1 – Let yourself be vulnerable
Early on in coaching, I felt as a leader, I had to never show any weakness and always have the right answer. And if any parent or player would question me, I would get defensive. The reality is, I don’t have all the answers, none of us do … and sometimes the players are seeing things that we’re not seeing out there. So, we do need to listen and ask the athletes and the parents and be okay with making mistakes. Author Daniel Coyle of The Talent Code, says there are three words all leaders need to be able to say, “I screwed up.”
2 – OWN what’s yours
“There’s no bad teams, there’s just bad leaders.” I know a lot of people who are really uncomfortable with that. I know coaches who say they got a team of a bunch of players that aren’t talented or they’re really entitled and they have bad attitudes or any of the above. But the reality is, blaming other people, blaming the parents, blaming the entitlement of the athletes based upon the way these kids were raised, or another coach before you – that does nothing for us because the only thing we really can change is ourselves. The only thing I can change is me and the way that I coach. So, if you do get handed a team that really is lacking in talent, lacking in character, or have bad attitudes, your team is still your responsibility. You can meet them where they’re at and you can turn things around. But there is no point in blaming.
3 – MODEL the behavior you expect from your athletes and parents
Initially I felt like I had a pass, that the coach was allowed to get away with certain behaviors: yelling at the referee, swearing in a locker room, raising my voice often. And at the same time, I never modeled the behaviors that I expected of my players or even the parents. I would never let my players get away with arguing with the referee and I would always put my head down or get really ticked off if a parent was in the stands going crazy at the referees.
There’s a great quote: “Sports won’t build character unless the coach possesses it and teaches it.” This translates to how we communicate, our work ethic, and the empathy we show. And if we can’t do it, the kids won’t either.
4 – Empower the players and parents
Most coaches don’t give players and parents the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. I know I got into this trap where I was really just trying to create followers. A lot of times we just say, “this is the way I want it done, now, go do it the way that I did.” And that’s not really asking a young person to be a leader. And it’s the same even when we’re working with parents. And so, this is where you want to empower. You want to hand over and surrender some control, but you don’t give them an autonomy without support. So when people make mistakes or when people do a great job, you’re there alongside them to go through that process and say, “well, what worked and what didn’t work out well?”
5 – Make the relationships the priority
Daniel J. Siegel says, “relationships, trump, any one particular behavior.” And I always loved that. And I think in coaching I started off with thinking, alright, I need discipline. Discipline was my priority and I didn’t coach for the relationships. Too often we get so caught up in the behaviors that we forget about the real relationships and building what really matters. It’s the same thing in parenting or any kind of leadership. We just can’t come in with a heavy hand and lay down all these rules.
Meet people where they’re at, meet our kids where they’re at with their behaviors. Build that relationship and then help them as individuals. They don’t need more teachers; they need people that want to mentor them, that want to build a relationship with them, not as a player, but as a person.
And it’s the same with parents. If a parent does something we don’t really like or agree with, that can’t be like, well I’m not talking to them, or they’re a bad parent. You’ve got to respect them and see them as a person first. So just seeing what they do on the sideline does not necessarily mean that they’re a bad parent. Maybe they’ve just kind of fallen into some bad habits as far as the way that they parent as a sports parent.