You don’t need more advice. You need to get back to your philosophy.
I was struggling. My team was losing motivation and I’d tried everything I could think of. So, I did what many people do. Instead of seeking within myself where I could refocus on my coaching philosophy, I called up someone that I thought would hand me the magic formula and tell me what to do.
“My team isn’t trying hard anymore. I feel like I’m dragging them through each game and convincing them that they want to be there, and I just can’t get them focused. We have so much potential but I’ve lost my grip. They’ve lost their drive. What do I do?” I asked.
“Take something away,” he said. “Coming to practice is a privilege, getting to compete is a privilege, send them home if they aren’t trying hard. Take away playing time. Take away what’s important to them and they will get fired up and get motivated.”
Everything in me said, this is not my philosophy. It’s not how I coach. But I was questioning my methods because in that moment, I felt like my methods weren’t working. Maybe I needed to change and draw a hard line. All this positivity stuff won’t work on every team, I started thinking. Get tougher, push harder, accept nothing but the best and send them away and make them come back stronger. Maybe that’s going to be more effective!
I sat down my team that afternoon, and told them that I wanted them to have fun and enjoy the season, but that we could no longer tolerate the level of effort being given. Players who didn’t show up driven to play would be sent home and needed to come back the next day ready to play. Players who didn’t put out enough effort would not be playing in games. We weren’t moving at the pace we needed and players who didn’t catch up would be left behind if they didn’t do something about it.
The positive, encouraging, exciting atmosphere I had built so carefully, shattered that day. I watched faces fall, lights go out. I knew in that moment that the advice I’d been given was wrong. It was not what my team needed at all. I had made a huge mistake. They weren’t reenergized at this new concept, they were being intimidated and threatened. What had I done?
I had failed to see the actual problem. Had I seen it, I would not have needed to go seeking outside advice or searching for that magic instant fix to our struggle. The team didn’t lose their drive. I hadn’t lost my grip. I’d lost my ability to lead, my transfer of belief was built around negativity. In fact, I’d lost my belief completely. Every time I focused on what they weren’t bringing to practice and games I was unwittingly sending them the message that they could not meet my expectations. What they needed was an infusion of caring, excitement, confidence, a mission they could rally around, comradery with their teammates, a coach that showed them what is possible.
There is another way to lead a team that is falling short in their efforts and their performance and it isn’t through punishments, calling them out, making them compete amongst themselves. It isn’t about focusing on outcomes, scores, awards or banners. It’s quite the opposite.
To become something great, you must build up, not tear down, at every single interaction. Coaches are in the business of construction. Build a vision, a plan, a path, a mission, and supply your team with the tools, excitement, and know-how that they need to make a masterpiece.
Make your vision clear, vivid, multi-dimensional and then ask them to draw the path with you on how they will get there, and what their roles will be. Ask them to build it with you, and allow them to join together on a mission to see it though. Believe and speak of their potential with such passion that they can see no other outcome. Let their daily efforts be praised, their desire to learn be inspiring, their ability to continue on and learn from mistakes admired. Your energy is their energy as your team will be a direct reflection of their leaders.
My players didn’t need to be sent home. My players needed their coach to get refocused on the daily celebrations instead of picking through mistakes, shortcomings, and outcomes. In all honesty, I should have sent myself home, reevaluated what belief I was transferring onto my players, and come back ready to lead from the heart. And that’s exactly what I did.