Meeting Your New Team / by James Leath

You are meeting your team for the first time. Maybe you have been the head coach for a long time, or maybe this is your first head coach job.

Here is a conversation I had back in January with a new head coach who was meeting his team that night for the first time. They were a small college in Colorado, and I was called to help with what should be discussed. 

“What do you already have planned for this first, short 30-minute meeting?” I asked.

“We thought we would do an ice breaker, then go into team expectations, training standards, vision…”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I interrupted. “This is the first time the team is meeting since last season, there is a new coach, you have a lot of new players, and you are going to try and cram all that into 30 minutes, PLUS team expectations, training standards, and your vision? Is that all true?”

“Haha, yeah, that sounds about right.”

“Can I offer a different take on what could happen tonight?”

A new coach has a title, and with that title comes a certain amount of respect from the coaching staff and the players. But trust and belief do not come with the title. Trust and belief are earned by a coach through time.

“Let me ask you this--did the players have a say in the selection of you as a head coach?”

“Yes, there was a selection committee of a few of the players.”

"So if the players selected you as head coach, then they are already sold on you, though at a shallow level. What if instead of coming in and trying to impress them with your vision and expectations, you came in and thanked the players for choosing you, shared how grateful you ware to be a part of the team, then sit down, be quiet, and let them talk?”

“Never thought of that. What would the players say?”

“Maybe you could ask the players who selected you to share two things. One, why they selected you over the others. And two, some things the you should know about the team. Then, with that knowledge, and the knowledge gained through one-on-one in the days following, a vision, a plan, and expectations would be more informed, and therefore the players will feel like they played a part in the creation of it all.”

He thought for a moment...“Then the players would feel valued and see their contribution to the discussion matters.”

“Exactly! Have fun tonight, and let the players have the floor. Get to know them and let them get to know each other. Then, in a few days, you can present something to them that won’t have to change much after you speak with them individually.”

Too many coaches think the most important thing in a meeting is to tell the players what they need to know. Yes, there is a time for that, but not enough coaches give space for their players to share. There is wisdom to be learned from a coach, and just as much from an athlete.

As coaches, we could all talk a little less and listen a bit more. If we want our players to listen, we should model that behavior. I do not mean the players get to run the show. Coaches and athletes may have an equal amount to learn from each other, but the coach has the edge with life experience and emotional maturity, so coaches still get the final say.

Let them speak. Try it. Say something, then be silent. Give them the opportunity to practice using their voice among their peers. There is another name for providing young adults with a platform to communicate with their peers; it's called leadership development.

Remember, as coaches we are in the business of training the adults of tomorrow, adults who will be reminiscent of the things they learned from their coach (good and bad) above the stats and win/loss column. Be the memory of the good coach. Years down the road, you can enjoy the invitations to the graduations, scholarship and draft parties, and (my favorite) weddings.