When you hear the phrase “opposites attract” in the coaching world, the first thought that comes to mind is the classic “Good Cop/Bad Cop” routine; however, the dynamic between a head and assistant coach is so much more than that. Through this article, we hope to share some insight on how having different mindsets on your coaching staff can ultimately bring a well-rounded dynamic to your team, thus creating an optimal culture between coaches and players.
LB: Hi Head Coach Lauren Bennett here! When I think of a winning team in any sport, I think of a group of like-minded individuals that have the same desired goals and objectives. When it comes to building our team’s overall student-athlete experience, my assistant Kate Sjaardema and myself have the same goals and objectives for our team. It is how we differ in the way we think about achieving those goals and objectives that makes our dynamic thrive. When I think about how well our individual lacrosse passions complement each other, I can only say that Kate or as our team likes to call her, “CK”, is the “yin” to my “yang.” We each have our own different passions and motivational tactics about lacrosse that bring our team the best experience on a daily basis.
I like to think of myself as a true stat stalker and boy do I miss the good ole days of LaxPower! Even as a player in college I was consistently “stalking” the website, checking college commitments, reading the forum posts, getting excited about the all new programs starting and all new hires. I pride myself in knowing all there is to know inside the women’s lacrosse world. The world post-LaxPower, has made it harder to keep up to date on everything women’s lacrosse; but I do my best to via my daily scroll through Instagram and Twitter, and of course the NCAA/Dakstats website during the championship spring season. When I find something new and exciting within our small women’s lacrosse world, I get so excited to share it with my players. Whether it is regarding the latest on new equipment and sponsorships, new playing rules that are going to be implemented for the upcoming season, or a new program starting, my girls can always expect a Coach Lauren “fun fact” almost on a daily basis.
I find that with all the responsibilities that come along with being a head coach, I have made it my ultimate goal to create a well-rounded student-athlete experience for my team. When it comes to gear, I am always trying to provide my team with the best of the best. I truly pride myself in the slogan, “Look Good, Feel Good, Play Good.” Our university is very fortunate to have a contract with Under Armour, and the players love to rep our team around campus with the great gear that Under Armour provides! I love to add little things such as headbands, socks, custom mouth guards, matching customized team shafts and heads to provide my team with the best. I somehow always seem to create a “theme” each year. Last year when I was thinking about the gear, I got on the kick of Navy! Navy was our accent color, navy socks, navy mouth guards, navy heads/shafts, navy goggles/helmets and the players loved it! It was so crazy how one finite detail, really made the players feel part of something bigger.
Being in the NAIA and located in Florida means that we do a ton of traveling. This is our second year as a member of the Mid-South Conference, our conference alone is spread throughout Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana and Florida. Most of the trips we take are to non-traditional lacrosse areas and places that many of our players have never visited before. Every time we take a trip, I do my best to plan memorable trips with budget friendly activities, along with eating our fair share of local healthy cuisine. I truly believe that this is a vital part of the student-athlete experience and allows the players to develop a stronger bond and create a greater sense of team culture. Some of my favorite trips have been when we hiked to the top of Stone Mountain, when we participated in a cave ropes course in Kentucky and eating at Medieval Times. When our players reflect back on the season, we hear less about our win-loss record and more about the great memories they made as a team while traveling.
KS: Hi, assistant coach Kate Sjaardema here. I like to think that a big part of my role on our team, and what I bring to our coaching duo is the head game. Each day I try to bring external motivation and inspiration that, hopefully, plants a seed of internal drive and mental awareness in each of our player’s heads. Sometimes getting them started in the right mindset is as simple as greeting them with my famous phrase, “Hey ladies, what day is it?” And they reply, “It’s the best day ever!” Of course, Tuesdays they already come to practice with giddy excitement to find out what activity I have come up with for our tradition of Team Bonding Tuesday. Honestly, I could secretly make them run a two-miler if it was wrapped in some sort of team bonding competition.
I think visualization is an important tool to fueling the mindset of our athletes heading into a game. I began making highlight videos to show our players the amazing connections they consistently made on the field, and as my love for the Adobe Suite grew and we began to succeed and take on more pressure as a program, my videos also grew into something more. About mid-season last year, we were facing one of our toughest opponents, the now three-time NAIA National Champions – SCAD. We had a whole week to physically prepare, but it was the mental preparation that was desperately needed. Thanks to Krossover and the open exchange, I was able to add another element to the pre-game video: examples. Our motto that season was “Never Back Down,” and this game was going to be the biggest test of knowing what that meant. Earlier in that same year, I watched University of Florida, #16 at the time, play Syracuse, who was ranked #4. In the first fifteen minutes of the game Syracuse had already built a 7-1 lead, but Florida never gave up and ended up tying the game in the last 44 seconds (of course I didn’t include that they ended up losing the game). It was the perfect example to mentally prepare our players in the pre-game video. We came back from a 10-goal deficit to lose by three that day; the closest game SCAD has had since 2017. Having that video in the back of their mind, seeing the fight first hand, they were able to overcome the mental block and play their game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFDwWU6oygA (here is the link to that specific pre-game video if you are interested (Sorry Florida and Syracuse for stealing your film, lol).
Along with videos, I started a “Book Club” with players who were interested in reading motivational and inspirational team building books. I love Jon Gordon’s books in particular; they have helped me tremendously as a coach. I was a little ambitious starting this up in the middle of season when they had lacrosse and piles of schoolwork to constantly catch up on, so I turned it into a no-read book club. Instead of reading the entire book together, I would read a few chapters and paraphrase it into a two-page Spark Notes version, and from there we would talk or have activities based on what they read. With the rise of awareness in the mental health of our athletes, I feel like as coaches and mentors it is our job to make our student-athletes aware of how powerful our thoughts can actually be, and what you can accomplish by understanding your own mental strength. One of my favorite quotes is from Jon Gordon: “Your brain is a muscle, and just as you build physical muscle by lifting weights, you can build mental muscle by doing exercises like: positive self-talk and visualization.”
Each person on your coaching staff plays an integral role to the development of your program. Having a counterpart that shares the same goals and aspirations but brings a different approach to the table is essential in just about every aspect of the job. Having a way to reach and motivate each of your athletes individually, establishes a more unified group that is willing to “buy in” to the rest of the process. With our parallel views and diverse thought processes that get us there, we believe that we are an unrelenting coaching duo that has cohesively built a successful NAIA program from the ground up.