A special day. (1)

Make today special

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Missouri Special Olympics. My job was to help at the award station. There were about 20 of us assigned to this station. We were all from different backgrounds and different walks of life. We represented several generations and to my knowledge, only two of us had volunteered at this event in the past. We were a team of optimistic rookies.

Before the events began we were given our instructions and then we waited, and waited, and waited. I began to wonder why they had assigned so many of us to the award station and I questioned if my time could be better spent at another station.

And then it happened. Mulitple events finished at the same time and the athletes, their buddies, event escorts, and family members descended upon the award station. They arrived excited and in anticipation of receiving their awards. Little did they know that this ragtag group of volunteers didn’t have a well-oiled system in place.

Before we knew it we were experiencing a slow-moving and unorganized awards ceremony. It took us a few minutes to realize, “this isn’t working” and then we adjusted our plan on the fly and created a much better experience for everyone involved.

But here is why the experience was so special. At no point in the day did anyone express frustration. Athletes and their buddies had to stand in a long line – no problem. Family members had to wait a while to see their loved ones receive an award – no problem. Volunteers were asked to fill different roles to keep things moving – no problem. On some deep human level, everyone just decided that today was going to be special. We unconsciously agreed that we were going to bring our best as well as bring out the best in others.

And here is what I learned; it was a choice to make that day special. We all made the choice to smile, laugh and offer an endless amount of compliments, words of encouragement, and high-fives to strangers.

Every single day you have the opportunity to offer good to the world. The choice really is yours.

Choose to make today special.

Dear ADs

Dear Athletic Administrators …

Dear Athletic Administrators, this post is for you. I’ve been in and around the world of organized athletics long enough to have experienced firsthand how important this topic is. I recently had the opportunity to speak on this issue to a room full of Athletic Directors and I wanted to elaborate on my thoughts here.

I strongly believe that great leaders take care of their people. That concept is rooted in my definition of leadership and how I choose to live in the world. One of the first questions I ask any leader is, “how do you take care of your people?” When we take care of our people our people will do anything for us. This includes staying in a coaching position when other offers may prove tempting.

The coaching profession is tireless and the rate of turnover at all levels is noticeable. The hours, minimal pay, time away from family, the pressure to win, entitlement issues, and parental involvement are all factors we hear as coaches choose to leave the profession or as they choose to pursue a coaching opportunity at another institution.  Athletic administrators need to be intentional about how they take care of their coaches. When you take care of your coaches they can take care of your student-athletes.

Retaining good coaches is a key to success. When we keep good coaches in our system everyone wins:

  1. Student-athletes develop healthy long term relationships: I absolutely believe that a coach has the opportunity to be the single most significant influence in a young person’s life. When we retain good coaches we allow student-athletes to develop healthy relationships with their coaches. This provides student-athletes with the opportunity to learn how to address and navigate conflict successfully. If a student-athlete has a new coach every year they never transition out of the “honeymoon” phase to address real life issues. When you have the same coach for three or four years that relationship is “real”. By experiencing healthy relationships with a coaching staff student-athletes develop the skills necessary to be successful in the real world. 
  2. Programs establish team culture: With every new coach, a new team culture is set in motion. While I do believe that coaches need to assess and adjust the team culture each year, keeping a coaching staff in place allows team culture to take root. When this happens student-athletes know what to expect from their coach and what is expected from them as student-athletes. When there is a pattern of new coaches every couple of years the team culture is never fully established. 
  3. Programs establish a style of play: When a program has the same coaching staff for many years student-athletes are able to anticipate what skills will be expected of them when they enter the program. This allows future players to focus on the skills needed to be able to contribute to the team. When a new coach is hired the previous system of play, or style of play, might become a thing of the past. This can be a difficult transition for players who are accustomed to a certain style of play. The retention of a coaching staff also allows time to focus on skill development. When a new coaching staff takes over much of their time is spent teaching new tactics and skill development becomes a secondary point of focus. 
  4. Expectations are known: When a coaching staff returns for another season expectations in term of fitness, style of play, leadership, and culture are known. This reduces tension and makes a team less susceptible to drama and parental interference. Parents tend to become hyper-vigilant when they feel like they don’t know what is going on or that their child is being treated unfairly. By utilizing the same coaching staff each you are able to provide clearer expectations and reduce unwanted tension and interference. 

The reality is, everyone wins when you keep good coaches in your program. Letting a good coach walk away from a program might seem like a simple fix, but the truth is the process can be very difficult and very painful. It isn’t easy for a new coach who needs to learn the culture and expectations of a different athletic department. It isn’t easy for student-athletes who need to develop relationships with the new staff, understand new team culture, learn a new system and style of play, and adjust to new expectations all in a stressful competitive environment. And it isn’t easy for parents to watch their kids struggle with this transition. 

For those who believe this is “the real world” and we need to teach kids to adjust quickly, I would challenge you to think about your own stress level if you had a new boss every year … did that just make your blood pressure rise 😉

Athletic Administrators, please, take care of your coaches, they are your people. Give them a gift card after a tough loss. Ask about their family. Celebrate engagements, weddings, pregnancies, and adoptions. Help them to find the funding for professional development. Give them free gear – coaches love free gear! Let their families into home games for free. Ask, “how can I help?” Share with them the good you see in their program. Nominate them for awards. Write handwritten thank you notes for no reason other than to say thank you. Listen, just listen. Think outside the box to help solve problems. Express your support for coaches to take time off to recharge and get to know them as people. 

When you take care of your coaches they can take care of your student-athletes.

* A big thanks to Jen Brooks for helping with this list! (9)

“Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”

I started my day with breakfast on my balcony. The weather was good, my food tasted great and I even had the perfect playlist filling the airwaves. It was going to be a wonderful day, or so I thought.

Things quickly changed when I checked my office voicemail. I had a message telling me that there was a problem with our van rental for the next day, so I returned the phone call. Kirk, quickly explained to me that his company had been a part of a massive van recall and they could no longer provide our team with transportation for our tournament this weekend. He went on to say, “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” And in that exact moment I knew I was in trouble. Not because I had to transport a college soccer team to a tournament in Chicago that weekend, not because we had hotels booked, not because we paid a tournament entry fee, not because other teams were counting on us and not because we had team parents who had all made arrangements to come see us play. I knew I was in trouble because I was trying to work with an employee at a very large and reputable car rental company who said to me there was nothing he could do, which is code for I am not empowered to take care of our customers. 

A company that empowers it’s employees would have had a list of solutions in line before they even called me. They would have expected Kirk to provide a solution and they would have encouraged him to bend or even break the rules in order to meet the needs of a customer. Kirk would have been allowed to think outside the box but that was simply not the case. He made it clear early in the conversation that there was nothing he could do.

This company lost my business today not because they had to cancel a rental at the last minute, things like that happen. They lost my business because they don’t empower their employees to solve problems and I want to do business with people who lead by empowering others.

Great leaders empower others and I want to do business with great leaders.