I found the Xavier vs Cincinnati incident very disturbing but not so much because of the fight itself. What disturbed me the most was how this fight started and how it was commented on and treated afterwards by some involved.
This was not a fight borne out of heat-of-battle conflict, it was not a case of a fight emerging from physical contact occuring during the course of a play. It was pre-calculated and easy to see coming. This was a fight along the lines of the 1972 Ohio State vs Minnesota brawl instigated on a pre-mediatated cheap shot by Corky Taylor during a dead-ball.
The fight merely served to shine a glaring light on the real issues that need to be dealt with. The real issue is the actions by those charged with leading college athletics are not always living up to their stated goals and words, leaving players ill equipped to deal with pressures and expectations of being the faces and talent of college athletics. A college athletics landscape that has moved beyond being about spirited competition and school pride to being a high revenue sports entertainment empire. This belief is evidenced by the following points:
- This is Tu Holloway’s fourth in year in the Xavier basketball program and Mark Lyon’s third. It is sad that during this period at Xavier they have learned so well the many life skills that NCAA and college administrators and coaches espouse that some 20 to 30 minutes after an embarassing incident, after they have had the opportunity to calm down, be talked to by their coaches, teamates and administrators they emerge to a press conference and talk about this being what you get, about being disrespected and zipping people up. Those comments reveal a total lack of perspective and remorse. Those comments prove what Mick Cronin spoke so eloquently about during his post-game press conference a lack of appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity they are provided. It also speaks to a disturbing sense of entitlement very well written about in this blog post by Mike Procopio http://www.hoopconsultants.com/2011/12/my-thoughts-on-ate-xavier-cincinnati-brawl/
The cause of the fight is equally disturbing and has many culpable parties but here a few thought particularly disappointed me.
- Lyons and Holloway running their mouths to the Cincinnati sideline throughout the game without intervention by Xavier coaches and the game officials.
- Xaviers starters still be on the floor with the game decided, emotions high and running their mouths. Come on Coach Mack don’t tell me you were oblivious to the fact your players were trying to show up the other team and that it was getting potential explosive.
- The adminstrators of college athletics at these universities and conferences for their decisions on the suspensions after the fact. In my opinion the announced punishments feed into the belief that revenue sports are more important than the mission and integrity of the college and do very little to teach a meaningful lesson to any involved. However, it does remind us that protecting the future revenue streams by maintaining top basketball talent on the floor is very important to the colleges and conferences.
What I believe needs to be done long-term would need more space than this blog but I believe it starts with meeting the daily defining moments as outlined in this earlier blog post https://1010sport.com/2011/11/09/defining-moment/ .
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’.
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.
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.
Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community, devote yourself to a purpose or a passion.
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
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
When coaching do we slow a players development and/or impose a false ceiling on their potential by teaching and encouaging them to avoid failure?
Whether intentional or not, teaching players to avoid failure through our words, body language or actions, will hamper a players development. Players must understand failure is a necessary part of their improvement process and they will experience it during the development process. It should not be viewed as making them some how inferior rather it is a sign they are moving in the right direction.
As Pixar director Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E, describes this way of operating, “My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can. Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that. But let’s do it as fast as we can so we can get to the answer. You can’t get to adulthood before you go through puberty. I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.”
Failing quickly to learn fast is also a central operating principle for seasoned entrepreneurs who routinely describe their approach as failing forward. That is, entrepreneurs push ideas into the market as quickly as possible in order to learn from mistakes and failures that will point the way forward. This is an extremely well-known Silicon Valley operating principle. Howard Schultz’s experience building Starbucks illustrates the point. He and his colleagues had to try hundreds of ideas, on everything from nonstop opera music to baristas wearing bowties, to hundreds of different types of beverages before being able to define the Starbucks experience.
Sims, Peter (2011-04-19). Little Bets (pp. 52-53). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
Avoidance of failure means avoiding reaching your fullest potential and often times the quickest way to reaching new levels of success is through failing quickly.