Tag Archives: Coaching philosophy

Everyone Is A Critic


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

  1. Thank you for your observation. Don’t know how I feel about this one. Seems like a blow off to me.
  2. 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.
  3. How might I address this issue? It’s easy to complain, much harder to problem solve. Involve your critic in brainstorming possible solutions.
  4. 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.

Being On A Team Isn’t Always Fun…And That’s Okay


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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.

4 Lessons Our Athletes Need In Order To Measure Their Success


“Bloom where you’re planted” and lots of other clichés (“when life hands you lemons, make lemonade”) are created to help people deal with the fact they’re not where they want to be in life.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that every student-athlete that I coach has dreamed of attending my institution since they were little tykes.  I know that most, if not all, of them would love to play at Big Time State University if they could.  They’d get all sorts of gear, they’d be on television every weekend, they’d be big-timers.

You might be in another situation.  Maybe a player thought they’d make Varsity and only made JV, or they thought they’d make the “1” team and ended up on the “2”…whatever it is, we’ve got to get them fired up about moving forward rather than looking back.

4 tips we can give our athletes to refocus their goals and have measurable success

  1. Don’t make general plans.  Saying, “I want to start” or “I want our team to win conference” isn’t a specific goal.  Instead of vague, “I just want to help the team” type goals, let’s focus them on figuring out how they can get better every day.  I know of some coaches who have their athletes fill out a goal sheet at the end of each practice.  They set a mini goal and then write down whether or not they accomplished that goal.
  2. Award incremental positives.  Goals are hard enough to accomplish without waiting until you’re standing on the championship podium!  If the player has been able to string a bunch of great games together, be sure to give her a pat on the back.  If she wins a smaller award, like all-tournament team, be sure to make it a big deal.  Being good is hard, being good over a long period of time is a lot harder…celebrate small victories.
  3. Read.  So many times, our athletes are only focused on reading for classwork…it’s rare for them to read for fun during the school year.  That’s why I read a book with my team each year.  Reading it as a team helps each person to carry the load of the book, because they sign up for chapters and are then responsible for teaching their teammates the content.  Picking books that will make them better leaders, players, or help them overcome a mental barrier has been critical to helping my athletes be successful.
  4. Don’t wait for something to happen to you.  A few years ago, there was a book that made the “Law of Attraction” popular.  The Law said that if you thought about something enough and had enough positive thoughts about it…whatever the thing was that you really wanted would come to fruition.  Those of us who live in the real world understand that good things don’t just happen, we’ve got to hustle for them.  It’s a great lesson to teach our athletes.  If they want amazing things to happen in their lives, hard work and success have a reciprocal relationship.

The idea for this post came to me after reading A Checklist for Measuring Your Success on Huffington Post.  As the clichés have a fun way of telling us, we have the ability to take life’s disappointments and turn them into opportunities.

Click here and you can get Coach Dawn Writes articles emailed directly to your inbox!  It’s free and easy…and I promise I won’t give your email to anyone else.

6 Hidden Gems Who Go Unnoticed On Teams

diamond roughsource

Maybe you’re a high school coach who knows that the freshman and junior varsity teams are lacking talent to send up to your team.  Or maybe you’re the college coach whose recruiting class didn’t quite turn out the way you’d planned.  Or you could be the club coach who received five players who play the same position.  It could be that your team (God forbid) experienced a major loss when a key player got injured.

Whoever is reading this, we’ve all found ourselves in situations where we had to train players to do something that was seemingly outside of their skill set.  I got the idea for this post from, Diamonds in the rough: How to recognize your star employees, on Smart Blogs’ website.  When we’re forced to think outside of the box, sometimes good things happen!

These diamonds in the rough could be hiding in plain sight

  1. Haven’t put it all together yet.  Whether they started with the sport late, adolescence hit with fury, or they’re just slow learners…some players take a while to “get it”.  These are usually the players with great physical gifts (height, strength, etc.) who need tons of reps.
  2. Haven’t maxed out at skill level.  I’m sure we’ve all coached the player who’s maxed out their potential, they’re just not going to get better.  It’s not that they’re bad players, they could be really good, we just know they’re at the peak of their curve rather than on their way up.  The key when in crisis mode is to find the player who’s on the way up.
  3. Appreciative of coach’s effort and interest.  Those players who look us in the eye when we’re giving correction and immediately try to change their behavior are fired up about getting better.  They’re the ones we see practicing by themselves when we walk past the gym.  They’ll practice hard for whatever situation we put them in.
  4. Value team.  These players put team first.  When we ask them to switch positions or to step in somewhere they’ve never played before, they do it without question.  This type of player has an open attitude about change and will make our jobs a lot easier.
  5. Willing to work (hard) to improve.  Not only willing, but these players are excited about the challenge of learning something new.  They’ll watch film, come to practice early and stay late.  These players understand that working hard leads to really good things.
  6. Enjoy the sport.  Look for players who have fun when they’re with the team.  Enthusiasm will make the transition easier for the player and their teammates…and their coach!

As we think about our teams, we should always have a plan A, B, and C for each of them.

5 Questions We Should Ask While Problem Solving


Problem: A player isn’t performing at an acceptable level.

What to do?:  SCAMPER.   Let’s look at how we’d apply SCAMPER to our teams.

First things first, what the heck is SCAMPER?  The letters stand for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify/Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Rearrange, though I won’t talk about combine or magnify/modify here.

I’m sure we could use this technique with all sorts of problems, but let’s stick with our problem player.

Can we substitute?:  This is the easiest solution to an underperforming player…put someone else in.  Though, if the player is a starter and impact player for our team, keeping her off of the court isn’t a smart long term solution.

Can we adapt to her?:  I worked with a team at a summer camp with a pretty dynamic hitter, though she struggled with slower tempo sets.  The only problem?  Her head coach put her in a position to work only in her weakness and hit those slow tempo sets.  After watching her crush fast tempo after fast tempo ball, we changed the offensive system to work in her strength and she excelled.

Can we put her to another use?: Our players come to us with a certain amount of training in their particular position, but can they do other things?  Would it be better if they played another position?  Until we answer, “yeah, I can put her to another use…right here on the bench next to me”, we’ve got to figure out a way for each player to have a legitimate contribution to the team’s effort.

What can we eliminate?:  Maybe the coaching staff has come up with a sweet offensive plan for the team…they just can’t execute it!  Perhaps it’s time to scrap that plan and simplify.  Is there something going on in her personal life that’s keeping her from performing up to snuff?  We’ve got to help her eliminate the causes of stress if possible.  If nothing works…maybe we’ve got to eliminate more and more of her playing time.

Can our team be rearranged into something else?:  Sometimes we’ll play a team that funnels eighty percent of their offense through a couple of players and I always wonder what they do when those players have bad days…besides lose, I mean.  For that player who has lost their mojo, the coaching staff can restructure the offensive season so that player doesn’t carry so much of the burden.

I got the idea for this post from a Psychology Today article about creative thinking and I can see how SCAMPER could initiate the creative thinking process.  Sometimes the obvious answer isn’t the best option and we’ve got to dig deeper.

Follow These 8 Principles To Reach Success


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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Focus.  If each of us focused on learning something new about our sport or about coaching in general everyday, success would surely follow.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.


Coaches Corner: Recap

generic coachsource

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

The Disorienting Nature Of Both Success And Failure

Elizabeth Gilbertsource

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!

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!