[Part five] Your coaches survival kit: 5 essentials to take 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)

  3. Food & Water (Fuel yourself first)

  4. Headlamp (Tolerance for adversity)

  5. Shelter from the Elements (Permission)

If you were actually going on an expedition into the wilderness, you'd have a range of elements from mother nature to prepare for: sun, wind, rain, sleet, snow...and whatever else she decides to throw at you. 

Before you head out on your trip and leave yourself exposed...bring a few essentials to protect yourself: sunscreen, warm layers, a hat and gloves, rain-gear, a wind layer, and a protective shelter to sleep comfortably or hunker down inside when things get too rough.

How does this metaphor relate to you as a coach heading into your season?

There will be times during your season when you need to shelter yourself from the elements by giving yourself permission to take care of yourself this season, first.

You'll have plenty of times when you feel overwhelmed - at all the elements and situations coming at you this season. This is part of coaching. Rather than struggle against the challenges, give yourself permission to deal with them in more effective ways.

Coaching doesn't always have to be so hard. That's a mindset. When you allow yourself time and space - more frequently - you may even find you're coaching with more ease...and having more fun...than ever before.

Here are four things to give yourself permission to do this season:

1. Permission to do things imperfectly.

80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. In the case of perfectionism, the last 20% will take 80% of your effort - such is the drain of perfectionism.
— Tom Kenney on the Pareto Principle

I see coaches get stuck when they try and perfect things.

Whether they put off a conversation that they need to have until they have the perfect plan or the perfect words to say what they want to say...or they spend way too long on a project that was actually done a long time ago - because they're trying to get it perfect.

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Brené Brown defines perfection as, "a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels the primary thought: 'If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.'"

It's great to strive to get something right. Work towards precision, and accuracy in a healthy way.

Perfection becomes problematic when you try and perfect something so that you can AVOID criticism, pain, and suffering. Perfection is all about external pressures and demands - rather than doing what you can within your own capacity - which is more of an internal pressure.

Begin to notice this in yourself.

Once you do, you may see this more clearly in your athletes. Help them become aware of their perfectionist tendencies and how it holds them back.

There's a ton of social pressure on your athletes to fit in. Many of them will try and perfect to avoid criticism. Help them see how their own self worth and value goes well-beyond the shallow criticisms they'll encounter in life. When they know they've done their best and let go of what other people think about them, they can begin to feel a sense of freedom in their lives.

2. Permission to delegate (and hand things off).

Every coach I know struggles with delegating. This is a big one - especially for newer head coaches to learn.

When you hand something off and it doesn't get done 'right', many coaches end up just taking it back and doing it themselves. Taking it back on usually brings up feelings of resentment too!

This doesn't serve you OR your staff in the long run. 

Usually, it's not the other person's fault!

As a leader, it's your job to get clear.

Here are three questions to ask yourself before handing something off: 

  1. What does this task look like when it's done and done well?
  2. When does this need to be completed?
  3. How can I best communicate this to the person I'm handing it off to - in a way that they'll receive it?

Most coaches are so overwhelmed that they don't even take time to think through what they're doing until they're actually doing it. No wonder it's so hard to communicate it in a coherent way to someone else!

When you do MAKE time to get clear on these three questions first (you'll resist this...trust me though...) you may discover a more streamlined and effective way of doing something. 

The art of delegation is something that you'll get to work on from now until the end of time. It's something you'll improve with time and experience. Because - most likely - the people who you're handing off to will change. What works for one person may fail miserably with the next. 

Get good at figuring out what someone needs and how they work best. If you're working with a new assistant coach they may not have this self awareness yet! It's your job to help them figure it out - through resources like the DiSC and creating an environment where people can ask questions, get feedback, and get improve.

  • Some people - who are driven by results - will automatically think they have it all figured out. When you explain what you'd like to see, they think you're micromanaging them.

State your intention to these people up front. "I'm going to tell you what I want and what this task looks like when it's done, and done well. I'm not trying to micromanage how you do things. I'm trying to get really clear and communicate my expectations up front. This will save both of us time in the end."

  • Some people - who are more analytical - need a little more time to process.

Allow them more space to get into a project. Check in to see how things are going and give them another chance to ask questions for clarification. 

  • Some people - who like more personal interaction - may need more hand-holding at first

Be prepared to give them some more frequent feedback. Give them kudos for doing a good job (when they are) and acknowledge when they're getting closer to meeting your expectations. 

So, from this point forward...when you catch yourself taking back something that you've delegated, stop.

Okay...maybe for now you do need to do it because of an immediate deadline. AND be sure to ask yourself, "What could I do differently next time to have a better outcome?" Also, ask yourself if you're getting caught in another trap - of perfection. How much do these little details really matter in the big picture? 

3. Permission to say no.

There are so many opportunities that come up for coaches - both personally and professionally. What do you say yes to and what do you say no to? No one can possibly do it all!

Your administrator may recognize what a great leader you are and want to "give" you more responsibilities: special committees, a new role in the department, etc. The ego loves these opportunities...and there are times when it's right. You're offered just the right challenge to get you out of your comfort zone and step up as a leader.

Other times, saying yes backfires. When the reality of a commitment sets in and you realize you're more distracted and less enthused then you were initially.

A good rule of thumb is to pause before you say yes to something. Ask yourself, "Am I doing this out of fear, obligation, or guilt?" If the answer is 'yes' then you're answer probably needs to be no.

If it's not a HELL YES, then it's a no. 

  • Not no, because of x, y, or z....
  • Not no, and I'll commit to doing this instead....
  • No, period.

This is a big one for coaches - and especially female coaches.

Write yourself a permission slip to say no to something - without getting all weird, making all kinds of crazy excuses, or trading in one favor for another one you don't want to do either.

Just say no, period. 

Saying no to someone else is saying YES to yourself. You're the most important person in the equation. Remember that!

4. Permission to have fun, be silly, and show your athletes who you really are (without apology).

I've seen so many coaches struggle to figure out 'who they need to be' as a coach. Be the wonderful you that you are!

Lots of coaches admit that they have two sides to them: who they are at work (in front of their athletes and colleagues) and who they are at home (around friends and family). I struggled with that myself - especially before I was out...to my athletes and team.

Adapting your behavior requires a lot of energy.

You're a coach - so you're a professional. You can't be best friends with your athletes and share everything with them. Establish clear boundaries. AND, they will love it when you show some of your true colors - that you show to your family and friends. When you have more fun and don't take yourself so freakin' seriously, they usually have more fun too. 

Laugh at yourself when you make a mistake and model imperfection for your athletes...rather than get anxious, worried, defensive because you screwed up. They'll love you for this!

I believe it's important to find a coaching position where you can be who you are - the majority of the time - rather than constantly trying to change, please, and appease others.

Ask yourself...instead of jumping ship and writing off the coaching profession entirely (I see plenty of coaches do that too...), "Is there a place that would be a better fit for me? Where I can bring more of myself?" Reflect and explore that idea fully before you move on to another career. 


Click here to download a permission slip then share one thing you'll give yourself permission to do this season in the comments below.