Is Your Best Athlete Your Best Leader?

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When your best players are your hardest workers, you have the chance to be very good.
—Tara VanDerveer

When your best players aren’t vocal leaders.  This is a common problem.  I don’t know how many times I’ve commiserated with another coach about a player who has out-of-this-world talent, but won’t speak up in practice or games.  I’ve tried telling the player that the team needs them to speak up, I’ve tried explaining that the burden of being the best is that their teammates look up to them, I’ve tried it all.  Usually it doesn’t work.  If that person gets picked as a captain (which they usually do), I try to pair them up with someone who will actually talk.

When your best players undermine you.  This one is rare…but it happens.  Your best player smiles in your face, “yes, Coach” and all that, but is tearing you down behind your back.  I’m not talking about the regular, “It sucks that Coach made us run today, that’s crap!”, all players say things like that.  I’m talking about the player who questions your coaching technique, coaching moves, or coaching decisions.  As annoying as it is for players to come to us with questions about those things, it’s catastrophic when they do all of those things in secret.  Even worse, we usually don’t find out about it until it’s too late.

When your best players are lazy.  This is the rarest of them all.  Can they really be your best player if they’re lazy?  Semantics.  Your best player (stats leader in important categories) doesn’t go hard in practice or games, but still manages to be better than her teammates.  You can try to guilt them into working harder by telling them their teammates look up to them.  You can try to force her into exertion through physical punishment, but if they’ve gotten this far by being lazy…they can trick you into thinking they’re working hard.  No matter what your captain policy is (you pick, the team picks, combo), this person most definitely can’t have a leadership position on your team.

When your best players are your hardest workers.  Heaven has opened up and shined on you and your team.  Effort is catchy.  Hard work is catchy.  Desire is catchy.  Belief is catchy.  These players, these high energy/hard working types, infect the rest of the team with their energy.  Their teammates may walk into the gym after a tough day of class wanting to slack off, but this player just won’t allow it.  The team may be losing late in the game, but this player won’t let their teammates stop believing.  These players earn their teammates’ respect by the way they carry themselves each and every day.

Your best players are leaders, no matter what.  They may lead negatively or they may lead positively…but they are ALWAYS leading.  Be sure to have high-quality players in leadership positions on your team.

5 Signs You’re Burned Out…And How To Turn It Around

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Are you getting ‘er done…or just burned out?  Do you know when you’ve hit the wall and just can’t go hard anymore?  I was over at Bnet.com (a business website) and read a great article called “Is Your Company Turning You Into A Corporate Zombie?” and thought it made a lot of great points about what folks look like when they’re burned out and decided to bring it over here and put my coach spin on things.  How do you know when you’re burned out?  Well read on to find out!

**Keep your eyes peeled!  If you’re doing these things, you may be on the verge of burnout.**

1.       Your creativity level has dropped. Back in the day, you could spot a problem on your team and figure out a drill to fix it…or you’d schedule a team meeting…or you’d do whatever it took to address the issue.  Now, you’re flummoxed.  You’re all out of ideas to keep your team motivated.

2.       You spend less time in reflection. So I wrote this whole post about how leadership and solitude are linked (read it here) which makes it pretty obvious that I believe in giving yourself time to reflect.  When you’re burned out, you’re like the hamster on a wheel…just go-go-going!

3.       You laugh less. Your team goofball used to be able to make you smile no matter how intense you were in practice…not anymore.  Nothing’s funny because you’re tired, hopped up on caffeine, not eating right, and haven’t seen your family in weeks.

4.       You look beat down (like everyone else in your office). You come dragging in to the office at 7 am and you go dragging out at 9 pm.  You get home, go to bed, get up the next morning and do the same thing all over again. Why?  Because everyone else in the office does that when they’re in season.  You’re exhausted but you won’t rest or sleep or otherwise enjoy yourself because you’re “getting after it.”

5.       The sparkle in your eye dims. Talking about your team, planning practices, chatting with the coaching staff after practice…all of those things used to fire you up.  Now you sigh when someone asks about the team, dread planning practice, and hustle out of the gym as fast as you can when practice is over to avoid shop talk.

**Burnout killahs…do these 3 things to keep the bounce in your step!**

1.       Go home. Whether it’s to spend time with your family, or to make a proper meal, or just to relax and read a book…we all need to get away for a few hours.  Many, many things are out of our control as coaches.  Our players may get injured or another team may get the world’s best recruit, but our time?  It’s ours.  Let’s manage it so we can stay sane.

2. Set time limits on email/phone calls. Some of us think we can game the system.  We say, “oh, I go home at 6 every night.”  But what you don’t say is that you’re on the computer with the phone attached to your ear the whole time.  At some point, you’ve got to make an agreement with yourself when you’re going to turn everything off…and not just when it’s time to go to sleep!

3.       Workout/pray/meditate. Whatever you need to do to get your mind right…do it!  The idea of all of these burnout killahs is to get in control of your time, because it seems like burnout happens when you feel like there are so many things that you’ve “got” to do and you just “can’t” take time for yourself.  (I put those in quotation marks because they’re not empowering and most times just not true.)

Author’s note:  just because you’re doing the top five things doesn’t mean you’re burned out…you may thrive in that environment for short spurts.  But take an honest look at how you’re going about your business and figure out how long you can operate like that without losing your love of the game.

Why Weakness Unlocks The Strength Within Teams

If you’ve got fifteen minutes, I’d highly suggest you listen to Caroline Casey’s TEDtalk, Looking Past Limits.  Not only is that an intriguing topic for those of us in the coaching field, Casey is also a fabulous storyteller.

A quick rundown of her story: She was legally blind since birth, though her parents never told her, but rather let her toughen up through battling past road blocks.  She excelled in life, eventually achieving a high profile job where her coworkers never knew her secret.  But that’s not the heart of the story, it’s what happens when she couldn’t hide her blindness anymore.

And that’s where my interest in her story begins…because I believe it can help us with our teams.  It’s a story of belief and vision.  We’ve got to believe in ourselves and combine that belief with a vision that is bigger than us.  Ignoring the obvious irony of a blind person talking about vision, let’s look at how vision is sometimes restricted and how we can free it up…and watch our teams soar!

The first title I came up with for this post was, “Why Vision And Belief Will Make Your Team Great”.  I liked that one a lot and think that it would have been good, but this one is closer to the heart of the story.  Once each team member is willing to admit their weaknesses, they’re on their way to becoming a strong and successful team.

 

When To Bench An Athlete

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“The bench screams.” –Ron Wilson, former 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.

Tom Hanks Was Right…There’s No Crying In Sports

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Here is Pet Peeve #249:  players that cry in practice.  You’re probably thinking, “oh Dawn, you’re so heartless, sometimes there’s a good reason for crying…stop being so mean!”  In my mind though, there’s never a reason to put self before team and that’s exactly what crying in practice or a game does.  Now, I’m not talking about tears that are the result of an injury or yay-we-just-won-the-championship tears…those are both acceptable reasons for crying in sports.  I’m talking about the tears that stem from frustration, anger, or just plain lack of knowledge as to how one’s behavior affects others.  Let’s look at why I have such a strong opinion about crying and what you should do when faced with a crier in practice.

4 Reasons Why Tears Aren’t The Answer

1.       It’s selfish. When a player cries in a practice or game, they’re saying that their interests are more important than the team’s…plain and simple.

2.       It’s distracting. When there’s a player that cries, the team and coach have a decision to make:  do we attend to the emotional player or do we get work done here at practice or our game?  That’s not fair!  Their teammates shouldn’t have to debate whether they’re being awful people just because they want to focus on the task at hand.

3.       It shows lack of respect. The crier doesn’t respect the work that the coach has put into practice planning, because we’ve got a time schedule to keep.  They don’t respect their teammate’s focus or desire to get better at practice.  And in turn, if it’s not nipped in the bud, the crier could lose the respect of their coach and teammates.

4.       It shows lack of control. There’s no age that’s too young to start teaching our athletes how to manage their emotions.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of sports?  They’ll learn how to win and lose with grace, how to earn or lose a starting spot, and how to succeed and fail in front of others…it’s great!  It’s also our job as their coaches to teach them how to handle life’s ups and downs without it negatively impacting the lives of others.

So You’ve Got A Crier…Now What?

1.       Explain the points above. If you don’t explain those things, they’ll just think you’re being mean…which could spawn more tears (*sigh*) and an exponentially higher level of frustration for you as their coach.  They need to understand that those four things above are contrary to any sort of team success and because of that, you can’t let it slide.

2.       Acknowledge whatever their situation is. Their boyfriend broke up with them, they failed a huge test, they’re playing at an amazingly awful level…whatever it is, you get it, right?  You understand why they’d want to cry, why they’re frustrated, and why they feel like they can’t handle it anymore.  You get it…you just won’t tolerate it, because you and the team still have work to do.

3.       Remind them that they’ve got a mouth. They’ve got to use their words.  You’re a reasonable human being, right coach?  If they came to you with a legitimate problem or concern, you’d listen and the two of you would work it out together, right?  Let them know that you’ll be there for them…but only when they can behave like an adult.  You love them and care for them, but poor behavior is poor behavior and it’s not to be tolerated.

4.       Give them a break. Sometimes the crier can get themselves together and refocus.  Sometimes they can’t and you might have to give them a break.  But it’s got to be legit…you can’t hold it against them!  You can’t say on one hand: come to me like an adult and I’ll listen and we’ll work it out…and then when the crier tells you the problem, you yell or scream or are just generally pissed.  Maybe you allow them finish practice with the understanding that they’re going to be terrible, or maybe you send them home knowing that they’ll be better the next day.

So there you are folks, this is a tough one for a lot of coaches…tears are powerful and disarming.  But stand your ground and turn the situation into a teachable moment.

How To Connect With Your Athletes Everyday

I used to call this a “stop and chat”, but apparently there’s an actual name for this management technique called Management By Walking Around, or MBWA.

What is it exactly?

  • Stop and talk to players face to face.
  • Get a sense how things are going.
  • Listen to what is on player’s minds.

Why is it successful?

Years ago, I worked with a track coach who said it was his goal to talk to each athlete every day…even if only for a few moments.  Connecting with our athletes is a win-win.  We feel good about where our team’s mindset is and the players feel that we care.

If you do it correctly, you’ve been MBWAing all season, so the team won’t be startled when you stop and chat with them.  This strategy will pay dividends when and if something big happens within the team that you need to get to the bottom of or you’ve got an important game and you need to be able to have a convo without it being a big deal.

If you want to read more about Management By Walking Around, check out this article.  Investing our precious time into our players will reap benefits down the line.

Coach Dawn’s Motivating Female Athletes Presentation

A few years ago, I spoke at the USA Hockey ADM (American Development Model) coaches clinic and gave my Motivating Female Athletes presentation.  Over time, the presentation has evolved and I always manage to tailor each talk to the particular group I’m speaking with, but the bones are pretty much the same.

This first section (which is about fourteen minutes) is a place I’ve been doing lots of research lately.  It talks about the socialization of females and begins the conversation about building team chemistry.

I hope you like it and let me know if you’d like to have me speak to your group!  You can check out different topics here.

Creating Your Coaching Personality

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I stumbled upon an interview I gave with Barry Lovelace after my AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) presentation.  He’s a trainer in Pennsylvania, so if that’s in your area, go and check out his website so that you can see the innovative workouts he does.

Anyhoo, he asked me about how coaches should draw the line between a personal relationship we may have with our athletes off the court and the (more than likely) demanding and hard-driven relationship we have with them on the court.

Check out this short three minute video…and also the many faces of Coach Dawn!  (To say I’m expressive is being polite.)  If you’re interested in bringing me to your group to speak, check out the “About Coach Dawn” section at the top left.

How To Recognize Leaders Who Can Handle Crisis

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Cultivating leaders has been on my mind lately.  I’m trying to make sure that I do my best to create the best and most amazing leaders that I possibly can…I want my athletes to be rock stars!

What does an awesome leader look like?  According to this post, great leaders follow their values, are confident in crisis, and are well connected on the team.

During the course of a normal season, with its ups and downs, every team requires a leader who can handle crisis.  That crisis could be a teammate dealing with a death in the family, interpersonal drama on the team, or even key injuries.  Check out the different ways leaders can help or hurt when your team is going through a tough time.

Problem Leaders

Awesome Leaders

  1. Value themselves above others.  They always seem to find someone else to blame for their problems and the problems of the team.
  2. Lack confidence, so they’re defensive.  Problem leaders feel that things are out of their control (“Susie doesn’t like me”, “Coach won’t play me because she hates me”, etc.) and will lash out to associate blame with anyone besides themselves.
  3. Don’t connect well with their teammates since they’re always looking for someone to blame for their problems.  This “leader” will say things to their coach like: “Susie’s not working hard enough in practice, that’s why we’re losing” or “Amy is doing who knows what on the weekend, that’s why the team isn’t playing well.”
  1. Value others and are compassionate.  Even in those cases where blame can be put on a teammate, an awesome leader doesn’t blame and never tries to do publicly what should be done privately.
  2. Remain calm and focused because they are confident.  They aren’t the start of gossip or negative energy on the team…and when they hear it, awesome leaders can nip it in the bud.  They are able to handle team issues with a sense of calm and poise.
  3. Are very connected to their teammates even while holding a position of leadership.  Awesome leaders see themselves as part of the solution, so they don’t complain to their coach after the fact…they talk it out with their teammates right then and there.  Since they’ve made such good connections with their teammates, their critique is well-received.

As we talk to our teams about picking captains or recognizing leadership traits in one another, this would be great information to give them.