How Are You Doing, Coach?

Actually, I think I know the answer. It’s either some version of “meh”, or — regardless of what you might say out loud — “I’m ok…It was a long/hard year, but I’m hanging in.” Those are the responses I get mostly, with an assortment of “I’m really, really struggling,” in there when people get real.

I also hear lots of follow up along the lines of: “…but i don’t want to quit coaching yet, I think I have more in me”. So for that I am excited. Coaches’ mental health is being tested alongside their athletes (and bosses), and we’re all finding our way. The biggest ah-ha moment for coaches, administrators and athletics alike is, surprise: coaches are human, too, and the malaise that we hear about in all corners of the world is affecting those in coaching seats, too.

Why that’s a surprise even to those Coaches who are having this experience (my hand is raised here), is really the surprise!


The comeback is going to be great. It will not easy, but it’s there for the taking. Cleaning up the expectations, the communication and accepting the flow of change in the world of athletics will serve us well. That, and offering grace to the other guy at every turn. We can do this together.

D. E. K.?

Does everyone know?

Do all of the central people involved in your program know what they need to know in order to move the team, program and individual in the right direction, with minimal friction?

The Coach whose answer is, “I think so,” probably should find out.

The knowledge they need to have starts with the standards and expectations and a clarity around: here, we do it this way.  This clarity allows people to show up and work together with efficiency. The norming of everything – the clarity of a program model that everyone knows – allows for both productivity and creativity.

The head coach first needs to be clear for themselves- tougher task than it would seem – and work to create easy to understand principles for all aspects of the program.

When everyone knows the games come easier and the connections grow deeper, things make sense and the outcomes are better and deeper than the inputs.

Ready? Go. I’ll meet you there!

“I’m Curious…”

The punctuation makes all the difference.

Caring a lot about the experiences of the people around me and being truly curious as to how things are happening for them is a key to being a Capital C Coach.

I start by asking myself what I’d really like to know. Rather than “how can I help,” I ask, “what does the situation need from me?” as help might not be the thing. Quite often the answer is “nothing”.

Curiosity helps me to slow down and ask rather than tell. It’s challenging for the head coach to think they may not be responsible for all of the answers…it’s also a weight lifted to realize we’re not.

Helping myself allows me to help my people. My curious approach reminds me that not everyone approaches things they way I do, and to slow down and truly wonder means I can be of greater help with less effort.

Win-win is a great place to land. I wonder what you think?

Questioning Learning

Leading is much more than showing, or telling, what you know. It’s allowing others to learn, or to know what they can, at this moment.

Questions are among the most powerful tools in your kit. Authentic, “this is what I’m wondering” questions lead to amazing insights.

And, the asker is often not the primary, and certainly not the only recipient of knowledge.

In fact, questions almost never stand alone. Nor does the asker. Someone else almost always has a version of the same inquiry. By not asking out loud, opportunities are missed.

A leader among peers will find ways to encourage questions rather than stifle them with a barrage of answers.

Questions are unifying. In this unprecedented time, coaches can use strong questions to bring groups together when they can’t be together, to unify thru forcing a shared experience. Learning, together, is powerful.

Leadership can look like the solo, up front, figure, the one with the microphone, at the podium, all eyes on them. It can also look like living the values, being curious about the future and asking questions that others might be afraid to ask.

Rather than saying, “Google it,” ask, “what do you think?” and see how it goes.

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.

Trust Is Tricky, and Easier Than You Think

When you’re the little kid holding hands and jumping into the pool, you fully trust the other guy, you’re honest with your word. You jump.

But after that one time when the other guy doesn’t jump with you…when you feel laughed at, do you become the guy who doesn’t jump?

“I’ll trust them as soon as they prove their worth it”.

Will that work? How else to do that except to jump when you said you would? ‘Cause when you don’t jump, you’re the liar and the one not to be trusted.

What’s the downside to being in the pool on a hot day anyway? So what if you’re alone because your the only guy who jumps.

Every.
Time.

Coach, create a culture where everyone agrees that honesty and being true to their word is the thing–that jumping is only the mechanism.

Leading With A Vision Just Got Tougher

Leadership done best is an ability to present a picture of a future that’s successful, exciting and compelling. When people not only trust a leader as a person but are inspired by their vision, things are more fun and the process moves along.

When “the future” seems so precarious this becomes even more challenging.

Many “leaders” can’t find their way to paint a picture of a future that’s compelling, or are even able to consider what might happen. This is when the real leaders become fewer in number and even more important.

Finding our way toward leading ourselves in this way is, as always, a great first step.

When you know what your now looks like and why, it’s way easier to know what to do.

Step
By
Step

Results Define You

What you did as a performer today is who you are as a performer, today.

Right now, as one who’s working to execute a program, project or skill at a certain level, you are the level you achieve.

It matters not how hard you have worked to this point, nor how much talent you have; you are what you’ve done.

So, make a plan for improving the skill and working the work and see what you can do the next time out.

Why Not Accountability?

I think that ID’ing and owning, defining and providing others clarity on one’s core values is really important. An organization can move forward, with its people on the same mission, when the central ideas are clear.

I don’t think “accountability” should be one of them.

Once your values and expected behaviors are articulated, then accountability comes into play.

Are you doing what you said you would?

That’s accountability – it’s an outcome, not a seed to be planted. It’s an expectation, but not a behavior in an of itself.