There are many factors that go into building a winning team, including the talent of team members, their level of fitness, the speed in which they acquire skills, and their level of mental toughness. Coaches know that even when everything looks good “on paper,” a team can still under-achieve – which can be one of the most frustrating experiences for a coach. So what is it that undermines everything when it comes to team success? In my experience it comes down to one thing:
Getting the team to “buy in” to what the coach is selling.
Coaches who are able to get every team member to pull in the same direction and put the team before individual accomplishments stand the best chance for team success. The “buy in,” therefore, occurs when coaches build trust within the team and respect amongst team members becomes the norm — including coaches. When coaches take the time to cultivate a positive team climate and offer team members trust and respect, they get the same in return, and this dynamic is often the start to better team focus, motivation, and resiliency. Herein is where the real magic occurs, where teams go above and beyond expectations, win more games, and have more fun as a result.
So how do coaches get a buy-in from the team? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that, nor is there a one-size-fits-all template to follow. There are, however, a few key ideas to consider:
- Have clear team goals. Make it a point to have team meetings to help determine what are the most realistic goals for the season. For a young, inexperienced team that might just mean playing .500 ball, while a more veteran team might have goals for a championship. The key is developing goals that are realistic, believable, and challenging.
- Players need to know and embrace their roles. Avoid the diffusion of responsibility that often occurs when team members don’t know their role on the team. Every player should know what is expected of him and how he can contribute to the overall success of the team.
- Expect stress and adversity – and have a plan ahead of time. Rarely do seasons go perfectly, so be sure to have a plan in place for when team adversity sets in (i.e. injuries, losing streaks, etc). Stress inoculation is a great sport psychology technique that can help you prepare ahead of time for future stressful situations.
- Use positive reinforcement often. Be genuine and sincere, and make it a point to offer emphatic praise for hard work, discipline, team play, and handling adversity. Make sure to reward effort, even if the results sometimes lag behind.
- Keep it real and admit mistakes. Coaches are human and sometimes make mistakes – when mistakes happen, be sure to learn from it — just as you would like for team members to do when they make mistakes.
- Care about them as people, not just athletes. Ask your team members about how they are doing in school, what other things outside of sports they like, and what their future plans are after sports. By getting to know your athletes as people, you will build better, stronger relationships that will pay dividends on the field.
Being a successful coach takes more than just having talent — make sure to do your part by working hard to get team buy-in, and by doing so you can almost guarantee your team will over-achieve.
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