Posts Tagged ‘character’

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



A friend of mine recently sent me an article about Tim Tebow. She explained that she would be impressed if even half the stories in the article were true. I agree with her.

Rick Reilly, ESPN sportswriter, compiled a number of stories that put Tim Tebow above his competitors.  The article doesn’t talk about his overwhelming athletic prowess, or his fundamentally perfect throw…that would be pure fiction. What the article addresses instead is why Mr. Reilly has come to believe in Tim Tebow because of what he does off the field. I won’t attempt to write the story again, it’s a fantastic piece just the way it is, but I want to point out the value of playing with perspective.

When Tebow focuses on people around him, he becomes a better competitor.

Tebow distracts himself with the bigger picture.  He plays for someone every game…a sick someone, a dying someone, a hurting someone. He spends time with these people and he focuses on them, before becoming too self-absorbed with his own successes. This is how he motivates his team…and an entire fanbase has emerged celebrating this approach to life… and competition.

There are opportunities for youth teams everywhere to tap into this approach to sports. Not only is it possible…it is necessary.

Kids are naturally self-absorbed. They can’t help it, really. Because of that, it is imperative that the adults around them foster available opportunities to think outside of themselves.

Our oldest son has had two such opportunities this year, and I can say, without a doubt, it has worked to shape who he is becoming.

Opportunity One

In response to Jack Jablonski’s tragic injury, my son has played the majority of the season with “Jabs #13” written on his stick.

He talks often about playing for Jack and wanting to play his hardest because Jack can’t anymore.

This has been an impactful experience in the formation of his identity. He recently wrote a realistic fiction piece from the first-person perspective of a paralyzed hockey player. His main character spent pre-game time deciding for whom he would be playing the game that day, and then, after the paralyzing hit, internalized that he would still be able to help people even if he were injured.

This was insight…real, tangible insight… into how important this experience has been for forming the characteristics we hope to instill in him.

Opportunity Two

The second growing experience included an effort that involved his entire team. The team’s coaches and managers caught wind of the fact that a player from an opposing association was recently diagnosed with Burkitt’s Leukemia.

They seized the opportunity to show the boys how to think outside of themselves, and that when a team of people come together, fantastic things can happen.

Within days, pairs of blazing orange socks with a black “croix” insignia, were a part of their uniform.

Croix Hurtis is the name of the young man who is facing the cancer diagnosis with grit and determination. You can visit his Caring Bridge site here.  He is from New Richmond, WI, and the team colors happen to be orange and black. In addition, and somewhat ironically, the color of the cancer ribbon for Leukemia is also orange.

Our son’s Stillwater Peewee B1 team wore the socks last weekend, in tribute to Croix , and raised money to accompany a shadow-box cancer ribbon display that was constructed out of a pair of those same socks.

Through this entire week, and leading up to a fundraiser that is happening for Croix this weekend, the Stillwater Squirt B team is now wearing the socks.  The socks will then be passed on to a team in Croix’s association so the tribute and supportive efforts can continue.

Does finding causes to support make teams championship teams? Not necessarily.

Does wanting to play for someone in need make athletes better athletes?  Not always.

I do believe, though, that shifting perspective enough to see the world through big-picture lenses gives athletes…and people…an opportunity to navigate life in a better way.  It opens up possiblity, taps into an innate human desire to leave a mark…to make a difference.

Just imagine if community service and intentional outreach were more than just an occasional conversation in the sports locker rooms across this country.  What if that were the everyday language? What if the big picture were the only picture upon which coaches, players, refs and parents focused?

The opportunities are there…for everyone. It’s just a matter of taking them when they come.


To learn more about Meagan Frank or her current book project, visit her website:

Referees challenge our civility.

We expect perfection, we criticize mistakes, and we’re regularly disappointed when we realize that refs are… actually flawed and imperfect…just like us.

We wish they weren’t. We wish that every call were fair and impartial. If there is imperfection, we are more accepting if we benefit from the mistakes, but we all know that there are plenty of mistaken calls made against us too.

So what do we do with this paradox?  We want and expect perfection, but we put flawed humans in charge of implementing it.

My brother suggests we put machines in the place of referees, because computers would be impartial and much closer to perfect. The technology is probably there. There are programs that could read the speed of a pitch and determine if the ball is in a strike zone or not. The computers could read exactly where the football is to be placed and there would never be another question about whether it was a first down or not. We could teach computers to recognize fouls and to call games much more accurately.

We could probably do it, but I hope it never happens.

Referees are part of the games. The same games that offer THE BEST life learning opportunities available. Nothing helps us to learn how to navigate the human condition more than working in, with and past human imperfection. Part of me thinks that is why we are driven to play those games in the first place.

So be challenged by that.  Be challenged to make a civil decision in the face of injustice.

One of the most influential coaches I had as a child drilled into our heads that, “No matter what the call…THE REF IS ALWAYS RIGHT!!”

No use arguing, even if the call is completely wrong. No use wasting energy mumbling under your breath because refs don’t change the call once they’ve made it. The best use of energy is to get refocused and to prepare for the next play… the next moment.  Learning how to do that prepares people for what it is to live in and with the human condition.

We cannot change some of the most grievous and unfair situations we face. We can sit and bellow about it. We can yell and make lots of noise about the injustice, but what does that do to propel us to a different place? Nothing. Spending a moment acknowledging the bad call and then repositioning ourselves to move forward is the best and only thing we should teach our kids to do.

There will be plenty of unfair calls. Some games might be decided because of them, but if there is no malicious intent or safety concerns, the refs themselves have just offered an unbelievable opportunity for life lesson.  Complaining about a ref denies everyone a chance to learn from the mistakes.

Refs are players in the game. So much so that (at least for soccer and hockey) if the players, the ball or the puck collide with the ref…the play goes on.

We need to foster respect for the games we play…those life games…and encouraging respect for the referees is an integral part of that.

The ref is always right and the right decision is to believe that.

Have you ever been a referee? How important do you think it is to teach kids how to referee too?

It’s an honor to be asked to wear that captain’s band. I was fortunate enough to wear a number of captain’s bands in my playing days, but today’s post is not about those who wear the band, but rather those who don’t.

When I was a junior in high school, the competitive club soccer team, for whom I had always played, dissolved because the members of my team either quit or moved to other clubs.  I was left with a decision to make.

I was a captain without a team.

My younger sister played in the same club for the team a year younger than me and she was the captain for her team too.  I was offered a spot on that team, because I was young enough to be rostered with them, but accepting that role meant I lost my center-midfield position and my captainship.

For the next two years, my younger sister wore the captain’s band, and I did not.

I had chosen loyalty to my club and to a team over selfish interests, and I have NEVER regretted that decision. That team won a number of national tournaments, competed well with the best teams in the country, and produced some of the best team soccer I have ever had the opportunity to experience.

I was the oldest one on the team, and it mattered how I acted without that captain’s band.

What does true leadership really look like?

Leadership looks like the quiet consistent work ethic of my sister, and it looks like a clear commitment to support her by the older midfielder to her right.

I read a blogpost this morning and it laid out a number of important leadership principles.  I truly believe that these principles can be put into practice by not only the leadership in charge, but also those leaders who may not even be in positions of leadership.

Dan Rockwell produces poignant pieces, daily, about the trends and philosophies of corporate leadership in his blog: Leadership Freak. Today’s blog listed the six characteristics of a customer-centric leader.

I am going to adapt the gist of his points to apply them to teams and teammates.

A good captain (with or without the band):

1. Listens to and learns about her teammates.

2. Speaks about the goals of the team as well as the goals of his/her teammates instead of her own.

3. Offers the best of herself for those around her.

4. Understands the universal needs of the group and the needs of her teammates.

5. Serves other successfully and inspires them to follow

6. Leaders follow their followers.

A good team is a group of servant-leaders who put the goals of the group ahead of their own aspirations.

I wanted to be a part of a good team, even if that meant I had to humble myself to do it.

I tried to act like a captain even though I wasn’t one, and I challenge ALL leaders without the band to do the same thing.

Do enough people behave like captains without the band? Is it possible to lead gracefully from the shadows?

US and Canadian national teams shake hands after Canada wins the gold medal

Shaking hands with an opponent is supposed to be a sign of good sportsmanship.

I don’t agree. It’s not that you shake hands…it’s HOW you shake hands that matters.

After emotionally-charged soccer or basketball games, I always lined up with my teammates to go through the ritual post-game congratulations. The thing I’ve discovered…only the winning team ever really feels like doing this.

I have either witnessed, or been personally involved with, several incidents that were anything but sportsmanlike.  I’ve seen spitting, pushing, elbow jabs, aggressive high-fives and the high-five that was offered and then moved at the last second…psyche! I’ve heard completely inappropriate comments and I’ve seen all-out brawls.

A post-game handshake that escalated into a fight recently challenged my opinion on this subject.

Saturday night I was running our children from a hockey rink to a birthday party to a hockey rink and then home, and all the while I kept up via Livestats with the game for the college hockey team my husband helps coach.  UW-River Falls was playing the second of a two-game series against the defending national champions, St. Norbert College. Because River Falls had won the game Friday, 6-3, they had a chance for a weekend sweep.

When I got home, River Falls was losing 3-0 and I was sure my husband would be relieved with a split for the weekend. By the time I took our youngest to bed, the score was 4-0 in the third period. I read her a book and went back for one last check of the score…it was 4-2 with 9 minutes left in the game. I’ve watched enough hockey games to know that a 2-goal game is far from over… until the last buzzer sounds.

I ran downstairs with my computer, pulled up the radio broadcast of the game and listened, with our older two, as the Falcons came back to tie the game and then go up 5-4. It was somewhat unbelievable. SNC tied the game 5-5 and it remained tied through the overtime.

The broadcaster explained that there was understandably plenty of emotion for both teams at the end of the game.  Pushing, shoving, and emotional (colorful) commentary. It’s hard to imagine being a player on either end of that sporting contest without having an emotional opinion about what just happened.

The real problem arose when the teams lined up for the hand-shaking ceremony. Practically immediately, the players from both teams were involved in a fighting scrum. Coaches and the referees eventually broke things up and the players took their emotions to their respective locker rooms.

Should these two teams have been asked to go through a handshaking line when they had (only seconds earlier) been yelling and fighting with one another?

I initially had a real problem with this entire episode (a conversation that rose to its own escalation when my husband and I talked about it later).

“You HAVE to keep it together at the end of a game and it is good sportsmanship to tell your opponent good game,” I argued.

“There is no reason those guys should have been allowed to stay on the ice. Emotions were just running too high.,” my husband said.

So who’s right about this?  We tell parents who are emotionally charged after a game to wait 24-hours to talk to a coach.  Anger-management experts agree that your heart rate needs to be below 120 if you are to make reasonable decisions, so arguments when you are emotionally charged are useless conversations.  Can players who have just spent emotional, physical, and intellectual energy in a tight and emotional contest be expected to make rational decisions shaking hands?

There were plenty of commentaries about this very issue when two NFL coaches practically went to blows during an after-game handshake.

I know handshakes can happen without incident, but I was not in that rink…my husband was…those officials were.  They should have made a different call.

The national teams for Canada and the US were able to hold intense emotions at bay for the handshake of a lifetime, and after what was arguably one of the most emotioanally intense games I have ever seen. Athletes and teams should aspire toward the class that was displayed during that gold-medal game. There are times, however, when the decision to just walk away is not only appropriate,  it may be necessary.

Maybe there should be two options for the end-of-game handshake routine:

If the teams are in control enough to come to the middle, everyone from both teams should shake hands.

If the teams seem as though they will  only make a volatile situation worse…just send the captains.  It is much harder to dive into mob mentality when there are only a few representatives from each team, and you would expect your captains would represent the team and/or school with the integrity that a handshake should really be.

What do you think? Should we make teams take part in hand-shaking no matter what?