The 5 Most Common Mistakes Coaches Make
by JP Nerbun
#1. Not modeling good behavior.
When I started coaching, I felt like I had a pass, and I learned this from watching my own coaches. They were allowed to get away with certain behaviors, yelling at the referee, swearing in a locker room, raising their voice, poor treatment of those around them. So I modeled those behaviors and 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 be upset with any parent who was yelling at referees from the stands. I also never modeled empathy or kindness, or good communication styles. There’s a great quote by Joe Ehrmann, “Sports won’t build character unless the coach possesses it and teaches it.”
#2. Lack of ownership
There are no bad teams. There are just bad leaders. I know a lot of people are really uncomfortable with that. I can get a team of players that aren’t talented or are entitled and have bad attitudes. But the reality is that blaming other people, blaming the parents, blaming the athletes’ entitlement based upon the way they were raised, or the fact that the previous coach screwed it all up, it’s still your team. It’s still your responsibility. As a coach, we are the leader, and we can have an incredible impact on the team, more of an impact than anybody else. But it starts with owning what the issues are and not blaming anyone else.
#3. Not allowing yourself to be vulnerable
You’re not going to be perfect. Early on in coaching, I felt like as a leader; I needed to be that strong leader, never showing any weakness, always had to have the right answer, at halftime had to have all the answers. And if any player was to question that or any parent, I would get defensive because it was like they were saying that I was a bad leader. And the reality is that early in my first year of coaching and even in my 10th year of coaching, I don’t have all the answers. None of us do. And sometimes, the players see things that we don’t. And so we do need to ask them and be vulnerable to say, well, what do you see out there? And we need to ask the parents. They see things in their children’s lives that we’re not seeing. We need to be communicating with the parents. In Daniel Coyle’s book Culture Code, he goes through all the great cultures in business and sports and the Navy Seals. He says that across the board, there is a commonality between great leaders. They say these three powerful words,
“I screwed up.”
Those are the three most powerful words that a leader can say. When you start to take ownership, other people will start to take ownership. The parents will start to take ownership of the program. The players will start to take ownership. You are modeling the ability to grow.
#4. Creating followers, not leaders.
The All Blacks, New Zealand rugby team, have a great saying, “Leaders create more leaders.” I got into this trap where I really was trying to create followers. The difference between a follower and a leader is that leaders are going out and making decisions. They have to take control of what goes on in their environment. Too often we say this is the way I want it done. That’s not really asking a young person to be a leader. That’s creating a follower. We can also give the parents some leadership and involve them in some decision-making opportunities. Now, will they do things exactly the way we want them? No, absolutely not. Are they going to screw up along the way? Absolutely. But so are we, and so this is where you want to empower. You want to hand over and surrender some control, but you don’t give them autonomy without support; you’ve got to support them. 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? What worked out well here? What didn’t work out well?
#5 Not valuing relationships.
A great author and child psychologist, Daniel J Siegel, says that relationships are the MOST important. They supersede any one particular behavior. I started by thinking that discipline was the priority, but I was so misguided. It’s the relationships. It’s my former players who live in Ireland who worked and saved up for a year to fly to the United States for my wedding. It’s getting texts from my former players. Too often, we get so caught up in the discipline. We can have discipline, but not just for compliance, but discipline, that builds character. It’s the same thing in parenting or any leadership. We can’t come in heavy-handed with rules and lay it all down. Let’s build a relationship, meet people where they’re at, meet their kids, where they’re at with their behaviors. Kids are coming from different family situations and different backgrounds. We’ve got to meet the player where they’re building that relationship and then help them as an individual. It’s the same with parents. If a parent does something we don’t really like or agree with, we can’t decide well; I’m not talking to them. They’re a bad parent. You’ve got to respect and see them as a person first. What they do on the sideline does not necessarily mean that they’re a bad parent. Maybe they’ve just fallen into some bad habits. Meet your players and your parents where they are at.
I’d love to hear more about your challenge. Please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in bringing our Healthy Sports Parenting Workshop or Coaching Culture Workshop to your organization, you can learn more here! Director, Thrive On Challenge, Author of Calling Up