"I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. " --Alexander the Great
As I jump back into high school-level coaching this season, I have thrown myself into the deep end of a pool of millennials. You know you are getting old when you start talking about how the generations that have followed yours are undisciplined, irresponsible, unfocused and lacking the ability to lead (and follow).
These last 6 months have been great for me because these young "millennials" I am coaching do have some focus issues, but they are a pleasure to coach and leave me wanting more every day. [It helps that they are starting to buy-in to our teachings and starting to see the fruits of our conversations!]
I wanted to write a blog about leadership because so many of you are neck-deep into your basketball seasons, and a lot like our coaching staff is doing, we are trying to figure out who is going to take ownership of our team. Ownership is such a huge part of any championship team because a coach cannot be a tyrant who rules the land. A coach has to create a democracy of voices and individuals who want to come together to be something bigger than themselves. These voices have to speak with conviction and not only challenge each other but have each other's back every day. This is the part of coaching that keeps me coming back for more and more and more!
With that said, here are my 3 tips for developing leaders and creating an environment of ownership:
Just like ball-handling, shooting, and passing, the more you practice leadership, the better you get at it. I try and find a minimum of 2-3 situations every practice to enable the opportunity of leadership. That all begins with helping my players utilize the voice I want them to use on their own.
For example, before practice starts, I like to start at center court (no one touching the lines of the center circle - always know where your feet are and where the lines are!). and I ask enabling questions like:
"Johnny, what were the two things that we did well as a team yesterday?"
"Do you have two goals for improvement for today?"
"What are you going to do personally to help us accomplish those goals today?"
As the season progresses, I will get more specific and maybe even ask players before practice to take the initiative toward leading our pre-practice meeting. This is great because I will give them some time to think about what they want to say, but put them on the spot enough that they have to always be thinking about being in that situation whether I ask or not.
If you know me, I am not a quiet coach, and I don't beat around the bush. With that said, I use my tougher tone to create opportunities for my leaders. For example, let's say I just chewed out a freshmen (we'll call him Johnny) for not touching all the lines in the sprints we just ran. While we are shooting free throws or working in small groups, I may go up to one of my seniors or juniors and say:
"Make sure you go grab young Johnny before we get into the next drill. Make sure he knows that you got his back and that a little chewing from coach is not the end of the world." I did that the other day to my two sophomore starting guards, and both said, "Coach, I already did and he thanked me for it." That made me quite proud, as you can imagine!
A big part of leadership is knowing who to follow. I like to create opportunities for my leaders to demonstrate the power of kindness and generosity...and helping them give life to the golden rule: Treat others as you would want to be treated. When we learn how to treat those we want to follow us, they now know how to treat the young ones when they become the leaders of the team down the road.
2. FOX HOLE TEST
A very cool thing I stole from the military years ago is the Fox Hole Test. At some point early in the season (after a few weeks of practice and games and a chance for them to get to know each other), I give my guys or gals a piece of paper with a big circle on it with 3 boxes in the circle. I ask every player to write their name in the center box and then write the name of two teammates who they would want in the fox hole with them.
I make clear that these are not the teammates that you necessarily call best friends or who you would want to go out with on a Friday night. These are the teammates who you know will be focused, ready to work and have your back at any point in the hardest part of our season. These are the two teammates who you are confident will sacrifice for the good of the team when we need them the most.
Depending on the character, age and maturity of my group, I will use the data from those circles to do many things. Some years, the two kids who were written in the circles the most were named our Captains. Some years, I put the two or three kids with the most "votes" on the board and asked the team to give me the characteristics of these players that made them good teammates, and I would write out those characteristics and maybe create a poster with those values to put in the locker room. It's a great opportunity to celebrate those players but also to open the eyes of those players not in those top two or three who are unaware of the negative perceptions their teammates might have of them. We all need to look in the mirror. Sometimes seeing and hearing about the qualities of others that you obviously do not share can be a significant turning point for that young person.
3. ROLE DEVELOPMENT
I have 3 "scheduled" individual meetings per year with my players: pre-season, mid-season, post-season. During those meetings, I talk with my players about the role they want to have on the team while also giving them specific roles that I would like them to play.
I want each kid to have goals, but more importantly understand how they can best help us win a championship. For some kids, it might be as small of a role as guarding our best player every day and being as physical with that player every day, so that player feels like practices are much harder than the games. For another, it might be guarding the in-bounder in our press and being the leader of intensity for us. For an older player, I may give them the responsibility of choosing what our scrimmage focuses are going to be every day and allowing them to collaborate with me on the goals and focuses of certain practices each week.
I do the same thing with my assistants and managers, so they know that they have a purpose every day to helping us become better and more prepared for the road ahead.
When I do mid-season and post-season evaluations, I then can elaborate on and critique how they handled their role that we both agreed they wanted to play and ask them to self-evaluate the good they did in that role and how they can improve and develop that role.
Leadership - Ownership - Humility. The three most important values all great teams must possess and must be taught. I hope this gives you some good things to start adding to your practices. I would love to hear about some of the things you are doing to help create and develop these values.
Good luck with your respective seasons! Call or write any time if I can help in any way!
Coach Matt Rogers