Open Heart, Open Mind
I feel pretty confident in my ability to read people. This served me very well when I was in sales, and has been helpful in all of my leadership roles as well as relationships in general. I remember the first time I learned about how I seem to absorb and detect the emotions around me without even realizing it.
I was watching a movie and I heard whispering around me. I looked around and found all eyes in the room on me with amused expressions. “WHAT?! What are you looking at?” I cried out defensively..
Apparently the news circulating the room was that every emotion the characters in the movie were feeling, I was acting out with my facial expressions, completely unaware I was doing it. If someone was sad- my face would crumple, if they were happy- I would be smiling, if they were tense- my worry lines would pop up.
If we are being honest here, I also absorb accents, which is much worse. If I speak to someone with any sort of accent, it is only a matter of a few sentences before I suddenly have one too, and it’s not a very good imitation. I’ve heard myself doing it and I try to stop but at this point I think it’s just a part of me that I can’t help. So if I’ve done it to you, I’m sorry! (please read that sentence back in whatever accent you may have so that it’s authentic)
But even with people reading skills, I was no match for my players’ ability to hide what they were feeling or thinking because they didn’t feel comfortable bringing difficult conversations to me. I hold the key to playing time, rewards, consequences, and that makes me unapproachable to a certain extent no matter how nice I may be on that field. I needed a way to get feedback that would help me gauge where the team was inside their heads in an honest and open way.
Eventually I wanted to get to the point where we could gather as a team and openly discuss our feelings about the season, but we couldn’t just start there. That kind of openness needs practice, and trust built first, and I couldn’t build the trust without the openness.
I felt stuck.
So I came up with a mid-season player questionnaire that was anonymous and it had a dual purpose. First, it gave the team a chance to tell me what they are really thinking and air out some things they may have been holding inside or struggling with that need my attention. Second, it made them sit down and think about some important questions about being a teammate, their own effort level, and where we could go from this point on.
Sometimes I’m surprised at the feedback, at undercurrents I was unaware even existed, and often times I am in awe of the deeply caring and thoughtful responses I get back. The team has much more going on than what is on the surface, and I believe it can be incredibly eye opening and bonding to allow ourselves to see all of the layers in our programs and tend to the hearts and needs of each contributor.
Going over some of the common answers with the team allows for the conversation to deepen, and for issues to be brought out more easily in the future because the comfort level, and trust, hopefully is going to be there.
Questions for the team to answer and return, typed and anonymous:
- SKILLS: What do you believe are your skill strengths on this team? Where do you think you would like to see improvement in yourself? What skills do you feel the team needs to work on more? What skills do you feel are not improving the way they should? What skills are a strength for our team? Where do you feel the effort level is during drills and conditioning, do you feel pushed in your performance or could you give more?
- TEAMMATE: What do you feel you bring to the team as a teammate? Where would you like to see improvement in your teammate abilities? Where would you like to see improvement in your teammates’ team unity abilities? Do you feel the team is encouraging, respectful, and working together? If not, what do you perceive to be issues that need to be addressed?
- LEARNING NEW SKILLS AND TACTICS: How effectively do you feel the practice formats are in helping your particular learning style? Is there anything that would assist you in learning?
- DRILLING: How effectively do you feel the practice formats are in assisting you to perform tasks with your teammates and improve team play? Is there anything you believe would improve this process?
- COACHING: Do you feel the coach is approachable when you need clarification on sport related topics? Do you feel the coach is approachable when you need guidance outside of skills? Do you feel your concerns are taken seriously and you have the opportunity to contribute your own ideas to the team? Do you find corrections to be clear, concise, and respectful? Is there something you would like to see improved in the way the coach communicates with you at practice, during games, or other?
It takes a very service oriented mindset to open yourself to criticism as a coach, especially in today’s climate where we already face a pile of critiques and complaints every day. But this is different, it’s a culture growing and constructive way for us to bond with our players, meet their needs, and reconnect with them. When we stop growing as leaders we are no longer effective, relevant, or of any use to our team – let the team help you grow the way we loving help our teams grow.