Finding Your Common Language

Fans of the Flintstones cartoon might remember the strange and uncommon language “Ack Acka Dak” as the phrase used to gain access to Bedrock’s Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes. Without this secret password, any prehistoric cartoon character interested in membership would have been left out in the cold. Unlike the secret nature of Fred and Barney’s Water Buffalo Lodge, the common language which makes up the first step of the InSideOut (ISOI) Initiative’s pathway does not require a special handshake or code word. In fact, to transform the current win-at-all-costs youth sports culture, it is important everyone has this information and we all speak the same language. So, what exactly is this “common language” InSideOut schools talk about?

Knowing the first step of the ISOI implementation pathway is an alignment of a common language, we must do everything we can to make sure our coaches, parents, athletes, communities, administrators, and participants know what common language means. As an AD for an InSideOut school, I am happy to share examples of ISOI common language. Alignment of this language has helped redefine our sports programs and hundreds of others across the country. The following is a quick, Reader’s Digest version of ISOI common language:

Transformational versus Transactional Coaching

ISOI coaches strive to be transformational. Transformational coaches are great teachers who focus on the human development of the student, fostering their growth and potential. For these coaches, winning is an outcome…not a purpose, and the coach’s worth is not tied to how his/her athletes perform. Transformational coaches are allies for their athletes.

Transactional coaches are the opposite. For transactional coaches, winning is the purpose.  For these coaches, the focus and attention are centered on the coach. They show excessive pride and arrogance and the worth of the coach comes from how his/her athletes perform. These coaches can be described as egotistical or even a bully.

Goals and Purpose

Goals are the object of a person’s ambition or effort; they are one’s aim, destination, or desired result. Purpose, however, is the reason WHY something exists or is done. Tony Dungy describes it this way, “Goals have a beginning and an end. Purpose doesn’t. Purpose is what we live for.”

Transformational Purpose Statement

This is your Why. A coach’s purpose statement highlights your core values and the reason you coach. Joe Ehrmann’s purpose statement is: “I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good.”           

Definition of Success  

ISOI coaches still plan, prepare, and play to win. But rather than a solitary definition of success based on a score or time, an ISOI definition of success holds a different definition of success; a definition that takes a longer view of the many benefits of purpose-based sports participation. These measures of success include: Did you have fun?  Did you learn anything? Did you improve? Did you help a teammate succeed? Did you conduct yourself well? Did you do your best? Did you appreciate your opponents? Did you develop any life skills?

John Wooden told a story about his college basketball coach, Piggy Lambert. Once, at the end of a season, Lambert was asked by the media how well he did as a coach that year. Lambert responded, “Ask me in 20 years and we’ll see how successful these boys are. Then I’ll be able to tell you if I succeeded as a coach.”  This is the long view of success the ISOI embraces.

Performance Character and Moral Character  

Performance character refers to the traits needed to achieve excellence in performance environments such as athletics and business. Examples of performance character include grit, persistence, and hard work. Moral character refers to the qualities needed for ethical behavior and relationships with other individuals and communities. Examples include qualities such as empathy, respect, and integrity.

The Four Questions

These are the four questions every administrator or coach should reflect on as strive to be the best, transformational experiences possible for our athletes. Why do I coach? Why do I coach the way I do? How does it feel to be coached by me? How do I define success? Being aware of your own coaching narrative and possessing the ability to thoughtfully answer these four questions is a key to transformational coaching.

Educational Athletics

In education-based athletics, sports are an extension of the classroom and an educational activity that provides outstanding opportunities to teach life lessons. Through participation in these programs, student-athletes learn values and skills that help prepare them for their future.

Core Values

Core values are a person’s fundamental beliefs. As part of a coach’s transformational purpose statement, core values serve as guiding principles which represent your highest priorities, deeply held beliefs, and core driving forces. Core values are the heart of what you are all about.

There isn’t a secret handshake and you won’t need the Rosetta Stone to transform the culture of youth sports. However, what you will need is terminology which aligns your school and community’s efforts so everyone is speaking the same language—creating your own common language.