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.

Show Up

How can I help?

What do you need?

Are you feeling ok? Anything I can do?

These are such well-meaning questions, but if a person is really struggling with something–a “life problem” or how to field a ground ball–they may not know what they need, and it’s probably not an answer that would be most helpful.

Offering to provide a fix that neither party knows exists is impossible, and “well, let me know…” is really not helpful.

So, just Show Up for your friend, teammate or partner of any sort. Just be there; you don’t even need to be a good listener, specialize in empathy, or even spend much time to be good at Showing Up.

In sports, showing up can look like being first to something, being prepared, being willing to lose, or fall short. It can be cheering, and it can be pushing; high fives can come in all sizes.

Showing up can be a smile or pat on the back, a “I see you working hard”, or a package of cookies, or a note or card. It can be an email or a text message or a stop-by-to-say-hi or shovel the driveway.

Just do something, no matter how minor.

There are no rules of caring for people, and don’t worry if you don’t know what to do, just show up for them.

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.

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.

 

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.

Trial and Success

Resilience and failure are hot topics.  We ask how to bounce back, to embrace the opportunity to fail and try, try again, and we praise the growth mindset that pushes us to do hard things.

The world complains that, “Kids aren’t allowed to struggle,” and  we lament the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. For sure, coaches and parents should indeed embrace their kids having chances to fail.

I’m all for it.

However, I’m a fan of success as well.

Reaching a goal or doing something well is an accomplishment that should be celebrated. It’s not important that every milestone have a party upon completion, but getting things done–being successful in achievement–is not the opposite of learning from failure.

Here’s to getting better and moving forward!