Tag Archives: Team building

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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There’s no “I” in team, but there is a “ME” #2

“There’s no “I” in team, but there sure as heck is a “ME”.”

Of all the stupid coach-things I ever said, this was one of my favorites and maybe the wisest stupid thing I’ve ever said. It kind of goes against the grain against the popular “No ‘I’ in team” sayings we are so familiar with.

A good team is not a group of harmoniously tuned clones; a good team is a collection of individuals, from diverse backgrounds and personalities, who work well together toward achieving a goal.

I did not care where you came from.
I did not care who your friends were or what interests you had.
I did not care who your parents were.
I did not care where you came from.

What I cared about was how you contributed to the team. What I cared about was this. When you stepped across the white line and onto the field, you put the blinders on and committed to working toward making the team better.

Every minute, every hour, every day.

There is some intriguing research being down on the team concept in education, business, etc. Po Bronson, co-author of TOP DOG: THE SCIENCE OF WINNING AND LOSING, has some interesting ideas about the team.

One very important find from the research identifies the 60/30/10 Rule as a formula for a team, whether business, sports, education, etc.

60% of a team’s success is directly related to who is on the team. This means talent. Talented teams succeed. Building a team and/or acquiring talent matters in a big way. The talent level matters more than most people ever realize (or wish to admit). Coaches/leaders are important, but not nearly for the reasons most of us believe.

30% of the success is in the setup of the team. The setup of a team includes the program’s philosophy, goals, and the road map plan to get there. The single most important thing a leader can do to give a team the best chance to succeed is to clarify the roles on the team. Every member of the team should have a role and understand this role.

10% has to do with leadership. The leader’s job, once the team’s goals and roles are established, is to keep the team on course. Don’t micromanage a team.

So what the research is saying is that coaches are not the wizards most people perceive them to be. Coach K, Bill Self, or Bill Snyder are all exceptional in their set up of a team by implementing their goals, philosophies, and role clarification. Where these coaches excel at is acquiring talent and getting those players onto the field with the program’s goals, philosophies and specific roles fully ingrained.

They set and keep the course, not micromanage.

There’s a misconception about a team that everyone must get along. This is crap. Seriously. Harmony and chemistry are two very different things. Harmony means a peaceful, constant state. Harmony does not equate to team, though. Harmony kills progress with complacency. Sure you need some team harmony; you can’t be a team that goes for each other’s throats at every turn, that’s dysfunctional.

One of my biggest coaching pet peeves was the deal making kids would do. The
‘I’ll go easy and scratch your back if you’ll go easy and scratch mine” of the #1’s on the depth chart vs the #2’s and #3’s on the depth chart during drills and scrimmages. I want competition, I want fire. I want an environment the #2 is out to beat the #1 and the #3 is out to put the #2 and the #1 on the edge.

A little skirmish every now and then is not a bad thing for a team. Just don’t allow these little skirmishes to develop into team rifts. Players should challenge each to get better, not beat down each other. Serious issues need to be addressed and resolved early prior to becoming team rifts.

Chemistry is a mix of team member’s personality and skills which move the team forward and drive every member to get better. The players in the mix don’t have to be homogenous. They can be as different as can be. The only thing that matters is the team moves toward its goals.

A team needs someone to rock the boat and be a catalyst to trigger improvement. A team needs someone to point out the deficiencies in the team AND (this AND is very, very important) work to find solutions to improve.

Don’t underestimate the power of the individual to a group or team. As a coach, boss, or team leader, make an effort to understand the 60/30/10 Rule. Assemble the best talent you can, define and assign roles, and let people do their jobs.

Individuals matter.

Don’t allow ego to get in the way of progress.

There’s is no “I” in team, but there is a “ME”.

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Leap Of Faith, Trust Your Cape

Being a part of a marriage, a family, or any sort of a team requires the players to take a leap of faith to achieve success. To build this type of faith, there needs to be built a trust between all involved. Faith and trust that the other members of the team unit will take care of their role and do the thing, or things, they are supposed to do. It is a simple concept of a team unit. Everyone has a job and needs to focus on accomplishing that job.
It’s not easy, though. It is not easy to trust that someone else will hold their own, especially when you know their faults and their weaknesses. It’s easy to lack faith in each other and try to perform all the parts yourself. This doesn’t work very well, believe me.
Trust doesn’t come prepackaged and FedEx’d overnight at our convenience. This type of trust and faith needs to be pounded into shape with consistency and time and repetition. Perform adequately. Every time. Over time. The harder the challenge, the more faith and trust is built; a baptism by fire, as I like to say.
When you trust those around you, it’s like wearing the superhero’s cape. Your cape gives you powers beyond just yourself, it makes you stronger, and it makes you a better individual. With a team, a family, or a marriage, the more intertwined the individuals are, the stronger the unit becomes. We need to help those around us build with their own capes by being faithful and trustworthy teammates.

Young Super Hero Standing on Laundry Machines
So, be a true and faithful teammate, wear your capes proudly, and live life as Guy Clark wrote in his song, The Cape:

“Yeah, he’s one of those who knows that life is just a leap of faith.  Spread your                            arms and hold your breath and always trust your cape.”

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There’s No “I” In Team, But There Is a “ME”

Teams are built through shared purpose. Teams are built under a common goal. Team members may be from every race, creed, religion, and socio-economic status. Heck, they can even despise one another, but when they step across the white line, it’s all business. Across that line it becomes all about the common goal.
Teams are formed through challenge and hardship. The team members relish the small victories while continuing toward the common goal.

Teams are forged in the fire of the challenge, fire in the blood, fire in the mind and the burning flame inside the heart. Teams are built on trust. Trust in each other earned through survival of the challenge fire. Each member knows what everyone has sacrificed to be part of the collective. Everyone knows each member has earned their ticket to compete. Everyone trusts everyone else to be prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally to do their job. Trust.

Teams don’t just happen. Teams aren’t built on talk, T-shirts, team pictures, selling candy, having sleepovers or sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya.
Building a team and building trust takes hard work and sacrifice. Every man, every day. Teams are built by hard work and trust. Team is built by every member taking care of business. A team is built when all the “ME’s” work to become a “WE”.

There is no “I” in team, but there is a “ME”. A whole lot of “ME’s”, in fact, stepping inside the white line to take care of business and achieve the ONE GOAL.

Hard work is the magic.

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I Don’t Care If You’re Chinese, Japanese Or Turpentine-ese.

It was sophomore football, the entry level rung of athletics at Washington High School. Three feeder junior highs thrown together to meld together as a team in the short pure hell period of three-a-day practices in the sweltering Kansas August heat. In reality, what that entailed was the two poor sophomore football coaches had to try and piece together a starting 11 from a group that came in with three starting quarterbacks, three starting centers, there’s tailbacks, three nose guards.

Well, you get the picture. It was almost like three different teams squabbling every day to be the “one” on the field. To make matters worse, the new head sophomore football coach just happened to be my junior high coach, Coach P. So naturally, every starting position won by an Eisenhower Jr. High player was favoritism and cronyism at it highest.

It was very frustrating and at height of our early season misery, we lost our opening game. The third string QB, a Japanese American kid, lost his temper in practice and stated yelling at the coaches accusing them of discrimination. He said they didn’t like him because he was Japanese. Coach P made us all run and run and run and run for lack of a better spur of the moment solution to that accusation.

Coach P had a temper. Once in Jr. High, he blew up at our lack of focus and execution and kicked us off the practice field. We ran toward the school locker room like convicts on a jailbreak. Our football field was inside the school’s track and when the rambling herd was mere yards away from the track, Coach P screamed, “And don’t you dare step on MY track!”

Forty-some kids in full football gear came to a screeching halt. We froze with fear. What were we supposed to do? Nobody dared look back to Coach P (who was probably back there laughing his ass off at us idiots). Finally, after what seemed an eternity, one of the faster running backs at the front of the group slipped out of his cleats and tip-toed across the track. One by one, we followed suit and when everyone has crossed over and, after Coach P had time to quit laughing enough to yell, he screamed, “I said get off my field!”

Forty-some boys sprinted across campus in stocking feet approaching the locker room at near world record speeds.
Our second game that sophomore year was against Shawnee Mission South at their practice field, which was next door to their expansive district football stadium and track. We fell apart on the first half. Coach P silently walked the team over to the stands of the district football stadium for halftime. The team began to sit on the lower level and Coach goes on a rant. “You don’t deserve to sit on the front row. To the top. Now!”

We marched way up to the cheap seats and sat down. Coach P lets it fly. I don’t remember much of what he said because I avoided potential eye contact by watching normal, happy people walk and jog around the stadium track. Coach pointed to an old man jogging on the track and shouted, “Now there’s somebody who knows the value of hard work. You boys need to take a lesson from him.”

Surprisingly, the old man on the track stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and ran in the opposite direction never passing our section of stands again.

Shortly thereafter, when he’d scared most of the bystanders on the track away, I heard him say something that has stuck with me for years. He talked of teamwork. He talked of common goals and the value of putting the team in front of any individual. His final words were most telling. “Boys, I don’t care if you are Chineese, Japanese or Turpentine-ese, I am going to coach you equally and with all my energy. But, I promise you, I will always start the kids who work the hardest and earn their spots.”

He turned and walked away. We continued to get our butts kicked in the second half, though we did play more like a team. The third string QB quit the next day and with his departure many of our squabbles and internal problems left as well. We probably finished around .500 for the season, I really can’t remember. But I do remember having fun the rest of the season and becoming good friends with former junior high rivals.

I always carried a little bit of Coach P around with me in my coaching career. Coach everyone who walks through your locker room door to the best of your ability, every day. Because…

“I don’t care if you’re Chinese, Japanese or Turpentine-ese…”

I’m going to coach you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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