Inspired Coaching

This video has been making the rounds the last month. It’s  an example of coaching at its best.

Coach Belisle is focused on coaching people not baseball. I was standing with a parent last night at a junior varsity soccer game and she was talking about how easy it is for adults to be critical of kid’s efforts from the sidelines. We talked about how it’s never just a soccer player who steps onto the field, it’s a person, a whole person who shows up with whatever they happen to be carrying that day physically, mentally, emotionally; how easy it is to lose sight of the person inside the player and the game. That’s why good coaching comes back to people and relationships. That’s what this post game speech is all about: the people and the relationships. I’m inspired by this kind of coaching. Hope you are too.

It’s A Players Game … even for kids.

IMG_3016Coaching is an act of service. It may be about accomplishing results but it’s also about increasing an individual or team’s capacity to do even more. When it’s only about results it can quickly turn into managing or even intimidating people ( mainly young people) to get them to do what we want them to do and may even feel we “need” them to do. Empowerment goes out the window, growth stalls and capacity can actually diminish.

In a recent article for Psychology Today, sports psychologist Adam Naylor asks us to reconsider the coaching archetype. As Naylor says, ” So both championship coaches and science know that the demonstrative leader may have a lot of bark, but develops teams with little bite.” He suggests it’s time to appreciate the coach who brings less drama and more wisdom to the process. A coach like the San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich.

Popovich describes his style and philosophy in and article on ESPN.COM. He says, “It’s a players game and they’ve got to perform. If they’re holding the ball, they’re holding the ball. I certainly didn’t tell them to hold the ball. Just like if they make five in a row I didn’t do that.”

It’s easy to forget that it’s a “players game ” at every level. No coach, in any youth league game is going to dribble, pass, score or defend. When we try to manage the game or the training to, in effect, take the decisions out of theirimages-4 hands we diminish their capacity to think and develop a feel for the game.

Good instruction and feedback is important at every level and critical for the development of young people. But, instruction and feedback  aren’t the same as learning and the goal is to help them ” learn the game” .  What I want to remember is that it is how they apply that information to themselves and their situation to reach their potential that matters in the end. That process is what gets us results and builds capacity.

So, while it looks like a completely different world, those of us who work with developing athletes can learn something from the pros. I mean, when I think about it, of course it’s a players’ game. Who else’s could it be?

Training Journals And The Coaching Conversation

IMG_0650I’ve been using training journals on and off for the last 10 years . I’ve experimented with a variety of forms; everything from free form writing to formulated spreadsheets. Part of the challenge has been to understand the value of a journal and the ways it can actually help in training and in the long term development of a player. 

A journal can be a valuable source of information for me as a coach. The format I use to day has two sections a check-in and a check out. I ask a few simple questions to find out how players are doing mentally and physically as we start the session. It’s helpful in  adjusting things like volume or intensity and even just helping me adjust my focus and expectations. I’m more aware of the range of things they’re bringing into a session from the bruise or strain they picked up at practice to the pressure or success they’re experiencing at school.
Checking out helps me see things like how their level of percieved exertion is matching the intensity we were going for and where they’re feeling both successful and challengedin the training. It helps me work more and more with the whole person and the bigger picture over time.
 But, as helpful as it is in providing me with information I’ve learned it has another, even greater value. It’s a tool for self awareness and learning for the athlete. It asks althetes to pause before and again after a session and notice what’s standing out both physically and mentally.I can provide feedback and data about the training and what I’m seeing But, good coaches know good information or feedback isn’t enough. The player’s thinking about that information and their ability to apply it to them self matters more. The training journal gives them an opportunity to begin to IMG_2998pull that thinking together and make it their own. What they’re taking is much more likely to stick. 
Coaching is a conversation. To borrow Daniel Coyle’s phrase , it’s “ a long intimate conversation, a series of signals and responses that move toward a shared goal.” One in which the coach offers a piece of information or feedback and then engages the players thinking about it. A training journal is more than a source of information for either the coach or the athlete. It’s a starting point for that conversation and a tool to improve the qualilty of it by creating awareness for both and helping us think better together and individually.   
Do you have ways you engage your players and that promote self awareness and make for a better coaching conversation? 


What Matters In Your Sports Culture?

If culture is the set of standards and values that guide an organization’s choices and actions then a challenge for all of us who work with young athletes or who support them is to be clear about what we value, what we think is important and what we’re wanting for them. Gaining that clarity takes time, effort and support in a culture that values speed over depth, places disproportionate value on short term gains and views challenges as obstacles to be removed or avoided rather than stepping stones or opportunities for growth.

034_34The realization that things take time, especially the development of human beings, is a hard one to come to in a culture that relies increasingly on technology to solve problems and provide quick, easy, convenient solutions. But, true growth, real development, the kind that can happen through our experience of athletics isn’t about solving problems or fixing things that are broken. It’s about transformation.

Transformation means that what we are on our way to becoming is not just a bigger version of who we are today. What we are on our way to becoming is not yet apparent. Transformation is about the development of potential and possibility. The swan isn’t apparent in the ugly duckling, the oak tree isn’t apparent in the acorn and the butterfly is nowhere to be found when we look at Acornthe caterpillar unless … we know better.  And, we do.



We are up to challenge. .  Canadian Sport for Life is implementing a model of Long Term Athletic Development providing resources and support for parents, coaches and players. The United States Ski and Snowboard Association is working hard to take the long view. In my area the folks at Breakaway AAA Hockey are totally focused on development and the results are impressive.

We can start by getting clear about what matters, about those values and standards.  Mike Robbins shares a story about a minor league baseball organization that asked coaches to introduce themselves not by trotting out their resumes but by talking about their most meaningful experience in baseball. It’s worth a listen ( the story starts at minute 15).  Taking some time to remember and ponder those meaningful experiences can help us see more of what matters to us and what’s really important in developing young people through athletics.


It’s In The Next Step …

118_118The training group I mentioned in the last post is wrapping up a four week training block with an unloading week. It’s been a good start. While they may have big goals for themselves and their team we’ve been trying to just focus on the next step.

Focusing on the next step helps put each workout in perspective. Today’s training session is the next step. If we’re working at getting stronger then today’s step is to increase the volume or the intensity just a little bit. Adding the reps or the sets or increasing the weight is challenging and it’s also the logical next step if we want to get stronger. We can look at getting faster or improving fitness the same way –  a small next step.

The great thing about focusing on “the next step” is that you’re making progress from the start, moving forward and learning in each moment. Big goals can become abstract. Focusing on the next step keeps it real.

Focusing on “the next step” the step we’re taking today is a practical approach that has another benefit. As you keep moving forward you often discover you’re capable of much more than you originally thought. The “it” that you’re “going for” may just get bigger.

Keep going for it … take the next step.

The Phrase Every Parent Should Know

Youth soccer skillsDaniel Coyle recently posted an article on his web site that I’d like to recommend every parent ( and coach ) read. I haven’t met a parent yet who didn’t want to do right by their kid even when they’re behaving badly ( the parent that is not the kid). Whether it’s taking to our kids about their sport or trying to be a fan in stands it can be a challenge. I know I certainly made my share of bad moves as a parent.  Coyle sights work by Rob Miller and Bruce E. Brown who run and organization called ProActive Coaching LLC.  For nearly thirty years Brown and Miller have been asking college athletes about the ways parents have made positive or negative impacts on their experience.  According to the article two things stood out.

1. The conversations on the way home. Well meaning perhaps but, they often slide into evaluation, questions, sometimes instruction and even well meaning praise. It’s  not the right time and it’s not the right role for parents. Each of those things create a kind of pressure that usually leads to a negative experience.

2. The six words every parent should know.  So, what does a parent do or say? According to the players Brown and Miller talked to it was this simple phrase, ” I love to watch you play.” Those six word change everything. With those six words we go from being judge, evaluator, scout, coach, to being the one thing that no one else can be – a supportive, loving parent – the kind of presence that I as a coach can’t  bring to a kid.

Ponder those words this weekend and read Dan Coyle’s blog post. Then check out the link here or on the bottom of his page to read what happened when one parent tried it. See if it doesn’t make a difference.