My teams on the floor! (PART 1 of III)

1 Jul

A few months back I received a call from an old friend of nearly 40 years. He called to ask me if I would be willing to meet with him and the coach of his son’s local high school lacrosse team.  He said the coach was young and very good but he was having difficulties with a few of the seniors on the team. I asked my friend to be more specific and he told me that a number of the seniors were being difficult and lacked discipline and the proper respect for the coach and his authority.  He said the coach was struggling with disciplining these boys and was losing control. He went on to say these same players also happened to be the most talented members of the team and the coach needed to find some way to get them back in line or the season could be lost. He finished by saying that this coming season the team had a real shot at winning the championship and that the coach and the parents were worried the current situation was going to affect their chances. My friend asked me if I would meet with the young coach and give him any help and/or advice I might have. I agreed and we arranged to met at a local restaurant a few days later. To tell you the truth I was a bit apprehensive about it… I just didn’t want to let my old friend down. I was honored to be asked all the same.

So I arrived at the agreed upon location and walked in to to see my friend and the young coach standing there waiting my arrival. The coach looked to about thirty-five, was in good shape and had a nice strong presence about him.

As I arrived we all greeted one another and my friend said “Bruce let me introduce you to coach Phillips” …and as he did the young coach stuck out his hand to shake. We made shook hands and made small talk for a few minutes when my friend turned to the young coach and said, “Coach…Bruce and I go waaaayback and I asked him to come meet us today because of the conversation you and I had a few weeks ago. I hope you don’t mind but I shared some of that conversation with Bruce when I called him because I really feel like he might be able to help.  I  respect Bruce a great deal and I wanted the two of you to meet with the hopes he may be able to give you some advice to help you deal with the challenges you’re having with the team…I hope you’re not offended?”  “Not at all” said coach Phillips “I’m happy for any help I can get.” Right then I knew this young man had potential to be a great coach!

I started the conversation by telling the young coach a little about myself, and my background. I mentioned that coaching is a fraternity of which we are both a part.  I told him I felt it was my responsibility to help other coaches the same way I had been helped over the years“I’d be nothing if not for the coaches that helped me along the way”, I said.  I went on… “I’ve made nearly every mistake a coach can make over the years so I’m especially qualified to help you I think …whatever the situation”.

We both laughed and I wanted him to know I was not there to lecture him but only to help. I was unassuming, humble and respectful and I think I connected with him.

“So tell me the situation and let’s talk about it some”, I said. “We’ll”, he said “we have the most talented group of kids to come to the school in decades. They’re smart, fast and have great instincts for the game. On the other hand, they’re lazy and lack focus and seriousness…especially the seniors.” “What have you done to get them under control”, I asked. “Everything”, he said “the real question is what haven’t I done.” He went on, “I’ve yelled, threatened, motivated, punished them and tried everything I can think of and it just doesn’t stick…truth is they don’t respect me and I feel as though I’m losing control of them. These are my best players and the team leaders. The younger players follow their lead and it’s now become a big  problem. I’m losing them, coach” he said…”I’m losing them.” After he finished, he shrugged his shoulders and let out a big sigh. It was plain to see he was really frustrated and running out of ideas fast.

As I listened, I nodded my head in sympathy and solidarity. When he had finished I said, “just to be clear, what I’m hearing you say is that your seniors and most talented kids are undermining your authority. You feel hamstrung by this because you need these same players if you are to have a successful season and you are concerned that if you discipline them too much they will up and quit and that will hurt the entire team’s chances at winning the title…is that right?” “Exactly,” he said…I just don’t know what to do. The season opens in a few weeks and we’re not ready.”

“Would this be your first championship” I asked?  “Yes,” he said. “I know how important the first one can be,” I said. “Are you expected to win the title this year” I asked? “Yes,” he said. “If you didn’t win the title would it cost you your job,” I asked. “Maybe,” he said, but then he paused and added “probably not, but that’s not what’s bothering me…what’s pissing me off is that I just want to win the damn thing one time and these kids have the potential but they just don’t seem to get it.” Well then, the stakes are pretty high for you aren’t they, I said.  ”You bet,” he said. 

I then asked him to detail and describe some specific instances to illustrate the point more clearly. He said, “it’s not really any one thing or one player that sets it off but more like a prevailing attitude and laxness I feel from them. Let me give you an example,” he said.  “When they are not actually on the field engaged in a drill or practice in some way they tend to stand around in a big group joking with their hands in their pants like their at a party or something.  I’ve lectured them on the importance of attitude; I’ve yelled at them, threatened and even negotiated with them…but none of it seems to stick. Every time I look over they’re standing around joking and having fun and its affecting the concentration level of the entire team….coaches included.  When I correct them they seem to listen for a few minutes but it’s not long before they’re right back at it again. It’s turned into a sort of game we play where they do it right when I’m looking but as soon as I turn my attention elsewhere they go right back to the same behavior”. The coach then raised his voice “It’s really pissing me off” he said, as his frustrations for the situation bubbled over.  “I tell them not to come crying to me if they blow it this year but it doesn’t seem to matter.  It’s just a handful of them but they’re screwing it up for everybody and it’s really getting to me. We can win this thing”, he said, “but they don’t get it…maybe they don’t have what it takes to win a championship…or maybe I don’t…I don’t know, but something has to give”. 

I then asked him a few more questions but by then I understood exactly what his problem was. I also know that he and my friend were hoping I had some quick fix, a few well-crafted words, a certain look or speech, a few tricks-of-the-trade that would suddenly change the course of events but I had no such words…no one ever really does. “Coach,” I said “first let me start off by telling you that almost every great coach I have known has experienced this exact same thing at some point. I’ve experienced this myself …so I feel your pain…on top of that, and this will make you feel better, I know how to help. On the other hand, I don’t have a quick fix and it may get worse before it gets better,” I said. “Are you still interested in learning what it will take” I asked?  “Of course,” he said….and so we began.

Please read PART II tomorrow….


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