Do players like playing for you, or do they dread coming to practice every day? Are you even aware of how they feel about you? Are you pursuing a career where you will one day be a character in their athletic horror stories or the hero that changed their lives? I am sure you have heard the quote from Billy Graham before, “One coach will impact more young people in a year than the average person does in a lifetime.” If we assume that this statement is even partially true then you, as a coach, have been empowered with one amazing task and one amazing burden.
When a young athlete wakes up to instagram, eats with snapchat and falls asleep next to youtube, then their whole paradigm of what a basketball player is becomes what is captured in a loop of video. The hero is someone who can make others fall, a hero is someone who puts someone on a poster, and the loser … never be the loser who get’s made fail-famous in a video.
It was the 2007-08 basketball season, and I was going into my junior year at Emmanuel College. We had graduated five seniors from the previous year—a loaded team that not only won the most games in program history, but had also made the school’s first ever conference championship appearance. Riding that wave of success our head coach left, leaving myself and one other teammate as the two lone holdovers from the previous season. In our first scrimmage of the year, we squared off against North Georgia and emotions began to run high. After that game, coach pulled me aside and gave me three nuggets that changed the way I have approached leadership. I hope they can have the same impact on your leadership game as they did mine.
You will probably never again be in a position to delight and honor your special friends and family the way you can as an athlete or performer. The phenomenon of acknowledgment is so strange it’s almost funny. Let me give just one example.
THINK THE GAME
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Every coach is concerned with how coachable an athlete is. How concerned should a player be with a coach’s coach-ability? I think it ought to be crucial to you, even if from a purely selfish standpoint. If you happen to love your coach, love listening to his pep talks and philosophies, and want to do everything your coach says in the best possible way, you are lucky and will probably be able to listen attentively and flatteringly and do your best effortlessly. But what if you don’t like your coach?
No one is quite sure about how a player is supposed to act after a loss. It doesn’t seem necessary to cry for a week, especially since you are likely to have another game within that time. Yet, it doesn’t seem quite right to walk off the court laughing either. Naturally, some losses will be more bothersome than others, and, just as naturally, every player will lose sometimes. Therefore, it seems intelligent to prepare a response in advance for those unhappy times when the inevitable happens, you lose.
If you have a good coach and you are a good player, most likely you have already learned that the only intelligent response to criticism from your coach is to accept it, keep your mouth shut and try to learn from it. No one, especially tough competitors, can ever be expected to like criticism, but you certainly must be able to take it and learn from it.
For the past few years, I have taken time over the holidays to do the same two exercises: On New Year’s Eve I take time to reflect back on the year; then on New Year’s Day I take time to create my plan for the coming year. These few hours have become really special to me. In fact, I look forward to them with great anticipation. Looking back on the year gives me the chance to pause to celebrate and appreciate all that transpired. My reflection process is the same each year.