As a head coach I learned I had to be careful about my voice becoming too dominant in practice. When you first become a head coach you are trying to establish standards and a culture, and you want to be strong delivering the message. You want to be clear and loud, so there is no indecision with regard to your message. I’ve always felt – and still feel – that this is the right approach. Your team has to know that your message, your voice, matters.
It’s important to be aware of the impact a dominant voice can have on your team. While you want your kids to learn to respond to your command, it’s easy to create an environment where they are just doing what they are told. They hear the command and they try and execute it, because that’s what they are being told to do. They become a compliant team. Compliant teams can be good, but teams that take ownership have a better chance at long-term sustained success.
Over time I realized that having a dominant voice can suffocate the rest of the voices in the gym. Not only your assistant coaches, but also your players. They get used to the head coach telling them what just happened, what needs to happen next, and how to fix it. But this can also make it hard for them to take ownership and to show the leadership you want them to display. I learned you have to create some space for them to lead and take ownership.
The best way to do this is to stay quiet. Leave some air in the gym and let them fill the void. See how they respond, let them speak up. It’s not easy to do, as we are all used to controlling the action and the tone in the gym. But you have to recognize that your voice can stifle all of the others. If you aren’t getting the leadership you want, create an environment where that leadership can flourish.
Ultimately what you want as you establish your culture is for you standards to rule the day. You want your players to be accountable to your standards, not to your voice. So if you feel like you are constantly driving them and trying to pull their best out of them, but they aren’t really responding, you might want to take a step back and see how they respond. When things aren’t right in practice, it should be your standards that are the measuring stick – not your response, as the head coach, to their behavior.
Eventually if all they do is respond to your voice, you are going to have a very well-trained team that is compliant and will do what they are told. But on the road in a tough environment, your voice isn’t nearly as powerful. Half the time they can’t hear it. They have to respond to the standards you have set.
So give them room in practice to hold themselves accountable to their standards. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking a question. “Is that a good enough effort in transition defense for us? Is that acceptable?” Let them respond, and get used to the standards being the measuring stick.
Most coaches will tell you that the best teams are led by the players, not the coaching staff. Well if you feel that way, you have to create that environment. I visit a lot of practices whenever I get the chance, and I’d say the majority of those teams are responding to the voice of the head coach.
Set the standards clearly, and let them respond to them. You’ll get more leadership and production out of your team when you do.