My second rule of coaching

I have three rules of coaching (as well as in business and in life) and I’ve written a bit about the first:

“People don’t remember what you did for them, they remember how you made them feel.”

I have never liked this in principle, but it’s something i have learned to accept on face value.

How you can influence the way people “feel” brings me to my second rule:

“You can’t control anything (or anyone) but yourself. But by controlling yourself, you can influence others”

That is, in order to be effective in delivering a message you have to be able to control your own behaviour. I’m sure all five people everyone reading this is saying “duh”, but if it was so obvious why aren’t more people willing or able to do this?

The idiots guide to dealing with, and preventing bad behaviour by controlling your own behaviour, would have to be Dealing With People You Can’t Stand by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. If you can’t be bothered reading the whole book, you can get an incredibly practical abridged handbook that is so brief that it is bound together by staples. if you are getting the impression these guys have a John-Gray-like range of single focus self-help products, then you wouldn’t be incorrect. Although their ides aren;t unique and there’s plenty of literature on this perspective of interpersonal relationships in working contexts.

In a nutshell, Brinkman and Kirschner describe 10 or so undesirable behaviours that manifest from 4 different needs – control, attention, perfection and approval. As a task oriented person, my undesirable behaviours fall into the “control” and “perfection” categories. At our best we sit in the middle of all these behaviours, but when we move to the extremes, we influence those around us to bring out their undesirable behaviours. It comes natural for us to start behaving badly when people around do, but if we can control ourselves to stay centred, we can bring them back to being reasonable.

I have no control over anything but myself. But if I have a problem with a player, everything seems to sort itself out if I control my own behaviour instead of waiting for them to be better behaved. It worked with artists and filmmakers so I decided to apply it to volleyball players.

It’s quite liberating when you accept the fact you have absolutely no control over anything external: how your players behave; how good/bad the other team decides to play; how competent the officials are; how dysfunctional the organisation your work for is etc etc. Most importanty, you can’t control the outcome of what you do. But you can sure as hell influence all these things when you choose to control the only thing you can control.

I got an interesting insight into this stuff from my mother who is a practicing  psychologist. Controlling yourself requires the ability to “diffuse”. That is, the ability to separate a “real” event that actually happens from what is a narrative you create in your head that hooks you to a set of behaviours. Shanking a pass is real and in that moment disappointing. Sulking about your inability to pass for the rest of the set is a narrative you create yourself in your head. Once you can diffuse, “mindfulness” is the ability to make the best decision in that moment based on your values and without unnecessary baggage – ie the moment you choose to control what you can and make the best decision in the moment.

One thing I insist on all my players and teams that they never speak to a referee unless personally summoned. For a number of reasons: I’m sure if I took stats on it the success of getting a bad call overturned is very low; you can win more rallies in the time that you argue; and it doesn’t make them officiate any better. But most importantly, it’s a commitment to following the principles that success will come from controlling the things we can. The brief moments between rallies should me spent reinforcing this between the team by staying “on message” rather than getting distracted by things that you can’t control.  Neil Craig said it best when reporters tried to bait him into criticising the umpiring at a post-game press conference “if we do everything right and the umpires take the game away from us, then i’ll complain”.

During the Level II course I attended, we were fortunate to have Steve Tutton drop by and he talked about success over winning. That is, success comes from committing to the team philosophy regardless of the outcome. It’s the same as focusing on performance rather than results. It’s the same as focusing on being deserving of winning rather than winning. We can’t control whether we win, get an outcome or get a result. But we can definitely control our performance, our success and our worthiness.

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7 Responses to “My second rule of coaching”

  1. markleb Says:

    Referees NEVER overturn calls. Ever. But… under stress they make mistakes. Players know that and seek to gain a future advantage by complaining now. In some sports (football, for example) coaches instruct their players to question every single call. This works, often.

  2. markleb Says:

    I am NOT one of those coaches btw.

  3. Hugh Nguyen Says:

    But you don’t really know what kind of mistakes they’ll make and if they’ll be to your advantage. Time better spent on focusing on the things that will give you success I reckon. Players should be in the business of winning points through good volleyball, not coercion and litigation

    (although I believe the America’s Cup is often determined in court over such questions as when is a boat actually a catamaran!)

  4. mickmurphy Says:

    I have been thinking, Huy, and I think an area of distinction you are not making is the difference between complaining and talking…

    Complaining to the referee about two hits etc etc is not a successful strategy, but I do think there is room in the game for the captain to talk to the referee about the game. If there is a personal relationship of sorts between captain and referee, I think you are going to be more likely to get things go your way. Next time a ball rolls on court, and you win the rally, I reckon if the ref knows you, and thinks you are an ok person, you are likely to not have a replay called.

    I think there needs to be a distinction between complaining and talking, as well as the difference between coaching junior girls/boys, and league men/women…

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      These distinctions are not incorrect. Talking and complaining are different things. juniors and seniors are different too.

      But I’m more interested in a player’s commitment to success through the things they can control, and not get distracted by things they can’t.

      I’m interested in the choices players make when things don’t go their way. It’s a commitment to a philosophy over whether you think you can change a call.

      Again, if any of my teams plays a perfect game and we lose it, then we’ll look at the referees. If i still see unforced errors in on the stats, then we keep looking at ourselves. if we lose a set 24-26 and there was a bad call in there somewhere, i’m guessing we had some missed opportunities there and there’s something in there that the coach or players didn’t get right.

      Referees should expect either a well-behaved team from me, an apology, or my resignation!

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      and i think it’s a good idea for coaches and players to have a good relationships with referees. This should happen before and after a game.

      You’re also referring to Karma when it comes to the NEXT call going your way. And although I believe in Karma, I also believe i should take no part (active or passive) in being the instrument of karma 🙂

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