The Triangle: Why No One is the Most Important Person in the Room

By Abi Jackson, Head Coach, Union College  @UnionWLax

[Editor’s note: The author would like to give intellectual credit for this post to Mark Treanor.]


This body of work is not about me. Or you. Or Sally Q. Player or Sally’s mom or dad. It is about the time we spend and the decisions we make. How do we as coaches navigate this path of “work-life balance?” How does Sally get all her ducks in a row? How do Mom and Dad make sure to help and not hinder? Who cares about any of this anyway? Let’s just let the chips fall where they may…right? No. We are all way too high-strung for any of that.

      Photo credit: Caitlin Lucy Photography

What I’m getting at here is that everyone has to navigate their own sub-set of uncertainties, concerns and problems. We all have plenty to give. Sally has her skills, great academic record and an extensive list of extracurricular accoutrements to bring to the team and the campus community, Mom and Dad have their support to give Sally and Sally’s teammates when the bus inevitably rolls in for that post game meal. Coach has years of personal and professional experience and continued learning to share with her players.

In order to do that, she follows the tried and true idea that the needs of the team are always greater than the needs of one individual. This concept can be represented in the shape of a triangle. For Sally and her family, Sally is the top tip of a triangle and everyone and everything else is the wide bottom side of the triangle, there to support Sally’s journey to success and fulfillment. And rightfully so – parents want to make sure their child is happy and safe.

For Coach, the triangle is the same, with one major difference. The team is the wide side of the triangle and Sally is still at the tip, but she’s not at the top. She’s at the bottom. Coach’s triangle is upside down. Any individual needs and wants, sometimes including those of the staff, are the least important in comparison to the team. Here’s the great part about it though, Sally still gets to reap the rewards! Those rewards are learning how to be a teammate, learning how to support others, learning how to listen and hear others, understanding what it feels like to lay it all out for a goal and reach it. These lessons will never go stale. They can and will be reapplied to almost any situation that presents itself to Sally over the course of her life, and they are invaluable.

On the flip side, an understanding of the triangle and why it’s important can also allow Coach to learn from Sally. What she responds to and how she handles pressure. Does she offer information naturally or does someone have to drag it out of her. Knowing these little tidbits help Coach better approach the triangle – understanding the individual better means understanding the team better.

On a third side still, Sally’s parents can keep in mind that, while there will likely be some disappointments, there are also many great things going on at school. Ask Sally about those. Maybe a teammate assisted with a lab report or helped edit a paper; perhaps Coach wrote a recommendation that resulted in a great summer opportunity; Sally just did her first set of 10 unbroken pull ups. All awesome things.

Sometimes things get in the way of our ability to share our skills, lessons and advice – stress, conflicts with friends or family, a broken water heater, a missed workout, the list is endless. But, at the end of the day, no one wants to have a bad practice, write a tough email, conduct a difficult meeting, or do any of the things that life requires all of us to do in some capacity at one time or another. As we all know, this aspect of higher education can be, and is, tough at times, and at other times, it is awesome. Remember that we all have our own conflicts, concerns and issues hanging over our heads. Remember that we all have our own triangles. Remember that sometimes we all need a little more communication an understanding, so together we can keep enjoying this awesome ride called college lacrosse.

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