It’s very exciting to join a new program and start fresh.
Whether we’re a young coach or a wily veteran, head coach or assistant, there are still some important things to remember as we begin this new job.
Here are nine mistakes or actions we should avoid when we become a new coach or join a new program …
- Changing too many things too quickly
- Always being right
- Having too many rules
- Building a team instead of a program
- Not equipping athletes to lead
- Being uncoachable
- Lacking a good understanding of the situation
- Failing to develop & nurture relationships
- Worrying about the next job
CHANGING TOO MANY THINGS TOO QUICKLY
We’ll need to change a lot of things (unless you are joining a great program). People tend to struggle when things change so we need to be wise about when certain changes are made. Not everything needs to change overnight, however.
When we’re driving a car, motorcycle, or bike and need to change directions, we slow down, look around, and safely execute the U-turn. The changes we need to make should be planned out and prioritized.
ALWAYS BEING RIGHT
Pedestrians have the right of way when crossing a street. However, we might be dead right if we don’t respect the vehicles coming our way. We might know something (e.g. pedestrians have the right of way), but we might not be wise (e.g. looking both ways or yielding to the cars). An old quote says, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
Just because we know more than our athletes doesn’t make us wise. Just because we’re right doesn’t mean we’re being wise. We don’t have to get our way all the time. There’s a difference between being right and doing what’s right. We should pick our battles wisely as it’s no fun to be around a know-it-all.
HAVING TOO MANY RULES
Rules are not bad, but too many of them can suck the life out of a team. We may find ourselves enforcing rules more than we’re coaching. Rules have punishments attached to them. The more rules we have, the more punishments we’ll also have. Not only do these punishments need to be consistent and fair, but we also don’t want to back ourselves in a corner.
The best coaches lead using a combination of logic, wisdom, and empathy. They see the big picture and understand the current situation. For instance, an athlete showing up late for practice because they were smoking in the park with friends is different from one that was in a car accident on their way to the gym. Do our rules and punishments account for that?
We need to make sure that we’re wise about the rules we set forth. Yes, we need some rules but the standards we reinforce and promote daily are more important. We need to be more concerned with catching them being good than catching them breaking one of our laundry lists of rules.
BUILDING A TEAM INSTEAD OF A PROGRAM
Having short-term vision gets us in trouble sometimes. Yes, we need to make every team as good as possible, but when we start worrying too much about the present, then our future can suffer. Too many coaches get into a vicious cycle of taking short cuts or scrambling around to make this year’s team good because they made poor decisions in the past. They mortgaged the future so to speak. This is especially true when going to a new situation that’s not ideal.
The best coaches view planning from a chess perspective rather than a checkers perspective. They think many steps ahead and see the whole board, rather than worrying only about their next move.
We need to see the whole forest (our program) and not just one tree (our team, situation, or athlete right now). Yes, we need to think about the athletes and team we have now, but next year we’ll have athletes and a team also. We need to avoid knee-jerk reactions, which is why having a solid plan and core values are so important.
NOT EQUIPPING ATHLETES TO LEAD
Most coaches only do leadership training with their captains (if at all). These sessions may even be voluntary for the rest of the staff. This means future leaders aren’t being developed and the staff isn’t on the same page.
It also is shortchanging the current team’s leadership potential. A team is only going to have a handful of captains. That means there are many more athletes that aren’t trained to be leaders on a team. This creates a situation that is both dangerous for the future and can cause many issues on the current team.
There are issues, problems, and drama on all teams. The good teams may have less of these, but they still face these metaphorical fires that break out in the back of the bus, the cafeteria, locker room, weight room, or hallways. There’s a good chance a captain will not be around when these issues or fires occur.
The more we train all of our athletes, the more equipped they are to put those fires out. When the athletes are equipped with fire extinguishers rather than lighter fluid, the fires that break out on our teams can be greatly minimized and put out much quicker.
We want our athletes to be coachable but oftentimes we provide a bad example of what this looks like. All team members need to be coachable and that includes us as the coach. First, this sets and provides an example to the rest of the team. Secondly, it helps us to be a better coach. When we’re a “learn-it-all”, instead of a “know-it-all”, our entire team benefits.
Yes, we’re smarter than our athletes, the people in the stands, or even our bosses, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing things the right way. It also doesn’t mean we’re where we need to be. The best leaders are lifelong learners. Learning never ends. It’s a continual process.
Going to clinics or conventions and taking professional development opportunities seriously is a good place to start. Paying attention and learning from the good (and bad) decisions other people make also helps us grow. Listening to our athletes can give us insights we may not have picked up on. Having a humble mindset is crucial to learning. When we’re stubborn, we don’t grow.
LACKING A GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF THE SITUATION
We were hired for a reason, but that doesn’t mean we have all the answers. We should be quick to listen so we can understand the situation, environment, and people. When we learn to listen and listen to learn, we understand more. Just because we were successful elsewhere or think we know something doesn’t mean we truly understand our present situation.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in a new situation is assuming what we did elsewhere will work here and now. Sometimes we need to understand the situation and learn what’s really going on. What we’re told during the job search process is not always the full story. What we think we know about a team, its athletes, or even the school may not be completely accurate. We may need to adjust our strategies and plans a little bit as we get new information or better assess the situation.
FAILING TO DEVELOP & NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS
We need to develop and nurture relationships with key people, not just in the coaching profession, but with individuals in the community and at our school. We should build these relationships with no strings attached, adding value to others without expecting something in return.
If we have a leaking roof, we don’t want to wait until it rains to fix it. We fix a roof when it’s sunny outside. In a similar way, if we’re going to need people, then we should develop those relationships ahead of time. As a coach, we’ll need to work with people and one day we may need something extra special. When that day comes, it’ll be too late to develop a connection with them. We need to build up goodwill and trust with people ahead of time.
We need a good relationship with people in high-status positions like Dean of Students, District Attorney, Board President, or even the mayor, but these may not even be the most important people to interact with. Custodians, I.T. people, maintenance workers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, or secretaries are often the heart and soul of schools.
Treat everyone like they’re special because they are special. Providing tickets to a game, inviting someone to the hospitality room, giving somebody a t-shirt, sending a birthday, get-well, or thank you card, or giving them the leftovers after a team meal or staff meeting are just a couple of ways that can make someone else’s day. If the only time a person hears from us is when we need something, then we’re just using them. We need to develop real relationships, so we’re better equipped to help each other when needed.
WORRYING ABOUT THE NEXT JOB
The big-time is where we’re currently coaching. This doesn’t mean we won’t move around in the profession, but we’ve got to remember our current job is our most important responsibility. Most of us are in this profession because we want to give back or help young people. If this is the case, then we need to remember that there are young people that need what we can offer right here right now.
Sure, we’d love to make more money, earn a promotion, or get the opportunity to coach in a better situation but when we start focusing on those things, we miss out on so many things now. We also start to short-change our athletes, giving them less than our best.
The best way to prepare for a future job interview is to be great in our current job. We need to make our athletes better. We need to make our fellow coaches better. When we genuinely add value to those around us, we become more attractive for future job openings.
LEARN FROM OTHER’S MISTAKES
Former American humorist, author, and TV host Sam Levenson used to say, “Learn from the mistakes of others. Life is too short to make them all yourself.”
The list of nine mistakes listed above are not all that coaches in new situations might make, but it’s a good starting point to consider.
Even the best coaches make mistakes, but if we can go into our new job with our eyes wide open and prepared, we’ll have a better chance of succeeding.
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.