important: marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence
valuable: of great use or service
As a player, I always wanted to be “the man”. Every possession and every play—especially offensively—had to be big. As a coach, you already know that no matter what sport you play, this isn’t a great recipe for success.
More times than not, the team needs most players to make the simple play, the simple pass, to just run a simple route. I struggled with that for a long time as a basketball player because I was more concerned with feeling important than providing value the way my team needed me to in that moment.
However, when I got into coaching, I struggled with this same concept. I needed to be the “sage on the stage”. Every time my players took the court, every team meeting, every timeout, every halftime, and after ever game, I wanted to feel important. I needed to make a play call, a game adjustment, or say something important. It was important to my ego that people thought our success was being orchestrated by me, the coach.
I have come to realize great leaders provide value in ways that don’t always appear or feel important, just like the teammate making the simple pass or encouraging their team from the sideline.
Those players rarely feel important, but they are still valuable, right?
As a coach, we may just need to spend the majority of our time observing and listening to our team during a practice, timeout, or team meeting. As a coach, instead of spending all our time talking, we should also be listening, assessing, observing, identifying the needs of players and the team, and then, at the right times, inserting ourselves in the right way.
Every coach has a small part (or possibly, a big part) of themselves that wants to feel important. At the end of the year—heck, at the end of our lives—we want to know we have made a difference.
When it comes to traditional systems of leadership, we operate in a manner of importance. I like to use the example of people learning to ride a bike. We, as the leaders, can typically operate more like the training wheels. When you take off the training wheels, people aren’t ready to ride. Thus, we are important.
Another leadership style can be equated to that that of the mom or dad in the backyard, walking alongside their son or daughter, giving them a push. We are there to encourage them and help them believe in themselves. We are ready to pick them up and dust them off when they fall. Now, we are valuable.
Stop being the training wheels and start walking alongside your athletes. When, and only when, we do this will we develop real leaders. It’s scary for us because if we are successful, we will work ourselves out of a job in many ways. Great leaders prepare and equip their assistants, team captains, and players to step up and take more responsibility and ownership. We will feel less important, but that is okay because great leadership isn’t about becoming more important, it’s about providing more value.
- Step Back and Observe: Watch their body language, the things they are saying, and the things they are not saying. Walk around the practice area, locker room, or wherever you are at the moment, and start to become in tune with other people and their emotions. Oftentimes, we miss some important stuff going on around us in our hurry to be important.
- Serve in the Little Ways: As coaches, we sometimes need to be the player who makes the pass that leads to the assist. Sometimes, we need to be the sacrifice bunter that gets the runner in scoring position. Sometimes, we just need to be the player on the sideline, cheering their teammates on. Before every practice, game, or team meeting, try asking yourself, “What does my team need right now?”
- Surrender Control: We have to give up control of various aspects of our team and let our players and assistants take ownership, even when we know they will fail. When they screw up, we aren’t there to point out their mistakes; rather, we are there to encourage them and help them through those mistakes.
So today, this week, and this season, continuously reflect on your behaviors, asking yourself, “Is this what my team needs or is this what I need?”
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