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Selflessness

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I believe that selflessness is one of the most important characteristics for an athlete to posses when playing on a team. In order for the team to reach their full potential athlete’s need to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to better the team. A true teammate mentality, asks what does the team need, before asking what do I need?

When I was an athlete, one of my favorite things about playing on a team, was the opportunity I had to help my teammates be successful.IMG_9849 I learned to push my skill level by keeping the mindset that the team’s success was more important than my own.
On defense, playing for teammates helped me to overcome my fears. Instead of worrying about how scary diving for a ball was, I was focused on getting the out my pitcher needed to end the inning. I knew that if I didn’t lay-out she was going to have to throw to another batter. The need to help my teammates over shadowed my fears.

As a coach, I’m noticing that this mindset is no longer the norm. I may have been simply oblivious to the selfish culture of sports as an athlete, but it seems to me the game has drastically changed. Athletes are so focused on capturing that collegiate scholarship that they’ve completely forgotten about the teammates around them. It’s me, me, me, or I, I, I. Rarely do we hear an athletes concern for “we”, “the team” or “us”. We constantly hear: “Why am I not starting at first base?” or “ I didn’t get enough fly balls at practice”. What’s even worse, is most of these complaints aren’t coming from the athlete’s themselves; they come from the parents. “My daughter only got to base run today at practice”. “My daughter sat out two games weekend.”

This culture of hyper-focusing on individual success is eroding a piece of the game I IMG_0064loved most. Creating that unique bond with your teammates is something I haven’t found in any other environment in my life. When you know that the people around you care just as much or more about your success then they do about theirs is an indescribable feeling. It’s why teams become families and create bonds that last a lifetime. With so much focus on individual success and college scholarships a lot of athletes are missing out on what it feels like to be a true teammate.

I believe that it’s imperative for coaches to create a team culture that is built around selflessness. Selflessness is the basis of teamwork. Teamwork is one of the biggest factors of success. Praise athlete’s when they display the trait of selflessness. Reward the ones who have mastered what it means to be a teammate. Create opportunities for your athlete’s to show how selfless they can be. Set team guidelines so your athletes know what you expect, and know what selflessness looks like on a team. Selflessness can teach athletes so much on and off the field. It can help them reach their true potential by learning to rely on their teammates and experience genuine teamwork.

Quote of the day:

“It’s not about what the team can do for you, it’s about what you can do for the team.”

Setting the Tone for the Season

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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 

Keep a Sport-Life Balance

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The statistics pertaining to youth sport participation are disheartening; 70% of children who are participating in youth sport will drop out by the age of 13.

My question is why didn’t I? Why did I play through college, coach through grad school, and am now pursuing a career that is centered in sport?

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NCS Champs 2007

I specialized in one sport at a very young age; I played competitively almost from the get go, and even specialized in a single position by the time I was 17. I had all the warning signs of being an athlete who would burnout before reaching my full potential. So what kept me in the game?

I had a sport-life balance. Although I spent the majority of my time on the softball field, the people in my life helped to keep sports in perspective. Sports were a piece of my life, not my whole life. There were other more important things and values; my worth as a person didn’t solely reside on my performance as an athlete.

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Opening night of Boulevard Cinemas

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Working on the homecoming float my senior year of high school

The most obvious example of the sport-life balanced I achieved as a young athlete was in the diversity of my social circles, and the events that filled my monthly calendar. I grew up on a court where three other girls around my age lived. None of them were involved in sports like I was so our friendship was well rounded; we grew up running around our neighborhood experiencing and focusing on other things besides sport. I was also heavily involved in girl scouts, the six other girls in my troop made up some of my closest friends throughout high school. At the age of 15 we opened a theater in our hometown, an accomplishment that bolstered my confidence and added to my worth as a person off the softball field. (Read more about the teens who opened a theater in 2005 HERE.) The friends that I hung around with at school weren’t  involved in sports either, so again I had opportunities to develop other parts of myself; opportunities to be proud of things that had nothing to do with softball. I also had a long term boyfriend throughout high school that attended a school 20 minutes south of me, so I became very close to his friends and family which again added diversity to the people who were important to me. These people who made up my social life all valued me for more than my softball abilities. Some had never even seen me play, so my performance as an athlete was irrelevant to our friendship. It caused me to grow up in an atmosphere that catered to all of me, and helped to give myself worth in all areas of my personality, not just the piece of me that excelled on the playing field.

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Team trip to Disneyland

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White water rafting with the team in Park City, Utah

I was also privileged enough to grow up in a family that was able to take vacations outside of softball tournaments. As I got older my softball team flew all over the U.S. to compete at the highest level. However, my family was fortunate enough to be able to take an additional family vacation each summer. It kept it in perspective that sports were important, but family time was highly valued as well. Not only did I get to experience genuine family vacations, but I had a coaches who understood that for some families, our tournaments were their family vacations. As a team we made every out of state trip a fun family experience as well as a serious competitive outing. Our coach allowed the team moms to plan water rafting trips, team dinners, horseback riding excursions, and once in Park City, Utah we even went on a team hot air balloon ride! My coaches knew the value of having a sport life balance and let us genuinely enjoy our tournament trips. Some of my most favorite memories are from these tournaments and everything we did made me fall even more in love with the sport. Doing other activities while traveling also allowed my teammates to get to know me as a person, not just an athlete. You learn to appreciate your teammates for more than just their athletic performance; you also learn to value the other pieces of yourself.

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Playing powder puff football my senior year

My parents were the most prominent influence of keeping my life balanced between sport and other experiences. The house I grew up in bordered a regional park. On my court lived three other girls that were around my age. Also on the court were kids who were a few years older, and others who were a few years younger. At any given time there were anywhere from 1-13 kids to play with, and a plethora of open space to do so in. My home life away from the softball field consisted mostly of free play with my neighboring peers. Some of which my parents probably weren’t too thrilled about; like tying a rope to a bike seat and holding on for dear life while being pulled on rollerblades. I was lucky enough to have parents who let me be involved in “risky” activities (like the one mentioned above) without reprimanding me to stay un-injured so I could compete. This example may seem subtle, but little things like this that were noticeable on a day-to-day basis were the most influential in keeping sports in perspective. It was a constant reminder that there was more to life, and myself, than sport.

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Posing with our high school rival team

Athletes who have a diversity of experiences and people in their lives learn to value all dimensions of their personality and abilities. This quality helps athletes who encounter chronic slumps, difficult teammates, and unfavorable coaching stay in the game. They can stick with the sport they love through the pitfalls and hardships because they have developed as a whole person and see the value in other experiences; Keep kids in sport by fostering their development as a whole child, not just an athlete!

 Quote of the day:

“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” – Mary Lou Retton

Unlock Their Potential by Making Athletes Feel Good

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When we meet people we “judge” them automatically. In seconds we get a gut feeling of who they are as a person and if we want that person around us. In these immediate seconds this person may not have said much or given us any formation as to who they are, but still we come up with a gut instinct.

168421_1719666786345_7767706_n (1)This instinct comes from the way that person made us FEEL. It’s in their tone of voice and their body language. Studies have shown that we don’t even need to understand the words someone is saying to make a correct judgement on someone. It’s been done in studies where participants only see a subject speaking for 3 seconds with no sound and people can accurately pick up characteristics of that person. It’s about how they made them feel! It’s called thin slicing; it’s something we do naturally as humans to make quick instinctive decisions.

As coaches, or even teammates, it’s imperative that we make the athletes around us feel good. You can unlock someone’s potential if you make them feel empowered. It’s kind of like a comedy movie. In comedy the main character sometimes has to be mean in order to be funny. They have to do things that people won’t like, but then they need the audience to come back to them after it’s done. The audience still has to like him, root for him, and side with him. This is what made Tom Hanks the perfect actor for Apollo 13; the director of the film was quoted saying “When Tom (Hanks) came in and read, I felt like I could live inside of him, I could just relate to him”. He knew the audience would feel the same way; they would always want him to come out on top. This would allow him to push the boundaries and do daring things and still have the heart of the audience at the end of the movie.

Coaches need this too, you have to be able to push your athletes and give them tough love at times, but you also need them to come back to you. You need them to stay, and in order to do this you have to make them feel good.

Coaches, make it known to your athletes that you value them as people, not just as athletes who contribute to a successful season. Show that you truly care for them by getting to know who they are as people, 189082_1883561375478_3289214_nnot just athletes. Athletes are constantly striving for a coaches’ approval, knowing that the coach likes them as a person relieves immense amounts of pressure which will help the athlete to perform better on the field. If they know they have your support in who they are as a person they will “run through walls for you”. You can push them to their limits and help them to reach their potential. They will realize that the challenges you present are in their best interest. Athletes need coaches who listen, are genuine, inviting, and supportive; off the field as well as on the field.

“People will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. – Maya Angelou. This statement couldn’t be closer to the truth, it’s been almost 7 years since I stepped on the field with him as my coach and I can still remember exactly what it felt like to have someone who truly believed in me. Coaches need to believe in their players as people, get to know who they are, and support them despite their performance on the field.

– Inspired by the book “Blink” – Malcolm Gladwell

Pep-Talk

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What do Athletes Want to Hear?

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Parents play a large role in the life of youth athletes, a bigger role than most realize. Not only are they the chauffer that ensures their timely arrival to practices and competitions, but they are the chef that prepares and distributes pre-practice and post competition snacks. They are the laundry matt that removes grass stains, and presses uniforms so on game day the team looks distinct and unified. soccer_momThey are the ATM that spits out league fees, but most of all, they are the biggest fans who provide moral support that drives motivation and inspiration. They are the face that a young athlete instinctually searches for after making a big play.

The things parents say to their children before, during and after a competition effects  a child’s experience in sport. They are a direct influence into how a child perceives his experience, performance, and abilities.

Researchers have found that athletes of all ages want to hear six simple words after a game; “I love to watch you play”. That’s it. They don’t want excessive praise and they don’t need a parent to critic their performance; they have a coach to do that. Athletes, from bobby sox leagues to the Division 1 level, simply want to hear; “I love to watch you play.”

What if a parent didn’t get to watch the game? Instead of asking, “Did you win?”, parents can ask, “How did it to?”. Britney Spears is a Proud Soccer MomThis is a great suggestion from the book “Beyond Winning: Smart Parenting In a Toxic Sport Environment”.  Asking how it went, instead of “Did you win?”, allows the athlete to open up about the things that he or she enjoyed the most. They can talk about their performance, the bus ride, or their friendships. When a parent asks, “Did you win?”; they are conveying the message that winning is the only thing they are interested in. Naturally, after asking if the child’s team won, the next question to ask is, “Did you score?”, “How many points?”. This puts all the focus on their performance and can induce high amounts of pressure on a young athlete.

It is parents that need the structure of youth sport. If you give children sports equipment and some open space, they will play for hours. Kids don’t need to keep score, or wear matching jerseys, or have logical, set, rules. They will just play and enjoy every minute of it. It’s the parents who need to keep score and have leagues with playoffs that lead to championships. The kids just want to play and be around their friends. Keep this in mind when talking to young athletes about their sport experience. Be their biggest supporter and simply enjoy watching them play.

Quote of the day:

“Your internal feelings and approach shouldn’t change just because the circumstances do”- Karlene Sugargman 

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