Category Archives: Coaching career

4 Secrets Of Productive Coaches

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I read a lot of business blogs and magazines, because I believe there’s a strong connection between coaching and the business world.  Teamwork, leadership, excelling within a group construct…I think we coaches can learn a lot from the CEO’s and presidents of the world.  This article on Inc.com, Secrets of the Most Productive People I Know, is one of those that I think is valuable to coaches.  Here’s my take on that post:

4 keys to being the best coach you can be

They have a life.  I know we coaches take pride in “getting after it” and working ‘til all hours of the night, so much so, it almost seems like we wear not taking days off as a badge of honor.  But what if doing something of value outside of our jobs made us better at our jobs?  Maybe you teach a Sunday School class at church, or take guitar lessons, or landscape your yard nicely.  Whatever it is, having an outlet to take our minds off of the grind keeps us refreshed and excited for work when we get back to it.

They take breaks.  Like assembling a thousand piece puzzle of the sky, our teams can present us with challenges.  When we’re working on that puzzle and staring and ten pieces that look like they should fit, but don’t, sometimes we get up from the table, push our chair in, and come back to the puzzle later.  In the same manner, when our team is experiencing a problem, sometimes we need to step away from racking our brains trying to find the elusive solution.

They’ve often worked in different industries.  Whether it’s coaching at multiple levels or even different sports, it’s helpful to have a different perspective of what “normal” is.  It seems that a lot of coaches come from the playing ranks (like me) and don’t necessarily have experience with different ways to skin a cat.  Early on in my career, I would watch other sport coaches with their teams.  I’d take notes about how the coach set up their practice, how they interacted with their team, how their drills flowed into the next, how they opened practice, how they closed practice, everything.  Even for established coaches, challenging our norms is a good thing.

They have great outside collaborators.  I’ve got a coaching friend that I can text with my random questions about our sport.  I’ll ask her if it’s crazy to do whatever it is I’m thinking about and she asks the appropriate questions and we can work it out.   I’ve got coworkers whose offices I can pop in when I’ve got a coaching dilemma and they help me work through whatever it is I’m contemplating.  Our team won our conference tournament a few years ago, but I remember slumping into a chair in another coach’s office after the very first game of that season and telling him that I knew we had a problem.  And we did.  He and I talked and he gave me great ideas about the situation.  With his help, I was able to solve the problem early on which made the championship possible.

While each of these points is different, the common thread is connectedness.  Whether it’s being connected to something significant outside of work or having great coaching friends that we can count on…we can all be more productive if we use these tips.

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5 Signs You’re Burned Out…And How To Turn It Around

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Are you getting ‘er done…or just burned out?  Do you know when you’ve hit the wall and just can’t go hard anymore?  I was over at Bnet.com (a business website) and read a great article called “Is Your Company Turning You Into A Corporate Zombie?” and thought it made a lot of great points about what folks look like when they’re burned out and decided to bring it over here and put my coach spin on things.  How do you know when you’re burned out?  Well read on to find out!

**Keep your eyes peeled!  If you’re doing these things, you may be on the verge of burnout.**

1.       Your creativity level has dropped. Back in the day, you could spot a problem on your team and figure out a drill to fix it…or you’d schedule a team meeting…or you’d do whatever it took to address the issue.  Now, you’re flummoxed.  You’re all out of ideas to keep your team motivated.

2.       You spend less time in reflection. So I wrote this whole post about how leadership and solitude are linked (read it here) which makes it pretty obvious that I believe in giving yourself time to reflect.  When you’re burned out, you’re like the hamster on a wheel…just go-go-going!

3.       You laugh less. Your team goofball used to be able to make you smile no matter how intense you were in practice…not anymore.  Nothing’s funny because you’re tired, hopped up on caffeine, not eating right, and haven’t seen your family in weeks.

4.       You look beat down (like everyone else in your office). You come dragging in to the office at 7 am and you go dragging out at 9 pm.  You get home, go to bed, get up the next morning and do the same thing all over again. Why?  Because everyone else in the office does that when they’re in season.  You’re exhausted but you won’t rest or sleep or otherwise enjoy yourself because you’re “getting after it.”

5.       The sparkle in your eye dims. Talking about your team, planning practices, chatting with the coaching staff after practice…all of those things used to fire you up.  Now you sigh when someone asks about the team, dread planning practice, and hustle out of the gym as fast as you can when practice is over to avoid shop talk.

**Burnout killahs…do these 3 things to keep the bounce in your step!**

1.       Go home. Whether it’s to spend time with your family, or to make a proper meal, or just to relax and read a book…we all need to get away for a few hours.  Many, many things are out of our control as coaches.  Our players may get injured or another team may get the world’s best recruit, but our time?  It’s ours.  Let’s manage it so we can stay sane.

2. Set time limits on email/phone calls. Some of us think we can game the system.  We say, “oh, I go home at 6 every night.”  But what you don’t say is that you’re on the computer with the phone attached to your ear the whole time.  At some point, you’ve got to make an agreement with yourself when you’re going to turn everything off…and not just when it’s time to go to sleep!

3.       Workout/pray/meditate. Whatever you need to do to get your mind right…do it!  The idea of all of these burnout killahs is to get in control of your time, because it seems like burnout happens when you feel like there are so many things that you’ve “got” to do and you just “can’t” take time for yourself.  (I put those in quotation marks because they’re not empowering and most times just not true.)

Author’s note:  just because you’re doing the top five things doesn’t mean you’re burned out…you may thrive in that environment for short spurts.  But take an honest look at how you’re going about your business and figure out how long you can operate like that without losing your love of the game.

The 5 Stages Of A Coach’s Career

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Let me tell you what I think about coaches: we’re crazy in our preparation and dedication, we work long hours and love it, we give up our nights and weekends, we mentor our student-athletes, we demand big things from them and even more from ourselves, we’re passionate in our belief in our team and our love for our sport, we believe in the power of sport to have a positive and long-lasting impact in our athlete’s lives.  So when I saw “The 5 Stages of Your Career” over at Bob Starkey’s blog, I wanted to expand on it over here.  It’s interesting to figure out what stage you’re in and those that you’ve already gone through…or have you circled back around to some you thought you were finished with?  Check them out and see what you think.

The 5 Stages of Your Career

1.       Survival: Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Coaches, you remember what this stage felt like don’t you?   Or maybe you’re in the middle of this stage now and feel like you’re flailing.  I remember being beyond clueless…that’s back when I thought I just needed to know volleyball to be a volleyball coach!  Turns out also I needed to formulate a recruiting plan, balance a budget, create practice plans, order equipment, manage assistant coaches, and make in-game adjustments.  Color me unprepared, but thank goodness for a veteran coach who took me under his wing.

2.       Striving for Success: You Want Folks to Recognize You Can Coach
Your motivation?  Winning, plain and simple.  You’re obsessed with conquering the competition and put in hours and hours of your time to make it happen.  Being the best is what drives you and to be the best, you need the tangible accolades that go along with that:  lots of W’s in the win column, all-league awards for your team, and maybe a coach of the year for you.

3.       Satisfaction: You Relax, Set Another Goal, & Want To Get Better
Now that you’ve achieved a few of your goals, you can relax and know that you’re a good coach and you have the respect of your peers.  You attend conferences to network and visit with old friends as much as you do to learn some new things…you’re getting established.  Each year you set new goals to accomplish that will push you and your team forward…you’re focused.

4.       Significance: Changing Lives For The Good
At this stage you’re more concerned with how you impact your teams and your legacy than you are with personal glory…after all, you’ve already accomplished a lot.  Now you want to make sure your teams understand the value of sport and hope that you’re teaching them how to be better people, not just better players.  With all of your experience and years in the game, you’re very knowledgeable.  And because of the success you’ve had in your career, this is the stage where people solicit your opinion and ask for your help with their coaching conundrums.

5.       Spent: No Juice Left, Can’t Do It Any More
The busses, the trips, preseason, recruiting, the hustle, the grind…you’re over it.  You’re ready to hang with the family and actually make it home before nine o’clock at night.  And your weekends?  You want them back.  Not even the prospect of that super sweet and talented recruiting class that you just brought in is enough to bring you back into the fold.  As much as you love your sport, you’re just not that fired up about the season this year…it’s time to hang it up.

So what stage are YOU at?

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Great Coaching Advice…From A Coach Smarter Than Me

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The first year I started coaching, I went to my first major coaching convention.  A week-long affair, I learned so much about the profession that I thought my head would explode.  As a young coach, fresh out of college, I was living in a parallel universe of reliving my past glory as an athlete and trying to gain respect as a coach.

While at this convention, one of the speakers (unfortunately, I can’t remember her name) gave me two nuggets that I still remember to this day…this is the aforementioned great coaching advice:

  • You can’t be a great coach until you stop trying to be a great player.
  • No Sh*t Coaching (N.S.C.)…more on that later.



Great player
I received an email from a reader recently and she’s been doing the camp circuit over the summer and felt that her fellow camp coaches didn’t respect her because she didn’t play in college.  I told her, like I’d tell anyone, that we all have to learn to be coaches…playing doesn’t prepare you for the profession.  How many of us know folks who were all-Americans in college, but can’t figure out how to teach a movement or skill?  Coaching isn’t about playing, it’s about teaching, leading, motivating, prodding, believing, and guiding a group of people.  Coaching is a learned profession and you don’t learn it from playing.  You learn it by doing and by studying those who’ve gone before you.

Captain Obvioussource

N.S.C.
“Get the serve over the net!”–volleyball coach
“Make this shot!”–basketball coach
“Run fast!”–track coach

No Sh*t Coaching is stating the obvious. Using the examples above: Of course volleyball players should serve the ball over the net, does a coach really need to say that?  Will a basketball player become better if his coach tells him he should make a shot immediately after he’s missed it?  Does the sprinter really not know that she’s supposed to run fast?  It is track after all.

When the speaker said this, it was the beginning of my desire to really delve deeply into my sport, to learn the hows and whys of each movement and every assumption that I had about volleyball.  I’d advise every coach to go beyond the surface level coaching and give your athletes critiques and corrections that they will be able to use to become better versions of themselves.

Hopefully you find the speaker’s advice as great as I did!

Coaches Corner: The Power Of Female Mentorship

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When Vanessa Walby decided that she wanted to be a coach for a living, she went to her former college coach and said, “I want to be just like you.” She wanted to develop young women and she wanted to build something great. That sounds like a typical story until you find out that her college coach didn’t just pat her on the back and say good luck. She sat Walby down and they came up with a detailed plan for how she would accomplish her goals.

Now that’s mentorship!

When Walby started the newest chapter in her coaching story, she called her former coach. Amazingly enough, the coach not only remembered coming up with the plan, but reminded Walby that she was right on track.

This wasn’t by happenstance. Walby reached out to established coaches and asked them for guidance. This is probably a lesson we can all learn from…not to sit back and expect things to come to us. After speaking with her, Walby seems to have one foot planted in the past and the other firmly planted in the future…and it all seems to steer her present decisions.

Past.  Walby has an interesting history. She played for Kris Russell, arguably one of the best Division III volleyball coaches of all time. She’s currently at Washington University, which had another coaching great on its sidelines in Teri Clemens. She’s surrounded by all of this volleyball amazingness…is it a wonder she’s been so successful? She’s got crazy desire and passion along with an amazing support system.

Future. When you talk to Walby about why she loves coaching or her favorite parts of the profession, she’s very passionate about the impact she believes she can have on her players. Like most of us, she loves watching her athletes come in as nervous and unassuming freshman and leaving as confident seniors ready to take on the world.

So what can the rest of us learn from her story?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. I’ve found coaches to be amazingly approachable and open to sharing their knowledge, but you’ve got to ask. They’re not just walking down the street asking people if they want to know more about coaching.
  • Then use your mentor. Walby used her connection with her college coach to meet all sorts of coaching hot shots.
  • Do a good job. I’m not saying we’ve all got to be nationally ranked in order for it to be worth your mentor’s time, but you’ve got to put your best foot forward. The mentor stuck their neck out for you, so you’ve got to return the favor by working hard and being prepared.



If you’d like to advance your career, get out of a rut, or just get better at what you do where you are, maybe a mentor would help you meet your goals. Can’t hurt to try!

The Vanessa Walby series

Coaches Corner: Vanessa Walby
Coaches Corner: On Changing A Culture

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Coaches Corner: Four Things To Think About When Considering A New Job

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Kelly Sheffield believes in where he is right now. He believes that he can win at the University of Wisconsin and he believes he can convince talented volleyball players to join him there. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, who wouldn’t believe in a Big Ten school?” True enough, but his move to Wisconsin and the elite levels of volleyball wasn’t, in my opinion, a no-brainer. He was very successful at his previous institution and that success showed no signs of waning.

So I asked him about it. What advice would he give to coaches who think they’re ready to take that next step? How did he know the time was right to leave the comfort of his successful situation for the unknown of Wisconsin?

Before Sheffield answered, he was sure to give me a parenthetical note: If you’re a new coach and just trying to break into the coaching ranks…take any job. Just start coaching, you haven’t earned the right to be picky.

Are you ready to take another job?

  • Be honest with yourself. Coaches have to be honest about what will make them happy and not just do what they’re supposed to do. The move has to be good for you, your family, and your career.
  • Do you believe in your potential new location?   Will your boss advocate for you? Will the institution fund success or mediocrity? Can you see success in your mind’s eye or do you view the job as a stepping stone?
  • What goals does the administration have for the program? If you sit down in your interview and lay out how you can bring a conference/national championship to the institution and then the folks interviewing you say they just want a team above .500, you have different goals. With a major difference in objectives, you will be destined to figuratively bang your head against a wall.
  • How will your working relationship with your direct boss play out? They are the folks who will advocate for you and your program. There’s a finite amount of money within athletic departments and your boss has to be on your side when it comes to program needs.



Good luck to those of you thinking of making a location, or maybe even career, change. Hopefully, these words of wisdom can help clarify your decision.

Check out the Sheffield series:
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?
Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach


Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

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Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.—John Wooden

This will be a short one today, but (I think) a good one.

I was talking to a coaching friend the other day.  He told me that he knew he’d be a great coach once his current team made it to NCAA’s. Now this guy has won a national championship at another institution, so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to win.

His comment said a few things to me.

  • We coaches are way too hard on ourselves.
  • We coaches are internally driven to succeed.
  • We coaches like challenges.



As I said to him, clearly you’re a good coach because you’ve won a national championship.  But I get it, once you accomplish a goal as a coach, you’re on to the next one.  So what did he do after winning a national championship?  He took a job at a historically bad university with no history of success.

Coaches love challenges.  We love setting goals and meeting them.  It’s what drives us.

Whether your goal is to rebuild a team culture or rebuild a player’s confidence, go out and do it to the best of your ability.  Like the Wooden quote above says, success is the satisfaction of knowing you did your best.  Let’s be our best selves for our teams!

John Wooden’s TEDtalk:  The difference between winning and succeeding

Click here and you can get Coach Dawn Writes articles emailed directly to your inbox!  It’s free and easy…and I promise I won’t give your email to anyone else.

The John Wooden series:

John Wooden TEDtalk
Leading With Integrity
Wooden’s Three Team Rules
The Pressure Of Winning

Leaving A Legacy Through Coaching

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“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I took that quotation from Leadership Freak’s post, 10 Ways to Build Powerful Legacy Now.  For the purposes of this post, let’s change out “life, lived, and lived” with “coaching, coached, and coached.”  I’m sure most of us coaches, no matter the level, imagine ourselves as difference makers.

Just like we want our teams and players to set goals that begin with the end in mind, we should also think about what we want our players to say about us when they’re finished.  What about our coworkers?  Our families?

5 ways coaches can build an amazing legacy

  • Develop and maximize your talent, strengths, and skills.  We’ve got to be lifelong learners.  I love being a dork about my sport.  I love learning from other coaches.  I can’t imagine a time when I’ll think I know it all.
  • Seize small opportunities. Big may follow.  This one is a good one…and a thought I actually heard from another coach.  He lamented that young coaches are too quick to turn down the entry level job.  His advice: take a job doing what you want to do.  Worry about it having cache when you actually have experience.
  • Think service not success.  When we only think of our own success, we take the heart out of coaching.  If we believe our jobs are to make our players better human beings, service has to come before success.
  • Relax. Don’t run around building a legacy. Run around making a difference.  This is my favorite one.  If we’re always thinking about what will be said about us in the future, we may not live in the present.  We’ve got to trust that if we’re the best coaches that we can be, the rest will take care of itself.
  • Elevate the needs of others over your own.  In my opinion, coaching should be an “other people” job…meaning it’s about other people.  It’s about developing your players.  It’s about being a good coworker.  It’s about equipping your assistants to be team leaders.  It’s also about figuring out how to be there for our families.  If we’re successful on all of those fronts, I think our legacies will be pretty amazing.



What do you think?  I believe coaches have the power to change the lives of others.  And those people will go out into the world and change the lives of others…and so on, and so on.

The Importance of Sleep For Our Players

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On a team long, long ago, I had a player with a troubled friend in her dorm.  This friend would have episodes which involved seizures and scary blackouts.  My player, ever the mother hen, felt it was her duty to stay up with her friend even though these episodes happened during the wee hours of the morning.  This would happen night after night.

No sleep for days.

And she expected to be able to function well in the classroom and in the gym.  She would tell me, “Don’t worry coach, I don’t need much sleep.”  Huh?

Not every scenario is as crazy as this one.  Some are just your players stay up too late doing homework.  Or they aren’t able to get uninterrupted sleep. Or they think they can party the weekend away and pay the homework piper on Sunday.

This should be important to us not only because we’re counting on our athletes to perform, but also part of our role in their lives is to teach them how to be functioning adults.

What’s the problem?

According to this Harvard Business Review article, Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer, there are four parts to sleep that affect performance.  The first part is our natural drive to sleep.  We think we’re in control of it, but essentially, our bodies will force us to sleep if we put it off too long.  The second is the amount of sleep we get over the course of a few days.  The third is the part of us that says, “Oh, it’s light outside, it’s time to get up.”  Finally, there’s the groggy wakeup.  Apparently, we need about twenty minutes in the morning to get our bearings.

What can we do about it?

  • If we schedule morning practices, we’ve got to give them time to truly wake up.  If I go in the morning, I usually do some sort of conditioning first.  That way, they don’t have to tax their brains until later in the practice.
  • We’ve got to talk to them about how important sleep is to their performance.
  • If there’s a way to show them they’re not being heroic by staying up all night writing papers and studying, we’ve got to show them.
  • Sleep has to be equated to going to the training room, getting strong in the weight room, and watching film…it’s what we need to do in order to be good.



The article equated lack of sleep with drunkenness.  We wouldn’t tolerate our players being in a perpetual state of intoxication and we shouldn’t tolerate sleeplessness either.

The Power of Taking Time Off

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When I saw this TEDtalk called, “The Power of Time Off”, I was understandably intrigued.  Since I’ve just come off of a year-long break from blogging, speaking, and writing, I’m trying to figure out how to frame what I’ve gone through.  You should check out the talk, though it’s a bit long at just under eighteen minutes.

Certainly, taking a year off to hang out with my kid would be a valid reason, but I am looking for more.  I’m looking for a reason this break made me a better coach/writer/speaker/mother than I was pre-sabbatical.

Deciding what to give up

The first thing I should do is acknowledge that I didn’t give up my main source of income, namely being a coach and administrator at my college.  But I did give up the writing and speaking that I so enjoy…I truly benefit from connecting with and learning from other coaches.  There was most certainly the risk that everyone would forget about Coach Dawn and all of my cool writing about this amazing profession.

How did I decide what to give up?  I broke my life down into parts: work, family, “Coach Dawn”.  I don’t know whether or not it’s sad that I can break my life into just three parts, but it fit.  I can’t imagine telling my family that I’m going to take a year-long break from them, just as it would be unfathomable to tell my boss that I didn’t want to coach for a year.  So…Coach Dawn it was.

Stefan Sagmeister, the TEDtalk speaker, defines work as having three parts (this is so good, I could write a whole post just about this!):

  • Job: he needs it for money.  Coach Dawn does have a revenue aspect that was helpful.
  • Career: he’s interested in advancement and promotion. I can see myself, when I’m ready to move on to the next challenge, doing Coach Dawn full time…so this definition is spot on.
  • Calling: intrinsically fulfilling, he’d do his job for free.  I didn’t get into writing this blog for cash, but to connect with other coaches who are passionate about their profession…that makes this a good working definition for me.

Giving up Coach Dawn was tough, but I don’t know that “giving up” is the proper term.  I freed up space to focus on being better.  I had to decide whether or not Coach Dawn was worth my time and effort.  Was it helping or hurting my coaching? Going through the job/career/calling thing was helpful for me.

The big picture

Sure, I want to win games and championships, just like any other coach.  More than that, though, my sabbatical afforded me the time to think about my impact on the young ladies on my team.  It gave me time to wonder about my influence on my campus.  Most importantly, my time off gave me time to miss writing and speaking.

Try it!

Taking a break doesn’t have to take a year.  It can take a semester, a month, or a week.  I think this idea goes against the coaching culture: working less now to pay dividends in the future.  Is there something you can set aside that will free you up to draft a plan to become a better you?