Do you have a good coach or not…
My oldest daughter loves volleyball. The girl sleeps with a volleyball tucked under her arm! The coaches she has had each have made all the difference to the team in each season:
Good coach = Good season
Bad Coach = Bad season
It is that simple. What makes a good coach? How can you tell? It is all in the focus.
One year she had a really amazing technical coach. In just a few practice sessions he had the girls on the team “reading” the opposing players. He taught them how to watch the opposing player and by reading her body position, how to see where she was going to place the ball. In just a few minutes he had them calling out, with amazing accuracy. This same coach taught them other amazing skills. My daughter really learned a lot of technical skills that year. But it really was not one of her favorite years, and the team didn’t do very well in the league. They ended in about 40th place. Oh, and she didn’t have a lot of fun. Which in the end, when you are 15, volleyball should be fun.
The problem wasn’t that he didn’t understand volleyball or that he lacked the skills. The coach played professionally for 10 years on a national team. No that wasn’t the problem at all. What it came down to was that he wasn’t a team builder. The team never really bonded and there was a lot of drama by the end. While she learned a lot of skills and techniques, the skills and techniques alone were not enough.
Contrast that year with the coaches she had on another team in another year. These coaches didn’t have the technical resume. Yah one of the coaches played for a college, but compared to 10 years on a national volleyball team that is nothing. They did teach the girls a lot of great skills. But what they taught was specifically tailored to The girls on that team.
Let it sink in.
What they taught was specific to the girls on that team. Not only was it specific to those girls, but it was specific to the way those girls were together. They understood that the a group of good players who work together as a team will beat a group of rock stars who don’t play well with others. And they did. The team was not a bunch of star players. Yes they were good, but what made them shine was that they played well together. They knew each other and they learned how to work together as a team.
Once they were playing at a 4 day tournament. It was long and hard. The girls were doing O.K. but not really doing what they were capable of doing. They were not playing to their full potential. I had been advocating for a team building retreat for some time and the coaches decided that this was the time. Because it was a large tournament the teams were assigned to either the AM flight or the PM flight. That is their games were either in the morning or the afternoon. Our girls were in the PM (afternoon) flight. So, they had their mornings to have fun. That year they ended the season in 19th place. I would say the girls had roughly comparable SKILLS, but this group of girls was a TEAM.
The coaches called a team meeting and had the girls do a team bonding exercise (no parents allowed and coaches were not allowed to speak, they were only there to make sure it happened). The girls sat in a circle. One girl was on the hot seat. The other girls would say one thing they appreciated about that girl. Every girl spoke. From the reports I heard, there were tears and joy. Amazing things were said. The coaches were astounded with what they heard. All of their beliefs and more, were said by the girls on the team. It was a powerful and moving time. At least that is what I am told.
What happened next is the proof of the power of team building. The girls were in the PM flight. That means they played after noon. Well they played WAY afternoon. They were playing a game at 9:30 PM. After having played several other games. the team they were up against, was one they had played before and lost to but they knew they shouldn’t have. These girls… these girls played the best volleyball I have seen. I am the team photographer and I didn’t take many pictures that game because I was just in awe, wrapped up in the game. One great example is a play that I remember vividly. One player went back to the far back of the court to get a ball. Another girl ran outside the court and behind her. I was confused. Why was she going back there? but then it happened. Because of the way the ball was being played and because she knew her teammate, that girl knew that the ball was likely to need her back there just in case. Sure enough. She was there and because who was there she saved the play.
These volleyball games are played to 25 points and the winning team has to win by 2 points. In this game at 9:30 PM (late for a bunch of middle school girls who had played several games by this point) the opposing team had 24 points, we had 16. In most circumstances this would be a done deal. The other team would win. But not tonight. Our girls fought back and won that game 9:30 PM. It seriously brings tears to my eyes when I tell this story. I am so proud of these girls.
Being team building coaches they focused on the girls and building skills that were good for that team, for these girls, at this time. They didn’t teach them some pre-packaged set of skills that, yes are good and important skills for a volleyball player, but not necessarily the particular team. They focused on the culture of the team and knew that the technical skills would come in time.
So, too you should look for coaches who focus on building the team. We most often talk about this as the culture of the team or the organization. If the culture is moving in the right direction then the technical skills will come. Technical practices and business processes are the easy stuff. Driving a culture to change is hard. Watch this presentation I gave in Poznan Poland about the culture change process.