5 Best Ways for Athletic Directors to Deliver Bad News

The following blog post is taken from the book Control Your Off the Field Concerns

As the leader of your athletic department, breaking bad news is never easy – whether it’s to staff, athletes or sports parents.  When you have to deliver bad news to a team, here are five tips for Athletic Directors and Athletic Leaders to consider.

1) Tell the truth. People fear what they don’t understand. Give as much information as you can following the who, what, when, where, and why principles of great journalism.

2) Put yourself into your players or parents shoes. It’s useless to tell members not to worry or expect them not feel frustrated. They may be going through a wide range of emotions. Don’t leave them guessing about what is next.

3) Acknowledge feelings.  Don’t suggest that the situation isn’t serious or use humor in these situations. Let team members vent negative emotions.

4) Take charge. Outline a specific plan of action that will help you and the team get through the current bad news you are all experiencing.

5) Follow through. Don’t leave team members wondering. Track the progress of addressing the problems.  Deliver frequent status updates until the situation is resolved.

Get hundreds more great ideas to help solve the toughest issues within your program with Control Your Off the Field Concerns. Staff discounts as low as 12.50 per book.

Helping Athletes with Eating Disorders

On a recent SEC Stories episode, five-time Olympic swimmer Dara Torres revealed she suffered with an eating disorder while attending college at the University of Florida.  More common with female athletes, there are ways to look out for and treat these issues.
In the following interview, former Georgia national title winning gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculantalks about her approach to eating and addiction issues.
 What advice would you give a coach who is dealing with an athlete who has an eating disorder?  First, I’m big on words and semantics, so I call it a food addiction and approach it in a pro-active sense. When our freshman athletes report to campus, we talk about all of us having a food addiction.  It could be weighing yourself in the morning and having that control your day and what you eat and how you feel the rest of the day to counting calories to having certain food cravings.  We all have that in common.
My advice to coaches would be not to control too much what an athlete eats, but teach them proper nutrition.  Too many coaches order foods for their athletes and prohibit certain types of things.  I’ve seen high-level coaches take their athletes to a restaurant and tell the team, ‘these are the only 2 things you can order.’
We have a responsibility as coaches; to not only help athletes reach their full athletic and academic potential, but also in life after gymnastics (or any other sport).  There is too much control and not enough teaching and educating about nutrition.  We focus on body composition (which measures lean muscle mass) and fitness level, not weight.  We want our athletes between 10 and 14 percent body fat.  If they are above 14 percent, they can convert the fat to muscle through exercise.  Muscle mass is important because it controls power and explosiveness.
I’m a big believer in the coaches being an example.  I would never eat a bag of crackers or have a candy bar in front of the team.  What the rest of the team does is contagious. Twenty years ago if we went out to dinner it was common to see a plate of fried cheese and when the freshman would see the older players eat like that, they would think it’s fine. Now, you’ll see pasta and lean meat. It’s not like we tell the girls what to eat and ban anything fried. It’s simply the direction the program has gone over the years.  At the SEC banquet last year, I saw coaches take the desert off the table. That showed a lack of trust in your athletes’ ability to make good choices.
To gain more insights into helping your athletes work through issues not related to sports, check out the book Control Your Off the Field Concerns.

Sports Leadership During COVID

The following blog features a Championship Performance interview with JC Glick, former Lt. Colonel with the Army Rangers who ran their physical fitness unit and now consults with sports teams about using military leadership principles to improve athletic departments.

 COVID Challenges.  This virus has presented sports teams with unprecedented upheaval in routine.  Becoming adaptable and staying focused are important traits to have for both coaches and athletes.  What advice do you have to improve in these areas?

Crisis situations illustrate the best and worst of athletic leadership. I can imagine coaches who were good at managing players truly struggling this time, and that is because managing people is one thing and leading them is quite another. You manage things: time, money, etc.; you lead people.  The best leaders in periods of crisis know their people, and have been in regular personal contact with their players. They are asking them important questions like, “How can I resource you better?”, and “what can I do to help you?” as opposed to simply asking them about the work they have been doing on their own.  When your people are in isolation, it’s more important than ever to check in to ask, “How are you doing?”  as an aside from your sport.  It is about leading holistically and seeing the player as the person.

The coach could also ask how the family is doing. You might say, “Are you worried about getting sick?  What about your parents or siblings?”

The goal should be to support the athlete where they are and find out what they need. By making more personal contact, you build relationships that grow stronger during difficult times. I would also encourage athletes to talk more to each other via zoom.  For example, they could set aside one hour where a group of five or six players has a social time to discuss whatever is on their minds. Really encourage them to keep track of one another.

Back to an earlier point, coaches usually give answers to players, i.e.: “do this”, “don’t do that”, “this is what you should do”.  True leaders really connect by being curious and asking where the athlete see their struggles and what they feel they need to get better.  If there is a difference between the perspective of the coach and the perspective of the athlete, it is an opportunity for more detailed discourse.

Examples: One player may say that they are struggling with nutrition, if they are not in a structured environment.  Another may need more help designing a training workout from home.

The key to leading effectively, in times of crises or not, is about being more curious with those you lead, and listening to either educate them, resource them, or adapt to their perspective.

Get tons more great, practical ideas to improve sports leadership from the books – The Football Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership and just released – The Basketball Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership.

The Bill Belichick Quiz Method to Prepare Athletes

The following blog post is a chapter excerpt from the book – “The Football Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership.”

Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick  is a stickler for details – almost to the point of obsession. So how does Belichick drill information into his players so that the retention is so successful?  It’s called random quizzing and his players may be the most prepared NFL team because of it.

The questions can be things that are noticed on film—like a subtle trait of an opponent—or they can be biographical, like when an opposing player joined the team or what his background is.

The variety and seemingly random nature of the questions can cause a degree of panic in the locker room. There’s a hint of psychological warfare to the trivia contests.  It’s great way to increase athlete motivation.

According to players, if a younger member of the team offers an answer, Belichick will often ask a studious veteran if that player is correct. It once happened with star quarterback Tom Bradyand then-backup Matt Cassel.

Belichick would ask a detailed question: “Hey, we’re in the high red zone, it’s second-and-six from the 18. What’s Indianapolis’ favorite blitz?” Cassel would answer “overloading the weak side.” Then Belichick would turn to Brady and ask “do you concur?” On the times Brady said the backup was incorrect, the room would erupt with laughter.

This happened often between veterans and younger players. If the younger player was wrong, Belichick would tell him: “You need to meet me in my office tomorrow morning to study,” a former player noted. “He would kind of turn players against each other to push them as far as he could.”

Defensive back Tavon Wilson said that Belichick can also turn the tables and ask younger players if the veterans are right. “He tries to find different ways for us to answer the questions.”

While a wrong answer can lead to laughter in a meeting room, make no mistake, players say: It’s a miserable experience for the player who was incorrect.

“It’s a chill silence for a few seconds. Bone chilling. If he doesn’t move on from there, and he’s just looking at you, oh yeah, it’s pretty awkward,” Wilson said.

Players say the quizzes are vital when they are on the field. Veterans who have played for multiple teams said the questions, and the anxiety that comes with being unprepared, contribute to a team that studies harder than just about anyone.

“Sometimes he’ll hit you with a couple real tough questions. But you’ve got to know that. And it’s not him just asking questions— it’s him trying to depend on us, us showing that we know what’s going on,” said safety Patrick Chung. “It keeps our minds going, it’s a daily thing… if you can anticipate certain things, or you know the game plan inside out, it makes it a lot easier to play fast. If you’re thinking about stuff, it’s impossible to play fast.”

Get hundreds more great ideas like this to help your team win more this season with the book – “The Football Coach’s Game Plan for Leadership

9 Tips to Make Sports Parents Your Ally

The following is an excerpt from the new book: Control Your Off the Field Concerns: Proven Remedies for Coaches and Athletic Directors to Solve Your Toughest Challenges.

With COVID adding to the stress of families, you can be sure when athletics resume sports parents are going to be more on edge than ever.

Your coaches often indicate parents interfere with, rather than facilitate, their coaching. This is an unfortunate situation as parents have a powerful impact on players. Considering this, it is important for coaches to do what they can to make parents their allies.

Why are sports parents not your allies? Though there are examples to the contrary, most parents are not malicious or ill intentioned. Most want the best for their kids as players and people. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know what is best for their children athletically. They are simply uneducated about how the roles they play can have a positive or negative influence on their child’s athletic experience.

Here are sports psychologist Dr. Jim Taylor’s 9 tips to make parents your ally.

  1. Establish mandatory parent-coach meetings to discuss your program’s philosophy and goals. These must be consistent between the parent and coach for the athlete to benefit.

  2. Identify specifically how parents’ behavior can help or hurt their child. For example, hugging and encouraging players whether they win or lose vs. showing negative emotions during competitions.

  3. Identify specifically how parents’ behavior can aid or undermine your coaches. For instance, making sure players are properly equipped and on time for practice vs. coaching their child away from your practices.

  4. Create regular opportunities for parents to give input about their child. For example, establish office hours when parents can stop by or call. You can learn a great deal from each other to the athlete’s benefit. (This can also help coaches better the motivate the athlete.)

  5. Provide regular written progress reports to parents about how their child is developing physically, technically, competitively, and psychologically. They have a right to know. (Note: This is especially important at the high school level.)

  6. Establish clear guidelines of appropriate and inappropriate behavior for parents.

  7. When conflicts arise, act like an adult and treat the parents like adults. Your sports communication will be more amicable and productive.

  8. Choose the appropriate setting for a discussion with parents, for example, in your office. Never speak to parents about important issues in front of players, coaches, or other parents.

  9. Enlist parents you trust within your program for advice and guidance about problem parent issues that arise.

Get much more on working with parents and dealing with pressing off field issues for AD’s with the new book: Control Your Off the Field Concerns: Proven Remedies for Coaches and Athletic Directors to Solve Your Toughest Challenges

Key Words:

5 Considerations Before Suspending or Disciplining Athletes

The following is an excerpt from the new book: Control Your Off the Field Concerns: Proven Remedies for Coaches and Athletic Directors to Solve Your Toughest Challenges

Keeping your athletes in line can sometimes be a challenge. When they violate team rules, getting them back on track is one of the unpleasant aspects of coaching that must to be done.

 Clear and direct communication is essential in this process. Here are five aspects of discipline to consider and potential pitfalls to avoid.

1) Waiting too late. Small problems are easily resolved.  But if you turn a blind eye to small problems because you don’t want to confront them, they will soon escalate into bigger problems.  Address infractions shortly after they occur.

2) Coming on too strong. The most effective discipline is progressive.  Begin by taking small corrective actions.  If those fail, proceed to harsher measures.

If you threaten to kick a kid off the team for minor infractions, you create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.

3) Make discipline finite. Think of discipline as a form of training.  It’s an ongoing process.  Work to make sure athletes see the method of your disciplinary actions.

4) Make sure all sides are heard.  Provide athletes a chance to explain their side of the story.  Sometimes their stories may merit further scrutiny.  Other times, they won’t.  In any case, if you jump all over a kid for something they didn’t do or were a very minor “partner in crime”, you will create resentment.

5) Examine root causes. If an athlete does something they know that clearly crosses the line, try to get under the surface.  Are they homesick?  Did they get drunk and disorderly because their girlfriend left them? Are they acting out poorly because they are unhappy with the way they are being utilized on the team?

By trying to find out what is causing the bad behavior, you may be able to improve the person’s on field performance as well.

Get dozens more practical solutions with: Control Your Off the Field Concerns: Proven Remedies for Coaches and Athletic Directors to Solve Your Toughest Challenges

7 Keys to Motivate Female Athletes

The following is an excerpt from the book Championship Performance Coaching I- Legendary Coaching Wisdom on Leadership, Motivation, and Practice Plans to Achieve Your Dream Season.

According to Sports Psychologist Gloria Balague, “When I work with women athletes, relatedness often arises as an all-important motivational element. Most of the women I speak with will talk about the importance of their relationship with their coach. The personal relationship seems to be the central concern, as is having a group of teammates where they feel a sense of belonging.Often they feel that their coaches did not understand the relatedness they need, resulting in frustration for all parties concerned.

A specific example of this has been my work with elite national gymnasts. They complained to me about coaches who paid more attention to them (because of their performance excellence) and paid less attention to other gymnasts at the club where they trained. This source of stress resulted in a climate of tension and blame for something that is beyond their control.  These young girls were looking for good relationships and feelings between all the gymnasts and felt undermined by the differential treatment of the coaches.”

Here are five more tips for sports motivation and coaching female athletes from Women’s Ice Hockey coach Doug Bowdish:

Female athletes have a strong sense of personal responsibility.  If you address a group of young women and generalize a specific topic, most will think you are speaking about them, where as most guys might think you’re speaking about someone else.

Female athletes play for their teammates.  There are always selfish players, but I have found this to be less the case with women than it is with men.  Women are more likely to cheer their teammates and be happy for the success of each others’ accomplishments.  Women will often stick up for each other and don’t like being overly singled out, positive or negative.  No pedestals, no gutters.

Female athletes want to please their coaches.  A coach who has the ability to praise, constructively criticize and challenge their team all at the same time will find tremendous success in developing over-achieving athletes.

Female athletes want to be pushed.  My experience is that women’s teams feel a much higher degree of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when they are physically challenged.  This is not to say they should be subjected to senseless conditioning drills, but rather exposed to high tempo, fast- paced practice plans.  This type of routine will have a tremendous positive impact on their confidence.

Female athletes want to know.  Being prepared and effectively communicating plans and expectations are important parts of getting the most out of female athletes.  Letting them be a part of the planning process isn’t a bad idea either – they want ownership and a good coach should want buy-in.

Get hundred more great ideas to improve your team with the Championship Performance Coachingbook series.

Coach K on Building a Culture of Trust and Goal Mistakes

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) is a master at team building. Below, he shares his thoughts on gaining the respect of your players and the wrong approach to goal setting.

  • On creating respect of players: “The best way gain respect is to tell them the truth. Look them in the eye and tell them, “This is the way it is.” Give it to them straight – both the good and the bad. Not just, “You are not playing hard enough or giving enough effort.” But also, “Your good – here is how you can be even better.” When you look at a player straight in the eye and tell him the truth over and over – that’s the basis of your relationship. You develop the best of relationships because it’s founded on trust. That’s the key building block to future success.”

  • On setting goals, including specific number of wins: “I’ve never set goals in terms of wins and losses. I’ve always talked to my players about the possibility of winning a championship. The reason I don’t do the wins and losses is that I want the mental approach that every game is winnable. If you set a goal for say 20 wins and making the NCAA tournament, I think the danger is that certain sense of satisfaction creeps in that can prevent you from going farther. Then you’d be stopping yourself. On the other hand, what if you have a few key injuries on a team capable of winning more than 20. That same team may win 17, but that was still a solid achievement based on what they were dealing with. I would rather define success for my team rather than have specific wins and losses define us.”

Get much more on Coach K and other leading coaches on the tools necessary to build a championship program in the book Championship Performance Coaching II: 200+ Practical, Proven Sports Psychology and Team Building Strategies to Win More this Season.

Best Responses to Upset Sports Parents

The following is an excerpt from the new book: Control Your Off the Field Concerns: Proven Remedies for Coaches and Athletic Directors to Solve Your Toughest Challenges.

Consider this scenario. It wasn’t the best game your team ever played. And before you can turn to them to try to smooth over the loss, you are confronted with an irate, in your face, father (or occasionally a mother). In language too salty for a marine drill sergeant, you are given a tongue lashing on everything from your @#%^*& lack of ability as a coach to why his superstar child is not playing the right position, receiving enough playing time, etc. While your insides are rattling with angry emotions, you catch the faces of the kids on your team whose jaws have dropped open.

These situations can be handled in several ways. First, if the parental behavior is repetitive or consistent, the governing sport association needs to intervene according to their procedures. Don’t hesitate to pursue this before things get even more out of hand.

Secondly, as a coach you need to muster all your self-control capabilities so as to react rationally and not emotionally to the parent. Taking time to cool off before any response is essential. “Stepping back” and analyzing the situation (What is this all about?) from the distance can create more calm. Talking to yourself in calming ways or using physical self-relaxation techniques can defuse your emotion. Then approaching the parent again about the concerns may be productive and might even get you an apology.

Finally, the situation should be addressed with the team. Having a team meeting as soon as possible (but after you have calmed down) is important. Holding the meeting where there is some quiet and privacy. Don’t try to punish or isolate the player for the parent’s bad behavior.

It is useful to begin the meeting by acknowledging the emotions that were raised by the fuss (“I was pretty surprised and upset by what happened… I wonder if any of you are feeling the same way.”) Without naming the parent or making other references to him or her, discuss with the team that people get upset sometimes and act very excitable when they do.

After the meeting, privately assure the player of the irate parent that you are not upset with him/her and that they are still a valued part of the team. Try to use the incident as an opportunity for coaching the team in some important life skills.

Examples: Here are some potential situations with parents of athletes you may have had to deal with and some response suggestions. In most circumstances, the player should not be present at any of these discussions. These issues are between the parent and coach and should be conducted in private.

Your coaching sucks. Why are you running this system? Acknowledge what the parent is saying. Let them know you heard them. You might say, “Yes, that approach could work in certain situations” or “that’s a great suggestion. Maybe we’ll implement it later.”

As the coach, you need to add the explanation for why they are using the system they are. Reply with: “With the type of competition we play, your suggestion doesn’t fit in with the overall scheme. Or you could say, “that’s not a play or strategy that we have worked on. Maybe that’s something we should add to the playbook in the future” – assuming the suggestion has at least some merit.

My kid is better than John Doe or Jill Smith. Why isn’t my kid playing more? Acknowledge the strengths and positive attributes of the kid. Tell why you think the player ahead of their son or daughter makes a more significant contribution. Follow up by saying what future plans you have for their kid and reiterate the good points that he or she brings to the table.

We’ve had it with you coach. Either X,Y, or Z happens or my kid will transfer to another school. First, if the parent is really that upset, acknowledge their anger and ask to meet with them privately at a later time. Offer a specific time and place. Wait several days after a game. At the start of the meeting, let the parent vent. See if there is anything valid they are saying and address it. If they are way off base, help them see where they are incorrect in their thinking. If they have anything meaningful to say, reply with: “I’ll take that under consideration.”

At some point, if they refuse to calm down or threaten to transfer, you should calmly say, “If that’s your choice, and you feel that is best for your son or daughter, I’ll go along with that.”

The parent’s kid may not fit into the program anymore anyway, so them leaving may be best for all concerned. But if the parent is simply being difficult, let them know it is their decision and say, “I’d hate to lose X and let’s try to work through this.” The goal is for the parent to think you sincerely don’t want to lose their kid.

Get the best solutions to your off field issues with the new book: Control Your Off the Field Concerns: Proven Remedies for Coaches and Athletic Directors to Solve Your Toughest Challenges.

3 Great Ideas to Motivate Bench Players

Studies in the corporate environment have revealed that cash raises are not always the most effective way to reward and motivate employees. In fact, a recent study revealed 3 methods that proved as successful at motivating employees that coaches can adopt to motivate athletes as well.

1) Let players have some say over their own schedule. If your team has worked hard in the early part of the season, why not reward them by letting them have some say in setting practice and work out schedules? If they have several great practices in a row, allow them to cut short practice time later in the week.

2) Give them different assignments. For those players who bust their tail at practice, but rarely, if ever, see playing time when it counts, you can ask them to become coaches on the sidelines.

Have them make mental notes of what they are seeing and ask them to write a post game report of what they saw on the field or court. They may spot something that you missed. It keeps their “head in the game” which is very important when you know that you won’t be seeing much playing time outside of mop up duty.

3) Praise players for exceptional effort in public. John Wooden said one of his greatest regrets was not praising his reserves more often. When you see great effort from a back-up – even when the result is not great – give them loud and vocal public praise. Both starters and reserves will be more motivated.

Excerpted from the book Championship Performance Coaching Volume 1: Legendary Coaching Wisdom on Leadership, Motivation and Practice Plans to Achieve Your Dream Season.