Joe Ehrmann, author of Inside-out Coaching, teaches us that the origin of the word compete means to strive together.
In James Kerr’s Legacy, we learn of the All Blacks’ Haka – a ritual which is a call to compete.
Do you view competition as a time to celebrate hard work with your opponent?
Or is at a time to show your superior coaching acumen and belittle your opponents.
Teach those you coach to not get so wrapped up in beating your opponent that you miss an opportunity to appreciate excellence. Set a goal to tell your competitor ‘nice play’ at least once per game. It demonstrates class and sportsmanship, takes away the fear of being outplayed, and sets a bar of what excellent looks like.
My son is our face-off man on our lacrosse team. He bumps knuckles with his opponent before every face-off. It’s a tiny gesture, but a huge gesture. He scores a lot of goals and was voted as co-MVP of our team, but nothing he does on the field makes me prouder than his sportsmanship demonstrated through this gesture.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Why do most parents end up coaching one of their kid’s teams? Is it to fulfill their lifelong dreams that they are the next John Wooden? Is it so they can make their kid the starting quarterback or shortstop? (There will be parents on 99.9% of teams that accuse you of this.)
The reason most parents start coaching is to prevent their child from playing for a bad coach. A yeller. A win-at-all-costs coach. An unorganized time-waster. Someone who takes the fun out of learning and playing a sport. That’s why I started coaching.
So since I have the right motives everything will just go great, right? The parents and kids will see that I am a ‘fun’ coach and love being on this team, right? No one will care if we get pummeled in most games because we are playing for the right reasons, right?
Don’t make the mistake that I did my first few years of coaching – indirectly teaching your kids that nice guys finish last. That was a lazy coaching philosophy. I didn’t do my homework and prepare our team. I didn’t realize it, but I was teaching the kids that being average was OK.
What I eventually did was research the most effective ways to teach the kids to be excellent. To be great. To be awesome. Preparing a team to win and being a win-at-all-costs coach are two very different things. A wise coach taught me: “Learn to compete ‘as if to win’, not ‘for the win.’ You can’t control the way the ball bounces or referees’ calls, so winning is not the only objective. But you can control whether or not you have done everything possible to prepare your team for greatness.
I Corinthians 9:24
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
After a really tough loss ended a deep playoff run, our team had our post-game chat. And then something really memorable happened.
Sure, we encouraged the kids in the post-game wrap up. We celebrated all the things we did well. We broke out one last time in our team chant.
And then something unexpected happened.
One of our players, who was young, small, and not a star on the team- came up and hugged me and started crying a little (I’m sure he would never admit it.) Then he took a few steps, and came back and hugged me again.
Wow was that powerful. Instantaneously that small gesture had make me forget about the toughest loss of my coaching career.
When the whistle blew to end the game, I had countless doubts running through my head. Did we prepare the team the proper way? Should I have called a different play? What went wrong?
But that hug erased all the doubts and questions. As a team and as coaches – we had stuck to our mission, worked endlessly to be great, and done it the right way. Were we perfect? No. But that young man told me, without using any words, that the road to greatness is awesome and this was truly a season and experience he loved.
One mistake I made on a team I coached was how I handled a highly emotional situation. One of our players made it very obvious he really wanted to play a certain position. After evaluating the players, our coaching staff determined the line-up that made the most sense for the team. This player was not initially going to start at the position he wanted. Not getting to play the position you want or think you deserve is something that happens all of the time in sports, but the wise coaches deal with it in a way that can help diffuse the situation. I was not wise with this young man.
I showed up for practice, called our team together, and announced all the positions in front of the whole team. This boy was very upset and it was very visible.
I could have saved that player a lot of embarrassment, and the team a very awkward situation, if I had handled it differently.
What I should have done was pull this player aside before practice and had a one-on-one discussion. There is no point in embarrassing him in front of the whole team with a surprise. This would also allow me to explain to him that he was going to get a chance to play that position, he just wasn’t going to start the first game there. It would also have allowed for him to express any disagreement or concerns with the decision in a much more comfortable setting. Communicating with more sensitivity would have greatly diffused what turned into a pretty ugly situation.
Building up the self-esteem of these young boys and girls is the most important aspect of youth coaching, and this requires wisdom. Having wisdom in the area of communication with players means taking into consideration the right way of presenting disappointing news, and utilizing this as a teaching moment.
James 3: 17-18 – But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.