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Lessons in Leadership

Everything starts at the top. Assistant coaches and athletes will mimic the head coach’s (HC) attitude, work ethic, commitment, enthusiasm, etc. They are not following the HC’s words, but his behaviors. Everyone is watching what HC says and what HC does all the time. Everything matters and assistant coaches/athletes will base their actions on what they see HC do. If there is a problem, somewhere along the line the HC has modeled it or allowed it.

If the HC gets this right, nothing else matters. If the HC gets this wrong, nothing else matters.

Further observations.

  • All athletes expect to be coached by HC at some point in some way. That’s tough to manage, especially with different training groups, but it will go a long way towards keeping kids happy and bought in. While it is important to develop relationships with all athletes, they all want to be actually coached by HC. Same goes for recruiting. At some point, everyone wants to talk to HC or have face time with HC.

  • A small portion of the team will always be on board, a small portion will never be on board, and the rest can go either way. Focus on those who are bought in, remove those who are not, and the middle group will start behaving like winners. This may seem harsh, but EVERYONE will be happier in the end.

  • Micromanaging drives assistants crazy. If HC gives them responsibility, trust them. At the same time, assistants really appreciate when HC takes an interest in what they are working on. If HC is too hands off, assistants can assume HC doesn’t care. HC should take an interest without telling assistants what to do. If an assistant provides HC an update and/or asks for advice, listen and care. It goes a long way.

  • Demonstrate appreciation for any effort anyone makes. The better job HC does with this, the more people will run through a wall for HC. Handwritten notes (as simple as a post-it note) make a HUGE difference to assistants and athletes.

  • Over-communicate everything. A lot of problems arise when HC assumes people (athletes or assistants) understand why something is happening and when/what needs to happen. Clear plans and clear expectations result in great execution.

  • With larger staffs, roles and responsibilities need to be clear. At the same time, it needs to be understood that is everyone’s responsibility to do whatever needs to get done.

  • Don’t be above anything. If athletes/assistants see HC doing whatever needs to get done, they’ll do whatever it takes as well. If HC always delegates stuff they don’t want to do, it will build resentment. In contrast, good HCs focus their energy on tasks that no one else can do and delegate what other people can do. Reasonable people can always tell when HC is delegating something because they don’t want to do it versus delegating to get another more important task done.

  • Watch out for staff dynamics. If there is tension between staff members, letting it fester will cause more and more problems.

  • Athletes and assistants want accountability. If there is a problem, outline it clearly and provide a solution.

  • All assistants value HC’s feedback about what they can do better, especially if it is honest, well-intentioned, and accurate.

  • A single under-appreciated, bitter athlete can poison the team. They all matter and that needs to be demonstrated somehow.

  • HC needs to be careful about what they say about team members in front of other team members. It always gets back to them and will undermine trust in HC.

  • Always confront a problem as soon as it is obvious. Avoiding conflict will ALWAYS lead to bigger problems.

  • If HC wants staff members to contribute ideas, HC has to value what they have to say, even if HC doesn’t follow their suggestion. If you dismiss everything without justification, they’ll stop contributing.

  • Having an ‘open door policy’ is meaningless to athletes if you obviously don’t listen or value their opinion.

When in doubt start at the top. Everything else follows.


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