Monday, October 10, 2016

Climb a Ladder

The lack of women coaching other women is at a critical stage.  There are many many reasons for this, some controllable and others not.  Women who want to be coaches, listen up, this is for you. 

Every once in a while for the past few years, a few articles or studies come out around the same time talking about the lack of women in coaching.  I read most of them, I don't read every single one.  But every time I do, I'm left with the same feeling.  It's a feeling that there's something missing in these statements of outrage.  

Although I agree in part with many of the suspected reasons for the decline, I feel that at least in part some of the onus has to be on us - women in coaching.  As a female coach that fought her way up the ladder for 21 years, I am passionate in my belief that we own some of the blame.  No one will ever be as passionate about this cause than those that it directly affects.  Since that is true, let's just take ownership of the problem so we can fix it. 

I can't tell you how many times I have looked at coaching transaction websites with utter dismay at a hire that was in no way or shape ready for a position.  I know, it sounds caddy, right?  It's not. This is not professional jealousy. The eye roll is all too often prompted by a female coach who seems to have gotten a job that's over her head.  Not just over her head, but WAY over her head, to the point that the end result of the hire is entirely predictable up to the number of years or months she'll hold the job.  It happens and it happens a lot...many times with good intentions of administrators who mandate that either the department or their head coach 'MUST' hire a women.  Cool, but the female coaching soroity would rather those well meaning administrators looked at qualifications first, gender second.   

Gone are the days of past where a young and perhaps promising coach can get thrown into a head coaching job after her playing career, pat her on the back and let her work her way into the vast knowledge this job requires. The job is too big, it's too visible.  It's a good problem.  That means people - and a lot of them - are paying attention to our women's teams.  But hey, it also means people are paying a lot of attention to our women's teams.  

This is not to say that administrators shouldn't aim to try to find the most qualified females to coach their female teams.  I think they should.  However, there are administrators that have actually admitted to reopening searches after only finding men who were qualified for their coaching opening instead of hiring one of those qualified men.  So what's the problem with that you ask... Why so down on females getting more of an opportunity? 

Two reasons...
#1: The scenerio has played out numerous gets in over their head, they fail, they leave coaching to never re-enter the profession - that school is scarred and is less likely to hire female coaches in the future (even highly qualified ones) and MOST IMPORTANTLY there is one less female building her skill to move forward in the sport.  Perhaps this coach would have been great, we'll never know.

#2: That female fails and confirms some people's suspicions that males are just 'better coaches'.  The female candidate pool has a harder time getting gigs in the future.  Female athletes who played for this very under qualified woman have a bad role model, they themselves don't think for a second about coaching as a career and the pool loses future female coaching candidates.

So why is it worse when a female gets in over her head and fails?  Because as it is well documented, there are fewer. If you count men's and women's teams in Division I, about a quarter of head coaching jobs are held by women.  That 40% number you keep hearing, well that's only talking about coaches of female teams.  Add the 100% of males coaching male teams and you drop the overall number from under half to under a quarter.  The ripples of failure from female coaches are felt more fiercely than if a male coach fails.  Unfair, perhaps, but it's reality.  A seemingly outdated notion, maybe, so let me expand.  There is an unspoken thought amoung many male coaches in the volleyball world, usually expressed with only an eye roll at the story of a woman that failed.  'Of course she failed, she wasn't as qualified or ready as so and so that applied for that job' is what that eyeroll seems to say.  Perhaps it doesn't lower the glass ceiling for other women in coaching, but it does make it a bit harder for us to gain credibility with our male counterparts upon first glance.    Since all coaches, regardless of gender, need assistant jobs to gain expereince and becuase male coaches hold the vast majority of head coaching jobs and therefore are doing the hiring, those eyerolls cannot and should not be ignored.  Credibility in coaching is important for men and women, and I'm asserting that for females the importance of credibility is amplified and harder to come by when time and time again young female coaches get in too far over their head.  Again, is that fair - NO.  Is it reality, as someone who has seen a behind the scenes look at it, I'm here to tell you it is.  Especially in the world of coaching.  
My point? To all aspiring coaches, male and female: be smart, toil, work your way up, take your time to rise to the top, read more, study harder, learn from people before you, be responsible for your own mentorship, become an artist of your craft.  There is no such thing as a super star fast takes hours, a lot of practice, and many failures to build the skill of a master coach. Learn the craft apprenticeship style so your failures aren't so large.  Then, if you ware so fortunate to work with young women, build them day by day into confident women who will not be afraid to stand up to her boss for the raise she deserves or intimidated by the overzealous guy who thinks he can interrupt her every thought.  Like I say to every young athlete I work with in gyms across this country, I need you to be awesome so that you can, in small and large moments, change the world.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#uracoach when you keep it simple...

‪#‎uracoach‬ when you make complex ideas simple because like Bear Bryant said: it's not what you know, but what they know that counts.

Coaches sometimes get complicated.  Often it happens on accident and because taking complex ideas and making them simple takes a significant amount of skill.  This is a skill coaches get better at as they grow their skills.

Sometimes, though, coaches keep it complicated because they're insecure in what they know and are trying to prove their worth or knowledge to themselves and those around them.  

And sometimes, they just lack the disciplined to iron out their lessons to just the things the players need to know to be successful.  

At any rate, as you grow your skills - remember for the good of your players' development - KEEP IT SIMPLE ALWAYS.  Find new ways to keep it simple.  Find fun ways to keep it simple.  And then, end practice by keeping it simple! 

Happy Coaching!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

‪#‎uracoach‬ if your players know you love them

‪#‎uracoach‬ if your players know you love them

This seems pretty straight forward, but so many coaches get it wrong.  Coach, you cannot just say you love your players, they have know it without a doubt and they can only get there when your actions tell them.  Why do you have to love them?  You don't have to love them, but if you want your team to reach the highest level possible, you sure better be genuine in your care for them.  

Whether you're a weekend warrior coach or someone hoping to climb the coaching ladder to make this your profession, trust me when I tell you to go find Simon Sinek's books and watch video of him speaking - ASAP!  Some much information from him and so little time...  One of Sinek's key topics is the importance of safety for our brains to operate at an optimal level.  

When you come from a place of love, and again this doesn't mean 'the I'm soft and have low standards for my players' kind of love, you will start to feel synergy.  Synergy is what happens on teams at times when everything and everyone clicks. It's like a magic school bus appears to drive your team directly over every opponent and piece of adversity in your way.  It's the result of every member of the group feeling like every other member is a trusted and important spoke in the wheel and instead of 1+1 equaling 2 it equals 3 trillion.  That all starts when your players know, regardless of their performance on the court, that you love them as a people. 

Some of the toughest, meanest, most hard core coaches in the world talk openly about how much they love their players.  It's not a crutch or a sappy admission of weakness.  It's a the most powerful driver of human greatness.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

#uracoach when you set a standard....and hold it...regardless of how it will affect the game...

#‎uracoach‬ when you set a standard for behavior based on great character and hold every player-especially your most gifted players - to that standard regardless of how it will affect the game

The standards spoken about above come from your personal values and vision for your program and your way of coaching.  It's when you don't come from your values or roots that you get yourself into trouble.  You see, there are too many decisions that happen day to day to address short term success that will trip you up, as a leader, if you aren't acting from a deep rooted and articulated place of value.  

From Daniel Goleman's book, Focus: 

If a leader is to articulate such shared values effectively, he or she must first look within to find a genuinely heartfelt guiding vision.  The alternative can be seen in the hollow mission statements espoused by executives but belied by their company's (or their own) actions.
Just some of the possible reasons you as a coach are enticed into not holding team standards:

  1. Avoidance of unrest, as in avoiding the parental outburst that will surely come if you uphold the child of the wrong parent. (hey parent genius - your kid probably needed that standard the most and now she won't learn the lesson because her out of control mom just 'got her back' - What is that?!  You're not her friend, Mom!  And you just robbed her of the chance to learn a lesson that might have prevented her from getting fired from the 10th job she's had. Way to go 'Mom of the year'!)  You are literally preventing coaches from helping your child go through the rigors of life so that he or she can one day fly independently.  Your reward will likely be a child-adult at home with you for life so you'll have that to look forward to at least.  Assume the best of your child's coaches and teachers - the vast majority are trying to help.
  2. Loss of a game.  Oldest one in the book.  This is on you, coach.  You have to determine if you're about winning first or teaching lessons first.  This is where the roots and values being your deeply held beliefs come in handy - when you're willing to deal with a loss and even a loss of a job to hold a kid to a standard - you are coaching for a purpose.  If you find yourself rationalizing a way to get that kid in the game when you know they shouldn't, you're just coaching to coach.  It's different.
  3. Team unrest.  If you built your team standards on solid ground.  The rest of the team will appreciate and respect you for upholding the standard so team unrest will be short term at best.
  4. Administrator overreach.  You players will respect you more if you leave rather than let an overreaching administrator dictate your actions.  Living on principle isn't easy, but at least you'll have definite peace of mind.
  5. Be the cool coach - have players like you.  Listen they might like you in that moment if they get to have fun or fly below the level of a high team standard, but you better believe that all things being equal they will respect a coach who makes them better far more than they will ever like a cool coach that let's them coast.  I asked a player one time who was giving me a hard time about not ever goofing off in position training, 'would you rather make funny videos or be awesome?' They choose awesome every single time.
Bottom line.  There are a lot of reasons to undercut the standards so arming yourself with indisputable reasons to hold your players to the standards will help make extremely hard decisions, easy.  You don't have to have 100 page rule book if your why is right and you coach from that why regardless of the outcome.

For more on this- get yourself signed up for the August 3rd Intentional Coaching Workshop in Big Rapids, Michigan.  After June 17th the price goes up so get everyone on your staff in right away!!!

Happy Coaching!

Friday, May 27, 2016

‪#‎uracoach‬ if you teach fans of your team to respect

‪#‎uracoach‬ if you teach the fans of your team to treat the officials and opposing players & coaches with respect

I hate to put it so bluntly...who am I kidding? No I don't.  It should be blunt.  Maybe blunt is the only way to get the attention of your fans.  Look coach, we want them to be fanatical, I get it.  You can chose to let that turn into ugly, disrespectful behavior - it's your call.  However, in a world where players have unprecedented access to information and spend time unconsciously sorting out the world's hypocrites, don't expect to teach lessons based on character while simultaneously rooting for - or silently allowing - bad fan behavior in the hopes of gaining a home court advantage of some sort.

Be proactive with your parent groups, student sections and community members by talking about their role and your expectations for their behavior.  Each group will have a different set of expectations and you can still encourage intense and enthusiastic support, but they can do that without being nasty and disrespectful.  Help them learn how.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

‪#‎uracoach‬ if you teach the parents.....#3

‪#‎uracoach‬ if you teach the parents of your team what their role really is-and help them understand and accept the role their child earned on your team.

Coaching IS recruiting.  Regardless of the level you coach, coaching is absolutely about recruiting the people in your charge to believe in the vision you have for your team and program.  A mistake some coaches make, however, is only taking the time to recruit the players on the roster to believe in and fight for that vision.

If that is you, let this be a nudge to get you to focus on the other influences in your team members' lives.  Every time your players walk out of your practice or away from a contest they are inundated with the opinions and thoughts of their classmates, program fans, other coaches/teachers in the department/school, and the BIGGEST influencer, their parents.  

If you are not taking the time to make sure your players' parents are buying into the vision you have for your team, you are playing a high stakes game of roulette.  Sooner or later you will lose.  You might not get fired, but you'll lose in the way that your team will underperform.  This is especially true in the case of the role player who is working to accept their place on the team, who goes home to the former star athlete mom or dad who just can't understand what you could possibly be thinking.  Or the player whose folks are confident that he or she would be the perfect captain, not because they are the greatest servant to their teammates, but for status....usually their own.  Little Susie or Tommy can have the best intentions in the world, but to overrule the authority of their parents as they compare to you, the coach who spends less than 20 hours a week at most, with them - it's not going to happen.

Sure, there was a time when parents innately understood that even if you didn't agree with a coach, you simply would never let your child know. As a parent they would NEVER, and I mean NEVER, work to undermine the authority of a coach if, for no other reason, they understood that they couldn't possibly have all the required information to give their input - since they are not at practice, in the locker room and privy to the inner workings of the team.  That sadly is not the norm in today's climate.  

Take the time to recruit your athletes to see your vision and believe in it thoroughly.  Teach them that their parents largest window into your program is through their eyes.  Make sure in all cases you help your players advocate for your vision by having preventative conversations with parents about roles, about handling disagreements, and about the sacredness of the team.  In some cases, the player might have to carry the burden of countering parents quick to complain about a coach by not allowing themselves to use their parents as people they vent to.  Unfortunate as it is, some parents just can't handle not acting on the partial information that comes up in conversations like that. 

If you take the time to recruit the groups of people that surround your team, you'll find the sails of your boat always full of wind pushing your program through the roughest of waters.

Happy Coaching!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

#uracoach Post #2

#‎uracoach‬ if you recognize and teach your players and their parents that 'perfectionist' is a dirty word if they're hoping to develop. Failure is a necessary aspect of striving for greatness.

It's often the parent, speaking for their child who says it first.  For me, an avid reader and re-reader of books like The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle and Mindset, by Carol Dweck, it's a cringe worthy moment.  "Little Johnny is such a perfectionist," the parent says beaming with pride or in that excuse tone coaches hear often.  This is the point of the conversation where I found myself doing a silent 10 count to stop myself from screaming before going on to point out that this 'perfectionist' idea you speak of is A.) Not a fixed trait - like he was born with and extra toe and so it' s just a part of who he is, and B.) It is not a mark of greatness.  Quite the opposite in fact. 

A perfectionist mentality suggests that one simply MUST be perfect to be satisfied and/or happy.  Since we know that there is no such thing, let's stop wearing the label like it's a badge of honor.  Those players who tend to be fall under this category do so for one of a few reasons: 

  1. They learned early that if they mess up it is bad and so they better show the world that they are disgusted with their mistake to gain the approval of the adult who is teaching them.  Bonus points if they're really hard on themself because then they'll get that same adult to not be so hard on them and their mistake.
  2. They were told time and again how talented they were at a certain skill or how naturally it came to them.  If you've read Mindset, you know that this player is now in full out protect mode.  They will avoid taking risks for fear of failing and will do anything they can to protect their naturally talented title lest anyone should find out that maybe they aren't as good as they originally were thought to be.
  3. They are simply stuck with the misconception that they are supposed to be perfect.  Again, that is impossible and also unattainable.
These players will all fail to meet their potential.  They will all provide negative distraction to their teams, too.  Tip for you parents, change your language and help your kids overcome this mindset if this is them.  Most coaches on the recruiting trail will see this as a red flag to guard against rather than the selling point you think it is.

Don't forget to register for the Intentional Coaching Workshop by June 17th at

Happy Coaching!