I’m sorry vegetarians. Trigger warning – if crab violence is a trigger please look away 😛
If you grew up in Maryland, like I did, then you learned how to navigate a crab pretty young. I was somewhere in late toddler-hood when I was sitting at the backyard patio table covered in newspaper. (after the kitchen floor crab race of course) There was a pile of crabs in the middle of the table and little mallets and crab pickers laid out with lots of napkins. The napkins were optional because the best way to get crab and old bay off is to run through the sprinkler afterwards.
But the experience was frustrating. There was a lot of pounding (which was fun) but then digging through some kind of gross stuff, and then cracking the right parts and fishing around to find the good stuff. Then you eat a sandwich and give up. (just kidding, no Marylander would dare!) From the outside, the crab doesn’t look all that tasty anyway! Was it worth it for the little bit of meat that took all that work? Umm yes, yes it was! The meat was like Maryland gold, the essence of summer, the taste of family and fun and well, BUTTER and OLD BAY!
This is the analogy I use for culture often for players who are struggling with coaches that just don’t get it. As a player, you can feel out of control of the situation around you when the negativity is running free and destroying your experience. Sometimes the best parts of sports can seem missing when culture is broken. Sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to just walk away. But those gold nuggets are there, just like the crab meat, you just have to dig past the yucky stuff to find the good stuff. And though it may be small, it’s worth the work. There is a benefit to the life lesson that comes with sticking it out through a rough culture situation and you can come out stronger and better prepared for just about everything ahead on the other side of it.
If you’re struggling with a poor leader, you have the ability to really dig into what makes this leader inefficient or disconnected. It many not sound like a gift, but if you use it as first hand experience to understand those who you may lead one day, then you will be a much better leader yourself. It may even help you to be a better leader starting right now, in your current situation. How could it be done better? What would motivate or inspire you and what’s happening instead? What are your teammates lacking in connection, confidence, hope and faith?
Is there anything you can do right now to fill in some of the missing gaps? Are there any suggestions you can make that would bring more positivity to the group? What are you contributing – are you complaining and adding to the negativity or are you smothering it with something better (like melted butter, yum!)
This may sound backwards, but some of my worst coaches and leaders are the biggest contributors to my understanding of culture and my desire to provide a better experience. I was inspired by good coaches, but the bad ones made me deeply aware of why we must seek a positive culture. Without those leaders I wouldn’t have been able to connect empathy, understanding, the effect of words and actions over time on confidence and performance, and motivation and love vs fear and humiliation. Many times I caught myself feeling like I’d had something taken from me, that my love of the game was being stolen away by my coach.
But, in time, I realized that I had an opportunity to fill that void with my own contributions to making things better and to learn better leadership skills myself. I had to learn to not feed the negativity by returning it back into the culture or spreading it around. I had to want something better, to get something out of that experience that would be useful and not just negative or complaining, and I had to want it bad enough to dig until I found it.
When my kids have a coach that doesn’t protect or drive a positive culture, we talk a lot about how they can do their part to contribute something positive rather than add to the negative. How they sometimes have to dig pretty deep to find the positive, but it’s always there. If they can’t find it, they have to get back to digging for it because the harder the lesson is to find, often the more powerful it ends up being. And while they are digging, they have the power to BE that positive for another player.
Necessary disclaimer: There are situations where coaches are more than inept at positivity or directing culture, but are actually bullying, threatening, or causing harm. In those situations, players need to report the behavior and get away from the abuse. Never allow a coach to verbally, physically abuse or publically humiliate you as a teaching tactic. Players have rights with coaches the same as they do with their school teachers or any authority figure.