Hello and welcome to a year that will have the Olympics in Tokyo and almost 150,000 hours of sports for you to watch on TV!
Many of those hours will include close-ups on the coaches as they react to the play of their teams. In some cases the narrative of the coach is now longer and more compelling than the endless line of players who make it on the court of field.
Who doesn't like a good Jon Gruden Smirk or Mike Krzyzewski squirm? It's similar to what we are doing as fans.
In this edition of SIWT we take a quick look at the challenge the coaches face each season on the topic of gaining player buy-in and the unique choices a coach has between using their power or influence.
When Loss Aversion Loses Its Effects
As a coach you have a series of common motivators that you can use, we have often pictured these motivators like spices on a rack that go into your coaching soup. You, the coach, have in your soup stock the normal base ingredients of effort, fitness, and strategies. The practices and the games then require you to pull from the spice rack the contexts and dynamics that help you deal with nailing the moment.
All teams start as groups, and during the course of a season the teams can revert to group status in an instant for reasons that range from having a grandparent in the stands, to having a losing record, to having little on the line at the end of the season. The notion of caring about the ball and each other before caring for oneself is counter-intuitive to most. It's this hard notion that attracts so many to coaching. Team can be special and coaching a winning team can be life changing.
Most of the spices are used to sharpen the focus of the players, to help them take the risk that comes from giving a full effort. Coaches know that the players will struggle to trust themselves, each other, and the coaches on how much better they can get. The standard the coach can see as their potential has risks. The tension between what a coach sees and what a player thinks is a normal part of that relationship and typically there are more players than coaches so the dynamic can get tense.
Some spices are slow to take effect and can have long lasting positive impacts, we have written about these in our Secret Ingredients of Winning Teams white papers. Vulnerability, following, humility, and commitment are spices that really change the dynamic of the team. However, they take time to develop and they also require a large amount of trust to have been developed between the players and the coaches.
Trust is seldom built from a power-based system and this is why so many of the spices that are on the coach rack work quickly but leave a bad aftertaste. A coach controls playing time, this is where their power has the most impact. A coach can use a loud voice and get players to move quickly out of fear. Some coaches don’t use a loud voice but prefer to undermine their players with passive-aggressive comments that allow them to still be in control but with a lower profile than the vocal coach.
One of the standard power-based motivators is loss aversion. “Are we really going to lose to this team?” “Is this the group of seniors who are going to break the streak of making the playoffs?” Sociology research has proven that loss aversion has a higher impact than goal obtainment. One of the best examples is putts for par vs birdie on the PGA Tour.
But eventually loss aversion loses its impact as does yelling, as does being passive aggressive. In fact, the dynamic that is really key for coaches to realize is that power has to be policed, where influence crosses borders without a passport.
The coach will always have the authority and the responsibility for the safety of the team. The coach will manage the game strategy and tactics and select who plays. The coach picks when practice starts and ends and what the team will work on in practice. The players agree to adhere to the rules outlined by the coaches. Power and authority work well in setting this up, much like the pilot and flight attendants enforce the rules on an airplane.
How the team behaves within that framework has everything to do with the influence the coach has earned. For the coach that only works from a position of power, and this will require a never ending amount of policing that can only be masked by winning. Winning creates buy-in from most constituents, and like perfumes can mask a lot of inconvenient smells. Influence is given by the player to the coach and is a precious offering. The player and the coach are both taking the risk of failure in front of others with the players taking most of the risk. Just picture the high school basketball player who bites on the cross over dribble and falls down in the 4th quarter of a road game against a cross town rival. The cascade of verbal assaults and embarrassment rain down on that player.
The coach and the player should be entering into a state of consensual interdependence where both are seeking to use their time together to improve and grow together. Each has a role to play, each is sacrificing. The fully developed coach understands that it takes time to build influence with the players that goes beyond winning a game. The fully developed coach is aware of the effects of the motivators they use and are careful which spices they use during the season. Loss aversion being one that they know will work, but only for short periods and that other longer lasting motivators must be present in the team soup for real team fulfillment.
Interested in other posts on similar topics? Check out our blog.
Help Us Help Coaches - We Need Your FeedbackSara and I have supported coach development through a non-profit we formed 16 years ago, recently that non-profit was hired by a high school to work with over 100 coaches on building out a team why and an individual WHY for their season and helping tie the two apparently opposed agendas together.
In preparation we are seeking answers from people to the following question:
In high school, how should the academic and athletic classrooms be the same and how should they be different?
We are seeking as many answers to this question as we can so please give it some thought and respond with your perspective here.
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