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 .

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True But Useless

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Dena Evans from Point Guard College speak at a clinic on developing S.C.H.A.P.E. leaders (unsolicited plug this is a dynamite program). Dena shared during her talk the importance of leaders offering reminders to those on there team. I am not going to try and replicate her talk but a line resonated with me related to my coaching;  “Reminders are only useful before they are needed – afterwards it’s complaining”

This statement got me to thinking about how much of what we say as coaches  could fall under a category I call ‘true but useless’; meaning the statement may be true but it provides no immediate benefit or help to the recipient.

Below is a sampling of some common things that I hear, and have yelled myself, to players during a game.  Upon reflection I wonder if there is any benefit to players in hearing  these things or are they simply ‘true but useless’ statements to my players.  You decide is there anything about the statements below that provide timely, actionable information to players that will help them take the next best action in a game. You see the players already realize they made a mistake so if what you are yelling is merely pointing out to them something they already know it probably is ‘true but useless’ and serves as a distraction rather than an aide to keep players focused on making the next best action.

“Don’t turn it over”

“Take care of the ball”

“Don’t go there”

“Throw a good pass”

“Rebound” –  Usually screamed after the other team has gotten an offensive rebound

The examples above serve as a reminder to me to constantly evaluate what it is I am communicating to players. Is it helpful? Is it the right time? Does it improve the players chance to take the next best action?  If the answer to those questions is no than that piece of coaching is probably ‘true but useless’.

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.

Devotion: A coaching mantra

Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community, devote yourself to a purpose or a passion.

Morrie Schwartz 
Tuesdays With Morrie

Coaching provides a great opportunity to live out this mantra.  Love the people and players you work with.  Improve your communty; coaches are fortunate enough to be in a position to impact this.  Be passionate about the opportunities you have; if you aren’t you are probably trying to live someone else’s passion.

Coaches have an unique opportunity to work with young people in a forum that they are truly interested in and desire to excel in.  This opportunity creates a responsibility.  A responsiblity to best serve your athletes in the sport and use the sport to prepare them for their opportunities outside of sport. Coaches need to help players learn to be  devoted to more than themselves and the simple accolades available in sport.  A coach should be devoted to the following goals along with devoted to winning games.  I also think winning comes easier when the following goals are achieved by coaches.

  • Help players identify their gifts and find their passions. 
  • Provide them experiences in which they can benefit others and their community, so that they may see the benefits of living life well.  
  • Help them identify ways in which their unique giftings can be applied withn a team so that they may discover how these gifts can be applied to the larger world around them outside of sport.

 As coaches we need to help players improve their performance and use the on court performance to help them learn how to improve their performance off of it. There is no greater reward for a coach than seeing their devotion displayed through others finding their passion and sharing it

Do You Teach or Do You Help Them Learn

‘You haven’t taught until they have learned’

John Wooden

The qoute above is true more than ever today as players need to understand the why and the benefit to learning what you are teaching before they will act on it. With that in mind there are some important concepts to understand between teaching and true learning.

Teaching involves sharing what the teacher knows:
Learning occurs when they discover what the teacher knows

Teaching focuses on what the teacher knows:
Learning focuses on what is important for their needs

Teaching is deciding what they need to know:
Learning helps them discover what is needed for them to know

When you teach you are limiting players to what you know;
When you help them discover how to learn, you have set them up to reach their potential.

Simple is not inferior

Everything should be made as simple as possible, and no simpler.

— Albert Einstein

As coaches the simpler we can make things the easier it is for players to understand the priority.  Too often we think that effective equals complex, that simple equals inferior.  Yet so much evidence points to the opposite.  The success and the relentless pursuit of simple by Google serves as a prime example in the business world.  The benefit of the pursuit of simple is also applicable in athletics, the most successful coaches are the ones who make the game simplest for their athletes and teams.

The challenge for coaches is to seek out honest feedback on the simplicity of their teaching. As coaches it is hard to identify our own weakness in keeping our teaching simple and most effective without outside feedback. Yes it takes courage to invite someone in to evaluate our teaching and help us to be our best, but isn’t this what we are trying to do for our players.  Also, this process doesn’t have to be a painful experience either. An effective coach of coaches understands  the best approach is to ask questions that lead to self-awareness as that is the quickest path to lasting and effective change in behaviors.

Common pitfalls that lead to complexity in our coaching can be:

  • A coaches own lack of clarity on what are those truly vital priorities to success in their system.  Due to uncertainty or not having spent the time to ask themselves the question
  • Falling back on doing things that were done to us and teach the way we were taught
  • Feeling the pressure to make things more complex to justify their position