Often we’re swamped with paperwork, scheduling and practice plans. It’s common to be so determined to get those completed we lose track of what’s most important, our players. Remember what it was like when you played? Sure the game may have changed, but two distractions never will, doubt and anxiety. I know you have a sense when you see it in what your players say and do before a big game. Are you ready to help them through it?
Players face many challenges throughout their career, non greater than the questions that race through their minds creating doubt and anxiety. How can they deal with it all? Should they avoid them, push them back, only to face them another day?
Often the questions listed below can keep a player from achieving their dream and realizing how good they can become. There will always be questions along the way. Some remind players to get back on track, while others place doubt in their mind over their dedication, ability, determination or lack of it.
Let’s take a look at some questions players face:
WHY DO I PLAY? After a tough practice, preseason conditioning, injury or a heart breaking loss it’s natural to ask this question. Why subject yourself to such punishment and despair? Is it worth it? Take a moment and visit those special memories you created with teammates and the positive moments shared along the way. It only takes a few to let you know why you play.
DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES? As you progress from high school to college you find out quickly that your skill is matched or below your teammates and opponents. Are you as good as you can be? Have you honestly pushed yourself? Probably not yet, so just be determined to improve every day. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. You know the answer, but are you really willing?
IF NOT TODAY WHEN? It’s easy to put things off until tomorrow. Champions refuse to do that. They understand that today is a gift for learning and improving. Tomorrow will have its own set of challenges to face. Don’t let yourself off the hook today by putting something off that should be worked on today. Look it in the eye, accomplish it and move on, you’ll be glad you did.
HAVE EXCUSES BECOME PART OF MY DAY? Have you ever caught yourself telling a teammate or coach you just didn’t feel good when in actuality there was nothing wrong? How about with an activity or skill that you didn’t feel comfortable with? Putting yourself in game situations on the practice field which are new and make you uncomfortable allows you to grow. Did you make an excuse to avoid it? Once you get started on an excuse path it gets easier and easier. Stay disciplined, avoid excuses and embrace tough situations.
CAN I LOOK IN THE MIRROR? At the end of the day can you stand in front of the mirror and be proud of your efforts? It has nothing to do with winning and losing. It has everything to do with you giving an honest effort for yourself and your teammates. Only you can give a true assessment of your dedication and determination. One person we can never fool is ourselves.
WHAT IF I MAKE A MISTAKE? Mistakes are part of any game. By dwelling on this question and worrying about who’s watching, you highlight it and make it bigger than it is. If it’s the only thing you see during a game, guess what? Mistakes will come your way. Great players make mistakes, but what they see is the reward and what can be accomplished past the mistakes. Focus on what you can control, your effort, not mistakes.
WHO CAN I TURN TO? Without someone to share your thoughts and feelings, they suddenly consume every thought you have. Find a teammate or friend who will take the time to listen. They may not have any answers, and that’s okay. Just by sharing them you’ll be able to release some of the added pressure you were feeling. Great friends never quickly judge and understand you may not be seeking solutions.
WHO AM I HURTING? Mainly yourself. By always carrying around negative thoughts and questions you inhibit your ability to play your best and be a good teammate. You also impact your team, and is that fair to those who work just as hard and deserve your best? Change your mindset and tackle every situation and challenge with passion and enthusiasm. It’s how you grow.
HOW CAN I AVOID DOUBT/FEAR/ANXIETY? Not sure you can totally, but you can certainly reduce it. See yourself in shining moments where you make the perfect pass, big save, game winning goal, etc. Draw from all the past successes in your career. When your image and mindset focuses more on what you’ve accomplished and who and what you can become, doubt, fear and anxiety become smaller and smaller. Eventually those thoughts and questions will fade away.
HOW DO I GET BACK THE PASSION I HAD AS A LITTLE KID? No reason you can’t, but understand you’ve grown into a new person and player. Everyone thinks back to those days when we ran around the field freely with a love for the game. It brought us to where we are today. Keep those memories close and remember you have new responsibilities for yourself and your teammates. Go ahead and embrace the game the way you did back then. It’s up to you.
Questions allow your players to grow. It’s their conscious asking, “Are you where you want to be, doing what you love, giving all you have, and being the person and player you are capable of?” The challenge is to not dwell on the questions, but to answer them and move on. Players will always be the only one who knows if they answered them truthfully. When they do it frees them up to play again with the passion they did as a kid.
I wish you the best in reminding them how strong they really are!
Often we learn of high profile coaches who step away from their respective sports. It seems surprising and makes us wonder why these successful coaches didn’t want to continue a career they obviously loved.
Is there a common thread? Could the issue or challenge be alleviated, or relieved in part? How many other coaches in club, high school or college step away unnoticed due to suffering from the same condition?
Coaching can be a stressful career, and it requires wearing many hats. The variety of demands is one of the allures of the job because it presents us challenges to solve and keeps every day fresh and new. Here are a few of those hats.
Visible Leader– In the spotlight at school, the community and during press conferences. Being the leader of a team and patrolling the sidelines fuels that ego.
Strategist/Planner– Moving the X’s and O’s to our advantage during a game while matching wits with an opposing coach is stimulating and it allows us a plan to lead our team to success.
Counselor– Many challenges throughout the year on and off the field have little to do with our game, but have everything to do with the mental state of our players. Knowing and understanding this means the difference in success and failure.
Enforcer– Stepping in when needed to hold ourselves, our staff and our players accountable. Our actions must match our words regardless of who is involved.
Parent– In a parent-like way, we are delighted to we see our players succeed, are there when times are tough and have to be totally honest as well.
Rock– That stoic and solid persona in the darkest of times after a big time loss, a parent issue, or a player does something out of character. Often the rock prefers to carry the load locked inside with no help from anyone.
Let’s focus on the “Rock.” What situations require and take so much of us?
Big loss against a team you’re supposed to beat.
Losing in the post season when expectations are high.
Player breaking a school or team rule.
Heated parental confrontation
Losing control in a game and getting ejected.
Player(s) who are self centered and care little about the team.
Athletic Director or Administrator who does little to support your team.
Newspaper or reporter who blasts your team regularly, or ignores it.
Facilities that are sub par and in disrepair.
We could name more, but I’m certain you’d agree these are tough to deal with. Granted some are in your control, and others can be dealt with in an appropriate manner. But will they leave scars? Will they heal quickly, or might you drag them around for a long time?
Many veteran coaches will tell you, “You can’t be thin skinned and do this job.” What exactly does that mean? If you’ve put your heart and soul into your team and your program, some situations are going to sting from time to time. Telling me I’m thin skinned doesn’t approach how I should handle the after effect of these situations.
Dealing with these challenges all alone can be the dark side of coaching. Those times in a career when something gets to the very core of who we are. It’s an area that isn’t talked about in coaching classes. Yes, the challenges are listed and some solutions are given, but no discussion about how to deal with absorbing it and taking this part of the job home with you every night.
As coaches we often hold some things in, never share the distress and blame, figuring it’s our fault and just wait for time to slowly pass so we can get over them. Is that the best way? Surely not.
So how can we deal with these challenges allowing us to move forward?
Mentor/Coaching Peer– Talking about the issue is usually a good first step. Share it with someone you trust who may have been in the same situation in their career. Just knowing that you’re not the first coach to deal with this challenge, and the fact that you’re not alone in carrying this burden can be a relief.
Athletic Director- If the load of the job is wearing you down, talk to your AD about delegating some of the responsibility and how best to prioritize the tasks required every day. AD’s are experienced in these situations and can remind you that you’re not in this alone. They want you to succeed and be at your best mentally for your student athletes.
Parent/Player/Reporter/Team- If someone has upset you, set up a meeting with them and do your best to resolve the issue. They may not know what they’ve done, and if you were wrong, admit it. They need to know how you view the best way to move forward. Even if you don’t resolve the issue you’ll feel better for making the attempt.
Husband/Wife/Partner- Talk about the challenges of the day with those at home. While they may or may not understand every detail, just by sharing your feelings you will have released some of the stress of the day. Plus you may be surprised at their insight of how best to handle a situation and move forward. Keep in mind they care about you most.
24-Hour Rule- Wait 24 hours regardless of the situation before you act. If only someone had shared that with me. After a devastating loss I was totally washed out. After tossing all night long, I made the decision to resign the next morning figuring the loss was totally my fault. I didn’t even tell my wife. My team gathered in a classroom and after telling them I had let them down, I shared my decision. The look in their eyes was utter astonishment. What I failed to realize was the loss was devastating to them as well, and now in a selfish act I had hurt them even more. During the day I got a couple of heartfelt letters from players asking me to reconsider, as well as phone calls from several parents. My wife’s voice of reason, after learning what I had done, was the final assurance I needed to stay on. I am deeply indebted to players, parents and my wife for helping me see the truth. Had I shared my thoughts and feelings early I feel certain I wouldn’t have resigned in the first place.
Carrying a weight like this is tough, and many coaches are often unwilling to share because they think it’s a sign of weakness. It’s quite the opposite. By sharing we show our strength to work through challenges and unload a burden that hinders us from being at our best for ourselves, our family and our players.
If you’ve faced these coaching challenges alone, you aren’t the first to keep everything locked inside, and you won’t be the last. Just know it’s a great feeling when you let it go by sharing it with those who can help.
I wish you and your team the best!
My wife and I were in Indianapolis recently and coincidentally there were several AAU Men’s basketball teams in our hotel. These were mainly 16, 17, and 18 year old young men, and very respectful.
On the morning of our departure, a few members of one team were waiting for an elevator to take them to the lobby. As the others gradually arrived, I noticed the coach approaching. When the elevator arrived, they followed the coach and piled in, leaving no room for anyone else, and headed down, leaving my wife and me standing there.
While it wasn’t a big inconvenience for us, I couldn’t help but think about the missed opportunity for a teachable moment by the coach. What if he had looked up and said, “Hold on guys. Sir, you and your wife take that one. We’ll get the next one.”
For me, the shaping of a team’s culture is formed during opportunities like this in which those who don’t know your team come away with a “wow” impression. While perception may not be important to you as a coach, the lessons you teach your team everyday should be.
During our season when our team stopped at Fast Food Restaurants, I always did my best to make sure our team let others go first before we ordered. It can be very crowded with 25 players at the counter. After a few times, it was so rewarding seeing them move out of the way or let someone else go in front, without any words from me.
The culture of your team is always on display, whether in public, practice or a game. That culture takes time to build, but the results will last a lifetime.
WHAT IS CULTURE?
As defined by Merriam-Webster:
The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.
What foundational base do you use to build your team culture? What components are critical? What preferences from your own values and character do you use? What traits in your personality do you bring in? Leave out? Do you want your team to be a clone of you? What are the advantages? Disadvantages? Can you shape your team culture without input and assistance from your players? Why is it important to include them? After all, the current group of freshmen will be gone in four years and the others will have graduated before that.
Shaping and forming a team and program is always something that brings great satisfaction. It doesn’t happen overnight, and always has its challenges.
What’s do we need to consider when creating and shaping the culture of our team?
INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITIES – Every player is unique, so don’t stifle their creativity with rules and regulations that mean very little.
INCLUDE THE TEAM/EMPOWERMENT – Have a meeting as soon as possible to establish expectations with your players. If there are some guidelines that you must have, let them know, but make sure they’re allowed to decide/discuss on others with you.
BE TOTALLY LIKE YOU – No, none of us is perfect. Varying opinions and ideas are what make a team great. Give your players space to comfortably be themselves using their attributes to succeed on their own.
WHAT’S BEST FOR THE TEAM– This should always be a consideration as we create any expectation.
VALUES – Just because we’re a coach, it doesn’t mean we can force our values on our players. Consider other input and ideas when appropriate.
TOLERATED/NOT TOLERATED – There may be times when you have to bend a little when generating an expectation. Consider how important it is or is not. Those behaviors that will not be tolerated are usually pretty clear. The challenge is not to have so many rules that your team can’t be themselves.
VISION – What do you want your team to look like? What do you want your team to act like? Once you have that vision it’s pretty easy to set your goals. Never lose the vision.
TEAM GOALS – Work with your team and decide where you want to go and how you plan to get there.
ENVIRONMENT– “You get what you expect.” If your vision is to become a reality, you’ll have to challenge your players every day. It may be tough but never waver. Just encourage them every chance you get.
ACCOUNTABILITY – Step up and let the team know you’ll take care of this area with respect to each incident regardless of which player is involved.
LEADERS – While the obvious answer may be you, select leaders from your team with your players.
EVERY MOMENT – Every situation is a teachable moment for you as a coach. Be keenly aware of every opportunity to mold and shape your players.
It’s not only shaping the culture of your team, it’s shaping the culture of your program. To do it, you have to sell everyone involved on your vision and expectations for the program. Parents, Administrators and Players need to be shown the benefits and rewards of where you want the program to go. Once you have everyone on board, the challenge will become a reality.
One of the biggest highlights for our team was the year we won the “Officials’ Sportsmanship Team of the Year Award.” This was annually given to the team that exemplified the best sportsmanship in our game. In 20 years of coaching, our team only had one red card incident. I made sure our team understood what we expected with respect to how they conducted themselves on and off the field. And, as you can tell, for the vast majority of the time, they conducted themselves accordingly.
Having command of your team may or may not mean you have the respect of your players. When you witness them reminding each other of established team values you’ve taken the first step toward shaping a positive culture with your team. That will always be a reflection of what you expect, and ultimately what you tolerate.
Remember, it’s on display every day.
“Hold on guys. Sir you and your wife take that one, we’ll wait on the next one.”
I wish you and your team the best.