Robert Saleh’s “10 Lessons of Coaching”

With everything that is going on in the world at the moment, a lot of us are deprived of the stories great coaching that come along with our professional and collegiate sports. However, just this past week as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed I saw this picture below! This is from the Defensive Coordinator of the San Francisco 49er’s, Robert Saleh.

https://www.49ers.com/news/robert-saleh-lessons-of-coaching-49ers-defense-quarterback-summit

How cool is this! There are not even team sports really going on right now in the US and we get this awesome piece put online by one of the best current Defensive Coordinators in the game today! How has this not been talked about more?! Well this is exactly why I started a coaching blog in the first place! To share things like this with the coaching world that will otherwise go unnoticed!

Feel free to click the link under the picture above to see Coach Saleh’s take on his lessons, while below I am going to give my take on each of his lessons.

1. IGNORE THE NOISE, TRUST YOUR PROCESS.

What a great lesson to get us started! As coaches it is very easy to succumb to the outside noise in our sport. Whether its a rankings poll, a forum post, or an article that is written about you or your team we must ignore this noise. The only people that truly know the work that you and your team are putting in is exactly that, YOU AND YOUR TEAM! No reporter, spectator or opposing team knows the work that you guys are putting in, they only see you under the lights. While majority of the world will only see the results during a game or match, you and your team understand the process you are going through so you can only be the judge of your teams success’ and failures.

I really like the 2nd part of this lesson, trust YOUR process. This is something that I have never really thought of. I am sure many of you can relate that at one time or another we have all said “Trust THE Process” to our players, but never “Trust YOUR Process”. The process that you are on with your team is unique, it will never be duplicated, you need to put the emphasis on this to allow your players to realize that what they are doing is special! YOUR PROCESS is all that matters in your journey! You need to trust it!

2. DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND LOVE WHAT YOU DO WITH ENTHUSIASM AND PASSION.

Wow! Does this one really hit home at a time like this! Before my sport was shut down I think that there were plenty of days that I took what I did for granted! Now with being away from the team, coaches, players and facilities do I really appreciate what I got to do every day! I truly LOVE being a coach!

I think that this one is best summed up by a quote that I saw this past week, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. Appreciate what you are doing, whether it is your full time job or just a side thing to stay involved with your sport! Never let that enthusiasm and passion fade away! Continue to inspire others and enjoy it for your self along the way!

3. THIS PROFESSION (COACHING) IS HARD! DOMINATE THE THINGS YOU HAVE CONTROL OVER.

Coaching is definitely not made for everyone! This is why when you come across a great coach he or she should never go unnoticed!

With this lesson, I think it can be very beneficial to the young coaches getting their careers going! Another quote that I heard while listening to a podcast from my former high school coach was something like “Find out what your coaching weaknesses are, then hire others who are good at those weaknesses!” Does that relate to this lesson or what?! Every coach has their strengths. It is the ones who hire assistants and other coaches to help them with the areas that they struggle in that succeed and have a well rounded team! Keep this in mind when ever you get the opportunity to form a coaching staff, it will only help you out!

4. READY VS. PREPARED, THERE IS A DIFFERENCE. PREPARE FOR EVERYTHING.

This lesson definitely made me stop and think about what preparation actually means to me. When reading it quickly I struggle to gain anything from it, but after thinking about it more it could not make more sense! As a team you can get READY for any match, you can lace up the shoes, go through your warm up, and begin to play. But are you actually prepared? Are you PREPARED to make the necessary adjustments needed to give your team an advantage? Are the players that are on the bench PREPARED to step into the role that is needed? Is the team PREPARED for the overtime, extra inning, or deuce set match that may be in front of them? You will never know until that time comes, but when it does would you rather be ready for it or learn from it the hard way? The choice is yours as a coach, you are the one that can PREPARE you team for EVERYTHING!

5. THE THREE MOST DANGEROUS WORDS: “I GOT IT.” YOU MUST APPROACH EACH DAY WITH HUMILITY TO GET BETTER.

This lesson is usually approached by coaches as “let us get 1% better each day”. Another cliche quote I am sure for a lot of you reading but it is something that is extremely true when you think about it. What is your purpose each day? Do you just want to go through the motions or are you looking to get better?

Something that I learned from working in the Women’s National Team Gym was that at the beginning of each week there was a spot on the white board for everyone to write down their weekly focus! Not just the players, but everyone! Even me a volunteer who was mainly there to just shag the volleyballs! How was I going to get better? Well I would write my focus for that week and the others would hold me accountable! It allowed me to also see what the other players and coaches were focusing on that week and I can hold them accountable as well! It is something small but can give you that boost each day to stay focused and approach that day with Humility.

6. THE NFL IS A PRECISION LEAGUE. EVERY DETAIL MATTERS.

Yes, I know that we are not coaching in the NFL but I can argue that the details matter in every sport or league. I will take volleyball as my example since that is what I associate with the best!

With volleyball you need to handle the little things, take care of the easy plays before you move on to the faster, harder things in the sport! Even at the collegiate and professional levels players and coaches are constantly fine tuning those simple skills and plays every day in the practice gym. The difference between the average player or team and the elite ones is who is best at those little details!

I can even take it in a different direction. With volleyball you score a point now every single serve (sorry to the old school readers out there!) This is why I preach that “every point has value” or even “every contact has value”. There is no time to waste a point or contact during the match, it could be 0-0 or match point they should mean exactly the same to you and your players! If you instill this mindset into your team then the details will matter to them and the precision of your team will be great!

7. STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF, BE AUTHENTIC.

Let’s back up to the 1st lesson. YOU ARE UNIQUE! It is easy for us, as coaches, to try and be like others. However, it is really about adding your own “flavor” to what you do! Sure, you can use a drill that you learned from someone, or mimic what your favorite coach did during their career, but you need to remember that YOU are the one standing in front of your team. YOU are the one going to every practice and planning for every game. You need to trust what you know! Trust your experience and knowledge! Stay true to yourself!

8. RELATIONSHIPS MATTER, SEEK ACCOUNTABILITY.

This lesson can be interpreted a couple of ways. I am going to take it in a direction of forming a good circle of coaches around you. Create those relationships with coaches that you can learn from, the ones that will hold you accountable! They can be directly on your staff, in your club/organization, or even not associated with you at all!

For me I look to the coaches on my staff. I am constantly asking them how I am sounding, how the practice is flowing, what changes they think that I should be making. The reason being is I trust their opinions! I have built a relationship with them where they can tell me exactly how it is and it holds me accountable during practice, the games, and throughout the seasons!

These relationships can be something that you fall back on when there is a set back. They are the ones that will lift you up if you ever fall down. USE them to your advantage!

9. PUT TOGETHER THE RIGHT TEAM, CREATE AN IDENTITY.

This is a lesson that can be tough for coaches that do not have a choice in the individuals that they have on their team so I will address it in a couple of ways.

First off, if you have the luxury of determining who is going to be on your team you need to take everything into account, not just a players talent. The best example of this is through the movie “Miracle”. If you put a bunch of all-stars together on a team there will be a lot of selfish play. But if you assemble the right team and create a culture/chemistry/identity unique to only them it will turn into something very memorable!

If you do not have the luxury of determining who is on your team, then it is your job as a coach to develop that teams culture/chemistry/identity from scratch! Of course this is easier said than done but it CAN be done! By instilling the right principles and beliefs into your team, you can for a great team identity that will be just as good as if you hand picked each person on it!

Either way, a teams culture or identity is extremely unique. I said it earlier, no two teams will ever be the same! Embrace the team that you have and use the strengths to your advantage! Never try to be something that you are not!

10. INVEST IN YOUR TEAM, MAKE EVERYBODY AROUND YOU BETTER.

This last lesson is something that you think is done with out saying. I believe though that if you don’t say it then you probably are not doing it! A lesson that I have learned over the past few years coaching at the collegiate level is to “treat every player the same”. Yes, every player may have different skill levels, mindsets, and personalities but that should not matter how much you invest into them! They are a part of your team, you will need EVERYONE on the team to be invested in the team so you need to be invested in EVERYONE!

If you are coaching a team those players deserve your full investment. I understand that it may not be your full-time job and you will not be thinking about the specific details of tomorrows match at 2 o’clock in the morning like I do during the season. But they deserve your full effort when you are in practice or a game! Think of it this way, as a coach you are expecting 100% effort from your players so you should be expecting that from your self as well!

Wow! That was a lot of self reflection and I feel like I just learned a lot more about my coaching pursuit by going through these 10 lessons! Hopefully you can take these lessons with you as sports begin to resume and have that internal fire re-ignited, or have it burning brighter than it has ever done before!

-Coach Windy


Perspective, It Can Change Everything

Everyone goes through life looking at things in their own way. This is what we call perspective. A person may look at a situation and see it as an opportunity while another person looks at that same exact situation as a burden or obstacle.

Let's Talk About Your Perspective - Tyler Kleeberger - Medium

“When you focus on the things you need . . . you’ll find those needs increasing. If you concentrate your thoughts on what you don’t have, you will soon be concentrating on other things that you had forgotten you don’t have – and feel worse! If you set your mind on loss, you are more likely to lose… But a grateful perspective brings happiness and abundance into a person’s life”

This is a passage from a book that I have recently read, “The Noticer- Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective”. While the book is a great story and easy read I found myself taking a deeper look into how I do things as a coach. We, as coaches, have a completely different perspective on the game than our players, and most of the time our other coaches. So how can we take the time to use this to our advantage? How can more than one perspective on something benefit an individual or even an entire team? Today, I would like to go over the idea of perspective in a way you may have not used before!

FEEDBACK

The biggest thing that comes to mind when thinking about perspective in any gym that I coach in is feedback! Feedback is something that became very present in my playing career during college and is something that is stressed very highly with any team that I am a part of. There are a few types of feedback in sports, coach to player, player to player, coach to coach, and the one that I would like to dive into a little deeper player to coach.

Player to coach feedback, for the most part, is only present when a coach has a strong relationship with that player. This player may be around the program for a number of years and they are likely to be a captain. This relationship is great however a lot of the time the player and coach have similar perspectives on things. This makes the feedback to the coach something they usually see them self, so it acts more as a reassurance rather than a new outlook on things. I would challenge you the next time you are with your team to try and get some feedback from some players you do not have a strong relationship with. Here is what I mean…

As a coach I do a lot of private lesson work, or small group work when I am with my team. During the drill we will usually be working on a specific skill and I will be giving the most common feedback, coach to player. That is my job right? I could sit there and say what I see and correct or compliment that player for as long as time permits. But that is not good enough to me, I want to know their perspective on things to not only help them but to help ME! I ask them questions like- What do you feel? What are you thinking about? What are you seeing?

Many players at the start do not know what to say, but as I encourage the player to coach feedback more and more they begin to get comfortable. I begin to look at what that player is doing in their own perspective, as well as mine. This new comfort eventually carries over into competition. The trust and respect that I have as a coach towards my players allows me to ask what they see (most coaches know things look a lot different from the sidelines). We again take that multiple perspective outlook on things and use it to our advantage.

Of course getting to the point where you can use your players perspective in competition takes a lot of time, work, and trust. So, stick with the small things. During training or practice, ask them what they are feeling. After a mistake, ask what they saw or what they think they should have done. After a great play, ask them what felt good! Then take it a step further, ask your team what they liked about a drill, what they disliked? It may be tough to hear some criticism from your players but if you are truly invested in your team you will encourage their feedback!

Everyone has a different perspective on things, we are all unique in our own way! It is my firm belief that there is never a wrong perspective in the world, the only thing that can be wrong is denial that there is other perspectives out there! Embrace your players perspective, seek other coaches perspective, and continue to evolve YOUR PERSPECTIVE!

-Coach Windy


Be Where Your Feet Are

Be Where Your Feet Are! – Not Just Leadership

While most posts that I write are pretty planned out, today I am doing some improvisation. The other night while finishing my book “Chop Wood Carry Water” there was a chapter called “Be Where Your Feet Are”. It did not hit me at the moment but this morning it was in my mind and I thought that this is a perfect topic to share my thoughts!

In this post I will be sharing some points from two great sports psychologists that I have taken a liking to, Graham Betchart and Ken Ravizza. I highly recommend reading their work and watching any videos you can find on these two.

Graham Betchart- Play Present

Graham Betchart is known for working with great NBA players such as Aaron Gordon, Ben Simmons, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Andrew Wiggins. Play Present is a book that is a mental skills training program for basketball players. While I have yet to read it, it is on my list (along with another 100 or more books!). One common thing that I have seen when reviewing this book is that many players never come to their full potential as they never play present. Instead these players are more concerned with the past or the future and they end up feeling excessive pressure.

As coaches we are always getting on our players to be more oriented with “the process” instead of the “results”. That is a great way of getting our players to be more in the present. I want to take that a different direction and raise the question to all of us “are we, as coaches, playing in the present?”. I know from my own experience that I am either looking too far ahead or dwelling on the past. The result of this is the players following your example. We end up limiting our teams potential because we are not where are feet are.

So how can we make sure to always coach in the present? Well, I here is what I do. Let’s set the example of being in a season and a situation happens, such as a player injury, a bad loss, or even a big win! Our mind set may be filled with a lot of “what ifs”. There is a process that I have created that I use to get my teams back to being where there feet are.

The ACT” or Acknowledge, Challenge, Train

  • Acknowledge- During practice or a team meeting, I air out what is on everyone’s mind. I say it how it is, not trying to sugar coat anything or under value something good. By acknowledging either the good or the bad we can all see it together for what the situation really is.
  • Challenge- Once we have acknowledged the situation among us (either past or future) I then challenge my team to overcome the obstacle or to rise above the expectation. We will not succumb to the pressure of what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. We will focus on the now, we will play present!
  • Train- Now that we have set the challenge for the group it is our job as the coach to train them to overcome or rise above the situations. By us as coaches seeing the bigger picture we have the ability to train the team to play in the present. We can manipulate practices or training sessions to be focused on only what is happening at the current moment.

When I follow this “ACT” I not only help my team to play present but I help my self as a coach. My focus is more on keeping my team on track rather than being distracted those “what ifs”. This process is a great guideline for multiple situations and what is great about it is the ability to repeat it daily, weekly, or how ever often you need to!

Ken Ravizza- Be Present, Not Perfect

Ken Ravizza is a legendary sports psychologist who was well known in the MLB community! He has many great teachings that all coaches can use and I highly recommend following his teachings! Ken has many great “Ravizza’isms” or sayings that he is known for using. The one that goes perfect with this article is “Be Present, Not Perfect”.

“Be Present, Not Perfect” is something that we can all do in coaching, or better yet life! When ever we start a season with a new team there are great aspirations to be the best or to be number 1! There is always the thought in our mind that this will be a perfect season! Well as most of us know, the perfect season is rare, seasons or teams usually rarely go as planned!

Instead of us trying to make sure everything in the season, in the practice, or in a game/match goes perfectly, we must focus on the present! Let’s look at a practice, we may come up with what we think is the best drill ever and as we begin the team just does not perform it to expectation. Most coaches will probably get upset and keep trying the drill until the team gets it, but what if you can accept that the drill isn’t making any progress, swallow your pride, and move on! We can look at it from the other direction as well. You may be doing a drill that you have always done but for some reason your team seems to be playing the best ever! As a coach you must realize this, be in the present and keep the ball rolling! Even if we have something else in mind that we want to get to it can wait!

No matter what the situation you, your team, or an individual is going through we can always make our way through it. The important thing though is to never over look that situation and ignore the present! The best thing that you can always do in life is “Be Where Your Feet Are”

-Coach Windy


Book Spotlight: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Today, I will be sharing some thoughts on the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. I have been spending some time thinking about how to review or write about the books that have helped me and I believe by just giving a brief background on the information followed by some real life context is best! Kind of how I wrote about the 10/80/10 Principle about a week ago!

The first time that I was introduced to this book was during my first year at Long Beach State. I went through it with the mindset of a player at the time and it allowed me and my teammates to begin to create a culture that eventually transformed into back to back National Championships 6 years later! Well, that is how I like to look at things!

Since beginning my coaching career at the collegiate level, I have found this book to be very useful in my team and player management! By identifying the different dysfunctions in the team I am able to adjust accordingly to prevent them from effecting us in a negative manner. With that being said lets look into the book a little more.

“The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is a fable of a technology company who is struggling to grow as a team. Their CEO recognizes that her team has great potential, but since they are not working together they are not making a lot of progress. Throughout the book you are introduced to the different Dysfunctions of the team.

Lencioni's 5 Dysfunctions of a Team - Taskworld Blog - Medium

Above you can see the 5 different dysfunctions that are covered in the book. Each one leading into the other eventually resulting in a negative team morale.

  1. Absence of Trust- When players are unable to show their vulnerability to their teammates. These players tend to be the ones who rarely admit to doing wrong or admit fault. They may be reluctant to ask the coach or teammates for help and ultimately see it as themselves versus the world.
  2. Fear of Conflict– When the players lack the trust to communicate among each other or even with the coach this dysfunction shows up. Since their is no trust present the team is reluctant to have conversation about a problems or disagreements. The players never voice their opinion on a situation and an uneasy tension develops that the team avoids.
  3. Lack of Commitment– When a player feels on their own it is tough to commit to team and process. Since the players do not feel safe in their team or have not been able to discuss things that they do not understand they naturally lose their sense of commitment.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability– Once a player has lost their sense of commitment they then find ways to avoid accountability. The excuses begin to fly, they definitely do not hold anyone else accountable on their team, and they continue down the path of being alone among others.
  5. Inattention to Results– Finally we reach the top of the pyramid where single members only care about themselves. Even though they are a part of a team or team sport the most important thing to them is how they perform. They put their own accomplishments ahead of the team. Eventually bringing the rest of the team down with them in their own problems.

What Can You Do?

As a coach the first thing that we can do is acknowledge that these dysfunctions are present in our teams. It is very easy for us to think that we do not have any problems but in reality there is always something that can be addressed. Next, is you be the example! Whether you know it or not your players are looking up to you as more than the guy/girl who blows the whistle, writes the lineup, or makes them run lines. Most of the time we are teaching them so much more than how to play a sport. For myself, there have been two things that work the best for me to acknowledge and manage these five elements of dysfunction.

The first thing that I have find to be effective is something that I picked up from my coach in college. This is an “open door” policy. Every year for the past three seasons I have told my college players that everything I teach or say can be talked about. If they do not understand the “why” in something we are doing I encourage them to engage in conversation with me or the other coaches. I have even encountered times where a player has challenged what I a saying and we eventually come to agreement on something new and it not only benefits the team but me as a coach moving forward. The ”open door” policy goes further than on the court things. I encourage my players to communicate with me about anything. There have been plenty of instances where my players just need someone to talk to (not about sports) and I let them know that if this is ever the case for them then I will be there for them. The trust we build becomes unbreakable eventually leading to success in the other areas that need to be addressed!

The other example of something that I do as a coach is establish roles for each player. It is very easy for a player to not see themselves as a part of the team, or not know what their role is. Some times players fall into roles on their own and do not need to be told what their role is, but often there is someone who needs guidance. I am always clear to the entire team that everyone has a role that is important to the teams success, however sometimes the role they have may not be what they want. This is where you as a coach come in. Explaining to them that their role may not be what they want but that it is needed for the team. Also, that their role can change at any moment and they cannot be complacent with what their role is! The conversation may not be the easiest but by continuing to instill that sense of accountability, drive and commitment will only help the individual and the team as a whole!

Both of these examples above work their way from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. The “open door” policy addresses the trust and conflict factors, while the “establishing roles” example empowers the commitment and accountability factors. Once those four dysfunctions are under control the attention to the teams results only becomes natural!

Sure, this is all easier said than done! Any coach knows that their teams problems cannot be fixed with a “how to” article out of some book or some blog! But what we can all get is some guidance. Some guidance that will allow us to look at the team as a whole and see the problems that need to be addressed. The Five Dysfunctions that may be standing in the way of your team achieving their full POTENTIAL!

-Coach Windy


The 10-80-10 Principle

On Friday I had a ZOOM call with the other coaches in the club that I work with. We had a special guest that has had a huge impact on my coaching path, Coach Alan Knipe! Coach Knipe was my coach during my college career and I spent a year on his staff while I was earning my masters degree. He is a former Olympic Men’s National Team Head Coach and has won the past 2 NCAA Men’s Volleyball National Championships (2018 and 2019).

During my time playing for coach Knipe and when I was a member of his staff I acquired a lot of material that I use today in my coaching career. One book that I have and use quite a bit is “Above The Line” by Urban Meyer. I will be sure to get into the book more in future posts, but today I would like to write about the 10-80-10 Principle.

What is the 10-80-10 Principle?

According to Urban Meyer, he believes that this principle is the best strategy to get the most out of you team.

The way he demonstrates this principle is by seeing your team as a big circle. At the center of your circle is the nucleus, this is the top 10 percent of your team. Surrounding the nucleus lies the bulk of the team, the 80 percent. Lastly, is the bottom 10 percent which is the outermost part of the circle.

Urban Meyer 10-80-10 Principle.jpg

Top 10 Percent: These are the best of the best on your team. This does not refer to talent or skill but that the players that embody everything a member of your team should. Most of the time these players are either your captain or someone that the team is always looking up to. These player are always seeking ways to get better, such as getting extra practice, looking to watch film, or always seeking feedback.

The 80 Percent: This is the bulk or majority of your team. They are always at practice, they do their job, and are an extremely important part of the team. These individuals usually do not have the extra drive to be the best player or teammate like the top 10 percent.

Bottom 10 Percent: This is the group of players that are usually not interested or have push back towards the team. Usually these players seem to be late a lot or miss practices with out any excuses. Sometimes they seem to just be coasting through practice, not caring about the information that you are providing to the team. Coach Meyer refers to this group as “coach killers”

Leadership/Coaching Challenge

By now I am sure that you have pictured one two players from you team for each one of the groups. After you identified where these players are at in the principle what are we to do with it? Well, the key with this principle is to see how many of those 80 percenters can be moved into the top 10 percent.

When listening to Coach Knipe talk about this the other day he brought up one method that he has used himself. As a coach we need the top 10 percent players to PHYSICALLY bring an 80 percent player along with them. What ever it is that the top 10 percent player is doing he needs to take the 80 percent player with him, if he goes to practice early, goes to get an extra weight lift session in, takes extra time for study hall, or even goes in to watch film with a coach. When this happens that 80 percent players sees the difference between him and the elite. This extra work and time that they put in soon enough becomes a part of the player that they are. Eventually resulting in them becoming someone who is in the top 10 percent.

This method of physically bringing the players along is tough to do as a coach. When the extra work is forced upon by the coach it usually is resented by the player in the 80 percent. However, when it is one of their teammates bringing them in for the extra work it, most of the time, ignites a new fire in that player which makes them want to become better! With this the concept of inclusion among players/teammates the transition from the 80 percent to the top 10 occurs organically.

As coaches it is our job to work with that top 10 percent to create the teams culture. This is not an easy task in a short amount of time but with trust and communication it is very possible!

In no way am I saying that you stop working with anyone who is not in the top 10. This is only for the leadership/team dynamic aspect of your team. When you empower you top 10 and demonstrate to the rest of the group the work that this team is about then everyone will soon be pushing everyone and your team should be on a roll!

Team Experiment:

Coach Knipe shared a story of when he was talking to another team about this principle. After he finished explaining all three sections to them he asked the group where everyone saw themselves (for the most part players will be harder on them selves than we as coaches are). When he asked the group to say who they thought was in the top 10 percent they all commented on one player specifically. Then he told the group to think about how they would help someone move from either the bottom 10 percent into the 80 or from the 80 into the top 10! The players were instructed to email their head coach their individual plan by the end of the week. Coach Knipe went on to say to the group that the top 10 will do this right away with a lot of effort, the 80 will do the minimum to get by in a timely manner, and the bottom 10 will write a short made up plan on their phones and send it at the last possible minute. Sure enough this is how all the emails came in to the head coach later that week!

This prinicple is something that has been very effective for me with many of my teams and I know that I will continue to use it with future teams as well. Now that you understand this I challenge you to try coach Knipes experiment with your team. Educate them on the principle, ask them where they see themselves, then have them email you their plan to help move players from one group to another!

Embrace this challenge and let’s grow the top 10% together!

-Coach Windy

Link for “Above the Line”: https://www.amazon.com/Above-Line-Lessons-Leadership-Championship/dp/1101980729