Fall 2014 Blog – Post # 8

Fall 2014 Blog – Post # 8


This is week eight on my season long journey with you. With current technology available, I have been able to tune in for lots of college matches either through webcasts or YouTube. To my former coaching colleagues out there who have been checking out my blog from time to time, I am trying to follow your team’s progress, and hope something I have shared will be of help. I have also been able to observe some high school matches, and as always, am reminded of what a challenge those coaches have in developing a team with a fairly wide range of abilities.

I could go in a lot of directions with the topic this week, but I knew when I prepared and completed my outline for this series, this week would be a tough topic to take on.   So, buckle your seat belts and let’s have a “real” conversation. If adversity is defined as “difficulties” or “misfortune”, then coaching provides a generous helping. Group dynamics in the best of circumstances creates many challenges, and sometimes for any number of reasons, right about at this time of the season, coaches find themselves facing adversity.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned some examples of unexpected challenges, and while that relates to the topic this week, I want to encourage you to press pause, and think about the level of cohesion you think your team has developed. Notice I said “think” about the level they have developed. Most of your thinking in the last few weeks has been given to organizational and administrative duties, travel arrangements, quick turnarounds from one match or tournament to another, concern about your work-life balance, and the never ending list of things to work on that you discover every day when you start planning the next practice. Does that sound about right?

I guess with 40 collegiate seasons under my belt, parts of that experience just don’t leave you. My point is this – with all that going on, or whatever you would substitute from my list that describes what has been ruling your life in the month of October; do you really know the level of cohesion that exists among your players?

Team Dynamics / Cohesion. That is the topic I want to challenge you with this week. If, at the heart of what we do every day in coaching, is intended to be in the best interests of our student-athletes, then we have to pay attention to the dynamics developing within the group.   Let’s start with internal competition. To the degree that you have a lot of depth on your team, your players are pushing every day to either stay in your line-up or get in your line-up. While that is a positive thing, and many of us subscribe to at least part of the “competitive cauldron” approach, some of your players have experienced a lot of inner turmoil about the role that has been given to them. This can easily cause friction between and among teammates.

Secondly, you have now made – how many hundreds of decisions this season? What are the chances that some of those have created dissension in the ranks, or been perceived in some cases as inconsistent? My hand is raised. How about yours? I was never happy with all my decisions, so why would I expect others to be? This can easily be a cause of tension between you and a few team members.

Those are just two general, but fairly common aspects of being in a competitive team setting. Hopefully, the foundation for your coaching philosophy is holding firm, and along with the rules, routines, protocols, and expectations that you have in place, the positive team culture that you intended, has become reality. Despite your best efforts in those areas, some of you recently experienced a player quitting, or a real dispute between teammates, or you just “heard” that one or more of your players is not “buying into” your leadership. Strive as we might to develop outstanding cohesion, it only takes one disgruntled player to dismantle a lot of what you have been trying to build.

OK, the “real” conversation objective for the week has been accomplished. How about a solution? A suggestion to start with is ACTIVE LISTENING. Despite the daunting “to do this week” list that you re-create every morning, this is the time to have a little chat with your players. Ask some open ended questions that could be as simple as “how are you doing”? Maybe this is the week you had already planned to do some quick one on one meetings with individuals to review some goals that were set earlier in the season.   Somehow, you also want to get to the “how are we doing?” question, which can refer to 1) the effectiveness of your working relationship with them or 2) their overall sense of where the team is at right now.

Each of you will know best how to approach those conversations. Sometimes, I liked having them off to the side during practice. Here is a way to make that happen this week. Consider, delegating to your assistant coach the task of planning and directing at least half of a practice. This is a great form of empowerment and I will only speak for myself, but I was generally quite sure that my players had experienced “enough of me” at this point in the season. Just make sure that your assistant coach knows, for their planning purposes, that you are going to be calling players over during that time for these mini-meetings.   Remember the format for these conversations is “active listening”.

Finally, and I know the series will not be complete if this “likely scenario” is not mentioned – be prepared, as this could be the week of “the team meeting”. I think you know what I am talking about. The day comes (right about now) where you look out on the practice court, or you come through a match, and you want to ask your team, “where is my team and what did you do with them?”. Your internal radar is shouting that something is wrong, but you don’t really know what it is.   So, what do you do? You scrap the practice plan, put the balls away, and circle up the chairs for “the team meeting”.   Truthfully, sometimes it just has to get worse before it gets better.

Do your best in this gathering to facilitate the conversation. Often when some of the “baggage” gets put out there in front of everyone, that is enough. Sometimes venting, and feeling safe doing that, is all that is needed.   I wish it had always been that easy.   It is not unusual that as player’s feelings get expressed, we as coaches feel like we were the last to know what was bugging them, and let’s face it, sometime it is us. Just so you know, when I got the feeling that the players would not or could not talk openly with me in the circle, I left. I would not necessarily advise that for you, and perhaps I was more comfortable with that decision, due to how we operated.   (Note: you can look at my published article that relates by searching> Follow The Leader: Beyond Captain Selection).

There are two things I learned related to these types of situations. Whatever the cause of strife or internal conflict is, until it gets named in front of everyone, it is not likely to be fixed. My final thought may not be that helpful, but give it consideration, and perhaps find a way to express this to your team.   When you do find yourself circling up the chairs, the reality is 1) the problem/s (whether perceived or real) are in that circle, and most importantly , 2) so are all the solutions.   Hopefully, the volleyballs come back out of the baskets sooner than later.

The central theme this week is simply that you will not be blindsided by adversity at this point in your season.                

Next week > Hold Your Aces.




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