On Twitter, in coaches' speeches, and online articles directed at players and coaches, there is all kind of talk about what players need to do to be great players.
Know your role
Accept your role for now but not forever
Be a leader
Do your job
Be about something bigger than yourself
These are all good concepts, for sure, but I wonder sometimes if we've read one too many tweets that tell us how much our players should be doing these things, without taking the time to determine what that means to us as coaches or how that applies to our specific programs.
I heard a coach say to his player the other day: "I know you want to play more minutes. Right now, what you need to focus on is, 'how can I be my best every day in practice'. If you focus on that your minutes will come, and truly, if you are playing the same minutes January or February that you are now, we won't be the team that we need to be"
I thought that was a great approach. It wasn't some mind game to convince the player to be compliant, or a sales pitch to get them to believe that they were sacrificing for the greater good (some players aren't yet mature enough to grasp that concept). It was honest, encouraging, and offered an example of what the player could do on a daily basis to address the individual's challenge/frustration within the constructs of the program.
But I think we miss the mark more often than not with the quotes and platitudes that we throw out to our players (and maybe our employees). The things that sound good, and most likely ARE good, are of little or no value if they can't be explained, taught, or modeled in a way that allows those under our charge to actually understand how (and sometimes why) to carry these things out. Actually, I believe these things can be detrimental to player and program if they aren't handled with more clarity and encouragement. And it isn't the same for everyone. Being a leader looks different for your most vocal player as compared to an introvert. "Do your job" sounds great when it's Bill Belichick and professional football players, but we are going to have to be very explicit and encouraging with that demand when dealing with middle school and high school players, especially when we are asking them to do a job that they (or their parents) may not see the value in.
We can't ask our players to "know their role", when we haven't been explicit in the explanation of what that role is. And further, I think players at most age levels (maybe even professionally) don't just need explanation, they need encouragement along the way. The first step may be identifying and explaining the role, but again, it's a big ask to then expect a 16 year old (and I think even a 46 year old) to completely sell out to a role that isn't the one they had envisioned for themselves and that others may be telling them they are above.
After we are clear in what we mean when we say some of these common coaching quips, I believe we must follow up with both action steps players can take on a daily basis and find ways to encourage players as they take these action steps.
And just a challenge to coaches, particularly assistants. If we are going to ask our players to thrive in their current roles, I think we have to be willing to do the same. Often times (and I've been there) we spend a lot of time complaining about having to teach while we coach, the challenges that are placed on us by admin, or we think about how much more we know than our head coach or what we might do differently if we were in charge. Probably most of those things are valid considerations, but they certainly hinder our ability to fully sell out to our role, while also working towards outgrowing our role, which is exactly what we are asking of our players.