Coaches need to stop punishing and start disciplining for accountability.

There is a difference.

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“Keep running, and pick up the pace,” my coach said. Next lap around we tried to get his attention, but he was deep in conversation with the assistant. Our captain managed to ask, “Are we done?” He didn’t look at her, or at us. He simply shook his head no.

We kept running.

We had been running a brutal conditioning drill where one line of the team sprints around a shortened field to catch up with the other line that is slowly jogging…switching roles as soon as the first group got back. We had been jogging/sprinting for twenty minutes at the end of an intense two-hour practice, the day before one of our last games, at the end of a losing season.

None of us dared stop running (except the one player who slid behind a bush to vomit). We knew the punishment was coming because we had lost the previous two games. He wanted to light a spark in us so we could finish out the season with better performances. It didn’t work. We lost all the remaining games anyway.

That’s why coaches punish, right? To effect some sort of change in a team’s behavior or to create a level of accountability. Sometimes team punishment achieves a desired change, i.e. the Miracle hockey team of 1980. (there is a reason that entire story was rather miraculous though)

It is an honorable thing to employ discipline with the end-goal of accountability.

Physical punishment to affect behavior is timeless. Militaries use it, parents use it, and certainly sports coaches use it. The problem for some coaches is they misuse it. Physical punishment is a powerful tool and must be wielded thoughtfully.

There are functional uses of physical punishment that make sense to me as a natural consequence, and there are horribly dysfunctional uses. I’ll stick with the dysfunctional ones.

3 Dysfunctional Uses of Physical Punishment

  • Team punishment for an individual’s infraction.
  • Because a coach has run out of ideas to develop a team further.
  • Because a team loses.

Team Punishment for an Individual’s Infraction

I see this ALL the time. I even highlighted a ridiculous example of this in a post I wrote five years ago. This DOES NOT build team cohesion. It rarely works to even hold the individual accountable for whatever he/she did.

People buy into a team mentality, they cannot be bullied into it.

There is honestly no real-world scenario where team punishment makes even a little bit of sense. I’ll use some extreme examples. In the “punish the team” model, the entire group of tv hosts/hostesses for the morning show where Matt Lauer worked should be fired for his transgressions. OR, my whole family should have been jailed because my dad made poor choices and, obviously, because we are part of his family, we should pay for his behavior too.

If you are about to dole out a team punishment for something one kid or a couple kids have done, take some time to think about whether you are doing that because it will enact accountability or because you are lazy. It takes energy and creativity to work out the right consequences for wrong choices.

It is choices we want to influence after all. Choices to be a team player, choices to behave with integrity, choices to show up on time, or compete well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to influence behavior when there is a choice, but there are ways to do it better.

My very favorite use of physical discipline for accountability was my husband’s approach to his hockey team’s penalties. The day after a game, at the very start of  practice, the players who had posted penalty minutes the night before would come before a jury of their peers to be judged. My husband taught them that there are “good” penalties and “bad” penalties. The “good” penalties happened with a player was playing hard and got tied up, resulting in a penalty, or as a last resort did what he needed to do to stop a breakaway. “Bad” penalties were any that included unsportsmanlike conduct or a loss of emotional control.

The player with the infraction would plead his case. Sometimes. Sometimes he would acknowledge how dumb the penalty was and just skate his punishment- (4 cross-ice boards per 2-minute penalty). If he wanted to be judged, the team would vote and determine whether a punishment was valid. If there was a tie, my husband would be the deciding vote.

The teams my husband has coached are among the most disciplined I’ve watched play. The boys knew they would be held accountable and it influenced a number of their decisions.

Because a Coach Has Run Out of Ideas to Develop a Team Further

I think this might have been my coach’s misuse of punishment. It happened over twenty years ago, and it is still among one of my most memorable practices. (and not for the right reasons)

For coaches who measure their successes on wins and stats, if the season is a rough one, they’ll grasp at anything to try to put things right.

Maybe if my coach was able to acknowledge the truth, that we really weren’t that good, he could have utilized our practice time more productively.

Because a Team Loses

Too many teams lose games twice. They lose on the scoreboard and then they lose any possible lessons because the response to a loss is physical punishment.

“Oh, man, coach is going to run us so hard tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“Because we lost.”

“Ok, but you were playing the number one team in the country.”

“That doesn’t matter, we always run when we lose.”

This might be an attempt at consistency, but this sort of punishment is neither disciplining nor holding anyone accountable.

Losses happen. Teams play flat and uninspired. Physical punishment in response is not going to change what happened in that last game.

Should you talk to your teams about how playing uninspired lessens their chances of success? Sure. Should you encourage their feedback about what works to influence their enthusiasm? Absolutely. Should you run them into the ground? No.

Conditioning is a part of every practice I run, as it should be for all sports coaches. It’s just not part of my response to a loss we have already fielded as a team.

Questions to ask yourself about whether to utilize physical discipline:

  • Is it fair and appropriate to the choice the player(s) made?
  • Is it going to influence the behavior in a desired way?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is this the best way I can think of to discipline?

It’s a shift in thinking and a shift in semantics. Athletes should know that physical discipline is crucial to their ultimate success. The best coaches inspire kids to work hard at that discipline, and if coaching is really happening well, the players will seek out the physical discipline for themselves. If it’s punishment, they never will.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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susan cain quote art

I cheated the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. In my late twenties I took the test and the results tagged me as an INFJ. Everything I had observed about myself, or probably more accurately wanted to believe about myself, meant the test results were obviously wrong. I changed a couple of the answers in order to change the ‘I’ into an ‘E’ and went into the group discussion proud of my declared “teacher” personality. There was no way I was a contemplative counselor…or so I thought.

Fast forward fifteen years and my accidental discovery about the truth. Last month, one of my book clubs picked Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I looked forward to the read because, without a doubt, I had identified my husband and one of our three children as profoundly introverted. I was sure I would learn so much about how my extrovert (ok, maybe ambivert) self could better navigate relationship with them because obviously I was so unlike them.

I took the introvert/extrovert test (3 separate times). Turns out, I’m actually an introvert too. Sigh. I’m still considering the possibility that my husband made me that way, but regardless of my level of comfort in admitting the truth, knowing this about myself is a game changer.

How can this be? I’m a coach, a journalist, a speaker and I consider myself incredibly verbal. That, and for most of my life, people have tagged me as an extrovert. According to the Myers-Briggs description of INFJ’s:

INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large. They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people.

The more I investigate the description of my particular personality the more sense it makes. Introverts can be and do pretty much anything. We just make adjustments so we are more comfortable. Part of what I’ve subconsciously done, over the course of my life, is I’ve inadvertently adapted the use of my own energy system so I can be better at those things I love to do.

This personality revelation explains why I’ve been somewhat reluctant to coach. I love coaching, but there are parts that tax me and I’ve always prioritized the energy needs of my house above everything else.

I know in my gut that coaching is SO, SO important and there are parts that I really do love. I love analyzing the game, individually counseling athletes, planning contemplative exercises, providing individual technical instruction and relating to the players and family members as well as the coaches with whom I get to coach. I’ve figured out the more I can have planned out beforehand and the more practice I have at the rhythm of a season, the better I do. I’ve set up good communication strategies, drawn clear boundaries with parents and players, worked hard at relationships with them and I’m diligent about all administrative aspects of my job.

I can only engage in those things for regimented periods of time though. Breaks in seasons and days off to rest, are paramount to my effectiveness. Thankfully, I’ve figured out what works for me. (Next step is figuring out how I can encourage a team that is seemingly quite introverted to step out of comfort zones too-blogpost to come)

I’ve been lucky, though. Without seeking out opportunities to coach, coaching jobs have literally landed in my lap. I do feel I am meant to be coaching, but without life unfolding the way it has, I’m not sure I would have pursued it. I think it is harder for introverts, interested in coaching, to have the opportunities they seek.

I’ve actually seen it firsthand in our house. There is no mistaking my husband’s introversion. For many people he is so deeply introverted that he seems off-putting. He is not out-going and certainly unlike most apparently extroverted coaches who seem to be so good at being out there. The thing is, he LOVES to coach and he is really good at it. (especially for the college-aged athlete) He still plugs in where he can, but I’m not sure the coaching world, including families and athletes who espouse extroverted coaching, is quite as receptive to  introverted men who coach.

What do you think? Are you an introverted coach? Are extroverted coaches better at coaching? Should coaching staffs comprise a certain combination of personalities to be most effective?

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Coach a resolution

I adopted the hashtag #closethegap as my focus for last season’s team. There exists a profound skill/commitment gap between our team and the teams in our conference. People have pointed to our high school’s championship football team for some of the gap that exists, and I would be foolish to pretend football doesn’t matter. We are in a small western Wisconsin town and the number of students participating in athletics makes same-as-football-season boys’ sports somewhat disadvantaged. Demographics, too, make it tough for us to compete with some of the communities that have more resources, both human and material. None of those factors can be an excuse, however, and I refuse to play the blame game.

I have a responsibility for the growth and success of this soccer program and plenty of recent self-reflection has led me to my current resolution. I don’t want to call it a New Year’s resolution because then it seems as though I only intend to be resolute for the new part of the year or for one year only. I am resolving to make changes in how I coach, in how I approach coaching and the decision to do something, about a craft I have studied and worked at for over twenty years, is a big deal.

I blame Kate Leavell, author of Confessions of an Imperfect Coach, for this recent surge of inspiration. The perfectly-timed arrival of her book on my desk has tied together a number of the loose thoughts that have been swimming in my head for years.

I have been a somewhat fraudulent coach. Ok, maybe fraudulent is a strong word, but I know I haven’t been “all in”.

Every single coaching job I have had has been an “emergency” one.

The first team I coached was a premier u-17 girls team in Colorado. The club director asked me to coach them after their coach was caught partying with one of the players. I steadied the ship mid-season and coached them one more year before we moved out of state.

The next coaching job I had was as the head women’s coach at UW-Stout. I was hired one week before the season started. A literal emergency hire and one of the hardest things I have ever done. That emergency lasted for five years.

Next up: a U10 girls team in Woodbury and a couple youth co-ed teams in Menomonie. For each team, they needed someone to coach and I reluctantly raised my hand.

My current job as the head coach for the Menomonie High School boys team was one I hesitated to pursue too. For two years, as a parent, I watched from the sideline and struggled to coach our son through the difficulties of being on a team that lacked a positive culture or a stabilizing voice. When the revolving door began to spin again, for what would be the third coach in four years, I found myself sitting across the desk from the Athletic Director in an interview before I realized I was doing it again. I was agreeing to take on a struggling program in peril.

So here I am. A seasoned coach who has told herself for twenty years, coaching is a temporary position, a part-time gig.

What if it’s not, though? What if coaching is exactly what I am supposed to be doing? What if I pursued it completely and decided to get as good at it as I can?

My response would be, “well then, I have a lot to learn and even more to do.”

All of this brings me to my new resolution.

A Bing search of the definition of resolution yields the following:

Resolution

  • A firm decision to do or not to do something.
  • The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
  • The process of reducing or separating something into its components.

So, my firm decision? To pour myself in to coaching others. Sometimes it will look like soccer, but most of the time it will look like parenting, advising and teaching. I totally want to set up a booth at the end of my driveway like Charlie Brown’s friend Lucy that solicits “Help” for 5 cents.

The problem I want to solve? Inspiring those around me move toward the best versions of themselves. (another book influence: Perfectly Yourself: Discovering God’s Dream for You, by Matthew Kelly)

The process and separating into components? That’s goal-setting. I have a new hashtag for this year.

#timeandspace

I want to create spaces for people to grow and set aside time to be there with them as they do. It’s actually something my husband and I have been trying to do for our kids and our summer employees without really having the hashtag to describe it.  I want to bring that to the teams, athletes and fellow coaches with whom I work. How I’ll measure that daily, weekly or monthly is something I’m still exploring and I’ll spend more time with this concept in future blogposts.

For now, I wish you the very best in your own resolutions. May you make your own firm decisions to problem-solve for the good of those around you and find purpose in the pursuit.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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captain

One of the captains for a team of mine peed on every soccer field before every game. Yes, peed. She would gather the team around her so she could inspire us (and hide what she was doing) by performing the feat of pulling her shorts to the side while she squatted low enough her stream would not spray her socks.

I was never impressed… nor inspired.

She wasn’t a good leader and I was not a good follower. I wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow her lead, but if our coach had asked, we could have told her.

The one peeing was the coach’s pick for our captain. The team had chosen another player who had been injured in the offseason and, when a coaching change happened that summer, the new coach assigned a replacement captain without bringing a choice to the team.

It didn’t go well.

There is solid argument for trusting the captain choice to the most experienced and wise person on the field. (I sincerely hope that is the coach) Young players on teams have a tendency to vote along popularity lines and that is a struggle for coaches who truly believe that leadership matters for the chemistry and efficacy of a team. (and it does!) Coaches generally have a good idea of who would be good leaders for the group, but making a unilateral decision about a team’s captain can backfire.

Choosing a captain should be a group effort, and the team will more likely follow the lead of the players they choose.

I tried a different approach this year and I really liked it.

As a coach, I guided the selection of the captains, but the team ultimately decided.

I introduced a rather lengthy selection process for assigning our in-season captains. I contend that this approach is likely most appropriate for high school-aged teams and older. (I have ideas for how to grow captains in younger teams, and I’ll cover that briefly later)

Captain Selection Process

Step One: Captain Application

Players interested in being chosen as a captain must submit an application that consists of the following questions:

  1. What is the role of a captain?
  2. Why do you want to be a captain?
  3. What are your leadership qualifications for this position?
  4. What leadership activities have you participated both in school and outside of school?
  5. Explain how you would be proactive in confronting peers who violate team rules, school policies or league regulations?
  6. What impact would you make on our team as a captain?

My coaching staff reviewed the applications and because of the number that submitted we let them all take part in the next step. My plan, if there are many more applications in the future would be to select five candidates to present to the team.

The application process is an important one. The thought that goes into crafting their responses raises their level of awareness that we as a coaching staff value leadership. It also gives us a chance to see what their leadership values are.

Step Two: Speech

Once the captain candidates were selected they were each given one minute to explain to their teammates why they wanted to be the team’s captain and what value they could offer.

Step Three:  Team Vote

After the speeches, the team selected their top three choices. I like having three captains because there is better balance with three voices.

Step Four: Captain’s Pledge

To really emphasize my expectations of those selected as captains for our team, the players chosen and their parents have to sign a Captain’s Pledge.  It looks like this:

Captain’s Pledge

I, ___________________________, realize the honor that goes with the many responsibilities involved in serving as a Captain for MHS Boys Soccer. I need to be a leader both in and out of the competitive setting (on and off the field), before the season starts, during the season and even after the season has been completed. Unless I am dismissed from this role, I will always be known as a Captain for the MHS Soccer team.

I am very proud that I have been selected to serve in this capacity. I realize that I must be mature, take initiative, and at times I may need to make unpopular decisions. I will keep the interests of the team first and I will always demonstrate good sportsmanship.

I must remain drug and alcohol free and I will do my best to ensure that all of my teammates are doing the same.

I realize that I need to work closely with the coaching staff to make our season successful. I will treat my teammates with respect and give them extra help when they need it. My integrity will never be questioned, since I realize that people will remember me more as the type of person I was, as well as the reputation of my team, much longer than any of my personal accolades.

I, _____________________________, agree to all of the above and pledge to uphold the philosophy and live by these guidelines. I know that I must resign as Captain if I fail to live up to these expectations.

Captain’s Signature___________________________________  Date____________

Parent(s) Signature__________________________________  Date__________

Soccer teams are among the few sports teams where captains are more than just an honorary title. They have work to do on behalf of the team. They represent their teams in the coin toss, they are the identified player rep for conversations with the referees and I utilize them in decision-making as player representatives. (voices from the trenches) They have an important role in the chemistry of a team and in the identity of a program. It’s a big deal and worth the extra effort to put the right players in place.

****Captains for Teams Younger than 14

For younger kids, I think captain of the week works well. Assign a pair of players the job of leading warm-ups or end-of-practice cheers the week they will be assigned captains for the game. Leadership takes practice too. Talk to the players about leading well and following well, pointing out the behaviors you most value in your leaders. (and your followers)

 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

 

americanflag

If you stand on a youth soccer sideline long enough, you are bound to hear a coach yell, “Take a knee!” Most often the directive is meant for a recently-injured-player who is trying to be brave and make one last heroic play, but whose limping attempt is not productive. Kneeling is necessary to protect the player and stop the game.

For young kids, when an injured player goes down, players on both teams also take a knee. The full-field gesture is not because any other player is hurt, but because they are respecting the player for whom the game has halted.

I was the sort of athlete who really didn’t like to have to kneel, either as the injured or as a mandate when another player was hurt. I did it when I was asked because I respected the game and those who played it. It was part of the arrangement for being part of a team. As I got older and players no longer knelt, I made it a point to touch the shoulder of the injured before gathering my teammates on the field.

Before anyone slams me for likening the current on-field kneeling to that of kneeling for an injury during a soccer game, hear me out.

My perspective, like every other American watching what’s happening on NFL sidelines with regard to kneeling, comes from a unique place. My perspective isn’t right, it’s personal. (I would argue that is the case with every single person who has an emotional opinion about what’s transpiring)

It’s been a tough few days: as a coach, as a once-upon-a-time-elite-athlete, as an American, as the daughter of a West Point grad and veteran, and granddaughter of two World War II vets. It’s been hard too as a middle-aged white woman who, as part of the pre-game protocol for the diverse boys’ high school soccer team I coach, to stand facing a flag for an anthem two to three times each week without thinking about those kneeling.

I’m left wondering what the right response to all of this should be and I’ve decided it’s too personal to dictate.

The kneeling posture is a physical statement while others are standing for the playing of our national anthem. Until this weekend, it had already been happening in small pockets in America and for personal reasons I have no business analyzing.

Kneeling during the anthem looks like injury to me.

There are plenty of hurting people in this country and the professional athletes who have taken a knee to draw attention to some of those hurts are taking the posture of an injured soul. Look at the recent team photos of anthems: some are kneeling, others stand with heads bowed and still others stand at attention with their eyes raised to the flag. The controversy exists because any expression that might be different than the way we each want to approach that flag could be seen as an affront to our personal feelings. The kneeling expression hurts those for whom standing with great reverence is their own personal attention to the hurts they carry too.

Every person has a right to their opinions and freedom exists in the expression of those opinions because we are Americans. Unfortunately, more and more these days we want everyone to think and express like we do. We want to express our own hurts without acknowledging the hurts of others. There seems to be little interest in even trying to understand the personal decisions other people make much less unpack what might be causing our reaction in the first place.

Every opinion is framed in personal experiences, the pasts we carry with us and the emotional realities that exist within us. Have you thought about why you feel the way you do about this?

Compounded in the controversy is the fact that teams had no choice but to respond to Trump’s statements because he inflicted new injury on the players and owners of the sports teams he chose to attack.

There are two responses I have seen, so far, that capture the essence of what might possibly be a way to engage in a productive and necessary dialogue.

vikings-seahawks-football

The teams where one player knelt or sat and the other stood directly behind with a hand on his shoulder best illuminates acknowledgement of both postures being necessary. The standing player stands because he must and the kneeling player kneels because he must. They connect with each other, because they are teammates who respect what the other must do.

The Dallas Cowboys did it right too. They knelt as an entire organization in linked-arm solidarity, just prior to the start of the anthem. Then together they stood,  interlocked, and remained standing as a group for the duration of the anthem. I am sure it took quite a bit of conversation to determine the group response. As a team they expressed acceptance of any hurts the members of their organization might be carrying while approaching the flag with respect and reverence.

They were booed by the Arizona Cardinal fans for this expression.

We are used to booing in a football stadium. For God’s sake, a majority of the fans show up each week to do just that. The thing is, this booing initially frustrated me. The more I think about it though the more I must acknowledge that booing is necessary for some people too. I would argue the angry response of booing to the sad posture of kneeling is simply another expression of hurt.

The hardest part of all of this is that America seems to have forgotten we are supposed to be on the same team. We’ve chosen which color on the flag defines us and which posture is right when we stand before it. We need to be better than this. We need to embrace the emotionally complex nature of this great country and every citizen who calls it home.

I continue to stand for the anthem, and I reverently look at the red stripes and the blue backdrop of the stars and, as I did as an athlete, I remember that I’m privileged to be in that moment. It doesn’t mean for one second I am not willing to walk beside someone kneeling in my vicinity to put my hand on a shoulder because I want the injured among us to know I see their pain and I am willing to stand up for them until they no longer feel too pained to stand themselves.

I recently read Waking up White by Debby Irving and I highly recommend it for those of you interested in deepening your understanding of race relations in this country. It challenged me to look harder at the individual responsibility I have to understanding the role I play in contributing to or combatting racism. I have a long way to go.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our small town in Wisconsin creates sports posters for the various varsity teams. The themes for the posters change each year and they are fascinating snapshots of the team for that season while showcasing threads of the overall team culture.

The phrase chosen by the soccer boys for their high school poster this year was “Our work is the world’s game”.

MHS_Soccer 2017 proof

They wanted the phrase iterated in three languages to represent the cultures of boys who play in our program. This year we have a foreign exchange student from Brazil, an exchange student from Turkey and several boys from the local Hmong community. Because of the diversity within our team, the phrase was translated into Portugese, Turkish and Hmong. It is certainly a unique poster among those posted around town.

In all fairness though, we are a unique program. That uniqueness has challenged me in ways I hadn’t anticipated as a coach and, in the current climate of our country, learning to navigate that uniqueness well may be one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life.

In a town traditionally known for farming and championship football teams, the soccer micro-culture has been marginalized. I am challenged by that reality. I coach a high school boys’ soccer team that plays the same season as football and, in all honesty, the field is slanted in favor of the dominant football culture. It’s not a ground-breaking observation, I know, but I am starting to sense I need to pursue a better way to co-exist.

There is a well-established football machine in this town. (dare I say in this country) It’s a powerful vehicle of discipline for the athletes and entertainment for the spectators. There is good in that. I did not grow up in a town where Friday-night football was an entire-town event or so big that literally everyone’s schedules revolve around what the football boys are doing. For some time, I admit, I have postured for battle against the machine, hoping to woo some of the better multi-sport athletes to choose soccer instead of football. It’s not a battle I have won.

Soccer encourages regular creativity and it is time I employ skills I have spent my lifetime honing.

I grew up thinking soccer was what everyone did: boys or girls, tall or short, and the coaches on the sideline added to my understanding that this world is a pretty big place. My youth coaches were from Iran, France and England and I appreciated the varying perspectives they added to my appreciation of the game. (and of the world at large) I want to create a space where that thinking exists for the players and families who explore soccer in this town.

I am not intent on tearing down anything the football culture has created. I enjoy watching football and I appreciate the efforts of the athletes who pad up on Friday nights. They bring the entire town together and I like that. My focus needs to shift to a mode of appreciating football for football and establishing soccer for what it can be in this community. I am sensing that we need to work at expanding soccer without diminishing anything already happening on the football field.

Maybe our poster phrase is more important than I think. The woman helping me to translate our slogan into Hmong was challenged by the word “game”. There are two Hmong words for game with different connotations. One has to do with childlike playing and the other has to do with game competition. She chose the word that meant competition. It’s the right word for this year’s poster.

The world is playing an incredibly competitive game right now, deciding whether dominant culture or inclusion is the way to go. It is an age-old battle that seems to have been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. What is emerging in my little Western Wisconsin corner of the world is an effort of advocating for the marginalized while appreciating the dominant. Only time will tell how this will go, but I am a part of this team’s culture and I too want to make the world’s game my work.

Meagan is currently the head boys soccer coach at Menomonie High School in Menomonie, Wisconsin. She played collegiate soccer for Division I Colorado College and has been the coach of U5 through college teams for nearly twenty years.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

canva team building for girlsI swore I would never coach a middle-school-aged girls team. I’m still not sure I have it in me, but I have committed to this parenting thing, and, in our house, that seems to include coaching soccer where I’m needed. This spring I will be firmly positioned on the coach’s bench for our daughter’s U12 girls team. (a slight deviation from the high school boys varsity sideline I occupied last fall)

For different reasons, both coaching gigs present challenges and an opportunity for intense personal transformation. Because I’ve adopted the Choosing to Grow mentality, I’m going to seek out ways to grow as well as I can in these roles.

Step One: Accept Tween Girls for Who They Are

I can’t say I ever really understood the stereotypical middle-school-girl mentality…even when I was one. I was the aloof tomboy who preferred the predictability of my sporting guy friends and was found more often shooting baskets at lunchtime than gossiping at a table. I wasn’t really all that great of a teammate on the girls’ teams for which I competed, either, because I didn’t understand anything other than intense, claw-your-way-to-the-top competition. (certainly behaviors I have spent years unpacking)

Aside from needing to send my high school and college teammates a series of apology letters, I like to think I have arrived at a vastly different place in my mindset as a competitor and, ultimately, as a coach. At least I thought I had arrived at an enlightened place…and then our practices started.

The first few practices were fine and I was bringing my challenging conditioning games and an energy of intensity that seemed to be well-received. What I began to notice, however, was that some of the girls are wired for the competition part of being on a team while others are more interested in the cooperation part.

That’s part of the complexity of girls’ teams. Very often girls join a team because they want to be part of a positive group and they enjoy the friendships they find there. Other girls are drawn more to the fire of competition.

Tweens are at the cusp of discovering which approach matters most to them. They want to align with a group and as they sort out the nature of competition, they often align with a group and they find themselves pitted against another group. This can prove VERY problematic for girls’ teams. Hence the dreaded issues that come with “cliques”!

Not to mention the fact that hormones are beginning to rear their ugly heads. The pre-pubescent tween body has yet to experience the influx of hormones and is understandably overwhelmed by their arrival. Hormones flood their brains and make the world look incredibly different than they have ever imagined it could look. It makes them moody.

Concrete thinking is still a habit of the younger tween mind, and as they progress (of course at unpredictable and varying rates) they are becoming more capable of abstract and complex thinking. This development is not a small one and if embraced by encouraging a growth mindset, can be incredibly fertile ground.

The tween transition means that every one of the fourteen girls on my team are at vastly different places in brain development, hormonal infusion and self-awareness of her place in the world. UGH! No wonder I feel like a crazy person.

TASK ONE: Creative Team-Building

So, here is what I tried yesterday at practice: Team-Building-Conditioning-Clue-Hunt

I asked the girls at the start of practice why they like being a part of a team. Their answers varied slightly, but the overwhelming response was because they like being part of a group and they like being with their friends. The most interesting thing about their responses, however, was when they expanded to why they enjoy their friends on a team. The more obvious competitors saw their friends as necessary to the team doing well and others saw their friends as necessary to helping them feel better about themselves. This insight will help me to frame how they each approach the team dynamic.

Then we went for a 2-mile run. I had hidden 10 clues along the route that included instructions for tasks to complete and directions about where to go to find the next clue. At the halfway-point, which happened to be our detached garage, they did the Flip the Tarp game.

Built into this activity were strategies to allow each of the girls to have roles as leaders and to practice roles as followers. I mixed up the pairings and encouraged a variety of partnering along the way. The leader for each station had to initiate and facilitate the tasks assigned.

Here are some of the tasks they had to perform:

  • Take turns dancing in the middle of the team circle.
  • Do the team cheer.
  • High-five every player on the team.
  • Count together for 15 jumping jacks.
  • Link arms and run together the length of a cul-de-sac.
  • Shuffle, back-pedal, etc. on the leader’s call.
  • Weave lines on the command of the leaders.
  • Chant while jogging:  Leaders: We are the Mustangs…Followers: We are the Mustangs…Leaders: The mighty, mighty Mustangs etc.
  • Lead the team in a celebration routine.

There is no telling exactly how effective this approach will be. I may never know whether they’ll fully achieve the goal of team cohesiveness, or whether they’ll be any better at playing soccer together, but there were plenty of smiles, invested and continual effort from all of the girls, and I venture to guess at least a small shift in their perspectives of one another.

Meagan Frank has survived tweenhood for her two oldest children (boy and girl) who are now developmentally appropriate teenagers and she is in the throes of walking through the tweenhood fire again with her youngest daughter.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

b-w-team-huddledI’ve been a part of teams for over 35 years and I know that one of the most important parts of being on a team is showing up. Showing up for off-season lifting and pick-up games, showing up for practices, for film sessions, for team meals, and then for games. The thing is, there is more to it than just showing up… how you show up matters most.

I’ve had the privilege of showing up as a player on elite, winning teams, and I’ve had the challenge of showing up on teams that go winless for an entire season. There is a very real shift in psychology when the excitement and hope of a season fades into the frustrated reality that opponents are going to be tough and the work that lay ahead may not provide the results the team truly desires.

Players want to play and teams play games to win. Period. Putting forth exhausting effort to come up short time and again, starts to weigh on players and ultimately on teams. The psychology of an athlete and a team is challenged at the extremes. The players who experience consistent playing time and winning are challenged to stay focused and humble. The players on teams experiencing losses are challenged to see a point in working hard, they have to navigate personal, ugly emotions that come with sitting on the sideline or losing. They either give up trying or they use a lot of energy to determine ways to keep fighting and to help their teammates do the same. It is much harder to be a part of a team that is in defensive battle mode.

The hardest thing to keep in mind is that true winning (competing well each and every outing) is always possible. It’s a decision to show up well.

This is not an easy decision, however.

The team I am currently coaching is 2 and 9 and facing the back half of a season with the same opponents who have already beat up on us once. We are experiencing the hardest part of being in battle mode.

This is where the true character of these players and the heart of this team will be tested most.

There are countless ways the guys can decide to respond. Countless ways to show up….or not. I’m challenged to help them to dig in and to find value in competing well no matter their record. It’s for pride. It’s for building upon the groundwork we are laying. It’s for sharpening the character tools in their toolboxes as they prepare to go on to college, or jobs where what they’ve learned about competing well will matter.

We need to continue to show up well:

  • Show up early (or at the very least on time)
  • Show up ready (bring all gear necessary)
  • Show up positively (find the good in other players and the fun in the game)
  • Show up focused (leave other thoughts off the field and bring mental focus into the task at hand)
  • Show up ready to work hard (no matter what you are able to do in a day, do your best)
  • Show up ready to learn (see each day as an opportunity to grow as a person and as a team)

Showing up happens on an individual level, but it is layered with an awareness of what showing up means to the team as a whole.

I’d like to say, after all this time on teams, that I’ve perfected the showing up thing. I haven’t. I am equally challenged to show up well and I need reminders to stay the course too. It is a daily decision and I need to come back to the decision each morning because, for me, any time I have the opportunity to be part of  a team I have made the implicit agreement to show up well.

 

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.  -Vince Lombardi

I think Lombardi has it right. You pay for success with hard work, dedication, and a decision to offer the best of yourself each and every day.

The real challenge is knowing how to measure whether you succeed.

In a competitive world, it is the simple thing to measure in wins and losses…in points on a scoreboard…in stats we can count. We’re told repeatedly that only winners are successful.

I disagree. It is much more complex than that and I am challenged to stay mindful of what true success means.

Last night, on the way home from my first conference game (a lopsided loss) as the head coach for a boys’ high school soccer team, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of my assistant coaches. One coach commented about how there is a successful 17-year-old phenom who is playing professional soccer as a goalie. He lamented the fact that he is just a college kid, who isn’t playing goalie anymore, and who now has the goalie coaching job for fledgling goalies in a re-building program. Not newsworthy, in his opinion.

Another assistant coach, who is an incredible chorus teacher at the high school, also commented about colleagues who have “made it” and are big-time conductors with doctorates and incredible opportunities.

If success is only possible for the elite few who “make it”, or for the winning programs  and star athletes among us, then what is the point for the rest of us?

The point for the rest of us is the last part of Lombardi’s quote. “We (need to) have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” How we apply ourselves is to compete well. The definition of “compete” is to strive to win.

The point for the rest of us is that we learn how to compete well…always and in all circumstances. Competing well is how we succeed.

For that 17-year-old phenom, the best of himself is obviously incredible athleticism and goalie expertise. It’s going to matter how his stats add up. The task he has been handed is to compete with the world’s best.

We’re not all asked to succeed at that task.

For me, and my coaching staff, the task ahead of us is to build soccer skill, to build teamwork, and to build a program that can compete better in an incredibly tough conference. We need to show up every day with those tasks in mind.

For the players who play on our team, their task is to show up with the best of themselves each day with an attitude prepared to learn and grow as soccer players and as people. They can count themselves successful if daily they strive to compete well as individuals and as a team.

The world may not do a great job of measuring our successes, but if I’m stepping up to the task  I’ve been handed, I sure will.

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

 

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We need to make a decision people. Yes, all of us grown-up-making-decisions-paying-registration-for-youth-sports people…we need to decide about something I believe may be the most critical decision for the future of youth sports.

What do we want for our investment?

Do we want youth sports to work as an engine for education or do we want our hard-earned dollars, volunteer hours and time commitment to result in a fun, entertaining experience for families and kids?

At the very least we have to decide what is more important.

Professional and college athletics are expected to provide high levels of entertainment in this country. Should youth sports provide the same?

It’s not that education can’t be fun and it’s not impossible for kids to learn something from an entertaining experience, but the lack of decision about what youth sports is supposed to accomplish is creating an environment that doesn’t effectively do either.

So here is a completely unscientific description of the differences between the educational and the entertainment model of youth sports.

In an educational model:

  • It is enough to notice small improvements.
  • There is a longterm goal in mind.
  • EVERY moment a child is involved with a youth sports experience, is a learning moment.
  • Wins are great, but learning is better.
  • The experience, improvement and education of EVERY child involved matters.
  • Attention is paid to the lessons being taught on and off the field/court/ice and the end goal is education of the entire child and not just the physical aspects of competition.
  • Parents and coaches parent and coach the children.

In the entertainment model:

  • Scoreboard, record and overall season achievements are how success is measured.
  • It is better to win NOW because there is no guarantee there will be a chance to play later.
  • Pre-game drinking and mid-tournament partying is all part of the entertaining sports experience, it is just how the family enjoys the season.
  • It is not worthwhile or fun unless the team wins and the athletes playing have great performances.
  • The best players should play because the best players improve the chances of winning.
  • The sport exists to produce the highest level of physical achievement possible.
  • People attending are fans and can behave as such (including the entertaining berating of refs)

So, where do you fall on the spectrum of Educational or Entertainment in youth sports? Should there be a difference between youth and college/pro? Should there be two sorts of youth sports programming to satisfy the desires of families: an educational league and an entertainment league? In which league would you sign your kid up to play?

I’m not sure we can have our cake and eat it too.

Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2015       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow         http://www.meaganfrank.com