Coaches are tasked with developing successful teams on the field or court, but aside from having naturally talented players, what else goes into winning? There are countless examples at all levels of sports where we witness seemingly average (or even below-average) teams “on paper” rise above all expectations and play competitively with the best teams in the league. Conversely, we also see some coaches fail at developing what should be a winning team (because of the perceived talent), and end up performing far below expectations. So what exactly goes into winning?
Beyond the X’s and O’s
Let’s start with some of the basics — first, your attitude as a coach is arguably the single biggest variable linked to your coaching success. When coaches bring their A-game and are passionate about being with kids, their attitude quickly becomes contagious to the entire team. The law of reciprocity suggests that we often mirror back to people the attitude they display to us — and this is especially true for kids when it comes to responding to an upbeat coach. The great thing about attitude is that it is 100% under our control, meaning that coaches who might not know as much X’s and O’s as other coaches can often make up the difference by building strong, resilient interpersonal relationships with the kids they coach.
So why doesn’t every coach promote a positive attitude all the time? The easy answer is that while attitude is under our control, life sometimes gets in the way when we deal with stress, tough days, and even crummy weather. The reality is that cultivating a healthy, positive attitude does take a little work, but the bigger question might be why even go into coaching if you aren’t willing to make the small commitment of bringing a positive attitude every day?
Positive coach impact tips
While there is no perfect recipe for building a winning team, there are a few important things to consider that will help you increase your chances for success.
- Model positive behavior at all times. How you conduct yourself, the language you use, and the integrity and sportsmanship you display is directly correlated with how your team will model these same behaviors.
- Treat every kid like he or she is an important part of the team. Sure, it’s easy to laud the star with praise, but how well do you know the kids at the end of the bench? Remember, they come to practice and dedicate their lives to the team, too, but are often forgotten or overlooked. Make sure to recognize all the kids on the team, not just your best players.
- Make time to talk 1-1 with kids. It’s amazing what brief, one-on-one conversations can do with kids as far as relationship development goes. Take time out and make time to chat individually with kids about their classes, their future goals, and how they can continue to improve in the future — the 5-10 minutes you invest in these kinds of conversations can lead to huge dividends down the road.
- Be sure that every kid knows his or her role. One of the best ways to see immediate team success is by helping each kid understand the specifics of his or her role on the team. Simply telling the team to “play their best” is vague and does not provide the details kids need in order to do their individual job. Instead, make sure every kid — including the reserves — are clear about what they can do to help the team succeed.
- Stress the little things. Often the “little things,” like being ready and on time, supporting teammates, and getting enough rest, are the tasks that are viewed as trivial and unimportant — yet these are precisely the reasons why some teams regularly experience success.
- Make goals visible. If you think the kids you coach will remember team and individual goals, you may be setting yourself up for failure. The reality is that we are lucky we can remember what we had for lunch earlier today, much less goals we set months ago. Make sure all your goals are prominently displayed where your team will see them each and every day if you want to improve focus — and the likelihood the kids you coach will actually reach the goals your team has set.
If you are a coach and want to take your team to the next level, then it’s important to take a closer look at how you are doing building relationships with kids. Rarely does talent alone win championships, and great coaches also know that otherwise average teams can be coached up to greatness when coaches refine their leadership and player development skills.