“It’s more than X’s and O’s”
By Sean Glaze, Great Results Teambuilding
There was a turning point…
For most coaches, when you first start off, the reason that a job comes open is because it’s not necessarily the greatest job or maybe there’s not the same talent level there to allow you to win early on. At that point, even when I was a young coach– and most young coaches – all we do is focus on skills, X’s and O’s, and the strategy side.
Then, as I continued to coach, I had an “ah-ha” moment. I realized that culture is absolutely going to always determine the effectiveness of your strategy. No matter how good you at X’s and O’s, and certainly it’s nice to have athleticism and talent, but sometimes that can be derailed if you have a dysfunctional culture or you’re not focused on getting the people to row in the same direction.
Let me take you back to the turning point for me:
I’d been a JV coach for probably seven or eight years. I’d just taken over my very first head coaching job at a girls’ basketball program, just to get my foot in the door as a head coach. They had, I think, won two or three games the year before and had good kids, and pretty good little players but obviously not necessarily put it all together in the very first year.
We were standing outside the team locker room, right after we had just finished our playoff game and had lost that game – ended out season. Kids are walking off the court with their equipment, and I still could remember the look on one of the player’s face as she walked by. She’d always been that upbeat kid, and that time, end of the season, end of what had been a 5-21 season, she was beaten down just like we as the coaches and staff were. I go into the locker room afterwards to have that kind of “end of season” locker room talk – really excited about future, and : “I know that we’re going to get better when we’ve got everybody coming back, and I appreciate the effort you put in”, you know, the obligatory talk.
I left the kids to put their stuff in their bags and system stuff, and I looked over to a sink, splashing water on my face and I looked up in the mirror, and I realize that if something was going to change it had to be me that changed.
The problem was I’d done everything that first season that I knew to do as a coach:
- We had done individual skill work
- We had done all the pre-season conditioning
- We had put the kids in the right positions in terms of X’s and O’s
- Offenses and defensive systems we felt pretty comfortable with what we were doing
…but it wasn’t necessarily being done the way that was going to make us successful.
I didn’t know what to do differently and I walked back over to stand next to my assistant. Our backs are against the concrete wall, literally and figuratively and as the kids get up, they start to leave one by one.
And they walk out as individuals.
My assistant turned and said something to me, and that’s the moment that really changed. He said, “Coach if we’re going to have a better program, we’re going to have to build a whole lot better relationships.” That was something that honestly, having coached guys and even after coaching girls, I had completely neglected.
My head had been in the sand because I didn’t think it was important. I was always that logical, left brain type of guy, “Hey, we’re going to take care of the X’s and O’s and strategy and all the other stuff.” All that X’s and O’s and strategy and skill isn’t going to be effective if you don’t have relationships and that kind of positive culture that’s going to support the strategy being successful.
The second year I had that exact same team, I spent a lot of time driving around the Southeast going to different college, campuses and talking to coaches, not about X’s and O’s so much, but about their culture. I realized that we had really ignored a huge part of our program and that was something that was completely on me. We designed opportunities for our kids to spend time together off the court. We really focused upon relationships as much as we did on rebounds.
It’s the exact same court one year later, same starting five kids from a year before, we walk off the same court, towards the same locker room, but that second year, instead of heads down, chins in the chest and down and rejected, they were jumping and laughing and screaming and hugging each other and screaming like high school girls only can, because we, instead of winning five games we won 19, we were going to the State playoffs, and it was a completely different experience.
Not because of the X’s and O’s, not because of the players, but because the team was different. That was something that really opened my eyes, and that was really the beginning of my journey into seeing the impact that team building could have.
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