“Good principles are effective ways of dealing with reality.” – Ray Dalio

In his book “Principles,” Ray Dalio lays out his approach to what made him one of the most successful – and richest – money managers in the world. There is a lot more to the book than you probably need to know about his upbringing in the financial world, and you may or may not agree with his approach to his principals. But the part that I find important is the need to have principles for the decisions that you make.

What are your values and your standards for decision-making as a coach? What are the principles that you and your program live by? Nothing is black and white, and every decision you have to make is different. You won’t make the right decision every time, and it won’t always come easy. But to have principles that guide your decision-making is crucial to developing a high-performing culture.

Start with a mission statement. What is the daily goal of your program? Ours was always “Championship level. Everything we do.” We didn’t want it to be based on results, but based on something we could control. The effort we put in every day, and not just on the floor.

After you determine the mission, figure out what your values are as an organization. Write down what you really believe in. Think about who you want to be as a team, what you want to be about. Your core values will help guide everything you do.

Those values will lead to standards for how you operate. As you start to handle different situations that arise with your team, your standards will be established. How do you handle a kid who shows up late? What happens when someone skips class? These situations will help form the standards that you expect everyone on your team to live up to.

As you deal with these scenarios your principles will start to become apparent. It is a bit of a trial an error at first, but if you have core values that you believe in they will guide your actions. As important decisions need to be made every day you will have a guide as to what works for your organization and fits your values. A principle is a fundamental truth that will guide your actions, and as Dalio says they are a way to deal with reality.

Having a core set of truths that guide your decisions is essential, for one, because it will lead to consistency. To get the people around you to believe in you, they have to know what to expect. It doesn’t mean they get the same answer every time, and that you don’t have to make adjustments. But they need to see consistency from the leader, even if they don’t agree. Principles go a long way towards establishing consistency.

There is no “book” that tells you the right way to handle every situation. You will run into different scenarios as a head coach every day, with different circumstances and different people involved. You aren’t always going to have a stock answer. But many coaches fall into a credibility hole with their players because they lack consistency, especially with the important decisions that have to be made around a program. Every question that arises is handled based on the situation and the people involved, and not necessarily based in a core set of principles.

You have to determine what your program is about and what those principles are for you. It’s not so much what the principles are, it’s the fact that you do indeed have principles that guide your decisions. This will lead to the consistency and belief within your organization to achieve at a high level.

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