Written By Thomas Gaines:
With the holidays behind us many are starting to bring the TEAM back to training. There are many things to prepare for as a youth ball coach. We will work on getting each player game ready. We plan out player fitness, basic skills routines and work on better understanding of key situations on the field. All of this to get back in a rhythm for the season. All of these are healthy things to work on. As a TEAM that is just what our group did this past weekend. We were no different than many others. One of the benefits to living in the Southeast was a nice sunny, 48 degree, day. So we hit the field, gathering together for the first time since the holiday break. Our focus; Conditioning. No gloves, No Balls, No Bats. Just the TEAM and a lot of Conditioning. And while we were focused solely on this aspect of our physical condition I encountered something often overlooked or ignored. Something very encouraging.
When one player struggled with a particular drill another would come alongside them in support. No one ran alone. No one struggled by themselves. No one was left behind. Lots of praise among players existed. Many pats on the back in support. Words being used such as, “You can do it”, “Better job keep it up” or, “You will get it, keep going”. These things that made the practice beautiful. It expressed the heart of the TEAM and today our heart was healthy. From the outside looking in one might see this as weak because they were not acting “tough enough”. Others may see it as a chance to not push as hard by hanging back with another in the drills. From my perspective I saw it as calculated team culture.
Often as youth coaches we focus more on how our players perform physically and the results they yield. We do this at the expense of fostering confidence and trust in the TEAM environment. I have fallen trap to this routine, as I am sure have many others. It is easy to do so but we must get out off of this path as youth coaches. It takes many calculated choices to build this level of bond so you must think about it and be intentional. Today I was able to acknowledge players for quietly falling back in line in order to run alongside a teammate as a sign of quiet support for someone struggling. This was happening after 5 months of calculated yet subtle choices. Choices like the TEAM runs together to warm up for practice or games. Those who finish first in sprints double back in support of those pulling up the rear. Everyone goes places in pairs to stay safe and look out for each other at events. All coaches got back to using supportive words with players based on effort not results. As coaches we move back to publicly praising effort and encouraged players to do the same with each other. To me this has a payoff and is important to TEAM sports. While it would be awesome to coach a TEAM of players who all rank out as Elite the reality is this rarely happens. There are role players and skill players who make a unit by each doing their best at what they bring to the TEAM. Each one of them no matter the skill level were chosen by the coaches and to get the most out of them we have to ensure they feel we believe in them and they chose to play in the right environment. Don’t get me wrong, we push them hard as players. We do challenge them. We just do not demean them or intentionally try to make them feel useless.
While team unity may not be the sole reason you earn a win, without it one would be hard pressed to win at all in. So I am learning to keep watch on this aspect of our TEAM on a regular basis and not overlook it. When there is no trust or confidence your TEAM of TEAMmates the heart becomes damaged. So as your TEAM comes together again ask yourself, “How is our Team’s Heart?” Are the players confident enough that you will allow them to fail in practice without making them feel useless? Do they trust everyone will come alongside them in support motivating them to do more or try again? This support, confidence and trust is what matters on a TEAM. It is what allows players to feel okay with pushing their limits in an effort to become better.
Remember one day the player who seemed weak in one role will be in a position of strength or have a chance to make a game changing play. Who do you want having your back in that situation? They players who felt that they were supported and believed in or the ones who were constantly made to feel inferior or useless in the group? This will happen. Roles will change, slumps occur and when they do it will be the whole of the team that will matter. Every player, coach and parents will matter. Not the one physical superstar. Not one coach nor one parent. But ALL of those on the TEAM. TOGETHER we succeed and TOGETHER we fail. So what are you doing to ensure all players feel a part of a TEAM that believes in them?
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