In the post, Do You Have a Leadership Strategy For Your Team?, I talked about the importance of having a leadership strategy: How do we pick captains? What characteristics should they have? How do we make sure the process is transparent and can be replicated from year to year?
So that’s what we’re going to focus on!
The following communication techniques are from this post and will keep us focused on our ultimate goal of creating an effective leadership strategy:
- Formal communication: I’m sure most of us do this whenever we’re in our captain-picking time of the year. We say something like, “Hey, we’re going to be voting for captains in a couple of weeks (or whatever your time frame), here are some things we look for in captains. These qualities should be present on and off the court. Being a captain is a big deal, it’s an honor, so make sure you’re paying attention so that you can use your vote wisely.”
- Informal communication: I use this in two ways. The first being those players who I think will get voted captain. I start talking to them about it at the end of our season…I want them prepared and I want them acting captain-ly so that they are seen as leaders. The other way I use this type of communication is in weekly captains meetings where I ask the team leaders how things are going. Early in the season, I may ask if any of the newbies are feeling homesick. Later in the season, I’ll keep checking in to make sure there aren’t any interpersonal conflicts that need to be addressed or to find out if the behind-the-scenes tone is generally positive.
- Communication related to the organization’s rituals and symbols. Older players, alumni, coaches who’ve been around for a long time are essential to helping paint a picture of “who we are” and give context to team culture. This year, we brought back a championship team to be recognized during one of our matches and our players enjoyed hearing from the alums and seeing the fire that was still in their eyes about competing in our gym. Those folks can give a fuller picture of the impact being a team leader has had on their life.
- The messages that leaders send through their every action. I think we, as coaches, are pretty aware of this, but are our athletes? I’m one of those fake it ‘til you make it kind of coaches. I tell my team (at least) weekly that their enthusiasm for being at practice isn’t as important as everyone (the coaches, their teammates) thinking they’re enthusiastic about being at practice. Didn’t do well on a test? I shouldn’t be able to tell by looking at them. Got in a fight with their best friend? They should be the loudest talkers in the gym. A freshmen took a senior’s starting spot? That senior should be screaming her face off in support. Leaders/captains put the team first. This could be the greatest gift we give our players: the ability to control their emotions and how they express them.
I like this strategy! These are principles from the business world that can be easily adapted to the coaching world.
Coaches ask for a simple, but very hard, thing from our athletes: complete focus for a couple of hours each day. I think this is a difficult mental task for our players to manage…I also think it requires practice. I don’t know if it’s fair of us to ask our players to do these things without giving them the space to practice these mental skills. Here are fourteen ways are athletes can break “focus” down and take control of their mental headspace:
14 powerful ways our teams can build their mental strength
- Perspective. A great mental challenge of being on a team is putting the team’s goals first…even when those goals are in opposition to a player’s personal aspirations.
- Readiness for change. Athletes and coaches have to be nimble, flexible, and adaptable…that’s the only way to beat a savvy opponent.
- Detachment. This is a call to not take things personally, but to focus on what they can accomplish, not any perceived slights from the coaching staff.
- Strength under stress. This one is the name of the game, right? Competition is stressful and, ideally, we’ve equipped our athletes with the tools to manage themselves so that they can shine under the bright lights.
- Preparation for challenges. No season is without twists and turns, use the good times to prepare for the inevitable downturn.
- The right attitude toward setbacks. I want my athletes to embrace their personal setbacks, because that means they’ve tried to get better. If they never experience frustration/failure/setbacks, then they’re not pushing hard enough.
- Self-validation. Many times, I tell my players that only they know how hard they’re working. I can come up with tough workouts, but it’s up to them to make them as challenging as possible. Working hard is a mental exercise and it’s their opportunity to push when perhaps they could get away with not pushing.
- Patience. Every player on every team at every school wants to win on the first day of practice. Special players and teams have the patience to work every day over the course of a long season.
- Control. Is your athlete grumpy because you corrected them in practice? Are they disappointed they’re not playing with the first team? It’s our job as their coach to remind them that they, and only they, are in charge of the attitude they present at practice.
- Endurance in the face of failure. Quite honestly, our athletes’ goal should be to fail every day. I want my players operating at the outer edges of their ability—where failure is more likely—because I want them to challenge themselves to do what they didn’t think they could do.
- Unwavering positivity. We have to encourage our players to be a positive light on the team. There is always a Negative Nelly on the team, hopefully our athletes will have the guts to stop them in their tracks.
- Tenacity. Never give up. Come in early, stay late…be relentless about getting better.
- A strong inner compass. This is a great locker room skill. When others may be grumbling, this athlete challenges themselves to do the right thing and support the direction the coach is taking the program.
- Uncompromising standards. The standard is the standard, regardless of how hot it is, or how many injured players your team has, or how well other teams are doing. Our athletes shouldn’t bring the standard down, but rather rise up to the standard.
What if we challenged our teams to do a few of these each day? What if, when presented with a mental challenge, we reminded our athletes that this was getting them mentally tougher for a future opponent? What if we posted this up wherever we practice so that our teams have a powerful reminder of what is required of them…beyond the skill they’re trying to master? What if we framed our disappointment with their lack of engagement/focus/whatever with an opportunity to be mentally better than our opponent?
Check out this Inc. article, which served as inspiration for this post.
Coaching, much like parenting, is a thankless job. It seems that no matter what a coach does, there’s someone waiting in the wings to criticize the recruiting technique, in-game move, or the coach’s knowledge.
I’ll never forget being on a high after making it to NCAA’s with a talented team…only to have two players quit a few months later. Buzz kill.
What I’ve learned in my years of coaching is to be open to both criticism and praise, but to take them both with a grain of salt. So I was excited to read Leadership Freak’s blog post about handling a critic/critique.
He says that there are three possibilities for your critic’s actions:
- Some jerks are actually trying to be helpful, they just suck at it. As I look back at various parents and players that I’ve had to deal with, I think most fall into this category.
- The criticism has a grain of truth in it. My default position for criticism is to dismiss the person as illogical. Sooo, I run it by our assistant coach to see what he thinks.
- Your critic is a jerk. This is most definitely the smallest percentage of critic that I experience (at least, that’s what I tell myself) and I count myself lucky.
The beauty of being in charge is being able to control yourself and your reactions. While I may be cussing them out in my head, this cucumber stays calm and cool when faced with coaching’s sometimes unfortunate interactions.
4 Possible responses to a coaching criticism
- Thank you for your observation. Don’t know how I feel about this one. Seems like a blow off to me.
- What makes you say that? I like asking questions to start off what I think may be a difficult convo. That way, I respond to concerns directly from the horse’s mouth rather than relying on what I’ve heard through the grapevine.
- How might I address this issue? It’s easy to complain, much harder to problem solve. Involve your critic in brainstorming possible solutions.
- Wow! I hadn’t thought of it that way. Just because someone sees a situation differently, doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. If our conversation is fruitful, then I should have gained some insight into why they’re upset/critical/not happy. Ending with this sentiment gives both sides a chance to explain where they’re coming from.
If you don’t want to get wet, then don’t swim. If you don’t want criticism, then don’t coach. Hopefully, this gave you some ideas on how to effectively manage the critics in your midst.
There was a time when I felt frustrated by my lack of voice at a particular place of employment. Those two things (frustration combined with lack of voice) are tough to overcome and can lead to malaise, a bad attitude, and a desire to look for greener pastures. Those things, in turn, can then lead to team-wide discontent…and that will inevitably lead to less success in terms of team dynamics, as well as fewer wins and more losses.
This, of course, leads me to think of my team. Is there a way to make sure they know how to handle these kinds of feelings? I wanted to think of ways to help them push through this normal life situation. How can coaches guide their athletes through the process of not being in charge/knowing your role/blooming where you’re planted?
I read a great post over at Leadership Freak, where he gave fifteen ways our players could lead themselves. I like the idea of helping them find ownership in something of their athletic experience, because a lot of it is out of their control.
5 Ways To Control The Controllables
- Remember what matters to you. During the low points of the season, whether it’s because they’re not seeing as much playing time as they’d like or just because their school work is kicking their butts, it’s good to remember why they love the game.
- Evaluate yourself with greater rigor than you evaluate others. This one really stands out to me…I probably should have written it first. Too often, players who are in a bad mental cycle spend all of their time tallying up their teammate’s flaws rather than looking in the mirror. Remembering that they can only control themselves will help them feel more in control of their lives.
- Build transparent relationships that strengthen your soul. I’m not one of those coaches who feels their team should all be BFFs, but I do think they should have a friend or two on the team who aren’t afraid to tell them the unfiltered truth.
- Reflect on your journey. Try keeping a journal. I’ve heard this advice from quite a few coaches who have their teams write reflections in journals. Some teams do it daily, after practices as well competitions. Others journal at set points during the season. Questions like: What am I learning? Who am I becoming? Am I being a great teammate? Would I want to coach myself?
- Extend second chances to yourself. Probably a lesson all of us could learn, huh? They’re probably going to fail at some or all of these things during the season. They may fall into a funk where they have a bad attitude or even think of quitting the team or transferring. That’s when they’ve got to find their positive headspace and remember that they love the game.
Having these conversations with our athletes can help them frame their feelings of discontent as normal rather than a sign that they aren’t where they’re meant to be.
In a TEDtalk titled, Success is a Continuous Journey, Richard St. John talked about being on top of the heap…and then getting complacent, overconfident, and cocky. Which led him losing all of his clients and the aforementioned success. He realized success is a journey and not a destination. The talk is less than four minutes long, so he didn’t elaborate on his steps to success, but I will put my coach spin on things!
8 things we shouldn’t stop doing…especially once we’re successful
- Passion. I haven’t met a coach who isn’t passionate about their sport. I think it’s safe to say that enthusiasm for our sport is a necessity in order to reach any measure of success.
- Work. A few years ago, there was a popular book which said that good things would just come to you if you thought they would. I’m all for positive thinking and visualizing and all of that good stuff…I think a positive mindset is critical in whatever field you’re in. I’ve not met a coach who said, “we had the best season of my career and I didn’t do anything!” Combining that positive frame of mind with a whole lot of hard work will yield results.
- Focus. If each of us focused on learning something new about our sport or about coaching in general everyday, success would surely follow.
- Push. There will be tough times, there always are, but we can’t give up. You can’t lose a couple of games and decide that maybe coaching isn’t for you. You can’t make a coaching mistake and decide that you’re a bad coach. Push through the bad times to the good that are surely waiting for you.
- Ideas. Whether you’ve got a player who isn’t performing up to their potential or an opponent you’ve never beaten before, fresh ideas are a necessity in coaching. It seems like players (and their problems) are like snowflakes…no two are the same! We’ve got to be able to tackle on and off-court issues with an arsenal of innovative ideas.
- Improve. We’ve got to be willing to get better. I was talking to a “big time” coach a few months ago and he said there were days he felt like he knew nothing about our sport. I’m sure that was his way of putting pressure on himself to keep getting better and pushing himself to keep learning.
- Serve. Successful people serve others. Whenever you read interviews of wealthy people, they generally talk about donating a considerable portion of their income to charity. And most sports teams do some form of community service work or volunteering. The teams may do it out of a sense of humanity/morality/trying to be decent, but teams can also learn what they can achieve together. Beyond that, community service events are great team bonding experiences.
- Persist. Jimmy V. said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” I agree.
With the fall season right around the corner, we can all use a few reminders to keep pressing on toward the goal.
I figured it was time to recap some of the articles I wrote after conversations with these successful coaches. I don’t know about you, but I love talking shop and was amazed at how open these big-time coaches were to chatting with me.
Looking back at these posts is so amazing, not only because these coaches had great insights to share, but also because I know there are more coach interviews coming up that I know you’ll enjoy just as much as these.
Kelly Sheffield, Head Volleyball Coach, University of Wisconsin
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?
Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach
Coaches Corner: Four Things To Think About When Considering A New Job
Vanessa Walby, Head Volleyball Coach, Washington University in St. Louis
Coaches Corner: Vanessa Walby
Coaches Corner: On Changing A Culture
Coaches Corner: The Power Of Female Mentorship
Christy Johnson-Lynch, Head Volleyball Coach, Iowa State University
Coaches Corner: Christy Johnson-Lynch
Coaches Corner: 3 Ways To Overcome Challenges
Coaches Corner: Building Trust With Your Athletes
Ron Sweet, Head Volleyball Coach, Wofford University
Coaches Corner: Ron Sweet
Coaches Corner: Turning Around A Losing Program
Coaches Corner: Coaching Female Athletes
This TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love is amazing in its simplicity. She talks about coming to a place of comfort whenever the jarring of great success or great failure shakes our equilibrium. Gilbert’s assertion is that both events, success and failure, upset us from our comfort zone and the only way to find our happy place is to return to that zone of comfort.
I think it’s a great lesson for our athletes to internalize. I’m sure if we were to all talk to our teams and ask them why they play, it would be because they love the sport…they can’t imagine not playing.
So when they fail miserably in front of their friends and family? Get back in the gym. Or when they have an insanely good game and everyone’s telling them that they’ve finally taken that step into rarefied air? Get back to work…go back to your love.
Check out her talk, Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating. It’s about seven minutes long, well worth your time!