Category Archives: Team roles

Helping Our Captains Lead With Integrity


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

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

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

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

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

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Jingle Bell Rock: 8 Christmas Wishes For The Athletes You Coach


It’s crunch time people…only one more day to find that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Though I suppose at this point, it doesn’t really have to be perfect, does it?  I do have a list of gifts that would be perfect for your team to receive this year.  Gifts that would make them better teammates and better players.  They may not know that they need these gifts though, so you’ll need to write up a wish list for them.  Here they are:

8 things you’d be fired up for Santa to leave under your player’s Christmas trees

1.       Confidence.  In themselves, in their abilities, and the future of the team.  It’s essential to any sort of success your team may have…and it’s got to be consistent.  Situational confidence is short-lived, to be crushed by the next loss or poor performance.  But genuine confidence?  Now that’s the good stuff!  It’s a belief held deep down within the athlete that they will ultimately be successful.

2.       Success. We love our athletes, don’t we?  And we want the best for them and hope that all of their hard work and focused intensity will pay off in the end with some sort of tangible success.  Whether it’s the non-starter who becomes a starter, or the starter who makes all-conference, or the all-conference player that receives national recognition…we all hope for a measure of success for our players.

3.       Self-motivation. In my mind, the best gift that Santa could leave!  Every drill, every game, every weight room workout is only as good as the amount of effort our athletes are willing to put in.  For those who are internally motivated to work hard in the off-season, during preseason, in the weight room…those are the athletes who will see tremendous improvement over the course of their careers.

4.       Hard work. There’s only one person who knows if your players are working to their full potential…that’s the players themselves!  We can put them into physically and mentally challenging situations, but it’s up to them to truly challenge themselves.  We all hope that we’ll have a team full of players that will never “dog it” in a drill or not push themselves in a practice, but we’ve got to trust them to take things seriously.  Those athletes who are willing to keep their foot on the gas pedal throughout the entire season will ultimately experience success.

5.       Leadership. The responsibility of being a team leader is exciting to some and daunting to others.  We’d love for our teams to be full of leaders and leaders-in-training.  Your current leaders could model to your leaders-in-training the proper ways to motivate and encourage people.  An openness and desire to lead is essential because I don’t think that you can thrust leadership onto someone, but rather it must be accepted.

6.       Teaminess. That’s a word that I’ve made up that describes the state of an individual who values their teammates and enjoys being in a team environment.  The teamy player puts their teammates first and is willing to sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team.  Teaminess is what occurs when a group of people come together with a common goal, a common purpose, and a common level of dedication.

7.       Skill. Hopefully Santa will leave a gigantic box of skill under our player’s trees!  Because all of the intangibles in the world won’t do the team much good if it’s not combined with skill.  But those intangibles should spur the player on to work at their skill level with a laser-like focus.

8.       Hunger. I’m sure we’ve all coached the athlete that was blessed with a tremendous heaping of skill, but junks it away with their laziness.  I’m not talking about that athlete, but rather the one who is very skilled and willing to work to better their already finely tuned skills.  The athlete who wants to win and be successful so badly that they can literally taste it.  The player who is being propelled by their desire to get better every single day.

Those are the things that I want for my players.  They’ve got a finite amount of time to accomplish great things and my wish for them is that they do everything within their power to attain their goals.

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.

Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach


As I mentioned before, I’m a Badger alum, so I watch their volleyball team with a more attentive eye than other programs.  Because I know the type of team Kelly Sheffield inherited, I am more than amazed at the turnaround he spearheaded.  So I asked him about some of the critical things he and his coaching staff did that helped to create a much more successful team.  Check out what he had to say.

The coach’s role

  • Consistency.  Sheffield says his team should never worry about what kind of mood he’s in.  Monday’s the same as Thursday, after a win is the same as after a loss.
  • Knowledge.  I think it goes without saying that we’ve got to know what we’re talking about and staying up to date on the latest training methods.
  • Energy and enthusiasm.  That looks like lots of player feedback, coaches engaged with athletes…not chatting with one another.

The player’s role

  • Connect with teammates.  Sheffield expects high energy and enthusiasm from his athletes.  If he’s bringing it, he expects to see it from players as well.
  • Put personal traits aside.  He says that it’s tough to be an introvert in a team sport.  I wrote about some techniques to work with the introverts on your team a while back, you should check it out.  Studies say that 75% of folks are extroverts, so it’s easy to see why those traits are valued in leaders.
  • Be an active participant in their own rescue.  If something’s going wrong—on or off the court—the player has a responsibility to seek help.  Whether it’s coming in for extra reps on their own or, if it’s a classroom issue, seeking out tutors.  Whatever it is, coaches aren’t psychic, players have to help us out.

Success is sometimes a moving target, but these tips should help us all to start down the right path.

Check out the Sheffield series:
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?
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!

Conflict Should Not Be Taboo


In a great post, When Ideas Collide, Don’t Duck, a CEO talks about creating an environment where conflict is seen as a good thing.

As I processed what he discussed regarding conflict, I thought about the number of times I’ve heard players on teams I’ve coached tell me that “everyone gets along” and all of players love one another.  That always makes me nervous.

Here are some red flags to look for regarding team conflict

  • They say there’s no conflict.  Really?  No conflict?  I never believe it and I always try to dig deeper.  Now, if a freshman says it, they may be telling the truth because they don’t know any better.  Everyone else?  They’re telling a version of the truth.  There may be no conflict because they are burying, hiding, or otherwise not addressing conflict.  Avoidance has a limited shelf life.
  • Upperclassmen don’t listen to underclassmen.  I’m not saying that all folks on a team should be equal.  I give a leg up to a person who’s been on a team for a while.  All things being equal, I value an upperclassmen’s opinion a bit more than a newbie just because the older player understands our competition level and what it takes to be successful in our league.  That being said, upperclassmen have to create an environment where the young’uns feel they can approach the oldies but goodies.
  • Everyone’s happy with their role.  Again I say, really?  So I’ve got four point guards or three setters or five goalkeepers…and the folks sitting on the bench are happy there?  Either I’ve recruited the wrong folks or these players aren’t being honest.  Teams are by their nature conflicts of interests.  There is internal competition within a collaborative group.  That alone should initiate conflict.

I’ve written a lot about conflict here and hopefully we all know that we can encourage our teams to embrace conflict as a way to get better.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with conflict…it can actually boost our teams up a level.

A Recipe For Success

recipe booksource

My little girl just had her one year doctor’s appointment and the doctor gave me all sorts of interesting information.  The stuff about teaching my child to be a good eater is what stood out to me.  Why?  Because I think it’s similar to what it would take to teach a player to be a good teammate.

The sheet said, “Don’t get your jobs mixed up with your child’s jobs. If you don’t do your jobs, your child will eat poorly and not behave at the table. If you get bossy and try to do her jobs, she will fight back and not eat.”  The sheet then goes into detail about each of our (parent & child) jobs.  For example, the parent’s job is to choose what to buy, cook, and put on the table.  The child’s job is to come to the table hungry and ready to eat.

Teaching our players to be good teammates

For our purposes here, I would say, “Don’t get your jobs mixed up with your player’s jobs.  If you don’t do your jobs, your players will be unprepared for competition.  If you get bossy and try to do their jobs, they will fight back with complaints and lack of effort.”

Coach’s jobs

  • Have well thought out practice plans.
  • Choose what skills will be taught and when.
  • Enjoy the ups and downs of the season.
  • Keep practices competitive.
  • Never stop coaching.
  • Give your players space to make mistakes.

Player’s jobs

  • Come to practice with a willing spirit and open mind.
  • Stay positive during the course of the season.
  • Don’t whine to coaches or teammates.
  • Don’t talk badly about your teammates…to anyone.
  • Always give your best effort.
  • Have high expectations for yourself and your teammates.

Being on a team is hard work…especially if folks don’t hold up their end of the bargain.  It’s often said, coaches coach and players play.  This is just a more detailed version of that statement.

When To Bench An Athlete


“The bench screams.” –Ron Wilson, Head Coach, Toronto Maple Leafs

My general philosophy in life is to say what you mean and mean what you say.  But how long is too long to keep saying the same thing to a player?  You’ve told her for an entire season that she’s got to square up to target or keep her elbow high…whatever the correction, she’s just not getting it.  And if she is getting it, she surely isn’t making the changes that you’d like to see.  So when your throat is sore from yelling and your eyes tired from rolling…maybe it’s time to let the bench do the talking.

3 reasons to bench a player…short term

  • Give them a breather: Maybe it’s a freshman who’s freaking out at her first conference match or a senior who’s emotional during senior night, sometimes a player just needs to take a deep breath and refocus.  It may only take a couple of points for her to calm down and come back to herself.
  • Get a spark from your reserves: If your team is stuck in a skill and/or energy rut, a reserve player can be just the ticket!  You’ll probably go back to your original lineup, but it’s nice to know that you can count on your entire team to contribute to your success.
  • Light a fire under them: Hopefully after you’ve taken that starter out to get a spark from the bench, they begin to realize that they need to step their game up.  The ideal reaction would be for that player to come back onto the court and be an absolute monster out there.  She should want to erase any sort of doubt you may have about her ability to positively contribute to the team.

3 reasons to bench a player…long term

  • Lack of effort: She’s just going through the motions in practices and games.  If your team has always prided itself on having a “whatever it takes” attitude to their play, lack of effort is a slap in the face to you, as their coach, as well as their teammates who expect their effort level to be matched.  A player can only control their skill level and playing time to a certain degree, but effort is completely within their control.  Lack of effort is a choice…and a bad one, in my opinion.
  • Not continuing to get better, getting passed up: During preseason, you can always tell the folks who worked their tails off in the off-season.  Typically because they’re in such good shape, their skill level is higher at the beginning of the season.  Then slowly, but surely, the rest of the team catches up and eventually blows right by them.  As coaches, we want to reward the player that worked hard when no one was looking, so we pull her aside and let her know our concerns…and nothing.  She’s gotten passed up and it’s time to sit her down.
  • Your starters are awful: There’s a point in the season where it’s time to look to the future.  Your team’s shot at winning the conference are long gone and you’ve got a bench full of players who haven’t played all season.  So why not give them a shot?  If you’re out of contention, that means the starters haven’t been getting it done anyway, so how much worse could your reserves do?  Bench the starters and start the bench…they may not be as skilled, but I’ll bet their effort level will be crazy high.

So there you are…use your bench as a motivating tool and your team may be better off for it.

Motivating Bench Players


Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The takeaway?  We’re all in this together and everyone’s role is important…different, but vital.  I’ve used that quotation with teams before, especially those teams where a couple of folks have risen to the top of the metaphorical heap.  And if you’ve got a situation where playing time may be hard to come by or younger players who have supplanted your veterans, it’s a good idea to talk to your team about embracing their roles.  That quotation is from the Bible and if your campus isn’t particularly churchy (like mine) or you just don’t feel comfortable citing where it’s from, I’ve found that the quotation is powerful enough that it stands alone.

No athlete wants to hear from their coach, “Your role is going to be sitting here next to me cheering on your teammates.”  Though someone has to fill that role on every team, most folks assume that it will not be them.  Once it sinks in that they will get limited playing time, how do we, as their coaches, keep them motivated, mentally engaged, and most of all…how can we help them to maintain a positive attitude?  Some of your most engaging and fun and strong personalities will come from your bench players.  If you want their impact to move your team chemistry along in a positive direction, rather than becoming cancerous, here are three ways to motivate them and make them feel as if they are an integral part of your team.

Make the team better:  Imagine if you had a track & field athlete who could go hard rep after rep…but just couldn’t make the leap from middle of the pack to the best on your team.  I mean, this girl is like clockwork…you tell her a time to hit and she nails it, every practice.  Now imagine if you could embolden this athlete to see her role as making her teammates better, that while she may not have that “next gear”, she does bring something very valuable to the team which will ultimately make the big dogs more competitive.  Now she’s not the girl who just isn’t good enough, but she’s your All-American’s training partner.

Be better than the competition: Hype up your reserve team!  Empower them to challenge your starters…they know their strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.  While you certainly don’t want to develop any animosity between your starters and non-starters (that can be alleviated by moving people freely between the two sides…and maybe not calling them starters and non-starters), you do want to create a spirit of competition where your young ladies are getting after it in practice.  Then your bench players will feel proud because they’re giving your starters a run for their money and your starters will feel well prepared because they’ve run the gauntlet everyday at practice.

Learn the game and be ready: How many times have we seen one of our better players get hurt and have to sit…and all of a sudden, she’s the smartest player in the world?!  We all know that sitting back and becoming a student of the game is helpful, but it’s a luxury our top players cannot indulge in.  But our reserves can, and they should use it to try and work their way into the starting lineup.  If they’re just standing around yapping with the other ladies who aren’t starting instead of watching the game and trying to figure out how to get on the court, then they’re probably right where they deserve to be!  As much sense as that makes to coaches, you probably will have to let them know that you expect them to fight for a spot…that it won’t be handed to them.  You must also get across to them that it’s not personal.  I always tell my team that I love all of them and think they’re all great, but starting spots are not gifts…they’re earned.

So, how do you handle playing time issues?

The Secret to Leading? Embracing Your Followers


We all have things that we say so much that they become a coaching maxim. One of mine is “enough about leadership, we need followership classes!” We’ve got two groups of people on our teams: leaders and followers…and both groups need to be trained and respected. My response to captains who complain that the team isn’t following them has always been, “well, are you doing anything worth following?” because that’s what it comes down to…leading in a respectful and coherent manner. That brings me to this great video (you should check it out, it’s only three minutes long) by Derek Sivers called “How To Start A Movement”. In my mind, that’s what team leadership is about…starting a movement of belief in your leadership and your captains.

Here’s how to create a team of leaders and followers that are mutually respectful

1. Leaders needs to be brave. The example Sivers uses in the video is a guy dancing in a crazy manner at an outdoor concert. He says that a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed…but also be easy to follow. That says to me that our leaders have to be comfortable in their skin and confident in their approach to leadership. Most importantly though, our team captains need to be consistent…that’s what will make them easy to follow. No matter how quirky they are, if their teammates know what to expect, then they will feel comfortable following them. But if you’ve got captains who are the team clown one day and the next day they won’t even speak to anyone because they’re grumpy…that’ll make them a whole lot harder to follow!

2. First followers should be enthusiastically embraced. Sivers calls the first followers an underestimated form of leadership. Why? Because they’re taking a risk. They are the person who transforms their teammate into a leader. Coaches can slap a “captain” title onto a player, but leadership is earned. If your captains truly embrace those first followers, then they’ve not only become a leader, but have also trained the rest of the team in what followership looks like. So if you’ve got new captains, or captains that are taking over after particularly popular captains graduate, or captains who’ve never held leadership roles before…this could be something that you talk to them about.

3. Followers follow followers. Here’s an interesting point from the video: followers don’t follow the leader, but rather, the other followers. That makes sense right, because there are only a few leaders, but many followers. Which makes that training of the followers even more important. If you’ve got poor dynamics between your captains and the rest of the team, it could be that they wielded their power in an inappropriate manner. That’s when you get teammates talking behind each other’s backs or a team that resists what captains are trying to do.

4. Following becomes the norm. Hopefully you’ve watched the video, because this is a particularly funny moment of the film. This is also the tipping point for your captains. It’s when following them is no longer a risk, so everyone jumps on board.

So there you go! Leadership and followership go hand in hand, let’s be sure to nurture both.

Using Academic Criteria To Measure Athletic Success


In the academic world, schools create tiers for its students.  I would guess the bulk of students fall in the middle of the pack, taking regular classes and doing just fine.  Then there are the outliers…those that are well above or well below “average”.  Those that are in the well above category have the opportunity to enroll in Advanced Placement or Gifted and Talented classes and programs.

Clearly we do that in the athletic world as well.  Middle schools have A and B teams, high schools have junior varsity and varsity.  And the collegiate athletic system is amazingly stratified.

And I’d guess most of us even have these tiers on our teams.  We’ve got non-starters and starters.  And we’ve even got folks in the starter group who are more essential than others.  So what if we, like our academic friends, had criteria for that tiering?

Check out this criteria for gifted and talented.  There are many models mentioned in this article, so I just chose one of them.  According to the definition, gifted and talented children are those who demonstrate achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas:

  1. General intellectual ability.  In athletics, I’d figure that means their general sports IQ.  How well do they know the sport?  Do they understand what’s required of them situationally?  Are they able to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness while maximizing their own strengths?
  2. Specific academic aptitude.  I suppose this would be their knowledge of their particular position.  What do they know beyond just the basics of the position?  Are they students of the game?  Do they understand their role offensively, defensively, and corporately?
  3. Creative or productive thinking.  I talked about having tiers on our teams.  We’ve got players who just need to do what they’re told…as long as they don’t have to think outside of the box, they’re okay.  But then we’ve got those players who see two or three steps ahead of the opponent…those are the creative players.
  4. Leadership ability.  Do teammates naturally follow this player?  Are they supportive and challenging as the situation requires?  Are they equally comfortable talking to teammates and coaches?
  5. Psychomotor ability.  This is defined as the capacity to manipulate and control objects.  Things like controlling precision, multilimb coordination (sounds like sports to me!), reaction time, and response orientation.  When you get right down to it, these are the qualities that influence skill.  The more skilled the player, the more gifted and talented they are in respect to the team.

We may not have put names on the subjective nature of tiering our athletes, but I’m sure most of us do all of these things already.  If you’re like me, you’ll feel validated that you’re doing the right thing by your team.

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