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?

Coaching Practice = Practice Coaching

Over and over I remind myself and other coaches that being is greater than doing. Who we are at the foundation, our core, the personal drivers, are crucial to being successful day to day. What we do, the tactics, of course also really matter, but without a sense of why we care about the things we care about, the doing can be simple noise.

Lately, however, I remind myself that the doing must be done. No matter. We don’t coach others with words alone. If our words, the actual coaching, is to be successful they must inspire others to practice. Testing the movements, skills and actions of a sport is how performers learn what drives improvement, and winning.

Without the testing, the doing, the practice we can’t keep the experiment moving and gain ground on the skills.

Coaches need to drill like this. Create opportunities to practice coaching a situation or a skill, role play with others, to do the thing. Find a way to put this into your system.

Practice coaching practice. Practice coaching a meeting, a recruiting call, a drill. Make self-evaluation more than a yearly or quarterly thing.

Be. And Do.

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.

Rule #3

Most complexities are compiled of sets of simple things.

Simple. Not easy.

If your team knows where and who gets the ball, all your bases and covered and has an understanding of the need for backing up the current priorities, things will go well.

The doing is important, and the planning and understanding is critical, too.

A team that’s confident in their ball, base, backup plan–one that has run the drills over and over until the play is sharp and the communication is on point–is the one that will be able to deal with derailments with aplomb.

Being ready when things go wrong is a key to having them go right.

The story behind the scoreboard

I started to write a post along with this picture a few months ago, in November. That was before COVID-19, before there was no softball and before people were afraid, really afraid, of leaving the house or being around others.

Sure, the behind-the-scenes post I had in mind was interesting to me and might have been of note to others, but it all seems so far away in time.

Lots has happened.

I know that world-changing events like the pandemic we find ourselves in don’t happen often and there is no way that it could be diminished if I tried, but as I look at this picture I know that it would have seemed like a long time ago no matter what.

Our childhood feels like yesterday and a hundred years ago at the same time. Time flies and it crawls…we should work hard to enjoy where we are.

Do your best, both on the scoreboard and on the other side.

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.