In case you have been living under a rock, the Women’s NCAA finals game is happening in Denver on Tuesday night. Denver is also host to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s national convention, at which I was a speaker on Saturday. In honor of those two events I am posting an article I wrote for the March issue of Coaching Women’s Basketball magazine:
Coach D sat back in his chair with a huff as his office door closed behind one of his star athletes. For the last three hours there had been a stream of young ladies through his office; each of them angry, crying or both. There was so much “she said, she said”, who was seen out with whose boyfriend and who was an awful roommate that his head was swimming. It had even been casually mentioned, “Maybe Sue (the athletic director) can help us”.
“Great” Coach D thought, “That is just what I need. My boss involved in this craziness. I took this job to coach basketball, not to referee girl drama.” He looked at the team picture hanging on the wall. He had recruited great players. Individually they all had great skills. Together they were bickering, backstabbing and petty. The energy during practice was awful. Some players tried to keep the peace while others were openly hostile. The bus ride home from last weekend’s loss had been icy silence punctuated by snide comments.
Coach rubbed his face with his hands and said out loud to no one, “Why can’t they just shut-up and play?”
Everyone who has ever worked with or around women’s teams has asked this question at one time or another. And sadly the answer usually is, “Girls are just like that. They are mean to each other.” That doesn’t have to be the case. If you are like most coaches you are about more than your team’s win/loss record. You also feel responsible for developing young women who succeed after basketball. If that sounds like you, you are doing them a disservice by allowing them to “just be like that”.
Here are a few strategies that your team can implement right away to make a positive difference on and off the court:
- Start sentences with “I” not “you”. Speaking from the “I” helps everyone own her feelings and state her opinion as an opinion rather than a fact. Sentences that start with “you” are typically blaming and create defensiveness.
- Assume the positive. We are so quick to assume something negative about other people. “She hurt me on purpose.” Instead of immediately going to the negative, try to make up a positive or at least a neutral reason why something happened. Even better, ask.
- Commit to having tough conversations while they are small. Too often we let something little fester until it explodes. Nobody likes conflict but it is much easier to handle when it is one issue rather than several swirled together by the gossip mill.
Creating a great, drama free team doesn’t happen by accident. It happens through purposeful conversations that create an effective team communication fingerprint. Conflict is going to happen. Turn it into productive conflict and you will have a team who cares about each other enough to give tough feedback tactfully and trusts each other enough to apply it.