Redefining My Definition of Success as a Coach

Success, in general, is such an inexact term.  What I mean is that the definition of success for a random sampling of 100 different people may yield 100 different answers.  None are wrong.  The fact that people have different ideas of what success is can be very important when being involved in team sports because it helps understand individuals.  As a younger coach, I struggled for years with a lack of understanding of what success was in coaching.  My perspective was out of whack.  As a cocky, division-one baseball player who had an opportunity to coach in college I was going to go into high school baseball, help create a factory of hitters, and win multiple state championships.  I thought I knew so much when really I could not have had more to learn (still do too!).  With that warped sense of what success was, every year was a disappointment because we did not win a state championship.  If kids did not become great hitters, in my mind it was because they "just didn't get it."  How many times do we hear coaches say that (know I've been guilty, maybe another blog post entirely)?  Another reason I struggled, and something I DEFINITELY struggled with as a player, was I allowed on-field results to create my value as a person.  When I look back, and this is really as recent as two or three years ago, my mind is blown at how much time and energy I wasted with such a shallow and unrealistic definition of what success is.

About three years ago, when I read Mental Keys to Hitting by Harvey Dorfman, I began a journey as a coach.  I compare it to what hitters go through when making significant mechanical adjustments to a swing.  Everybody wants the instant fix, but baseball requires hitters to follow a process for the change to truly take hold.  After that initial excitement of making a change wears off and false hope of things working right away fades with it, you have to get to work.  Progress is seen off the tee, then maybe in front toss, BP, and finally the changes are able to take hold in the game.  This process may take weeks, months, or even years of development.  That is what I feel like I've gone through as a baseball coach with my understanding of sport psychology.  I was able to make a couple of quick changes based on what I read and felt like I had great results with those little changes.  What I didn't realize at the time was the changes were very surface level and could only have a limited impact.  I'd need to "hit the tee" to really see any significant progress.  I read books, spoke with people who have been successful, and took classes.  I began to apply what I learned with players I coached.  There were many ups and downs.  As a hitter, this would have meant good and bad at-bats.  It would have meant games where you contemplate whether it was all worth it and maybe go back to your old swing for a game or two.  As a coach, this meant going through periods of time where I questioned different aspects of the mental side of the game and how I did things.  It meant many times as an assistant coach where I'd want to say anything but would find myself doubting what I had to say.  It also meant fighting through a perception of what coaching was all about and understanding that it can be different than what was largely accepted.

With all that said, I know I do not know everything about coaching.  That is something I think many young coaches with high aspirations and confidence in their knowledge of the game may struggle to accept early on.  What I have been able to do is to place the same expectations I have for players on myself:  1. Understand who you are and 2. Work to improve.  Honest self-reflection is absolutely essential for growth in any aspect of life, and it is something I can say I have done as a coach.  I know my strengths and focus on them, but I challenge myself to work on my weaknesses.  Purpose is something that has helped me tremendously.  I've gotten much better at having purpose in what I say and how I say it.  I'd be remiss if I did not say that what has allowed this development as a coach is being part of a great staff.  Our head coach allows us to be who we are as coaches, and we all compliment each other well.  I'm able to work in an environment where I can grow as a coach and human being and am encouraged to do so, in different ways, by everyone I work with.  This is something I do no take for granted as I speak with guys I know who coach in other programs at multiple levels.

I know I have kind of strayed from the initial topic of this post, but I feel like understanding part of my journey and what has made it possible is essential to understanding my redefinition of success and my general perspective in the blog.  With that being said, here is what success has become for me as a coach.  Excuse me for stealing a little bit from Gary Mack in Mind Gym, but I love the way he worded part of what success is.

My Definition of Success:
"Success is peace of mind that comes from being able to say, with confidence, that I did my best to help every member of the team feel valued in their role and as a person.  It is being able to say that I did my best to aid their development as players and human beings.  I did my best to help maximize both individuals and the team."

There is no mention of winning state championships or helping to produce division-one hitters for me.  Do I still want to win a ring?  Absolutely, but I understand what goes into it and that a season can still be successful without winning one.  If the only definition of success was winning a state title, only a few programs would be considered successful in each state every spring.  Do I still want to help players get a chance in college?  Absolutely, but it is just as important for me to help those who will never play another baseball game understand how this great game has importance in their lives.  For me not to understand that would be a disrespect to all of the work put in as athletes and educators.

For me, I understand more and more what success is at the high school level as I feel the amount of pride I have in former players and what they become.  I have just as much joy in seeing guys become teachers, businessmen, or coaches as I do in seeing guys play well in college or get drafted.  The players I miss, more and more, are the players who truly embraced the concept of team sports.  More and more often, they are not the guys with the highest batting averages or the most wins on the mound.  They are the guys who got an at-bat here and there were still able to be a great teammate and work every day to get better.  It takes a truly special human being to be able to do that.  Success, for me, is seeing all of those guys have the opportunity to create whatever their definition of success is in life.  Is my definition of success as a coach right?  For me, I think it is.  Yours could be different.  All that I ask is that you challenge yourself to reflect on what success is to you.  I think it will help you as it has helped me.

I recently finished a book called Mind Gym by Gary Mack.  He was very well known in the sport psychology field and worked with multiple professional teams.  Below is part of a poem Mack liked enough to include in the book.  The poem is called "The Guy in the Glass" and is by Dale Winbrow. I loved it when I read it and thought it related well to the post because of its message on self-reflection.  Hopefully it makes you think a little bit.

"When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you've cheated the man in the glass."

I know I still have a lot of room to grow as both a coach and human being.  Acknowledging that is important.  When we stop learning and growing, we cheat everyone who isn't lucky enough to have the opportunity.  Do you have room to grow as an athlete, coach, or parent?  Please let me know if I can help you in any way at all.


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