Crash That Plane

**This was originally posted in March 2014.  With some of our winter seasons getting underway today, I thought it would be a good reminder for coaches who are making some changes to scheme or strategy this year.


My 5 year old has a “wonderful” little habit when I bring him with to watch games.  I’ll ask him if he has to go to the bathroom just before we’re getting on coats and shoes; his answer is always “no.”  I’ll ask him again as we’re walking into the gym; his answer is always “no.”  I’ll ask him again during halftime/intermission; he may answer “no,” or “I don’t think so.”  Inevitably, at some point during middle of the second half/period, he’s going to suddenly yell, “DAD, I’M GOING TO PEE MY PANTS!”

John Maxwell  speaks about people avoiding change until they know they have the ability to, decide they want to, and eventually realize they have to.  That’s the approach my 5 year old takes to going to the bathroom.  That’s also the approach our student-athletes take to changes in scheme/strategy.  Check that – that’s the approach EVERYONE takes in athletics.  Let me explain.

When I become a head coach for the first time, I was bound and determined to use the scheme that we had used in college because it was effective and won us a ton of games.  With the personnel I had, it failed miserably.  Did I change after the first year?  Nope.  The second year?  Nope.  The third year?  Kind of.  But after the fourth year of barely competing, I did a ton of research to learn everything I could about a scheme that fit our kids.  Change was made, and success followed (albeit with kids who were talented, dedicated, and motivated!).

Another example: twice in my life I’ve interviewed for head coaching jobs at bigger high schools.  The first time, I was asked what my preferred offensive scheme was, to which I replied multiple formation triple option (it’s irrelevant if you don’t know what that means!).  The follow-up question was, “We’ve always run a buck sweep scheme from the Delaware Wing; any experience in that?”  Nope…and that was the end of my interview.  When I was asked that same question at another interview, I was told that there were two talented quarterbacks on next year’s roster, so my run-first attitude wasn’t going to work.  The problem in both cases was that the programs had been recently successful, so they had decided that change wasn’t necessary.

So, as a coach, we recognize that change is needed, and we make it.  Right?  Not that easy.  Somehow, we have to convince a locker room full of kids that change is necessary, too.  Think of it this way.  What’s the last thing that happens on an airplane before you take off?  The flight attendant takes you through the process of buckling/unbuckling your seat belt, putting on your air mask, finding and opening the emergency hatches, and any other emergency procedures necessary to exit the airplane.  How well do any of you listen to that message?  Exactly; I’m usually asleep by the time he/she is putting on the mask.  Now let me ask you this…how well would you listen to that same speech if it occurred as the plane was about to crash?

Dr. Tim Elmore, one of my favorite researchers, speaks about the necessity of creating a dilemma to your listeners so they have to receive your message in order to find resolution.  Translation: it’s up to you to make your audience believe the plane can, and probably will, crash.

Every coach reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about.  How many times do we watch game film and see the same kids making the same mistakes over…and over…and over…  I distinctly remember coaching a very talented young man who absolutely refused to let us teach him correct blocking techniques.  He could beat 90% of the kids he faced simply through his talent.  When he finally faced someone he couldn’t beat, we had to try to do some things in our scheme that night to get our kid away from the opponent he didn’t have the skill to block.  The problem was entirely ours; we had failed to get him to understand the dilemma.

So how do we convince our athletes of the necessity of change?  I don’t know.  If I had that answer, I’d be on tour for massive appearance fees instead of blogging for free!  What I have learned, however, is that every kid has a trigger.  You’ll have kids who need to understand that doing things the right way is the only way they’ll see the field; you’ll have kids who need to know that doing things the right way is the only way to be the best; you’ll have kids who need to know that doing things the right way is the only way to help the team succeed; you’ll have kids who need to know that doing things the right way is the only way they can help their friends complete their jobs, etc. etc.  Unfortunately, we won’t find every kid’s trigger, but we certainly need to keep trying.  If a coach says that a kid “can’t” or “won’t” do something, I believe that the problem is within the coach, not the kid.  Athletes don’t participate because they want to be bad; we just need to work harder to make them realize they can be better.

So what’s our action point?  First and foremost, give them your knowledge.  Why does change need to be made, and why does it need to be the change you’re suggesting?  “Because I said so” isn’t going to work with today’s kids.  We live in a society where every kid on your roster has a computer in their pocket that is WAY more powerful than the system NASA used to land on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.  It takes kids just a few seconds to search for the answer to almost every question they have; because they are able to find answers so quickly, they expect to have answers that quickly.  If you want kids to buy into any changes, you have to explain the “why” to them.  Further, if you can’t explain the change, then you probably shouldn’t be changing.

Once you’ve explained the “why,” it’s up to you to find each kid’s trigger so they will accept the “what.”  How you do that will depend on your personality, your coaching style, and your audience, but ultimately – Make them think your plane will crash!

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