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playerconduct-featuredAfter recording a number of podcast interviews at the recent December 08 Intercollegiate Mens Lacrosse Association Conference in Baltimore I was taken by a rather unique difference in Coaches’ perspectives on the changing nature and values of the kids we coach today versus the kids we coached ten or even just five years ago.

Coming from a corporate background perhaps my bias is showing. I believe the business world employees are radically different than those of even five years ago. But in my interviews with some of the most successful college coaches in the country (Salisbury, Syracuse, etc) who seemed to see a small difference in their kids. The High School Coaches who suggested the kids were much different. All agreed that kids today face a whole series of issues and social challenges that simply did not exist ten years ago. But if the nature of the kids we are coaching is evolving or changing, how does that, or even should it manifest itself in the way we as Coaches approach the kids we Coach?

[private]I have written about the changing nature of Trust in a Coach’s relationship with their players. Simply put kids today may not have the same Trust in adults or authority figures in a macro sense. And if you happen to catch the news or CNN or Fox occasionally who can blame them? I can already hear the coaches moaning in the background but please bear with me as I make my point.

At the end of the day, if trust and thus loyalty and total commitment are possibly a new or at the very least different issues facing coaches, how can we deal with it. I do not think the answers are as new or as complicated as you might expect.

Frankly, most of us might agree that following a history of playing lacrosse since they were ten years old, following a history of playing for a myriad of coaches with varying degrees of lacrosse acumen, and most definitely following a history of attending camp after camp, by the time we get the players many of them are already experts on the game, at least in their own minds. Are we not blessed to have these kinds of experts helping us each day as High School Coaches or what?

Now if a player is going to Salisbury or Syracuse even the cockiest, self-proclaimed expert is not going to pretend to tell Coach Berkman or Coach Desko or Coach Simmons how to run an offense. But unless you are a famous HS Coach, for the rest of us chances are the days of blind trust in coaching philosophy are not what they once were.

The answer might be in your culture. What are the things that define your team’s culture? I believe in today’s coaching environment, even the most charismatic coach cannot be as effective as a true positive comprehensive culture. If you have high consistent standards in your team’s culture the subliminal peer pressure is infinitely more effective than your most recent lecture or pre-game speech. I am sorry to hurt the feeling of you old-timers, but if the team’s expectations are to practice hard, play hard, and represent themselves as true ambassadors of your program, your job just got a lot easier. Now you can focus on the real purpose of coaching, putting these kids in a position to be successful.

In a team game, personal outbursts and individual agendas are acts of pure selfishness and a cancer to any program. Players are far more likely to be accountable to them than to you. I am sorry to break the news to you.

So how can you deal with it? You can be a better listener. You can be a more astute observer of who your player leaders really are. And you can implement tools to build your culture centered on a common mission. Notice I wrote ‘Common Mission’ not ‘Coach’s Mission.’

Let me share an example. Years ago when I first started coaching a HS Club Team I was faced with players who had been either taught or assumed that bodies and sticks were not necessarily designed to score more goals than their opponents, but rather weapons for personal destruction. And taunting and late hits and pushes were tools for intimidation. The program had a history of losing the score, winning the fight. Metaphorically, I am sure you had played against us at some point.

I was the newcomer, and the lectures were only moderately effective. Pre-Season Code of Conduct Forms were guidelines or suggestions at best, and a distant memory to boot. I suggested to the players that we were about to establish a new culture, and a single goal. Our goal was to leave each individual game with every opposing player, every referee, and every spectator a ‘Raving Advocate’ of our program. Nothing more, nothing less. But I needed the team to take ownership of the change rather than dictate the information downward. This is not weakness; it is using the changing characteristics to increase chances of success. That is what Coaches do.

I developed a Conduct Form Contract to be signed by each player and each coach before every game. Now I understand kids have brief attention spans so the contract had but four or five points on the entire sheet, thus we passed around the new clipboard moments before each game. I also underrated that culture is powerful thus all the players signed the same piece of paper. By the time we finished it looked kind of like a copy of the Declaration of Independence. They became accountable not to me, but to all the other signatures of their teammates.

I remember an incident in a close game where there was an outburst of emotion. Both players were ejected. The opposing Coach and Player went nuts on each other 20 feet away from the table. My player, (a Middle Linebacker in Football season,) walked off and apologized. He had heard my question before and did not need to hear it repeated. I would simply ask the player if when he signed something, was his word and his signature, his commitment to his teammates legitimate or not. “Was he good to his word, or could we trust his word.”

The team improved and the behavior became exemplary. My first question to the team following each game, did we meet our objective? Did we impress the refs? Did we impress our opponent? Did we convert the spectators to fans of our program?

Many of the kids went on to play for me for years. My teams were far better, but the Conduct From has stayed with me as a valuable tool with every team, even summer travel teams. Now we add some key scouting tips, #5 likes to shoot right-handed, deny the ball from #9 on defensive clears etc. Occasionally it will slip my mind on the bus, and the players will not step off the bus until we all sign the form, me first. The Culture proved to be a far better policeman, or rather I should write advocate than I could ever be… The Conduct Form for your review or modifications is available as a free download on the www.laxcoachmike.com site. Coach culture and make coaching easier….


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