Category Archives: Meetings

Everyone Is A Critic

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Coaching, much like parenting, is a thankless job. It seems that no matter what a coach does, there’s someone waiting in the wings to criticize the recruiting technique, in-game move, or the coach’s knowledge.

I’ll never forget being on a high after making it to NCAA’s with a talented team…only to have two players quit a few months later. Buzz kill.

What I’ve learned in my years of coaching is to be open to both criticism and praise, but to take them both with a grain of salt. So I was excited to read Leadership Freak’s blog post about handling a critic/critique.

He says that there are three possibilities for your critic’s actions:

  • Some jerks are actually trying to be helpful, they just suck at it. As I look back at various parents and players that I’ve had to deal with, I think most fall into this category.
  • The criticism has a grain of truth in it. My default position for criticism is to dismiss the person as illogical. Sooo, I run it by our assistant coach to see what he thinks.
  • Your critic is a jerk. This is most definitely the smallest percentage of critic that I experience (at least, that’s what I tell myself) and I count myself lucky.

The beauty of being in charge is being able to control yourself and your reactions. While I may be cussing them out in my head, this cucumber stays calm and cool when faced with coaching’s sometimes unfortunate interactions.

4 Possible responses to a coaching criticism

  1. Thank you for your observation. Don’t know how I feel about this one. Seems like a blow off to me.
  2. What makes you say that? I like asking questions to start off what I think may be a difficult convo. That way, I respond to concerns directly from the horse’s mouth rather than relying on what I’ve heard through the grapevine.
  3. How might I address this issue? It’s easy to complain, much harder to problem solve. Involve your critic in brainstorming possible solutions.
  4. Wow! I hadn’t thought of it that way. Just because someone sees a situation differently, doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. If our conversation is fruitful, then I should have gained some insight into why they’re upset/critical/not happy. Ending with this sentiment gives both sides a chance to explain where they’re coming from.

If you don’t want to get wet, then don’t swim. If you don’t want criticism, then don’t coach. Hopefully, this gave you some ideas on how to effectively manage the critics in your midst.

Using Meetings To Increase The Success Of Your Team

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I love the individual meeting.  It’s my time to chat with players, find out how classes are going, how they’re feeling on the team.  All sorts of stuff.  It’s also a time for the players to get to know me a little better, so I think it’s a win-win.  For me, the meetings can take lots of shapes.  Let’s talk about them.

During preseason This is typically a very informal meeting conducted right there in the gym.  Whatever drill we have the team participating in, my assistant and I will call out a player and have them come and chat with us.  When we’re finished with that player, we tell her to grab someone else.  It goes like that until we’re finished with everyone’s meetings.  This meeting will address whether we thought they came in to preseason in shape, what we think their strengths are and how they can be an asset to the team,  and what we think their weaknesses are…or potential barriers to court time.  They should walk away from this two to three minute conversation knowing where they fit into our team’s depth chart and should understand what they need to do to benefit our team’s success.

In season This is a scheduled meeting where the student athletes sign up for meeting time with me.  I typically ask them to come up with 2-3 academic goals and 2-3 individual volleyball goals.  This is important time for me to demonstrate to my athletes that I care about them beyond what they bring to the court.  I believe that it’s important for your athletes to know that you care about them as people…not just players.  We talk about their academics, their majors, the classes that they’re worried about, professors that they’re worried about, their goals beyond college.  Armed with that knowledge, you’ll understand how to handle each of them.  Some are just like me (poor souls) and come in to the meeting with their planners out, notes neatly typed, and good answers for all questions.  Others come in and can’t find the paper they wrote everything out on, and you’ll be able to tell that they haven’t actually thought about your questions until they were sitting right there in your office.

And of course we hit their volleyball goals.  Some may be tangible…I want to be the  starting setter.  While others are intangible…I don’t want to be as nervous as I was last year when we played our arch rival.  Either way, it’s the coach’s job to help the student athlete navigate through this maze.  What steps does he need to take in order to be the starting setter?  What are his strengths that make him an asset?  What are his weaknesses that make him a liability?  Armed with that knowledge, the athlete is free to sink or swim.  I always make sure that they understand that I want to put the best combination of players on the court.  I’d love it to include him, but if he’s not willing to put in the work…I know of others who will.

The impromptu Years ago, I had a player who came into practice with the super red eyes.  I looked at my assistant and said, “uh oh, we’ve got a crier.”  I sidled up next to one of my captains and asked if she knew what was wrong.  Nothing.  Another player that this girl was close to…again, nothing.  I left it alone.  Later in practice, I was giving her instruction and she started crying again.  Not sobs, just slow tears trickling down her face while she nodded at what I was saying and apparently hoped that I didn’t see her crying.  I asked what was wrong while my assistant ran the drill and she said she didn’t know.  I asked again (class? boyfriend? parents?) and she said she didn’t know…just was feeling kinda blah.  To which I said (and I’ll never forget), “it’s every woman’s right to cry for no reason, you just have to let your team know so that they don’t think you’re mad at them.”  That was it, she was fine…all was right with the world.

End of the season This can be an awesome meeting or an awful one depending on the season and the person.  It’s awesome when season went well and the player had a tangible contribution.  It’s awful when the player doesn’t have a proper view of their skill level and how they could have impacted the team.  It’s good to be prepared for the tough ones ahead of time…don’t be caught off guard by a disgruntled player.  Anyhoo, this meeting is meant to fire them up for the next season…whether that’s spring ball or fall season.  We talk about their practice and game contributions and how those impacted the team positively and how they could get even better.  We look at their goals again and figure out how they did with those.  If you think they’ll be chosen as captain by their teammates (or you just want them to be), I talk to them about acting like a leader before they’re chosen…and what that leadership should look like.  For seniors, it’s never a happy meeting.  They’re sad because there’s no more volleyball and no more team and now they’ve got to go work in the real world and everyone knows that that’s no fun.  I talk to them about what a joy it’s been working with them (it almost always is) and how they’ve changed the team dynamics for the better and that they should believe that they left the team better than they found it.

So that’s that!  How do you handle your individual meetings?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Have The Courage To Create Conflict

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In her great TEDtalk, Dare To Disagree, Margaret Heffernan talks about conflict among individuals and within larger organizations…and how constructive conflict isn’t bad, but actually very good.  I’ve written enough on here about conflict that you all should know that I completely agree with this viewpoint.

Benefits of operating our teams with a constructive conflict model

  1. Surrounding ourselves with assistant coaches who will challenge us and create conflict around what we think is true will make us better leaders.  For example, a few years ago, one of my starters got hurt mid-match and we made in-game adjustments as necessary.  But after the match, when we had time to think about it, we discussed our options and I poo poo’d my assistant’s suggestion of a lineup change.  He persisted and his suggestion worked much better than the one I’d assumed would be best.
  2. When we explore all possibilities, we can feel confident we’re on the right path.  I’m a big fan of asking my assistants, “so what do you think?”  They may get tired of me always exploring, but when we hit a problem from every angle, I can feel confident that we’re doing what’s best for the team.

How do we set up a constructive conflict model with our team?

  1. See conflict as thinking.  Conflict gets a bad rap.  When we get right down to it, conflict is just exploring different ways to solve the same problem.
  2. Don’t be afraid of conflict.  Conflict among coaching staffs shouldn’t include screaming, yelling, name-calling, or other any of the other negative outcomes.  It truly should be a group of people with the same destination…they’re just all taking different roads.
  3. Find assistants who think differently than we do.  Heffernan says we’re genetically predisposed to surround ourselves with people who are like us.  That’s great if we want coaches who just parrot off what we say…not so great if we want to be thoughtful about the direction of our team.
  4. Have the patience and energy to seek these people out.  Finding those folks who will feel comfortable challenging us isn’t easy and it will take time.  Some of us have the opportunity to hire those people, while others of us will have to cultivate this atmosphere of constructive conflict among an existing coaching staff.
  5. Be prepared to change our minds.  This is the biggie.  If we’re going to seek out folks who’ll disagree with our opinions, we have to be open-minded enough to acknowledge that their ideas may, in fact, be better and more successful than ours.


So how many of us will dare to do this?  When we learn to see constructive conflict as productive and not negative, we’ll be more apt to try it.

5 Questions We Should Ask While Problem Solving

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

What to do?:  SCAMPER.  According to this Psychology Today article, it is a great creative thinking tool.  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 recommend the PT article, I can see how it could initiate the creative thinking process.  Sometimes the obvious answer isn’t the best option and we’ve got to dig deeper.

Have Microphone, Will Travel: Booking Coach Dawn To Speak To Your Group

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Hey folks…Coach Dawn Writes is going on the road!  As you start planning out the professional development of your staff, think beyond the X’s and O’s.  Check out the list below for possible ideas that I can talk to your group about.  You can also check out my Speaking Engagement page for more information.  I’m excited to meet some of you out there and know that we’ll be able to work well together.  And most important of all…we’ll be able to make each other better at what we do!

Sample speaking topics Coach Dawn can bring to your group

  • Book discussion, Coach Dawn’s Guide To Motivating Female Athletes
  • How Coaches Can Manage “Girl Drama”
  • Using John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success to Build a Successful Season
  • Motivating the Female Athlete to Success
  • Using Personality Tests to Build Team Chemistry
  • Marketing Women’s Athletics: Why It’s Important
  • Leadership Training: 10 Traits to Foster in Your Team Leaders
  • The Catch 22: Work-Life Balance
  • Wish List: The 8 Must-Have Qualities You Must Instill in Your Athletes
  • Increasing the Competitiveness of Your Female Team

 

4 ways to have Coach Dawn come speak to your group

  • Keynote speaker
  • Half day speaker for conferences and seminars
  • Full day speaker for conferences and seminars
  • Small group leader

 

Folks who should book Coach Dawn to speak to their group

  • Athletic Directors or Conference Commissioners
  • Club/AAU Directors
  • Conference & Seminar organizers

 

If that sounds interesting to you, then check out the Speaking Engagement page and shoot me an email so that we can connect with one another!

How To Make Your Staff More Productive And Autonomous

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Every coach has their maxims.  You know what I mean, things that you say over and over again that your teams can recite in their sleep.  One of mine is “enough about leadership, we need followership classes.”  I could write a whole article about that (and maybe one day I will!), but this one is about creating a coaching staff that is both productive and autonomous…a staff that makes you, as the head coach, look good.  Those things don’t just happen though, the leader has to be intentional about creating an environment that’s conducive to building autonomous and productive teams.

4 ways to recognize what productive teams look like

1.       Brainstorming sessions. As leaders of our coaching “team”, we’ve got to take time out to chat with our coaches.  Not only to make sure that we’re all on the same page as far as assignments go, but to discuss issues involving the team.  Perhaps you have a player that’s underachieving (or an entire team who’s underachieving!)…that’s when it’s time for the productive team to sit down as a group and see what you can come up with.

2.       Encourage creativity. In those brainstorming sessions, the leader (you!) of productive teams should encourage creativity.  In my opinion, coaching is all about being creative in order to create the correct environment for each athlete to thrive.  That creativity should spill over into recruiting and practice planning as well.

3.       Offer suggestions. Productive teams aren’t afraid to offer the leader a strong opinion.  Hopefully you’ve surrounded yourself with quality coaches whose opinions you respect.  If that’s the case, be sure to create an environment where they are able to offer suggestions that they believe are being taken seriously and may actually be enacted.

4.       Deliver great performances. Come game day, productive teams have a high level of synergy because they spend their time together creatively brainstorming and offering quality suggestions as solutions to problems.  And if that doesn’t describe an opponent on game day (a problem needing a solution), I don’t know what does.  So not only do productive teams work well behind the scenes, they are efficient and creative on game day to steer their athletes toward success.

2 clear-cut ways to make your team more autonomous and productive

1.       Adapt. If you’re new on the scene, just got hired, and don’t really know the dynamics of your new team of coaches, then I’d suggest sitting back and surveying the scene.  Take time to figure out their personality types, learn how they best work with one another, and wrap your brain around the office dynamics.  Plus they need to learn about you…and your personality, and how you work best, and what sort of office dynamics you’d like.

2.       Train. Since you didn’t just barge onto the scene with a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude, you need to take a training attitude.  If you want your team to be productive and autonomous (like those teams described in the four points above), then you’ve got to invest some time and energy into showing them what you’d like.  They need to understand that creative brainstorming is important to you and that you value their input behind the scenes and come game time.

I hope this article got you to thinking about whether you’ve created an environment of autonomy and productivity.  If even the tiniest thing has to be cleared by you, that’s not autonomy.  If there are layers upon layers of reports or paperwork…your team may not be as productive as it can be.  Not only does creating productive and autonomous teams help you and your current athletes…you are preparing your assistants to be head coaches themselves, which is an added bonus!

Click here and you can get Coach Dawn Writes articles emailed directly to your inbox!  This way, you can read it on your phone while you’re out and about.   It’s free and easy…and you won’t get spammed.  Scouts honor.

4 essential types of individual meetings

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I love the individual meeting.  It’s my time to chat with players, find out how classes are going, how they’re feeling on the team.  All sorts of stuff.  It’s also a time for the players to get to know me a little better, so I think it’s a win-win.  For me, the meetings can take lots of shapes.  Let’s talk about them.

During preseason This is typically a very informal meeting conducted right there in the gym.  Whatever drill we have the team participating in, my assistant and I will call out a player and have them come and chat with us.  When we’re finished with that player, we tell her to grab someone else.  It goes like that until we’re finished with everyone’s meetings.  This meeting will address whether we thought they came in to preseason in shape, what we think their strengths are and how they can be an asset to the team,  and what we think their weaknesses are…or potential barriers to court time.  They should walk away from this two to three minute conversation knowing where they fit into our team’s depth chart and should understand what they need to do to benefit our team’s success.

In season This is a scheduled meeting where the student athletes sign up for meeting time with me.  I typically ask them to come up with 2-3 academic goals and 2-3 individual volleyball goals.  This is important time for me to demonstrate to my athletes that I care about them beyond what they bring to the court.  I believe that it’s important for your athletes to know that you care about them as people…not just players.  We talk about their academics, their majors, the classes that they’re worried about, professors that they’re worried about, their goals beyond college.  Armed with that knowledge, you’ll understand how to handle each of them.  Some are just like me (poor souls) and come in to the meeting with their planners out, notes neatly typed, and good answers for all questions.  Others come in and can’t find the paper they wrote everything out on, and you’ll be able to tell that they haven’t actually thought about your questions until they were sitting right there in your office.

And of course we hit their volleyball goals.  Some may be tangible…I want to be the  starting setter.  While others are intangible…I don’t want to be as nervous as I was last year when we played our arch rival.  Either way, it’s the coach’s job to help the student athlete navigate through this maze.  What steps does he need to take in order to be the starting setter?  What are his strengths that make him an asset?  What are his weaknesses that make him a liability?  Armed with that knowledge, the athlete is free to sink or swim.  I always make sure that they understand that I want to put the best combination of players on the court.  I’d love it to include him, but if he’s not willing to put in the work…I know of others who will.

The impromptu Years ago, I had a player who came into practice with the super red eyes.  I looked at my assistant and said, “uh oh, we’ve got a crier.”  I sidled up next to one of my captains and asked if she knew what was wrong.  Nothing.  Another player that this girl was close to…again, nothing.  I left it alone.  Later in practice, I was giving her instruction and she started crying again.  Not sobs, just slow tears trickling down her face while she nodded at what I was saying and apparently hoped that I didn’t see her crying.  I asked what was wrong while my assistant ran the drill and she said she didn’t know.  I asked again (class? boyfriend? parents?) and she said she didn’t know…just was feeling kinda blah.  To which I said (and I’ll never forget), “it’s every woman’s right to cry for no reason, you just have to let your team know so that they don’t think you’re mad at them.”  That was it, she was fine…all was right with the world.

End of the season This can be an awesome meeting or an awful one depending on the season and the person.  It’s awesome when season went well and the player had a tangible contribution.  It’s awful when the player doesn’t have a proper view of their skill level and how they could have impacted the team.  It’s good to be prepared for the tough ones ahead of time…don’t be caught off guard by a disgruntled player.  Anyhoo, this meeting is meant to fire them up for the next season…whether that’s spring ball or fall season.  We talk about their practice and game contributions and how those impacted the team positively and how they could get even better.  We look at their goals again and figure out how they did with those.  If you think they’ll be chosen as captain by their teammates (or you just want them to be), I talk to them about acting like a leader before they’re chosen…and what that leadership should look like.  For seniors, it’s never a happy meeting.  They’re sad because there’s no more volleyball and no more team and now they’ve got to go work in the real world and everyone knows that that’s no fun.  I talk to them about what a joy it’s been working with them (it almost always is) and how they’ve changed the team dynamics for the better and that they should believe that they left the team better than they found it.

So that’s that!  How do you handle your individual meetings?  I’d love to hear your ideas!