Tag Archives: Coaching philosophy

Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?


Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Maybe in your life, you get a chance to chat on the phone with incredibly successful Big Ten coaches, but it is quite the thrill for me.  Speaking to Kelly Sheffield, the head volleyball coach at the University of Wisconsin, was awesome.  He made me want to be seventeen years old again, so that I could pick the Badgers all over again.  He oozes enthusiasm.  For the sport.  For our profession.  For his athletes.  And for his institution.

I’d read an interview of his where he talked about his team practicing with intensity and enthusiasm.  So I asked him, what does that look like?  If I were to walk into his gym, what would I see that would make me think of those two qualities?

If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know that my man John Wooden was big on enthusiasm.  In fact, it was one of the cornerstones of his Pyramid of Success.  I’ve been on the enthusiasm bandwagon for a while now and it was nice to have a big-time coach affirm that I’m on the right track.

What tangible qualities does enthusiasm produce?

  • From the players: Connection.  He’s not just talking about hanging out and having fun with one another…it’s more than that.  It happens when there’s a mistake in a drill. The players must immediately connect so that it doesn’t happen again.
  • For the fans: Inspiration.  I went to a major Division One volleyball game a few years ago and the place was electric.  The students were fired up, the band was rocking, and the teams were playing at an absolutely amazing level…the energy was palpable.  A few years later, I went to watch that same institution play and it was crickets in their gym.  The players were flat so, in response, so was the crowd.
  • From the coaches: Passion.  I’m going to talk about this in the next post, but coaches have to bring consistent energy.  If I walked into Sheffield’s gym, I’d see engaged coaches who are actively working with their athletes, not just standing there observing.

Clearly skill and knowledge are important, but enthusiasm can unlock the door to bigger and better things for our athletes.

Check out the Sheffield series:
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach
Coaches Corner: Four Things To Think About When Considering A New Job

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals.  These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Reaching Full Potential Speedometer Tracking Goalsource

“Reaching your potential can’t ever be comfortable.”
—Kelly Sheffield, Head Women’s Volleyball Coach, University of Wisconsin

I read an interview with Sheffield where he said he expects his players to immerse themselves in the process of getting better and I loved that phrase.  There’s ownership required from the player and a level of expectation set from the coach.  And that’s how we got to the quotation I put at the beginning of the post.  Surely, we all want our players to reach their potential, but the process of getting better is oftentimes harder than our athletes think it will be.

So how do we get them there?

First things first, they’ve got to buy what we’re selling.  Sheffield was in a different position with his team, because he was in his first year with them.  But I think we should always remind our athletes about those things that we hold in high esteem…whether we’re in our first or twenty-second year.

  • What is your vision?  This could be a goal of winning the conference or it could be a GPA goal you have for your team.
  • What culture does your program have?  I just got back from evaluating a player at a tournament.  After seeing what I needed to see from her, I got caught up in watching another court.  The players weren’t engaged…with each other or the coach.  As a matter of fact, they seemed to hate the sport of volleyball!  That’s a culture and it has been created. Since we’re in charge, let’s be sure not to create this sort of environment.
  • What kind of coach are you? Do You! as Russell Simmons says and own it.  If you’re fiery, contemplative, stats geek, tough, nurturing…whatever your style, be comfortable with it, because it’s the only way your players will know what to expect from you.

Once they’ve bought in, they’ve got to trust you.  They don’t need to trust you to start them.  Helping our athletes to reach their potential isn’t some sort of weird contract (if I work hard, then you’ll play me a lot), it’s truly for the benefit of the team…and by default, the benefit of the individual athlete.  Areas where we should be trusted include:

  • Do you believe in their skills?
  • Do you believe they can get better?
  • Do they believe you care about them as people?

Finally, they’ve got a choice to make.  As Sheffield says, our athletes can “make the decision to be extraordinary.”  It’s a daily decision our players must make.  To work hard.  To accept coaching.  To fail.  To keep trying.  If they make these decisions, they’ll be on the road to reaching their potential.

Want more Sheffield?  Check out:
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
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

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals.  These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield

kelly sheffieldsource

I’m excited to start a new series called Coaches Corner.  I’ve had the idea to connect with my fellow coaches in a meaningful way for a while now.  I finally decided to go for it.  I put my list of coaches I’d like to chat with together and started reaching out to them.  I’ll be talking to Division I, II, and III coaches.  Even club coaches and high school coaches.  If they’ve been successful, I want to know why!  In true Amazing Coach-style, each one of them was very open to having the conversation and no one “big timed” me.

I’m starting with Kelly Sheffield, the Head Women’s Volleyball Coach at the University of Wisconsin.  Full disclosure, I played at Wisconsin, so I’ve got a special place in my heart for the Badgers.  I didn’t play for Sheffield, though, (that would make me a whole heck of a lot younger than I am!) and was interested in how he managed to turn a floundering team into a runner-up in the championship game…in his first season!

UW finished 28-10 in Sheffield’s first season, an 11-win improvement from 2012, ranking second in both final national polls.  In his first year, Sheffield set the bar high. As the Badgers’ rookie coach, he led the upstart UW to the NCAA championship match, one of only three head coaches to lead their teams to the final match in their first seasons.

If you think his resume is impressive, wait until you see what he has to say about coaching!  Here are a few of the things he talked about.  Quite honestly, I could write ten posts about what he said, but I’ll restrain myself.

  • Everyone has a role, both player and coach.
  • On the importance of energy and enthusiasm.
  • Why players need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • What to look for when you’re ready for the next job.

See you next time.  Be sure to bring a pen and paper, because you’ll want to take notes from all of these great coaches!

The Kelly Sheffield series
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

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals.  These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Compilation Of Knowledge From Coaching Legends

lets recapsource

I had some fun during March Madness.  I wrote a bunch of articles based on the thoughts of basketball coaching giants.  Check them out and learn from the masters.

The John Wooden series:
John Wooden won ten national championships in twelve years at UCLA.  I’d say that gives him the right to define what success within a team construct looks like!  He was also a successful coach off of the court, we know that from the reverence his former players give him.  I’m sure all of us are trying to create those types of relationships and programs…so why not study the master?

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

The Mike Krzyzewski series
Coach K has been tremendously successful on many levels: spanning decades, working with collegiate athletes at Duke University, 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 Qualities That Make Every Team Great
Creating A Connected Culture
On The Value Of Hard Work

The Pat Summitt series
She’s got over a thousand wins with Tennessee basketball.  Over a hundred NCAA tournament wins.  Thirty Sweet 16 appearances. 18 Final Fours.  And eight national championship.  In her entire career (which started in 1974), she didn’t have a double digit losing season!  I think it’s fair to say Pat Summitt was an amazing coach.

Using Feedback As Motivation
How To Teach Leadership
Goal Setting According To Pat Summitt

The Tara VanDeVeer series
Tara VanDerveer has won over 900 basketball games, Pac-10 conference coach of the year ten times, and two national championships.  So she’s pretty good.  Check out these articles based on the Stanford basketball coach’s thoughts.

Is Your Best Athlete Your Best Leader?
The Two Sides Of Every Coach


The Two Sides Of Every Coach

two sidessource

Over the years, the image of VanDerveer has taken two forms, one warm and engaging, one not so much.  Her defining yin and yang appears to be toughness and tenderness. She demonstrates the former as needed; it’s the latter that people close to her often mention.—Game On

Tara VanDerveer has won over 900 basketball games, Pac-10 conference coach of the year ten times, and two national championships.  So she’s pretty good.

The quotation above highlights the necessities of coaching, whether you coach men or women.  You’ve got to be able to bring the hammer, but you’ve also got to care.  I’ve seen young coaches miss the boat on this one, trying too hard to be their player’s friend that they are unable to effectively coach their team.

3 types of young coaches

  • Young coach ignores obvious problems in order to be “fun”, “cool”, or whatever.
  • Young coach is sometimes super “fun” in practice and other times oddly strict…their teams don’t know what to expect.
  • Young coach is distant with players, not worried about being “fun”, but not able to connect with players on a personal level.

I’m pretty sure when I was first starting out, I chose the last of those options.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve never been burdened by the desire to be perceived as “fun”, so I didn’t care that my team thought I wasn’t “cool”.  In my opinion, that’s the best option of those available, but I do think I could have worked harder to show my team I cared about them off the court.

3 qualities of tough coaches

  • Demand consistent effort levels from their athletes,
  • Set a high bar for excellence within their program,
  • Challenge their athletes to embrace the discomfort of getting better.

3 qualities of caring coaches

  • Let their players get to know them,
  • Take an interest in their players personally,
  • Stay in touch with former players.

Both sides of a coach are necessary.  You don’t want to be a soft touch whose athletes take advantage of them, but you also don’t want to be so hard on them that they don’t enjoy their sport anymore.  Finding the right balance is the key to a successful coach-player relationship.

Goal Setting According To Pat Summitt

benefits of setting goals on blackboardsource

She’s got over a thousand wins.  Over a hundred NCAA tournament wins.  Thirty Sweet 16 appearances. 18 Final Fours.  And eight national championship.  In her entire career (which started in 1974), she didn’t have a double digit losing season!  I think it’s fair to say Pat Summitt was an amazing coach.

When I found this article from when she was coaching, I was immediately drawn to it, because goal setting is something I know is very important…but an area I think I can improve in.  Perhaps you’ll find some motivation from Summitt’s words as I did.

Be realistic              
Setting goals is incredibly important to success. But if you set a goal that seems impossible to achieve—if you go into a year saying your goal is to win the national championship—then you risk losing morale, self-discipline and chemistry if you falter early.

But aim high
Set a goal that stretches you, requires exceptional effort, but one that you can reach.

Let’s keep our egos in check, coaches
Summitt says the best way to motivate individuals to achieve team goals is to bring individual goals in line. She hasn’t achieved her goals by herself. Her players have achieved them, and she’ll be the first to tell you it was their hard work that led to all of her program’s accomplishments.

Ensure your team stays on course
Setting up a system that rewards you for meeting your goals and has penalties for failing to hit your target is just as important as putting your goals down on paper.

Appropriate goals ensure accountability
The only way to ensure you become a winner is to set goals every day, and hold yourself and your teammates accountable for reaching those goals.

Daily goal setting is something we should all add to our coaching repertoire, I think having small goals and successes each day can help our teams achieve their larger goals.

How To Teach Leadership

peer leadershipsource

Leadership is really a form of temporary authority that others grant you, and they only follow you if they find you consistently credible. It’s all about perception—and if teammates find you the least bit inconsistent, moody, unpredictable, indecisive, or emotionally unreliable, then they balk and the whole team is destabilized.—Pat Summitt

I’ve written before about the magic of embracing followers.  After all, can you really be a leader if you have no followers?  Does it matter that the coach calls a player “captain” if their teammates roll their eyes every time the “captain” says something?

In the quotation above, Pat Summitt gives us a blueprint for teaching our leaders to be credible captains.

5 qualities to teach team leaders

Consistent.  Imagine a captain who didn’t always work hard.  Yikes…that’s one bad captain!  The burden of being a leader means they have to give full effort every day.  Tough day in class? Gotta bring it in practice.  Best friend’s mad at them?  Still gotta bring it in practice.  Having an awful practice? Effort level has to remain high, gotta bring it!

Even-tempered.  Sport offers its participants a chance to practice moderating oneself.  In my opinion, athletes don’t get the chance to pout, complain, or give up.  We ask our athletes to embrace failure and not get too caught up in success.  That attitude requires a certain leveling off of emotions.

Predictable.  I coached a young lady long ago who was tremendously talented.  She was dynamic and athletic…a rare talent.  She was also full of surprises.  Sometimes she was the life of the proverbial party.  Other times she was withdrawn and sullen.  I never could figure her out.  Neither could her teammates.  This made her a poor leader.

Decisive.  There have been times in my career where I’ve pulled my captains aside and asked them a point-blank question.  It could be something like, “I think both Susie and Janie are about equal, who would you rather play with out there on the court?”  At that point, I don’t want any hemming and hawing, I need a decision.

Emotionally reliable.  Closely related to being a consistent teammate, the emotionally reliable player.  I actually looked up this phrase and landed on the Psychology Today webpage.  Emotionally reliable folks are able to self-regulate at a high level.  “Self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down.”  That sounds like a great leadership quality, right?  They don’t get too high, they don’t get too low.

These are all great lessons to teach our team captains as they navigate the murky waters of leading their peers.

Using Feedback As Motivation


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.

On The Value Of Hard Work

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?

The Pressure Of Winning


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?