Is College Coaching a Good Job?

It’s tough out there!  50+ positions have turned over in college softball this year. FIFTY! A good amount of coaches–of both genders but more women it seems–are leaving the profession altogether.  #coachingishard

Tongue in cheek I have said that women are leaving more often than men because they are “smarter”, and when it gets tough the recognize that there are other great opportunities.  I don’t really believe that, however. I think that lots of “smart” people are finding coaching at the college level to be too big a challenge because “we” don’t adequately prepare people for the job.

Yes, it’s a job. One that needs training and deserves our best attention. Like teaching in too many places, however, we think about how people do the job and not enough about what the role of a coach should be.  There’s too much at stake to just roll out the balls and hope people get it.

Obviously, sports at the college level is zero sum. Those who win couldn’t do so without another party playing the role of loser. Someone has to win.  So, unless are are globally happy with a 50% loser rate, the scoreboard cannot be the only measure of success.

Let’s train people to define success (by this I mean administrators being honest with themselves and others) and devise a plan to achieve most of the goals. Let’s allow mistakes on the scoreboard and believe in our bones that, indeed, things like good team culture, kids enjoying the process and becoming “better” people will indeed lead to positive results on the scoreboard, but not every time and not simply because we hope that coaches and players alike “get it”.

We are better than this.

Team Malaise

What happens when a team just loses it’s mojo?

Is this simply a “that’s what happens sometimes”, situation or can it be fixed?

Finding the cause, or lighting a spark…is one more important than the other?

Go back. Go deep. Go internal. Ask good questions about why this team plays or works on the things it does. What are the values at the core of the project or program? What’s its collective WHY?

If you can find the seed of its existence and agree that it’s one worth working for, then you can determine the actions that the group must take to move forward, to achieve and take steps in the name of the WHY.

Identify the WHAT, too.  What will you do? What things will you not do? Keep track regularly and enlist a tracking system to hold the whole group to.

These small things are the only things…one piece at a time a team can bring itself back to creating a great future.

Alone At The Top

Coaching is hard. Any program or team has a lot of moving pieces in play at any one time: players, parents, bosses, fans, vendors, strategy, maintenance, skill development, team culture all demand time and energy.

We work harder. And harder. Too often coaches hunker down and simply try harder rather than ask for help or look for a better way.

The culture of perfectionism that we talk about in our athletes exists for coaches, too.

Protecting “our stuff” is inherent to the coaching profession. We think that secrets might be stolen, ideas brought elsewhere only to beat us later…asking for help is a sign of weakness, right?

Why protect your stuff? First, you’ve likely not done anything totally new, and so much of coaching is in the talent, the team-building and the communication rather than the ideas or strategies themselves.

Make an effort to learn and share, bounce ideas off coaches of other sports, other age groups, other towns or schools.  Find a way to make it less lonely and you might find yourself enjoying it more and getting better results.

What I Just Discovered

That last conversation in your head? That idea that I thought might have merit but I’m not sure, yet? The article you read that feels like it’s on to something that would help you?

Sit with it, write on it, ask yourself what piece of you it touched.

Discovery is an action word. You have to work to discover meaning or impact, and work to make it apply to us, in specific, now.

And it’s likely that our discoveries will change just as they change us. “The thing” becomes something else and moves us in another direction.

Be on the lookout for discoveries.

Look To The Stars

It makes sense to read what champions have done, to follow the drills posted by those who have had great success, to “do what the best do”.  Following a proven path can lead one to success.

But, nothing is automatic.  Simply because it worked for her does not mean it will work for you. There are lots of possible reasons for this:

-she has more resources than you do…

-his players have more physical tools than your players do…

-her team is better shape than your team is…

-he has four assistants and you work on your own…

One person’s ideas do not always easily translate to another’s situation.  That coach’s ideas just might seem like a fish out of water in your practice plan, or you might not be able to pull it off relative to other things you say and do.

Instead, read and watch things that the successful coaches do and say, value them, and spend time making them your own. How can you take their concepts and make them work for you, with your team, in your situation?

It’s the time YOU spend thinking about YOUR program that is most valuable.

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.

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?

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.

Integrity

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.