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.

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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?

Why only some stay the path

The greatest obstacle to success is taking action daily, the greatest obstacle to taking action daily is finding motivation, the greatest obstacle to finding motivation is belief, and the greatest obstacle to belief is faith.  Thus faith is the foundation for all worthwhile accomplishment.

A great many players desire to achieve success in their sport.  They may even strongly desire and dream of the outcomes they can receive when successful by societal standards;  wins, championships, recognition, scholarships, professional opportunities, etc.   Yet why do so few start and last on the path of full committment towards those standards of success ? Why doesn’t the possiblity of those rewards drive every player through adversity? Why do so many stop at obstacles?

I believe the answer lies in a lack of trust, or faith, by the player that is borne out of the uncertainty of not seeing the alignment between what is on their  heart and the path they are being asked to travel.  In order to stick through a difficult journey, a path paved with adversity, a person must have deep faith that this is the path for them.  They must possess a deep faith that the path and the reward line up with their personal goals, values, and purposes.  When faced with times of adversity what is at the core of our motivation will win out. If a player doesn’t believe in the path the prospect of an extrinsic reward will not carry them past the obstacles.  Only the determination found in pursuing intrinsic goals can drive someone repeatedly past obstacles.

The only other explanation would be players simply do not desire the extrinsic reward being offered.  I hear so many pundits and expertts like Dick Vitale say on television something like  ‘if the kid would just go to class and work hard they could be millionaires, I don’t get what he is thinking’. Two things in response to that. 1) Believe it or not money and fame may not be the greatest source of motivation for everybody, if it was we would all be entreprenuers or entertainers.  2) Has anybody taken the time to find out what truly excites that player?  Has anyone helped them identify their passion(s) and how the path of working hard on the basketball court and showing up to classes might align and be of  benefit with their passion(s)?

The world’s extrinsic rewards will never be able to compete with the power found when a path aligns with somebodys passison and purpose.  Likewise a coach will never be able to fully motivate and teach a team until the players and team have faith  in the alignment between their passions and goals and the coaches vision and plan for them.

Defining Moment

There is a defining moment in every persons life. Within that moment, everything that that person is, shines its brightest.  

                                                                                               –  Source unknown

Defining moments can be public,  in sport we think of breakthrough and/or record breaking performances as defining moments for athletes, coaches and teams; Aaron Rodgers winning the Super Bowl, Roy Williams winning his first NCAA title, the Chicago Bulls six championships.  However, the reality is  public defining moments are created through the defining moments we face quietly and internally. They are created by the choices we make in the daily defining moments we face such as:

  • Temptations
  • Short-cuts
  • Diversions
  • Distractions
  • Adversity
  • Choices between the popular and un-popular, between right and wrong, saying something or not saying something, going along or standing alone

The outcomes by which we become defined are created by the internal choices we make daily; determining whether we ever reach the public defining moment we destire. 

As coaches it is imperative we establish the guiding values and principles for our team. Yet, ultimately our team and its members will  become defined by the choices made that either adhere or stray from those values and principles. 

Coaches can and should use the motivation of obtaining the public defining moment to help players learn how to make the right choices in the daily defining moments.The biggest impact to the lives and peformances of players and teams is to help them establish the values by which they hope to be defined and learn how to increase the number of  right choices they make daily.  The next step would be to help them learn how to recover from the times when we make poor choices and that will require another blog entry .

Questions: A key ingredient to player buy-in

Coaches talk a great deal of the importance of buy-in by players.  But how is the accomplished? What is needed to lead so that others will follow? People and players don’t follow titles very far, so merely being a coach doesn’t ensure players will adhere to your demands.

 I believe a big part of this is clearly communicating your goals and expectations for the team and its members.  However, an equally big component is providing the players with the opportunity to indivdually share their goals and expectations with you. This only occurs if you start a dialogue as a coach.  If you are willing to actually listen and not lecture during this time you will have a much better understanding of the individual player and a great foundation to operate from in helping them adjust into their role on the team.

There are many benefits to this dialogue  such as:,

  • Players feel heard and validated
  • Players have ‘aha’ learning moments when they are talking through these questions as to their role on the team 
  • You can start to manage out of synch expectations between yourself and a player much earlier and at a time before anger and resentment have started to build up.
  • You can discover better ways to communicate with the player as you will have a greater understanding of their motivations and what makes them tick if you listen well. 

Below are examples of questions you can use at the start of seasons to initiate dialogue with players to develop the trust and relationship that can thrive during the adversity of a season:

  • What are your expectations for being on this team?  Playing time? Role on team? Shot attempts? Type of shot attempts? 
    Would you be able to stay positive in words, actions, and effort if these expectations did not get met?
  • What would you say are your strengths as a player?  Are there any others on the team stronger than you in these areas?
  • What are areas of your game that you feel you struggle in? 
  • What are your goals for playing on this team? Personally? For the Team?
  • How would you describe good leadership?
  • What do you think makes a good teammate?

The benefits of sincere dialogue intiated and continued throughout a season by questions and listening will pay benefits for the life of a player coach relationship  and definately provide a coach and their team their best opportunity to respond to adversity in a positive manner.

Great coaches ask great questions – about themselves

Questions are a powerful and often under utilized resource for coaches. 

Using  questioning techniques with players can reveal what they have learned and facilitate an effective method by which they learn. However, asking questions as a learning technique requires a committment by coaches to prepare, observe and listen.

Questions to others about your team/program provides a coach with valuable insight into the effectiveness of their communication and their strategy.  Asking other questions about your performance requires courage, humility and an intense desire to grow and improve.

The reality is that if you want to be in control, if you want to play it safe, and/or if you want to stay at your current level don’t ask questions. However, if you want to achieve new levels of success, help others maximize their potential and discover the true abilities you must ask questions.

Let’s  look at some examples of questions coaches should ask to staff members and/or others close to the team  to recieve valuable insight into the effectiveness of their communication and teaching.  Some examples of great questions to ask others would be:

  • What would you say this program and team is known for?
  • What are non-negiotables in this program? In our offense? In our defense?
  • What would you say is the biggest objective I have for the playes on this team?
  • What are the common goals we have established for this team?  How effective are we at having all activities we do build towards those goals?
  • H0w would you define our style of play?
  • Based on your observations what would you say are the three biggest principles/character traits emphasized to players?

The questions listed above may be hard for coaches to hear honest answers on, but without hearing the geniune feedback we are merely making assumptions on the effectiveness of our communication and if we are progressing toward the vision we have for the team.

In future posts I will look at utilizing questions to develop players.