I just got off the phone with an assistant coach that is meeting with his team tonight for the first time before the season starts. This will also be the first time the new head coach will be meeting the team. I was called to help with what should be discussed. They are a small college in Colorado.
“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 there is no rush to cram all this information down their throat. 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 that title. Trust and belief are earned by a coach through time.
“Did the players have a say in the selection of this coach?”
“Yes, there was a selection committee of a few of the players.”
"So if the players selected this coach, then they are already sold on him, though at a shallow level. What if instead of coming in and trying to impress them with his vision and expectations, he came in and thanked the players for choosing him, shared how grateful he was to be a part of the team, then shut his mouth the rest of the time and let the players talk?”
“Never thought of that. What would the players say?”
“Maybe you could ask the players who selected the coach to share two things. One, why they selected him over the others. And two, some things the coach 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.”
“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.
Try it. Say something, then be silent. Let them speak. 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 were 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.