Echoes Beyond the Game Series: The Dirty Little Secret

Echoes Beyond the Game Series: The Dirty Little Secret

*Coach Reed is presenting multiple topics on Communication at the NSCAA 2017 Convention in Los Angeles. His Echoes Beyond the Game Series is a lead up to the material he will deliver that week*

Want to know a dirty little secret? This is the kind of secret that can create moments of magic – turning around a crumbling season, connecting with that one defiant player, switching on that internal fire of your players, creating a culture of accountability…
This is the kind of secret that is a game changer. It is known, even if accidentally, by the best coaches around, but rarely shared. Maybe this is because most of us don’t even realize how powerful this secret is or maybe we don’t want you to know it too. It is our competitive advantage. It is that “one thing” that separates our team from yours.

Want to know what is really wild about this secret? It is simple. Dead simple. So insanely simple most coaches laugh it off and miss out on its undeniable power. So silly simple some coaches refuse to acknowledge its existence.

How simple? This secret..this power…this special ability to change players and seasons has to do with One. Single. Letter. No kidding.

If you want to get that hard-to-reach player to listen, or that imploding team to right the ship, you need to know this letter. If you want your athletes to rise up and take ownership of their own development, or get a team to by into a Warrior Culture, you need to erase this letter from the alphabet.

This letter is the kryptonite to motivation, accountability, ownership, team culture, growth. This letter is used way too often by way too many of us with destructive results. It is such a powerful, influential letter that even those of us aware of its power struggle to eliminate it from our speech. But if you really want to connect with the essence of excellence in your players, you need to forget this letter ever existed.

Enough teasing. The letter is “i”. Well, not “i”, but “I”.

Yes, we’ve all heard the saying “there’s no I in team”, but this has nothing to do with selfishness. This has to do with connecting with our athletes, triggering an internal motivation, creating accountability, developing deep trust, and getting the very best out of them. This has nothing to do with the team. It has to do with how you instruct each player. This “I” is in our coaching language, not a trite saying about teamwork.

This “I” is the “I” we use when we talk to our players, and is wholly responsible for keeping a wedge between coaches and players, swinging the control to the sideline instead of on the playing surface, undermining player motivation and much more. Much more. When we coach our players we typically talk in terms of what we want as coaches and not what they need as players.

We say things like “I want you to drop the ball back to the keeper” or “I need you to listen to me” or “I will show you how to do this skill”. We take all the power. We make the experience about us instead of about them. We create a power struggle of us versus them. Coaching is not about us! It is about them. When we use “I” in our coaching language, we undermine the entire coaching process. Here is what “I” does.

In a power struggle situation (a defiant or unresponsive player) – it puts the player on the defensive. They don’t feel heard or understood. We are just another adult trying to control them. Solution – Make it about the player. Connect before you correct by finding out the underlying feelings that cause the behavior instead of simply attacking the behavior with “I want you to listen to me now”.

  • In a teaching moment – it removes the learning. This is not about what we want to teach, but about what they can learn. Using “I” makes it sound like they are mere passengers on your development bus and not willing participants in the development process. Each player has individual needs and using “I” shows you don’t care about their learning needs (this is like being the sage from the stage instead of the guide by the side). Solution – instead of “I am going to show you…” try saying “Tonight’s session will help you…” or simply run the session and ask questions. If you are a good enough coach, they will figure out the topic on their own. A caveat here. This does not mean toss out some cones and jerseys and crouch without saying a word for 45 minutes. I once watched an “Elite level” coach do this and tell me it was a “learning session”. Really? Seriously, really? They had no direction, no questions asked of them, no puzzles to solve. You still need to educate them, but you don’t need to make it about you or give them all the answers.
  • When trying to develop motivation – it swings an internal mechanism to an external agent. If they are always being reminded of what you want from them they stop playing for themselves. They play for you. Watch youth games on any given weekend and you will see this. Players look to either sideline for all the answers and all the motivation. They are pawns in our game of adult ego chess. If you want players to love the game, to fight through adversity, and to be fully vested in their own development, make it about them. Solution – Use the word “you”. Ask more questions. Shut up once in a while and let them fall and get up, then solve it with hints instead of answers. Ask them what they want out of the process. If a player knows what she wants, feels empowered to seek the answer with help, and hears a coach talking more about her than himself, she will swing that motivation inward. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than extrinsic.
  • When promoting a positive Warrior Culture in your team – telling them what values you want, goals you want, and behaviors you expect makes it all about you. They might as well be avatars in FIFA 2017 and not actual human beings. While you are at it, make sure you crank up all their attributes to 99 so you can win every game. Oh, wait. They are people and they do need to build those attributes themselves. Well, I guess you better make it about them. Solution – Let them create goals, manage warm-ups, help with half time talks. Make it about them and use “you” language. This is also how we create accountability. Players empowered to own the process also hold themselves and teammates more accountable.
  • When there is success – talking about what you did to get them there takes away all their hard work and their enjoyment of a job well done. Who wants to work that hard, put everything they have into something only to have some arrogant adult talk about all she did to get them there. Did you do all those sprints, struggle in all those “drills”, or leave it all on the field each game? Yeah, but we are all so quick to talk about what we did to “make” these amazing players and not what they did to grow. Again, might as well play FIFA so you can be the omnipotent being pulling the puppet strings. Solution -Give them credit, sit down, and let them enjoy their moment.

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