How will your athletes look back at playing for you? Being intentional about building positive, impactful relationships is key.
*I originally wrote this post over on my site – www.greatresourcesforcoaches.com – this past spring (2019) at the end of my son’s high school basketball career. I thought it would be appropriate message for basketball coaches to consider ahead of the upcoming season. Best of luck to all coaches as you are preparing to lace ’em up!
My son’s high school basketball career came to a close last weekend. I have been dreading this day for years. It’s over. All those years ago when he started playing, falling in love with this game that came to be such a huge part of his life, this was a moment I knew would come. I just didn’t want it to come so soon.
Unfortunately, it came way too quickly. I still see him in my mind playing on the grade school and middle school teams that I coached years ago. It seems like such a short time ago that we were going to spring and summer tournaments, working to hone his and his teammates’ skills, preparing them for the day when they would be high school players. And just like that – Poof! It’s gone.
Fortunately, he got to experience something this year that I always hoped he would experience at least one time: playing in the state tournament. I have coached in a couple of state tournaments, and they were truly special moments in my coaching career. I wanted so badly for him to have that experience, and he finally got to do that in his senior year.
While they didn’t win the state championship or didn’t even place in the top four, they made it to Saturday – the final day of the tournament. They lost in overtime in the morning in a loser-out/winner plays for 3rd place later that afternoon game. His team gave it everything they had and came up just a little short.
My son had his best game of the tournament by far in his last game, and it was one of his best games of the year. I couldn’t ask for anything more than for him to finish out his career playing the best he could play. Other than winning the game, it was about as good as it could get.
But the entire experience got me thinking about a whole lot more than just what my son went through all these years playing sports. While it certainly got me thinking about the experience he had, it also got me thinking about the experience I have tried to provide kids during all of my years of coaching. Have I been doing all I could do for ALL my players to help make all of their experiences as positive as they could be?
Then it got me thinking about you, my fellow coaches who read these posts. I started wondering if you are contemplating the same thing – thinking about what you are doing to provide your kids the best possible athletic experience.
What Part of Their Memories Will You Be?
As a speaker for Proactive Coaching, I get a chance to speak to coaches, athletes, and parents all over the country. In the presentation we do for parents at Pre-Season Athlete/Parent Meetings, one of our slides has a couple of pictures of parents standing with their kids out on a field. Above the pictures is the question, “What part of their memories will you be?”
It is a powerful moment in that presentation. We are asking parents to consider when their kids’ sport experiences are done, how will their kids look back on their parents’ role in the whole experience? Will they think of their parents positively or negatively?
However, this question is not one that we should be posing to parents only. It is just as, and maybe even more, important to be asking it to you as coaches. When the kids you coach look back at their sports experience, what part of their memories will you be? Will they be positive memories or negative memories?
You see, while some of you may believe you can’t control the answer, I believe you can at least have some say in it. Maybe you won’t have 100% control over how a kid feels about his/her experience while playing for you, but you certainly can try to have some influence over the answer. It is the degree to which you get intentional about creating the answer you seek that will determine the odds of that answer coming true.
What is your goal as a coach? Is it to win championships? Certainly, that is part of all of our goals. We need specific outcome-based goals to shoot for. However, if that is all coaching is about for you, you probably need to re-think your goals. While some would say that is ok for the college and professional levels (although I still believe coaches at those levels need more than just championships and outcome-based goals), at the youth, middle school, and high school sport levels, championship goals should be just one of many goals you seek.
How about providing kids the opportunity to have a positive experience? I believe that should be our #1 goal as coaches. Athletes want a great experience in athletics and activities. We need to do all we can to help provide the chance for them to achieve that.
How about teaching kids’ life lessons? I think that should be part of all coaches’ goals. There is much more than just the sports themselves that kids can learn from their sports. If we are intentional, we can help them get much more from the sport experience.
How about building a great team? That is a good goal for any coach at any level. Building a team from a group of individuals is one of the most rewarding things that coaches can do. Turning them into a “great” team is the best. But is part of your goal of building a great team also building a great team experience for your kids? If so, now you’re getting somewhere. When you work to create a team culture that provides your kids a great team experience, you know you are trying to help your kids have a positive experience in your sport.
Ultimately, when we start focusing more on what all kids can receive from this experience, we take big strides toward creating positive experiences and positive memories for them. Long after the final buzzer, last pitch, or last finish line has been crossed, our kids will have their memories of what it was like to be in our programs. When your kids look back on their experience, what will they remember most? Will it be a positive or a negative?
Build Positive Relationships
Coaches who focus on building relationships with kids and then work on fostering those relationships in a positive way are far more likely to be remembered by their kids in a positive way. Those coaches also end up building the team atmosphere into a positive one because they are focused first on creating positive individual relationships and experiences.
Ironically, what happens more often than not is that these teams also start to develop their skills and become successful because the environment is one where players feel trust, caring, companionship, and joy. They don’t fear failure and mistakes as much, so they compete fearlessly, thereby helping them to perform better. They also enjoy being in that environment, and they want more of the feelings the experience provides. Therefore, they continue to behave in the ways that allow that experience to continue, which in turn continues to lead to more success.
These types of positive team experiences and environments don’t happen by accident. Coaches need to intentionally work to create them. They must make them a priority first. If a coach is focused only on winning games, s/he will rarely build this type of team experience. While there may be some scoreboard success, it will be hard to sustain it.
But coaches who focus first and foremost on building individual and team relationships that are positive, yet demanding, lay a foundation for some special things to happen. They build a team chemistry and culture that attracts more people who want to be a part of it. They also help kids have the kinds of experiences they are seeking from sports. On top of that, they set the tone to help create success on a long-term basis because everything they do is built out of love, respect, and trust. People naturally want to be around these kinds of people and programs.
Coaches – do all you can to create the best possible experience for your athletes. Seek to develop relationships with your players beyond just what they can do for your team in terms of creating scoreboard success. Do all you can to help them have a positive experience. When you work to develop a positive experience for them, they will remember you as one of their positive memories of their athletic experience.
Is there anything more gratifying for a coach than to be considered a positive sports memory for his/her players? It doesn’t get much better than that. Get intentional and work to create those kinds of memories for your athletes.
More from Scott Rosberg: Goal Coaching – “Plan the Work, then Work the Plan” | Failure IS An Option! | Establishing Team-First Culture | All Blog Posts