I’ve come across a lot of different coaching styles throughout the years as my kids played sports. And, as a coach myself, I’ve witnessed some situations that were eye-opening.
One year, in particular, the coach of my daughter’s softball team was banned from being a head coach after the worst pre-game state tournament speech I’ve ever heard. The coach had a temper already, and he got himself supercharged. He gets all of the girls lined up, and starts by saying,
“Everyone is not a winner. In fact, you guys are not winners; you are losers. You have not performed on a level where you deserve to go to the State Tournament. When I signed up for travel softball, I thought it meant everyone would be at the quality of travel softball. I want you girls to know; you are not at the level of travel softball. Most of you are awful. In fact, you have your priorities completely out of whack.”
He then went on to criticize the parents of the team, “ We have one parent on the team that makes their daughter miss because of her birthday party!” It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe this guy was acting like that.
Afterward, the girls were all crying.
I tried to figure out the best way to handle the situation, so I said to my daughter, “Let’s go invite some of the girls to Dairy Queen.”
The entire team ended up going, including the head coach. He gets there and sits by himself, while the parents and girls were on another side of DQ. It was so awkward. Someone had to address what he did and how unhelpful it was. So, I decided to talk to him about it.
I was sitting with the girls and parents. I got up and walked across the restaurant to the coach. What I learned is that most people can only handle one thing at a time. If I would have said that there are 16 things wrong with your pre-game speech, he wouldn’t have heard anything.
So, I said, “Would you be open to some feedback?”
He said, “Sure.”
I asked him if he had seen the recent headline about Charley Weise the Notre Dame football coach resigning. He said, “Yes.”
Charley Weise thought that since he was at Notre Dame, the Division 1 players would be at a certain level and all he would have to do is put them in the right positions, and it was about strategy. But instead, he needed to work with them. They actually needed to learn the fundamentals. The Notre Dame coach emphasized how he needed to teach, train and it is about the fundamentals for these Division 1 athletes.
I asked him what he thought of the points of the speech and what he thought about it.
I said, “Do you think if the coach for the best D1 athletes in all the country needs to do all of those things, then we, as coaches of 11-year-old girls, need to do the same?”
He looked at me with the expression “Huh” and thought for a bit, so I said, “I want to leave you with one idea. I think coaching is about developing, building and helping people become successful. Would you do me a favor and just think about that?”
He said, ”Yeah, I’ll do that.”
There was a firestorm of emails after that night from the parent to the league president. As you can probably imagine, we didn’t do well in the tournament, and the coach was banned from being a head coach in this association.
Next year, I was the head coach of my daughter’s softball team. During player placement, I received a call from our association president. He asked if it was OK if he put the daughter of the guy who was banned from coaching on my team. The commissioner explained that he didn’t think the other coaches could handle him being a part of their team, but he knew I could do it.
I said, “Sure.” And, he became my assistant coach.
The year went well. The girls responded to my style of coaching. The once head coach now assistant coach did reasonably well on the bench as long as we were winning. We ended up winning most of our games, so he was okay. It wasn’t until a semi-final game where he melted down and started yelling at the girls.
I believe the most important part of being the head coach is to create a positive environment. During the game, I walked over to him and said, “Throughout the year, and from the very beginning, I said there was going to be certain things to happen on our team. One was to create a positive environment. I like you, and I like having you on the bench, but only if we are going to continue that encouragement.”
He said, “Are you kicking me out?”
“I’m not kicking you out,” I told him. I said, “I’m telling you that yelling and being negative isn’t part of what we are going to do.”
He then went on to say, “the girls need to know they are doing things wrong.”
I responded, “ I don’t disagree that they need to know that they are doing it wrong, but yelling or demeaning them isn’t the best way to communicate that.”
His response, ”In that case I am leaving!” My belief is he wanted the best for the girls. He didn’t try to demean them. He didn’t know how else to get his point across. He left out of frustration with the situation not because he wanted to demean the girls.
I said, ”OK, that would make me sad, but if that is what you want to do that, that’s OK.”
So, he left the game, which we ended up losing by one run.
We were all bummed, and after the dust settled I went over to him and asked,” Would you be open to having a conversation about what happened?”
He said, “Sure!”
I had a relationship with this coach in which he trusted me and my intentions. If I didn’t have his trust and he didn’t know my heart, he would have been very defensive.
His wife and daughter were standing next to him.
I said, “I want to have a conversation about one thing. I want to have a conversation about the best environment for females to thrive.”
He said, “That’s a great topic. Let’s talk about it. If the girls don’t know that they are doing something wrong, they won’t know how to correct it.”
I said, “When you are so intense, yelling and pointing out the girl’s flaws the only thing a female mind hears is you’re an idiot. Now, here is your wife and daughter let’s ask them.”
I turned to them and said, ”Now is what I am saying right?”
They shook their heads in agreement.
I said, “Something I want you to think about: Why do you think your daughter likes to play on the team where I’m the head coach?”
We ended up talking a bit more and then said our goodbyes.
WHAT I LEARNED
I believe that you want to create an environment where people can thrive. The best I have ever seen at this was my son’s football coach at Wayzata High School Jim Duggin. He convinced my son that since he was a wrestler the best position for him was guard because, in our offense, we are going to need somebody that is not afraid of contact.
He told him, “When the game is on the line, we are going to run towards you because you are strong enough and athletic enough to be able to move kids. But, at the same time, you can use your speed, too. The kids are going to be bigger than you, but you are a wrestler, and you know how to use leverage. What I am going to need you to do is keep practicing and learn these techniques because I guarantee when the game is on the line, we are going to need you to get that guy out of the way.”
He convinced my son that playing guard was the most important position when the game was on the line.
They had six games that were close that year. Four of them were when they were on offense. All four times, they ran behind my son and all four times the team scored. He convinced him early on in practices that “this is why you are learning this technique.” He did this for each kid. He convinced them why their part was so important on the team, and how it contributed to the game. He created an environment in which those kids actually believed that their contribution was vital to the team success. He had an entire team playing better than they were actually capable of playing. They won every game that year.
To me, that’s what a good coach does. A good coach convinces a person that what they are doing is important and that they need you to be a part of the piece. Not in a shaming, manipulative or a self-serving way. In a way that an athlete feels that their contribution matters. If you look at my son, there was no way that he was not going to give everything he had to score in that situation.