Category Archives: Team roles

6 Hidden Gems Who Go Unnoticed On Teams


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.

6 Things I Believe About Team Chemistry


I typically use my summers as camp time, going all over the country working with various schools.  I had the opportunity to work with a very talented high school team a few summers ago.  They had a really good player on their team.  I mean straight. up. baller.  She could pass, she could set, she served tough, and hit the snot out of the ball.  By the summer before her senior year, she’d already been verballed to play Division I ball for a year.  And the rest of her teammates were no slouches:  young, experienced, and skilled…they were a very nice team.

But there was one problem.

The baller?  The one going Division I?  She was not a good leader and totally screwed up the team’s chemistry. She was hot and cold, sometimes open and engaging…other times sullen and withdrawn.   The team never knew what to expect.  Worse still, she let her emotions affect her play.  Everyone in the gym knew when she was feeling grumpy, because every time she touched the ball, something awful happened.  And when those bad things happened…she totally pouted her way around the court.


I felt for her coach (who stood helplessly on the sidelines) because he was afraid to broach the subject with her, because she was his best player.  By letting her behavior slide, though, he lost the respect of his other (very capable and talented) players.

So what do I believe about team chemistry?  No one player is above the team…not even the really good players.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t treat her differently, as a matter of fact, I think he should treat her differently.  Her skill level has warranted the attention and adulation of her peers and competitors.  That alone means that she’s got more than the average measure of power with her teammates.

If I were advising that coach, I’d tell him to do these six things to show his players the power of team.

Team building.  I love any cheesy, team building stuff…the cheesier the better!  If I can get them to roll their eyes at something I’m asking them to do, I feel successful.

Forced groups.  At the beginning of the season, I really push togetherness.  I ask my captains to organize off-the-court activities and I make working groups mix up in practice.  Even if I’m just doing partner stuff, I’ll have them switch partners a few times to avoid staying with your “favorite”.

Belonging.  Every person on the team has a role.  Whether they’re super studly and need to carry the bulk of the point earning load, or they’re a bench player who’s main contribution will be in practice…they all know they’re valuable.

Team time.  We read a book as a team each season and I have the players get up and present their section of the book.  It’s always nice to hear their perspective…I’m always interested in how they’ll use their time to make the team better.

Locker room.  I like decorating the locker room.  I know some coaches don’t…hopefully they empower their captains or team leaders to do it.  The locker room is a transition for our athletes…from academics to athletics.  If we don’t help them get into an athletic head space, our practices may suffer.  I put up motivational quotes, conference stats, things that represent whatever our team theme is for the season.

Caring.  Years ago, an old coach told me that he made a point of talking to each and every player at each and every practice.  That’s huge.

These six qualities came from the Championship Coaching Academy’s article, Building A Close And Cohesive Team.  I liked them, so I thought I’d bring them over here.  Studs are great, but even they need their team.  Let’s not forget to show them!

Want to know more about what I believe?  Check out 10 Things I Believe About Leadership, 8 Things I Believe About Coaching Difficult Personalities, 6 Things I Believe About Building Successful Teams.

3 Criteria For Goals That Will Truly Motivate Your Team


I’m sure all of us are looking for ways to inspire our athletes to achieve their highest potential.  And I’m sure all of us agree that goal setting is an integral part to any successful season.  Based on his TEDtalk, Why We Do What We Do, Tony Robbins gives us a “map” to properly motivating our teams.  First, we have to give each individual a role on the team.  Then we have to find out how to meet their emotional needs.  Finally, we give them the tools to make their team experience positive.  Read on to find out how!

3 things coaches should understand in order to motivate our teams

Three questions.  Robbins says that every decision we make (Will I go all out in practice?  Will I try something new and risk looking bad until I master the skill?) requires us to answer three questions.  He calls them the Three Decisions of Destiny.  The first question is “What am I going to focus on?”.  Let’s use “will I go all out in practice?” as our sample.  We have to get our players to focus on how their effort will benefit their team and help the team get closer to accomplishing their goals.  So rather than focusing on the pain they feel in working hard, their attention is on doing their part for the team.  The second question is “What does it mean?”.  Going all out in practice means verbally supporting one’s teammates, giving complete physical effort, and being willing to do whatever they’re asked by the coach.  The third and final question is “What am I going to do?”.  To make sure they go all out each practice, they will eat healthily, get plenty of sleep, and remain focused on their sport during practice times.

6 human needs.  We all are motivated by these six emotions/needs/beliefs…it’s the coach’s job to find out what button to push for each student-athlete.  The 1st need is certainty.  There are some things that our players need to know without a doubt: For example, the coach is knowledgeable, fair, and caring.  The 2nd need is uncertainty.  I know that seems to contradict the first, but I don’t think it does.  While some things should be set in stone, others like playing time and the starting lineup shouldn’t be certain…otherwise our starters will become complacent and the non-starters will be apathetic.  The 3rd need is critical significance.  Our teams should have a compelling reason for coming to the gym every day…and it’s our job to give it to them.  The 4th need is connection and love.  We all want to feel like we belong to something special and that there are folks out there who care about us.  The 5th need is growth.  If a player feels that they weren’t given the opportunity to get better (with skill, with leadership, with self-awareness), why come to practice every day?  The 6th need is the ability to contribute beyond ourselves.  Whether it’s team community service, sacrificing personal goals to help the team win a significant victory, or challenging your seniors to leave their mark on the team…we’ve got to give our players the ability to make a difference.

Becoming influential.  So we’re still using our sample question, “will I go all out in practice?”, as the example for this goal setting technique.  In this final step of the motivation process, we help our athletes create a positive situation for themselves.  We should ask them what their target is…meaning what do they hope to accomplish by going all out in practice (respect from peers, etc.)?  Next is to find out what their belief system is…will they stoop to gossiping and backbiting a teammate in order to get to “connection and love”?  Finally, we have to find out what fuels each athlete.  Robbins says that each of us has a dominant human need (certainty, critical significance, etc.) and the player’s goal has to feed that need.

Check out the video if you get a chance and see if you can put your own sports spin on things…it’s well worth the watch!

Fave Friday!: My Favorite Five From Coach Dawn Writes


Everywhere you look today, you’re going to see Top 10 lists for this or that.  But I know that you’ve got big plans for the evening and don’t have time to sit around reading about my favorite ten posts from Coach Dawn Writes.  So in the interest of letting you get ready for that exciting shindig you’ve been invited to, I’ve got my five favorite posts that you may have slept on this year.

5 Coach Dawn Writes posts that deserve more love!

1.       This post is like a mini manifesto and the basis of the entire blog.  It’s about becoming a coaching nerd, studying up on your craft, and just immersing yourself in getting better at what you do.  I know that there are lots of coaching nerds out there.  They look like volleyball coaches, soccer coaches, basketball coaches, field hockey coaches…you get the picture.  They love their sport, they love teaching their sport, they love learning about their sport and their craft.

2.       Being a coach of female athletes has been an amazingly wonderful experience.  I love creating a community of like-minded young ladies and motivating them to be successful.  Over the course of time, though, I’d heard a lot of chatter about girls not being competitive or about the need to treat women with kid gloves and I came up with this article.  It’s about how to properly motivate female athletes for success…for now and in their future.

3.       It’s fun to talk about leadership, because I believe it’s what we do.  We are leaders, we build leaders…sports is all about leadership.  So when I saw an opportunity to pair leadership with my favorite childhood cartoon, I jumped at the opportunity!  As a kid, there were many Saturday mornings spent with me plopped in front of the television, watching Voltron…this great cartoon about mechanical robots charged with protecting their nation.  Anyhoo, there’s a strong leadership and team roles connection to be made, so check out my post about Voltron and leadership here.

4.       We all have folks on our teams whose personalities don’t fit together all that nicely and we’re quietly watching to make sure things don’t blow up on us.  I believe a good team should have all types to be successful, but having those different personalities can be challenging for the person who has to manage them…that’s you coach!  But having your teams take a personality test can help everyone get to know their own strengths and weaknesses as well as understand why certain folks act the way they do.  I favor the DISC method and I wrote a bit about it here.

5.       I loved this when I saw the original!  I wrote about the five stages of a coach’s career after seeing the bullet points on another coaching blog.  I think they’re pretty accurate (at least thus far) and it’s fun to think through what stage that I think I’m at…even more fun to ask another coach where they think you are in the continuum.

Well, that should do for now folks.  Have fun tonight and have a wonderful beginning to what is sure to be a fabulous new year!

And here’s one more click that will make your life easier.  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.

Riding The Pine: When To Bench A Player


“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.

3 Leadership Lessons I Learned From Voltron


I can’t be the only person with fond memories of childhood cartoons and one of my favorites was Voltron.  If you’ve never seen this cartoon (really?!), I’ll give you a quick run-down of the plot.  The main characters were a group of five fighter pilots that operated mechanical lions and kept peace in the land.  Most times, they could defeat the enemy, but at the end of every episode they were confronted with a foe that required a higher level of teamwork.  This was always my favorite part of the show…where they would “form Voltron”.  The five mechanical lions can be assembled together to make one giant fighting machine…and he was unstoppable!  Two of the lions would form the feet and legs, two would form the arms and body, and the fifth would form the head of the giant robot.  Let’s look at the lessons that we can learn from the cartoon Voltron about functioning as a successful team.

3 things Voltron taught me about leadership and teamwork

Teamwork is required to complete the big tasks.
Many times, your team can get away with an unbalanced offensive scheme, but against that big foe…the one who just happens to have a very balanced defensive plan, your team will need to learn to trust one another to do their jobs.  Using our Voltron example, the other pilots knew they could count on each other to always do the same thing…they were confident in their teammates because they’d been consistent in their execution in the past.

Every member of the team knew their role was appreciated.
Using volleyball as an example, if my setter all of a sudden tried to be a hitter…we’d be in trouble!  We need her to do her thing and we need our blockers to block and our hitters to hit.  If any of them decide that they’re unhappy with the glory they’re receiving, then the team will suffer.  It’s our job as their coach to remind them that they’re all important to the team and critical to achieving our goals.  Whether they’re a starter or reserve, each person on the team is necessary for us to be successful.

They had a strong leader.
Teams have two leaders, the head coach and the floor captain…both must be confident, prepared, and decisive.  As the coach, it’s our job to make sure that the team is well-prepared, able to make in-game adjustments, and can take advantage of whatever weaknesses the opponent may have.  Your floor captain needs to operate with a high skill level and she should be consistently energetic…all while holding her teammates accountable for their effort on the court or field.

Hopefully you can look at your team and see those three elements there…if not, you’ve got a good starting point for a successful team.

If you’d like to see a one minute clip of Voltron, click here…it’s pretty awesome!

3 Techniques of Good Coaches


We all want to be good at what we do…that’s the base level, right?  Good, then great, then excellent.  I talked about excellent here, but wanted to step back and write about the basics of being a good coach.   Besides knowing your stuff and being a good teacher of skills, there are some less concrete places where good coaches excel.  In this article from the current issue of Psychology Today called “Dear Leaders:  Mastering the art of being in charge”, they talk about those less tangible aspects of leadership.  While its focus was bosses in a corporate environment, I was able to pull out some “good boss” tips that can most certainly be “good coach” tips as well.

Good Boss Tip #1: They know themselves and their situation.  “Being in power is a deterrent to self-awareness”, making it more difficult to “ascertain the impact their behaviors and policies have on their employees.”
Good Coaching translation:
Whether the adjective before your name is “assistant”, or “head”, or “volunteer”…you’re still a coach.  I’ve met too many coaches who think that they are friends with their teams…you can’t be their friend when you determine their scholarship money or their playing time.  Please listen:  your team members are not your friends and they don’t all love you.  As coaches, we need a friendly relationship with our teams (or maybe just our captains) in order to get the real scoop as to what is going on with the team.  If your captains say that the 6 am practices are killing them because they are all taking 8 pm classes that don’t get out until 10 o’clock at night, that’s something to take under consideration.  You may not change your policy, but they’ve got to believe that you heard them and that you have a good reason for those early morning practices.  When one person (the coach) holds all of the power, it’s pretty hard to be friends, but a friendly relationship with your team is essential to being the best leader for your group.

Good Boss Tip #2: They consciously break out of the power bubble by asking for direct input and feedback.  Good bosses “are more sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of their charges.”
Good Coaching translation: As tough as it is to admit for us controlling coaches, we don’t know everything and aren’t always aware of how we impact the team.  Instead of railing about how awful practice was, how about asking the team?  They no doubt realize how bad the practice was and will probably be just as eloquent in getting that point across and it’ll mean more to their teammates coming from their peers.  Or maybe you can meet with your captains and find out how the team dynamics are shaping up…are people getting along on and off the court?  Who do they feel the most comfortable with on and off the field?  This knowledge (that most of us aren’t privy to) will go a long way in putting the right grouping of people together to ensure successful competitions.  The toughest, and most essential, is asking them what they need from you as a coach.  Sometimes you will find out that they want more/less discipline or feedback…or maybe you’ll find out that they love what you’re doing with the team.  Regardless, it’s pretty important to find out.

Good Boss Tip #3: They are decisive rulers.  Employees don’t want “touchy-feely group therapy leaders.”
Good Coaching translation:
For as much time as you take your team’s thoughts into account, they want to believe that you know what you’re doing and that you believe in what you’re doing.  As coaches, it’s our job to explain the benefits of a decision and go with it.  If we believe that a certain defense or offense or lineup is in the best interest of the team, it’s our job to “sell” it to the team in a manner that they understand and can get behind.  We’ve got to alert them to the strengths and weaknesses of our plan, but also be enthusiastic and authoritative with our decision.

What do you think about these tips?  I thought they were a nice starting point and could help us become a coach who “continually and constructively pushes [players] to do their best.”

3 easy steps to motivate your 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?