She young (1)

“She’s a young coach …”

Last spring I had the pleasure of working with an up-and-coming young female coach. Not only did she play soccer at a very high level, but she has that “x” factor as a coach. She is wise beyond her years, she has invested in her own development as a coach, she has the ability to teach the game, she inspires her players, she holds them to a high standard, and she leads her players to places they haven’t been before. I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches, but this one will go as far as she wants to go in coaching.

At one point we were discussing some of the challenges she was facing. She shared with me that some of the dads of her players didn’t like how she managed the team tryouts and they had been vocal about their displeasure. She also shared that some of the parents had complained about who she selected for Varsity and others continued to question her ability to be a coach. I asked her how they justified those comments and she replied, “because I am young, I can’t help the fact that I am 26, but they question everything I do and they say it’s because I am young.”

As she continued to explain some of the parental issues on her team I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, I knew I had to tell her something that wasn’t going to be easy for her to hear. I said the following, “their criticism and disrespect for you isn’t because you are young, it’s because you are a woman, but they don’t have the courage to say that.” Her jaw dropped.

I continued to share that when a “young coach” is a male his youthfulness is seen as a positive attribute. We often hear parents saying that he connects with his players, he understands this generation, and that he brings a lot of energy. The same logic is not applied to young female coaches.

“She’s a young coach” and that should be a good thing. If you want her to ever be a seasoned, experienced, veteran coach, then she needs to spend some quality years as a young coach. But let’s be honest, her youthfulness is not the issue here, it’s just easier to blame it on that than to deal with the underlying, and at times overt, sexism in athletic culture.

It’s time for a change. We can do better.

Kids deserve the opportunity to learn from great coaches and some of the greatest coaches I know are young women.


More Gentle Blog

“I had to tell her to be more gentle.”

I recently had the opportunity to work with some young elite level soccer players. My work with them focused primarily on how they communicated with each other and how effective communication skills build a stronger team. I believe there is power in what we say and how we choose to say it. I was fortunate to not only work with this team in a classroom setting but also to observe them in a game.

The day of their game happened to mark one year since my last day as a college soccer coach. After giving 20-years to the game I had made the decision to resign from coaching to focus my work on developing people. Since my resignation, I had not been to a single soccer game. It felt strange to unpack my coaching chair and sit on the sidelines again. The question I am most frequently asked is, “do you miss coaching?” I often say I miss the day to day connections with my players but no, I don’t miss coaching because I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

During the first half, I enjoyed seeing how the player’s insights in the classroom were being applied on the field. It was also fun to see what soccer skills each player brought to the game. There was one player I really enjoyed watching. She wore #2 and she was physically smaller than many of the other players, but she was really good on the ball. My guess is at some point in her young career she got tired of being knocked around and a good coach probably told her that if she could dance on the ball, she’d get knocked around less. Clearly, she listened.

When the whistle blew for halftime something very bizarre took place. The truth is, it was so strange that I had to follow up with an email to the coach to ask if this really did happen. Sadly, it did take place.

The players came off the field, they grabbed their water bottles, and they began to chat with each other about how they could each do better in the second half. Then the Referee came over the sidelines. He knelt down in front of the two female coaches, leaned in, and calmly said, “Coach, I need to let you know that #2 fouled the same player two times and so I had to tell her to be more gentle. I just wanted to let you know.”

As I said before, there is power in what we say and how we choose to say it. Here are some of the questions I wrestled with after contemplating his words:

1. When was the last time a boy was asked to be “more gentle” in an elite level soccer game? Seriously, when does that happen? Do Officials pull boys aside and ask them to be “more gentle?” My first coaching job was a U18 boys team and no Offical ever asked one of our players to be “more gentle.” When one of them committed a foul, a foul was called and that was it. Our culture celebrates when boys go in hard on a tackle, play fearlessly in the air, or push themselves physically. We don’t ask boys to be “more gentle” and we shouldn’t ask this of girls either.

2. What does it really mean to ask a girl to be “more gentle?” Here are some synonyms for the word gentle; benign, mellow, quiet, soft, tame, domesticated, trained, bland, docile, soft-hearted, and sweet-tempered. As a former Head Coach at several NCAA schools, I can tell you those are not the words we used to describe our future student-athletes. To ask a girl to be more gentle in a contact sport is to ask her to be less than her full potential.

3. Why did the Official need to let the coach and player know that she needed to be “more gentle”? The truth is he didn’t need to share this because our society already makes this statement to girls and women. We hear this message on the radio, it’s plastered on our social media, and it is an undercurrent of pop culture. The world screams to girls and women that we need to embrace a role which is soft and tame. You don’t need to tell us, we hear it loud and clear.

As I sat on the sidelines that day I found myself reflecting on how I used my words to express my expectations for my players and I wrestled with the profound power of those words. If you’ve ever played for me, coached with me, coached against me, or found yourself within 200 yards of a field I was coaching on, I can guarantee you’ve heard me yell, “GOOD BATTLE!” This is a phrase I frequently used in training and in games. I wanted to let my players know that I celebrated their courage to battle on the field.

So do I miss coaching? Maybe some parts, but I have too much work to do in helping people to understand the significance of their own influence. This work includes teaching adults about the power of their own words and teaching young people that no one has the right to use their words to try and limit who someone can be.

I am certain this Official didn’t intend to use his words in a harmful way, but as many great scholars have shared, “words create worlds.” So what kind of world do you want to create?

There is power in telling a girl to be more gentle and there is power in consciously choosing your words to encourage a girl to be brave and strong. We need to be aware of the words we use and how we use them. And when words are used in a deconstructive way we need to speak truth to power.

So girls … step into your space, hold your head high, be proud of your bruises and scars, follow your chosen path, speak your truth, use your voice, be yourself (your full self) and make sure you hear all of us who are yelling “good battle!”

You’ve got this …

Oh Captain2

O Captain! My Captain!

The Walt Whitman poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” is classified as a mourning poem. I believe there are coaches who reflect on their former team Captains with the same sentiment – the mourning of poor leadership and a failed season. I also know, that when we intentionally develop team leaders, those words can become a declaration of pure pride.

In the last few weeks, I have had a significant number of coaches reach out to talk about team leadership. Specifically, what leadership model should they use, how they should select their team leaders, when they should select their team leaders, and what skills should they look for in their team leaders. I am grateful that coaches are asking these questions. Team leadership will make or break a season. As coaches, we have a moral responsibility to develop future leaders.

Here are my thoughts on those questions:

Different Leadership Models: Most teams I work with use one of the following models:

  1. Designated Team Captains: For most of my career this was my preferred model, but your own leadership style as a coach and your current team culture will dictate the best option for your team. With this model, I suggest selecting 2-3 student-athletes and intentionally developing them as leaders. I would suggest meeting weekly in the off-season to do leadership development and to develop a deeper level of trust. In-season you can meet as needed but I wouldn’t go more than 7-10 days without meeting.
  2. A Team Leadership Council: With this model, you can select a larger number of players to develop. This model may also allow you to designate specific areas of leadership for each student-athlete to focus on and it allows you to be more intentional about developing your younger or future leaders. With a Team Leadership Council, I have found you need clear expectations for the members. Without clear expectations, you may find that no one is taking action because they expected someone else in the group to do it.
  3. No Designated Team Leaders: I know of teams who have used this model successfully but there are some clear guidelines in order for this to work. First, your culture needs to be well established. If your team culture is strong then this can work, but a team in transition will fail with this approach. Secondly, the expectation needs to be that everyone will lead and everyone will be held accountable. This works well in a program where the coaching staff has been intact for many years with a large number of returning players who have bought into the team culture. I would not advise this model for a team in transition.

Ways to Select Team Leaders: Not only do we need to think about an appropriate leadership model, we also need to think about how we are going to select our team leaders.

  1. Student-athletes select the team leaders: This works if your team culture is very strong but it will not work if your team is in transition. In one of my first college jobs, I asked the team to mark on a roster who they thought our best team leaders were. They unanimously selected a student-athlete who I knew would quit the team at some point. She just wasn’t a college level player and it showed in her work ethic and attitude. I asked our student-athletes to stop by the office and explain why they selected her. They all offered a variation of, “she is the best at decorating our lockers on our birthdays. She always brings cupcakes too.” When your players don’t know how you define leadership it is difficult for them to help identify the team leaders. If your culture is stable their input will be valuable, but if the culture is in transition this method will be a recipe for failure.
  2. Coaches select the team leaders: There are times when a coach simply needs to make this decision, particularly for a team in transition. However, as your team culture becomes stronger I do believe student-athletes should have a voice in this process.
  3. A hybrid process where coaches make the final decision after considering student-athlete input: This is the method that I think leads to success. The reality is sometimes coaches get it wrong when selecting team leaders. As coaches, we don’t always know what is going on with our team when we are not around. By asking for input from our student-athletes we allow them to be a part of the process but we can also gain valuable insights about our team. And just like coaches, players don’t always get it right either. I strongly believe that coaches should have the final say in selecting team leaders. In many cases, our jobs depend on this decision. We should listen to our players but also listen to our own life experience as coaches and select the best leaders to serve in this capacity. We have no right as adults to blame our student-athletes for selecting poor team leaders, the final decision rests on our shoulders.

When to Select Team Leaders: The timing of selecting your team leaders may be just as important as who you select.

  1. The process of discerning your next group of team leaders should begin long before your season ends. I would strongly encourage you to select and announce your team leaders as soon as you know who they are, ideally soon after the end of your season. This gives them time to adjust to their new role, practice leading in a lower stress environment and develop a closer relationship with the coaches. It is much safer to practice being a leader in the off-season than it is in-season. By developing your team leaders in the off-season you increase the odds that they can lead successfully.
  2. If you aren’t sure who your leaders will be then I would strongly encourage you to provide your entire team with plenty of leadership opportunities to see who will surface as your leaders. Put them in a variety of environments where people need to lead.

What Skills to look for in Team Leaders: I may need to write multiple posts on this topic. The reality is I could give you a list of 20+ skills to look for and develop in your team leaders. If you could find leaders with several of those 20+ skills then you would be in great hands! For the sake of time I will offer five skills to consider:

  1. Say “Come with Me.”: I believe great leaders are willing to walk with their people. They don’t lead from a distance pointing out what others need to do, they actually walk with their people. A specific example I can give you happened with one of my teams in preseason. One morning before training my Senior Captain who was our starting Keeper walked into the office with a freshman attacker. Our Keeper said, “We need to talk to you.” I found this moment to be odd since these two didn’t play the same position, they weren’t in the same class and they had just met a week ago. Our Captain went on to explain that the practice gear for the young freshman was missing. It wasn’t in the laundry and they had looked everywhere. I soon figured out what was going on … the freshman was afraid to come tell me, but our Senior Captain literally said to her, “come with me.” Our Captain could have said, “this happens from time to time, it may have ended up with the volleyball team, it will show up, or just go to tell coach” but she didn’t. Instead, she walked with her to have that conversation with me. Great leaders say “come with me.”
  2. Do The Dirty Work: Team leaders need to be people who do the dirty work. They need to do the thankless jobs, the kind of stuff other people run from. They should be the ones picking up the trash on your sidelines, showing extra care for the locker room, and offering to carry team gear. This matters because if they are willing to do it off the field then you can count on them to do the dirty work on the field. If you are willing to empty the trash when no one is looking then you will be willing to make a 40-yard sprint screaming for a ball you know you won’t get just to create space for your teammate with the ball. Great leaders do the dirty work.
  3. Pay it Forward: I am amazed at how many coaches ignore this skill. When selecting team leaders you need to pay attention to who has paid it forward. By that I mean, the day you become a starter or the day you become a senior should not be the day you “turn on” your leadership skills. Great team leaders have been paying it forward from the moment they joined the team. People who pay it forward don’t wait until they can be recognized, they lead from where they are. You don’t become a great leader when you become a starting point guard, you become a great point guard because you led from the bench as a 3rd string player for two years. Pay close attention to who has been paying it forward for years. When you find those leaders you can trust that they will continue to lead because leading has become a habit for them. Great leaders pay it forward.
  4. Burn the Ships: This phrase comes from the story of Hernan Cortez who left Spain in 1519 with 600 men, 16 horses, and 11 ships. They were headed to Mexico in search of Aztec jewels. While the men were nervous, they knew if they got into trouble they could alway go back to Spain. But Cortez took a dramatic approach as a leader. When they landed on the shore he told them to “burn the ships.”  They were in this battle to win it and they weren’t turning back so they burned the ships to remove the option of retreating. Great leaders know that preparation and personal growth are critical to success but they also know there are times when they have to step up and go for it. Sometimes leaders have to let go of an escape plan and step into a leadership role that feels outside of their comfort zone. Finding team leaders who will let go of perfection and lead in the difficult moments can be a turning point for a team. Great leaders burn the ships.
  5. Take Care of their People: As you think about your team who are the student-athletes who take care of their people? You can define this in many ways, but think about who genuinely cares for their teammates? When a team knows their leaders care for them they will suddenly do anything their team leaders request. You can’t go wrong with leaders who care for their people. Great leaders take care of their people.

I highly suggest developing your entire team as leaders and providing additional development opportunities for your team leaders. As coaches we are leaders and the reality is great leaders develop more leaders.

When we speak of our team leaders it shouldn’t feel like a mourning poem. Instead, we should tell the narrative of young leaders who successfully helped to move a group of individuals from here to there.

If you are interested in using Leadership Discovery to develop your team as leaders or our new Skype-based Leaders in Action program for team leaders then please reach out. We’d love to help you develop the next generation of leaders.

This Is leadership

This is leadership.

One of the questions that I am frequently asked is in regards to how we can measure the quality of our own leadership. While I do have a Leadership Self-Assessment that I have found to be a valuable tool in personal growth, I honestly think the answer to this question is very, very simple.

If you’ve heard me speak then you have heard me share the idea that leaders love verbs; we love being a part of the action, we love making things happen and we love getting things done. Yes, leaders love verbs. But leaders love verbs secondary only to the idea that leaders love their people.

There are others who love verbs too; micro-managers, narcissists, and sociopaths to name a few, but the reason leaders love verbs is because they love their people so much that they can’t imagine letting things remain the same for one more day. They literally wake up thinking, “how can I make things better for my people today?”

So the real measure of our leadership is this; how do I, in tangible and unconditional ways, love my people?

1. Who are your people? I often talk about the difference between positional power and relationship influence. People in positional power were selected, elected or hired for that position. As a result, those in positional power quickly discover that their power is dependent on the position they hold. If they lose their position they also lose their power. But the way I want you to think about leadership is in terms of relational influence which does not depend on a title, rank, authority or position. No one can give you relational influence and no one can take it away.

I like share the following example with teams … Imagine this… you have a teammate and that morning the person she was dating broke up with her, that afternoon she found out she failed her Biology midterm, and just before practice she got a text from her dad that said, “we got your credit card bill. We are coming to campus to talk about it this weekend. But let me be clear, you’ll be paying us back for every single penny you’ve spent.” And now your teammate arrives for practice, will her mood impact the team? (Eyes are usually wide open as their heads nod up and down.) And then I say, “but she’s not a Captain, not a Senior, and not a starter. Will her mood still impact the team?” (Again, eyes wide open as heads continue to nod up and down.) Why is this? Because she has relational influence, we all have it.

Who are the people who are impacted by your bad days? Those are the people you have relational influence with and the good news is, not only are they impacted by your bad days but also by your good days. There is no flowchart of hierarchy for relational influence. It is your choice to use your relational influence to love those around you.

2. How do you show your people you love them? Let me give you two very clear guidelines;

  1. It must be tangible.
  2. It must be unconditional.

If I were to ask you, “how do you love your people” and your answer was, “they just know, I love them and they know it” then I would say you are failing terribly as a leader. Your care and concern for your people has to be tangible.

It also has to be unconditional. We simply can not express our love for our people with any sort of self-serving agenda. There can be no strings attached. We can not serve others and then sit back and wonder how we can use it against them. Tangible and unconditional love for our people is our only option as leaders.

3. Make leadership a verb. There is no mandatory checklist of how to do this. No right or wrong way, but here are some general ideas of ways you can love your people …do the manual labor that others think is beneath you, bring donuts to morning meetings, invest in someone else’s professional development, ask about someone’s family and life outside of work, pick up the tab for lunch, write thank you cards to acknowledge the hard work you see in others, host a great holiday party, give others opportunities to advance in their career, publicly stand up for and support your people, give someone a book you know they will enjoy, show up at funerals, listen (really listen) to your people, send randoms texts of encouragement, celebrate birthdays, celebrate weddings, celebrate a new birth, celebrate the little things, celebrate a promotion, celebrate what matters to your people, give a gift card for no apparent reason, make a hospital visit, ask those who report to you to go home early, be the last person to eat, ask how you can help and then follow through with that request.

Great leaders love their people. Plain and simple. If you want to measure the quality of your own leadership then assess the tangible and unconditional ways that you love your people.

Great leaders love verbs secondary only to the idea that great leaders love their people. This is leadership. Period.

*If you are interested in your own leadership development or the development of the leaders around you then please reach out. We have programs for all ages.

Coach I talk Part2

“Coach, can I talk to you?” For players & parents…

Last week I published a post called, “Coach, can I talk to you about my playing time?”  That post seems to have people talking, which was kind of the point. 🙂 In fact, my colleague, Betsy Butterick, posted some great advice to that very question.

While coaches need to do a better job navigating hard conversations the reality is, we need student-athletes and parents to improve in this area too. If we all commit to utilizing healthy communication techniques we will see a positive shift in our sport culture.

Here are some areas I think student-athletes can improve:

1. Get to know the person –  Often times, when I am working with a team a player will pull me aside and say that she just can’t talk one on one with her coach because she is afraid of her. She’ll say things like, “She is so intense” or, “You don’t understand how she is, you should hear her when she is yelling at the refs” or, “One day we had two players walk in late to practice and she went off.”

Well, I want to let you in on a secret … are you ready? Coaches aren’t that way 24/7, I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. We don’t yell at people at the mall. We don’t lecture strangers. We don’t scream at the grocery store clerk asking her to pick up the pace.

The next time you see your coach being intense I want to invite you to think about why she might be acting that way. Also, the nature of the job sometimes requires intensity, but please know, we aren’t that way all day long.

Here are some moments when my players might have said I was “too intense”:

  • The time I yelled to the ref, “JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE HAVING A BAD DAY DOESN’T MEAN WE ALL HAVE TO HAVE A BAD DAY!!” The truth is, I felt like I needed to speak up and fight for my team. This is not a phrase I yell to the employees at my local bookstore.
  • The day I nearly lost it when our freshmen, for the second time that season, put their black uniforms in the laundry with their white uniforms. Here it is; we worked hard to fundraise for those uniforms and I didn’t want our white kit to turn into a gray kit. But in my personal life, I promise this stuff doesn’t bother me so much.
  • Or the time we picked up pasta, drove 25 minutes to the hotel only to hand out the food and realize some of it was missing. Yep, I looked like I could shoot lasers out of eyes and I was mad. My team played hard and they were hungry and I couldn’t give them what they needed. I promise, when I’m alone and my order is messed up, it’s no big deal.

Was I intense in those moments? Yes, no doubt about it. But I’d go crazy if I was like that all the time. If you feel like your coach might be intense I would encourage you to spend more time with her off the field. Stop by her office and talk about stuff that isn’t related to your sport.

Here are a few questions that my players asked me that I loved to answer. These conversations, ultimately lead by players helped them to get to know me as a person:

  • What did you do for the holidays?
  • I know you’ve traveled a lot, what’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?
  • What did you do this weekend?
  • What is your best college memory?
  • Are you still friends with your old teammates?
  • Did you always want to be a coach?

Get to know your coach as a person, see that she isn’t intense all the time and it will make the hard conversations a little easier.

2. Ask “and why does that matter?” – In my last posted I talked about the fact that coaches need to help their players figure out the “problem behind the problem”. Often times when a player wants to talk she is actually looking for a solution to the wrong problem. In order for there to be true resolution, we need to make sure we are talking about the actual problem. Using the question, “and why does that matter?” can help us accomplish this. Here’s an example:

Student-Athlete: “Coach, can I talk to you?”
Coach: “Sure, what’s on your mind?”
Student-Athlete: “You need to do something about Kristin. The way she talks to me on the field is not ok. She is so demanding and too abrasive and you need to tell her to stop talking to me like that.”
Coach: “And why does that matter?”
Student-Athlete: “Because it really bothers me when she talks to me like that.”
Coach: “And why does that matter?”
Student-Athlete: “Because I don’t play well when she talks to me like that.”
Coach: “And why does that matter?”
Student-Athlete: “Because you are going to sub me out if I’m not playing well.”
Coach: “And why does that matter?”
Student-Athlete: “Because I don’t want to be on the bench just because she got in my head.”

And there is it, we have finally found the real issue. This student-athlete needs help developing skills to deal with communication that can sometimes be demanding and abrasive on the field. The coach could tell Kristin to be less demanding but that isn’t solving the real problem.

Using “and why does that matter” before you speak with your coach can be a great way to make sure you are talking about and solving the real issue. You can use this process with an adult you trust or you can simply ask yourself “and why does that matter” to figure out the real issue.

By asking “and why does that matter” you’ll make sure you spend time with your coach solving the real issue.

3. Treat your coach the way you want to be treated– Let me share with you one of my finest coaching moments – insert EXTREME sarcasm here. Kate was one of the toughest kids I ever coached. She was a player who would do anything I asked of her. She was a competitor who would push her body to the limits. I never had to worry that she might not be game ready.

Because she was so physical opponents often tried to give it back to her. It never worked, but she did get more than her fair share of bruises. One season she took a hard elbow to the rib cage. While her ribs weren’t broken it was the kind of pain that would cause most players to sit out, but not Kate. Our Athletic Trainer created a plastic cover for her rib cage and held it in place with an ACE bandage.

In our game that weekend, for the first time ever, Kate seemed out of it. Her head just wasn’t in the game. In soccer, if you are subbed out in the first half you can’t go back in until the second half, so it’s a big deal to take someone out, but I had to get her off the field. I subbed her out and she came over to speak with me. I asked her what was going on and she said, “Coach, this bandage is so tight, I can hardly breathe, all I can think about is trying to breathe.” And I said, “Kate, maybe you should worry less about breathing and more about playing.” Yep. That’s what I said and in my head, it sounded like the greatest advice ever given. My voice was like James Earl Jones and those were awe inspiring words. Kate didn’t agree.

But here’s what didn’t happen…

  • Kate didn’t sit on the bench and complain to all her teammates about what I just said. She sat and watched and got ready to play in the second half.
  • She didn’t tell her parents what I said and argue that I didn’t care about her so they could claim that this was some sort of abuse. They didn’t go to my boss to talk about how I handled that conversation.
  • She didn’t meet with the Captains and ask them to come in and talk to me about how I managed that moment.
  • She didn’t post what I said on social media with the hashtag #StupidStuffMyCoachSays.

Here’s what did happen …

The next day during my office hours she stopped by. She sat down in the chair in front of my desk and had a big smile on her face. She said something like, “Coach, you told me to worry less about breathing and more about playing!” And this was the first moment I realized that my words weren’t the life changing, earth shattering, words of wisdom that I had thought them to be. Kate went on to say, “Coach, that’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said. Please don’t ever say that to another player.” And by now she was all but falling out of the chair laughing as I processed this conversation. Yep, pretty bad advice on my part.

Her decision to treat me the way she wanted to be treated only made me want to treat her with that same level of respect when she wasn’t at her best. And let’s face it, being 19 isn’t easy so there were several opportunities for me to return the favor 🙂

When you talk with your coach, please treat her the way you want to be treated.

Hard conversations are hard because our emotions are high when we are talking about the things that matter. But knowing that your coach is a person with a life off the field, understanding the real problem and treating your coach the way you want to be treated will make those hard conversations a little less painful.

We can do this.
We need coaches, student-athletes, and parents all making an effort to do better.
It takes work, but together we can do this.


Coach can I talk

“Coach, can I talk to you about my playing time?”

“Coach, can I talk to you about my playing time?” It’s the dreaded question for coaches everywhere. Several coaches have recently asked me how to talk with players who want to talk about their playing time. Now, let’s be honest, when a player asks to meet about playing time she probably doesn’t want to talk about the fact that she feels like she is playing too much. Most of the time, it’s a player who didn’t make the travel roster but she feels like she should be starting every game. Here are some different approaches that I have used with players in the past. Ultimately, you will need to pick the approach that you think will work best with your players.

1. “Facts, Figures, and Film” – I have found this to be a good starting point for players who may be feeling emotionally charged. Using tools like stats or film to show a comparison between how she is performing and how the players in front of her are performing is a good first step. You can also create an assessment where you ask her to rank herself in a variety of categories. Then share with her how the coaching staff ranked her in those same categories.

I used this approach with a player who was coming off the bench as a forward. We compared her stats to the starter in that position. The conversation went something like this; “So in the last game Kara took 6 shots and put 3 on frame. But in the last 4 games combined, which equals the same amount of time that Kara played in the last game, you took 1 shot and it wasn’t on frame. We need our forwards taking shots and putting them on frame.”

This approach attempts to take the emotion out of the conversation and make it feel less personal. It is critical that you give your players clear steps on how to improve in their areas of deficiency. For the player I mentioned it wasn’t just, “shoot more” it was; work on beating players 1v1 so you can shoot more, work on your first touch so you don’t turn over the ball and then you can shoot more, or develop your left foot so you can shoot more. It was important that we gave her specific skills that led to her being able to “shoot more”  and we could demonstrate these moments on film as well.

2. “Start Doing, Stop Doing & Keep Doing” – This approach is great for a player who has the potential to get better but she needs to make some changes to get there. Often times the improvements players need to make can feel overwhelming. By looking at those adjustments in three categories we can make them much more manageable. The three questions I like to ask are:

  • What do you need to start doing to become better than the player who is playing ahead of you?
  • What do you need to stop doing to become better than the player who is playing ahead of you?
  • And what do you need to keep doing?

After listening to the player’s answers it is important that the coaches also share their thoughts to make sure everyone is on the same page. I took this approach with a player who came into our meeting thinking I was going to say that she needed to completely overhaul her life. By thinking of the changes in these three ways it became much more manageable for her and we saw good growth in the off-season.

3. “What are you willing to sacrifice?”– I have found that this is a great option when you have an unhappy player who has not yet realized that she needs to quit. Unfortunately, many coaches are working in environments where they are told to try and talk players out of quitting. I’ve been there, but I hit a point where my own integrity mattered more than the unwritten department policy.

The first time I used this approach with a player I was amazed at the result. This player had no business being on a college team but I was told I couldn’t cut her or encourage her to quit. After the season she came in to talk about playing time and we began to talk about what she was willing to sacrifice in order to become better than the players who were in front of her on our depth chart. I asked her some of the following questions:

  • What have you done today to make yourself a better player? (She said her day had been very busy so she hadn’t been able to do anything.)
  • What are you willing to give up in order to get better?  (She didn’t have an answer.)
  • What do you get out of being on this team? (She said friendships.)
  • I told her that she needed extra ball work in the spring. I asked if she was willing to give up her part-time job to fit in extra ball work. (Her answer was no.)
  • I expressed that she needed to drop her fitness test time by a specific number of minutes so she would have the endurance to stay on the field. I asked if she was willing to stay on campus over the summer to achieve this goal. (Her answer was no.)
  • This player was very involved on campus and I asked her if she was willing to give up some of her clubs and organizations to focus on her develop as a soccer player. (Her answer was no.)
  • And I ended with this question; if you knew we would win every game next season but you wouldn’t play would you still want to be a part of this team? (Her answer was no.)

I knew it wasn’t my place at that time to lecture her on her answers, but I did request that she give some more thought the questions I had asked. It was just a matter of days before she came back and said she realized there were other things in her life that were more important to her than soccer; her part-time job, a summer internship, life off the field, and that she finally realized she was playing soccer for the wrong reasons. She decided to leave the team and she did it on her terms. And for the record, I did hear about it from my AD but being honest with this player and helping her make this decision on her own was more important to me than departmental numbers and a lecture on retention.

4. “What’s the real problem?” – I believe of all your options this one is needed the most often, but it is also the most difficult to facilitate. This approach requires a unified coaching staff and a coach who can lead a heartfelt conversation.

I strongly believe that most athletes want to talk about playing time because they don’t know how to talk about the real issue. We need to help them figure out the problem behind the problem so we can solve the correct issue. Here’s an example; I had a player who was coming off the bench for us and she was getting about 30 minutes a game. The starter in her position was simply a better player and she was getting about 60 minutes a game. This player came in and asked, “What do I have to do to be a starter, I really want to be a starter.” There were some hints in that statement since she didn’t ask what she could do to get better or how she could help the team. Instead, she placed a lot of value on being a starter. I had a healthy relationship with this player and I knew I would be able to push the conversation to a deeper level.

It wasn’t too long before we pulled back some layers and got to the real issue; she didn’t feel that her parents saw the value in playing college soccer if she wasn’t a starter. She believed they had invested greatly in her soccer career and she worried that by not starting they resented that investment. And lastly, through her tears, she said, “it’s just really important to my dad that I am a starter and I want to make him proud.” We finally got to the real issue. We talked about it from a rational standpoint and I asked some of the following questions:

  • I know your parents put in a lot of time when you were in high school, but who is putting in the time and effort now? (She said that she was putting in the time and that she needed to see this as her experience.)
  • Do you think your dad would be happy if you were a starter but played less minutes? (Her answer was no.)
  • So does being a starter really solve the problem here? (Her answer was no.)
  • Is it fair for your parents to love you more or less based on playing time? (Her reply, no, but that is how it is with them.)

We then talked about the value that I saw in what she brought to our team. I certainly couldn’t make her dad express that he was proud of her but I was committed to being more consistent about letting her know that I valued what she brought to our team on and off the field regardless of her playing time.

Each of these options can be useful and you may have to try several options with the same player. The reality is your players are coming to you for clarity and we have a moral responsibility to help them with this process.

My advice; be honest, specific, compassionate, and listen to your inner voice of integrity. If you focus on those things you can’t go wrong.


*College coaches, if you are looking for a new Skype based leadership program for your Captains or Team Leaders please click here.


Great leaders empower others, it’s what we do.

I walked to the back of the store toward the “copy center” to pick up an order that I had placed online. As I walked up to the register another woman and an employee were just beginning their conversation and I was able to witness their interaction.  The woman was explaining to the employee that she had a booklet, but of the eight pages she only needed four pages copied and she had crossed out the other pages. She asked him how much it would cost to have four black and white copies made, and this is where it gets good…

Employee: “Well, I have to charge a $2.99 per hand placement fee.”
Customer: “What’s a hand placement fee?”
Employee: “Well, it’s our policy.”
Customer: “But what’s a hand placement fee?”
Employee: “Well, I have to charge you $2.99 each time I set a document on the copier.”
Me: I lose it, I just start laughing and I don’t hold anything back!
Customer: Shoots me a dirty look because she thinks I am laughing at her. She quickly figures out I am laughing at the absurdity of this and she starts shaking her head. “So you’re going to charge me four “hand placement fees” plus the cost of the copies? You’re going to charge me $12 to set this on the copier four times?”
Employee: “Um, yeah, that’s our policy.”
Me: I start laughing even harder! I’m in full-on comedy club mode.
Employee: Shoots me a dirty look.
Customer: Looks at me in disbelief, jaw wide open.
Me: “Ma’am, go to Fed Ex, you’ll do it yourself and it will cost you less than a dollar.”
Customer: “Thank you! Have a great day!” And she walks out of the store without spending a dime, let alone paying for four “hand placement fees”.
Employee: Now has to come down and help me but I can’t stop laughing… it was awkward….

But this is what happens when leaders, who are greatly distanced from the people they serve, make decisions on policy. Empowerment goes out the window while new policies and procedures are pushed down the pipeline.

In this example, there is no doubt that someone who hasn’t worked in the copy center for decades, if ever, is now making decisions about copy center policy. However, in healthy cultures, those who are most directly in contact with customers and those most impacted by policy have a clear voice in the process. Additionally, in healthy cultures employees are empowered to override policy in order to best serve their customers.

This applies in every working group. Teachers should have a voice about what impacts their students. Minimum wage fast food employees should be heard about what the lunch time crowd is requesting. Coaches should be able to speak about what impacts their players. Housekeepers should have a say in what impacts the clients staying in multimillion dollar hotels. But far too often those who serve as the front porch to an organization or business find themselves lacking the empowerment they need to best serve the paying customers.

Great leaders listen to those who most closely work with their consumers. Great leaders will provide those employees with the space necessary to speak on behalf of their customers. And great leaders will empower their people to forego policy the moment it no longer serves their people.

Great leaders empower others, it’s what we do.

For my extended thoughts via youtube click here.

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Here it is; I love silence. I’m an introvert and while I can and do engage with people they simply wear me out. People make me physically tired. I need silence in my life and I struggle to find enough of it. My best purchase in the last five years would be my noise cancelling headphones, which indeed I am wearing right now. I find our world to be too busy, too loud, too excessive in chatter, too much for me. In silence I am grounded. In silence I find clarity. In silence I find me.

However, if we truly desire to be people of influence then we must use our voices, in fact I would say we are called at a very deep level to speak to the causes and issues that resonate with our values. This means we must at times step out of the shadows of silence and into the glaringly painful light of noise. At times this may mean joining the masses and speaking in unison or it may mean standing alone, a solo voice offering a unique perspective. And while it may be difficult to stand up and speak alone the greater tragedy lies in a decision to remain silent. Silence speaks volumes.

Let me be clear, your voice matters. Your voice is unique, own it.  As a person of influence you must decide how you want to use your voice to empower, inspire and serve the world. You must respond to issues you feel called to speak to. Make no mistake about it, your voice matters. The weight or volume of your voice in this world is not defined by your income, your title, your age or your accolades. The volume of your voice is determined by your decision to speak your truth. Your voice is small, little and lacking credibility only when you choose to be silent. You determine the volume of your own voice.

I am amazed at how quickly someone will comment about a frivolous photo or video on social media but remain silent about issues of substance, the issues that genuinely impact the quality of life for another human being. We fear standing and speaking alone but only in raising our own voices and speaking our truth do we discover and create moments of invitation for others to stand and speak with us.

Our strength is not in our silence but rather in our ability to share that which speaks to us in silence. So find your space, find your silence, find your soul and listen. Listen actively and deeply. And when your soul speaks to you allow those words to echo into the world. What is heard in silence should become a dialog. We find truth in silence but the truth comes alive when it is shared with others. The reality is your silence will not protect you, but your words hold great power to serve others.

Hear the silence before the dawn, listen, learn and then speak a new dawn into fruition. Speak to that which matters to you. I firmly believe that silence, used incorrectly may in fact be the 8th deadly sin.

What speaks to you? Speak back.

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The Law of Two Feet

Each week I have a standing meeting with my upperclassmen to do leadership development. I have been thrilled with the contributions from this group of student-athletes. I believe it is in large part due to the Law of Two Feet which is a concept I introduced to the group at our first meeting. The Law is simple; if you aren’t giving (contributing) or growing (learning) you need to use your own two feet to leave and find some space where you can give and grow.

This Law has become the covenant for this group. We all understand that we are there to learn from each other so the contributions from each person have been fantastic. It also says that we value not only the time of each member but also the idea that each person has much to offer and if this isn’t the space where they can offer something to the group then we need to respect them and allow them, even expect them, to leave and find healthier space. It also allows people to have ownership and responsibility for their own learning. There is no doubt that people learn at a higher rate when they choose to be in attendance.

There are major companies like Intel that have also adopted this mentality corporately. Some have variations like no meetings can be held without a clear purpose, the length can’t surpass 30 minutes or they have banned meetings all together. These companies have continued to operate and have increased employee engagement by showing a clear value to their employee’s time and talents.

Communication and the sharing of ideas it critical in teamwork but can you send a message that you truly value your people when you aren’t demonstrating that you value their time and value the contributions they can offer? Consider changing your meeting formats and see what that does to your culture and how it empowers people to take ownership for their ability to contribute, to learn and if necessary to leave.

We can’t expect people to lead others if they don’t have permission to lead themselves to a better place.


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“Come in, they’re OPEN!”

You would never see a sign that says “Come in, they’re OPEN!” That statement just doesn’t make sense, we all know it should say “Come in, we’re OPEN!” Changing one word on that sign seems to change everything.

It is amazing how much you can learn about an organization’s culture by simply listening to the words people use. I once had a colleague who worked in another department, a rather dysfunctional department,  but we worked for the same institution. When she would speak to others about the work of our institution she would refer to it as “they”… “they” offer this service, “they” provide this resource, “they” are a good value for your money… It always bothered me when she would speak like this. I wanted to stop her and say, “you mean we, we offer this service, we provide this resource and we are a good value for your money” because we are a part of this institution.

My colleague seemed happy at work but the fact that she used the word “they” told me over and over again that she did not truly feel like she was a part of something bigger than herself. She was working in an environment that fostered top down decisions with bottom up engagement and this constantly put her on the outside looking in. She didn’t feel valued and didn’t feel like she truly had a voice in what “we” were doing.

When you hear people using the word we, even when their department is not directly responsible you know that they feel connected to a larger picture. You also know that they are empowered to take ownership of that larger picture.  Using the term we is a reflection of a healthy culture full of empowered people.

Listen carefully for the words people use, the words will tell you far more than a brochure or website about the people and the overall health of the culture you are doing business with!