I’m 49 years old but I still cringe when I hear someone call me “Mr. Walsh.” I always introduce myself as Bob, to players, families, any new acquaintances. I have a lot of friends with kids in their teens who call me “Mr. Walsh” and I’m not comfortable with it. Probably because I don’t want to admit that I’m close to half-a-hundred.
I’ve always introduced myself to my players as “Bob Walsh” and not “Coach Walsh,” even though the majority of them always call me coach and I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just never felt that comfortable to me, introducing myself to someone I don’t know as “Coach Walsh,” as if my job title earns me some kind of status. It’s not like I went to medical school or earned five stars as a General. You don’t hear too many other people introduce themselves by their title – “Hi, I’m tax attorney Smith,” or “financial planner Lisa.”
I had a great high school JV coach named Kevin Riddick, and he used to say to us “Guys, I know I’m your coach. Please, just call me Kev.” I thought that was really cool. Now in games and practices when we were talking to him we still usually called him Coach, but he made it clear he was cool with us calling him by his first name. It brought a “we’re all in this together” vibe that made us all comfortable.
I’ve read some interesting stories about some high level organizations where the leadership makes a point of everyone referring to one another by their first name. There is no “Mister” this or “Director” that, which kind of eliminates any type of hierarchy within the organization. Obviously there is still a flow chart and a chain of command, with certain people in charge of making the final decision. But they purposely try and eliminate status based on title or position to empower everyone to feel like they are on the same level.
The leadership model I’m always trying to create with my teams is one where everyone takes ownership and everyone is a leader. My best teams have come to realize the culture is theirs, it’s not mine. There is not status inside of our gym, only performance. Everything we do is based on merit. What have you done to help the team today? That is our currency.
I don’t think different levels of status work within that model. Again, I’m not against my players calling me coach. I’m fine with it. I just don’t feel comfortable with it as a requirement, where they have to refer to me as the guy who is clearly in charge. I want them to know we are all on the same level, and we are in it together. I have to earn my stripes every day just like they do.
It’s not a lack of respect if the players don’t call me coach. It’s actually more a sign of a comfort level between us and within our organization. Respect is earned, and it’s a lot more about how we treat each other and talk to each other than what we call each other.
I’m not saying that calling you Coach has a major impact on the leadership dynamic of your team. But it might be a small reminder of a status differential that goes in a different direction than the culture you are trying to create. If your players are comfortable calling you by your first name or a nickname, that might be a sign of the connection within your group.
Will it bother you if your players stop calling you coach?