Thursday, November 20, 2008

Controlling Team Behavior: A Coach's Never Ending Challenge

Planning practices, game preparation, player motivation, and parent communication consume much of a coach’s schedule throughout the year. Feeling the pressure to win; coaches emphasize strategy and motivation because they are looked at as key ingredients to being successful.

Upon further examination, many find team behavior and attitude just as important as game prep and practice planning. Some argue that behavior and attitude may be the central factors in helping a team achieve their potential.

Detrimental player behaviors fall into two separate groups: aggressive and passive -aggressive. Aggressive players try to gain assertiveness by outwardly disagreeing with teammates or coaches. When these players do not agree with a new concept introduced, they verbally and visually express their frustration. These players use words and actions to get their way. By disagreeing openly, these players try to display their power over teammates and coaches. Many times, these players use profanity and physical confrontations to handle conflict situations.

Passive aggressive refers to the second group of negative behaviors. These types of players try to gain assertiveness through ignoring or undermining teammates and coaches. These players fail to confront others over disagreements and instead work behind the scenes to harm other’s ideas, reputations, and plans. Passive aggressive behaviors are difficult to identify because most take place in private.
Both types of behaviors are prevalent in players of all ages. If not dealt with appropriately, these behaviors can be extremely distracting to teams trying to reach the next level of achievement and performance.

One bad apple can ruin the whole bunch…….

A famous artist once said,” A masterpiece is created not by what someone chooses to put into a picture; instead it is created by what one chooses to leave out.” This quote is as relevant to sports as it is to art. Coaches must choose their teams carefully. Teams must have good talent to win games, but coaches must examine the big picture when evaluating who is going to make their final roster.

In education, there is the teacher created 10-80-10 Rule on classroom achievement. The rule states that 10% of your class will follow expectations given at the beginning of the year. Another 10% will not follow any direction given the entire year. The largest group, totaling 80%, will fall somewhere in the middle.

Even though these rules are not scientific, they generally turn out to be true. Coaches should consider this formula has they select a roster or starting line-up. If there are too many of one subgroup, the team will drastically be affected. Imagine increasing the roster’s worst attitudes from 10% to 20%. How would that affect the team? Remember as the middle group decreases, the more influence the top or bottom tier players gain. An entire team can be pulled down if coaches do not balance positive and negative forces inside their ball club.

While considering these options, coaches must knowledge the fact that talent impacts winning. That is why coaches cannot disregard all their talented players, even if they exhibit negative behaviors. By balancing a team’s attitude, not only do peers serve as examples for negative players, coaches can work more closely with high-risk players. By giving them individual attention, coaches have time to build relationships with these players

Does it have an affect game performance?

A coach is judged on whether their team wins or loses. Sadly, that is the bottom line in today’s athletic environment. Based on my perspective, I definitely stand behind the fact that a player’s mentality determines the majority of contest outcomes. For me, one personal example I could share occurred three years ago:

While coaching a 16 and under American Legion baseball team I encountered a player who displayed both aggressive and passive aggressive behavior. He was the team’s most talented player. After striking out, he would throw his bat and helmet. He would use profanity after failure and try to draw attention to himself through visible displays of frustration. Also, he struggled to accept coaching in proper pitching and hitting mechanics. He would not outwardly deny using suggested mechanics, but visually you could tell provided coaching suggestions were not taken seriously.

He, along with the rest of his team, struggled to execute consistently often making silly mistakes to lose close games. In a late season game, our team found itself beating one of the city’s finest programs. This was an exciting feeling since our squad operated 10-12 games under .500. As the home team, we batted in the bottom of the 7th inning with the game tied 7-7.

With a runner on third base and no outs, the above player approached the plate. I let him take a strike before I called for the squeeze play. The player took the sign and acknowledged it by tipping his helmet bill. His action meant he “received” the sign. As the pitch came, the third base runner broke to the plate. The hitter, instead of bunting swung away, fouling the pitch straight back.

I was completely stunned. Being a young coach, I thought it was an innocent mistake by the player. Nervously, I flashed the “squeeze” sign again. Our runner broke and the hitter swung through the pitch for the second time. Our runner was tagged out at home. The inning ended with our team scoring no runs and another opportunity lost to win an important game.”

How could a player be so selfish? How could they place their individual pride above the team’s success? Having only a few years of experience, I remember flying off the handle, yelling meaningless words that communicated none of situation’s real facts. Instead, my emotion got the best of me.

In retrospect, it should have never gotten that far. It was clear that this player’s definition of teamwork was completely opposite of what our coaching staff was trying to teach even at the season’s end. It was obvious that my anger was misdirected; I had only myself to blame for not having safe guards in place to gauge if players were taking on a more team-centered approach. It was a hard lesson to learn.

What’s going to happen in the “real world”……………

At some point during their lives, players must take responsibility for their actions. If young players do not learn to accept responsibility, it will adversely affect their life outside of sports. Too often the media glamorizes athletes who fail in the workplace, marriage, or family life.

Frequently, players who cannot follow the rules tend to develop the same problems off the field. These patterns don’t happen overnight. They are created by coaches who accommodated certain players due to their talent level. By not holding these players to the same rules as others, a dangerous cycle is created.

Finally, players find themselves more prepared to handle “real world” obstacles when they have experienced accountability throughout their athletic careers. Not only does this produce productive citizens, but former players may be able to mentor young athletes who need the same guidance as they did years before.

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