No Fear


Recently a coach asked me, “What’s the one thing I can do right now to make my team better, even if we don’t have the best talent, enough field time, a big budget, big name coaches? What is something I can do that gives us an edge that is within my control.”

I thought about it for awhile. Is there really ONE thing that could be so important that it can give any team an edge above all their competition?

NO FEAR. That’s the edge.  We preach it often but we contradict it with our coaching methods, award structures, and how we correct mistakes in practice and in games.

Imagine a team of players who:

  • Don’t Hesitate
  • Go 100%
  • Recover after mistakes quickly
  • Mentally stay engaged no matter the pressure
  • Remain composed in the face if difficulty
  • Stay positive and encouraging when times get tough
  • Ask thoughtful questions to better understand
  • Show up excited to practice and pumped up for games
  • Are Coachable and open to new ideas

Those are all traits that a fear driven culture cannot contain. Because fear feeds hesitation, doubt, slower speeds, indecision, animosity, self-doubt, lack of confidence, negativity, and divide.  It may drive action in the moment, but it’s like a shot of caffeine, you end up crashing harder than you started.

How do we create fear? It’s easier than we think, because innately kids come to us with confidence deficits, uncertainty, and they walk onto our field with fear already in place.  That means we have to be purposeful in our pursuit of removing fear from our culture.

For those of us taught by an old school coach, fear was the foundation of motivation. We were afraid of being called out. We were afraid our actions would cause the team to be punished. We were afraid that a mistake might make the coach get mad or use us as an example of what a bad player does. We were afraid of asking the wrong question. We were afraid coach would actually run us ‘til we puked like they promised because we deserved it.  I don’t think that fear destroyed us by any means, but I think it took away an advantage that teams without fear clearly have.

So many of us have carried a bit of that old school style into our modern coaching. While we recognize the need to create an atmosphere where mistakes are welcome and learning is paramount through trying and adjusting, we still use some of those fear tactics to motivate.

Think about your preseason meeting. Did you try to convince them through fear that the running was going to be miserable, there would be tests on day 1, that you would know if they didn’t put in the work. That playing time isn’t promised, that they may not see the field, that they may be cut? Was the season introduced in a cloud of things for them to be incredibly anxious about?

There is another way.  A better way. And it doesn’t foster a fear based relationship.

It’s what I call connected coaching and it’s all about building belief in a positive and rewarding future through hard work and seeing the vision with you. The goal is to trigger an internal motivation and excitement that creates an environment of hustle and desire. Fear has no place here, in fact, its counter productive.

You still need to push them, to set expectations, but they should be based out of excitement and desire rather than fear.  Talk about the milestones you hope to hit this year, and let them tell you what they think would need to happen to hit the first one. Choose milestones for each game, each practice, and build action plans for those.  Ask them what they would like to commit too in order to hit that milestone and when they think they could accomplish it. Make a chart or tracker and spend time regularly asking them to evaluate progress, effort levels, and suggest any changes needed. Check in and follow up is key to keeping the fire going.

Talk about what would be one step ahead of where they think they could be. Encourage big thinking and then backing it up with big actions.  Praise the actions regularly that are bringing you closer to the vision you created together. Be excited about what’s coming and they will be excited with you.

Pull on field corrections to the sideline instead of yelling out to players. Get out of the habit of the sideline commentator at your athletes.  Not only is it distracting, but it puts them under a microscope and fosters a fear of being called out at each wrong step.  Talk to them one on one or as groups either pulled to the sideline during play or after they come out.  Make it interactive, ask them first what they saw, then share a suggestion that is infused with a belief that they can conquer it next chance they have.  Make notes in a notebook if you need too so you remember.

Spend your timeouts and half time talks leading them to the answers rather than just telling them, be sure to call out what’s going well so it continues, and give praise to individuals based on going 100% without hesitation, even if the result wasn’t what they hoped for. Reinforce the no fear culture every chance you can.

Leave the game with praises. It’s over, no need to bury them with mistakes.  Put the mistakes into your next practice plan, focus on what was done well and they will remember those the next game. Want them excited at your next practice? The tone you leave them with will have a lot to do with that. Are they excited to improve and see their improvements that you point out to them, or are they feeling like they can’t ever do anything right and dreading the next afternoon punishment?

If you do one thing to make your team stronger, better, and more connected, remove fear. Replace it with I BELIEVE.  I believe therefore you should believe. I see what you can be, there fore you can see what you can be. I believe you can, and so we will train and work and see how great you can become. Join me, I know where we are headed, its incredible and I want you on my team.

To read more about this kind of coaching, pick up a copy of Confessions of an Imperfect Coach, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or through US Lacrosse, or schedule a skype session for you, your coaching staff, or team. kate@kateleavell.com

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