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I've seen lots of blog posts about team rules and athlete 'consequences'. These discussions rarely address the actual rules and their relevance, focussing instead on how to manage rule transgressions. But sometimes the problem isn't the transgression, its the rule.
Imagine a situation where you have a number of reasonably important competitions coming up, and you want to make sure your best athlete is preparing and competing the way you think will optimise performance. So you set a rule that, if you aren't in training camp by a particular day, then you are not going to be selected for the entire season. Makes sense, right? You are just doing your job by making sure your best player has optimal preparation. But what happens when he doesn't arrive by your deadline. You still need him. So you select him for the activities he makes himself available for. What have you gained by creating a rule, having the athlete break it, then breaking it yourself? There is a story by Phil Jackson about coaching Dennis Rodman. He was asked what it was like coaching someone like Dennis Rodman and his notorious inability to follow team rules. His response was that it was his job as the coach to help Dennis be the best professional he could be. His point: that individuals are different and as much as we might want them to fit into our boxes some just don't. One last example, which is probably the most powerful single piece of advice I've ever received. I used to work in a large office with 6 co-workers. I was once talking to someone on the phone when a co-worker, a brilliant guy who was on the Asperger's spectrum, came and sat on my desk, facing me, and started answering the questions I was asking the person on the phone. I ignored him, but this did not dissuade him from providing advice. At the end of the day I talked to my boss and indicated to him that I was going to chat with my co-worker about boundaries and ask that he refrain behaving like that at work. His response, which I remember clearly, was: 'That's really good Alexis. Very sensible. Just one question: Do you think it will make any difference?' I immediately stopped and realised - no. It would make no difference at all. So I never mentioned it, and this brilliant co-worker's behaviour never again frustrated me because I just accepted it. So - how do you stop athletes from breaking rules? Sometimes by not setting them. By accepting that having the rule won't actually change behaviour, it will just create stress.
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On rules within the non-game and game settings, I have 21. Never intend to hurt any other individual by design. It will make you the bad person not them. This is usually found in bully behavior and violence is resorted to as an act of dominance. I do let them know that I find no heroics in blindside plays or intentional overplay.2. Always try your best. It is why you are here3. Wow me. I have only felt I had to use intentional harm a few times. Some involved talks with parents and child. All involved me notifying all coaches that were on the ice of what happened and why it upset me. One involved a 2-week suspension from all team activities followed by a 2 week period with parents present 100% of the time at all team functions. This last may be most beneficial for U14 as parents play a larger role. Fairness is your strongest ally in team matters. If players see playing time dimminished for reasons outside discipline they will not see punishment the same as the coach. The players rationalize it as expendable player so who cares. If you use playing time as a reward then you can only use fear and discipline. This is the trap that older coaches have learned to avoid by saying "we really dont have rules"
Thanks Tony - some great insights there. The point of my post was to make people think about the rules they have. All teams have rules - my point is that maybe not nearly as many are required. As you noted in your first 'rule' - basically you are asking all players to be good team-mates. And if the consequence to being a bad team-mate is diminished playing time, then everyone sees the value.
Yes but,or as some say It depends1.This season at baseball a co-coach offered up that last player to the field would bat last. They don't drive yet2. If they miss practice they miss playing time. If they intentionally miss a practice I think that my practices need to change. If it's unintentional then were back to square 13. Should we reward effort? Who's the judge? and to truly reward effort we have to be careful to not just reward genetics. ( a taller kid has more leverage on a ball ) effort or genetics? My point is that as I grew as a coach I saw the need for rules lessen. 35 years ago I gave high school kids a book now it's a page. build your relationships, steady your hand on the wheel, keep a guiding star. Teach the kids to treat each other well and remember a locker room full of contributors will put the train back on if it gets untracked but it takes everyone.
oh yeah, I agreed with your blogpost all the way I was chippin in my two cents
Haha - thanks Tony. Its taken me a couple of decades to get to where I am too.
Just cause I'm burning time in Atlanta airports lets flesh this out. We coach how we do because that's what we know. A world of rules around us as guidance and as fences is what we know. We often recreate that environment for the children we coach. We also begin coaching a sport so along with rules we work towards a huge knowledge of applied Xs and Os. We pursue this with military discipline and with each success we reach for the next. It is not 1 year over and over but the growth as a person comes much slower then our growth as a coach. After a time we find more space within our practice so we begin to pay more attention to those on the journey with us and this leads to the interpersonal development within teams. Like several versions of ourselves we are excited and off we go. You know, the toolbox feels lighter then ever but I feel I have more at my side then ever before. Cool isn't it? Have a great day
Great thought provoking article Alexis - what sport do you coach? Not only will i use this inn sport (rugby) but also at work - possibly one of the best articles I have read for some time.
Thanks Jim. I have worked in HP for a long time and many sports. I personally coach volleyball and beach volleyball, and currently work in gymnastics.
Athletes are responsible for creating the rules. They have ownership and are therefore unlikely to break their rules. If the rules are broken, teammates are responsible for deciding on their 'punishment'.I have found that because athletes were involved in the creation of team rules, the ownership part of this creates a positive atmosphere and all athletes tend to conform. Athletes create team rules to suit them and their environment or situation.If the management (or coaches) create the rules, it tends to be from a perspective of control. It is a waste of time to attempt to control people, since they tend to do what they interpret in a team rule, hence leading to conflict between the management and athletes.
Thanks for your thoughts John.What you say makes sense to me but the team also needs to have the capability to both create and manage their rules. The tough thing for coaches is how to manage this. Do you create and manage the rules until the athletes are able, or do you teach the athletes how to do these things, essentially creating a culture of responsibility and development.
In my experience, the coach/management need only get involved in any 'dispute' that cannot be resolved by the athletes and then to act as a mediator.In the current atmosphere of rights, then the athletes' rights are respected by allowing them to have the responsibility of creating and policing the rules. This also helps to create a team ethos and builds a team based on rules that have agreed by the athletes themselves. I found that it built great relationships between athletes and the management need not get involved in the internal workings of the relationships of the players, unless my first point was raised.In the modern education system, young people are encouraged to take responsibility for what they do (even in primary/elementary school), so why not do the same in the sports environment?By staying remote from the athletes' rules, this allows the coach to create an environment and practice ethos (separate from athletes' rules) where the athletes can thrive both as athletes and people. The latter is most important! The staff can focus on building their own relationships with the athletes - important for a successful team. Athletes (and coaches/management) need to remember, be nice to those you meet on the way up, because you will most certainly meet them again on the way down. This creates a focus on mutual respect, encouragement and trust!
Agree with John but have addendums/arguements, 2 to be exact. 1. At U12 players cannot be put in the seat of justice, they can be a part, but lord of the flies can happen. 2. Rule setting can be negotiated like justice, outside of the coaches gaze. This means that the strongest make the rules and will enforce the rules. I am old and have been at these levels a long time. Keep the rules mainly about civil issues and protect the individual rights of each and everyone. If players really set the rules without our bias we might be voted off the bench. We would surely be asked to be quieter, and they would remind us not to punish them for things they don't control. AND NEVER TELL US WE DID TRY HARD ENOUGH. I have seen a 9 year old beat the best laid plan of an adult and watched as he torched his kids and we laughed. OH, and rulle # 5 if kids were writing them. More ice cream
By implication, you are not part of the 'big' team! The coach is an integral part of the team surely. Athletes need to be educated in fairness, honesty and integrity. Since the management are able to step in to mediate, then how do the loudest/strongest/biggest get to create the rules? When children are young, then can the management not help to set out the rules? If the youngsters want more ice cream - why not?For example, my team decided on two things that helped them to bond as a group and build team strength. The first was that their hairbands were all to be the same and they went everywhere together, when on tour or in practice. They built a strong team! Their ideas, their efforts. I have worked with young people from upper primary (10 years old) through to adults. Education in the beginning pays dividends further down the road and a strong, positive ethos is built into the practice/training environment, the part, on which the coach/management should focus.
off target. I am not saying there is any wrong in your ways, that's not on the table. I am saying that rules beget rule breakers. I am as experienced as most and recognize a process where rules are part of control. As a coach grows in relationship building they will lessen the reliance on rigidity in favor of fairness. Would I do what you do? I am in a different place than you and the kids I work with have different needs. If you don't want rules broken then do not have rules
John, take a look at the last paragraph of Alexis' post. The humility and understanding that the co-worker is also human and that toleration is part of civilized behavior is important. These are the things that allow growth in teams. I would personally dissuade from dress code as this can subjugate people but do realize when changing culture these things can be tools. Instead, I would use a constant "better every single time" or "BEST" practice combined with praise. Lots and lots of acceptance.
Is your style of coaching too soft to be successful? Should you be harder on your players, and probably yourself?
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