One Word That Can Transform Your Career Part 1: The Coach's View

             Maybe it is the annoying little kid in me.  Maybe it is the old soul in a body that I don't want to admit is not as young as it used to be.  I'm not sure what exactly triggered the change, but I have become very reflective since the beginning of my journey into sport psychology.  I find myself constantly relating what I learn to my experiences from both my playing and coaching career.  How could that have helped me as a player?  What can I do to transfer my knowledge into action with the players I coach?  Sometimes this can be a frustrating process because the answers do not come as easily as I would like.  The benefits have far outweighed the frustrations though.  I also have really grasped onto the concept of understanding what makes people successful.  What makes greatness?  Is it natural, or is it a product of work and having purpose?  In the coaching profession, my top three would probably be Pete Carroll, Gregg Popovich, and Joe Maddon.  I could write an entire blog post about what I admire in all three, but in summary it is their willingness to do things differently because of their belief that it can be done better than it has always been done.  In short, they have asked "Why?"  Why is it great to create a positive atmosphere with a DJ playing music during practice?  Why is it important to treat your superstars the same as the 12th man on your bench in the NBA?  Why are themed dress up road trips in MLB about much more than media attention?  These are all questions I am confident Carroll, Popovich, and Maddon have asked themselves, and I am equally confident they can give great answers.

           As a younger coach, I think it was only natural to be a little defensive.  I was confident in my knowledge of the game, but I found out that knowing the game and knowing coaching are two entirely different things.  One does not ensure the other, and communicating what you know about the game can be a challenge.  When a player would ask me "Why?" I saw the question as an attack on if I knew what I was doing or not.  "Who is this kid to question my methods?  Doesn't he know I played division 1 baseball?!?!"  What a short-sighted view on my part.  Maybe the player was not questioning me, but he was being inquisitive about the game.  Maybe he was wanting to understand the reasoning behind what would make him successful.  Now, my viewpoint has changed 180 degrees on the matter.  I want players to ask why, and I feel confident in the answer I can give them knowing there is purpose in what I do and say as a coach.  If players just blindly do what the coach says without understanding the why, then they are going to be coaching dependent instead of taking control of their success.  Coaching pointers shouldn't feel like a magic trick leaving players to think to themselves, "Wow.  I don't know how I did that!"  Don't get me wrong here.  There is a big difference in "Why?" meaning "Why the hell is coach making us do this?!" and  "Why?" meaning "Why will that make me a better player?"  Players should recognize this too, and be aware of the delivery of their message.

           Understanding the "why" is a must for you to have as great an impact on players as possible.  You need to have reasoning behind what you are doing.  Great coaches are constantly reflecting on what is working and what is not working.  If something is working, why is it working?  If something is not working, what is going on?  Where is the disconnect happening?  Assistant coaches who you trust are a great resource for answers.  You know who else is a great source for the answers?  Players!  Sometimes there is a stigma attached to asking players for their opinions.  I think that is the ego in us coaches.  If our goal is to help players as much as possible, shouldn't we ask them how they feel about different drills, practice methods, and game strategies?  It has been said that teaching is the highest level of understanding.  Instead of creating mindless robots, wouldn't you rather create players with the ability to think and reason about the game?  If nothing else, asking players can lead to a conversation that helps you better explain to the player your "why."  That may make the difference between them mindlessly going through the motions and purposeful practice.  It may make the difference in them having some doubt in a plan and them fully trusting it.  Which do you think leads to success more often?

          In summary, embrace the question "Why?"  Embrace it from your players.  Begin to love that they want to have a deeper understanding of the game.  Embrace it from yourself.  Reflect on what has made you successful and what hasn't.  Reflect on what you do well and what you could do better.  Ask yourself if you are doing something just because that is the way you were taught or if you are able to actually give reasons as to why that is the best way to do things?  If you are exploring the mental side of sports, PLEASE ask why.  Do not accept surface level strategies without any explanation of their purpose.  Telling you that Major Leaguers are taking a deep breath isn't good enough!  Don't be ashamed to admit having room to grow.  Just like we stress to our players that there is always room to improve, we have that same never-ending opportunity as coaches.  Take advantage, and ask "Why?" today.

Side Note:  This is the first in a two part series on "Why?"  In the next post, I will write more about the importance of the word from a player's perspective.


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