Using Feedback As Motivation

31 Mar


In the absence of feedback, people will fill in the blanks with a negative. They will assume you don’t care about them or don’t like them.—Pat Summitt

Try this experiment with your team.  As players migrate in at the beginning of practice, just quietly walk around the track/gym/ice/pool deck and observe your athletes.  Don’t chat with them about their day, don’t give them a friendly head nod of acknowledgement, don’t smile.

As they start their warmup, don’t offer corrections to their form, don’t encourage them to stay focused on practice and not whatever happened outside of the track/gym/ice/pool deck, don’t talk about your expectations for practice.

When they do their drills, just walk around, expressionless, and take it all in.  No correction, no praise, no “if you want me to stop saying it, then do it right” speeches.

When they’re in the competition phase of practice, don’t get excited about great plays for goodness sakes!  And if someone makes a great hustle play, be sure to keep it ho-hum.  When they mess up the play you’ve been working on for weeks?  Say nothing.

That all sounds ridiculous, right?

Feedback is an essential component of every practice and we’re giving it all the time, whether we’re saying anything or not.  We coaches have to be mindful of what we’re projecting, both verbally and non-verbally to our teams.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t project annoyance, disappointment, or frustration to your team…just be sure that it’s your intent.

We’re always saying something when we’re with our teams, even when we’re silent.

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Posted in Coaching strategy


On The Value Of Hard Work

28 Mar

hard worksource

There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.—Coach K

The other day, I was speaking to another coach about her season and the different approach she decided to take with her team.  She said instead of yelling or punishing her players for what she perceived as a lack of effort, she decided to use those episodes as teachable moments where she would explain where the athlete was falling short.  Assuming, I suppose, that the athlete didn’t realize they were coming across as lazy or not giving full effort.

Effort is a doozy.  Some things are out of our player’s control, but effort and communication aren’t.  Even the very worst athlete on your team can perform those skills at amazing levels.  Working hard is not optional and is the only way to success.  Sometimes, though, our teams think they are working hard, but we know it will take much more effort from them to reach the success they desire.

That got me to thinking about redirection strategies coaches can use.  When an athlete or team is off track, for one reason or another, it’s our job to get them back…and there are many tactics we can use.

6 ways to help your team value and understand hard work

Yelling.  This is the easiest, I suppose.  I’m not a big yeller.  Mostly because it’s just not in my personality, but also because I think it signals a loss of control. I’ve got to model keeping my composure if that’s a quality I view as an asset within my team.

Physical punishment.  There are those who say that coaches should never use running or conditioning as a punishment…that you’re making something positive into a negative.  I understand the sentiment, but I disagree.  I would rather not have to be the motivation for my team, but sometimes teams are externally motivated and that’s one of the tools that can be used.  Used correctly, “opportunities for fitness” (as I call them) are very effective.

Talk to your captains.  Explain to them what you see.  Explain to them that your frustration with the perceived lack of effort is maddening.  Explain to them that opportunities for fitness are on the horizon.  Strong leaders will pull the team together and get them back on track.

Review goals.  Every team sits down at the beginning of the year and comes up with goals.  They want to win conference or beat a rival they lost to the previous year, whatever it may be.  As you go through those goals with them, you ask if not giving full effort in each practice is going to get them there.

Watch film.  There are certain plays in every sport that are hustle or effort plays.  Usually it’s something that no one in the stands will notice whether you’re doing it or not, but it’s a critical skill that is important to the team’s success.  Show your team the film.  Show them not doing that thing that is essential to your team’s success.  I usually show them each instance in a game—it can end up being ten or twenty times of the same mistake—and then ask them how we’re supposed to be successful if we’re not willing to do the hard stuff of our sport.

Visualize.  Have them think about the last game of the season and what they want that to feel like.  Will they take the final shot?  Or win the game on an ace?  Or pass an opponent on the final curve to win the race?  Walk them through it and then ask them what they’re willing to do to experience those feelings in real life.

What strategies have you used with your team to get them to work harder and go beyond what their perceived limits are?

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Posted in Coaching strategy, Practice


Creating A Connected Culture

26 Mar

connected culturesource

When members of a group of any size, from a basketball team to a business organization, share a vision that makes them feel proud, feel valued, and feel that they have a voice to express their ideas and opinions, it creates a connection, a bond, a feeling of unity or esprit de corps.
Why Coach K Coaches Like a Girl

Okay, I don’t like the title of the article I quoted above.  First of all, girls aren’t typically coaches, women are.  Second of all, it’s repetitious (coach, coaches).  Lastly, comparing a grown person to a child of another gender is rarely a compliment.  That being said, I get it.  It comes across as a slight or maybe even a slam against Coach K when, in actuality, the author paints “coaching like a girl” is a positive.

He’s being provocative.

The author does a great job of describing why Coach K’s been successful…attributing it to the female presence in his life.  I don’t know how true or accurate that is and I certainly don’t think you have to be a woman to create a connected team.  What I really enjoyed about the article was his formula:

Vision + Value + Voice = Connected Culture

Vision:  I believe this has to be two-fold.  Vision for each individual player: an athlete will put up with not playing, with being pushed mentally and physically, with a whole lot…as long as they see how it fits into the grand plan.  And of course we’ve got to have a vision for the program.  That vision will influence how we recruit, how we plan practices, how we schedule opponents…everything.

Value:  Our players invest a lot of themselves into our program.  Their time, their heart, their passion, their egos.  We ask a lot of them and they give us a lot, the least we can do is make sure they know we appreciate what they’re putting into the program.

Voice:  This doesn’t mean that you always do what your players ask of you, but they should feel comfortable in their belief that their opinions will be heard and considered.

Giving our teams a vision of the future of the program, combined with valuing their effort and giving them a voice is a great way for us to create a team culture that will withstand the normal ups and downs of a season.

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Posted in Coaching strategy, Team chemistry


5 Qualities That Make Every Team Great

24 Mar

great teamssource

“There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable.”—Mike Krzyzewski

Coach K has been tremendously successful on many levels: spanning decades, working with collegiate athletes, working with professional athletes during the Olympics…you name it, he’s done it.  So when someone with that sort of resume tells us what the fundamental qualities of effective teams are, we should listen!

5 traits of great teams

Communication.  We all know it’s great to encourage communication within our teams…I’m sure that is something you already know.  That’s not where it stops though.  Of course we need to have effective communication between coaches on staff and also between coach and player.

Trust.  Our athletes need to trust that we have their best interest at heart, that we’ll be fair—not equal—but fair.  We, as coaches, need to be able to trust that our athletes are working to the best of their ability.  That’s part of the coach-player agreement, right?  We’ll do our best to turn them into the best version of themselves (in terms of our sport) and they’ll do their best to believe in and follow our plan for them.

Collective responsibility.  This is the old “there’s no I in team” idea.  I believe one of the fundamental truths of team is that the individual has a responsibility to the team.  That responsibility is to put team first.  Putting team first can look like a lot of things: off-season workouts, excelling in the classroom, etc.

Caring.  About one another, about the team, about the program.

Pride.  In their personal effort, in their team, in the collective struggle to maintain excellence over a period of time.

The last sentence of the Coach K quote is interesting.  Is it hyperbole or is he saying it with conviction?  I’d lean toward the latter.  Whenever I’ve had a poorly functioning team, they have fallen short in one of these areas.

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Posted in Leadership, Team chemistry


When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

21 Mar

successful coachsource

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.—John Wooden

This will be a short one today, but (I think) a good one.

I was talking to a coaching friend the other day.  He told me that he knew he’d be a great coach once his current team made it to NCAA’s. Now this guy has won a national championship at another institution, so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to win.

His comment said a few things to me.

  • We coaches are way too hard on ourselves.
  • We coaches are internally driven to succeed.
  • We coaches like challenges.

As I said to him, clearly you’re a good coach because you’ve won a national championship.  But I get it, once you accomplish a goal as a coach, you’re on to the next one.  So what did he do after winning a national championship?  He took a job at a historically bad university with no history of success.

Coaches love challenges.  We love setting goals and meeting them.  It’s what drives us.

Whether your goal is to rebuild a team culture or rebuild a player’s confidence, go out and do it to the best of your ability.  Like the Wooden quote above says, success is the satisfaction of knowing you did your best.  Let’s be our best selves for our teams!

John Wooden’s TEDtalk:  The difference between winning and succeeding

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The John Wooden series:

John Wooden TEDtalk
Leading With Integrity
Wooden’s Three Team Rules
The Pressure Of Winning

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Posted in Coaching career, Leadership, TEDtalk


The Pressure Of Winning

19 Mar


Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored. I used to say that when a game is over, and you see somebody that didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored an opponent or the opponent outscored you.—John Wooden

I understand this philosophy and I even hold it to a certain extent.  But I’m going to deviate (!) from my man Wooden here and say that I disagree.

Where I agree with his philosophy:

  • You can beat a team that you’re just better than and still play poorly.
  • You can play to the absolute best of your ability and still get beat by a team who is more talented than yours.

Where I disagree:

I used to not talk about winning very much, but rather the process of getting there (hard work, commitment, consistency, good mental mindset) and would always say the rest will take care of itself.  And that works for some teams, especially those that are internally driven to succeed.  But you will have teams, with good skill sets, who are not internally motivated and you will then need to provide the motivation or the pressure.  Whether it’s through punishments for not correctly completing drills or, and this is where I disagree with Wooden, through talking about winning.

There is inherent pressure in talking about winning.  It’s like talking about a diet that you’re on.  Once you start telling people you’re on a diet, then you don’t want them seeing you munching on cookies and sipping pop.  The whole point of talking about it is so that others can hold you accountable…right?  It’s the same with talking about winning.  There’s a pressure associated with talk of winning, with getting picked to win conference, or whatever accolade your team is “supposed” to accomplish.

My question is: what’s wrong with having that level of expectation?  What’s wrong with seeing the pressure, recognizing the pressure, and acknowledging the pressure?  The pressure doesn’t go away if you don’t talk about it!

And what if your team has low expectations?  What if, like in the example I used before, your team is an externally driven team?  What if they need you to raise their expectation level?  It will be uncomfortable, sure, but I believe it’s necessary.  For teams that don’t know how to win or haven’t had a history of success, the coach has to provide that incentive to take the next step.

To me, talking about winning is about holding your team accountable for their goals.  Writing down that you want to win on a poster, but never talking about it doesn’t seem like a good way to accomplish much.  For externally motivated teams, they may not even know what steps to take in order to go down a winning path.

It’s our job to tell them.


John Wooden’s TEDtalk:  The difference between winning and succeeding

The John Wooden series:

John Wooden TEDtalk
Leading With Integrity
Wooden’s Three Team Rules
When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

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Posted in Goal setting, Pyramid of success, TEDtalk


Wooden’s Three Team Rules

17 Mar

Rules listsource

Are you one of those coaches with a page full of team rules?  Or do you not believe in team rules?  Or perhaps you fall somewhere in the middle.  Personally, I don’t have a lot of team rules because I don’t know if it’s possible to enforce a lot of rules…and why have them if they aren’t going to be enforced?

Check out John Wooden’s rules and see if they can be applied to your team:

  1. Be on time.  I’ve talked to coaches at every level and of many sports and they all are sticklers about time.  I’m not big on team rules, but it’s one of mine.  Maybe it’s because we spend so much time on practice plans and the athletes can screw it all up with one late appearance.  Maybe it’s a respect thing.
  2. Be neat and clean.  I think this one is the product of the time in which Wooden coached.  Though I do hear of some coaches, usually football or men’s basketball, where the coach will have a “no facial hair” or “no long hair” rule.
  3. No profanity.  I can count the number of times I’ve sworn in front of my teams on one hand.  Notice I said “in front of them”, I’m sure I’ve sworn under my breath during many a practice and game!  For our athletes, there’s nothing positive that comes from swearing:  officials don’t appreciate it, opponents think it’s obnoxious, and moms in the stands shouldn’t have to cover their kid’s ears.
  4. Never criticize a teammate.  I know the title of the post is three team rules and this is very obviously number four, but this is how he presented it.  Since he didn’t elaborate on it, I’ll put my spin on it.  Here’s the definition of criticism: the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.  Using this definition, which seems to put teammates on two different levels (the teammate who is right or doing things the right way and the teammate who is wrong) and that can never be good for team unity.

So what do you think?  Do these line up with your team rules?

John Wooden’s TEDtalk:  The difference between winning and succeeding

The John Wooden series:

John Wooden TEDtalk
Leading With Integrity
The Pressure Of Winning
When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

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Posted in Pyramid of success, TEDtalk


Leading With Integrity

14 Mar


Your reputation is what you are perceived to be; your character is what you really are.—John Wooden

In a perfect world, our reputation and our character would be the same thing…or at least similar.  I’m sure we can all agree that we’re not as great as some folks think we are and we’re not as awful as others may believe about us.  The truth, as they say, is somewhere in the middle.  But speaking in generalities, I think we’d all like our reputation and character to be aligned.

I’ve heard integrity described as who you are when no one is looking.  What will you do when you can’t take credit for it?  Will you do that thing because you know you won’t get caught?

Obviously, we all make mistakes.  That’s not what I’m talking about…I’m talking about decisions.  Let’s think about a few scenarios that could put integrity into question:

  • You’ve got a team rule that if a player misses practice, they miss the next game.  Your best player missed a practice before the conference championship.  She’s not supposed to play.  Will you play her?
  • You’ve found out some negative information about an opposing coach, will you share it with a common recruit?
  • You’re heading out of town for a conference.  Will you leave a couple of days early and charge your institution?

What you decide to do in each of these instances will reveal your character.  I believe that we owe it to our teams, in fact, I’d say it’s our responsibility to our teams to do the right thing.

John Wooden’s TEDtalk:  The difference between winning and succeeding

The John Wooden series:

John Wooden TEDtalk
Wooden’s Three Team Rules
The Pressure Of Winning
When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

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Posted in Leadership, TEDtalk


John Wooden TED talk

12 Mar

John Woodensource

How did I miss this?  I hadn’t seen this TEDtalk until recently.  You all know how much of a John Wooden fan I am…I’ve written about him extensively.  There are many quality nuggets in this talk, check it out:

The difference between winning and succeeding

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to leave it at that.  The talk is so interesting and he’s so amazing, just sitting there speaking without notes and absolutely killing it.  The video is just over seventeen minutes…well worth it!  Over the next couple of days, I’ll break down some cool themes from his talk:

  • Reputation vs. character
  • His definition of success
  • The three rules he had for his teams
  • On why he never talked about winning
  • Are your players reaching their full potential?

Coach Wooden is a treasure and those of us who follow in his footsteps would do well to listen to what he has to say.

The John Wooden series:

Leading With Integrity
Wooden’s Three Team Rules
The Pressure Of Winning
When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

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Posted in Pyramid of success, TEDtalk


Conflict Should Not Be Taboo

10 Mar


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.

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Posted in Team roles