Q: I am working to get a new girls’ program started here in Madison and I want to create a great team. My philosophy has always been one that prioritizes character development over a win-loss record, but I’m wondering what you think I should be thinking about as I dive in.
Nate, Madison, WI
A: My guess is that a lot of people reading this have been in Nate’s shoes on some level. You’re a coach and you’re tasked with helping create an ultimate team. Maybe you have a team of 9th grade never-evers. Maybe you’re trying to get this year’s new team to Regionals or Nationals or even Worlds. Whatever the level, many coaches are focused on the how of coaching:
- “How can our offense be more efficient?”
- “How do I get the most out of my star player?”
- “How can we beat __________?”
These are the questions that fill our mind as coaches. We have the best intentions and begin the season searching out articles about how to do these things. Once the season gets going, most of us aren’t thinking about anything beyond what you’re going to do at practice that day. The how is important in the day-to-day work of a coach, and there are certainly things to be gained from learning how to do this business of coaching better.
But the first thing I would ask of Nate, or really any coach, is why they are are coaching. It’s so important that I believe we should begin every year as coaches by remembering why we’re coaching. A great coach knows why they are there so they can keep doing good work even in the face of difficulty.
The coaching purpose statement
Check out Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, Start with Why, for some inspiration. He talks about businesses that start with the why as being more sustainable, and therefore successful – but the same work applies to us as individuals and coaches.
Eventually, as you get more clear about your why, you may find it valuable to create a coaching purpose statement by creating a memorable phrase.
This can be a simple phrase that can be the foundation of the work you are doing. It not only can help you maintain motivation, but it also answers questions that come up along the path of coaching. I’d encourage anyone who’s getting into coaching to at least think about it, even if you can’t define it out right.
To begin, start with the why. Why do you coach ultimate? To stay connected to the scene while injured? To learn how to become better at the game? There are many reasons why we start coaching, not the least of which is because it’s fun!
What I’ve realized over the years is that I’m most successful as a coach when I focus on a player’s personal growth with their skills on the field. This simple idea has sustained me through countless ups and downs of coaching. It gives me a question to ask myself at the end of a practice, game, tournament, or season: did they grow for the better from this experience? Yes! Then I know I’m doing it right.
How to create your own purpose statement
Here are three questions that can help you think about and create your statement:
- Does this statement connect the work of coaching to what you love?
Connecting to your own passion (for the sport, for teaching, for learning to throw better, for the people in the community) keeps you motivated through the dips of energy that a long season will inevitably bring.
- Does your statement involve giving back?
Coaching is essentially an act of service – if you’re doing it just for your own gain, you’re not going to be able to serve others well. You might think of this as contradictory to the first question, but these two motivations are always playing off each other, not in conflict but in conversation.
- Does your statement work on something that you have control over and therefore you can grade yourself on? In other words, would you know if it’s not working?
In the long run, process always wins over results. If you chase the things you can’t control, they will control you. Winning is the most obvious example of something you can’t control. We all know the coach who’s so focused on the scoreboard that he loses all perspective. Focus on the work and the learning, and let the winning be a result of the hard work that you’re doing, not simply the reason for doing the work.
You shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel for the most part. Keep it simple and engaging. Here are some possible examples that will get you started:
- To help pass the sport on to the next generation.
- To create lifelong ultimate players.
- To help my players maximize their talents by attaining mastery.
- To use the teamwork model to teach life skills.
Once you’ve got your purpose statement, you can filter any question through that lens. For example, situations like how to handle a difficult parent and how to talk to the team after a tough loss can be answered based on your statement. If you’ve done it right, you’ve got an idea that can help you push through the inevitable tough times and frustrating results, and come out more energized and with a much stronger team and ultimate program.
I hope this helps you get started Nate – and thanks for getting another girls team going in Wisconsin!