When All You Have is a Hammer, Everything is a Nail

Multi-tools are cool. Stuffed into a stocking, offered as a gift, kept in the glove box, just in case.

Oh, the things you can do with a screwdriver, wrench, corkscrew and nail clipper all-in-one! Whatever the problem, it’s got the tool for you…as long as you have a “standard” problem. And even better if it’s a small problem.

If your need is metric, or bigger than a nose hair scissor, or requires a hammer, the tool in the pocket of your backpack likely won’t do it.

For your problem you might need a 5/16-in socket, or a sledgehammer, those things are not in the glove box. Keep that multi-tool handy, there are lots of things that can help you with. Just don’t think that you can toss it in your pocket and be all set.

For what you need you should consult your customized toolbox.

If you’ve lived in one room, or remember your first apartment, you know what it’s like to try to open a can without a proper can opener. It’s doable with a knife and a hammer, but not safe, nor especially effective, and you might get shards of metal in your tuna, or glass in your beer.

So, for you Coach, start building a set of tools that will work for you in any circumstance. Perhaps you know you won’t need a sledgehammer, that your style will require a full set of sockets, or that Allen wrenches and needle nose pliers are going to be more important to you. Think about it, and for sure you should develop your skills for when you don’t have the exact to what you need, but you can do better than a one size fits all gadget.

And for sure have vise grips.

Camp

Cat’s in the Cradle, Puff the Magic Dragon, One Tin Soldier…a bunch of sad songs that make me smile every time.

A couple of dozen rustic cabins, a pond, other unheated buildings with picnic tables and smelly kids. Canoeing, archery, arts and crafts…and the singing. The singing was the staple of our world. And I was an enthusiastic but terrible singer. It didn’t matter.

This was Camp. Yes, with a capital C. Camp Downer (believe it – what a name!). A few adults and a bunch of teenagers. Campfires. Swimming. Singing.

Culture is a word and concept that everyone’s talking about–in sports, teams and business. Entrepreneurs, influencers, coaches and leaders of all sorts talk about the importance of building culture.

At camp, however, we didn’t build culture, we just lived it. Morning reveille, the bells, the bunk beds, the cold water showers and late nights of counselors drinking in the woods. All of it – the shared experience – was glue that stuck groups together. Forever.

Pick your year. The summer of ____ can be recalled in detail by many of the teenagers who shared just eight weeks together.

Camp Downer was anything but a Downer and remains at the front of my mind forty years later because we had “culture”. We shared the the fears, the fires, the bed wetters, the fake weddings…and the songs. The rhythm of our behaviors, the “we know what’s supposed to happen next,” the bugle in the morning and Taps at night…day is done. Now you know.

We were a team. And because we were a team then, we remain a team now, through grainy pictures and comments on Facebook. The shared experience remains etched. That, and the songs.

We’ll get together then…

Milkweed Project

Milkweed is a life cycle on display.

It’s like an idea. Ideas are born, grow, spread their seeds and become greater through the additions of other factors. The offspring ideas find places to grow, the many seeds float and beautify on the way and a select few get lucky and start the process all over again.

For me, milkweed also reminds me of a time with my dad. A time when he made me grow by not helping with a school project. Even my tears which almost always worked on him did not that day.

The milkweed report was going to have to be written on my own.

I wish the fear of failure and procrastination tendencies went away that day with the milkweed report. They didn’t. I’m still a master procrastinator, sometimes moved to tears by my inability to get started. I know I’m not alone in that situation, but it feels good to say out loud anyway.

I am happy to have the milkweed memory to remind me that things do get done.

Rule #38

There is nothing like game day.

Now that our team hasn’t had a game day in what seems like forever, I’m tempted to say I appreciate them more than I did before.

However, that’s not true. I’ve always appreciated the chance to show up for and with my team and see how it shakes out.

Being “ready” doesn’t equal winning.

Working the process doesn’t mean the better team will prevail.

Being shorthanded, committing to your culture or being a great communicator means something to the game, they say, but regardless, the game will need to be played.

The fact that the game is always there is something we could always count on. Injured? Graduated? Quit? It doesn’t matter, the game will go on without you. Love your team more than anyone before you? Nope, it’s not important.

Just. Show. Up. We HAVE to give everything, but the game guarantees nothing.

I’d love to have that gamble in front of me tomorrow.

Kids With Options

Lots of people in the college coaching world are talking about generational differences and how to “relate to Gen Z” players (and staff). We are telling coaches and leaders that they need to open up and be more vulnerable to those they lead. What does that mean?

I think we’re getting “opening up” wrong.

Teams need trust for sure, but this does not need to be personal–on either side. Coach, you can show “who you are” simply by sharing honestly what you believe in.

When you talk about what you believe in and why, when you clearly share the things that are foundational to you, you’re automatically being “authentic”. When you know, you know and when you share “who you are”, that’s who you are. That’s personal without being personal. It’s unlikely that everything you do is going to work well, every time, but everything you are, the be behind the do, is real and that matters for trust.

Some coaches seem to think that sharing values and asking questions, aside from the rhetorical, is a sign of weakness that could damage their coaching authority. This is a challenge, yet by not sharing we risk lack of understanding as well as lack of commitment.

Commitment to what? This is an important question.

There is no middle ground. Either you state your beliefs and talk–even to yourself–about why they are important or you keep operating in a veiled manner that keeps people guessing. Kids with options want to know you.

Lessons of A Coach in Quarantine

1. The adage, “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason” stands true. I’m working hard to be a good listener while also leading the way with my voice.

2. The malaise of the unknown is a real thing. “What’s going to happen next?” makes doing the next thing challenging

3. Making time is still a challenge, even when you have nothing but time! Habits still matter.

4. Change is hard. ” Oh, here’s some good news, I’ll learn to _____ (paint, build furniture, garden, pitch, be a runner),” is way easier said than done.

5. Fear is powerful. Incentives to not change are often strong.

6. Poor leadership is just as powerful as good leadership. #showingup takes guts and a willingness to fail and be criticized.

College

Many athletes think about and plan for their four years in College. It’s scripted in our minds and we can see the good times, the wins, the classes, the friends the bus rides…

We know that it might not turn out exactly as we envision it, but it’s likely to be great. We’ll start, be healthy, maybe even make all-star teams and win championships.

Get strong, get sleep, be ready. It’s gonna be great.

Ok, have a plan B, too.

Enjoy.

Rule #31

This one is a rule that’s being broken in our current times. The era of COVID-19 is providing rare situations for certain.

The exceptions don’t make the rule invalid, however. Most things are not unique; even large scale pandemics have happened and we might learn from those instances. For sure we can learn from our personal, more day-to-day happenings.

When challenges present themselves look for examples of previous similar happenings and see what you can learn from those.

Most things are not rare.

Rule #29

Providing clear standards and expectations is a gift that coaches can offer. The comfort that comes from knowing what’s likely to happen, and what will happen after that, is real.

An important part of well defined standards is “what it doesn’t look like”.

If the downside outcome is achieved the real or imagined booooo you hear is the same voice that says, “I know you’ve got this!”.

Get back after it knowing your people are in your corner and will be behind you no matter what.