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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

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Hey Coach, what’s your stance on second chances?

CoachesLeadership 6 Min Read

What do Ted Lasso and Sir Steve Hansen have in common? This isn’t the start of a bad joke. Rather, that question was going through my head watching episode two of Ted Lasso’s second season.  

Spoiler alert! The episode focuses on the return to Richmond FC of controversial player Jamie Tartt, who in season one was a loan player from Manchester City, and left Richmond before the end of due to a falling out with Ted.  

**Also a couple of notes for the reader: 

  • Ted Lasso is R13, so please be aware of this if you go to watch the show. If you have young ones around that you’d rather them not watch an R13 show, maybe wait until they aren’t around. 
  • A reminder, I’m not saying that every single coaching behaviour or idea depicted on Ted Lasso is a great one. But, I do believe there are a lot of really good lessons and examples from the show that coaches, parents, and the wider public can learn from. 

Ok, so back to the link between Ted Lasso and Sir Steve. I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Sir Steve headlined the 2015 Connecting Coaches conference that Sport NZ hosted at Sky City. 

Now, what got me thinking about Sir Steve and how he was linked to Ted Lasso was one of the many gold nuggets he delivered during his talk, which was: 

“Change the man, or change the man” 

Sir Steve was talking about some of the challenging personalities he’d picked for the All Blacks over the years, and his philosophy on selection (and selecting potentially controversial athletes or athletes with ‘reputations’). What he meant by change the man, or change the man was this (or at least, how I interpreted it): 

Let’s back ourselves, and our environment, to get the best out of the athletes we pick. However, if they: 

  • Don’t assimilate in  
  • Do something stupid 
  • Go against what we believe  

It’s out duty to work with them to help them understand what being an All Black is all about. We try to change them to help them become an All Black. BUT, if they screw up again, we change them out of the environment.  

“Change the man, or change the man” – (remember, Sir Steve coached men, hence his phrasing. If you coach women, girls, kids or puppies, change the noun and it means the same thing). 

So, when Ted Lasso started considering bringing Jamie Tartt back, it was a very similar situation. Ted was thinking ‘is the environment we have, the environment we are creating, going to be strong enough to ‘change’ Jamie?’ He’d already had Jamie in the team once, and he was a culture destroyer. Was it worth the risk, and could Jamie be ‘changed’? Again, spoiler alert, he decides to bring Jamie in. We’ll have to see how that goes throughout the rest of the season, but lets look at what this lesson means for youth coaches. 

Lesson 1 – define your team culture so everyone is clear on how to behave 

For me, team culture is how your team behaves, based on the shared beliefs they have around what’s important to them. Both the All Blacks, and Richmond FC, have created a culture where their athletes know what they belief, and consequently how to behave. The benefit of this is it’s really obvious and clear to all when those behaviours are being lived, and when they aren’t.  

Recommended watching: Transforming character strengths into productive results with Dr. Ralph Pim 

I know for a fact that the All Blacks take time building their culture with the whole squad. It’s not the head coach who drives everything down. It’s a process that sees the athletes, coaches and all other staff co-create together. There is no reason why you can’t do that with your team, even though they aren’t professional athletes. Spend time at the beginning of your season asking questions like: 

  • Why do you play this sport? 
  • What makes playing sport fun for you? 
  • What are some things I can do as a coach to bring the best out of you? 
  • What do you want to see or hear from your teammates when we are playing poorly? 
  • What do you want to see or hear from your teammates when we are playing well? 
  • What do you want to see or hear from your coaches when we are playing poorly? 
  • What do you want to see or hear from your coaches when we are playing well? 
  • What do you want to see or hear from your parents when we are playing poorly? 
  • What do you want to see or hear from your parents when we are playing well? 

The answers to these questions will give you some great insights into what’s important to your athletes, and you can build a culture that emphasises these things from there. 

The challenge then is to keep your culture alive and at the front of everyone’s minds throughout your season. The last thing you want is to spend all this time at the start of the season having these fantastic discussions for it all to be forgotten just as quickly. Try things like: 

  • Instead of a player of the day award, have a team culture award for the person who best lived your team culture that day 
  • Highlight the behaviours you see any of your athletes living and praise them for it, just as you would if you see them performing a skill well 
  • Share your team culture with the parents of your athletes so they can praise those behaviours when they see them as well 
  • Every couple of weeks or so, tell a story or theme a week around something to do with your team culture. An example that I’ve used before when coaching was, one of our key behaviours was relentless effort, and we themed a week up around the story of NZ war hero Charles Upham. 

Lesson 2 –  don’t be quick to judge 

We know that mistakes are a part of playing sport. No matter what level you play, and no matter the sport, every athlete will make mistakes, and lots of them. We accept these technical mistakes, as we know they’re part of it. However, sometimes we don’t apply that same thinking to mistakes that aren’t technical. As humans, we aren’t perfect all the time. Sometimes we’re late, sometimes we take shortcuts, sometimes we lie, sometimes we cheat. And in a lot of these situations, there are bigger things going on in people’s lives that lead to those behaviours. In this episode of Ted Lasso, the reason for Jamie’s behaviour we find out is due to a dysfunctional relationship with his father. When an athlete you coach makes a mistake that goes against your culture, how often do you stop to try and understand why they may be acting that way?  

A saying I love that resonates for me here is: 

“We judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by their actions” 

If we can stop to go beneath others’ actions, we often get real insight. Next time one of your athletes makes a mistake off the field, court or track stop and have a conversation with them to find out if anything is going on that may help you understand their current situation. It may be their parents are fighting, their struggling at work/school, they feel out of their depth learning something, they are having to juggle training and study or something else.  

At the same time, it’s important you help your athlete understand that the behaviour isn’t in line with the team’s culture, and that it’s important they shift their behaviour so it doesn’t happen again. This is a crucial conversation, and if done with skill, can often become a powerful learning moment for the athlete. Sometimes all it takes is for an invested adult to show they care, but also to give boundaries, for a young person to significantly shift their behaviour. Some ideas for how to broach these conversations could be: 

  • Thank you for sharing that with me, I really appreciate it and it’s given me insight into why you’re behaving the way you are. We still have to look at that behaviour though and try to shift it. Do you remember our team culture document, where we talk about what’s important to us? Do you think this behaviour is line with our culture? 
  • One of the questions I asked you right at the start of the year was what do you want to see or hear from your coaches when we are playing poorly? Do you remember what you answered there? Because while we aren’t talking about performance on the field/court/track, the behaviour we’re talking about here is just important, and it hasn’t been up to scratch. 

I’ve used examples like these two conversation starters with athletes I’ve coached before, and I’ve found them to be gentle and caring towards the athlete, but also firm and a way of helping them take accountability for their behaviour. Remember, what we are trying to do is ‘change the man’ first.    

While both Ted and Sir Steve are experts in their field, the challenge for us all is to take what we can from them and try to apply to our own contexts. Good luck! 

Read more in this series: 

The art of vulnerability – Lessons on coaching with Ted Lasso 

Image Source: Apple TV

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