Ponytails, Scrunchies and Lessons in Leadership

I’ve had the fortune of building more than a few teams in a variety of areas. From inside a Fortune 500 company to a 5th grade girls travel basketball team. Some were teams that just needed a new voice. Others were an idea that was literally drawn up on a napkin in a bar. I don’t claim to be an expert. More than once I’ve thought we built a winner and had to go back and re-evaluate. Here’s what I know – I love building teams and I love coaching them once they’re built. My favorite team ever was the one that taught me the most about leadership. I’d love to tell you more about them.

Our first year coaching a 5th grade girls travel team, we really struggled. We knew there was talent but we just never found a rhythm. Before the next season, I met with the other coach and we both agreed, something had to change. We evaluated what we had and realized most of our girls also played soccer. They were aggressive. They were well conditioned. We just struggled to score.

So we pressed.

We pressed a lot.

By the end of the season we had 9 different versions of a press, traps and half court defenses in our game plan. That was my favorite team. They fought. They competed. When they got tired we subbed and the bench crew would fight and compete too. We had a team goal to force the other team to burn all of their timeouts trying to figure out how to beat our press. During the timeout, we would change it up on them. With the exception of a few teams that were just more talented, we had a really good season.

We didn’t change the team from the first year to the second. We just figured out how to put the team in a better position to succeed. We evaluated what we knew were our strengths and then pushed every ounce of energy we had into letting them maximize those strengths. Each player had a role and an understanding of what was expected of them. The goals were clear. It was a joy to watch and a joy to coach.

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” —Ronald Reagan

  1. Evaluate Today – One of the first things you must do is see where you are today. What’s the health of the overall team? How is the culture? Is this team positioned for success or frustrated by lack of production? Before you can begin to assemble the game plan, you have to take an honest look at where you are today.

2. Know Your Personnel – You have to get to know your players or those you will lead. What motivates them? What drives them? Which ones will need the most coaching and which ones are naturally gifted? Will you need to add more to the team and if so, how will they fit into the culture?

3. Cast The Vision – Before you can move forward with a game plan, you have to set the sights of the team on the bigger picture. Success will take every single person understanding their role and embracing it. If they can’t see the vision, they can’t give all they have to it. This is one of the most difficult parts of getting momentum started. Don’t get stuck here but take the time necessary to get 100% support of the greatest goal.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice – We spent hours learning new presses and defensive schemes. It didn’t come easy. This is the frustration phase but when you break through, the momentum really starts going. Your team is no different. Once you’ve set the process, work the plan over and over and over again. Take the time necessary to make sure everyone “get’s it.” Remind them of the vision. Practice some more. Corporate teams and 5th grade basketball are no different. The process must be clear and the execution is critical.

5. Enjoy Game Day – When game day comes, bring the energy your team needs before you even take the field, open the doors, gather in the meeting room. “From the Jump” as I used to tell our girls. We had goals within the game (burning timeouts) and would celebrate the success of achieving it. Then we’d do it again. There were days when some players just didn’t have it. We picked them up and someone else stepped in. You won’t always fire on all cylinders but each time is an opportunity for someone else to shine. Enjoy game day. Enjoy the wins and learn from the losses.

“If you do what we ask you to do, the victories will belong to you, and the losses to me.” -Dean Smith

6. When it’s All Over Keep The Relationships – To this day, I still keep up on the careers of most, if not all of the former players. While the games were fun, the relationships are what mattered. Something special happens when you work together to achieve your goals. If done well, you’ll still be friends long after you’ve parted ways.

In one of the most memorable games of the season, we beat a rival team by 1 point on a last second layup. There was still time left on the clock but they couldn’t get off a clean play because, you guessed it….

They were out of timeouts.

Find the strategy that fits the team you have.

Then put on the full court press.

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