by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com
Saturday was damn exciting.
I stood in front of 90 coaches introducing speaker after speaker. Each speaker had a mission — to teach this roomful of super-hero, high-school coaches how to be better fighters.
Getting people to change is WHAT coaches do. But face it, most people don’t like to change. Most people are happy where they are.
But then one day a person wants to change. Maybe chasing a dream. Or a major health issue has arisen. Or a buddy dragged them to your sport’s orientation meeting. And they decide to change, but they can’t do it alone, so they need someone to help — someone like us, a coach.
Over the years, I’ve been in thousands of such fights. From big fights (“Hey coach, I want to make the Olympic team!”) to small fights (“Yo, could you help me lose a few pounds?”). There’s a knock on the door, and the person standing there says, “I’m going to a fight, and I want you to join me.”
I learned three things from being in these fights and I feel an overwhelming need to share because, Coach, whether you like it or not, you’re heading for a fight, and I want you to be ready for it.
#1) YOU MAY LOSE THE FIGHT BEFORE IT EVEN BEGINS
Internally, there is a push back to making a change. Steven Pressfield, in his great book The War Of Art, calls this the Resistance. The Resistance is what causes the fights.
The bigger the change, the greater the Resistance, the tougher the fight.
For instance, Jaclyn wants to learn the basics of a sport in a two-week summer evening program. A few small schedule changes, some later-than-normal dinners, a couple of trips to your gym/boathouse/pool/facility, and a few episodes of fear of trying something new. Not a big fight, just a small tussle, with small resistance.
On the other hand, training to make the Olympic team is like a fight to the death. There are hassles that impact every single part of an athlete’s life.“Yes, I know you are only 12 years old, but I want you to leave your family in Boston, move to Arizona, and train with us for the next two years.” Now we are talking one hell-of-a fight with ENORMOUS resistance.
Sometimes the resistance can be so strong the fight can be over before the first punch is thrown.
#2) DON’T GO TO A FIGHT EMPTY HANDED
My buddy Lee once told me, “Don’t bring a flyswatter when wrestling a gator.” His meaning? In a fight, come to win, and bring the right weapon. We, as coaches, have four main weapons in our arsenal.
- Vision. People fight for a vision. They overcome the Resistance when they have a vision in front of them that inspires them and provides meaning. A vision can be a powerful weapon in a fight.
- Coercion. “Your parents will be embarrassed if you don’t win,” is an example of coercion, and an example of a dangerous weapon, for the person using it. Coercion backfires more than it helps. In some people coercion might help overcome the Resistance but I’ve found that in only a few instances. I don’t use coercion.
- Fear/hate/loss. “If you don’t win, the other team will go to the championships,” is the weapon of loss. “We’ve always hated the Giants, and they hate you!” is the hate-weapon. The fear-weapon sounds like, “If you lose, you will pay a terrible price our next practice!”These are extreme negative weapons, and if you use one of these to overcome the Resistance, to win a Fight, you stand the chance of burning bridges and leaving scars that may take a lifetime, or more, to heal.
- Love. This is the most powerful weapon there is to overcome the Resistance. The use of the love-weapon changes the entire perspective. When an athlete states, “I love my team/sport/competing” then the Resistance melts away, and the fight is already won.
#3) ALL TOO OFTEN COACHES UNDERESTIMATE THE FIGHT
I’ve been blindsided by the Fight while coaching. I didn’t see the Fight coming, or I thought it was over when it wasn’t, or the price of winning (or losing) the Fight was much greater than I imagined. I don’t need to put examples here, because if you coach you know what I mean. And if you are new to coaching, heads up.
#4) SIZE MAKES LITTLE DIFFERENCE IN A FIGHT
Friend Sarah Trowbridge always told me she was too small, especially to make an Olympic team. Sarah proved many people wrong in 2012, when she made the grand finals in the Women’s Double, at the London Olympics. She’s an example that in a Fight size doesn’t matter nearly as much as heart, love, and a dream.
SO SLUGGER …
I use the metaphor of fighting lightly, but it does represent well the level of intensity that we need to have in our coaching. From verbal black eyes to the figurative punch in the gut, coaching can feel like you’ve been in a brawl. The more you are ready for your Fight, the better you will do.
Dr. Mike Davenport is a longtime college coach and the man behind the popular website CoachingSportsToday.com. He is a regular contributor to College Recruiting Weekly.