Category Archives: TEDtalk

The Power of Taking Time Off

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

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

Deciding what to give up

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

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

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

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

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

The big picture

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

Try it!

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

Instantly Bond Your Team

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The concept: Think of something you’ve always wanted to do…and try it.

Who: Our teams.
What: 30 Day Challenge
When: A thirty day period during our seasons.
How:  We’ll talk about that in a moment.

What if we created a shared experience for our teams that would unite and bond them for the short term…and ideally, long term?  That’s what the thirty day challenges could be for our teams!  I’ve heard of teams giving up fast food for the season, I’ve heard of departments giving up complaining…all sorts of stuff.  The idea is we can do anything for thirty days.  Also, you can add or subtract activities, it doesn’t always have to be giving something up.

In a short TEDtalk (under four minutes!), Matt Cutts challenges his listeners to Try Something New For 30 Days.  He was speaking of challenges for individuals, but I think this would be cool to do with our teams.

Brainstorming ideas (finish all ideas with “for 30 days”)

  • Give up fast food.
  • Study nights together.
  • Partner up and say something positive to your partner.
  • Partner up and give partner small gift.
  • Give up complaining.
  • Stop cussing.
  • Stop negative attitudes.
  • Partner up and send each other positive texts or FB messages.
  • Eat dinner together.
  • Partner up and share a song you like.
  • Give up sugar.
  • Eat a vegetable at every meal.
  • Tell coach how awesome she is. (Just kidding!)


The beauty of this is that it can be student led.  They could brainstorm the ideas and even have more than one challenge per season.  They’d police themselves and be on the honor system, so the coaches wouldn’t have to worry about keeping track of everything.  Perhaps there can even be some sort of celebratory “yay, we did it!” event at the end of the thirty days.

In the video, Cutts talks about some of the benefits of his previous challenges: his confidence grew, time became more memorable, he learned that small changes are more sustainable.  I’d add that, for teams, we’ll grow together through our shared experiences.  And that’ll create amazing team chemistry!

I’ve not tried this with any of my teams before, but I’m willing to give it a whirl to see how it turns out.  How about you?

How Women Can Be Successful As Leaders

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In my post, 3 Ways To Keep Females In Coaching And Athletics Administration, I talk about the lack of ladies in athletics…and the numbers were pretty dramatic.  If you’re interested in seeing all of the numbers and a link to the study, just click on the article and it’s all there.  Here are a few: 43% of female teams have female coaches, 19% of athletics directors are female, and only 12% of SID’s are women.

Those numbers make me tilt my head to the side, Scooby Doo-style, and say “ruh roh”.  Apparently this isn’t just an athletics problem, because there is a great video over on ted.com by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.  It’s called Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders and it’s fabulous!  She talks about how two-thirds of married men who are executives have kids…while only one-third of their female cohort can say the same (more on that later).  She also gives her disclaimer that there’s nothing wrong with staying home with your kids, but if you want to stay in the game…

Here are the 3 things that females need to be successful executives/leaders/coaches/administrators

Sit at the table. She says one of the more powerful statements that I’ve heard in a while about us ladies, “women systematically underestimate their own abilities.”  What she means by sitting at the table is for ladies to see themselves as more.  She means that when there’s a meeting and all of the bigwigs are sitting at the conference table…women should too.  Don’t sit off to the side because you don’t think you belong with the big dogs.  Too often, we ladies attribute our success to others rather than owning it…so we not only see ourselves as less than, we put ourselves in a position to be seen as less than.

Make your partner a real partner. How about this?  When both spouses work full time, the woman does two times (!!) as much housework and three times as much childcare as the husband.  But her point isn’t the stereotypical finger wagging at men to do more (though that would help!), it’s more of a cultural slant.  She says that we put so much more pressure on boys to succeed that their self-worth is tied in to doing well at work.  She wonders aloud if men earned the same amount of respect for deciding to stay at home with their kids as they got from going to work every day, if there wouldn’t be more dads who’d stay home.  Which of course would let the mom be able to go out and be the wage earner.

Don’t leave before you leave. She means that women will sometimes stop looking for advancement opportunities way too early.  For example, a woman will get engaged and decide that she shouldn’t apply for a job because of her future husband.  Or because they’re trying to get pregnant.  Sandberg calls it “quietly leaning back”.  The women in these examples aren’t at the decision point (not yet married and not yet pregnant), but they’re already starting to shut down promotion options by not even trying for them.  They’re still going to work, they’re still (seemingly) doing everything the same way…they’re just not trying to make that next move.

Women, we may decide that staying the workforce isn’t for us…that we’d rather stay at home.  But we shouldn’t assume that we’ve got to give up our aspirations of greatness.  Let’s make sure that we’ve really thought it through, that we’ve talked to our partner (maybe he’s willing to do more), and that we’re going hard until we just can’t anymore.

How To Inspire Those Around Us

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X’s and O’s…I’m sure most of us feel pretty solid about our grasp of the nuts and bolts of the game.  Of course we’re always trying to learn more and love to hear about the newest thing, but we’re mostly happy with where we are.  But what about the intangibles, how many of us feel as good about those?  About our ability to inspire those around us?

Check out this video by Simon Sinek called How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  It’s about eighteen minutes long, but I liked how it challenged us to think about not only what we do, but why we do it.  He says that the “why” is how people are inspired, not the “what”.  Quite honestly, the “what” can be the same at any school or with any coach…but the “why”?  That’s all yours coach!  So as you think about your “why”, let’s talk about how we can be inspiring.

Here are 4 areas that are important for a coach to inspire action

With administrators. Whether it’s new uniforms or equipment, a cross-country trip, an additional assistant coach, or even just a raise for yourself…we’ve got to give our athletic directors our “why”.  For example, you think this could be your team’s year.  The only thing you’re missing is an incredible team building experience that will bond your team together.  You think that if they bond early, they’ll be good early, and gain confidence.  That’s the “why”.  The “what” is that cross country trip…it’s just a means to an end.

With players. This is the easiest of them all…we do this already.  At the beginning of the season, we’ve got to get them on board with goals that they will work tirelessly toward…with no guarantee that those goals will actually be accomplished.  A strong “why” will keep them motivated to get after it every day.  The “what” is winning.  But we’ve got to explain why that’s important.  You may think that it’s obvious, but a strong “why” will keep them working even after a couple of losses.

With alumni. When we’re hitting them up for donations to our program, there’s got to be a reason why.  Very similar to the administrator example, you’ve already got the “what” in common.  They’re alums of your program…of course they want you to be successful!  A good “why” will help push them over the edge and open up those wallets.

With recruits. Were you first on your recruits list of ten schools that they’re visiting…or #8?  How will you stand out?  With your “why”.  Why should they come play for you?  What’s different about you, your team, and your school that will inspire something inside of them to choose you?

What’s your “why”?  Once we all figure out our “why”, then we can be truly inspiring.  Every team wants to win and be successful…that’s the “what”.  It’s our “why” that gives people something to believe in and will inspire them to action.

The Secret to Leading? Embracing Your Followers

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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.

Failure Is Instructional

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Before listening to Diana Laufenberg’s TEDtalk, How to Learn? From Mistakes, I hadn’t really thought about how much differently athletics teaches than our academic cohorts.  I’ve always been the flag-waving “we’re on the same side” person who believes in the value of sport and what it teaches.

Not that I’ve changed my opinion, I still believe in how awesome athletics is and I believe in its value as an educational collaborator with the academic side of the world, but now I see the biggest difference between the two and why we sometimes struggle with getting our athletes into an athletic frame of mind.

Academics focuses on perfection while athletics focuses on failure.

  • Athletics isn’t a standardized test for which there is one correct answer…but that’s what academics celebrates.
  • The goal of athletics isn’t to get one hundred percent, but that’s what our high-achieving students want to receive…on and off the court or field.
  • Athletics isn’t about memorizing facts and reciting them, but understanding situations and responding appropriately to them.


Failure as part of the learning process.

  • Did you know there are sports, like track and field for example, where you can win your event and still finish the day as a failure?  The winning high jumper or pole vaulter is only the final person to fail if we look at the world through an academic lens.  Through an athletic lens, they not only won, but perhaps challenged a previous personal best.
  • I would guess in most of our gyms, we design practices around failure.  We know certain drills will be very difficult, if not impossible, to complete correctly…yet we put the team through them anyway.  Why?  Because failure is part of the learning process.
  • Imagine if teachers posted the results of each quiz and test online for everyone to see.  How much more difficult would it be for students to excel?  Yet, that’s what we do with athletics and I believe the accountability which stems from that public knowledge makes them mentally stronger than the average non-athlete.  (Totally biased, I know.)


According to Laufenberg’s talk, there are three stages to creating an environment where failure isn’t seen as awful.  I’d hazard a guess that lots of us are doing these things already.

  • Experiential learning.  Give your athletes the opportunity to experience every possible scenario in order to increase their sports IQ.  This is a novel idea on the academic side, but it’s what we’ve been doing for years.
  • Student voice.  As we work on their sports IQ, we have to remember that the goal of our practices isn’t to do all of the thinking for them.  Our goal should be to guide them so that when they’re in game situations, they know what to do.  They won’t succeed at this task if we don’t give them a little room to be innovative in practice.
  • Embrace failure.  “Being innovative” is a really nice way of saying screwing things up until they finally figure it out.  Of course, the coach is there for teaching and guiding, but how will my players know how to succeed if I never let them struggle and fail in practice.  Maybe when left to her own devices, my setter comes up with an awful game plan for her hitters.  What better place for that to happen than in the safety of our gym?


I hope you have a chance to check out the video, it opened my eyes to the stark differences in teaching methods between athletics and academics.  Though many schools are moving to our side of the fence in terms of how to teach effectively.

Leadership Made Simple

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I showed this video to my team at the beginning of the season.  My goal was to demystify what leadership meant and to redefine it for my players.  Many times, I believe they think a leader is a senior or the best player.  In other words, someone else.

In his TEDtalk, Everyday Leadership, Drew Dudley makes an argument that we have leadership opportunities all the time and that maybe we’ve made it into something bigger than it really is.  He argues that leadership is an opportunity to change someone else’s life by just being ourselves.  Check out the video, he’s got quite a funny story about an impact he made…that he doesn’t even remember.

What is everyday leadership?

  1. Impactful.  Everyday leadership is just being yourself while making a point to notice and care for others.  It could be one of your players noticing that a newbie is homesick and hanging out with her.  Or it could be an upperclassman pulling the team together during a game when things start falling apart.  Everyday leadership doesn’t have to be dramatic speeches and it doesn’t require a big personality, just the heart to impact their teammates.
  2. Powerful.  Because we don’t put labels on this type of leadership, its power increases because anyone on the team can do it.  A freshman can impact a senior, a player can impact a coach’s life, and a coach can dramatically change a player’s outlook on their sport, their team, and their place on it.
  3. Acknowledge.  One of the great points of the video is when Dudley asked the audience if there was someone in their past who made a dramatic impact on their life and two-thirds of audience raised their hand.  Then he asked them how many had told those people about their impact and most of them put their hands back down.  That goes to show two points: We can impact folks without knowing it and we should take the time to tell people who’ve changed us for the better.


I like the idea of everyday leadership. I think it empowers all of our players to step up…caring about their teammates doesn’t require many years on the team or an elite skill level.  A team full of people like this have the opportunity to experience success at a pretty high level.  Try it out!

Transforming Your Team Through Storytelling

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I’m fascinated about the ins and outs of creating successful teams.  And I think, whether you’re interested in sustaining a streak your team is on or you’re trying to create a new norm of success, we should all try to use whatever means that are available to us to reach that end.

Storytelling should be one of the tools in our toolbox.

One of the things I always say to my team is that my job is to get the ideas I have about volleyball out of my head and into theirs, because after all, I’m finished playing…what use are they to me now?  If I can get them thinking strategically about our sport the way I do, we’re going somewhere!  I think it’s the same with motivation.

As Nancy Duarte says in her TEDtalk titled, The Secret Structure of Great Talks, ideas are the single most powerful tool known to man…but they’re powerless if they stay inside of us.  I believe using stories can motivate our teams to move from where they are now to where we, as coaches, see them going in the future.

But how do we tell a story that resonates with our players?

Duarte talks about the simple structure of a story and I’ve related it to coaching:

  • First, you have the likeable hero.  For us, that’s our team.  If our season were a movie, we’d hope that the watchers would be pulling for our team to pull out the big win.
  • Second, our hero (the team) encounters road blocks.  Those road blocks could be an arch rival they haven’t beaten in years, it could be a long losing streak, or it could be a crisis of confidence in their star player.
  • Third, our team emerges transformed.  They’ve faced the beastly road block and conquered it.


We can all imagine telling our team this story, right?  We’d sit them down and talk about how hard they’ve worked and how much potential we see in them.  And that the road ahead is going to be difficult and not for the faint of heart…but we believe in them and believe they’ll come out the other side a more united and prepared team than they were before the crisis.  It’s a great and, I believe, motivating story.

The secret is to be genuinely excited about the team and the possibilities of their greatness…we can’t fake the funk.  Also, we have to be honest about the challenges the team will face, our players can sniff out dishonesty in about .02 seconds.  If our story can juxtapose the challenge against the joy they’ll feel once they’ve reached their goals, then we’ve successfully motivated our team to keep fighting and plugging away in practice.

I get excited just writing about this, because I believe we have the power to frame our seasons for our players and give them the motivation they desire to keep pushing on.

Want to hear more about using storytelling as a motivational tool?  Check out How To Use Storytelling To Motivate Your Team.

How To Use Storytelling To Motivate Your Team

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Not to toot my own horn (but toot! toot!), but I can tell a mean story.  I remember a time when my team was winning games, but not in the dominating fashion that we should.  I gathered the team around and told them about my childhood love of the video game Mortal Combat and how when you’d beaten your opponent, you had two choices.  You could merely hit him and advance to the next level or, knowing a special code (which I, of course, knew) you could reach inside your opponent’s chest and literally rip his beating heart right out.  I’m sure you can imagine that the next team we faced got crushed.  Moral of the story:  Don’t just beat the opponent…crush them.

So when I saw this TEDtalk called, The Clues to a Great Story, by Andrew Stanton, I knew I’d bring it on over here because I believe storytelling can be the secret sauce to successfully motivating our teams.

How many times have you and your coaching staff lamented having to say the same thing over and over again to your players?  If you’re like me, a lot!  I’ve found that telling a funny, yet relevant, story goes over better than repetition.

Not a natural story teller?  Check out Stanton’s keys for telling a good story:

  1. Story telling is joke telling.  He opens his TEDtalk with a very funny story about a man and his unfortunate encounter with a goat.  Not only was it an amusing opening joke, but it also proved his point that jokes and stories should be engaging.  I’m not a naturally funny person, but I can tell a decent story and I know my team is into it if they’re laughing out loud.
  2. Know the end from the beginning.  Just telling the story can’t be the goal.  What is your goal?  Is it to encourage toughness?  To promote camaraderie?  To beat the previously unbeaten foe?  Whatever it is, I’ll bet you’ve got a personal story that will resonate with your athletes.  In my opinion, the more personal, the better.  I’m not talking bearing-your-soul personal, but I-didn’t-know-coach-liked-video-games personal.
  3. Build anticipation.  The Seinfeld show was successful because they could make an interesting story out of everyday occurrences.  My most meaningful (funny, but relevant) stories have been about small moments in time that I describe with great detail.  I draw the team in and then show them how our team fits into the story.  Stanton says that we have to make our listeners want to know how it ends.  Give them just enough to keep them engaged, then make the connection…they’ll love it.


If you haven’t tried storytelling with your team, I highly recommend it.  Give it a try and let me know how it worked.

What Is The Key To Happy Teams?

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“The power of reframing things cannot be overstated.”– Rory Sutherland

Perception is reality. We’ve all heard this cliché phrase, but what does it mean for coaches and their teams?  It means that we have the power to turn a devastating loss into a learning experience, to change a disappointing season into a foundation for the future, and (in the case of the team that’s feeling a bit too good about themselves), we have the power to turn success into “not quite good enough”.

3 ways coaches can reframe the team experience for our athletes

In practice.  Many times in my gym, especially when we’re having a physically tough practice, I’ll remind my players about our cross country coach.  I let them know that this crazy man runs one hundred mile ultramarathons.  Then I remind them that we’re not running a one hundred mile marathon…though it may seem like it at the time.  I acknowledge that it’s hard, that they’ll be physically taxed, and that they may even feel like they can’t go one step further.  Then I let them know that they can.

In games.  I liked this quote from this TEDtalk by Sutherland: things are what we compare them to.  I often tell my players that I want practice to be so much harder and mentally challenging that when they get to the game…it’s cake.  They should have battled so hard versus their teammates that there’s nothing that will surprise them or make them work harder than they have every day at practice.  As coaches, if we make our practices functional and game-like, we’re truly preparing our athletes for what an opponent has in store for them.

Playing time.  There’s another great quote from the TEDtalk this post was inspired by:  if perception is much worse than reality, focus on the perception…not the reality.  Oftentimes, when playing time is an issue, the reality is that the coach is doing what’s in the best interest of the team.  Whenever a coaching friend of mine complains about a player (or worse, their parent) being bummed about playing time, I always jokingly say, “Yeah, I’m sure you’re in the habit of keeping your best players on the bench with you!”  It just doesn’t make sense.  If you’ve ever been on the wrong side of that accusation, you know that attacking it with common sense doesn’t work.  It’s an emotional problem and coaches should deal with the feelings behind playing time issues rather than the court time itself.

This post was based on a TEDtalk by Rory Sutherland called, Perspective Is Everything.  It’s about eighteen minutes long, but has lots a great nuggets that I’m sure we could all use with our teams to make them happier and more productive.

After all, things aren’t what they are…they’re what we think they are.

If you enjoyed this post, check out: Why Happiness Is Important For Our Teams, The Secrets Of Happy Teams, Why Having Less Options Will Make Your Team Happier, and The Evolution Of Happy Teams.