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Curse of the Great Problem Solvers

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By nature, coaches are problem solvers. Rarely do we come into a situation that goes as planned. How many times a season does a coach show up to a situation where the field is not available, the gyms are all taken, half the team is on a field trip, someone forgot the ball bag, etc. You name it, we’ve experienced it and come up with some pretty creative solutions in record time.

There are other problem solving skills we all share as well. Motivation and getting the most from our players is a theme we face daily.  Coaches, being the problem solvers we are, try different approaches, maybe starting with the ones we experienced when we were players, and work to find one that gets the most tangible and measurable results – as fast as possible.  We do this well, it’s how we pull off that one point nail biter game. It goes a little something like this:

Try tactic. Measure result.  Adjust. Measure immediate result again. See a bit of the result we are after. Mark that down as a methodology that works. Continue this methodology until it stops getting mesasurable results.  Move on to the next problem.

Smart coaches who can adjust are highly successful. But there’s a problem with this method. Sometimes, it’s a curse to the culture of our team. Sometimes, it comes back to bite us in the you know what.  You knew this was coming, right?

Because culture rarely rots and shows itself as an immediate feedback. In fact, it often has no correlation whatsoever to whats happening in the moment.  Unless there is some large culture damning event, it’s going to be a gradual, slow leak that is often directly tied to one of our “successful” methods.  (insert shocked face)

I know that if I call out my players during a drill in front of the team when they mess up, they are going to focus and be very wary of messing up again. Result: more focused players.  I also know that if I punish the entire team every time someone makes a mistake, the players are going to hold each other accountable.  Result: team accountability.

What I don’t see, is that under the surface, players are afraid of making mistakes and start holding back because of fear, slowly eroding performance and the ability to transfer practice skills to games.  I also don’t see that the players are starting to form resentments to the players who make mistakes, taking away from a unified culture, creating divides that will increase when the pressure of a tough game takes hold.

As coaches, we have to utilize our ability to not only see and read the immediate feedback, but to also analyze what sort of effect our methods will have on our culture and the connection and trust we need to build with our players. The only way to do that is to define the team’s culture, the core beliefs that lie under every decision we make as a leader before we adopt any methodology or start solving problems. If a method isn’t in alignment with that core, then our approach will be eroding our goals under the surface over time. Eventually, we’ll show up to coach a team that has become disconnected from where we were trying to lead them, despite the immediate appearance of success from our methods.

Don’t just be a problem solver, be a problem solver with a purpose behind those solutions that extend into the bigger vision.

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