Team Coaching

A Beautiful Disaster or a Tremendous Success

I have a coaching session next week with a group of ten baseball coaches to help them see how to leverage their Strengths to achieve success for their program.

In many ways I’ve been thinking about this group of coaches like an executive team. There’s the freshman division, the sophomore division, the junior varsity division, and the varsity division. And the players who play for each team are like the line-level employees who have to go out there and get it done.

Throughout a season each team operates individually and they each want to win, but the ultimate goal of the program is the performance of the varsity team. That’s what people will remember and that’s what everyone except the parents of individual players and the players themselves will judge the program by.

A successful program is one that makes the playoffs. But it doesn’t get there by chance. Each of those developmental levels feed the overall performance of the program. It’s like a pyramid feeding towards the ultimate goal over a four-year time period.

I myself played high school sports and I don’t remember ever having this pointed out to me at any level of the game.

(I also don’t recall much of an emphasis on team play versus individual performance. I was supposed to do the best I could and that was supposed to somehow magically result in successful team performance, but never did we discuss that alchemy that can happen when multiple individuals are striving towards a common goal. Perhaps that’s why the teams I played on were never state-level teams.)

What should happen in a program like this is that each team is preparing its players for the next level up. So freshman and sophomore levels are focused on development and jv is focused on getting reading for varsity and then varsity is focused on winning.

But that’s tricky, right? Because most people want to win. (Unless they’re like one of my best friends from high school who would actively try to lose if you tried to win. But she didn’t play team sports. I just throw this in here as a reminder that we don’t all have the same motivations or Strengths.)

So the key in this session with these coaches will be in how we define winning. This is a group where five of the ten coaches have Competition in their top 5. (To put that in perspective, you’d normally expect a little less than 2 in 10 men to have Competition in their top 5.)

If those five are each pursuing the success of their own team without thinking about the overall success of the program, they will individually succeed, but the program will not.

Gruesome image, I know, but I like to think of it as the equivalent of drawing and quartering the program. In other words, tearing it apart. That’s the beautiful disaster scenario.

If instead those five high Competition coaches can tie their idea of success to the success of the program, then we get a multiplicative effect as they all pull in the same direction together, like one of those teams of huskies racing across Alaska. That’s the tremendous success scenario.

It’s not just sports teams where this issue crops up, of course. One of my best and also most frustrating work experiences involved a small group of high performers who were each individually good at what they did but as a team highly ineffective. When I prep for a session like this one I have this fleeting wish that I could time travel a decade and give my boss all the information on CliftonStrengths and then force him to take the time to actually implement it.

Unfortunately, time only runs in one direction. So if you’re reading this and you want a team that’s a tremendous success instead of one that tears itself apart, then look to the goals you’ve set for that team and the individuals on the team to make sure everyone is aligned in the right direction. And if you really want to give them the best chance to succeed, figure out their Strengths, too. They’ll love you for it.


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