Tag Archives: Coaching career

5 Qualities That Make Every Team Great

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.

When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

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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

The 3 Types Of Great Coaches

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I’m a big fan of the book, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle.  Because of that, I follow his blog, because I can always find good stuff there.  The Best Kind of Coach is a great post that talks about the power of great coaches.  Check out his different types while keeping in mind that they all have the potential to be great.

Coyle calls this the “old-school” coach.  I had some shut-up-sit-down-do-what-i-say-and-we’ll-win-games coaches in my life.  The upside to these types of coaches is the players know where they stand and know exactly what is expected of them.  The downside is the players may be afraid of their coach.  Also, there’s a rigidity of thought and system with this type.

Coyle calls these Teacher Coaches.  I think I’d fall into this category.  I always tell my team that my time on the court is over, so they are my chance to keep playing at a high level…by getting the knowledge out of my head and into theirs.  When I first got into coaching, I remember calling my old high school coach, who was a behavior coach.  Frustrated, I told him that my players had a million questions and wouldn’t just do what I said because I said to do it.  He agreed about this new (at the time) generation of athlete and he said that’s why he got out.  Now I enjoy explaining the hows and whys of my sport.  And I enjoy an athlete who wants to delve deeper into how they can become better.

Coyle says these coaches have an innate ability to see people in ways that they do not see themselves.  They do this in three ways: they connect, they communicate their belief, and they work to make that belief come true.  I wonder if this is what happens when teams get a new coach and all of a sudden a team that was underachieving turns into a powerhouse.  In that situation, there’s clearly more to the story than X’s and O’s.  That’s part of it, sure, but what (or who) makes those same players who were losing games believe that they shouldn’t be losing?  That they have what it takes to win?  And win on a large scale?

I suppose we’d want to be a combination of all of these, in a perfect world.  So what kind of coach are you?

Feedback That Gets Results


“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” —The Simple Phrase that Increases Effort 40%

That’s it.

That’s the magical feedback.

4 reasons this works

  1. Authentic.  We can’t give this particular feedback to every player on our teams, just the ones we really believe can help the team achieve its goals.  I’d imagine we would lose our credibility if the impact players heard us deliver this line to a teammate who was clearly not a player of influence.
  2. Crystal-clear signal of social trust.  It makes the receiver a part of a group (impact players) and shows them they are special.
  3. Belonging.  This phrasing shows the player that they not only belong to the group, but are an important piece.  Beyond that, it shows them (and their teammates whom they’re bound to tell) that the coaches have high standards for the team.
  4. High expectations.  Plain and simple, if you say this phrase, you’ve got to make sure you give the player a task that can be accomplished.  Challenging, but realistic.

Check out the article, it’s very good.  As coaches, we’re always looking for ways to connect with our players and to show them we care about them.  This seems like a good place to start.

The Importance of Sleep For Our Players


On a team long, long ago, I had a player with a troubled friend in her dorm.  This friend would have episodes which involved seizures and scary blackouts.  My player, ever the mother hen, felt it was her duty to stay up with her friend even though these episodes happened during the wee hours of the morning.  This would happen night after night.

No sleep for days.

And she expected to be able to function well in the classroom and in the gym.  She would tell me, “Don’t worry coach, I don’t need much sleep.”  Huh?

Not every scenario is as crazy as this one.  Some are just your players stay up too late doing homework.  Or they aren’t able to get uninterrupted sleep. Or they think they can party the weekend away and pay the homework piper on Sunday.

This should be important to us not only because we’re counting on our athletes to perform, but also part of our role in their lives is to teach them how to be functioning adults.

What’s the problem?

According to this Harvard Business Review article, Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer, there are four parts to sleep that affect performance.  The first part is our natural drive to sleep.  We think we’re in control of it, but essentially, our bodies will force us to sleep if we put it off too long.  The second is the amount of sleep we get over the course of a few days.  The third is the part of us that says, “Oh, it’s light outside, it’s time to get up.”  Finally, there’s the groggy wakeup.  Apparently, we need about twenty minutes in the morning to get our bearings.

What can we do about it?

  • If we schedule morning practices, we’ve got to give them time to truly wake up.  If I go in the morning, I usually do some sort of conditioning first.  That way, they don’t have to tax their brains until later in the practice.
  • We’ve got to talk to them about how important sleep is to their performance.
  • If there’s a way to show them they’re not being heroic by staying up all night writing papers and studying, we’ve got to show them.
  • Sleep has to be equated to going to the training room, getting strong in the weight room, and watching film…it’s what we need to do in order to be good.

The article equated lack of sleep with drunkenness.  We wouldn’t tolerate our players being in a perpetual state of intoxication and we shouldn’t tolerate sleeplessness either.

The Power of Taking Time Off


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?

I’m baaack!


Here is the reason I’ve been away for a year and I think I made a pretty good decision on that one! She’s super cute, right? But now I’m back and I can’t wait to talk coaching with all of you again.

Stay tuned as I talk about coaching female athletes, creating successful team environments, and (of course) how we can all get better at our craft.

A Moment Of Pause


Well folks, I’m about a week out (8 days, but who’s counting?) from my due date for our little bundle of joy’s arrival.  My husband and I are super excited to add to our family and are looking forward to this next chapter.

As I assess all of the things I must do in order to be a successful coach (I still have recruiting calls to make, a recruiting calendar that is daunting, and spring season for my team) and a successful mom (time, time, time!  love, love, love!), I’ve decided that the writing that I so enjoy has to take a backseat.  Once I get a handle on how to be both an awesome coach and mom, then I’ll add awesome blogger back to the mix.

I get asked lots of questions about the pregnancy, so here are…

Coach Dawn’s baby FAQ’s:

  • Do I know what I’m having?  Nope, we’re going to be surprised.
  • How do I feel?  Great…I’m having a baby!
  • Have we picked out a name? Not yet, we’ll be forced to soon enough though.
  • How will you decorate the nursery if you don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl?  Well this child has no choice but to be athletic…my husband played football at the college I work at and I coach volleyball there.  Thus the decorations will be sporty!
  • When exactly am I due (usually said with a worried look)?  January 8th…we’re almost there.  🙂

Okay folks.  Happy coaching and I’ll see you later.

14 Ways To Stay Motivated


When I first started coaching, I would go and chat with one of the veteran coaches in the office…just to soak up whatever knowledge he was willing to share with me.  He’d been coaching for over thirty years and I was in year two.  Quite honestly, I wondered how he stayed so fired up about the profession.  But he was…there was a glint in his eye that I’m sure hadn’t lost its luster in the entire thirty years he’d been on the sideline.

Of course, whenever I asked that very question, he would brush me off with a (not altogether untrue) joke.  “If you’re not scared to death of losing”, he’d say with a smirk, “then you’re in the wrong profession.”

While I’m sure some measure of his motivation came from fear of failure, I’d guess the bulk of it came from tried and true ways to stay motivated.  Inc.com had a great article about this, 14 Easy Ways to Get Insanely Motivated, it’s a quick read…check it out.

14 ways to stay motivated

Condition your mind.  Staying positive is huge.  We’ve got plenty of opponents who are trying to defeat us…let’s not defeat ourselves too!

Condition your body.  Staying healthy, eating right, working out…those are hard to do when we’re in season.  But we’ve got to try our best to take care of ourselves so that we can be available and energetic for our teams.

Avoid negative people.  If our heart sinks a little when we see someone coming, perhaps they’re negative.  Or if during lunch, we spend the entire time trying to pick someone else up (and they’re still grumpy), we might have to cut our losses and limit our time with those Negative Nellies.

Seek out the similarly motivated.  These are the people we can bounce ideas off of and they keep us fired up about what we do.

Have plans, but remain flexible.  We may think we know how we’re going to accomplish our goals, but staying flexible will keep us from getting down when things don’t work out how we thought they would.

Act with a higher purpose.  What’s your coaching philosophy?  If we do things that go against our philosophy, it will be pretty hard to be motivated.

Take responsibility for your own results.  How can we stay motivated if our success (or failure) is outside of our control?  When things are within our control, we feel that we have power over the situation.  And when we feel we have power, we can stay motivated.

Stretch past your limits on a daily basis.  For me, it’s been committing to reading and writing about my profession every day.  What will it be for you?

Don’t wait for perfection, do it now!  Perfection is unattainable, so if that’s what we’re waiting for…we’re going to be waiting for a long time.

Celebrate your failures.  When we see failure as a necessary step to success, we’re more willing to own our failures…and hopefully learn from them.

Don’t take success too seriously.  Sport is fickle.  We can beat the best team in conference one night and be feeling on top of the world…only to lose to a bottom dweller the next time out.

Avoid weak goals.  Weak goals start with “I’ll try to” or “I hope to”.  Strong goals begin with “I will”.  They are specific and have a deadline to them.

Treat inaction as the only real failure.  My motto: less talk, more do.

Think before you speak.  Don’t become the Negative Nelson that everyone else is avoiding in the office.  Stay positive, stay upbeat, stay motivated.

Not many professions have to live out their successes and failures in the public eye like athletics, which can make it hard to stay motivated sometimes.  Use these tips to get and stay motivated to guide your team to success.

5 Gifts Santa Can Drop Off For Coaches


If you’re out shopping today, then you’ve missed the fun part of shopping…where everyone’s happy and smiling and singing carols.  Now people are stressed, desperate, and not quite as friendly.  But don’t you worry, I sent my list in to Santa for all of us and this is what you can expect to find under your tree tomorrow morning.

**5 things that I hope Santa leaves for me (and my fellow coaches!)
when he comes down our chimneys tomorrow**

  • Great athletes.  I’m sure I don’t have to expand on this, but I’ll quickly define what I mean by “great”.  Surely skill comes into play, as well as a high sports I.Q., a love of the game, a love of hard work, an understanding of and commitment to team, the ability to rise to the occasion, and a strong desire to be a leader.  And that’s just the start.
  • Understanding bosses.  Administrators that know we’re slightly crazy during season and put up with it, who know what our programs need before we even ask, that understand that they’ve got to fight for our teams and programs so that we’re adequately funded and supported.  Bosses who want success.
  • Awesome recruits. These folks have all of the traits of “great athletes” as described above…and they fit in with your team seamlessly.  Not only are they fired about your school and your team, they commit to your program early out of respect for the other people that you’re recruiting.
  • Perspective. Every win doesn’t mean you’re going to win a national championship and each loss doesn’t mean that your team is awful and doomed to failure.  Perspective shows us coaches that we are leaders and teachers of young people.  While the most immediate benefit of our instruction is sport skill building, we’re also building them into better human beings.  We’re teaching them how to win and lose with grace, how to take care of their bodies and eat healthily, how to value hard work, how to deal with the unfairness that will sometimes happen in life, and how to be a member of a group with a goal or cause that’s bigger than they are.
  • Passion. I hope you love what you do.  I hope that you can’t go to sleep some nights because you’re so excited about a new play that you know will work or the next competition.  I hope that your athletes make you laugh even when you want to be serious.  I hope that you jot down ideas about your team on napkins while you’re having lunch.  I hope that you love learning about your sport and your craft.  I hope you’re getting better every day.  I hope you love what you do.

I’m sure this is a list that we can all get behind, one that’ll make our teams better.  Merry Christmas folks and safe travels during the holiday season!