You don’t get to pick your family members, and often times, you don’t get to choose your coach either. Sometimes you get the good fortune of a coach who understands how to motivate, challenge, and care for you, and sometimes you feel invisible, or worse – like a target for their frustration. Your team culture may not be very pleasant, your coach may be caught up in the superstars or the x’s and o’s, or they might not have any idea how the players are feeling. Coaches aren’t infallible, they have emotions, pride, distractions. The players can take ownership and take the first step to improve relations if that’s what its going to take and make your season go from miserable to great!
There’s no guaranteed way to make your coach or your culture better as a team member, but there’s a guaranteed way to keep things from improving. Want to ensure the problem doesn’t get any better? Then….
- Do nothing
- Trash the coach with other players and parents
- Stop trying
- Have a bad, defeated, attitude
As a player you DO have the power to create positive change, improve communication, grow your team’s chemistry in the right direction. Here are some tips on getting your coach and your team on board.
- Stay positive, don’t let yourself get sucked into complaining or blame.
- Be accountable for your actions, it’s easy to start blaming the coach for things once you get on that path and eventually the coach’s behavior becomes an all season pass to be less than your best- it becomes an excuse.
- Ask the coach for some time after practice to work on some team building activities
- Ask the coach for mid-season evaluations letting teammates know what they specifically need to work on and where they are already doing well
- Be open and honest. We spend a lot of time avoiding conflict, texting instead of face to face communication, and saying we’re fine or we understand when we really don’t.
How to start the dialog with your coach:
Ask the coach if you can schedule a meeting with them at their convenience. Trying to start a difficult conversation right before practice, before a game, or when the coach is running in 3 directions at once isn’t going to allow you to deal with conflict successfully. Have that meeting when you are over any recent grievance enough that you can have a calm conversation not ruled by emotions. Avoid sending a long text or email, ask for a meeting without a long explanation of why.
Before the meeting write down 3 areas you have concerns. For example; playing time, negativity on the team, feeling invisible to the coaching staff and star players. Now take those issues and phrase them in a way that describes how they make you feel when it happens and use specific examples. Try not to speculate on the reasons for why things are being done or making judgements of the behavior, just note that you see A,B, and C and how it makes you feel. Then give 2-3 specific suggestions on how these items could improve. Include examples for what you are trying or could start to try to do for your own part in helping the improvement. A parent is a great resource to help you brainstorm or even other players who are also interested in improved culture.
Bring a notepad to the meeting. When discussing your concerns, jot down notes when the coach responds, showing that you are actively listening and trying to understand. Do not interrupt or try to argue with the coach’s explanation, but rather let the coach finish their complete thought. If you don’t agree, ask questions to further clarify until you see their point of view. It’s ok to not agree with that point of view, but it is important to understand what it is. Most of the biggest conflicts that exist on teams are due to ASSUMPTONS, MISCOMMUNICATION, and MISUNDERSTANDING.
Be respectful and remember that the coach is not your peer, even though they may be fun and joke around with you like your friends sometimes. Despite the fact that whatever is happening is difficult for you, the coach is often balancing many players, the goals of the team and program as a whole, parents, and administration. Often coaches are simply unaware of the effects their coaching style is having on some of their players. Own your part. If you’ve been discouraged you may have started slacking. It’s ok to say that you know you’ve been not working as hard because you have been frustrated. Own the parts you control even if you feel it’s due to the coach or team’s actions. You are always responsible for your response to your circumstances no matter how you feel.
Your coach may not respond the way you want, there is no guarantee. But many coaches will respect you for your ability to address conflict in a mature manner. Even if they don’t respond right away, they may after having some time to think, make some very positive changes.
How to start a dialog with your team:
- Find other positive players, the more positivity these players can share the less room negativity has to grow.
- Change the subject. Don’t allow blame, complaining and negativity to run free when the team is together. Its so easy to pile on top when teammates are commiserating together, but the only direction that will take your team is down. Create a no complaining rule, suggested solutions only.
- Find ways to create encouragement opportunities. A white board in the locker room where players can write down something they thought another player did well. Post it notes on each other’s lockers. Make a motivation board with quotes or even make your own quotes.
- Get to know each other and break down barriers. Take turns sharing your Hero, Hardship, and Highlight.
- Go through a teambuilding book together and discuss chapters every week. The Energy Bus, Training Camp, The Hard Had (Jon Gordon), Chop Wood Carry Water , Burn your Goals(Joshua Medcalf)
This is not a journey you have to take alone. Share what you’re doing and how it’s going with a parent, trusted adult friend, teacher, mentor. This is a huge part of growing up, and even something many adults still have trouble with. Learning to overcome conflict and work with people that you may not particularly like (or that may not like you) is a marketable tool that will bring you much future success. My greatest improvements as a coach came from direct communication from my players when they weren’t getting what they needed from me. Im immensely grateful for those who had the courage to help me grow, and the patience to allow me to be human and learn.