There is so much great stuff in this short video from Brene’ Brown on empathy.

Empathy fuels connection… sympathy drives disconnection.

Empathy is a choice, a very vulnerable choice.

Empathy is four things 1) Perspective taking 2) No judgement 3) Recognizing emotion 4) Communicating about it

Empathy is feeling with people.

A response does not make things better.  What makes things better is connection.

I learned a lot about coaching with empathy this season, and it made me a much better coach.  Our players were going through so much – we lost 3 starters to season-ending injuries for the second straight year.  We had to go on the road for 15 of our first 18 games, and play 6 guarantee games.  We suffered some brutal losses in close games that we were winning late.

A number of our guys were struggling mentally early in the season, and I was trying to put my finger on it.  Eventually I was able to get a number of them to tell me that they had been feeling a ton of pressure because of everything that was going on around our program.  They knew I was in the last year of my contract. They were upset over not knowing what their future was going to look like, or possibly where they were going to be.  I had a number of players in tears in my office.  They wanted to stick together.  I realized my challenge with this team was much different than I thought.

Coaching is about so much more than closeouts and contests.  Obviously we all want to relate to our guys to get the most out of them.  But there is still a common approach in team sports that says “block it out” and focus in on what’s important when it’s time to practice or play.  Whether we admit it or not, there’s a lot to what we do that says “your personal issues aren’t really important right now, it’s time for shell drill.”  It’s not that simple.  But that is easy to forget as a coach.

At Rhode Island College I coached players who had such serious financial issues that they didn’t have money on their meal card.  One player slept in a friends car on his street when his Mom threw him out of the house.  I had a kid who walked 2 miles to class every day, rain or shine, because he couldn’t come up with $1.50 for the bus.  These guys had real issues that affected how they felt everyday, and I’m sure your kids do to.  But I was going to tell them to just block it out and scream at them for missing a block out?  As I grew as a coach, and connected more with my players, I tried to put myself in their shoes.

It’s a challenging balance to find as a coach.  You certainly aren’t doing your players any favors by lowering your standards for them, or making excuses.  But you also have to understand where they are coming from.  They all have legitimate issues that can affect their ability to focus and compete.  Without lowering your standards, you can work to understand them.  You can try and put yourself in their shoes.

I’ve learned that simply by listening to and understanding their issues, you can make them a lot comfortable.  Once you get to them to discuss their issues and they realize you are concerned, usually they still want to compete.  They want to be at practice, they want to get away from their problems by playing basketball for 2 hours.  But they don’t want to be told to just block it out, because that makes them feel like their problems don’t really matter.  You aren’t giving them a response.  You are simply listening.

Empathy will make you a better coach.  It made me a much better coach this year.  My tone, my approach, my delivery – it all had to change to get the most out of my guys.  They were willing to give our team everything they had, but they wanted people to understand what they were going through.  The challenges we faced made us much tougher as a team, not because we blocked them out, but because we discussed them together.  We didn’t turn them into excuses, and nobody wanted to do that.  We created a bond based on shared experiences of what we were going through.  We might not have won a lot of games, but we certainly got the most out of one another.

Take the time to think about what your players are going through, and put yourself in their shoes.  You don’t have to make excuses for them, but empathy will make you a better coach.

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