Tag Archives: Team building

Leaders

An often overlooked fundamental of good organizations is leadership. By overlooked, I don’t mean ignored. We have leadership out the ying yang in our society. Presidents, governors, mayors, superintendents, principals, head coaches, captains, student councils, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. We have leadership coming out of our ears, but still, often experience poor leadership.

How does this happen? We spend so many resources and time and effort in order to set up our leadership structures. It should work, right? It should be easy, right? All the proper offices are set, the job descriptions were written, the people hired and trained, the team roster set and fully prepared, so why does the system fail?

Leadership void is how I always referred to it. But I was never really able to figure out a logical explanation to why this happens and/or how this happens. Until now. In the “Leaders are made, not born.” listing of the Ideas for Work blog post from altMBA.

Here’s the quote:

Leaders are made, not born.
Leadership is for other people, it seems. Leadership is for someone who has unusual amounts of courage, insight or perhaps arrogance.
Except that’s not true. That’s a myth perpetuated by folks who’d rather have you comply with their instructions.
Leadership, as we have seen over and over again, is reserved for people who care. Who care enough to see, to connect, to make change happen.
As our economy shifts to one based on connection, not industry, there are more slots reserved for those that seek to make change happen, who will stand up and say, “follow me.”
Your organization (big or small) needs more leaders like this. Are you open to making that difference?

Reading this was an “Aha!” moment for this old coach. It gave words and meaning to the random thoughts on developing leaders I’ve struggled with for years.

Leadership is reserved for people who care.

Wow. So simple. So “slap you in the face I’ve been standing right here in front of you all this time!” As I say to my people when they lose something and it’s sitting out in plain sight. If it was a snake, it would have bit you.

Leadership is reserved for people who care.

The trick as a coach is to identify who these players are in your program and provide them with enough space and safety to become the leader their deep investment in the program deserves. That means not going with players for leadership roles merely based on their age (seniors only), their position (QBs, catchers, point guards), or their popularity. Leadership is about caring for the program. Leadership is about showing up every day to make the organization one cares about a little better off than the previous day.

That type of leadership works. That type of leadership is work. It’s not easy. Especially with high school kids. Caring for something can’t mark you for an attack. Caring cannot be something that earns ridicule.

It’s okay to care.

It’s okay to want something to be better.

It’s okay to care enough you piss people off.

The first step to effective leadership is to care about the organization and its well-being. If you’re in a leadership role, closely examine how you care for the organization you lead. Do you need to make changes? Do you need to swallow your own ego and arrogance to show your people your care? The job of a coach is to allow this to happen. Sow the seeds of emotional, physical, and mental investment early and often. It’s an integral part of team-building as we talked about in the post, Culture.

First and foremost, allow people to care.

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Culture

I ran across this list, 17 Ideas for the modern world of work from altMBA, and it has me thinking. Dangerous, I know. But it’s summertime and my head is less likely to explode sitting on the back patio listening to the birds chirping. I’ve read this list several times. I know it’s targeted to the business world, but I see many parallels to the sports coaching world. One thing on the list caught my eye from the very first time I read it; it is the idea of culture. Here’s the quote from the altMBA list:

Culture defeats everything.
We accept the culture as something fixed, immutable, impervious to our efforts to change it.
And because it feels so permanent, we also begin to ignore it. A bit like gravity.
But culture is the deal maker, the deal breaker, the energy that changes everything.
Do culture on purpose. It’s worth it.

Out of the list of ideas, I like this one the most. Culture is a game changer. In sports, we call it things like team chemistry, coaching philosophy, captain’s councils and the like. What these really do is to establish the culture of a team. Whether you’re coaching T-ball or kid’s tennis or club basketball or small town high school football, you must establish a culture of success. I guarantee there is not a highly successful program out there which doesn’t have a well-established “winning” culture.

As coaches, we were more than likely players at one stage in our life. When deciding what type of culture you want in your program, I always like to start looking forward by looking back.

First, what program culture would I have liked playing in? Recall the good and the bad from my experiences. Incorporate the good but also use the bad as well. Design your team culture to best avoid the things you considered pitfalls from your experiences. Do not repeat crap! 

Second, look back on what worked and what didn’t work in your previous campaign. Does something need to change? Do we need to adjust what we did in the past with what we think the future holds? Ask yourself the hard question and delve deep to find the answers. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, think everything is peachy perfect. Even an undefeated, state title team has issues. Be honest and be better. Most importantly, make the changes!

Next, look forward.

What is your dream as a coach? What’s holding you back from these dreams? One of my favorite little life snippets is, “Dream it & go do it”. Take the first step on your dreams. It’s like writing a story, or a blog post rant; it’s all a blank page until you start laying the words down one by one. Build the dream. Brick by brick.

What are your players dreams? Ha! I got you there, didn’t I? How many of us coaches ask players for input on their culture? Kids in this 21st-century world are smart. They may seem to care more about snaps and contacts and followers, but they are smart. Include them. Include their dreams. Sure the team is run by one voice or a few voices, yours as the coach and the voices of the coaching staff, but doesn’t that ONE VOICE sound a whole lot sweeter when it rings of many? The culture needs to reflect the team with all its inherent roles and positions included. The team becomes the culture, the culture becomes the team.

Take a hard look at your personnel for the coming season. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. If you think one kid would be better playing a different role on the team, sell it to them. That’s right, you have to be part salesman to be a coach. Not only do you have to inspire team members, you have to convince them to do things they don’t often like to do. Getting the pieces to fit, sometimes takes a bit of maneuvering and wiggling and not hammering. Sell it. And sell it within the scope of the culture you are creating.

Success begets success. Perhaps the hardest part of this team culture idea is the passing down of its principles and customs to the next generation of players. I’ve struggled in the past both with highly talented upperclassmen caring for what comes after them and incoming newbies who know all and believe they have “arrived”. It’s hard to convince 17-18 year-olds they will carry their home pride with them when they move to the next step in life. It’s hard to fully convince kids of any age to buy in and fully invest their physical, intellectual, and emotional self into something where there’s a chance one might fail. Peer to peer influence is so much more effective in establishing this facet of culture. Failure is an option. Never accept failure. Fail and regroup and come back stronger as an individual and as a team. Keep swinging, as the baseball coach in me likes to say.

I do like this idea of culture. It rings true and plays a huge part in the success of an organization. If you are a coach or a player, think about these things on the altMBA list. Let them rattle around in your head a bit. See what develops and then get busy.

I will continue to ponder the list, for sure. (You should hear the rattling in my head right now.)

Until next time.

Now, go get yourself some culture.

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Eyes On One Another

Everybody knows the basics of what a good sports coach does. Organization, planning, strategy, motivation, and discipline are just a few traits of a solid coach. There’s also one very important factor of a successful team that a coach can only sow the seed of. 

It’s the peer to peer drive to get better.

The standard the players hold each other to in getting better every day.

The accountability to do the job you are supposed to do, to be where you should be, and to make the team better by your presence.

It’s the individual push in a player’s mind to not let his teammates down.

But unless the players accept this seed the coach has planted and grow it, they will never reach their full potential.

The really great teams I’ve been around had this trait within their ranks. They got on each other’s case about missed assignments, missed workouts or missed efforts, and did it in a positive (well, as positive as high school boys can be) way. In short, the players needed to keep an eye on each other and realize others were keeping an eye on them.

Peer to peer drive is what makes great teams. They don’t allow each other to fail. They don’t allow each other to slide. They keep the standard high and they keep the train on the track.

It’s a thing of beauty when it is chugging down the rails, believe me. An ugly, chocolate-mess-that-never-even-gets-close-to-fulfilling-their-team-potential when it struggles down the track.

How does a coach sow the seeds?

Number one, almost everything you do needs to be done in an environment where the players can actually get their eyeballs on one another.

A single session for off-season workouts and conditioning sessions. Everybody needs to be there and everybody needs to see who is there doing the work, who is there slacking off, and who did not even show up. Players learn from these sessions who they can count on as teammates. All the frigging movie nights, dinners, campfire sing-alongs, are wasted time if the players don’t find out who they can count on when the caca hits the fan. When the going gets tough, who can I count on to get going with me?

Two. You have to set up an organization that allows the players to work out their issues while within a safe environment for everybody. This means feelings will get hurt, egos will get stomped into the ground, and kids may even argue or fight. The players need to work these things out without going overboard. They need to learn to develop trust with the people they will stand side-by-side with during competition.

Three. Give the players a sense of ownership. As a coach, you are the person in charge. No questions should ever be asked about who is the king of the castle. This should be established from day one, hour one, minute one. But the goal is to be the leader, not the dictator. Have a plan, have a philosophy but be willing to listen and incorporate input from the players who are actually out playing the game. If you’ve done your job right teaching them the game, they will be able to analyze problems and help with solutions. A sense of ownership goes a long way in team-building.

Whether you are a coach or a player, you can do the little things to help your squad live up to its potential.

Be reliable and demand reliability.

Be accountable and demand accountability.

Work hard and demand the same from your peers.

Do your job and demand others to do theirs.

Enjoy the game and enjoy playing with your peers.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Keep your eyes on one another.

Unruh from scoreboard

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The Depths

Depth is underrated. The value of having quality people in your program is fairly obvious—you need good players to succeed. The number ones on the depth chart are important, but as a coach or leader of a program, one cannot ignore the value of depth and numbers.

Depth in the kids who fill the backup role and must step in when called upon when the starter goes down. Depth in the kids who stand on the sidelines on game night, seemingly for the sole purpose as a show of force in uniform.

Depth is more important than that.

Depth makes a program successful.

A program needs the kids on the third and fourth string—the kids on the low end of the depth totem pole— to make everyone better. These players are the ones who make a program stronger and a lot more fun to be a part of. The “filler” players are the ones who push the kids above them on the depth chart to get better. The challenge, the competition, and the friendly rivalry are the “magic” which makes a team shine.

I used to enjoy working with the football scout team kids in practice. It wasn’t easy for these kids to learn the opponent’s offense and defense on the fly. It was a daily struggle for them to stir up within themselves the intensity and effort to give the first and second string players a quality look in our preparations. We called ourselves the “Black Dogs”. We took pride in what we did. We learned a lot of football running all those opponents schemes and plays.

I’d challenge them to push the other players as much as possible, even if it got a little chippy at times. Honestly, I didn’t mind an occasional scuffle or melee as these mostly occurred when the third string player made a first string player look bad on a play. Oddly enough, after these incidents, the starter usually attacked their practice with renewed effort.

Everybody gets better.

Every day.

You build successful programs from the ground up. You recruit quality depth. You plant the seed of possibility within these kids when they show up at your door. You cultivate their talent with as much, or more, effort as is put into developing your number ones. You give them a sense of importance and value. Everybody sees the intricately carved and beautifully decorated top of the totem pole, but people rarely pay attention to the bottom of the totem pole, which provides the foundation. If the foundation is weak and gives way, the whole thing falls apart.

It takes a special relationship between coaches and these kids on the lower half of the depth chart. A coach needs to make these kids feel like they are an important part of the program and demand effort from them every single practice, workout, and game. These kids don’t get much attention and the attention they get is mostly negative. A classmate poking fun at them for “riding the pine”. A parent chiding them for not being a starter. It’s a tough life for a Black Dog. That’s why a coach needs to be there to encourage and develop them as players.

Every day.

Everyone gets better.

I salute the Black Dogs of the world. I salute the kids who practice hard and work to make themselves and the team better on a daily basis. Without you, a team has no depth. Without you, a team has no foundation. Without you, a program crumbles.

Have patience. Keep working hard. Make your position a better place. And never forget the light at the end of the tunnel. Your time will come.

Next time you see the players at the lower end of the depth chart, give them a high five. Pat them on the back in appreciation for their efforts and cheer them on. THEY are the keys to a successful program. As the old saying goes, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link.”

A program is built from the ground up. Talent is forged from upward pressure and challenge from below.

Everyone contributes. Every day.

CC@Abilene2009

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Herding Cats

Sometimes coaching high school kids feels akin to an attempt at wrangling a dozen cats out the backyard gate while avoiding a fully-functioning sprinkler head. In other words…utter chaos.

A team and each individual kid on that team needs direction–they need to know where they are supposed to go and some idea of how to get there. One of the knocks from I hear way too often from coaches is today’s kids don’t care, they don’t “buy” into what the coach is selling.

The truth is, today’s kids are probably brighter and sharper and have an increased problem-solving capacity than we ever did. They want to know what you are asking them to do, why you are asking them to do it, and where is it going to take them. Kids today have very well-honed bullshit meters.

They are skeptical and need to be convinced the plan and vision you present to them is the real deal. Where us grumpy, old folks used to accept what we were given and did what we were told, these kids want to know the bigger picture and see what is beyond blind acceptance. And they have the collective power of the internet and social media for information.

One of the first coaching lessons I learned from Paul Lane in football and Rex Carlson in baseball was to be upfront and be honest. These two fine coaches taught me the athletes cannot read my mind and need to be told and shown what I need them to do. Tell the kids what we are going to do, why we are going to do it, and how it will make them better as an individual and as a team.

Another knock against the kids is they just don’t get it. “They spend too much time sitting in front of their video games or have their faces glued to their phones.” You all know the attitude. The grumpy old man, stay-off-my-lawn you juvenile, drug addicted, delinquent” attitude we often have toward the habits of youth.

Kids today want a vision. They want (and desperately need) someone to recognize their potential and help them map out a path to achieve it. I’ve said this a hundred times, but everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be a success. They just need the plan and the guidance.

That’s what the successful coach is able to do.

Dream the plan.
Devise the plan.
Sell the plan.
Implement the plan.

And then drive the individual and the team in the right direction and never let them take their eyes off the prize.

Just like successfully herding a dozen of the cutest, most well-behaved cats out of the back yard, your athletes will eventually find their goal—but you’ll always end up worn to a frazzle and sporting a few fresh scratches.

Vision.
Direction.
Communication

The keys to the kingdom.

“Cats on Beach” by haitham alfalah – haitham alfalah. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cats_on_Beach.JPG#/media/File:Cats_on_Beach.JPG

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Still Waters

One of the best teams we ever coached was a group of kids who were magnificent running down the rapids. Virtually unstoppable and an honest-to-goodness tour de force when the current flowed swiftly in their direction. But, we would lose focus and intensity when the current became easy and let up. When things should have been easy, when the game should have been packed away neatly under the “W’ column, we’d struggle to tread water and keep our heads above water.

Handling success and maturity means you must learn to navigate the still waters to keep afloat and continue to move in the desired direction. It is one thing working to succeed, but it’s a whole other thing to achieve success and then stay successful. One of the true joys of being good is the scramble, the character, and the discipline invested in order to stay good.

Tom Osborne, the legendary football coach at the University of Nebraska, said that everyone wants to win; it’s human nature. The difference between winners and losers often depends on how willing one is able to go all in and put in the work necessary. And in order to stay a winner, one has to work even harder and with greater efficiency to stay on the mountain.

One needs motivation, an edge. Some sort of carrot to dangle just out of reach in front of you that keeps your motivated. My favorite edge as a player and a coach is the “Chip on Shoulder” approach. Succeed despite the barriers you face. Suceed because there are people who don’t believe you will ever accomplish anything.

The edge. When you choose to play on the edge you have to be careful of two things.

  1. It’s easy to fall over the edge, so you must stay balanced and anchored.
  2. Key an eye on those who will push, nudge, or flat-out kick you over the edge.

The KC Royals in the first month of the season are a good example of this. They found a chip-on-the-shoulder edge which worked very well. But, when this motivator went too far, they fell over the edge and lost their composure. Fortunately, it appears they were able to step back and reboot under control to be successful. Use the edge to motivate your habits and performance, not lose emotional control. Be motivated without becoming consumed by the motivation.

Use the edge to motivate your habits and performance, not lose emotional control. Be motivated without becoming consumed by the motivation.

So you’ve turned things around. Your team and your performance proved to be successful. Pat yourself on the back, smile, and then get back to work. You have things to accomplish. The job has just begun. Find your edge and anchor yourself to your motivation.

To be a success, you need to learn to navigate the still waters. There will not always be a swift stream to move you along, so you need to be able to put your oar in the water and pull yourself forward time and time again.

Word hard.

Work focused.

Play hard.

Play focused.

Just don’t get pushed over the edge.

Still_Water_At_Dusk

Courtesy WikiCommons

 

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Rowing or Riding?

Which athlete are you? The one who rows the boat or the one who simply rides along?

I read an interesting blog post today from Seth Godin called Along for the Ride that reminded me of this aspect of team sports dynamics.

“How long have you been along for the ride? When is your turn to actually drive?”

As a player or a coach, these questions should be a constant in your development.

  • When is it your time to step up?
  • Did you miss it?
  • Did you ignore it?
  • Do you want nothing to do with it?

We are seeing an increase in younger athletes getting on the varsity sports field. Freshman, sophomores are being thrown into key team roles.  I have also noticed a trend where these same young players are thrown into the fire often don’t seem to get much better.

They are as good when they walk out the door as they were when they walked in.

These kids get put on the boat as riders and never develop into rowers.

Athletes need to eventually take the responsibility of driving the team train. Experience and leadership can’t ride the train. Experience and leadership need to be the drivers.

It’s your turn to step up.

It’s your turn to row.

Be what you are meant to be.

Out work. Out hustle. Out perform. Every day.

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