The legendary football coach George Allen was the first to say, “What you do during the offseason determines what you do during the regular season.”
As a coach, you want to be successful and do all you can to achieve positive outcomes. However, sometimes you unknowingly block your team’s success.
There are five ways that you might be unintentionally sabotaging or undermining what you’re trying to accomplish:
- Boring your athletes
- Not establishing an identity
- Focusing on X’s and O’s only
- Treating parents like the enemy
- Not developing all athletes as leaders
If you can honestly assess where you’re at with these, you’ll increase the chances that your program will find great success. Self-sabotage ends when you become self-aware and accept responsibility for what happens in your program.
BORING YOUR ATHLETES
A popular tweet I posted a few years ago said, “Players who get bored in practice don’t really want to be good. Champions get better. Losers get bored.” There’s a lot of truth to this statement. However, I could easily have said, “Coaches with bored athletes don’t really want to be good. Champion coaches engage and inspire their athletes. Losing coaches have bored athletes.”
It really comes down to responsibility. Average coaches believe it’s the responsibility of an athlete with a short attention span to stay engaged, motivated, and excited to do things that require hard work, focus, and sacrifice. This doesn’t make sense. Your athletes are not coaches. They don’t have the same motivation or maturity. Your athletes aren’t even like you when you were younger. The best coaches find ways to inspire their athletes.
Here are 9 ways to minimize boredom in your training sessions …
- Play music during practice
- Be organized so you can keep things fast paced, which helps your athletes stay mentally engaged
- Add a competitive element to as many drills and situations as possible
- Find drills that don’t keep people waiting
- Introduce creative or unusual environments and situations. These might be things you’ll encounter in an upcoming match or contest (e.g. Different temperatures, lighting, weather, surface, equipment type, volume levels, game times, etc.)
- Stay positive. Nobody enjoys practice when there is constant nit-picking
- Carve out time for fun drills or activities
- Do everything you can to grow, develop, and improve your athletes. They should be able to see results and understand how their improving
- Allow your athletes to develop and lead some drills
Former president Ronald Reagan used to say, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Good coaches inspire their athletes to do great things.
NOT ESTABLISHING AN IDENTITY
It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing team that does most things well — you need a strong team identity. This doesn’t mean you don’t work on other things, but you need to hang your hat on something. You need to do something better or different than other teams.
Sure you want to be as well-rounded as possible, but the reality is you can only focus on one or two things at one time. Be great at something. This doesn’t mean you ignore everything else, but it does mean you emphasize, reinforce, and take pride in something. This will rally your athletes around a common goal.
There’s an old proverb that says, “He who chases two rabbits catches neither.” Focus on catching the first rabbit, then you can catch the next rabbit. Don’t make things too complicated. If everything is the most important thing, then nothing is important. Be better or be different. Be great at something.
FOCUSING ON X’S AND O’S ONLY
Most coaches know the strategies they want to employ, but great coaches know their athletes and what they need. Too many coaches focus on the X’s and O’s instead of the Jimmy’s and Joe’s. They put results and strategy before their people and the process.
Oftentimes, when something isn’t working, a coach adds a new play, increases practice time, or juggles the lineup. You do something sport related. However, you’re working with people who have flaws, egos, agendas, and feelings. You have a good grasp on plays, drills, and strategies, but your success (or failure) is usually related to people.
Do your athletes trust each other? Do they like each other? Do they believe in themselves? Do they trust you? Do they like you? What kind of agendas do they have? What’s going on in their lives? Every coach has a playbook full of great ideas that should work.
The difference between good coaches and everyone else is their ability to inspire their athletes and get them to do what’s needed. Relationships are much more important than anything else you’ll do. Never forget that you’re in the people business.
TREATING PARENTS LIKE THE ENEMY
Legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano used to joke (I think), that his dream job was coaching at an orphanage. Parents can drive coaches crazy, but they’re part of your program whether you like it or not. The way a parent feels about you typically spreads to their child and other parents in the stands. Parents are their children’s biggest cheerleaders. This often causes problems for coaches, but you can sometimes use this to your advantage.
Honest and transparent communication with a parent can possibly get them on your side. When you connect with a parent and develop a stronger relationship with them, you can work together to develop their child. When you avoid communicating with a parent, you create a void which will rarely be filled with positivity. They will not give you the benefit of the doubt. If you want to make a withdrawal from the emotional bank account, you’ll need to make deposits along the way.
Talking with them isn’t a waste of your time. Don’t be afraid to spend time explaining things to them. Don’t be afraid of their criticism. When you’re communicating with them, you have an opportunity to win them over or help them be more informed. That’s big. When no communication takes place, parents receive their information from other sources.
NOT DEVELOPING ALL ATHLETES AS LEADERS
Most coaches have a process for equipping team captains, but rarely are the rest of the athletes taught how to be leaders. The legendary basketball coach Don Meyer used to say, “you can pick your captains, but you can’t pick your leaders.”
It’s important that you’re treating each athlete as a potential leader. Train them how to be good leaders and have a positive influence on their teammates rather than leaving it up to chance. Focusing only on the leadership development of your captains can hurt your team in two ways.
First, future leaders aren’t developed. Leadership is developed daily, not in a day. In other words, leadership is a process. Leadership development is not a one-time occurrence. The more your athletes grow and develop their influence before they’re put in a true position of leadership, the better leaders they’ll be. This also minimizes the seasons when you experience a leadership void after graduation.
Secondly, there’s more potential for problems on a team when you don’t teach all of your athletes what it means to be a good leader. Even if you do a great job of training your captains, there will be times when athletes are gathered and there are no coaches or captains present. When this happens, who will lead? What kind of influence will occur? If your athletes are used to your coaching staff or captains leading the way, what will happen when they’re absent?
No matter how good your program is, there will be issues that arise throughout the year. When these proverbial fires break out in the locker room, back of the bus, cafeteria, dorm rooms, or hallways, how will your athletes handle them? Are you equipping your athletes with fire extinguishers or handing them lighter fluid? Training all your athletes to be good leaders keeps these fires from escalating and getting bigger.
You’re the smartest person in the locker room, stadium, or gym. You know what should happen and you stick to your guns. You may even get your way, but you don’t get the results you want. Oftentimes this is because you’re dead right. You unintentionally sabotage your own team. You’re worried about who’s right and wrong. You play the blame game. You might be knowledgeable, but aren’t wise. Maybe you’re too “old school” about something. You’re not coachable. You’re too stubborn.
Coaching is unlocking an athlete’s potential. It’s about maximizing strengths, minimizing weaknesses, and motivating an athlete to be the best version of themselves. It’s taking an individual from where they are to where they need to be.
When you commit the five common mistakes listed above you not only sabotage your own program, but more importantly, create challenges that make it more difficult to be the coach you were meant to be. When you fall short as a coach, you make it more difficult for your athletes to reach their full potential.
Jamy Bechler is the author of four books including The Captain and The Bus Trip. He is also the host of the Success is a Choice Podcast, a professional speaker, and trains organizations on creating championship cultures. Bechler spent 20 years as a college basketball coach and administrator and now works with high-level businesses and teams, including the NBA. He started TheLeadershipPlaybook.com membership community and resource center to help athletes become better teammates and more positive leaders while strengthening the culture of teams and athletic departments. Follow him on twitter at @CoachBechler or contact him at speaking@CoachBechler.com.