Step 1, Empower your players. That means giving them a voice. It means giving them ownership. Build a coalition of your most respected athletes and open the dialogue — listen to their goals and explain your own, and don’t keep secrets. A confident coach shares her ideas… everything from tactics to workouts to gear design and not only asks for real feedback but incorporates it. Show them that it isn’t about your ideas, it’s about the best ideas. And when their ideas make the cut, you’ll have a team that’s not only bought-in, but enforces the plan. It’s a championship roadmap that you design, together.
Step 2, Take it easy, and be yourself. Maybe the most overlooked aspect of coaching. Let your team know that you are a real human, not a drill sergeant! Accept that there is a responsibility that comes with the position, but let your players have a peek at “who you are” … they need to know that their coach is not unlike them. That means sharing personal stories, embarrassing moments and funny situations. You may not have finals to worry about, but we still have things that we must handle each day and the lessons we learn are important to pass on to our players. This is a leap of faith, but depending on the team’s maturity it allows the relationship to keep flowing, and it allows you to bring a balance of humor and discipline to your team.
Step 3, Celebrate the little things. And give recognition for the ingredients that you value. It’s not about scoring goals, it’s about the little plays that lead to success. It’s the 2nd and 3rd assists, it’s about boxing-out on a groundball, it’s about ALL-IN PLAYS…diving to save a possession…beating an opponent to the endline. It’s rushing over to help a teammate get back on his feet. Salute your players for all those “little things” and make sure everyone hears it.
Step 4, Demand that players play the right way, all the time. Decide what that means, to you. Maybe you insist that they ALWAYS roll to the outside, or that they ALWAYS scoop with two hands. Or they NEVER put their palms up to a referee. Just be consistent. “You know, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I let you get away with that. If I let you do that now, you’re going to get your butt kicked in a game.”
Step 5, Break up the doldrum! **This is the art of coaching** And it runs a broad spectrum… Pre-game practices, for example, can bring on some nervous jitters — Coach Amplo always plucks two random “celebrities” to do a shooting contest vs. our varsity goalies, with the whole team there to cheer. It could be two parents, two volunteer coaches, or two local kids who snuck onto the field to watch practice. It doesn’t matter — just find a way to inject some humor into the moment. Coach Dino is famous for randomly surprising his Duke guys with ice cream cones, instead of a scheduled run test. Just get creative! At our high school practices, we make a habit of stopping drills to point out redtail hawks whenever they circle over us. Before long, the players start giving the hawk-call to every manner of seagull, crow and turkey vulture, but the message is received: as long as we can laugh at ourselves, we’re golden. And that’s the whole point — never let the pressure exceed the pleasure…