We are all at a different place in our InSideOut journey towards living and leading a purpose-based life and becoming the best version of ourselves. We commit to this work so we can become a better leader for our coaches, athletes, and parents in an attempt to change the win-at-all-costs sports culture in our community. If you’re like me, you probably feel like you are taking two steps forward and one step back with your own growth and with any meaningful change in your community. The work is met with much resistance and we are tasked with starting over every year with new parents, new athletes and all too often, new coaches. It is no wonder the current rate of turnover for ADs nationwide is over 25% annually. So what is the formula for change and how do we get there?
The equation for change is Discontent x Vision x First Steps > Resistance. If you are growing frustrated in this movement or feel stuck, use the equation and identify three to four issues you are most discontent with, create a vision, identify the first step and anticipate the resistance that is sure to work against your change.
This entry is the first part in a series of three blog posts. I’ll discuss some things I am currently discontent with in my community and share an abbreviated version of my vision for education-based athletics. In my second entry, you’ll read about the first steps I’ve taken to address the discontentment, and in the third entry, I’ll discuss what resistance I anticipate and ways to counter it.
We could all write a book on what we as ADs are discontent with in our current communities. I’d like to touch on a few issues that I feel are most relevant in my community. This exercise is an important one for all of us. We have to define the problem before we can tackle a solution.
The uncoachable athlete
I grew up playing sports. I had all types of coaches who used very different strategies for motivation, communication, and accountability. It was up to me—the athlete—to adjust to the coaching style of my coach. That no longer seems to be the case. It seems the expectation today is that the coach adjusts their coaching style to how each individual athlete prefers to be coached. Any coach who fails to coach athletes how they most want to be coached is quickly labeled a bully. Like most of you, my coaches care deeply about the well-being of their athletes. They no longer hesitate to use the word “love” when describing how much their athletes mean to them. Sadly though, more and more coaches report to me that athletes are no longer interested in being coached. As we operate in the “selfie age,” individual achievements are often more glorified and celebrated than collective achievements and self-sacrifice. Parents are pushing more and more for individual recognition. Instead of the athletes and their parents asking our coaches, “What can I do for the team,” they are asking, “What can you do for me?” The pursuit of a college scholarship offer is often the priority. How do we make room for coaches to coach hard when it is currently so hard to be a coach?
Loss of the true multi-sport athlete
Our athletes no longer play one sport in the fall, another in the winter and possibly a third in the spring. Early sports specialization is a problem but the real issue in my community is the athletes playing multiple sports year-round. Many of our athletes practice with our teams after school until 5:30 PM. From there, they head to their second practice of the day from 6-8 PM. Our soccer players leave the pitch and head to the ice arena. Our football players leave the stadium and head for the dome for lacrosse practice. Our wrestlers finish practice and head straight for the batting cages. Our new normal in sport can best be described as a race to keep up with the Joneses. We do this despite the fact that 97% of our athletes will have a terminal experience when they graduate from high school.
Who is our client, the athlete or the parent?
Education-based athletics involves communication, coordination, and maintenance of relationships among multiple adults, all of whom are vested stakeholders in an athlete’s sports experience. We must continue to partner with parents. That being said, when I am dealing with a situation that requires a difficult decision, I always remind myself of doing what is in the best interest of our student-athletes. My coaches are often told, if you’re good for kids, you’ll always have a job coaching for me. The kids are our number one clients. We need to make sure they are having fun, improving their craft and growing into strong, contributing members of our society.
The complaints from parents in the State of Minnesota have gotten so bad, the legislature passed a new statute protecting coaches from parents complaints. It reads, “The existence of parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a board to not renew a coaching contract.”
I have very active booster programs in my community. The majority of our parents volunteer their time and have the best possible intentions. The minority of our parents sometimes get involved for all the wrong reasons. In order to keep our programs functioning at high levels, we need all stakeholders to stay “in their lane.” We need our parents to support our coaches, trust the process, and stop trying to control decisions regarding playing time, team placement, game planning, scheduling, off-season camps/clinics, and coaching. Booster programs are charged with boosting the experience for our athletes. They should help with fundraising, recognition nights and banquets. Our coaches need room to coach. They are charged with putting the best possible team on the field, floor, pool or court. They are required to plan, practice and play to win. Winning is the goal. It is not the purpose. Our coaches purpose, the why, is to change the arc of every student-athletes’ life. If left to focus on the goal and the purpose, our athletes and programs will achieve great things.
My Vision of Co-curricular athletic programming
Co-curricular athletics aren’t the most important things school do. It is often, though, what people care the most about. Most decisions we make are met with great passion and emotion. It has never been more important to define who and what we are. Education-based athletics are different than what most our parents have experienced in youth sports. Our programs aren’t like youth sports or club sports. We are not like NCAA or professional sports. Education- based athletics are an extension of the school day—our programs are the last class period of the day. We have to embrace and keep the connection between school and sport strong or we risk losing the platform entirely. My coaches are educators—I challenge them to foster meaningful connections with all of their athletes. They are tasked with changing the arc of every athletes life. The definition of success for my programs goes beyond the scoreboard. True success will be judged 20 years later when our student-athletes are strong mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, friends, colleagues and solid members of our society. This is my vision—I’ll talk more about that and how I’m putting it into action in my next blog post.
But for now, I’ll leave you with our school’s activities Mission Statement and my Individual Transformational Purpose Statement. Remember, when you’re met with resistance and feeling overwhelmed by discontentment—it’s always helpful to go back to your organization or team’s Collective Transformational Purpose and your own Individual Transformational Purpose Statement.
Prior Lake High School Activities Mission Statement:
Prior Lake Activities, under the direction of competent, caring professionals, provides successful, quality experiences in an enjoyable environment for students by providing a wide range of programs to attract many students, promoting positive school and community pride, developing strong, positive moral and performance character, developing sportsmanship, and setting expectations for individual and team excellence.
That’s Laker; Through sports, our athletes will learn:
LOVE of the activity and people you are involved with
APPRECIATION of the opportunities that exist to challenge yourself to improve
KINDNESS towards yourself and all people you interact with
EMPATHY for the effort of your teammates, coaches, officials and opponents
RESPECT for the game and all involved in your success
LEGACY recognizing that your actions have important and lasting impacts on people
ADVOCATE for self, take responsibility & speak up
KNOWLEDGE effectively implementing strategies and understanding tendencies of your team and opponents
ENTHUSIASM bringing intense focus and passion to the process of self-improvement to make your team better
RESILIENT acknowledging setbacks and responding with your best effort to learn and improve
My Transformational Purpose Statement:
I lead to connect students to meaningful adults that foster love, appreciate, kindness, empathy and respect for self and others.