“…. if you are a coach or manager building a team, remember that that whatever you try to build with fear will eventually crumble. But that which is built with love will endure. If you build your team with love they will become more and do more than you ever thought possible.
Most of all, as you build with love, know that you will face many challenges and negative forces that can shift your focus back to fear if you let it. When this happens decide to LOVE ALL OF IT. When you love all of it you will fear none of it.” Jon Gordon
Two paths diverged in coaching styles, and I tried them both.
Ironically, at the end of both journeys I ended up in similar placings with our record, stats, and success. That’s an important fact in this, so take note. But here’s where we ended in very different places, it was in our team culture over all, our amount of injuries, and the amount of friction between coach/player/parent, our joy, and our stress.
It was at the end of these Journeys that I forever changed as a coach, and ironically as a parent, and a person. Not only did Journey 1 teach me that I was not doing it right, but journey 2 taught me that it’s not about me at all, it’s about fostering a love of the process and letting go the fears of an outcome that might make us looks like we don’t know what we’re doing.
· High Expectations/very little flexibility
· Required player commitment/personally feeling disrespected when they chose something they thought was more important with their time. Spring break was a thorn in my side – how could they leave for a week?!
· Longer and more practices, no or rare days off, rarely done on time, never satisfied at the end, long tedious drills with lots of teaching. Lectures at the end about doing better tomorrow.
· Direct call outs to players not meeting the standard. Pressure to perform or be used as the example of what not to do so we could get fixed as a team faster.
· Fun time was earned, it could be taken away if effort/performance wasn’t to satisfaction.
· Everything was a drill. Everything had to have order.
· Fun was built in as an option, if earned during the season, but I was disconnected from it. By the time they got anything fun planned it was because things had gotten so miserable I was grasping at straws to bring them back in.
· Relied on communicating with players who I felt were happy, avoided those I felt were not because maybe it felt safer? I was frustrated? I’m not sure, but it was easier. (until it got bigger than me)
· I strictly held a “don’t talk to me about playing time” Don’t question my methods Policy. I basically built a wall. I’m the coach. You’re not.
· Great success on the field. Great success in stats. Great overall record! Woohoo it’s working! (eye roll)
· Felt increasingly empty and frustrated as a coach. Felt like I was dragging my players through the season. Felt I cared about getting to our goals more than them. Could see their enthusiasm dropping one by one as time went on. Why were they so much less excited about playing the second half of the season??? (duh!)
· Put most of my effort into the hard-core athletes, their parents were the most supportive of my all out methods.
· Watched my numbers of uncoachable players grow every week. Couldn’t figure out why. Blamed their commitment.
· I pointed out often where players were falling short. Out of shape, bad stickwork, no commitment. I was always focused on where we weren’t doing well. I stopped seeing improvements because I just kept seeing more flaws.
· High Expectations/ reasonable flexibility (school, family related, other sport related activities)
· Required Player commitment/ but also had understanding that they have other commitments, balancing my coaching to prepare for those missing players as long as it wasn’t a playoff, helping them understand when something was not a good enough reason to miss because of the effects on the team as a whole and when it was ok. Good life lessons on understanding priorities.
· Spring Break: I started going on spring break myself. Best decision I ever made. Come back a day or two early and have a light stick work practice with those who were around and made it fun (did beach theme one year) I send them off on spring break with a fun practice (speed gun and a piñata in the goal, relay races with fake mustaches on, dodge ball, and a scrimmage with water balloon balls). Remind them they want to come back because they love playing together. We started a contest for those who check in the most on a group message with a picture or video of their workouts. (yes with all this fun we STILL finished in the same place, if not BETTER than the season where it was nothing but hours and hours of drilling. Because the effort level and hearts were in the practices and they were fresh and fearless at games. Best lesson I ever learned!)
· Chose my battles to be inflexible on. Attitude and kindness to fellow players, drug and alcohol policy, grades.
· I let go. This is huge. If I tie my worth to my team’s success I will guarantee myself misery and sentence my players to the same fate. Too many coaches have tied themselves to their team’s performance and behavior. They shine back a reflection of your coaching, but they are not YOU. Our worth as coaches, ironically, has a lot more to do with how we treat our players than our records.
· I limited practice, not only on a daily basis but overall. I cut down from 6 to 5 practices, don’t go more than 2 hours unless its’ a special prep and involves film watching etc and I always ask permission from my players to go longer and give them advance notice. I do not own their time just because we are in season. I send them home when they show signs of over load from learning hard concepts, especially if they have been working hard. I insert team building and fun into the week and there are no strings attached. They don’t lose it if they don’t perform, they earned it by making it on the team. It’s a part of what we do.
· I use Show, Do, and Tell for everything, and I allow several days of different approaches for a concept to stick before I even consider getting frustrated. Short bursts of learning, move on. I walk into that new drill with zero expectation of anything other than exposing the players to the concept. On average it takes 3 times for things to click. Often we instead go from intro to game like and don’t understand why the transition isn’t there.
· I let them teach. I used to talk too much. I knew I could say it better so why not hear it from me? They learned faster this way. Teach each other, figure things out. I have them try it a couple different ways and tell me which one worked and which one didn’t and why.
· I stopped telling them they were doing it wrong. I started telling them where it was right, and where to look for making it better.
· I put myself in their shoes before I speak. Figuratively of course, but I started thinking about what would I need to be said to me at this moment if I was them, instead of what can I say that will make ME feel better right now.
· I started an open door policy where parents and players could ask me anything or check in, as long as it was about their own child or themselves.
· I had the same success ironically with this laid-back approach. Some might say, those teams had even more success. I enjoyed coaching 99.9% of the time. My players loved their season, start to finish. Highest numbers of parent support ever.
Two Journey’s, each finding success, but one markedly building something incredible, memorable, and enjoyable, and the other only building wins in anyway that works.
The only way to take journey 2, is to surrender the outcome. Let Go. focus on the players, their development as players and as people, see what they need in the big picture of life rather than just what they can do to bring in the W. Let go of your fear of losing, or falling short and love the process. Because ultimately, the process built with heart, will take you where you want to go.