RSS Feed

Passing the Torch – Servant Leadership

A former player of mine recently contacted me and shared an amazing piece of her coaching philosophy with me. Since my time as her coach, she has taken my place as the assistant coach at our local JC. I couldn’t be more proud of the thought and passion she puts into her coaching. Below is something she wrote for her players and I am absolutely in awe of her passion and talents. Great, great, job Taylor, you are going to make such an impact on the athletes you come into contact with.

coach_taylor“Did you push yourself to be great today? If you didn’t do it, we lost a day. And we don’t have many days to lose. It’s so easy to be average. It takes a little something to be special. Why be around average? I believe there are certain ideas that can push teams to greatness. Servant leadership. Having an attitude of gratitude. Selflessness. Humility. Let’s find a way to incorporate these acts into our lives, every single day. As John Wooden said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Ask yourself this: are you more concerned with the team’s outcome or your own personal outcome? Would you rather see the team win at the expense of you getting no hits with 2 errors? Selflessness wins games. Servant leadership wins games. And having an attitude of gratitude wins games. Do you understand what servant leadership is? Do you really understand what it means to put others first, and in doing so, genuinely want them to succeed? A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. If every person on this team promises to practice servant leadership, how could we fail? We will succeed because we will become better human beings in this process. For a team to be great, selflessness and humility are 2 necessary traits for a team to posses. People with humility don’t think less of themselves. They just think of themselves less. Often times in sports the bigger picture can be lost.

As a coach, my short-term goal is for this team to win games. I am competitive and passionate, and I want us to be the best. But my long-term goal is for this team to grow into amazing human beings and to be the best people we can be on and off the field. Our time is so short and it’s crucial that we incorporate these ideas in our everyday lives to be successful. We need to work harder at having an attitude of gratitude. We are so lucky that we were given this opportunity. At the beginning of every year, I make a promise to myself to cherish and enjoy every moment. I tell myself not to get caught up in the wins and losses, but to enjoy the moments with all of you special people. Time speeds by at an alarming pace. Sometimes we can forget to take a breather and enumerate what we have been given that we’ve forgotten or taken for granted.

Because of this, let’s all try to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Let’s start, end, and live each moment of the day in gratitude. Because after all, our time together is so short and you will never forget your teammates. You will forget the wins and losses. You will probably even forget the countless conversations you had with each other. But you will never forget the way your teammates made you feel. And for that, we should all be thankful. In the big picture, we are all moving towards the same goal. We are all holding onto the same rope, pulling that rope together in the same direction. So hold that rope tight, and be thankful you’ve been given the opportunity to be one of the special few to experience this special environment. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is such a special thing. And if you forget everything else, remember this: a player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork.

Thank you again Taylor for sharing, seriously, I couldn’t be more proud of you. You are going to go so far, and impact so many people. Keep up the incredible work, and thank you so much for keeping in touch and sharing your successes with me.

Quote of the day:

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill 

Goal Setting Helps Athletes to Stay in the Moment

Goal setting is the most proven technique in sport psychology. It helps to motivate athletes and improve performance by enhancing confidence. Without goals, how can athletes know what to focus on? It’s like a road trip; if you don’t know where you are going how are you going to get there? Goals are the stepping-stones to dreams; they are the action plans; they are what you can do right now. Goals bring the future into the present.

In sport psychology there are three types of goals: process goals, performance goals and outcome goals. Process goals are those that focus on “how”; the process of how to execute a skill. For instance, keeping your head down on a ground ball or having a good follow through on a free throw.

Performance goals are those that focus on an individual’s performance. For instance, hitting the ball solidly on a line at every at bat, or hitting 90% of your spots as a pitcher.

Outcome goals, are the goals that all of us commonly set; I want to come in first place at the tournament. I want to get 4 hits today. They rely on other factors in order to achieve them.

Every type of goal is important. They motivate and focus us in various ways.

It’s important for athletes to set process goals; these are goals that keep athletes focused in the moment. In order to set motivating process goals, have your athletes focus on making their goals action based rather than outcome based. Their process goals should be things that they are 100% in control of, that way, when they do succeed they can take 100% of the credit. Athletes can strive for having four quality at bats rather than getting four hits. Meaning, athletes should focus on swinging at the correct pitches and putting good swings on those pitches. Focusing on the process will allow the outcome to take care of itself. Setting smaller goals, like this one, gives the athlete more feedback so they can see their results and let their confidence grow.

Outcome goals are what we all play for. They keep you motivated during the mundane practices. Those memorable championship moments keep people motivated in sport, so these goals are important too, as long as you have the steps to get there. For instant a good outcome goal could be to win the championship, but in order to get there athletes need to set and achieve process goals, like putting in 100% effort at every practice.

Goal setting reminds me of a quote by John Lennon; “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. If athletes focus too much on outcome goals, and how successful they are in reaching those, they miss the process of getting there. In my experiences, most of my peers in college were so ready to graduate college and couldn’t wait to enter the real world. They forgot to realize how amazing the experience was along the way.

By focusing on process goals you can celebrate the little victories all game or all season long. After all life IS the little moments. It’s about compiling millions of happy moments to create a happy life. It’s not about the 3 or 4 major successes you have in your life; it’s about the life that happened on the pursuit to those major successes.

In life and in sport, enjoy the process of attaining the big goals, by setting some process and performance goals along the way. Sport psychology states that goals work by increasing, attention, persistence, effort and strategy. I’m pretty sure it has the same effect in everyday life.

Quote of the day: “Success is how you collect your minutes. You spend millions of minutes to reach one triumph, one moment, then you spend maybe a thousand minutes enjoying it. If you were unhappy through those millions of minutes, what good is the thousand minutes of triumph? It doesn’t equate… Life is made of small pleasures. Good eye contact over the breakfast table with your wife. A moment of touching a friend. Happiness is made of those tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. If you don’t have all those zillions of tiny successes, the big ones don’t mean anything.” — Norman Lear

My Coaching Philosophy

Posted on

As a coach, I want you to succeed. I want you to push yourselves and improve. I want you to love this game, and come back to it time and time again. But first. I want you to be happy.

This is not just softball to me, this is life. When I ask you to tell me what makes a great player, I’m sure I would hear savvy base runner, strong throw, quick feet, hand eye coordination. But the characteristics I think that truly matter go much deeper than mere physical qualities and abilities. I think great athletes come from qualities like courage, persistence, selflessness and patience.

My entire career I’ve always heard, softball is an escape. But I never understood the true essence of that statement until a few years ago when I was working as an instructional aid in elementary schools. I had just moved to a new city where I didn’t know many people, my romantic life was a bit rough, my graduate program was working me to the bone, and I was trying my best to adapt to living in a large city. Emotionally I was struggling to get by on  a day to day basis. Going to work at first was tough, I truly enjoyed my job but I could feel myself going through the motions. I was physically there but my mind was always wandering off somewhere else.

Watching my students fully immerse themselves into the daily joys of being a third grader made me realize I should be doing just that with them. For Pete sakes, my job consisted of hanging out with eight year old kids coloring and playing games. It was an amazing job to have. It was hard at first to really let go of life outside of work, but with practice I was able to fully enjoy myself everyday.

We miss so many of life’s wonderful moments by worrying about the past or future instead of living in the present. When I found myself doing this at work, I would make myself recite three to five things that were in my immediate present. Things like, “It’s a beautiful day outside, we are playing balloon volleyball, and I’m coloring in third grade again “. It shifted my focus back to what I was doing, it got me out of my head and let me simply live in the moment.

I didn’t recognize it’s importance at the time, but softball is what got me through every speed bump I hit from 8 to 22. The game was always something that was there for me.

It was a place where I could forget the world and dive into the reality of improving as a player and becoming successful in a game I loved. The satisfaction of working hard, improving, developing relationships, and being a part of something that was bigger than myself allowed me to establish a healthy sense of self-worth. It was my out and saving grace when the world got tough. It reinforced the notion that even when life gets tough, there’s always a piece of it that’s worth fighting for, there’s always something to enjoy.

With that said, here on this field I want you to develop into the people you want to be. I want you to take this time to be selfish. Shut out the rest of the world and better yourself here. 

Quote of the day

“The wins and losses will fade away but the friendships and memories will last a lifetime” 

Choose Your Words Wisely

Posted on

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s the little things in life that matter.” This statement couldn’t be more true for sport. The words coaches choose to use with their athletes can make the ultimate difference in how an athlete performs, and even how much they enjoy their sport.

Imagine you are on a basketball court waiting for practice to start. Your coach starts practice by saying, “Go ahead and take ten shots”. What does your mind’s eye see? A player standing at the freethrow line taking a few shots to warm up maybe?swish Now imagine If that basketball coach had said, “Go ahead and take 10 swishes”. Now what image do you get in your head? I happen to see shot after shot swishing through the bottom of the net.

The words coaches use can instantly shape the way an athlete’s mind views the task at hand. By using keywords like “swish”, it immediately increases their focus by directing the mind to concentrate on a precise desirable outcome. The mind automatically visualizes a ball swishing through a net which will actually help the player perform more successfully. Imagery is a popular sport psychology tactic that consists of a mental rehearsal through visualization. It’s been proven to be effective in improving sport performance at every level of sport, from novice to expert. Instructing athletes to “swish” the ball prompts the mind to do just this, visualize the outcome.

Most coaches, without thinking, constantly tell their athletes “Nice play”. I prefer to comment on my athlete’s effort. Here’s why: Telling an athlete you loved their effort rather than commenting on the outcome, puts the athlete in full control of their performance. They now understand that what you are looking for is hard work. Hard work trumps a clean play any day in my book. huddleTalented athletes can slack off at a practice and still have the chance to perform well. By rewarding the effort the athlete put in, you can reinforce the importance of working hard and improving skills no matter what skill level the athlete is currently at. You can also compliment the athlete on what specific mechanic they did well so they know how to be consistently successful.

As a coach choosing your words wisely can make a world of difference to your athletes.  Take into consideration the following sentence that was said by a coach after a 11-0 run rule victory. “ I just wanted to say sorry to you younger kids who didn’t get into the game; we didn’t score enough runs early enough to get you in”. This statement makes those younger girls feel as if they aren’t good enough to play unless the team is ahead by a bunch of runs. It implies that the coach doesn’t trust their talents to keep the game within reach. Instead the coach could say, “I just wanted to say sorry to you younger girls who didn’t get in the game, due to the high amount of runs scored the game ended in 5 innings and I didn’t have enough time to get you guys in.” The difference here is immense, especially in the minds of high school athletes.

As a coach, the words you say matter. It’s the smallest thing, but it makes the biggest impact.

Quote of the Day:

“It’s the little things that matter most”

Setting the Tone for the Season

Posted on

Every great coach has his or her own coaching philosophy. They know what they value, they know what they want to emphasize, and they know what they expect out of their athletes. It’s the foundation that guides the way they interact with their athletes, it guides the practices they plan and execute, it guides the consequences they give, and it determines the persona they fulfill as a coach.pyramid success

I believe a great way to start off a season is by having the athletes create their own philosophy and code of conduct for the season. By doing this exercise early on, it immediately sets the team culture or “tone” for the season. The athletes will know what is expected of them, and what the consequences will be. They will have a structure to guide their behaviors. This will alleviate the coach of disciplinary issues because the athletes already understand how to comply. This code of conduct and philosophy will set the foundation for the team and give them an immediate sense of identity; “this is how we do things here”. Allowing the athletes to create their own code of conduct gives them a sense of autonomy. They are more likely to buy in to the philosophy if it’s something they create on their own.

IMG_9645Not only does this create a great jumping off point for the season, but it is also a great team building activity. The athletes are forced to collaborate with one another, which means they will have to overcome conflict. From a coaches stand point, it’s an opportunity to see personality traits emerge: who acted as a
leader, who kept the group on task, who added a lot of energy to the exercise, who was more concerned with social goals, who was a good listener, who allowed for everyone to be heard?

It’s optimal to have this activity facilitated by a coach, especially for younger teams. Help your athletes think through all facets of their sport. Make sure to include social aspects into the code of conduct, as well as more sport oriented things like effort, attitude, and punctuality. A great way to end this activity is by having athletes come up with a team motto that sums up their philosophy. This team motto is a great way to remind the athletes what they stand for. It’s something they can print on team shirts, wear on wristbands, or hang on a banner near the field. It’s a constant reminder that mentally prepares them to excel everyday.

Quote of the day:

“To inspire, to excel, and to take pride in one another; together we are one!” – PHS Varsity Softball’s Team Motto 2014 

Develop Team Captains

Many coaches designate team captains at the beginning of each season. I myself was a team captain on multiple teams throughout my career. A speech I saw at the AASP 2014 Conference made me realize that coaches usually lack intentional leader development. leadershipMost coaches appoint team leaders at the beginning of the season and then never revisit the issue. Coaches commonly assume that team captains know what’s expected of them and how to perform their duties.

It isn’t that simple. In order to have an effective team leader, coaches need to play an active role in developing those qualities that make a great captain. When designating a leader, coaches need to first understand their own definition of leadership. Define leadership on your own before designating a captain. This will help to solidify your choice in athlete to become the team leader.

Most coaches pick a player, pull the slot machine lever, and hope they help lead the team to victory. This hit or miss strategy isn’t the most efficient. In order to get the most out of a team captain, the athlete needs to understand exactly what is expected of them. As a coach, write out the duties you expect your team captain to perform throughout the season.

What duties are you expecting your team captain to perform?team cohesion chico

  • Are you expecting them to help with instruction?
  • Do you expect them to keep their teammates on task?
  • Do you expect them to deal with conflicts between teammates?
  • Do you expect them to be the messenger between the team and the coach?
  • Do you expect them to lead warm ups?
  • Do you expect them to help their teammates make smart choices on saturday night?
  • Do you expect them to designate which jerseys the team wears?

Explicitly lay out what is expected of the team captain. This way, once a leader is designated, the athlete will know exactly what is expected of them and where to focus their energy.

Being a team captain is no easy task. leaders are expected to be friends with their teammates but also be looked at as a person of authority. They wear many hats; they are a friend, a mentor, an advocate for the team to the coaches, a student, an athlete, a representative,and a role model. Vans-PartyWearing all these hats can be a STRESSFUL position to be put in. Finding a balance between friend and captain can be a slippery slope. Great captains will always put the team before themselves, and this can sometimes cause their own personal performance to suffer.  Team captains can tend to get so caught up in their role as team captain, that they lack the emotional and physical resources to put their all into enhancing their personal performance. THIS IS OKAY. As a coach you can help your team captains get through this and allow them the time to settle into their new role.

Leadership can be seen as a continuum. It is a skill that needs to be developed. Offer team captains the resources they need to fulfill their role successfully. ducksBring in speakers, give them articles or books, and ALWAYS give them an open door to come in and discuss their difficulties. It’s beneficial for team captains to have someone they can come to with concerns and struggles. There are situations where they will need advice and support for the decisions that need to be made. It can be helpful for team captains to have a mentor that they can confide in and discuss issues. Set aside specific meeting times for your team leader to come in and talk about what’s going on. Role playing difficult situations can really help the team leader deal with situations effectively.

Intentional leader development is an invaluable focus for teams to put forth. It’s easy to simply designate a team captain at the beginning of a season and send me them on their way to lead the rest of the season. Captains are going to need a coaches support to be the best they can be. L.E.A.D. – learn from theory, experience through practice, analyze through reflection, deepen through mentoring. Don’t leave the success of team captains up to chance, help them become the captain that will lead the team to Victory.

 Quote of the day: 

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams 

Implementing Self Determination Theory

This past month at the 2014 AASP(Association for Applied Sport Psychology) Conference I had the privilege of hearing Edward Deci Speak. Edward Deci is a world renowned researcher who is most famous for his work with Self Determination Theory. Self Determination edwarddeciTheory states that athletes have three basic needs that need to be filled in order to foster intrinsic motivation; competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Intrinsic motivation is something we experience in instances where we are motivated to do something because we enjoy it, the task engrosses us, and we don’t require external rewards to keep our motivation. When athletes are driven by this type of motivation they tend to excel; when we love something we want to do it all the time and have the desire to improve. An atmosphere that fulfills the above needs for athletes is called a needs supportive environment. These are environments where athletes can truly thrive and reach their maximum potential.

Competency: Athletes need to be able to demonstrate their abilities in order to feel as if they are competent in their sport. Autonomy: Encouraging autonomy through self initiation and choice reinforces their internal drive by giving them more control over their progress and success. Relatedness: Showing athletes that they belong and are apart of something bigger than themselves fosters our universal need to belong and interact.

So as a coach how do you create a needs supportive environment that caters to your athletes needs SelfDeterminationTheoryand fosters intrinsic motivation? Below are a few simple ways coaches can do just that. As you read through the following examples keep in mind pressure is the number one killer of intrinsic motivation.


Try to relate to and understand your athlete’s perspective. Acknowledge their emotions and the way they see things. Listen to your players and validate the way they feel. “I know it’s hot out and you guys are working hard, I appreciate that.” “I know it’s boring to take 70 swings at a hitting station by yourself.” Let them know that you can relate!

Provide meaningful feedback. Be specific; a simple “good job” doesn’t inform the athlete which skill they performed well. Make sure you insert a specific aspect in your praise. For example; “that was great, you kept your hands inside the ball on that sports-vballlast swing.” Try to give feedback Immediately after the action is committed. Giving feedback so quickly helps to reinforce specific skills as opposed to whole performances. By giving athletes meaningful feedback you are conveying that you care about their progress, your athletes will feel like their progress is an important factor in the teams success.

Give a rationale for requested behavior. If coaches offer reasons for the behaviors they request from their players, the athletes feel less controlled. On the team I currently coach, our players were braiding each others hair during our warm up time. As the coaches we told them this behavior was unacceptable. At first they were frustrated and angry; they wanted everyone to look uniform and ready for competition. After we explained that hair braiding needs to take place prior to warm ups because it’s distracting, they were more accepting of our rule change. They now understand that it is hard to mentally prepare to play a softball game when they’re physically focusing on braiding hair. Giving reasons for the rules and expectations of the team helps athletes to feel on the same level as the coaches, they are apart of the team, not being controlled by the team.


Encourage self-initiation and experimentation. Intrinsic motivation is derived from doing something because you enjoy it, and want to succeed or participate. Encouraging self-initiation and experimentation gives athletes control over their progress and success. Allow them to try new things, and find new ways to succeed. Let them be apart of the coaching process. Ask them what they think they should do to better their performance and then help them create an action plan to attain it. Make it their choice to get better.

Offer relevant choices. Reinforce the autonomy of your athletes by allowing them to make relevant choices. For instance, if you know you are going to work on both defense and offense at practice, why not let them choose which one they do first? Allow them to put together their own warm up routine, like I’ve mentioned before in my blog; Autonomy breeds pride. sport_laBarbera_06Pressure kills intrinsic motivation; try not to force your athletes to work hard or even participate. Give them the choice, they know what the consequences are but the choice to participate is completely up to them. The key to this approach is keeping emotion out of your voice. Implying you will be angry depending on the choice they make is the same thing as demanding they participate or work hard. Use an even tone and let them know the choice is up to them. When they do choose to participate, you are reinforcing their autonomy by encouraging self initiation.


Calibrate for optimal challenge. Athletes need to practice and compete at the edges of their abilities. This way they fail and succeed at a rate that keeps them motivated. Make sure practices, and the level of competition pushes your players but also allows them to achieve success. This threshold of success and failure reinforces their need to feel competent. They will be able to demonstrate their competency by improving and achieving success despite their failures.

Focus on indirect rather than direct competition. Indirect competition refers to athletes competing against themselves, whereas direct competition is when athletes compete against an opponent. When athletes compete against themselves, they focus on progress and being their personal best. There is less pressure in the situation and they can easily see their progress, in turn driving their motivation to keep progressing. I’m not suggesting that all direct competition is bad. It’s important that when athletes partake in direct competition, their personal best is acknowledged and you as a coach reinforce the parts of their performance they can control. Athletes can never control the performance of their opponent, they need to focus on their own personal performance to succeed and recognize their progress. I talk a little bit more about this in my blog: Where is Your Confidence Coming From?

Minimize use of controlling language. When athletes continually hear must, should, or other language that controls their actions, they feel as if they aren’t good enough to govern themselves. It also evokes pressure which again is an intrinsic motivation killer. Try to keep the controlling language to a minimum and let your athletes thrive.

They key to producing elite athletes is instilling a love for the game, something they will come back to over and over again simply because they love the sport.

Quote of the day:

“Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her.” – Mia Hamm

Live Love Sport

Improving your mental game

Secret Life of a Startup

Some things you can't complain about at work

M I Initiatives

Belief in Human Potential

Raymonds Sports Performance Training

The greatest site in all the land!

The Truth Warrior

Empowering and Inspiring people to be fully authentic, loving, happy, peaceful and joyful in their lives.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 775 other followers

%d bloggers like this: