Category Archives: Player & Team Development

What makes a youth sport experience great?

Is it the games? Is it the coach? Is it the referees? Is it the skill development? Is it the snacks? Is it the league standings? What is it? Or is it a combination of alot things? What makes for a great youth sport experience?

I recently had the privilege to attend the Change the Game conference at Boston University and learn from the ideas of some great providers and innovators of youth sport. 

It got me thinking what defines a great youth basketball league/team/academy experience.  I realize this answer is going to vary depending on the lens you are looking through.  Depending on whether you are a participant, a parent, a coach, a coach of an older team hoping this league feeds players into them, or the provider of the program.  Each group has a different desire, a different lens they view the program through.  

Too often programs are created purely with the self-interest of one group and then other groups are convinced that this program is the most beneficial to them. This reality usually is loaded with unintended consequences for the other groups in satisfying the one primary desire of one group (ranging from frustration, slowed development, increased spending, to reduced number of participants continuing).

The answer to this question is not easy and definately doesn’t appear to be universal . However, I believe a great place to start is by looking at the situations you are directly involved and start asking questions:

  • What is important to our target audience? What do they hope to get out of  participating in our program?
  • What is our goal as a program? Does our programs actions and structures build towards that goal, our compete with it?
  • How could we ReDesign our program to better serve our participants and our mission?

I don’t have answers but I am passionate about this and would love to hear others ideas/experiences/opinions.

Understanding Underachieving

Individual committment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.

– Vince Lombardi

Why do sports teams who on paper are comprised of unquestioned talent fail to deliver in reaching their collective potential?  (The Philadelphia Eagles being the most recent in a long list of examples) Why do companies with tremendous initial capitilization, staffed with experience and talent never turn a profit? For both of these questions  quite often the failure to reach group potential is the direct result of individuals not becoming fully committed to the group effort and goals.

Let’s take a look at what I believe are leading internal team factors preventing  individuals from being committed to  group effort . Please note, the action that leads to these factors emerging will differ from situation to situation but it is vital as a leader of a team to understand what needs to be guarded against to prevent underachieving.  In the teachings of Dick Bennett victory starts with eliminating defeat.

  • Team members not understanding, simply misunderstanding, or naively believing their role would be different than the role the team needs them to play.
  • Team members feel their role and efforts are unrecognized and/or unappreciated.
  • Team members are unwillingly to alter their effort/role  to best align with the efforts/roles of their teammates.
  • Team members no longer trust in teammates committment to the group effort and their own personal best effort.
  • Team members feeling the role they are being asked to play was misrepresented at their front-end.
  • Team members feeling their role is being changed without understanding or being communicated to as to why.
  • Leadership not accurately understanding what is needed to cohesively blend the talent together to maximize the potential of the team.
  • Team members no longer unquestionably trusting in the sincerity and validity to the group cause of leaderships words and actions.
  • Team members feeling leadership is more focused on the best interest of a select few than the whole.

Looking at the factors listed above it is vital as a coach that you:

  • Communicate early, often, and clearly the roles of each team member.
  • You get in alignment each team members’ expectations and understandings of their role with their actual role.
  • You never stray from your unyieding committment and focus on the group interest and goal. 
  • Your actions and words never contradict a committment to the group and goal.
  • You never assume you know what team members are thinking and you never assume they understand your motives.  You need to constantly be in dialogue and relationship with team members to maintain the trust needed to reach full group potential.

Focus on Your Teams’ Vital Behaviors

What if I told you eliminating negative comments between teammates during practice would help players accept their roles, reduce their jealousy of other players roles and increase pride in the team?  Or if I told you getting players to stop arriving just-in-time, or late, for practice and start to follow a pre-practice routine injuries would be reduced and team focus and improvement would increase exponentially?  I am not saying the above cause and effect examples are true but I do believe is there are a few key behaviors that when focused on can lead to dramatic changes on your team.

This belief is well-detailed  in a book I am currently reading Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.  The title caught my attention as a coach. Isn’t changing behaviors and actions what coaches try to do everyday?   I have wrote a great deal and believe whole-heartedly that as coaches and leaders all we can really do is try to develop a relationship in which they give us permission to influence their actions.

I wanted to share a couple of key passages from the book:

Before you can influence change, you have to decide what you’re trying to change. Influence geniuses focus on behaviors. They’re universally firm on this point. They don’t dive into developing influence strategies until they’ve carefully identified the behaviors they want to influence. And now for the big idea: A few behaviors can drive a lot of change. The breakthrough discovery of most influence geniuses is that enormous influence comes from focusing on just a few vital behaviors. Even the most pervasive problems will often yield to changes in a handful of high-leverage behaviors. Find these, and you’ve found the beginning of influence.

Discover a few vital behaviors, change those, and problems—no matter their size—topple like a house of cards.

Influencer : The Power to Change Anything (p. 23). McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

The book gives some remarkable success examples  of how focusing on few vital behaviors creates tremendous change in behaviors and outcomes.  Including one about a re-entry program for criminals that has honed in on two key behaviors that if changed open the floodgates to change in their lives.

A few key questions for coaches to answer:

  • Coaches what are the two key vital behaviors that if changed would create the biggest impact on your team?  Remember: we are looking for maximum impact so take time to identify either those items that must change before anything else can and/or those behaviors that if changed will lead to change in many more areas.
  • What am I doing to isolate and focus fully on those key vital behaviors?Remember players only respond to what is emphasized and when we focus on too many behaviors we delute the emphasis and the players ability to improve in a specific area.
  • What are those vital behaviors that you feel are holding your team and players back from reaching their potential?