3 Ways Coaches Can Inspire Players

 by John O'Sullivan from Sports Events Magazine

Most coaches ignore the relationship game. They assume that players know when they are doing well and when they are not. They forget how great it feels to get a compliment, or to be trusted and believed in. They forget what it was like as a player to see progress, and have your contribution recognized. Maybe that is the way they were coached, so they assume since they were OK with it, everyone is OK with it. But they are not.

Another mistake coaches make is that they spend too much time focusing on their top performers. Yet what about the other players on the team, the ones who don’t get the recognition? The ones whose names don’t appear in the paper, and may not even appear on the game day roster. They may never score the winning goal, or make the big save, yet they are a vital part of the culture of championship teams. They make practices better. They are the top players #1 fans. They can be your biggest allies, or your worst adversaries. How do we serve them? 

http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=wwwosullivanb-20&l=li2&o=1&a=1119209595Every athlete, whether a star player or the last one off the bench, needs three things from a coaching staff. The presence of these three things will help get every player to buy in. The absence, or worse, the antithesis, will destroy your culture, and tear your team apart.

Here are three keys to making your athlete’s eyes light up, improving performance, and building a championship culture:

Recognition: Every player on a team needs recognition. I am not talking about trophies for everyone and 8th place ribbons. I am talking about the absolute need for a coach to take the time to recognize the contribution of every player who comes to practice, gives her all, and fulfills a role. I am talking about the need for catching every player being good, and epitomizing core values. You see, the star players usually get plenty of recognition. They win MVP’s and all-league awards, and they get recognized by classmates and fans. But what about the players who don’t get to play? Without recognition, these players see themselves as anonymous. As Lencioni says, “people who see themselves as invisible or generic cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.” The same goes for every player on every team. No matter how much they love a sport, eventually they will grow to hate it if they do not get recognized for contributing something to the effort.

Relevance: Every player needs a role. Some can be top scorer, others the top defender. Some can be leaders, some can be supporters, some can be the smart guy, others the funny guy. But most importantly, every player must be something. Players without a role feel irrelevant. They feel like their hard work and effort don’t matter. A coach who sends his reserves to work with the assistant coach every day and never coaches them makes them feel irrelevant. A coach who never calls a reserve player into the office and compliments them for working hard, raising the level of practice, improving their shooting, something, anything, will lose that player. You must find something about every player and let them know how that contributes to the greater good, and that their work matters. If you believed at your job that no one would miss you if you were gone, chances are you would jump at the chance to do something else, and rarely go the extra mile. If your players feel the same way they will disengage too.

A way to measure their contribution: It’s easy to measure goals and assists, points and defensive stops, tackles, and fumble recoveries. It’s easy to measure a time in a 100 yd dash or a swim meet. But how do you measure things that are harder to measure? Let’s face it, a defender on a soccer team might never have a measurable statistic beyond minutes played, and if a coach consistently touts the goal scorers and shot takers, that defender can quickly start to believe that her contribution doesn’t matter. But at least she is playing! What about the kid who doesn’t play?

You can have players measure free throws made, or juggling in soccer, and chart progress over a season. You can measure who shows up first or leaves last, and give recognition for that. You can also find tangible ways to measure your team core values. If your team values effort, you can give out hustle points in practice. If you value positivity, you can measure how often a player makes a teammate smile, or gives an encouraging word to a player who is struggling.

Every sport is different, but the more things you can measure, the more ways you can demonstrate how an athlete is not only progressing, but contributing to the greater good. We value the things we can measure, so find ways to measure how each and every athlete contributes, or doesn’t contribute, so you can measure progress. In the words of Lecioni, “without tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.”

If your talented team is going down the tubes, before you look at your athletes, you need to look at yourself. If you don’t like what is happening, it’s not only up to your players to fix it. It’s up to you to fix it.

Do all your players feel valued? If not, fix it.

Do all your players have a role? If not, make them feel relevant.

Do you measure everyone’s contribution? If the answer is no, figure out a way how to.

“Who am I being that my players’ eyes are not shining?” asks Benjamin Zander. Who am I indeed.

Let’s make our athletes’ eyes shine. We might just win a championship. More importantly, we might just change a life.


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