If current or former players were asked, “Was your coach tough?”, what would they say? If they answered yes, what images would come to mind? If they answered no, would those images change?
I’m pretty sure those who have been away from the game for a while might see a tough coach as always demanding, relentlessly pushing, sometimes degrading and negative, and not very open to any excuse or sharing discussions with players on areas concerning strategy of the game.
On the other hand, if players answered no, thoughts might lean toward a coach who wasn’t firm when making decisions, rarely holding players accountable, over praising players and maybe being more concerned with not creating issues versus dealing with them.
This is not to say either style is bad or one is a better fit than the other. Many athletes perform better when a coach is more demanding, while others need a coach that is more nurturing.
I must admit that when I was growing up it was a different era because being a tough coach was the norm. My coaches were demanding, verbally abusive and never tolerant of mistakes. Any variance by a player was dealt with by punishment on the spot, in front of everyone. There was no transferring to another school to escape this treatment. The majority of coaches were cast from the same mold. As a player, fear was the prevalent emotion and the driving force to perform. I might add, though, that any compliment a player received truly meant something, because they were few and far between.
It is worth noting that many coaches’ styles and demeanor are shaped by a coach they had in high school or college. Surprisingly enough, in many cases it is exactly the opposite of that coach when they were too easy on them or too tough on them. In my case that is true. I always knew if I coached I would always do my best to create a positive atmosphere with respect for my players.
So where would you place yourself on a coaching continuum with “Relenting” at one end and “Tough” at the other? Is it safe to say that a coach leans toward the relenting end on some situations and the tough end on others? Is that a true indicator of the coach’s impact by moving up and down the continuum, or is it required to coach today’s athletes?
Many would argue that today’s athlete requires a flexible coach. There are so many different personalities on the team and responses should be made depending on the situation. The shift seems to be for the coach to change to fit the athlete, not the other way around. How can a coach be so flexible and still earn the respect of his or her players?
Let’s look at situations where relenting might be the best fit.
When a player:
- Makes a statement made out of character.
- Stands up for a teammate in a heated moment or game.
- Actions are out of character…walking off the practice field, confronting a teammate.
- Lack of effort due to physical or mental issues not conveyed to coaches.
Let’s be clear, “Relenting” doesn’t mean we won’t hold them accountable. It’s looking at some situations that aren’t crystal clear, taking into account the player’s previous history, circumstances and intent before making a decision. They will be held accountable, but we must decide how severely.
How about areas where holding a tougher line is imperative?
- Program expectation violations…..
- Blatantly and consistently undermining the coaching staff
- Missing practice/game
- Breaking curfew
- Demeaning treatment of teammates
- Unsportsmanlike conduct/ejection during a game
- Unruly behavior on and off campus
- Failing academic performance
- Federal, state or community laws broken
Holding a “Tougher” line in these situations can bring your team together, or, if not addressed, can drive a wedge between different groups of players. If, at the beginning of the year, the coach and his or her team developed expectations with accountability for specific violations, then the decision is crystal clear and has to be made regardless of the player’s status.
The key to earning the respect of players lies in the ability to discern between being relenting and being tough. Let’s be clear, players expect to be held accountable, regardless of what generation they come from. They’re the first to know they made a mistake or violated a rule. When the situation is watered down, and the accountability insignificant, it disrupts the whole team. The guilty player thinks his or her actions are okay and the rest of the team thinks we’re playing favorites.
As the leader, coaches have to hold a hard line on certain issues, while others require that they gather more information to make a decision.
In the end some players will say a coach was “tough,” while others will say they were “relenting.” That vision is based on what they saw only in their situation or what they perceived. Players will never, at least while they play, understand what went on behind the scenes and the many considerations weighed before making decisions.
Fighting to establish a reputation as a “Tough” coach as opposed to a “Relenting” one isn’t worth the effort considering that at times we need to be both.
I wish you and your team the best!!
“What’s happened to our program? Just a couple of years ago we were enjoying tremendous success, but look at us now.” Have you ever uttered words like this, if only to yourself?
Most coaches certainly wouldn’t shout them to the world because they would believe they could fix it. Admitting concern would be a sign of weakness, but even thinking it while searching for answers and solutions can create doubt.
Many times programs aren’t able to sustain success year in and year out. That’s why a gradual decline doesn’t immediately set off any alarms. There can be many reasons for seasons with fewer wins, such as injuries, a talent pool that dries up, other teams becoming more competitive, or being moved to a tougher district, region or conference to name a few.
Those factors are fairly uncontrollable. What other areas should we explore to bring our team back to its glory? Where do we start?
The best point to begin might be in the past, though many would tell you to keep looking forward seeking answers. There were many reasons your past teams were successful. Visiting those times to find solutions can only help.
Here’s where reacquainting yourself with the past can be so resourceful:
REWIND-Think back to the day you were hired. You had so much energy, enthusiasm and ideas about building your team. Did you realize your excitement was a tool that helped engage your team? Can you reignite that fire? Was your success immediate?
REVISIT- Look at practice plans during those successful years. What made them so effective? Is it different now? How?
RECALL- Were there pregame speeches that worked then, but not now? How did you motivate and inspire your team in the beginning? Were your words more meaningful?
REACH OUT- Contact your former players and assistant coaches. Ask their ideas on why they believe your teams were so successful.
RELIVE- What about those team building or hilarious moments with the players. Are you still providing an environment for them to have some fun?
REPLAY- Envision those matches that were so intense, the ones you were in to the end. What made that possible? Why were your players so competitive?
REMIND- Practice is where champions are made. Are you working as smart in practice as you did in the early years? Or, are you taking too much for granted?
RECONSIDER- Work with your assistants and evaluate everything you do now in pre season and in season. Everything must be scrutinized. Are you holding players accountable?
REVISE- Evaluate every practice plan you’ve been using. Can you add to or take away to make it more effective? Is your team game ready?
REFINE- Focus the majority of practice time on game related material. Is practice intense and competitive? Raise expectations and settle for nothing less.
REFLECT- Have you changed your pregame approach? Are you coaching differently from the sideline? Are you challenging yourself as well as the players?
RECHARGE- You’re the one who gives your players energy. They play off every aspect of your demeanor. Do you come to practice and games with passion? Create excitement at every opportunity.
RE-ENERGIZE- Attend clinics, seminars, meet new coaches. Surround yourself with passionate assistants. Find ways to bring back the energy you had on the day you were hired.
REDEDICATE- Make a commitment to become a more effective coach. It all starts with you. That magic may take time to get back. Be persistent.
REAFFIRM- Remember why you started coaching. Keep reminding yourself this is where you should be. Your players are counting on you. Never stop believing in yourself.
Evaluate every season with respect to your performance, your players performances, practice, preseason, in season, post season and assistant coaches. It was no fluke that your program was successful before. Many times we naturally relax when success comes around. It happens to players and coaches. The key is recognizing it, and getting back to work like you’ve never won a game. That attitude has to be conveyed with your actions to the team.
Building a fire is the first step to becoming successful. Keeping that fire glowing season after season by visiting the past may be the best way to stay on the road to success.
I wish you and your team the best!
If you’ve coached for any period of time, you have inevitably had to make some tough decisions. Some are painfully obvious while other seem to beg the question, such as what was my player thinking, what was their intent or did they really consider the consequences? While having clear expectations and accountability measures in place usually allow us to settle the incident or incidents expediently, it is still a part of coaching that is not enjoyable but necessary.
So what are some of the player challenges that will require your leadership?
· Missing the bus to a game
· Disqualification during a game
· Teammates not including a teammate during a game
· Missing or late to practice
· Fighting with a teammate
· Failing academically or disrupting class
· Blatantly not following instructions in a game
· Refusing to enter a game
· Influencing other teammates to disregard your instructions
As you look at these, it is pretty obvious that some fall under the same category of PLAYER ACCOUNTABILITY within your team expectations, which you hopefully formulated with the players at the beginning of the year. These typically include missing the bus or practice, fighting, and disqualification. Drugs and alcohol are usually covered in your school’s handbook.
It’s those other challenges such as refusing to enter a game, disregarding instructions, negatively influencing a teammate, freezing a teammate out during a game, that require immediate attention, and may or may not have been included in your expectations. That is not to say we need to jump to conclusions. Time may be required to see who the real problem is. It may be more than one player and the incident may not be what we think it is.
That being said, after experiencing these situations a veteran coach usually sees it for what it is and knows with almost certainty who is guilty. So what is the solution or what now?
Here are some steps you may consider:
Avoid, if possible, confronting the player or players in front of the team. The time allows you to calm down.
Bring the player or players into your office the next day. Always include an assistant coach or athletic director in the meeting.
Explain your view of the situation and then be quiet. Let them respond. When they finish, assuming you were correct in your assessment, be adamant that you and the team cannot tolerate this behavior.
At this point you have to decide if punishment is called for. If rules have been broken, never waiver. Hold them accountable.
If punishment is warranted make sure to let the parents know.
Never be swayed by an immediate apology. This simply may be a defense mechanism that worked many times for this player or players.
Never consider the big game coming up or how the absence of this player will be felt when making a decision. If you delay punishment until the big game is over you’ll lose any respect you had with your team.
Let the player or players know that a second offense will involve the possibility of dismissal from the team.
Only you know the best avenue to handle a situation with your team. However, the choices will always be to look the other way, see it with rose colored glasses or step up and hold your player or players accountable. When we don’t hold them accountable we set a standard of weak leadership and inability to make tough decisions. If this continues throughout the season your team will end up in chaos.
For your words to have meaning throughout the season, your actions have to say, “This is what our team stands for, and anything else will not be tolerated.”
By doing that you’ll free your players up to do what they do best, play the game.
I wish you and your team the best! Keep inspiring!