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Coach Communication (Part 5)

By Craig Sigl

(If you have not read Parts 1-4 you may do so here, beginning with our January, 2018 issue)

12) Put down on paper your philosophies and rules. Give to both kids and parents.

I am forever asked questions that are along the lines of this pattern:

“Craig, what can I do when (bad thing) happens?”

It is so much more efficient (and I’m an efficiency fanatic) to ask the question:

“Craig, how can I stop (bad thing) from happening?”

You as a coach know all too well that if a player only learns from making mistakes AFTER the fact, then it’s going to be a rough time for that player during the season, right? One of my favorite success principles is: PREFRAME everything!

Human beings do so much better when operating within frameworks. Since you are in charge, give it to them! Spell out as much as possible on a sheet or two of paper about how you are going to run things at the beginning of the season (and remind them throughout the season) and then simply stick to it!

People are afraid of the unknown and they lash out when they perceive unfairness. In the absence of your rules and philosophies, it’s much easier for them to think you are unfair and you are going to pay the price for it. The key to getting the most from this is to go into as much detail as you can like a roadmap.

Be deadly accurate honest about how are going to coach and go over specific things like:

How you make decisions for playing time, starting positions
• How much value you place on hustle at practice. What does that look like?
• How much will numbers/stats play a part. Which stats?
• How much being a “team player” matters and then define what you will be looking for.
• What specific behaviors in practice or games will reduce chances of more playing time
• Could you have a rough “scoring” system for that to put an assistant coach in charge of?

Philosophies about sport and/or coaching.
How important is winning vs. skill development to you.
Whose coaching style has influenced you? A mentor? Retired coach author?
A specific grievance/feedback process for parents and another one for players (tell them exactly how to get your attention, when, where, etc. )
What is not tolerated and the consequences if discovered

Spell it all out! Be specific. Don’t make people guess about you and what’s important to you as their coach. Take full advantage of your players’ desire to please you. I bet if you start this today, you will continually add to it as you go and eventually it will be like a mini company policy book and it will get better with time and you can re-use it every season.

Believe me, people appreciate knowing what they are getting into that is all out in the open for everyone to see…ESPECIALLY THE PARENTS. By the way, when you do this, a byproduct benefit is that you will become much more congruent and consistent in your actions which will be noticed by all. That’s leadership!

The idea of “unfairness” moving through a team or the parents is a cancer that destroys performance. PREFRAME how you operate and eliminate the problem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

13) Project openness and be an active listener to get valuable info.

Yes, I know some coaches are not really interested in being good listeners but I’m here to tell you that you are blowing it if you ignore this side of the coin of communication. I see no reason for you, as a coach and leader, to give off the attitude that you are unapproachable or scary to talk to. Any one of your players, assistant coaches and yes, the parents, may just give you a nugget of information one day that saves you and/or your team some serious difficulties at the very least and at best, point something out that you have missed that makes the difference in a game situation.

If you watch the TV show, Game of Thrones, you know there is a character named Lord Varys. His special power is that he has “spies” or “little birdies” everywhere whom he has cultivated relationships with that constantly feed him information. Information is power! In the show, with no ability to fight, no royal blood, no family tradition, no wealth, he is a major player who makes big things happen and kings and queens consult him.

You don’t have to use all the information you get, and yes, you will get a lot of useless information to sift through if you truly are open to receiving it. But I promise you, it’s worth it. There is one trick to making this work without driving yourself crazy. I’m guessing that reading this tip, some coaches are thinking something like – “That’s all I need is to open myself up to all sorts of complaining and whining and I don’t have time for it and I have to tell them things they don’t want to hear anyway.”

I get that, but what you are missing in that equation is this:

In order to be a powerful info gatherer (active listener), you don’t have to agree to or promise any change or action on your part based on what they are saying in order to cultivate the benefits like Lord Varys. In other words, people just want to be heard and validated! That in and of itself is a valuable commodity.

That’s actually more important to them than you doing anything with what they say. For example… Parent comes to you after the game and says: “My kid should be the starter because he is putting up more points than the starters you have out there.” The basics of your response will be:
“Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying. You think that your kid should be getting more time than some of the other starters because he is scoring more points when he does play than today’s starters. Do I have that right?”

Parent answers “Yes” or adds some more clarity.

You answer back repeating back anything additional they just said finishing with another sentence to make sure they know they have been HEARD. You end it with something like:

“I really appreciate you coming to me with that feedback, I will definitely take it into consideration with my decision-making process. Anything else? I can’t promise you anything here except that your feedback is important to me and well taken.”

What most people do is skip the middle part of the conversation where they repeat back what the other person said (You can do it word for word or by paraphrasing). This is the key that gets the person off your back and prevents the cancers from ruining things (as best as you’re going to get). That’s called validation and just know that people crave it!

Do not skip the validation part! Of course the other person hopes you change your actions based on their feedback but they will feel an unconscious satisfaction from simply having been truly heard. Do NOT underestimate this power, it goes a long way to keeping people from the“unfairness” problem blowing up on you.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com

Next: Part 6

Coach Communication Part 4

By Craig Sigl

9) Listen to your players at a deeper level. Let’s put on the table a few human communication tendencies that will be beneficial for you to be aware of for the purpose of improved performance through better communication as a coach.

A. Understand and accept this….most people, in general, are not very good communicators. They say things they don’t mean and they use words that don’t accurately describe what they want to get across. They often speak in line with how they feel AT THE MOMENT which is in direct odds with their greater or longer term goals. They can actually hold a completely different meaning of a word than the person hearing it.
B. The male of our species tends to hear and process words from others much more literally than females (but females do this too).
C. Young people learn quickly, through their past embarrassing experiences with their peers, to not speak up whenever there is a hint of that embarrassment happening again. Without going into it, can you see the potential for all sorts of problems in communication that can occur from just these typical human communication errors? There’s lots more I haven’t even mentioned. All of them have the potential to create long-term destructive beliefs in your players (mostly along the lines of fear of failure and rejection) that trigger nervousness, tension, freezing, timidity etc. at the wrong time and wrong place in their competition, that destroys their performance.

Performance = Potential – Interference

Now that I’ve scared you with all of that, let me give you a secret weapon that can help you navigate all of this like a ph.d. communications expert.

In any communication with your players, or their parents for that matter, you want to hold in your mind this central idea while you are listening to what they have to say:

“What is it that this person REALLY wants and is trying to say?”

In other words, we sometimes call this “reading between the lines.” I could write a book on this but let me give you a typical example:

When you hear a kid say: “It’s just not fun anymore” it’s highly likely that what they are REALLY saying is that I am tired of the pressure and the conflicts.” As a mental toughness trainer having worked with hundreds of kids in person and practicing the skill of listening at a deeper level, I know this is true for most kids. But, even if you didn’t know that, you could ask yourself the key question above and logically conclude that since the sport itself hasn’t changed, that something ELSE has changed to make the experience “Not Fun.”

…and you go from there asking follow up and more probing questions like:

“What do you mean ‘it’s not fun anymore’?”
“When did it start not being fun anymore?”’

In order to go a level deeper into listening to your player or parent to get to the root of the issue.

In simple terms to sum up this tip, have a general rule in mind to NOT take what people say literally unless you are 100% sure. Have your radar up for any time someone communicates something to you in any kind of emotion to trigger you to ask yourself that question:

“What is it that this person REALLY wants and is trying to say?”

10) Do not try to “Motivate” players. Instead, trigger their highest self motivation. One of the biggest problems I hear from coaches is lack of motivation from their players. It shows up in the form of not hustling in practice, lack of focus, too much horse play or joking around.

So what do most coaches do when they run into these problems? Why, they crack the whip, get tough, and enforce consequences to MAKE them do what you want them to do whether it’s in practice or competition. Now, I’m not saying to throw those tactics out, there’s definitely a time and place to use them. However, those tactics tend to be over-used, they usually get short-term compliance at best and, even worse, risk causing interference programs that hinder athletic performance.

(Notice coach how I continually tie my communication advice here back to improved performance because I know that is YOUR self motivation strategy for even reading this!)

There’s another tactic to add to your arsenal.

In my H.S. Coaches Mental Toughness Toolbox program, I teach coaches how to deliver mental toughness to their teams in 8 pre-practice meetings. Meeting #1 is ALL about this tactic here and what it entails is getting each player to specific WHY they are here on this team and what they want to get out of it. Here’s the kicker….you get the players to write this down and sign it! It’s a statement of commitment based on their self motivation! You are going to use this to the max.

You, as the coach, collect these papers and if you don’t memorize them, keep them on your clipboard and you pull them out often and everywhere and use the exact same words they wrote on their papers to help them connect THEIR desires to what is happening in the moment. And then, when appropriate, you re-communicate that connection to the player. It might be in the moment in practice or it might be a 5-minute chat after practice.

Speak in simple terms like:

“Do you remember writing down here that what you want out of this team is to give yourself the best chance at a college scholarship? Why is it that you want that scholarship? Why is that
important to you? Tell me how what I am having us do right now contributes to you getting what you wrote here? Tell me how what you were doing (not doing) is in line with what YOU WANT?”

The reason why this communication technique is so beneficial is because of the fact that kids’ brains are not fully formed until their mid 20’s. And one big part of that functioning that is lacking until then is this concept:

Delayed gratification

No surprise right? The younger the kids are, the more they want instant gratification. Us adults are here to help them bridge that gap until their brain finally forms. So, what happens
is…in the moment of you asking them what they want to get out of playing on this team, they will tell you honestly. But let’s face it, a few weeks later during a boring practice, that moment is completely disconnected in their mind and it’s busy looking for some kind of instant gratification. Our job is to keep them connected to their own longer-term self-declared motivations and the best way to do that is to get them to write them down and you bring it back to them when needed. They can always update their motivation page too which gives them a sense of empowerment that contributes to them owning their confidence. Try this, you will be shocked at how many headaches you will avoid and how much more self-
motivated your players will become, especially in practice and training.

11) Model and teach leadership
When I went to my first “leadership” training, I went in with the impression that I was going to learn how to emulate great people I admired like Bill Gates, Martin Luther King jr. and Queen
Victoria (yep, look her up). I thought I was going to learn how to magically instill a power inside people that would make them want to give up everything and follow me to the ends of the earth to create amazing world discoveries and advances. (a bit of sarcasm intended here).

Boy was I wrong about what leadership meant and that’s where we started with the training.

So what does leadership mean in the context of coaching sports? Well, think about this… as a coach, you already are in a structured position with a group of people who are highly desiring to do whatever you say, so fantasies of what people think “leadership” means are a given in your position. They have volunteered to follow you already! So that’s not what we seek.

What I believe REAL, effective leadership can do for a coach is to evoke an emotional connection to a player that results in a player tapping into a reservoir of energy and determination that would otherwise go unused. Everyone has this “extra gear” as they say and you want that going for you with as many players as you can get it from, right?

How to get it?

Start by redefining what you think leadership is all about and it’s what I learned at my training:

True leadership is turning others into leaders.

This means having in mind your intention to groom everyone on your team to potentially become a leader themselves! With that intention coming from you in all of your communications, your leadership actions and choice of words should naturally follow. You won’t even have to try to remember any specifics like:
a. Be congruent with your teaching anything. Live what you teach.
b. Encourage people to pass on knowledge/assistance to others
c. Teach them to think for themselves in situations and remove barriers to doing that
d. Master your own emotions and show players how to do it. (Leaders don’t just scream at
people to get them to do things for them under penalty of harsh consequences.)
e. Help your players understand what makes people tick so they don’t make up self-destructive
stories and WANT to help/lead others.
f. Leaders inspire and encourage others…

Starting to get the picture here? Leadership is really about teaching others how to be leaders all the way down the organizational pyramid. Even your least-talented player will develop confidence from leading someone at something (even if it’s at home and not about sports) which then translates to overall confidence bleeding into improved sports performance. (bringing it back to your self-motivation to improve performance again!)

Craig Sigl is the Mental Toughness Trainer specializing in youth sports. Visit https://MentalToughnessTrainer.com/coach for FREE tips for coaches to teach mental toughness to their athletes.

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Coach Communication (Part 3)

By Craig Sigl

You can read Parts One and Two here.

7) Be on the lookout for and take leadership in resolving player conflicts. Getting in the middle of and/or acting as the referee for 2 or more players’ personality conflicts is probably the last thing a youth sports coach wants to do. I get that and I sympathize with you for when you are faced with it.

Competition for playing time, jealousies, bullying, insecurities, back-stabbing, gossiping, bringing conflicts from home to sport, etc. You name it, if you coach long enough, you WILL see all of this and more…and it’s not fun for a coach to deal with, but you have to.

You need to understand this: You are only hurting yourself if you brush it off, ignore it, or otherwise minimize it without dealing with it head on. Before I go on about this point, make another conscious decision that it is in YOUR best interests (as well as the kids, of course) to make this an important piece of your coaching protocol.

Decide that you are going to do whatever it takes to eliminate team internal strife because it makes your life worse and, of course, hurts the team’s performance and their ability to take in your brilliance!

For starters, the best medicine for this is prevention. A strong statement about what you will NOT tolerate on your team and the consequences to those that violate that will go a long way toward preventing it. You also need to periodically remind them and confront any inkling of an issue head on and swiftly when you FIRST hear rumblings of any conflicts.

Bottom line? Nip everything in the bud BEFORE it can fester and grow bigger.

Make sure that everyone knows that not everybody on a team needs to like each other personally in order to play well as a team. Adults know this, kids do not. Sports is the perfect place for them to learn this valuable life lesson. How many times in these kids’ future are they going to have to work with someone that they don’t personally like, on a project in the real world, right?

Let them know that they can put aside their differences when they show up to practice or game and just get to work when it’s time regardless of what they feel about the others, or even you! Believe me, this is a novel concept to kids and well worth you communicating it regularly.

8) Manage and keep the “superstar” mentality in check These days, with our technology and the opportunity for just about anyone to become famous through the internet, achieving self-importance seems to be a growing goal among this selfie generation.

While some of this has always been a part of sports, showboating, trash talking and unsportsmanlike behavior will hurt a team’s performance when taken too far, which many coaches have told me is worse than it’s ever been, making it another priority for coach communication.

When too many players are all trying to grab the spotlight and hog the glory at every chance, then other players shrink away from giving their best thinking something like: “whats the use, they never return the favor.”

In addition, these supporting players certainly aren’t interested in fueling the bravado and, at worst, sometimes it can turn into active conflicts (see #7 above).

Again, don’t put your head in the sand about this issue either. The danger is that this is sometimes very subtle, hard to detect, and the players themselves may not even admit to the problem. But do not fool yourself that it is not affecting your overall team’s performance, it is and you need to keep your radar on high sensitivity to identify it.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes, this subtle jealousy shows up directed at players who are simply very good and continually make great plays from their talent and skill even if they don’t flaunt it or seek the spotlight. This is very common in girls sports and can turn into “fear of success” for the talented player. This unconsciously causes the girl to throttle down performance for fear of being shunned or gossiped about.

You can manage this by balancing out your praise and giving plenty of it to the lessor players when they exhibit successful team behaviors such as great passes, assists, cheerleading from the bench, etc.

You minimize the issue by constantly emphasizing skill development and effort and not going overboard in celebrating and praising performance.

Coach, you get more of what you promote. If you promote (by praising) the big scores and the flashy moves, you will get more of that. If you promote skill execution, you will get more of that…simple logic.

For the out of control glory hogs, you just need to make a calculated decision that pulling them out of the game because of these team-destroying behaviors is worth it in the long run. Don’t be afraid to use that weapon even if the wrath of some parents may come down on you later.

Coach, one play, one game does not a season make. Think long term and keep your own ego in check and you will be more effective towards getting maximum performance out of your players which makes everyone happy….win or lose.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com

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Coach Communication Part Two

By Craig Sigl

Let me just re-establish in Part Two here of this series that improving your communication with your athletes is the one area where your efforts will not be a choice between creating a fun/learning experience and striving for better wins/performance. It improves both!

Unfortunately many coaches far underestimate and underuse the power they have at their disposal and I aim to change that with these 18 tips in whole series!

Before I go on, one thing I failed to mention in part 1 is the importance of REPETITION of these communication messages. And if you missed Part One of the series, you can read it here.

In simple terms, don’t think you can just say any of these things once or twice in a pre-practice meeting and the kids will get it and you’re done. You need to give them spaced repetition (just like physical skills) on all of these communication techniques you are learning here and you must be consistent in applying them to ALL players, all season long, to have the maximum effect you want.

So here we go:

5) Identify and use each individual’s most powerful motivation strategy. The corporate world learned the lesson long ago that individuals respond and become motivated from different methods and means.

Some athletes do better when you leave them alone. Some actually like being pushed hard. Still others do better when they get positive encouragement. Many need to constantly be assured that they can make mistakes and not be punished and do best in an environment where their fears are allayed.

Do NOT make the mistake of falling into communication ruts of: “Well, this is the way I always do it for my players and it seems to work just fine.”

It may be working fine for you but you are missing out on bringing out your player’s full potential, or worse, contributing to their performance blocks with your rigid style.

Like I mentioned in part 1 and it bears repeating here, coaches sometimes need to be sold on how this type of communication flexibility not only contributes to a better environment for everyone, it results in better performance and therefore, more wins.

How do you find their motivations and what works for them? Just ask!!!

It shocks me to find when I ask a room full of coaches how many of them actually just ask their players (and/or their parents) what is the best way to motivate them.

Now, their answers won’t be the full picture and you might need to suggest some options like I mentioned above, but you can then just try different things and give your player permission to come back to you later and tell you that motivation method did or didn’t work.

Over time coach, with this new intention, you will find that you pick up on their motivations without even asking and you will find that next level of effort you so want from your players.

6) Do NOT underestimate the authority and influencing power your players give you. Many many athletes have told me in private sessions how a particular coach has literally played a significant part in shaping their lives beyond sports.

Now, you probably know about this, to some degree but I am telling you to take it more seriously and be mindful more often of how you use it. Even if you are coaching little kids in a rec league, in any given game or practice, you can have MUCH more influence over a kid than even their parents or teachers.

To maximize this idea, take a moment, right now, and consciously decide on what you want to impart to these kids as their coach. What will your theme or centerpiece idea of your coaching be that you want to impact your players with for the rest of their lives?

If you don’t choose this, then your communication will be more haphazard and random and not only risk underperformance, but dampen YOUR enjoyment and passion for being a coach. Why not go for a total satisfaction for the experience of coaching that’s WAY beyond winning in this way?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, for an example, you chose to make your central coaching theme to be: Courage…and then at the end of the season, a parent or two comes up to you and reflects that back to you because they witness a more courageous kid at home from your coaching?…and oops, sorry – don’t you think a team full of kids who are more courageous than when you first got them are much more likely to get more wins? But then, winning is just a byproduct….hope you won’t be mad at me when your teams win more.

😉

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his freeebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com