The old coach came into the gym to work with a young, talented team. As he laid out his plan and began drills, one player lagged behind. Day after day the resistance grew. The coach pushed him, and was met with a cold demeanor, lack of effort and non-compliance. This athlete was bent on doing things his way. Most instruction was questioned. Every explanation was met with rolling eyes. Clearly the athlete felt he knew more than the coach.
It would have been easy to become angry and send him out of practice. It would have been easy to demand compliance. And in fact the coach did have one demand--respect. The young athlete's response was half effort and mumbling. And yet as the coach continued to push him, he started to waiver. He seemed torn between maintaining his cocky persona and giving in to a growing desire to learn from this coach. Both wanted the same thing, but stubborn met stubborn on the basketball court and the whole team wondered what the outcome would be.
One particularly dicey day the coach pushed harder than usual for a change in footwork and execution. The athlete's eyes blinked slowly and he squinted shaking his head back and forth. The skeptical questioning began. Finally the coach put his foot down. He said simply, "Do what I'm telling you to do, or go home."
Begrudgingly the athlete complied. Day after day the battle continued, up and down, some days better than others, and then another confrontation would come. Then the coach began a new strategy. He started explaining before he demanded. He broke down his philosophy and gave reasons for what he was teaching. The demeanor of the athlete began to soften. During one game, the coach asked his young player what he thought would be best...and then implemented his suggestion. Their eyes met, the older ones twinkling a bit and the younger ones hesitant but pleased.
As the season wore on, trust was built. The coach had found a way to reach and teach this athlete. Many players had been watching and wondering what would happen. When the talented young athlete began to change from tough and resistant to focused and learning, the whole team atmosphere shifted. Reaching the one had been essential to reaching the team. They all turned the corner and began playing at a much higher level.
Seldom can this connection and breakthrough be accomplished without working to learn what each player needs. It helps to focus on the athlete as a mystery to unravel rather than a problem to fix. What is underneath the attitude or lack of confidence that we see? How do they best learn? Every athlete is a complicated person to care for and move to a higher plane of performance. The coach must be a teacher who is willing to set their own ego aside, and work to know his or her athletes. The reward will be a bond that lasts a life time, and an athlete who reaches their potential. Who could ask for more than that?