It seems as though I have been seeing and reading a great deal lately about character related issues, reading more disheartening articles about this topic. There couldn’t be a more important role we play than in developing character and the ability to stand our ground for character expectations. This is an article from a few years ago, but I was compelled to update and revisit.
Learning How to Stand Your Ground
Phillip Brooks – Bishop of Episcopal Church in Massachusetts
“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones.”
“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.”
“Character is what you are in the dark.”
“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. president (1809-1865)
Think about the last time you had to make a difficult decision, when you were forced to choose between the “easy” option and the “right” option.
In coaching, playing, being great or the best at anything – many times the difference between being fair, good or great is the ability to choose “right” over “easy, ” and do so consistently. Do your players, when no one is looking, chose to do what is easy or what is right? Do they choose it consistently? Only your players can answer that.
Does the player-leadership on your team support and enforce (self-policing) what is right or what is easy? Do they support the “team”, the “individual” or what benefits them?
Did you make the easy choice as a coach to avoid a potential confrontation, even though it conflicted with your views and beliefs? Or did you stand your ground, and make the choice of what was right?
Were you fair to the situation? Did you explain it openly to your staff and/or players?
Right isn’t always popular, but right must be fair and communicated well. Easy… well, it’s just easy. It may be “right”, at times – but more times than not it isn’t.
When we have to make decisions like these, the choices are not often clear because our “heart” tells us what it believes is right and what is wrong. So, why do we sometimes give in and not do the right thing? Can we learn how to stand our ground, maintain our position, be fair and empower our athletes to do the same? Or are some of us naturally better at standing our ground, while the rest of us don’t have what it takes to make a stand?
When are we being too hard, or too stringent in regards to what is right and not having a “feel” for the situation? Understanding the subtle difference and being able to read the situation is an art, which separates exceptional coaches from the simply great ones.
Don Meyer called it the “competent and unconscious” coach. Those are the ones who have the chance to lead others to exceptional things. These coaches competency is exceptional. Their unconscious ability to “feel” the situation, do what is right, communicate what is right and empower those around them to choose right over easy separates them… gives them the ability for uncompromised greatness.
Emotion of confrontation often plays the deciding role. No one “wants” to be the “bad guy” or “villian”, but sometimes it is necessary, for both players and coaches. If we communicate openly and honestly with our staff and players, doing what is right vs. what is easy will usually be what is best in the long run for the team. This helps to eliminate having to be the heavy. Empowering your staff and players to “buy in”, to “self police” and choose consistently to do what is right because it will help us all achieve what we dream of doing in the end. Simple words… an enormous task.
Let’s examine character. Look at how you can develop it, and how you can defend your character by standing your ground. How through a process of establishing standards of behavior you can bring a team together, give them a common bond – a covenant – and help build it over the year to sustain their decision-making throughout that season and for many years to come.
How you can have your players take ownership in a process oriented approach to setting an “acceptable standards of behavior” guideline for their team and “police” it themselves? It has to start with an organized approach in preseason. When a team takes ownership of what is acceptable and what is not, you (as the coach) have a much greater chance of adherence to those team standards you deem acceptable to do what you need done.
Team building through a process of meetings is the key to the approach to establishing this foundation. I believe that the entire coaching staff needs to be involved with this process, all of the players and an outside sports psychology person when possible. I believe the latter is needed because every team will face a time during every season when someone will stray and that will put a strain on the players’ relationships with each other. It can also put coaches, especially assistant coaches, in tough and awkward situations that if not handled properly can lead to more problematic situations. Those players all need an outside resource they can email, call, Skype, Google video chat with to work through it. Coaches are scared to let outsiders in. I understand that. Find someone you trust, find a resource that others you know and trust use and trust – but find a resource. State clearly to the team and to the staff that this person is there for them, a resource. Let that person build a relationship with them and trust them.
To facilitate this, schedule a series of team meetings where you have open dialog regarding what standards the team will accept. The number of meetings will vary, but try not to cover everything all at once. There needs to be separation between meeting for players to go back on their own and talk about things. They will naturally, that will lead to further and future dialog. Discuss the standards for: on the floor conduct, off the floor conduct, practice habits, game conduct, travel attire, drinking, parties, study hall, all levels of communication, class attendance, nutrition and eating habits, everything. You have to allow an open forum to let your players speak their mind on the rules and regulations of the program. Let this forum be open with no judgments or ramifications for the opinion expressed. If a player wants to say, “I think we should be able to drink anytime we want, we are college kids.” Fine, let them. Discuss it with them, with everyone on the team. Not to say that the “inmates will run the asylum,” or that their feelings regarding these things will automatically become law… clearly set the parameters that there are some areas that are non-negotiable. Non-negotiables have to be specific to your or your schools core value structure.
At the end of your meetings have the team create their “Standards of Behavior” list. The covenant built amongst the group on how and what will be accepted throughout the year. I always thought it was a good idea to make it into a small, laminated or plastic wallet card or key chain and have players keep it with them all the time. Also, print a nice laminated color 8”x10” version for their lockers. Consistent, constant reminders to the covenant.
Hopefully, the preseason meetings and the covenant that you established will provide you with a path to a very cohesive and focused team. Inevitably, there will always be challenges. I have never been through a season where there weren’t challenges to the standards that the team agreed to. We are dealing with developing and maturing young men and women. They will make some mistakes and choices that may not be the best. We all did it… challenged things in some way, made choices. Don’t lose your mind. You should have consistent “standards” meetings – not long, little check-ins to refer back to the covenant, the pre-season meetings, how the current behavior(s) is/are/were good or bad for the team. Remember the focus, to teach them, to help them learn from choices (good and bad) and to prepare them for the choices they will need to make 5, 10 years down the road. Use these short meetings to praise and support how well they are doing in relation to the covenant as well. It becomes a strength, not simply another team meeting to yell at the team for messing up.
Immediately after the season sit down with your staff and address, review, evaluate the standards of behavior. Self evaluate what was good, what wasn’t… who (team members and staff) were good in it and who were not – and why. Write it all down. Develop a post-season evaluation form for your standards of behavior. Consult your outside sports psychology person and get all of their feedback on each of the items you and the staff have discussed. Give the team a private team form to complete and give back to the staff prior to your meetings so you can discuss their insights as well. Formulate an outline for a team meeting or series of team meetings much like you conducted in the preseason. You want to do all of this within the first two to three weeks after the season so that it does not get away from you or the team. Any of the points of emphasis will tend to be lost over time. It can sometimes be combined with your regular basketball end of season meetings, but give it the respect and importance it deserves by letting it have it’s own space.
From your end of season meetings you will find the strength of the covenant as well as the weaknesses. From that, redefine it and establish a set of goals for the off-season to improve it. In constructing a plan for the off-season involve your sports psychology person. They can help lead the team and give the team a “break” from you and your staff. The players need this as does the staff. Your message becomes stale over time. It also helps the sports psychology person strengthen their relationship with the team. Often the off season plan includes a team reading, team activities for those together in summer school or on summer teams together. Also, question and answer emails are very helpful in continuing the dialog and reinforcing the important beliefs of the program and the established covenant.
I can’t claim any of this as an original concept. It was brought to me in the early 90’s by the women’s volleyball coach at UMass Lowell… arguably the BEST coach I have ever seen at establishing a bond with her team, leading a team past their physical abilities and teaching them life’s lessons to be strong, healthy, confident and successful people well after their ability to play is gone. I watched it evolve year after year from 1991 to 2005, first hand at UMass Lowell then at Rutgers – season after season, very successful, championship level teams, unsuccessful teams, talented and untalented teams. The standards grew and developed, evolved, empowered and changed. The one thing that stayed consistent was the coach’s commitment to them, the approach and communication within them and the results in the people it helped to guide and produce.
This works, it’s incredibly valuable. For further information email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit http://www.drmikevoight.com/ for complete information on the sports psychology component.