By: Jen Welter
Originally Published in: Winning Ways of Women Coaches
Provided by: Human Kinetics
You must give players a voice in shaping the identity and setting the tone. With the most powerful teams I have ever been on, it was obvious the leadership was not from the top down. There was a way that the players set the expectations so that everyone wanted to be a part of our team. That came from the total team buy-in and not just one person. We all agreed that everybody has a role in leading this team. We all agreed that we all have our own special sauce within that process.
So we will give players more of a say on matters having to do with how we work together and present ourselves as a team. For example, we let players decide how they want to take the field and also to have input on warm-ups, which can set the tone and mood for a game. Do we want to have on our practice shirts? What is our team slogan? Players will be more into adopting the identity outlined by the staff if they get to make those types of decisions. We have agreed that this is what we are going to do to win games, and the players get more input on the style in which we do so.
Letting the players decide on things that may be a little less important to the staff can make a big difference in developing the team's culture. In simple terms, you might say that coaches determine the identity and strategies, but the players own the culture.
The players, as a unit, can say this is where the captains really should have a voice. We always want to be in touch with what is going on with team culture and the emotional and mental state of players. Because if you lose touch with that, then it is really hard to get them to buy in to an offensive play, defensive play, or other important ideas coming from the coaching staff.
The flair you use to present information is important. We were known for our defense, and we called it "team shutdown." If they don't score, they can't win. Whatever strategy you are using, the why is really important, especially to the younger athletes today. You have to bring them into the why and not just tell them to believe a theme that has been on the locker room walls for 87 years that they may or may not be able to relate to. Your game plan is part of it, and getting them to buy in by giving them a voice is a big part of it. The voice might be in the execution in the team culture and how that is translated. You want to make sure we are on the same page.
Sometimes, the game plan will adapt because of certain things you have seen in the team culture. Maybe you have some really "swaggy" receivers who thrive on big plays, and the rest of the team gravitates to it. There were some plays the old coach wouldn't have done, but a new trick play gives them life and the coach acknowledges that. We want there to be an exchange, and the buy-in has to be that communication is open both ways. We have roster changes and injuries and everything can change. If your team identity is centered around one player, you can be in trouble.
There has to be room to grow together, which means that communication is so important. Sometimes the players will say, "Hey coach. trust us. We've got this." I've seen great coaches have meetings with players asking for any suggestions they might have for the coaching staff. It may be one play in the playbook, but the fact that it came from the trenches means it has a good chance of being successful. That type of psychological input can be a big part of their success.
Good leadership entails listening to people. I've had the opportunity to work with great head coaches who appreciated that I had a doctorate in sports psychology, but they especially liked when they heard their players say, "Jen really talks to us." I didn't realize that was so rare or so hard for some coaches.
One time, a captain was not performing well. He had lost the locker room, so I asked the coach if he had ever talked with the player about how to be an effective captain. He said, "No, he just needs to be a captain." I said, "Do you know how much pressure he puts on himself to be a captain because he is not that type of leader naturally?" The player would ask me if he was making the right decisions with the team. It was as if it was paralysis by analysis, because you put a C on his chest. I said. "Try making him not a captain and see how he plays."