But Look To The Future


Much like the Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge, leaders also have to deal with ghosts.  The leader’s ghosts are of things present and things yet to come…and how to link the two.  Don’t worry though, these ghosts are like Casper and quite friendly.  As a matter of fact, for any coach to be successful, they’ve got to learn to manage the ghosts of Present and Future…but also the Transition ghost—who happens to be particularly important.  Of course you know that these aren’t really ghosts, but phases that teams go through, and the effective leader will be there to guide their team through it all.  A successful coach and leader will be able to manage their team’s current reality while simultaneously pushing them forward to reach some future goal.  For this third in my three-part leadership series, here are the…

3 Essential Phases Every Leader Must Guide Their Team Through

Present: Appreciate Current Talent

All coaches face this dichotomy of existence…how to motivate and develop one’s current team while going out and recruiting “the next best thing”.  The most important thing we can do as coaches is to make sure that our current teams feel the love and that they don’t think you’ve got one eye on the newbie who’s going to replace her the following year.  The bonus of this strategy is that your team will become the world’s best recruiters for you because they’ve enjoyed their experience in your program so much.

Transition: Leading From Present To Future

Being an effective leader means that you have to see your team as two entities:  who they are and who they want to be and equip them with the tools they need to get from one place to another.  The ways in which the coach accomplishes this can take many forms:  soothsayer to calm rattled nerves, cattle-prodder to spur action, or even spiritual guide to induce the faith necessary to dream big and then work to accomplish those dreams.  The coach has to become all things to all people, because what works for one won’t work for another and worked yesterday may not work today.

Future: Accomplishing Goals

At its essence, a sports season means uncertainty.  There could be injuries, unexpected losses, all sorts of unforeseen things.  Therefore the motivational efforts of a coach have to have an element of faith to them.  We have to sell our teams on the fact that a + b = c, and if they do “a + b” like crazy people that “c” will come to them in the future.  And “c” is where uncertainty comes in, because it’s possible that your team can do “a + b” like crazy and still won’t accomplish “c”…but it’s the coach’s job to encourage the effort.  Teams may not reach their goal no matter how hard they try…but they certainly won’t reach them if they don’t try at all.

I believe that teaching how to enjoy the moment while continuously pushing for some future goal is the role of every coach and leader…what do you think?

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Leader 2.0: How Social Media Impacts Leadership


Facebook. Twitter. Foursquare. Vimeo. YouTube. LinkedIn. Blogs. Podcasts. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a social media revolution and I wanted to talk about its impact on leadership. I watched a short video on the Harvard Business Review’s website called The Role of Tomorrow’s Leaders that I’d encourage you to check out when you’ve got a few extra minutes. It’s a conglomeration of current leaders talking about the challenges that leaders will face in the future and many of them talked about how social media will change the manner in which leaders lead. In this second in a three part series on leadership, I’ll talk about the ways that social media impacts leadership. As coaches, we tell our student-athletes to be mindful of who they friend on Facebook and not to put anything up that they don’t want their mothers to see…but is that social media’s only impact on what we do?

3 Ways Social Media Affects Coaching That You Probably Hadn’t Thought About

1. Teams won’t follow blindly: My high school coach was old school. You know the type: I tell you what to do and you don’t ask any questions. Well, those days are long gone, my friend! I’m sure that I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. Our athletes have access to much more information than ever before and that’s great. But now they can go home from practice and search for drills to help whatever problem it is they think they have and then come back to practice the next day and tell you what you need to do in order to solve their problem. That wouldn’t fly for old school coach, but Leader 2.0 understands that there’s an overload of information out there on the internet and that it’s our job to help frame that information. We want them to be interested enough that they’re searching for information, but to respect their coach’s knowledge and vision for the team. Leader 2.0’s easy fix: be knowledgeable.

2. The ugly side of social media: These days, an unhappy parent or player can negatively impact a coach in very real ways. We don’t like to talk about it, but where there’s a team, there’s someone who’s not happy with their role on it! It used to be that we just worried about team “cancers” grumbling underneath their breath, now we’ve got to worry about them setting up a “I Hate Coach Dawn…Don’t You?” Facebook page and soliciting “likes” for it. I know that there are coaches out there who say that social media’s not for them, but for the young folks…I don’t think that’s a very empowering stance to take. Leader 2.0’s easy fix: at the lowest level, check out what’s being said about you by doing an internet search; higher level leaders would be proactive and put their own information out there.

3. Distributed leadership: As I said before, the days of the old school “my way or the highway” coaching style has passed, being replaced with a distributed style of leadership. It’s something that sports teams have done forever, but now it’s more pronounced. Distributed leadership looks like a head leader (or head coach, of course) with different sets of leaders place amongst the team. Most of us have captains who serve as our team leaders, but we can also have other folks with less defined leadership roles…but they are leaders nonetheless. As the head coach, be sure to meet with your team’s leaders so that they can be advocates for you and your system, but also to help you gauge your team’s atmosphere. Leader 2.0’s easy fix: train your leaders on what leadership looks like to you…that’ll keep your frustration level low.

As coaches and leaders, let’s actively embrace social media and its impact on our teams, our recruits, and our lives. Stay tuned for the third and final part of the leadership series where I talk about the paradoxical leader.

Read Part One

Read Part Three

Finding A Common Purpose: How To Lead People From Diverse Backgrounds


Does everyone on your team think the same way and have the same belief system?  Of course not!  I believe that every team is filled with people from diverse backgrounds even though it seems that we tend to think of race or ethnicity as the only kinds of diversity out there.  But whether it’s geographical or cultural differences, political or age disparities…diversity is all around us.  As leaders, we manage people with varying ideas of what constitutes “right” and “wrong” or even what “hard work” means and it’s our job to figure out how to be a consistent and effective leader for those folks.  And as coaches, we need to learn how to celebrate personality quirks while pushing our team toward their common purpose for the season.

Over a series of three posts, I’ll delve into the subject of leadership and discuss what we need to do in order to improve upon what we’re doing so that we can get the best from our teams.   Let’s get started!

The 2 Most Out-Of-The-Box  Ideas For Team Leaders

    • The Skinned Cat Theory: Making Connections With People of Influence
      Since we’ve already agreed that diversity is everywhere, we can now talk about how to wield our influence across boundaries.  This is a big one for coaches!  The longer our athletes compete, the more coaches they will encounter, and the more opportunities they will have to experience different philosophies and coaching styles.  Much like a business person has to learn diplomacy and cooperation, a coach also has to embrace the fact that we are not the only person of influence in our athlete’s life, so rather than see it as a challenge to our leadership, we have to work in conjunction with all of those folks in order to get the most from our athletes.
    • Parents, former coaches, concurrent coaches (for the high school athlete who may compete on a club team)…these are all people that have influence on our athletes.  Here are a couple of ways that we can all work together to increase our effectiveness as leaders.  Parents: use them to reiterate a positive message to your athlete (coach says that you’re doing a great job as captain), while reinforcing your authoritative role in their life.  Former/concurrent coaches: while they may have a different coaching style or strategy, that doesn’t make your way (or their way for that matter) better or worse…just different.  I think that it’s important to let our athletes know that there are many ways to skin a cat and the result will be the same…a skinned cat!  I know that it’s a gross metaphor, but I think it gets the point across: there are multiple ways to get to the same destination.  Leadership means building connections (inside and outside of our teams) and cooperating with others in order to develop our athletes.
    • Goals and Goofballs…We Need Them Both!
      I’ll never forget attending the volleyball Final Four years ago when Stanford and Long Beach State were competing against each other.  Since I’m a big time coaching nerd, I was there super early so that I could watch the teams warm up.  And this was a tale of two different coaching styles if I ever saw one!  Long Beach State was on the court very early doing a tremendously regimented warm up, while some of the Stanford players were challenging each other to see how high they could pass the ball and others were scattered around doing their own thing.  The fact that these teams made up half of the four best volleyball teams in the country (whittled down from over three hundred Division One teams) shows that we can be very different, while still being very successful.
    • I think that is not only true of teams, but individually as well.  I’ve written before about using personality tests with your teams, because I’m a believer that it takes all types to build team chemistry and success.  Every team will have its goofballs, super serious overthinkers, the ladies who seem to get along with everyone, and your fiery, rally-the-troops types…we need them all in order to be successful!  Bringing them together in order to accomplish the team’s goals is our job as coaches.  I think that the level to which they appreciate and value each others personality quirks is directly proportional to a team’s success.

Our athletes have different ways of thinking, different ways that they’ve been coached, different ways of playing the sport…and different folks who influence their lives.  We deal with people from diverse backgrounds and it’s our jobs as leaders to mold them into a team.

Read Part Two

Read Part Three

Helping Your Team Bounce Back From Disappointment: The Raw Egg Or Tennis Ball?


The Detroit Lions haven’t won a road game in three years and were on the verge of doing just that until the unforeseen happened.  In the final seconds of the game, the Lions’ backup quarterback threw a long pass and their star receiver leapt in the air, caught the ball, and celebrated his game winning touchdown.  Then the official blew the whistle and signaled “no catch” because of a little known possession rule that the receiver had violated.  As a closeted Lions fan, I was disappointed that my team was unable to break their losing streak.  And as a coach, I wondered what I would do to keep my team focused, motivated, and forward-looking after such a heartbreaking loss.

Disappointment is built into athletics as well as life, and it’s how we deal with the disappointment that is important.  What if we, as coaches, could influence the lens that our teams view disappointments through?  Well, I believe we can!  It’s our job to frame disappointments (losses, injuries, etc.) in a way that empowers our teams rather than renders them helpless.  That’s where the title of this article comes from…it’s the choice that our athletes confront every time they face adversity or a disappointment.  They can be the egg that is completely crushed when it’s dropped or they can be the tennis ball that bounces back.  So check out my ideas for bouncing back from a disappointment so that one disappointment doesn’t turn into many.

3 Strategic Tips To Help Your Team Bounce Back From Disappointment

Bounce back tip #1: Include the entire team
Whether it’s a basketball player who misses her free throws or it is the football player from the example above, they were not the only reason that your team lost the game.  Just as it’s never one player’s responsibility for a win, neither is it one player’s fault for a disappointing loss.  The first thing a coach can do after a disappointment is to remind the team that they are indeed a team and that they rise or fall together.

Bounce back tip #2: Look to the future
No matter how sad, mad, pissed, surprised, or whatever emotion your team feels after a disappointment, they can’t change it.  They can cry, they can scream, they can stare in disbelief…but the result remains the same.  The disappointment is still there.  So what’s a coach to do?  Look ahead and use the disappointment as a jumping off point.  Whether your athletes need to learn the rules of the game (using my football example from the opening) or how to manage their emotions in crunch time, those are great places to start in terms of turning a disappointment on its head.

Bounce back tip #3: Correct the mistake
If your volleyball player missed the match point serve so severely that you know she was just scared to death of the moment, it’s time to add some pressure situations in practice so that she can tighten up her mental game.  We can’t recreate the pressure of game-time competition, but we can give her tips to manage her thinking so that it’s positive rather than negative.  We’ve got to equip our athletes to bounce back from the disappointments that are sure to come over the course of the season.

Those are my simple tips for helping your team to bounce back from disappointments.  The choice is truly theirs.  They can be the egg–crumbling at adversity–or the tennis ball, which will keep bouncing back no matter how hard the fall.

Take These 3 Steps To Become A More Effective Leader


Without knowing every coach or manager or president, I feel pretty confident saying that there is not one coach or manager or president who doesn’t want to be the best and most effective leader possible.  Where is that confidence coming from?  My quick Google search of “leadership books” that turned up over forty eight million results.  Clearly, there is a desire by those of us in leadership positions to get better and become our most effective selves for our teams.  Join me as I discuss what leadership means and the actions we can take today in order to become the leaders we want to be tomorrow.

I read a great article on The American Scholar website, Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz, which challenged me to think about leadership and how I go about becoming a better leader.  While he acknowledges that his title seems like a contradiction (“solitude means being alone, and leadership necessitates the presence of others—the people you’re leading”), he says that solitude is the very essence of leadership.  As my internet search shows us, there are many ideas and theories on leadership…and many of them may help us become better leaders.  For this post, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into this idea of combining solitude with leadership.  First I’ll define what I mean by leadership and then discuss tangible steps each of us can take in order to become more effective leaders.

It may seem obvious, but to me leadership is not doing what everyone else is doing just because it’s commonplace.  Leadership is thinking intently about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and if there’s a better way to accomplish those things with the personnel that we have.  And thinking that way requires the leader to have vision and courage.  The visionary leader is a thinker, consumed simultaneously with becoming a better leader and learning how to bring the best out of their team.  She is also a courageous leader…willing to stand up for what she believes in.  The phrase, “we’ve always done it this way” isn’t an acceptable reason for maintaining the status quo.  Now that I’ve given you a quick overview of what I think a leader looks like, let’s talk about actions we can take right now to become more effective leaders.

Leadership Action Item 1:  Don’t multitask, it’s counter to thinking.
We all do it and we all think we’re good at it…and none of us are: multitasking.  We talk on the phone while checking our texts and writing an email all while we search for that great leadership book everyone is talking about.  So what happens?  We barely understand what the person on the phone is talking about, T9 can’t even understand our texts, the email only says one of the four things we intended to write, and we still can’t find that book.  As busy as we are as leaders, it’s essential that we organize our thoughts so we’re not always doing, but thinking as well.

Leadership Action Item 2:  Get alone with your thoughts.
After we’ve turned off the computer and put the phone on silent, then we can really get down to the business of thinking about how we can become better leaders.  I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s gotten great ideas when driving home or during a workout…that’s where solitude comes in to play.  Being a doer puts us at the mercy of life’s events, being a thinker puts us in charge and we get to set the rules.  Are you willing to put in the time to be the best possible leader for your team?  I sure hope so.

Leadership Action Item 3:  Develop true friendships.
Developing friendships may seem counter to solitude, but not the type of friendship I’m referring to here.  I told my husband the other day that Facebook should have an “acquaintance” button, because most of those folks aren’t my friends.  Not that I am unhappy with the relationship that I have with them, but “friend” is a bit of a stretch.  I feel like that word has been hijacked of late and it’s time to return it to its rightful owner.  Friends are people who care about you, are there for you, and are actively involved in your life…you can count on them.  A true friend is someone you can ask serious questions of and share your doubts with…someone you can tell about the latest idea you got while in solitude.  And be sure that they’ll give you honest feedback.

I hope it has become clear to you that leadership and solitude are intrinsically linked.  These days, solitude can mean just turning off the electronics so that we can be alone with our thoughts.  But it can also mean finding comfort in the solitude of true friendship…where we can share our ideas that everyone else may think are crazy, but our friend will understand and help us take the next step.  I maintain that to become effective leaders for our teams, we need to be thinkers and learners about our craft.

Let me know what you think about this in the comments.

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The Coach As GPS: Step by Step Directions to Goal Setting


There is always a huge gap between the birth of a dream and the achievement of that dream.
Put Your Dream To The Test

Every team starts out the year with high goals…things they’d like to have accomplished by season’s end.  What every team does not have is the desire, tenacity, and motivation to keep pursuing the goal when (cliché alert!) the going gets tough.  Let’s discuss how to keep our teams and our athletes on track in this third of a three-part series (click here to read parts one and two) while examining the last five questions from the book, Put Your Dream To The Test by John Maxwell.  I believe that guiding them through this goal setting process can help them to accomplish individual and team goals put them on the path to having a successful season.

The People Question:  Have I Included the People I Need to Realize My Dream?
“Convincing others of the significance of your dream can happen only if you are convinced of the significance of your dream.”  This question is for people who need to build a team around them in order to be successful, but our athletes come with a ready-made team!  Now all you’ve got to do is remind them that the goal can only be accomplished through daily work.  Everyone’s fired up at the beginning of the season, but what about when you’ve suffered a heartbreaking loss, or midterms are kicking their butts, or it’s just harder than they thought?  That’s when we can remind them that they’re not alone and that they’re in it together.

The Cost Question:  Am I Willing to Pay the Price for My Dream?
“All dreams are outside our comfort zone.  Leaving that zone is a price we must pay to achieve them.”  What’s the price, you ask?  Criticism: what if one of your players thinks that she can be in the WNBA and has decided to make that one of her goals?  When she tells people, they may try to dissuade her from pursuing that goal…not to be mean or negative, but in protecting her feelings.  Fear: using our same example, that’s a big out-of-her-comfort-zone goal…and it’s scary.  If she’s not willing to work through being afraid that she’s bitten off more than she can chew, then she should get a smaller goal.  Hard work: athletics is hard work on its own.  Adding a big, huge goal heaps a whole lot more work to their plate…are they willing to pay that price?

The Tenacity Question:  Am I Moving Closer to My Dream?
“The only guarantee for failure is to stop trying.”  Your athletes have to be finishers, not just starters.  It’s really that simple.  As Dory from Finding Nemo says, “just keep swimming.”  Don’t quit, don’t give up.  As long as they keep putting in work everyday, their goals are getting closer and more real.

The Fulfillment Question:  Does Working Toward My Dream Bring Satisfaction?
“If you want the pursuit of your dream to be sustainable, it needs to bring you satisfaction.”  Maxwell says that there’s a gap between stating the goal and achieving the goal…and it only gets bigger with a larger goal.  If your athletes appreciate the process of working toward a goal, they will discover how tough they are.  And that toughness will serve them well and keep them from wavering.

The Significance Question:  Does My Dream Benefit Others?
“Start doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly, you are doing the impossible.” I think the answer to this question is two-fold.  For the individual, the team will benefit from their goals.  For the team, future teams will benefit from the current team’s goals.  And I just love this quotation!  If our athletes and teams just do what is necessary…at least they’re working toward the goal.  What is necessary?  Coming to practice and working hard, supporting their teammates, and giving their all in each and every drill at each and every practice.  And if they do what is possible, then they’ll challenge themselves…because how do they know what they’re capable of or what is possible for them if they don’t try new things?  If they do what is possible everyday, all of a sudden those things that they thought were impossible are possible.  And they just keep pushing the envelope and keep getting better and those goals are getting closer and closer.

That’s the end of our goal setting series and I hope you found at least one thing that you can put into action with your team right away.  Every team and every person will have different goals, but we coaches can have one plan to guide them along that goal setting process.

The Coaching Sherpa: Guiding Your Team Through The Goal Setting Process


Nobody becomes motivated by something he kinda, sorta believes in. –Put Your Dream To The Test

Having goals isn’t enough.  Really wanting something isn’t enough.  We have to get our athletes to believe in their goals, to clearly see them…and not only that, to work hard at them.  Once they’re at that point, it’s our job as their coach to sit down and figure out a plan to help them achieve their goals.  In this second in a three-part series (click here to read part one and here for part three), I’ll examine the first five questions from the book, Put Your Dream To The Test by John Maxwell, and how we can challenge our athletes to be their very best selves and accomplish their goals.

The Ownership Question:  Is My Dream Really My Dream?
“You cannot achieve a dream that you do not own.”   Every now and then, I’ll be on the phone with a recruit and she’ll blame her current coach for not playing her enough or say that the coach plays favorites, or some other excuse as to why she’s not seeing the playing time she feels she deserves.  The Ownership Question says that there are no excuses and it’s the same with our athletes.  If one of your players sits down in your office and says that they want to be an all-region player (and you believe that she could actually do it), she can’t then undercut that goal with lack of belief and excuses.  She’s got to believe that despite the obstacles, she can be successful.

The Clarity Question:  Do I Clearly See My Dream?
“If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.”  Put simply, clarity makes a general idea very specific.  Instead of saying, I really want to have a great season this year, ask your player to elaborate.  That’s when “a great season” becomes “a season where she starts every game.”  Or if she wants to be a player that other teams fear, her goal can be “earn first team all conference honors.”  Whatever her goal is, clarity will bring with it a priority list.  If she wants to be the best triple jumper in conference, she probably shouldn’t put “working on long distance running” at the top of her priority list.

The Reality Question:  Am I Depending on Factors within My Control to Achieve My Dream?
“Believing in a dream isn’t enough.  Desperately wanting it isn’t enough.”  The fact is, our athlete’s goals and reality have to meet…and reality says that achieving the goal will not be easy.  Not only do they have to be talented but they have to be prepared to work hard.  Without hard work, all the dreaming and goal-setting in the world will fall flat.  John Wooden made industriousness (hard work) a cornerstone of his Pyramid of Success…meaning without it, success is shaky at best and unlikely at worst.

The Passion Question:  Does My Dream Compel Me to Follow It?
“Anytime you try to accomplish something of value, you will face adversity.  Passion can help you get through it.”  Whatever your athlete’s goal, it should keep them up at night, because they’re just so excited about it.  As a matter of fact, that’s how you should present it to them before you meet with them:  tell me the one goal you have that makes your heart start beating faster when you think about it… what do you see when you close your eyes and think about this season?  They should feel compelled to pursue their dream, that way when things go sideways (and they will!), your athlete will remain focused and motivated.

The Pathway Question:  Do I Have a Strategy to Reach My Dream?
“There is no magic power in having a dream.  You can’t just wait for it.  You have to work for it.  And you need to have a strategy that gives direction and focus to that work.”  When we sit down with our athletes and they tell us their goals, we have to formulate a plan together.  The first step is identifying the goal and after that, it’s being honest with them about where they are right now.  If they want to win the conference swim meet in their event, they need to know what times make finals and what times have won in the past…and where they fit into that mix.  Then the two of you need to come up with a plan to get them from where they are now to where they want to be in the future.  And they’ve got to be willing to work daily to reach that goal.

We’re halfway there!  I’ll finish up this goal setting series next time where I’ll tackle the last five questions that our athletes need to answer in order to achieve their goals.

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A High Stakes Game: Setting The Goal Is Just The Beginning


A dream is an inspiring picture of the future that energizes your mind, will, and emotions, empowering you to do everything you can to achieve it. –Put Your Dream To The Test

I think we’d all agree that a major part of our job as coaches is to get our teams to dream big, to set goals, and to guide them through the process of measuring and achieving them.   Whether it is for the individual or the team as a whole, goal setting is a fun (and scary) part of the season for our athletes.  Every team starts off the season with the goal of winning it all and I believe that we have the tremendous opportunity to manage their definition of success and to help them accomplish their goals.  Over the next series of three posts, I’d like for you to join me as I explore goal setting through the lens of the book, Put Your Dream To The Test by John Maxwell.

I thought this book was great because it challenges you to be sure that your dream, or goal for our purposes, is really yours.  I’m sure we’ve all had the athlete on our team that just said what she thought we wanted to hear.   When you ask whether or not she wants to win the big game or earn her way into the starting lineup, she says yes.  But with a question mark instead of an exclamation point.  That’s clearly not her goal and we have to work to find out what motivates her to come to practice everyday.  The tagline to the book is “10 Questions to Help You See It and Seize It.”  These questions are designed to challenge the resolve of a goal, here they are:

  • The Ownership Question:  Is My Dream Really My Dream?
  • The Clarity Question:  Do I Clearly See My Dream?
  • The Reality Question:  Am I Depending on Factors within My Control to Achieve My Dream?
  • The Passion Question:  Does My Dream Compel Me to Follow It?
  • The Pathway Question:  Do I Have a Strategy to Reach My Dream?
  • The People Question:  Have I Included the People I Need to Realize My Dream?
  • The Cost Question:  Am I Willing to Pay the Price for My Dream?
  • The Tenacity Question:  Am I Moving Closer to My Dream?
  • The Fulfillment Question:  Does Working Toward My Dream Bring Satisfaction?
  • The Significance Question:  Does My Dream Benefit Others?

I’m going to explore each of these questions and how we can relate them to our team’s goal setting process, so be sure to keep stopping by.  Before I finish up this post, I wanted to mention the four things that could make your team resistant to goal setting.  We all assume that our team has high goals (that they truly believe in!) and that they are singularly focused on accomplishing them…but that’s not always the case.  They may not tell you, but some folks have been jaded:  by other people they’ve seen fail, by their own personal failures, by settling for less than the best (good is the enemy of great), or by low self-esteem.  It’s our job to address those issues and ideally get rid of them so that our athletes can be their very best selves.

Join me next time when I discuss the first five questions and how we can use them to lead our teams in achieving their goals.

Read Part Two

Read Part Three