Category Archives: Coaching strategy

How To Turn Around An Underperforming Team

turnaroundsource

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know I’m a huge fan of TEDtalks. I just watched a great one by a principle of an epically underperforming school. Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s talk gives details about just how bad the situation at the school was when she arrived…and it’s depressing.

But for those of you out there who are taking over a team that has historically underachieved or are looking to turn around the fortunes of the team you coach, her talk should be inspiration for you. Paraphrasing one of many awesome points from her talk for our purposes, low expectations from coaches play a major role in the destruction of a team’s culture.

So how do we fight the inertia of low expectations? Here are the three points to she said helped guide the amazing turnaround of her failing school.

3 Steps To Turn Around Your Underachieving Team

  1. If you’re going to lead, LEAD. First things first, assemble the best leadership team you can…assistants, captains, etc. Cliatt-Wayman emphasized the importance of not hiding from the problem and being able to change things that aren’t working. At their best, leaders make the impossible possible. She also discussed making sure her students knew what her non-negotiables were…what are yours? Mine are athletes who walk in the gym and don’t put their teammates first and don’t bring a competitive mindset.
  2. So What? Now What? Of her three main points, this one is my favorite. She says the primary responsibility a leader of an underperforming team has is to eliminate excuses. When I think of times when my team hasn’t reached their goals, there were always many excuses and not many players accepting responsibility. Cliatt-Wayman’s point is to challenge our athlete’s view of the problem…so what we have a lot of injuries, what are you going to do to step up? So what you lost your starting spot, how much harder are you willing to work to earn it back?
  3. If nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do. Our players need to know that we care about them as people and not just what they bring to the team. It’s our job to believe in the possibilities of our athletes. So whether you have organized meetings, text/call your players, or use your warmup time to chat with your athletes, taking time to get to know them will make everyone’s experience much better.

I certainly am not here to say that turning around an underperforming team will be easy, but it can be done. Have a plan, have high expectations, and care about your athletes.

Culture Change: Evolution or Revolution?

Evolution not Revolutionsource

A coworker of mine let me know about The Corner Office, which is a management/leadership section within the New York Times magazine.  It has lots of interviews of hot shot management types that are very interesting and, I think, applicable to the coaching profession.

Changing a team culture needs to happen when you take over a new team, when your team is stuck in a negative rut, and sometimes when a new and dominant set of leaders take over.  How should you go about it?

A model for changing a team culture:

  1. Evaluate the team.  Sit down with your assistants and go through your team, player by player.  What positives do they bring to the team?  Negatives?  Do you have the players you need to win?
  2. Figure out what needs to be changed.  Do you have good team leaders?  It’s easy to dust off old practices each year, but maybe you need to get to some clinics to learn some new ways to teach your old tricks.
  3. Figure out what doesn’t need to be changed.  Similar to #2.

Decide:

  1. Evolution.  Slow, steady change.  Probably best for a team you’re currently coaching.
  2. Revolution. Fast, radical change.   Probably best for taking over a new team.

Action plan:

  1. Set the strategy.  Where will you start first?  Staff improvements? Recruiting?  Increasing the skill base of your current players?
  2. Come up with a structure/plan.  Implementing the strategy.
  3. Identify the right players.  We can’t anything without our players.  Make sure you’ve got the right team leaders in place, the right players in the right positions, and the right recruits in the pipeline.

So that’s the coach version of the business turnaround plan from The Corner Office.

6 Hidden Gems Who Go Unnoticed On Teams

diamond roughsource

Maybe you’re a high school coach who knows that the freshman and junior varsity teams are lacking talent to send up to your team.  Or maybe you’re the college coach whose recruiting class didn’t quite turn out the way you’d planned.  Or you could be the club coach who received five players who play the same position.  It could be that your team (God forbid) experienced a major loss when a key player got injured.

Whoever is reading this, we’ve all found ourselves in situations where we had to train players to do something that was seemingly outside of their skill set.  I got the idea for this post from, Diamonds in the rough: How to recognize your star employees, on Smart Blogs’ website.  When we’re forced to think outside of the box, sometimes good things happen!

These diamonds in the rough could be hiding in plain sight

  1. Haven’t put it all together yet.  Whether they started with the sport late, adolescence hit with fury, or they’re just slow learners…some players take a while to “get it”.  These are usually the players with great physical gifts (height, strength, etc.) who need tons of reps.
  2. Haven’t maxed out at skill level.  I’m sure we’ve all coached the player who’s maxed out their potential, they’re just not going to get better.  It’s not that they’re bad players, they could be really good, we just know they’re at the peak of their curve rather than on their way up.  The key when in crisis mode is to find the player who’s on the way up.
  3. Appreciative of coach’s effort and interest.  Those players who look us in the eye when we’re giving correction and immediately try to change their behavior are fired up about getting better.  They’re the ones we see practicing by themselves when we walk past the gym.  They’ll practice hard for whatever situation we put them in.
  4. Value team.  These players put team first.  When we ask them to switch positions or to step in somewhere they’ve never played before, they do it without question.  This type of player has an open attitude about change and will make our jobs a lot easier.
  5. Willing to work (hard) to improve.  Not only willing, but these players are excited about the challenge of learning something new.  They’ll watch film, come to practice early and stay late.  These players understand that working hard leads to really good things.
  6. Enjoy the sport.  Look for players who have fun when they’re with the team.  Enthusiasm will make the transition easier for the player and their teammates…and their coach!



As we think about our teams, we should always have a plan A, B, and C for each of them.

5 Questions We Should Ask While Problem Solving

Scampersource

Problem: A player isn’t performing at an acceptable level.

What to do?:  SCAMPER.   Let’s look at how we’d apply SCAMPER to our teams.

First things first, what the heck is SCAMPER?  The letters stand for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify/Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Rearrange, though I won’t talk about combine or magnify/modify here.

I’m sure we could use this technique with all sorts of problems, but let’s stick with our problem player.

Can we substitute?:  This is the easiest solution to an underperforming player…put someone else in.  Though, if the player is a starter and impact player for our team, keeping her off of the court isn’t a smart long term solution.

Can we adapt to her?:  I worked with a team at a summer camp with a pretty dynamic hitter, though she struggled with slower tempo sets.  The only problem?  Her head coach put her in a position to work only in her weakness and hit those slow tempo sets.  After watching her crush fast tempo after fast tempo ball, we changed the offensive system to work in her strength and she excelled.

Can we put her to another use?: Our players come to us with a certain amount of training in their particular position, but can they do other things?  Would it be better if they played another position?  Until we answer, “yeah, I can put her to another use…right here on the bench next to me”, we’ve got to figure out a way for each player to have a legitimate contribution to the team’s effort.

What can we eliminate?:  Maybe the coaching staff has come up with a sweet offensive plan for the team…they just can’t execute it!  Perhaps it’s time to scrap that plan and simplify.  Is there something going on in her personal life that’s keeping her from performing up to snuff?  We’ve got to help her eliminate the causes of stress if possible.  If nothing works…maybe we’ve got to eliminate more and more of her playing time.

Can our team be rearranged into something else?:  Sometimes we’ll play a team that funnels eighty percent of their offense through a couple of players and I always wonder what they do when those players have bad days…besides lose, I mean.  For that player who has lost their mojo, the coaching staff can restructure the offensive season so that player doesn’t carry so much of the burden.

I got the idea for this post from a Psychology Today article about creative thinking and I can see how SCAMPER could initiate the creative thinking process.  Sometimes the obvious answer isn’t the best option and we’ve got to dig deeper.

Non-Verbal Communication

power posesource

“Our bodies change our minds
And our minds change our behavior
And our behavior changes our outcomes.

In a TEDtalk called Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy, I learned that how we present ourselves is amazingly powerful.  And not in the way that you think.  It’s how you present yourself to yourself…not necessarily to others.  The findings of assuming powerful positions, like my man Frank Underwood up above, are pretty astounding.  I’d suggest you watch the talk, it’s about twenty minutes long and well worth your time.

It turns out that folks in studies who assumed high power poses for two minutes and then were put through an intense interview situation were seen as:

  • Passionate
  • Enthusiastic
  • Captivating
  • Comfortable
  • Authentic
  • Confident



Which all sound like the qualities we’re looking for in our athletes!  Apparently, powerful people are more assertive, confident, and optimistic than their less powerful peers.  They think more abstractly and take more risks, as well.  It turns out that power isn’t only about dominance, but how you react to stress.  The high-power pose people in the studies had hormonal changes from just two minutes of assuming their powerful positions.

Here are some examples of high power vs. low power poses:

power pose2source

I’ll add as a side note that checking your phone is also a low-power pose, because you’re making yourself smaller.  The high power poses are all about making yourself bigger and taking up space.

What if we had our teams take on high power poses before each competition?  The studies seem to show that their bodies will physiologically react to the pose with a more powerful view of themselves.  I’m willing to try it…are you?

Coaches Corner: On Being A High Energy Coach

high energysource

Becky Schmidt is the head volleyball coach at Hope College. She’s also a professor at the college, with a Master’s in Sport Behavior and Performance. I found a quotation from one of her non-volleyball students that gave a glimpse into who she is: “Crazy woman. Sleeps like 3 hours a night and drinks lots of coffee. Bursting with energy and excitement about everything, especially volleyball.”

It turns out, while a lot of her energy is natural, Schmidt is also constantly aware of her energy output. She would say the main reason she is so engaged is because she had moody coaches in the past. Because she knows how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment, she tries hard to remain the same. As a matter of fact, she says she’s even keyed in when she’s out recruiting. She’s engaged…all the time.

I was interested in how she did that, of course, but more interested in how she challenged her players and students to match her intensity level.

  1. Challenge team to give max effort. Schmidt talked a lot about how we, as coaches, can show our players how not to limit themselves. She says she asks her players to give her whatever they have in the moment. Feeling your absolute best isn’t the prerequisite for hard work…just the desire to put in the effort.
  2. Help them to stop being afraid of failure. This is one of those life skills that we tell our athletes they learn from playing our sport. This quality alone will put our athletes ahead of their competition once they’re in the work force.



What if they’re not doing those things?

  1. Call them out on it right away. I think I can do a better job of this one. I sometimes give my athletes too much leeway to pull themselves out of the mire. According to Schmidt, I need to intervene sooner.
  2. Give them the confidence to push themselves. As coaches, we can show them how much we believe in their potential by expecting more from them. If our athletes have inappropriately low expectations of themselves, it’s our job to raise them up…no matter how tough it is.
  3. Correction vs. criticism. This isn’t necessarily for the coaches, but for the players. Many times, any sort of correction is seen as criticism. For us to be able to do our jobs, our athletes have to be able receive correction in the spirit that it’s given.



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: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Reaching Full Potential Speedometer Tracking Goalsource

“Reaching your potential can’t ever be comfortable.”
—Kelly Sheffield, Head Women’s Volleyball Coach, University of Wisconsin

I read an interview with Sheffield where he said he expects his players to immerse themselves in the process of getting better and I loved that phrase.  There’s ownership required from the player and a level of expectation set from the coach.  And that’s how we got to the quotation I put at the beginning of the post.  Surely, we all want our players to reach their potential, but the process of getting better is oftentimes harder than our athletes think it will be.

So how do we get them there?

First things first, they’ve got to buy what we’re selling.  Sheffield was in a different position with his team, because he was in his first year with them.  But I think we should always remind our athletes about those things that we hold in high esteem…whether we’re in our first or twenty-second year.

  • What is your vision?  This could be a goal of winning the conference or it could be a GPA goal you have for your team.
  • What culture does your program have?  I just got back from evaluating a player at a tournament.  After seeing what I needed to see from her, I got caught up in watching another court.  The players weren’t engaged…with each other or the coach.  As a matter of fact, they seemed to hate the sport of volleyball!  That’s a culture and it has been created. Since we’re in charge, let’s be sure not to create this sort of environment.
  • What kind of coach are you? Do You! as Russell Simmons says and own it.  If you’re fiery, contemplative, stats geek, tough, nurturing…whatever your style, be comfortable with it, because it’s the only way your players will know what to expect from you.



Once they’ve bought in, they’ve got to trust you.  They don’t need to trust you to start them.  Helping our athletes to reach their potential isn’t some sort of weird contract (if I work hard, then you’ll play me a lot), it’s truly for the benefit of the team…and by default, the benefit of the individual athlete.  Areas where we should be trusted include:

  • Do you believe in their skills?
  • Do you believe they can get better?
  • Do they believe you care about them as people?



Finally, they’ve got a choice to make.  As Sheffield says, our athletes can “make the decision to be extraordinary.”  It’s a daily decision our players must make.  To work hard.  To accept coaching.  To fail.  To keep trying.  If they make these decisions, they’ll be on the road to reaching their potential.

Want more Sheffield?  Check out:
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?
Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach
Coaches Corner: Four Things To Think About When Considering A New Job


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!

Using Feedback As Motivation

feedbacksource

In the absence of feedback, people will fill in the blanks with a negative. They will assume you don’t care about them or don’t like them.—Pat Summitt

Try this experiment with your team.  As players migrate in at the beginning of practice, just quietly walk around the track/gym/ice/pool deck and observe your athletes.  Don’t chat with them about their day, don’t give them a friendly head nod of acknowledgement, don’t smile.

As they start their warmup, don’t offer corrections to their form, don’t encourage them to stay focused on practice and not whatever happened outside of the track/gym/ice/pool deck, don’t talk about your expectations for practice.

When they do their drills, just walk around, expressionless, and take it all in.  No correction, no praise, no “if you want me to stop saying it, then do it right” speeches.

When they’re in the competition phase of practice, don’t get excited about great plays for goodness sakes!  And if someone makes a great hustle play, be sure to keep it ho-hum.  When they mess up the play you’ve been working on for weeks?  Say nothing.

That all sounds ridiculous, right?

Feedback is an essential component of every practice and we’re giving it all the time, whether we’re saying anything or not.  We coaches have to be mindful of what we’re projecting, both verbally and non-verbally to our teams.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t project annoyance, disappointment, or frustration to your team…just be sure that it’s your intent.

We’re always saying something when we’re with our teams, even when we’re silent.

On The Value Of Hard Work

hard worksource

There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.—Coach K

The other day, I was speaking to another coach about her season and the different approach she decided to take with her team.  She said instead of yelling or punishing her players for what she perceived as a lack of effort, she decided to use those episodes as teachable moments where she would explain where the athlete was falling short.  Assuming, I suppose, that the athlete didn’t realize they were coming across as lazy or not giving full effort.

Effort is a doozy.  Some things are out of our player’s control, but effort and communication aren’t.  Even the very worst athlete on your team can perform those skills at amazing levels.  Working hard is not optional and is the only way to success.  Sometimes, though, our teams think they are working hard, but we know it will take much more effort from them to reach the success they desire.

That got me to thinking about redirection strategies coaches can use.  When an athlete or team is off track, for one reason or another, it’s our job to get them back…and there are many tactics we can use.

6 ways to help your team value and understand hard work

Yelling.  This is the easiest, I suppose.  I’m not a big yeller.  Mostly because it’s just not in my personality, but also because I think it signals a loss of control. I’ve got to model keeping my composure if that’s a quality I view as an asset within my team.

Physical punishment.  There are those who say that coaches should never use running or conditioning as a punishment…that you’re making something positive into a negative.  I understand the sentiment, but I disagree.  I would rather not have to be the motivation for my team, but sometimes teams are externally motivated and that’s one of the tools that can be used.  Used correctly, “opportunities for fitness” (as I call them) are very effective.

Talk to your captains.  Explain to them what you see.  Explain to them that your frustration with the perceived lack of effort is maddening.  Explain to them that opportunities for fitness are on the horizon.  Strong leaders will pull the team together and get them back on track.

Review goals.  Every team sits down at the beginning of the year and comes up with goals.  They want to win conference or beat a rival they lost to the previous year, whatever it may be.  As you go through those goals with them, you ask if not giving full effort in each practice is going to get them there.

Watch film.  There are certain plays in every sport that are hustle or effort plays.  Usually it’s something that no one in the stands will notice whether you’re doing it or not, but it’s a critical skill that is important to the team’s success.  Show your team the film.  Show them not doing that thing that is essential to your team’s success.  I usually show them each instance in a game—it can end up being ten or twenty times of the same mistake—and then ask them how we’re supposed to be successful if we’re not willing to do the hard stuff of our sport.

Visualize.  Have them think about the last game of the season and what they want that to feel like.  Will they take the final shot?  Or win the game on an ace?  Or pass an opponent on the final curve to win the race?  Walk them through it and then ask them what they’re willing to do to experience those feelings in real life.

What strategies have you used with your team to get them to work harder and go beyond what their perceived limits are?

Creating A Connected Culture

connected culturesource

When members of a group of any size, from a basketball team to a business organization, share a vision that makes them feel proud, feel valued, and feel that they have a voice to express their ideas and opinions, it creates a connection, a bond, a feeling of unity or esprit de corps.
Why Coach K Coaches Like a Girl

Okay, I don’t like the title of the article I quoted above.  First of all, girls aren’t typically coaches, women are.  Second of all, it’s repetitious (coach, coaches).  Lastly, comparing a grown person to a child of another gender is rarely a compliment.  That being said, I get it.  It comes across as a slight or maybe even a slam against Coach K when, in actuality, the author paints “coaching like a girl” is a positive.

He’s being provocative.

The author does a great job of describing why Coach K’s been successful…attributing it to the female presence in his life.  I don’t know how true or accurate that is and I certainly don’t think you have to be a woman to create a connected team.  What I really enjoyed about the article was his formula:

Vision + Value + Voice = Connected Culture

Vision:  I believe this has to be two-fold.  Vision for each individual player: an athlete will put up with not playing, with being pushed mentally and physically, with a whole lot…as long as they see how it fits into the grand plan.  And of course we’ve got to have a vision for the program.  That vision will influence how we recruit, how we plan practices, how we schedule opponents…everything.

Value:  Our players invest a lot of themselves into our program.  Their time, their heart, their passion, their egos.  We ask a lot of them and they give us a lot, the least we can do is make sure they know we appreciate what they’re putting into the program.

Voice:  This doesn’t mean that you always do what your players ask of you, but they should feel comfortable in their belief that their opinions will be heard and considered.

Giving our teams a vision of the future of the program, combined with valuing their effort and giving them a voice is a great way for us to create a team culture that will withstand the normal ups and downs of a season.