Six weeks into season, just after a typical grueling preseason and two tournament weekends later, my wife gave birth to twins. I do not recommend having a child during season, nonetheless twins, but God has his own plan.
The ensuing three months were hard, very hard. The most difficult three months of my life, but the most rewarding personally and professionally. We ask our athletes to push themselves to physical limits and outside their comfort zone, my own kids did the same to me. A reminder of the strains and emotions we demand of our athletes every day.
Time management is one of the most important elements a student-athlete must adopt when they enter a program. Having kids during season is no different. In fact, a greater demand of time management became essential. No more wasting time on less than goal related issues. My focus became pinpoint and attention to detail sharpened.
But it is the intangibles, the emotional impact of having my own kids, which provided me a greater perspective and value for each individual on the team. A gifted quality of mine, one that developed through an unconventional family upbringing, is a high emotional intelligence. It has taken me quite some time to understand and recognize this quality and why I am able to connect so well with athletes. But I must admit, I was inadvertently not equal with my distribution of attention to each of the individuals of the team.
It is easier for a coach to provide more feedback and connect more with a high performing player on a team, than it is to connect with a non-starter. Unintentionally, there can be a time of awkwardness around a non-starter because that player may carry a tension, a disgruntled feeling, an unwarranted animosity towards a coach for a lack of playing time. Avoidance was the unconscious reaction to a potential confrontation, glare, or snarky remark, rather than open-up a healthy dialogue to build a better relationship. The dialogue which can be / should be life related, a simple, “How is your day today?”, but instead, distraction by the immediate practice task at hand was chosen.
Obviously every player has a parent(s), but it wasn’t until the birth of my children, this incredible bond formed with my twins, babies that barely coo, nevertheless speak, have I realized the true and equal value of every member of the team. I think about a parent at home, miles, cities, states and even multiple time zones away, not able to connect with their child because their child’s life is consumed. I already dread those days. Yet, these same parents have entrusted me with providing a secure empowering environment in which their child can grow. I realize I had not adequately provided water for the garden to grow evenly.
I’ve never treated a player poorly, in fact, I believe all the players I have coached had a positive overall experience, but I recognized this past season how I can be a better coach. Acting on this recognition, I made it a priority to make an equal effort to learn more about each player. To better communicate, to find out how their day went, how they are doing in class, how their family was back home. Through these small simple efforts, I noticed a positive shift in the overall weather of the practice gym, a harmony while traveling to competitions, an upward swing of the overall team chemistry. The greatest underlying thought that resonated in my mind, was how I would feel as a parent should a coach not offer courteous attention to my son or daughter. It’s the basis of human respect each and every one of us deserves no matter our position in life.
A tangible solution to quantify my actions was a simple checklist on our daily practice sheet. There is a list of every player’s initials on the practice sheet and I would make a simple notation of each interaction with a player. It is difficult to meaningfully connect with each player every day, but a log over the weeks showed I gravitated towards certain players and those I needed to show more quality attention. Surprisingly, there was an inconsistency of attention across many players (starters and non-starters). I recognized a pattern on certain days (i.e. Monday versus the day before a game OR a stressful high academic/test day for the player) as well as specific personality traits I unintentionally avoided. I adjusted my daily approach, particularly on certain days and with those particular personality types. The result was I better interacted and was able to provide more meaningful feedback to players according to the day and their specific personality needs.
This has been an extremely meaningful exercise that my kids taught me. I’m a better coach today because of them.