[Part two] Your coaches survival kit: 5 essentials to bring with you this season

written by Erica Quam

Teams go on powerful journeys over the course of a season. You might even think of it as an expedition. The experiences you’ll have together will be unique - to you and your team. 

Only your team will truly understand the direction you're heading, the challenges you'll face, and all of the many victories you'll share along the way.

As a coach, you’ll get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your athletes - as they get to know yours.

If you’re doing your job of getting them out of their comfort zones, then you’ll see your athletes at their best and at their worst. They’ll also get to see your highs and lows. This is a vulnerable position to be in as a coach!

For you to be ready for all of the learning that’s going to happen this year, it’s important to be prepared. Just like going on a backpacking trip, there are certain things you'll need to have in your pack!

(And what I know about coaches is this: if you don't have it together before the season starts, you won't have time to bring it at all.)

Equip yourself with these five key essentials to help you survive and thrive this year as a coach.

  1. Map & Compass (Vision & Values) 

  2. First Aid Kit (Plan for the unexpected)

The second key essential to take into your season is a first aid kit. The thing you need to prepare for as you head into the season - as best you can - is the unexpected.

  • What challenges might come up?
  • What types of issues could will team have?
  • What will I do when that happens?

If you were leading an actual expedition into the wilderness, you'd want to do what you could to manage risks you'll encounter - before you leave for your trip. 

You have to check your first aid kit every season - to make sure it's fully stocked. You can't expect the things you packed last year haven't been used up or are expired. 

  1. You'll need medical training so you'll know what to do
  2. You'll need a list of the medical history of each individual in the group: allergies, medications, and physical and mental conditions you may need to manage
  3. You'll need an action plan to implement when problems come up:

Who has had athletic injuries before and what happens when that flares up? Who has an allergy to bees, and are they carrying their own epipen? What will we do if someone breaks their leg?

Alright, alright...so hopefully you'll have medical staff who can take care of the actual first aid stuff. Now, how do we apply the metaphor to coaches?

Well, I know for sure you're team is gonna have conflict this year. I'm not just being pessimistic. It's just a simple fact. ALL TEAMS GO THROUGH CONFLICT. 

Conflict has to happen for your team to reach their potential. If there is no conflict, there will be no growth.

1. TEACH YOUR TEAM ABOUT CONFLICT

Talk to your team about conflict from the beginning of the year.

I know you. You're going to resist this. You're probably asking yourself, why be a downer by bringing up something NO one likes to talk about and EVERYONE tries to avoid?

Because you have to prepare your team in advance. Normalize conflict before it happens. You have to let your athletes know conflict is something all teams go through to be at their best. You need to ask them how they want handle it when it happens. Get them bought into the concept of working towards solutions - before things come up.

A framework I like to teach are the stages of team development (Tuckman). Your team will go through FORMING-STORMING-NORMING and PERFORMING over and over again this year. Not just once. They'll cycle through these stages many times over the course of a season. Even though the framework lists stages in a linear path, it's never a linear process.

  • In the forming stage, your athletes are trying to figure out how to fit in. They want to belong.
  • In the storming stage, people want to stand out - and assert their uniqueness. They want to be different.
  • In the norming stage, your team will begin to accept the differences within the group. They begin to work together better.
  • In the performing stage, they'll rise to the challenge. They will be at their best.

Think about what actions you need to take as a coach to support your team through each stage. You're the leader. For your team to be at their best, think about what you can do - from your role - to help them navigate through each stage. 

I recommend (to the coaches I work with) to actually take a few minutes to write your thoughts down - before the season starts. So, when you're in the midst of the season, you can remind yourself what you need to do!

Here are a few examples:

  • In the forming stage, what can you do to help your athletes fit in? What kind of environment can you help create?
  • In the storming stage, what can teach your athletes to help your athletes deal with conflict?
  • In the norming stage, what do you need to reinforce to keep up the momentum?
  • In the performing stage, what can you do to help elevate your team to the next level?

Click here for a simple exercise to put in your first aid kit this season.

2. RESTOCK YOUR FIRST AID KIT

There are certain tools you can equip your team with from the beginning of the year. Just like you would if you were going on an expedition - let everyone know where the first aid kit is and who is carrying it before you head out on your journey.

I've used a tool called the DiSC - for myself, my athletes, and my coaches for over 15 years. I haven't found anything quite so simple and powerful as this tool.

It's an investment. Every coach I've used it with has told me it's been totally worth it - especially if they used it with their teams throughout the season - to make the information come alive.

Note: You can cut corners. I've seen plenty of coaches do "something like the DiSC" - so they can do it for free. While this approach is better than nothing, it usually is done once and then forgotten about the rest of the season. 

Three reasons I love using the DiSC with teams :

  1. DiSC helps your athletes develop self awareness - which I believe is the most important leadership skill of all
  2. DiSC helps your athletes develop a better awareness of others - everyone behaves differently 
  3. DiSC helps coaches teach their athletes simple strategies to adapt their behavior and improve relationships - with their coaches, teammates, professors, parents, friends, etc.

Ideas on when and how to use the DiSC:

  • You can use the DiSC at the beginning of the year to highlight their differences. Look at what areas you're heavy in and where you're deficient. How is that going to impact our group?
  • Pull the DiSC out during individual meetings. Emphasize how you like to be communicated with and remember how they need to be communicated with. This is especially helpful if you have to have a hard conversation with one of your athletes or one of your staff.
  • Do a fun activity with the DiSC at training camp - to reinforce what's already happened and what might be coming up. 
  • Talk about the DiSC again before championship season. What do you need to remember about each other before you go into this time of high stress? What do we need to keep in mind to be at our best?

Want to take the DiSC to learn more about this valuable tool? Click here to let me know. I'm offering coaches and teams a special rate through September 1st.

3. HAVE AN ACTION PLAN IN PLACE

If you just had to deal with the x's and o's as a coach, life would be easy. However, you're dealing in relationships...in human behavior. That can get messy!

When coaches come to a summit at the end of their season, I'm amazed at all the things that come up over the course of the season...that they've had to handle. Many times, they don't have enough support in place - or don't know how to access it - and they end up dealing with things all by themselves.

Coaches work with athletes who deal with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drugs and alcohol, hazing, bullying, and suicide.

As a coach you're just trying to help them get better, stronger, and faster...and they're dealing with life!

Who are all the people on your support team who will have your back when the sh&t hits the fan?

I'm not saying you need to LIVE in the what if's. That's not a productive place to stay. AND it's an interesting exercise to consider what you'll do before these things happen.

I ask coaches - on the other side of a challenge, "if you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?"

That kind of hindsight is always 20/20. Yet if you spend a little time thinking about how you'd LIKE to react in different situations, you'll BE more prepared as you go into them.

Just like your athletes, coaches can get sucked into blame, pointing the finger, and giving lots of excuses at the end of the year. "We would have been awesome this year if it weren't for x, y, or z."

Don't be a victim as a coach. Be the leader.

As hard as it may be to hear, these things don't happen TO you. They happen FOR you. 

You have athletes on your team who will have problems and challenges. You have athletes who will challenge you, push your limits, and force you to make decisions. That's because those problems and challenges are there to help you grow as a coach AND teach your athletes how to deal things in a way that you all can look back at and be proud of at the end of the year.

So, pack up that first aid kit and get ready for a long expedition - chock full of growth and learning this season!

Leave a comment: Share ONE ah ha you had from reading this AND how it will help you and your team.


Stay tuned!  Next week, I'll share the third essential you'll want to get in your pack this season.

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