Have you heard the story titled “The elephant and the rope?” Elephants born into captivity at birth are tied to a rope. As they grow and become strong they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. Like the elephant, coaches and parents involved in this movement are often held back by old, outdated beliefs that winning is everything. Education-based athletics do not exist to win State titles or develop as many Division 1 athletes as possible. The purpose of education-based athletics is to teach life lessons that will change the arc of every athlete’s life. Resistance of this movement can best be summed up into one statement, “Can we still be good?” The question is a good one and is asked by three main stakeholders—coaches, athletes, and parents.
Below, I break down the common points of resistance in each group, and how you can persuade them to get on board with education-based athletics.
Coaches come to me with three distinct mindsets. They are either a believer, a tweener, or a fundamentalist. Believers (transformational coaches) buy into the purpose-based athletics movement. They embrace the philosophy and take implementation to a whole new level. These are the coaches who are willing to sacrifice the outcome, focus on the process, and do what is best for kids. Tweener coaches are stuck between establishing themselves in the eyes of others and just being good for kids. These coaches can be influenced either way by those around them. Fundamentalists (transactional coaches) will aggressively challenge any change initiative that threatens the status quo and put the believer coach in their crosshairs.
As leaders, we must empower the believers to influence the tweeners and to ignore the fundamentalists. We have to trust that the culture we create will squeeze out those who refuse to change. We must also address the behavior of transactional coaches—I do this by using the experience cube. It requires you to observe the coach at practices and on the sideline of games, and then approach them with some gentle suggestions. Here are four options:
- I see you are being really hard on athletes when they make a mistake.
- I think you are doing this because you are so focused on the outcome of winning.
- I feel like you’ll find more joy from coaching if you embrace the learn, burn, and return concept.
- I want you to insert a pause when a mistake is made and remind yourself of why you coach.
We must also celebrate the successes that take place. When I see transformational coaches developing strong relationships with kids, I go out of my way to recognize it. Athletes will learn more for us than from us. When coaches focus on influence and process, success on and off the field happens.
It is so hard to be a high school athlete today. Think of all the conflicting messages being sent on a daily basis. All too often this starts in the stands with the parents or during the car ride home. The only phrase a parent should utter to their child within 24 hours after a game is, “It is so fun to watch you play.” Our athletes need to process the ups and downs of a game or a season. We also need to change the questions we ask our athletes. Instead of asking, “Did you win?” let’s start asking questions like, “What did you learn?” “Who did you help become better today?” “Did you have fun?” “Did you get better?” We have to take the focus and the pressure of winning and losing off the athletes’ shoulders.
Athlete entitlement is most often an adult issue. AAU and club coaches (pay-to-play coaches) are often selling hope for a scholarship down the road. More training, more practice, more games do not often lead to more offers. Parents today invest so much money into year-round programming, equipment, travel expenses, and personal training. Seldom do families see a return on this investment. We know 97% of high school athletes will not play at the NCAA or even NAIA level. We need our coaches to combat this by adding value to their program through life lessons. Our athletes must be told over and over again their value as a person is not tied to a starting position or a scholarship. As leaders, we need to be consistent and redundant about this message.
Have you ever heard the concept of the “Crab Bucket?” If you put one crab in a bucket, it will easily crawl its way out. If you put multiple crabs in a bucket, they will pull each other down preventing an escape. In my experience, the majority of parents are very supportive and understand our purpose-based programming. It is usually just a couple parents in each program that attempt to pull others into their crab bucket. The behaviors of these parents need to be addressed. That type of conflict can be hard, but it is the work we signed up for. I have created a chain on communication. My goal is addressing conflict before hard feelings lead to the creation of a crab bucket. Address the parent concerns behind closed doors with the athlete and the coach present. Find a solution that everyone can agree with and then hold all stakeholders accountable for next steps. When it comes to parents, partner when you can, and manage when you must.
In our profession, every year is a new year with new coaches, new parents and new athletes. The common language we create and share begins to sound like a broken record. We have to be consistent and redundant with our message. I share the following statements with our parents at the Parent/Athlete/Coach meeting.
- Prior Lake High School is an InSideOut School.
- We are the last class period of the day.
- We connect students to meaningful and caring adults.
- We exist to change the arc of every athlete’s life.
- We treat people as human beings, not human doings.
- We prepare the person not the path.
- We help your child develop star qualities.
- We don’t always get to pick what life lesson our children learn.
- Winning is our goal; it is not our purpose.
- Love, Appreciation, Kindness, Empathy & Respect; That’s LAKER
I share these statements to help define who we as a program. I believe when we focus on our purpose and not the goal or outcome, we can be good. In fact, I believe very strongly we will be better.