Just the other day, I was standing in front of a microwave and I wanted to warm up some leftovers. I don’t use microwaves often, and I was really confused. All I wanted to do was warm up my bowl of soup. But what button should I press?
Should I hit the “Sensor Reheat”?
But then it wants you to add a weight somehow…
How much is a bowl of soup in ounces? I have no clue…
How about in grams? Beats me…
“Point-three”? Oh crap, that leads to 15 minutes of cooking time…
Agh, just hit the “Quick Minute” until the soup is warm….
I knew exactly what I wanted: WARM SOUP!
But I was mashing all these buttons trying to get there. It took me probably 5 minutes to figure out the microwave, then another 4 to warm it up.
Now, I could be the only idiot out there who can’t figure out microwaves, but the tale of the story probably isn’t lost on you. For example, how many things in life seem so obvious, but are completely non-intuitive to achieve? How many times have you known exactly what you want but couldn’t achieve it?
In hockey, this crops up all the time. There are coaches who know exactly what they want to see from their team…but “the team isn’t executing”.
In your best games as a coach, the feeling is unreal. You are rolling the lines, watching everything at once, motivating your players, keeping them focused. You tell something and it just happens. You give instruction and it’s followed. You’re helping all the players achieve their dreams. It feels great. Is there anything as rewarding or addictive as that?
But, how many times have you felt your palms get sweaty on the bench as your team struggles to break out of their end zone? How many times have you yelled and grumbled when your team couldn’t enter the offensive zone? By now, you’re probably mentally experiencing those moments in a game where your blood pressure rises and your hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you watch your team not executing what you want!
What is your biggest fear as a coach? For me, it is having a complete disconnect from the players I’m coaching. Have you ever felt that fear creeping in? That your message is not resonating with the players at all? That those players would rather be anywhere else than with you? That the players have no respect for what you’re saying?
These things don’t have to happen if either: a) you don’t care how your team does or b) you have complete “control” over your team.
The term “control” could mean “coercion” or “manipulation”, but it could also mean “influence” or “inspiration”.
As a coach, your main objective is to obtain control over the players on your team. How you choose to do it is up to you. Manipulation and coercion are brute force instruments: simply threaten playing time, or advancement opportunities. They might get results in the short term, but they have unintended consequences.
Influence and inspiration also provide control over your team, albeit with better longterm outcomes.
When you have complete control and influence over your players, you can access that state of being at your best anytime. When you feel that disconnect is when you’ve lost control or influence over your players.
In a previous article, I talked about the power of storytelling. Specifically how coaches can use the power of storytelling to get their message across. I talked about how the best coach I ever played for was a masterful storyteller and had a new story for every occasion. He inspired me to perform at my best and I loved playing for him. I still talk highly of him to this day despite the fact that he could have been a much better technical coach.
On the other hand, as a coach, I’ve tried (really hard) to influence players with the “rightness” of my arguments, the “researched-ness” of my development tactics or the “best-ness” of my systems.
They sort of care, but not really.
Players care about how they feel. None of them are playing hockey to hear about how “right” your systems are or how “scientifically-valid” or how “NHL-quality” your skill drills are. (It took me a while to figure this one out).
If you to are inspire players, it requires you to get to know them. To find out what their dreams are, to figure out what their desires are. THEN, you must deliver them what they want to FEEL, consistently.
I played my best hockey when I had a sense of being on a mission with my team. I played it when I felt like my teammates and my coaches expected me to succeed and supported me when I made mistakes. I played my best hockey when I was encouraged to improve and push my comfort zone.
Most players I talk to feel similarly. They always talk about their favourite coach because he just “always knew what to say to get us going”, “he was so good at motivating us”, or “he was honestly such an inspiration guy”.
As a coach, ask yourself, would you rather be right…or win?
You might think that being able to inspire your team is an unlearnable skill or that it takes years of experience and a PhD in psychology. It doesn’t.
In fact, we already went over one skill that you can begin incorporating immediately to increase your influence over your players: storytelling.
What fascinates me is the similarity between how coaches coach, and how I approached my microwave dilemma.
When I was facing the microwave, I thought of a bunch of ways I thought the microwave SHOULD work. Then I tried all of them. I ended up finding a non-optimal way of warming up my soup that required me standing in front of the microwave pressing the “Quick Minute” button. I could have easily done a bunch of things: 1) could have found the instruction manual and read it 2) I could have looked on the soup can for its weight 3) I could have used Google or something…
Coaches often have a clear idea of the result they want, but only the top coaches are willing to search around for the right information to get there. Some bump around in the dark and try methods that work some of the time. Some happen upon ways of inspiring their players purely by chance. Others are right here, reading a blog article to improve themselves. They are looking for the instruction manual and finding the soup can to read its label. Top performers, like you, study successful coaches systematically and emulate their systems. Congratulations for being here and engaging in your development and learning!
Now let’s take it one step further. The only thing that separates knowledge from results is action. I estimate that 50% of the coaches reading this article will think to themselves, “hmm, that’s interesting” and close the window. The other 50%, those who are truly dedicated to being the best coach for their players will want to take action. For those 50% who are are using this article as intellectual entertainment, thank you for reading.
For the 50% who are still with me and are serious about growing and taking action, I invite you to grow along with me and check out these related books and articles. I challenge you to click to, buy or download them right now and set aside time to read them. You may have heard of these books before, or maybe you’ve read them. Consider this an excuse to take them off of your “to-read” list and actually start reading them. Or consider this an excuse to go back to them, re-read them, and take more detailed notes. Whatever action you choose to take, know that it will be invaluable to your coaching toolkit as it has been for mine. Here is the list:
The above list links to material that is invaluable in learning to use the psychology of influence and inspiration to obtain greater control over your team to get the result you want. Effectively, “Jedi Mind Tricks”. No they aren’t sports books, sorry. They’re completely about the psychology of persuasion, influence and inspiration. And if I’ve done my job right, I should have “influenced” you to dig into at least one of those links.
P.S. Of course these “Mind Tricks” could be used to harm players. Hitler is a great example of someone who used influence and persuasion for evil. All I can really say is: Please don’t do that!
P.P.S. For those who are interested, this is my #1 area of study at the moment. Reflecting on my experience as a player, it is so obvious that inspiration and influence are much more critical skills for a coach than any sort of technical knowledge. Reflecting on my time as a coach, it is also obvious that my ability to control, influence, and inspire led me to deep states of flow and enjoyment. Technical mastery is necessary but not sufficient and coach upon coach that I encounter does not acknowledge this.
Access to our entire library of videos from our annual TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference. You can cancel any time, although after joining a community of coaches from all over the world using the videos on a daily basis to pick up new tips and stay relevant, we doubt you will.
- Don Hay – Where do you get your Inspiration From?
- “Attack Mentality”: Brad Berry prepares University of North Dakota for the Frozen Four
- FROM BEHIND THE BENCH: Pioneer to Champion by Shannon Miller