At the urging of a co-worker I read The Miracle Equation by Hal Elrod. Elrod argues that through unwavering faith and incredible effort anything can be accomplished. I read it through the lens of a coach and player, but the premise can be tied into any goal.
A mission is the first requirement to maintaining unwavering faith. For me, it is to teach and uphold values to young people. Different coaches might have different sounding mission statements, but they can all be valid if they are pursued with unwavering faith. Elrod breaks down symptoms that may cause faith to waiver including battling setbacks and spurts of self-doubt, and how to stay on course.
Battling Past Setbacks
As coaches, the potential for a setback is inevitable. Injuries, upsets, runs of subpar performance, perceived officiating injustices, negative parental influences, and budget constraints are some. The antidote that Elrod gives sounds simple, but executing it is another matter. “It’s ok to feel bad when something doesn’t go according to plan, but not for more than five minutes.”
He spoke about his battle with cancer and a car accident that threatened his ability to walk again. His attitude in both hardships revealed faith in the process of getting better and accepting what he could not change. As a result of this faith, he could allocate all his effort toward doing what was necessary to physically improve. Effort and faith are a constant feedback loop that grow together.
I cannot name the number of times where I have felt an injustice and rattled off the set of circumstances to many people. Not only was I spending more than five minutes doing something that could not fix the problem, I was dragging other people into doing the same thing. Sure team members are going to lose self-control and be consumed by their personal setbacks. At the very least a coach should serve as an example of someone that quickly moves past external circumstances and focuses on solutions.
Spurts of Self-Doubt
Doubt and faith go together like a fast food restaurant and a diet. The temptation to stray from the trust and the promise of your being limitless is omnipresent. That is why Elrod made a case that the support of others should help you on your quest. “Sometimes you have to borrow the faith that someone else has in you until your faith in yourself catches up.”
Great coaches convey faith in the athletes they coach at the athletes lowest points. Moments after Christian Laettner missed a free throw that could have tied a game, Coach K gave him the encouragement necessary to help Christian make other high pressure shots. The extreme of missing an opportunity to tie or win the game is only one opportunity for a coach to express trust.
More frequently, players deal with inconsistencies in practices and lower pressure moments of games. There is a delicate balance between showing players that they need to get better, but players also need to be reminded of why the team is better with them than without them. Players all have a role and sometimes their desire to excel past the role is met with struggle. Remind players that the competitive spirit they have is a good thing. If players were perpetually content to only have occasional good days, they would not improve as rapidly and would not bring out a culture of improvement with the team as a whole.
Coaches also have moments of doubt. It is imperative that coaching staffs take a similar path as a good coach will do for a player that is struggling. Reminders and affirmations of decisions that went well after a loss. Likewise, balance the positive feedback after a loss with critical feedback after a win to make the feedback appear more genuine.
In order to reach a goal, Elrod eloquently reworded the popular cliché process over results. “The purpose of a goal is not to reach the goal. The purpose of a goal is to become the type of person who can achieve any goal, by always giving it everything you have, regardless of your results. It’s who you become through that process that matters more than actually reaching any one goal.”
Long-Term Goals Elicit Lower Effort
In coach-speak, goals are a regular part of our mindset and routine. Goals are broken down across many timelines. Coaches set off-season goals, in season goals, individual practice goals, or even goals within a single drill at practice. By contrast, most people organize goals as a New Year’s Day tradition. They do not have a coach or outside force to push them. Unfortunately, this group includes most players.
Trying to start or end a habit is great, but rarely gets results. There are many problems, the first of which is procrastination. When someone sets out to run a marathon, the training can always be put off one more day. In order to bring out the best effort, we need to consistently remember how to get what you are chasing in addition to what you are chasing. My favorite question to ask players that have a goal is what have you done today to get closer to it. More often than not they come to the conclusion that nothing was done, but that is the most important step. To resist the temptation to procrastinate, long-term goals should be broken into short-term daily goals.
A player I coached had a distraught look on her face earlier this year. “Coach a player on the team called me a ____.” Other players stepped in to complain too.
My immediate reaction was to get them to keep playing. I said trash-talk is a part of basketball. Proudly, I added that our play on the court will dictate our talk back. My words of wisdom did nothing for the player who had the initial complaint. In fact, for the rest of the game, she checked out. I felt bad. Not because of the actions of the other team, but because I did not affirm the player on my team.
I knew it was a teachable moment. My instinct was to get the team in the mindset of making no excuses. This is a part of life. Suck it up. I wanted them to ignore the elephant in the room, but they had never seen an elephant. The intentions were there, but the experience and perspective gap between myself and the players was too great. Elrod’s position on empathy shortly after this game gave me a better idea of how to handle this situation.
“If you had lived his or her life, been born with his or her brain, been raised by his or her parents and influenced by his or her friends, there is a very high probability that you might think and act exactly as he or she does. From that perspective, we can choose to replace our judgment with empathy and to love all people unconditionally.” This is taking a high road.