Regis High School is a small catholic high school located on 84th street on the Upper East Side in New York City. It is the only all scholarship catholic high school in the country. It serves about 500 students and all of them attend for free.
Regis has a reputation as an excellent academic school (Dr. Fauci whaddup???) The workload is pretty heavy. They also really emphasized extracurricular activities. Play a sport. Join the debate team or the Spanish club. There was always a lot going on after school to get involved with, and you were supposed to get involved.
I commuted to Regis for high school, about an hour each way. That was about average for my classmates. Some people traveled close to 2 hours each way. Given the travel and the workload, there wasn’t a lot of free time. You had to figure out how to get it all done. I spent plenty of time reading a history book on the 4 train to 125th street after a practice or a game.
My point is, the school really didn’t care. They expected you to be involved with everything going on at the school, they knew most people had to commute home, but the workload was still relentless. Interestingly, we probably had more free time at Regis than most other high schools. We had a lot of days off. We rarely, if ever, had more than two classes in a row without a free period. There were resource centers for each subject – small libraries where the teachers of that subject had their desks – where you could go and study during your free time.
Regis didn’t have a ton of rules. There was no strict dress code (shirt with a collar, shoes, no jeans). There were limited restrictions on your free time – freshmen could not use the gym or the cafeteria during their free periods, but everyone else were free to do so. School started at 8:50 and ended at 2:50 with at least a 40 minute lunch period and plenty of free blocks.
Regis was the first place where I was introduced to a high-expectations environment. Excellence was just expected there. The structure wasn’t something that was talked about or explained. The standards were very high and you were expected to handle all of it. You were given the freedom to handle your free time and make it work, but there were no excuses (other than the phantom subway delay when you showed up late for advisement). There were high standards, you were given a lot of free time and a ton of academic work. You were expected to get it all done, with the guidance of the teachers along the way. There was plenty of help and support if needed.
When I went to college, with a lot more freedom and less structure than I was used to, I realized that I was prepared. I started to look back at my high school experience and recognize the value of it. I was fortunate to be in an environment where excellence was expected and the demands were high. It wasn’t unforgiving or necessarily cutthroat. It was safe and comfortable, but only if you were driven to succeed. As I got further away from my high school I realized even more how impactful the environment was for me.
The impact has stayed with me throughout my coaching career. Our job is to create an environment where excellence is expected, and demand that our players meet that standard – however we choose to define it. I’ve always felt uncomfortable in a low-expectations environment (Hello, UMaine, and I think most driven people feel the same. I want to seek out high-achieving environments because I know they will make me better. I want the standards to be high and the challenge to be great. A coach yelling and screaming isn’t going to drive me to a new level. The environment set up for success with significant challenges and support – that is what gets the best out of us.
I’ve learned over the years that most players – and most all of us – seek out competency and high expectations. Most players want to be great. Sure, we’ve all coached players who don’t want that, but high-performing teams weed those people out. They won’t survive because they can’t take it. But the majority of players I have coached are attracted to the right environment and the coaches that provide the game plan and support to make them better.
Our job as coaches is to create that environment where excellence is expected. We have to set and define high standards with specific behaviors in mind, so the kids know exactly what to expect. The first thing you have to do is live in that environment yourself each day, demanding the best in your own approach. It’s hard to show up late to practice and demand that your kids are on time. It’s not that hard to ask them to put the balls back on the rack or keep the locker room clean. Creating an environment where excellence is the norm is perhaps the biggest key to individual and team success.
I learned that lesson in high school. I was put in an environment with high standards, great support and an expectation of achievement. Over time, I not only realized the impact it had on my success, but I started to seek out these environments. I want to be around high-achieving people who are relentless about getting better, and I think most people do. Create that environment for your team to maximize personal and team growth.