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Let go or be dragged

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One of the best lessons I learned in my 30’s was to stop holding on so tight. Let go of the outcome. Let go of the belief that outcomes define me. Outcome based thinking woud turn me into something I am not, take me off course, and suck me into the pain of living on a rollercoaster that was run by things under which I have absolutely no control. Mind you, that didn’t stop me from trying or believing that I was actually handling it all and controlling it.

So this was a pretty easy lesson, right?  If you know me on a personal level then you probably are laughing right now. I may be a little bit stubborn, I may think I can accomplish just about anything, just tell me I can’t and off I go to prove I can.  Had someome told me 10 years ago, when I was 29, that I need to stop focusing on things that are uncontrollable, my response would likely have been, “what’s an uncontrollable?”

No, Im afraid not. The lesson was lost on me for years despite it being right there in front of me, until I sat in a hospital bed in the most uncontrollable situation I had ever been in. It was then that I finally came face to face with the truth. I control my perspective, my beliefs, my choices. I do not control what happens to or around me or my family, or my friends, or my teams.  I had blood clots in my body. One of them being in my lungs, and I had no choice in the matter. They were there, at the time allowing me to live, but I couldn’t take away the risks that came with them or the fears that came with a total and utter lack of control.

I got through that time becuase I learned to shift my perspective, my choices, my thoughts, and my influences.  As many people do after such an experience, I stopped trying to avoid the unavoidable conclusion of life and instead refocused myself on the everyday controllable actions that I make.

What in the world does this have to to with coaching? Ever hold on too tight to that winning streak? Maybe that first impression you’re making on your new team and new set of parents? Perhaps you’re facing a total rebuild year with the perception of expectations beyond what your young kids can accomplish without total misery? I have. I’ve been there. I’ve held on too tight. I’ve felt compelled to control things that I didn’t have a right to control in order to reach outcomes that I lead myself to believe were neccessary. I knew that if I had perfect attendance, 100% effort, completely focused and undistracted players who never got sick or injured, learned fast, thought of nothing but our sport, and eliminated mistakes, our team could do incredible things. So that was, maybe not conciously, my goal. Totally realistic for high school kids….. or how about those youth coaches with 10 year olds seeking the same thing?

Coaches want to  win.  And yes, parents and players enjoy a good win, we jump up and down and celebrate with total joy, especially on a hard earned one.  But survey after survey, and clinic after clinic has shown that our players and families value EXPERIENCE and DEVELOPMENT over winning, trophies or titles. That stress to win is something that we multiply in our heads as coaches, something that’s not nearly as present despite how it feels. We are holding onto an outcome as though it defines us. Sometimes we’re just holding on too tight.

What does letting go look like? Define honestly what controllables actually are for yourself, your players and their families and hold those accountable. Define uncontrollables and let those be what they are, move on. That conflicting band concert with your game is not a controllable. Forcing that player to choose between the concert and the game is like asking a kid to choose between parents. Its not a fair scenario and the driving motivation behind that guilt trip on the player is becuase it may affect an outcome, a win. Or it goes against our “your team is number one in your life” mentallity.

High school and youth kids are going to sometimes miss practice, have off days, not feel well, have conflicts and play a fantastic one game and tank the next. Some parents are going to be difficult, drive you crazy. Some of the players are going to have trouble learning, focusing, and others will be natural athletes. Some years you will have more of one and less of the other; some years that will be a blessing and some years it will be a curse.  Unless you’re scouting from the nations top talent pool, you can’t control it. You can’t buy yourself an indoor facility and compete with those who can and you can’t funnel money into your program that isn’t there. You can’t make your job that pays the bills leave you alone so you can deal with coaching extras.  You can tear your hair out all season trying if you really want too but I don’t reccomend it.  Practice this: “This actually in the big picture, isn’t really a big deal.” Feel better?

I remember watching a coach I really respect lose a very big game. He never loses, so I thought wow Im really curious how he will handle this loss. I bet he losses it, I bet he just losses his mind becuase he’s so competitive and this never happens and they totally should have won. The ref calls were horrible, the other team was playing dirty, there were so many things going against them.

Nothing. He was dissapointed, talked about how the other team played well and then focused on preparing the next season to avoid the same pitfall and he moved on. Sometimes you win big, sometimes you fall short. It’s part of competing.  I wasn’t expecting that, it didn’t fit my perception of a truly competitive coach and it made an impression on my perspective about how this all works. Wait, its ok to lose, to publically fail???   I know 10 years ago I would have been spending sleepless nights agonizing over the loss, the mistakes, the lack of control. That extra day off we shouldn’t have taken, the spring break practices we should have had, that field trip that left us without a player.  But I was emotionally drained every season trying to keep all those loose ends tied, only to fray anyway time and time again. Trying to stay positive was always a struggle for me when I had this conflicting motivation to control that winning outcome no matter what.

Let go. It’s incredibly freeing, and once I let go I never regretted it for a second. Every once in awhile I feel myself starting to hold on too tight, but it’s not long before I put it aside and focus on the process, the efforts, the “use what I’ve got and do the best I can with it” attitude that has been a freedom I know many other coaches need to feel. I can see it and I can feel it when I see another coach holding on too tight and Im almost willing them to just let go. They’re good coaches, but they’re conflicted with control vs process.  The kids want you to know them, see them, believe in them, develop them, push them but not break them, and arrive at the outcome naturally that is right for all of you when you focus on the process.

Let go or be dragged. You’re not controlling it when you hold on too tight; it’s controlling you.

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