The 2016-2017 academic year was my first year as a collegiate head coach. What a learning experience that was. So many unexpected challenges. So many new adventures. So many emotions. I learned something new every… single… day. I have so much respect for those who have been doing this for 10, 20, 30+ years. This job is challenging, but I love it and it’s so rewarding. It has taught me so much about myself, people, and life. I’ve come to realize that this job has very little to do with teaching the X’s and 0’s and so much more to do with managing relationships. That’s the biggest lesson I learned my rookie season as a head coach.
Establish and Develop Authentic, Meaningful Relationships! This may seem obvious, but it’s often the first thing that gets pushed aside when we get into the grind of season. As coaches, we’re so consumed with game and practice prep that we forget to make time to talk and listen to others. While there are many relationships to develop in this profession, my advice for any coach is to develop relationships in two keys areas: with your players and with your colleagues.
Develop authentic relationships with your players. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s trickier than it sounds and can be flat out challenging. I don’t think I paid enough attention to developing this facet of my coaching style during the first two years I was a head coach and because of that, I was not as successful as I hoped both on and off the field. I was probably too consumed with the possession clock and self-starts, but who wasn’t? I now know, I need to make more of an effort to walk away from practice planning, film, and the scouting report to get to know my players and check in with them regularly. I need to tailor these interactions according their needs as well as my own. Some players will want to meet individually. Some will be more comfortable in a small group setting until a foundation is laid. Each player is different, and each relationship will be different. The relationships you cultivate will be crucial as both you and your players grow within your program, especially when times are tough. And as these relationships evolve, you’ll find that they’re just as vital to your development as it is to theirs.
I strongly suggest finding somewhere on campus where your players are comfortable talking and being themselves. I don’t care how comfy and welcoming we make our offices; the office makes players nervous. There is definitely a time for “office talks,” but when getting to know your players, make them feel at ease. It is my experience that they’re more likely to open up if they are relaxed. It’s a good thing my campus has a Starbucks on campus and a Chipotle nearby!!!
Develop Relationships with your Colleagues. Once I became a head coach, I vowed to establish deeper relationships with my colleagues both in lacrosse and in my department. It’s informative, enlightening, and interesting to listen to their perspectives. Ask them about culture, recruiting, discipline, and their experiences. Sometimes you’ll learn what you want to instill in your team and other times you’ll learn what you don’t want for your program. Some of these coaches have years of experience and wisdom to offer me and others are newer to the role and are going through the same growing pains I’m experiencing.
After my first head coaching position, I also realized I needed to put more effort into networking with my lacrosse peers, especially in the IWLCA. Today, I reach out to more of my coaching friends when I need a fresh perspective versus racking my brain for possible solutions. I also make a point of introducing myself to coaches I’ve never met. Additionally, I became active in the IWLCA Mentor/Mentee program to develop a new relationship with one of my peers. It’s been great and I highly recommend it, but you must invest the time and effort. My mentor is wonderful. As coaches, we are close in age but in two very different stages of our careers. I love and truly value our talks. She’s someone I can vent too, bounce ideas off, and gather useful insight from. When I went through a pretty significant life change not too long ago, she was there for me even though we are separated by over 1000 miles.
As I just mentioned above, I’ve started introducing myself and networking with coaches who have no idea who I am, or I’ve barely spoken too. Some people may find this to be intimidating or uncomfortable, but just do it! Now, I’m pretty social and talking to people comes naturally to me, but I still get nervous when I’m meeting one of the greats in our sport for the first time. Get comfortable being uncomfortable! You’ll be surprised at the things you’ll learn and how receptive people are. Also utilize the people you do know to meet others. Perfect example… this summer at Champions Cup I was aimlessly walking around River City during one game because I needed a break from sitting on the hot turf when I found one of my friends in the coaches’ tent. She’s been in the collegiate coaching world for 20+ years and is like the mayor. She knows everyone and for that hour we sat in the tent or strolled around the fields talking to her friends and colleagues who I’ve never met. I learned more in that hour about other schools and various experiences than I had in a while. No, I wasn’t recruiting, but I was networking and building relationships with some great coaches. You never know where these interactions can take you.
To wrap it up, being a head coach has taught me more than I ever could imagine about myself and the importance of authentic relationships. In my new role as the head coach of a brand-new program, I’m going to need this lesson more than ever. I may not develop a deep relationship with every player and colleague who comes my way but trying is the first step. Furthermore, I haven’t always made the right decisions when it comes to the relationships I have with my colleagues and players but it’s a learning process. I do know I need to consistently work at finding ways to establish real and honest relationships with both my players and colleagues in order to grow both professionally and personally. So, next recruiting season, if you see me on the side lines, please introduce yourself and let’s start working on building a new relationship!