The Spaces Between

Great teams have strong players, committed coaches and trainers, and a strong plan.

Talent matters. To have success on the scoreboard we have to have physical talent, and more skilled athletes is a plus for any team.

To really achieve we need to also consider the spaces between the people. The bodies do the work, and the forces connecting these bodies greatly impacts the ability of the team to reach its best.

In the spaces between we find the bonds that connect the people, the norms of the group, the language used to get things done and the standards of behavior.

The power of connection can make or break a season. These are the things, taken together, that many call “culture”. Connecting people, growing relationships is often thought of as an outcome of a great team culture.

Arguably, it’s what’s going on in the spaces between that is actually the start of a great team experience.

Spare Time?

We ask a lot of Time.

We beg for more of it, wish it would go faster, hope it might slow down, perhaps even if time would simply be a little kinder…time is a pretty important part of our lives.

Time takes blame for it’s shortcomings, “why don’t have I more time?” we ask, as if time cut a few corners last hour and shorted us. “Where did all the time go?” we demand when our days slip away, and somehow it’s Time’s fault for not being around when we need it.

Take a moment (if you can spare it) to think about Time and how we view it.

Should Time get the credit for being productive? Maybe you get the gold star for that one and you should use a small bit of time to plan the next chunk in which you can move forward with your tasks.

Time belongs to all of us, and it’s available to everyone but not used equally.  We own our piece of time.

We don’t have that much time to spare and we can’t give it away to others, but we can choose to waste some, we can share it, and each of us gets to choose how much we how we use it.  It’s up to you.

Tick tock.

Sit With The Stink

Learning to embrace, or at least really feel it when you’re not feeling good about something is a true challenge. We’re wired to get away from pain or discomfort, physical or otherwise.

We avoid confrontation, hard situations and tough workouts because we don’t want to feel pain.

When we do fail, fall short or feel pain in a situation or relationship we typically try to cover it up, ignore or make excuses rather than actually feel how we feel.

Consider making an effort to combat these “feel good” attempts. It might be good for you.

Making it a habit to sit with that sinking or stinking feeling allows us to both recognize that it’s probably not that bad, and to help us to have perspective as we reflect on what got us to that point.

This takes practice. Go.

What Are You Against?

Coaches spend time thinking about and communicating what we are for; what we stand for, what we’ll fight for, what behaviors we want to see.

We don’t spend time thinking about what we’re against. What are some of the things that people say, do or require that you disagree with? Maybe you do some of these yourself without really knowing why?

If we know what we’re against we can figure out how to unteach that thing, and use a negative to make things positive.

What are you against?

Punishment Does Not Equal Discipline

Punishment is an external force.

Discipline is self-imposed.

The difference is parallel to that of inspiration and motivation. We can inspire others to action, but motivation, ultimately, comes from within.

Discipline is the same way.  We can offer a workout program, a daily calendar full of to-dos, build a tracking app, require a player to do certain things, and this might inspire them to find the discipline to do the things you want them to, but discipline itself comes from each of us.

Help others to find the discipline, even require the actions to be a part of your program. That’s opportunity, not punishment.


Love the Struggle

There’s a lot of talk out there about the current “everyone gets a trophy” culture in youth sports and how it’s tainting the “growing up” experience of current kids.

We talk about the fact that this is bad, and kids are consequently not mentally tough…

What are we doing about it?

Sports are hard. Losing is not fun. We don’t always get what we want.

The idea that something has to change is valid. Youth sports needs help in a lot of places. But, what about the kids already in high school or college who have a real fear of falling short, or even of experimentation. What do do about or with them?

Find a way to include struggle into your day to day activities. Even asking probing questions that don’t have a clear answer can provide a challenge. Push back on assumptions, ask “why?” and “what else do you see/think/feel?”.

These will work to provide safe struggle that can help us get used to being uncomfortable.

This is real and coaches should look closely at helping kids with perfectionist streaks and all kinds of fear.


What is integrity? It’s on the lockerrom signs, gym banners and tshirts that list core values of teams across the country.

Most won’t have a strong and clear definition.

I say it’s integration of who you are and what you do.

Knowing what you believe in is key. The central values like trust and communication have a critical role in every team. The core of who you (an individual or a team), is not a reflection, it is WHO you are or want to be.

We communicate well and trust each other. Those are core values.

What you do, the behaviors that are demonstrated are one’s true legacy.  So, we work hard to identify the things we’ll do in order to be true to our values, the “who” of who we are.

When we live our values…when the actions reflect those values: that’s integrity.


“Just Let It Go”

When things are upsetting, most of us can’t just take three deep breaths and be “over it”. Things don’t just go away because they hope they will, and most of the time the advice to “just let it go”, is a vast oversimplification.

Really, how do you do that?

If the event or situation was bothersome enough that someone else noticed and felt compelled to give you advice–the “let it go” mentioned above–then it’s likely not a small thing.  Those people rarely have the “how” or strategy to help us get past that thing right away.

So, unless you have an idea of how to help someone get past a problem, practice empathy and try to simply recognize that they are having pain or a struggle rather than telling them to get over it.

What We Want

What do we want? What do others want from us? Do you know? Is it important to know?

If we say we absolutely know what we want, that we have our eyes on the prize, that our goals are crystal clear…are we selling ourselves short? Might that prize be “less than” we can achieve if we have a great set of processes and ways of doing?

“This is what I want”, is results-focused thinking without any real definition of “better”, or a goal to reach for and, most importantly, the process that it will entail.

Teams will say “we want to win a championship!”  Great. How? Do you have a plan to go with the want?  A really, really specific plan or set of behaviors that you commit or (or at least know you should commit to) in an effort to reach a goal?

What we want is not as important as what we’ll do and who we’ll be day to day. Help figure this out by asking the key questions like: what do people/teams who get what we want likely do day to day to move toward that want? Do more of that and teach your teams how to know what to do in the short term as you move toward that end game.

Still, no guarantees.


The Ungoal

Recently, I’ve been taking the time to think critically about the things that I have taken as gospel as a coach over my career.  Like goal setting, for example.

For many years I spent time talking to teams about SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, timely, although there are many other versions of the SMART acronym).  I believe that if one is setting a goal then it should have many of these characteristics, and yes, having outcome goals can be a motivator.

However, in recent years I have come to discount the value of hard goals and focused myself and my teams on the behaviors needed to be the kind of team we’d like to be. Often, outcome goals are a consideration (“what behaviors do we need to do in order to get what we want?”), but not always.

The best behavioral discipline comes when the things a team says they want to do on a regular basis are a reflection of who they are–their values–as opposed to what they want to have at the end of the day.

Too often goals can be used as a crutch. We sometimes make excuses to justify behaviors that are not championship caliber.  We say that as long as we get where we want to go, it’s not that important how we got there. Untrue. Behaving in a way that’s outside one’s values, whether the values are stated and clear or not, is never a way to feel good about where one’s going.

Have some un-goals. Determine what you’d like to be on a regular basis and start doing those things and see where you end up.