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IN THIS ISSUE: Playing Time, (PT). Those two very magical and powerful words that can bring you great joy or misery, that can leave you beaming or in tears. Playing Time can make or break your season, not to mention your athletic career. Every athlete wants PT, yet only a select few will actually consistently achieve it. Many players who do get it feel like they can never get enough of it. Playing Time is like that golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You’re willing to do almost anything to get it and when you do, your world is brightened with wondrous possibility and opportunity. Everything looks and feels terrific and you’re on top of the world. However, should you be unlucky enough to come up empty, to let that “golden ticket” slip through your fingers, suddenly everything in your life takes on a dark pall. You stop smiling and laughing. You lose your love for the sport. Your motivation to improve does a disappearing act. Your self-confidence flies south for the season. You stop caring about school and about life. You feel totally miserable, resentful and ripped off. It’s as if you’ve got this big, ugly and smelly, 2-ton troll sitting squarely on your shoulders weighing you down no matter where you go. In this issue of The Mental Toughness Newsletter we will examine the wonderful world of Playing Time and all the misery and heartache it brings to athletes and their parents, not to mention the coaches who dole it out.
ATHLETES’ LOCKER – “You know, I should be playing a whole lot more! - Harnessing the frustration of limited PT”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Dealing with a child who gets limited playing time”
COACH’S OFFICE - “Handling your role players effectively”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Maintain humility”
“You know, I should be playing a whole lot more! – Harnessing the frustration of limited PT”
So how much playing time are you really getting? And, if you’re not getting enough, do you think that the situation is fair? Do you think the coach is giving PT to some of your less talented or less deserving teammates who you’re convinced should not be playing in front of you?
There is no more emotionally charged issue than this one in sports. At every level and in every sport, athletes continually struggle with the amount of time they spend watching the action instead of being in the action making it happen. It’s a truly rare athlete that is able to consistently and effectively handle the heartache, disappointment and frustration that goes along with getting limited playing time. However, if you can’t learn to cope with sitting on the bench, if you can’t learn to master the negative emotions and disruptive thoughts that are such a natural part of this humbling and frustrating experience, then you’ll be missing a valuable opportunity to grow and improve both as an athlete and a person.
Ask most athletes whether they think that they’re getting enough playing time and the answer will almost always be a resounding, “No Way!” As an athlete, as far as you’re concerned there is a grave injustice being done here that you find yourself miserably camped out on the bench collecting splinters while other, in your opinion, “less-worthy” teammates are taking your spot and getting all the limelight. How can you possibly explain this terrible wrong? The coach has to be either blind as a bat or perhaps totally incompetent to not see the obvious, that YOU are THE MAN and should be out there getting the job done. Or perhaps the coach is simply unfair and biased. He has favorites on the squad and no matter what you do to try to get his attention he will not take his eyes off of his small band of “special” players. However you want to explain this situation and the coach’s decisions, your predicament doesn’t change. You’re still stuck on the sidelines collecting cobwebs and a ton of resentment.
Let’s really take an honest and closer look at your situation. One of two things may be going on here. First, you may be absolutely right-on about the coach and his faulty assessment of you, i.e. you should be getting much more playing time because you are way better than the athletes he has playing in front of you. Or second, you’re way off base, don’t have a clear perspective of the situation here and you’re seriously overrating your skills. In either case however, how you choose to handle things will always be the same.
Before we discuss what you can do to effectively handle this situation, let’s briefly examine scenario number one: The coach isn’t playing you and he has no good reason to have you sitting on the bench. The guy may very well be biased and has several favorites that he plans on playing in front of you. He may be a terrible judge of athletic ability and talent. He may have a personality conflict with you. You may unconsciously remind him of that kid from high school or college who took the starting position away from him and now he’s unknowingly acting out his anger and frustration on YOU! The situation stinks and it’s totally unfair. Your teammates know it’s unfair. You know it’s unfair. The fans know it’s unfair. Heck, maybe even the assistant coach knows that there’s something wrong with this picture. However, fair or not doesn’t matter when it comes to some coaches and how they make their PT decisions. Like it or not, you’re still not getting to play!
Do you want to know what the really funny thing is about all of this playing time garbage? Despite the fact that you feel totally out of control and have absolutely no choice what-so-ever, (it’s the coaches game and, right or wrong, he/she gets to decide), you do ultimately have a lot of choices. First, you can choose to get motivated or de-motivated. You can use the situation as an impetus to work harder and do more or you can use it as an excuse to stop trying and a reason to give up. No question that if the coach is still not playing you even after you bust your butt in practice, even after you go hard and consistently out-play and out-work the starters, even after you follow all the team rules while the starters break them left and right, even after you perform magnificently the minute or two you manage to get in during “garbage time” at the very end of the game, then you have every justification in the world to conclude, “WHAT’S THE POINT?” and then stop trying.
OR, you can make up your mind that the emotional adversity that you’re faced with right now is a WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY! That’s right! Sick as that may sound, you actually have an opportunity to get more motivated. You can use your frustration to work harder in the weight room, to go harder and faster during sprints, to stay later after practice and take another 100 free throws or 75 three-point shots. You can embrace the challenge of limited playing time by re-dedicating yourself to getting faster, stronger and better. In order to do this you must be able to “keep the bigger picture in mind.” The bigger picture is you and your sport in the long run, NOT just this particular season. Do you have plans to try to make the varsity, the starting line-up, to get a college scholarship or to just simply play at the next level? If you do, then you do not want to lose sight of this bigger picture. You may not be able to get the playing time this season that you want, but that does not mean that you can’t continue to work and progress towards that bigger goal.
So it’s your choice: Get more motivated or de-motivated?
Second, and related, you can choose to maintain a positive attitude in practice and at games or you can put on a cloak of negativity and “share” it with all those around you. You know the drill when you’re really unhappy because you feel like you’ve been given a raw deal. You can openly show your displeasure on the bench. You can let everyone on the court/field know that you’re not a happy camper. You can choose to act out your feelings of resentment and jealousy by emotionally punishing your teammates that are playing in front of you. You can pout on the bench and ignore the coach. You can turn into a real pessimist, glass-of-milk-half-empty person. You can complain about everything from practice drills to team rules. Or, you can “make lemonade” out of the “lemons” that you’ve been handed. You can work to be a beacon of positive attitude. You can keep your head up and continue to support the team, especially the players starting in front of you. You can model appropriate team behavior. You can maintain an open relationship with the coach doing everything in your power to help the team be successful. Trust me, being positive is not the easier choice to make in this situation. It is far easier to give in to your negativity, resentment and unhappiness. However, maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity, especially the hardship caused by limited to no playing time is the mark of a true champion.
So what it’s going to be, will you choose to be positive or negative?
Third, when it comes to choices, you have to seriously consider what you really want out of this season and the remainder of your athletic career. In other words, do you want to be right or do you want to get better as an athlete? Here’s what I mean by this. You may be getting a raw deal. Your coach may have blatant favorites and be unfair. You may be totally justified in feeling ripped off by him/her and the situation. In other words you may be right! However, dwelling on the fact that you’re right and the coach is wrong, bad, mean or unfair won’t do squat for your athletic career. It won’t make you better. It won’t get you stronger. It won’t improve your conditioning and it certainly won’t do anything for your mental toughness. And finally, if you’re planning to play for another coach at another level, being right will NOT help you adequately prepare for this transition. Simply put, dwelling on how wronged you’ve been and how right you are will only serve to weaken you as a player and as a person.
So, do you want to be right or do you want to get tougher and better as an athlete?
The cold hard facts of your situation are as follows: With this kind of coach, you are in no position to directly affect his or her decisions. As far as you’re concerned, your PT and the coach are HUGE UNCONTROLLABLES! You do NOT have any DIRECT control over the coach if indeed he or she is biased, crazy or just unfair. What you DO have direct control over is how you choose to react to this situation. You have control over whether you keep working hard. You have control over whether you get better or not. You have control over the supportive and positive manner with which you interact with your teammates. Want my advice? Stay focused on only these things that you CAN CONTROL!
Speaking of control, there’s one other point I’d like you to take with you. When you invest your energy into feeling angry, upset and ripped off by the coach, when you interpret your lack of PT to mean that the coach doesn’t “believe” in you, when you stop trying because “what’s the use?”, when you start questioning why you even bother to play this game that you once loved, then in essence what you are really doing is giving that coach complete control of and power over you. You are allowing his incompetence, favoritism or perhaps rational choices (Remember, just because you think you should be playing doesn’t always mean that you should. Sometimes the coach is right on in his assessment that you should be sitting on the bench and that others should be out there instead of you) to steal your love for the game, motivation and heart. Why would you want to give anyone this kind of power over you?
Keep in mind, the problem isn’t your lack of playing time. The problem is most often how you choose to react to the lack of PT!
I know that you probably know this, but being the Head and Chief Repeater for the Department of Redundancy Department I still feel the need to say it: Your kids don’t play sports for the pleasure of sitting on the bench. They didn’t join the team to be “reserve” players. There is nothing fun or enjoyable about being a “role player” or, in its less flattering form, a “scrub.” Sports are supposed to be about participation and participation means participating, not sitting on the bench twiddling your thumbs and watching while others participate. Unfortunately, as your child moves from the recreational up into the competitive ranks of her sport the rules dramatically change. No longer is just showing up and being on the team a good enough reason to guarantee that you’ll play at least part of the game. In the more competitive leagues, how much your child participates directly depends upon how talented, aggressive or skilled she is, or at least the coach’s perceptions of all these. When your child plays for a travel team, a select club or the high school squad, there is no certainty that she will get much, if any playing time. This is one of those oftentimes frustrating and always harsh realities of competitive sports. When winning is earmarked by the coach, organization or school as the primary goal, then the inclination of many coaches is to throw fairness and equal playing time out the window. In its stead, the coach will try and field the squad that he feels will have the best chance of winning. If in the process of this it means that one or more athletes rarely get to play in the games, then so be it. That’s the way the ball bounces as they say. Unfortunately, when this happens, young dreams get shattered, hearts get broken, motivation is squelched and the drop-out statistics of youth sports continues to remain healthy.
As a parent of a child-athlete, there is nothing more painful to watch than your unhappy child, sitting out yet one more game on the bench because the coach thinks that he/she is not good enough to play. It’s flat out excruciating to watch the coach go to the bench, time and time again and never choose your child for playing time. The only time he might ever see some action is during the last few minutes of the game, during what’s called “garbage time” when the outcome of the game has already been long decided. Recently I talked with a high school basketball player whose coach put him in for the very first time in 4 games and only for the last 47 seconds! I mean, why bother?! It’s often hard in these situations to figure out who gets more upset, the child-athlete or the parent.
As the parent of a bench warmer you may feel emotionally compelled to do something, anything to make things better for your child. Perhaps if you talk with the coach for just a few minutes you could help him see the wrongs of his ways. Maybe you could enlighten him a bit and help him see why his judgment is way off base when it comes to your son and this team. That’s it! You could convince him that not only is he near-sighted and slightly incompetent for not playing your child, but he’s also making a costly mistake. Doesn’t he even realize that if he only played your boy, the team would be so much more successful? This fact is so clear and obvious to you and your spouse. What’s his problem that he can’t see this!!? Is he obtuse or what? Then there are those times towards the end of those agonizing games when your thinking is not burdened by deep waves of thought and your emotions are in full control of your intellect. Your feelings are telling you loudly that what the coach really needs is for you to rush in there and rearrange his neurophysiology. Surely that would make things better for your son or daughter!
Much as it might feel better to verbally put the coach in his place or, if you’re a father and have the requisite amount of testosterone in your system, rearrange his outward anatomy, both you and I know that it will get you and your child nowhere fast. Having a bitter confrontation with the coach about your son or daughter’s playing time will only tend to make things worse, 98 out of 98 and one half times. Almost always, the “solution” to this problem does not lie with the coach as much as it does with you and your child’s responses to the situation.
Before I get into that, let’s briefly chat about the times (and they should be few and far between) that it may actually help a little to talk with the coach. Before you do though, you want to know what the coach’s policy on playing time is. Has he/she made it clear to all of the athletes and parents on the team at the beginning of the season? If you do decide to have this conversation with the coach, then you should probably only be doing so if your son or daughter is on the younger side, say roughly 11 and under. When your child is 12 and over, it gets trickier advocating for more PT. In these cases you should instead stay away from this issue entirely and instead encourage your child to have the talk with the coach him/herself.
Any conversation that you do have with the coach regarding playing time should always be done at the right time and in the right place. The right time and place are NEVER right before, during or just after a game. Trust me on this one: This kind of timing is a set up for total disaster. Instead pick a mutually arranged time and place when all the hearts involved in the conversation are beating at a resting pace and the emotions on the table are predominantly calm. Approach this conversation in a very respectful and curious manner rather than in an angry, aggressive or confrontational way that will immediately set off the coach’s defensive alarms and sirens. That is, help the coach understand your child’s frustrations at not playing, but then ask the coach what he/she thinks your son or daughter can do to improve, get better, etc. so as to possibly earn more playing time. Do not, under any circumstances start going through the coach’s starting line-up and try to get him to see how your son or daughter is so much better than the athlete he’s currently playing. Understand that even under the best of circumstances this is a very difficult conversation to have with any coach. Why? Because a lot of coaches will respond to these kinds of inquiries by hearing you criticizing or challenging their coaching decisions. Once the coach feels attacked the constructive part of your conversation is no over and forgotten.
The better tact to take with your child around playing time is to help her learn to master the role that she has been assigned on this team. The first step in doing this is to give her permission to not like this role. You can help her understand that being a support player is by far the most difficult position to play on any team. Be empathic. Let her vent. Let her know that it’s OK for her to be unhappy and frustrated. Let her know that her feelings are valid and absolutely natural under the circumstances.
However, once you’ve done that you want to try and help your daughter constructively channel her unhappiness and frustration in a way that will make her a mentally tougher and better athlete. Let her know that she does have a choice as to how she responds to her feelings. She can go with her feelings and quit the team if she wants to. She should understand though that this choice won’t get her what she ultimately wants, to be a better player and more PT. Her other choice is to rise to the challenge and try to improve as an athlete.
Towards this end you want to encourage her to talk to the coach and ask/him or her, “what do I need to do to get better so that I might get more playing time?” This is an important question because it implies to the coach that your child is motivated to do what it takes to improve. You then want to encourage your child to turn her frustration into hard work, all the while emphasizing that it’s her choice how she wants to respond to this very difficult situation. In the process you want to try and help your child see the bigger picture. That is, she may want to play this game for a number of years. She may have dreams to play in college. Help her see this season as an opportunity to take a giant step towards this goal. Reassure her that in all likelihood, she won’t always be the one who sits on the bench. Let her know that right now the situation is temporary and that with a lot of extra hard work she may eventually be able to move herself into a more active playing role. Let her know that this active role may not happen this year or even with this coach. She may have to wait for it. Convince her that even if she doesn’t get a lot of PT this season, all is not lost. Encourage her to hang onto her dreams and work even harder to make them happen. Perhaps she can use the motivation of eventually proving the coach wrong to fuel her extra workouts.
Keeping your role player happy during the season is a very difficult job indeed. Take the tact of helping your child make lemonade out of the lemons that he has been dealt. Don’t engage in “bitch sessions” with him about what a jerk the coach is for not playing him. Don’t put down your son’s teammates and talk about how he should be playing in front of them. Try to maintain your adult perspective, be supportive and use this emotionally trying time as a wonderful opportunity to teach your child how best to handle adversity and disappointment.
SLUMPS OR PERFORMANCE BLOCKS GOT YOU DOWN? CALL DR. G AT (413) 549 1085 FOR INFO ON HIS PHONE COACHING SERVICE.
“Handling your role players effectively”
On his first recruiting visit out of state, Tim was promised the world by Coach M. “You’ll be the man, Tim my boy. I don’t have any players as good as you at point guard and I see you running our offense next year. I’ve seen you play, I know your game and I really believe that you are one of the major pieces that we’ve been missing in this program. You’re smart, aggressive, know how to handle the ball and have a damn good outside shot and I think we’d be a very good team with you here.”
So how would you as a high school senior respond to this kind of a sales pitch from a real- life college basketball coach? How would you feel if you kept getting similar sounding letters and phone calls from this coach? Naturally Tim was flattered and thrilled about all the attention he got and despite the fact that he was originally more interested in playing closer to home, he overcame his ambivalence and decided to leave his home state and go off to State to play for Coach M. His motivation was at an all time high over the summer as he trained his butt off to get ready to make a significant contribution his freshman year.
In the Fall he continued his hard work and spent as much time as he could on the courts or in the weight room when he wasn’t studying. Sure it was hard for him being so far from home and he missed his parents, but he knew the sacrifice was going to be well worth it. He couldn’t wait for the formal basketball season to start and when it did he threw himself heart and soul into the workouts. Pretty soon though, he realized that things weren’t all that he had expected them to be. First of all, he quickly discovered that he wasn’t the only point guard on the team. In fact, there were three upperclassmen already playing point or two-guard and the coach seemed to go to them much more than him. On some level that made sense to him being a freshman and all, but after Tim consistently outplayed all these guys in practice, the coach’s favoritism began to make less and less sense. He soon found out that each of these guys were home grown, local high school standouts that the coach had recruited heavily and really liked. Despite Tim outplaying them, Coach M usually had him on the second or third squads while these guys were shuttled in and out of the first team during scrimmages.
Despite all of this and his growing frustration, Tim tried to remain positive and remember what the coach had said to him during the recruiting trip and on the phone. He assumed that somehow, once the competitive season started the coach would see the obvious and come through on his recruiting promises. Unfortunately the reality of his situation in practice kept interfering. Sometimes he felt like he was invisible, as if the coach was totally ignoring him. Then there were those occasional side comments from the coach about how unfortunate it was that there were so many upperclassmen in front of him in his position as if this “fact” tied the coach’s hands making it impossible for him to play Tim. These comments made little sense to Tim, especially when you consider that Tim handled the ball much better than they did.
Tim found himself on the bench for the first game of the season and despite the fact that his team got blown out by 30 points it was where he remained the entire game. He was one of the only players on the team who didn’t get into the game. Tim got no minutes in the second or third games either and when he managed to muster up the courage to approach the coach about it one on one, Coach M had very little to say to him that was useful. The coach simply pointed out that Tim was a freshman and fourth on the depth chart in that position and that was truly unfortunate. Tim’s response was, “Coach, I just want to contribute. I know I can help the team,” to which the coach replied, “I know you can, son. I know you can.” But nothing changed and Tim became more and more discouraged and angry. He watched these other guys play poorly in games, make stupid decisions and hurt the team yet the coach did absolutely nothing to change things. His mounting frustration with the situation began to erode into his motivation and he began to question why he was working so hard every day since it really didn’t seem to make any difference.
In the fourth game, another bad loss, Coach M put Tim in with just 37 seconds left in the game! I mean, why bother at all? 37 SECONDS!!!!! This seemed like more of a slap in the face to the kid than anything else and it was as if this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. After this game Tim started seriously thinking about getting out and transferring after freshman year. What was the point of him staying in a program where the coach’s word meant nothing and the man refused to even give him a reasonable chance. His frustration had now reached an all time high and he felt like the coach was playing head games with him. He couldn’t understand why the coach had even bothered putting him in for so short a period of time. He began to talk with his parents about his options for the next year, who he could contact and where he might go.
As a coach, can you see what’s wrong with this picture? Do you think this freshman is a little bit grandiose and uppity in believing that he should be playing more? Isn’t it reasonable for him to have to pay his dues on the bench for a year or so before he earns the privilege of playing time? Isn’t he being selfish just worrying about his playing time? Don’t you think the kid is being just a wee bit impatient and mentally weak in thinking about transferring after just four games of the season?
Well, you can think whatever you want about Tim, but in this case, the freshman is not the real problem, Coach M is. I think it’s more than reasonable for you as a coach to take all the time you think is necessary to have the young players on your squad mature. If this means they get almost no playing time their first year or more, so be it. That’s just life on any competitive team. You have to take time to prove yourself and earn your PT. Players need to learn this and adopt a team-centered, rather than a me-centered attitude. Just because things aren’t going your way right away is not grounds for you as an athlete to cut and run.
While all of this may be true, the real issue here is quite different. The way I see it, the main issue has to do with the coach’s word and integrity as a person. If the early part of the season is any indication, it appears that Coach M has sold Tim a real “lemon.” He sold the freshman on an illusion about what basketball at State would be like for him. Coach M made promises to the kid in order to get him to commit that he apparently had no intention of keeping. In plain English, the coach simply lied to him and his parents just to get him to come to the school. Is Coach M the first and only coach who’s ever done this? Please! I’m not living in a cave here. This kind of recruiting sham happens all the time. Unfortunately the coaches who do this with the sole purpose of getting a kid on their squad are morally corrupt and, in the long run are unknowingly shooting themselves in the foot.
As a coach you may have a lot of tools in your toolbox. You may have a wealth of playing and coaching experience and a depth of knowledge about your sport. You may have a winning record and the distinction of having had players from past teams go on and play at the next level, perhaps even at the pros. You may be an X’s and O’s genius. However, despite all that you’ve accomplished and may know, you are only as good as who you are as a person. In other words, your true effectiveness as a coach is always limited by your character, by how you conduct yourself in the process of coaching, by your integrity and honesty or lack thereof.
Far too many coaches mistakenly believe that what truly defines the pinnacle of the profession is outward success. If you consistently produce winning teams then you must be a coaching genius. To me, this belief that winning is everything encapsulates what is really wrong with sports today. Yes, winning is important in partially defining your success as a coach. However, how you go about winning is far more important. It’s your character and specifically how you interact with your athletes on a daily basis that I think truly defines greatness as a coach. It’s how you treat your athletes, what you say to them, how you say it and how you make them feel in the process of your daily coaching that becomes the real catalyst for creating success in your program.
If you win championships by being verbally and emotionally abusive to your players does that make you a good coach? In some peoples’ eyes it does! In your players eyes it just makes you an angry, selfish, insensitive jerk. If you get results by lying to your athletes, by being indirect with them and playing head games, does that earn you their respect? Maybe in your own mind you may think it does, but certainly not in your athletes’ minds. The bottom line is you will never be able to separate who you are as a coach from who you are as a person. How you conduct yourself as a person will either enhance your coaching ability or completely undermine it.
Let’s briefly examine this issue by looking at how Coach M dealt with Tim. So coach M was a salesman. When you’re a coach on a recruiting mission you have to be, and you’d better be a good one. However, the mark of a truly successful salesman is that he both believes in what he’s selling AND he is honest. Furthermore a very successful salesman always stands behind his product or your money back! He understands that sales are a service directed industry. That is, you are dealing with the public and people, not emotionless automatons. To sell anything and to be dishonest about your product and all that it can do is to be short-sighted and down-right stupid. If you are deliberately deceitful and sell someone a damaged bill of goods, then not only have you lost that customer for any future sales, but you’ve lost your good name and integrity. You can bet your butt that your disgruntled customer will quickly spread the word about the snake oil that he bought from that shyster. In the long run your dishonesty will come back to haunt you by badly hurting your business whatever it is. The bottom line is simple: Who you are and how you conduct yourself as a person will always speak much louder than whatever it is that you’re trying to sell.
Your honesty and integrity as a person and coach is everything. It’s a very precious commodity. Why would anyone want to play for you if you were basically untrustworthy? Why would anyone want to commit to your program if they couldn’t respect you as a professional or as a person? Doesn’t your word mean anything to you? How are you supposed to motivate young athletes when you’re dishonest and morally corrupt in this way? What kind of a role model are you providing for them?
Coach M told Tim that he would be “THE MAN” if he came to State. He promised him a starting position on the team because there were no other good players in his position. He lied to the boy just to get him to sign. Worse than that, he refused to deal with Tim honestly and directly once it became obvious that he wasn’t going to deliver on what he had promised. To me, this failure was adding insult to injury. The least he could have done was to keep this freshman in the loop by explaining to him that the situation had suddenly changed (assuming that it actually had and that this was not another manipulative ploy by the coach). Coach M didn’t even once apologize or try to emotionally keep his new player motivated! i.e. “Gee Tim, I’m really sorry about this setup. I know it’s not what I promised you but I want to work with you here and I’ll try to get you as much PT as possible. I don’t want you to leave and I meant what I said before. If you can stick it out here you can and will make a significant contribution to our team.” Coach M did none of this. Instead he occasionally made lame comments about how tough it must be to be fourth on the depth chart.
As a coach it’s often tough to keep your role players positive and motivated especially since a number of them might see very little playing time over the course of the season. If your role players don’t stay happy they can easily undermine your efforts and jeopardize the entire team’s success. If you can’t justify giving them PT then you had best give them something else of value. To keep them happy, motivated and working for the good of the team you need to consistently give them your respect, honesty and directness. Be up front with them. Don’t promise them the moon if you can’t deliver on it. If you tell a player that you’ll get her into a particular game and then you fail to do so, don’t just pretend that nothing ever happened. Talk to that player privately after the game and explain yourself. You could even try apologizing to her. Let your players know that you are a person of integrity and honesty, that you take responsibility for what you do and say, and that you truly care about them and their feelings. It’s when you start to regularly communicate these qualities that you become a truly great coach.
(The following is an excerpt from my dear friend and colleague, Jerry Lynch’s book, CREATIVE COACHING published by Human Kinetics)
Phil Jackson, former coach of the six-time world champion Chicago Bulls and current coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, has stated about his tremendous team success with the Bulls, “My record is more a team accomplishment than an individual one.” He’s not simply being humble for humility’s sake. He honestly, genuinely sees the total team effort; this is part of his character. Jackson refused to be flamboyant as he quietly carved his impressive position in the arena of NBA coaching. Few coaches would hesitate to admit that a coach is only as good as his team and that coaches couldn’t do their magic without the athletes that they work with. The humble, modest leader understands the interdependence between coach and athlete. It is a relationship of mutual fulfillment, in which both coach and athlete share a common goal and work together to attain it. Understanding this creates the real magic of interpersonal well-being. Both coach and athlete need to be able to recognize their mutual contributions on the road to greatness.
Humility and modesty are invaluable qualities to have while leading athletes. More than likely you have experienced pretense (your own or that of another coach) at some point in your career, only to learn how it can backfire. If you’ve also experienced the results of more humble leadership, in which a coach does good work, steps aside, and lets athletes experience the positive results, you understand the rewards of this approach.
Cindy Timchal has experienced the results of her humble leadership in working with athletes and staff to establish a women’s lacrosse dynasty at Maryland. Though she has amassed a 169-12 record, with seven national championships in 10 years, Cindy gives credit to her athletes, who commit to doing whatever it takes to be their best, who sacrifice and suffer to get the job done. They display a level of loyalty and respect possible only in an environment of sincere humility. Coach Timchal’s method of leading with humility is summed up in a poster on her office wall that states this: “…you will step aside and they will say ‘we did it ourselves.’”
Jo Paterno, Penn State football coach, believes that one of the many ways to keep humility in a program is to not put names on the back of jerseys. Though Joe is one of the winningest coaches of all time and a football legend, he does not seek out the limelight and does not want attention directed solely at the individuals on his team. The entire program – its mission, standards, and goals- is more important than any one player. Humility is not only part of Joe’s character but something that he instills in his players through his coaching.
Another example of humble leadership is exhibited by the former coach of the Indiana Pacers, Larry Bird. He realized that he didn’t have the experience that most head coaches do, so he delegated authority to his assistant coaches, whom he recognized as experts in their areas. In fact, during most timeouts, the assistants talked to the players more than Coach Bird did. However, he still had the players’ respect. He realized that this method was best for the team, and he didn’t try to call all the shots or let his ego get in the way.
Humble attitudes create loyalty and are the foundation of success
Many coaches seem to have a dire need to promote themselves, an insecurity in their own worth that can be exceedingly harmful to the well-being of athletes, teams, other coaches, and athletic programs. If you’re caught up in the process of self-promotion, it can become easy to overlook the needs of those you coach. You run the risk of being less effective in the work that you have been hired to do: looking out for the welfare of those under your charge.
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