Between the Lines is Where We Fight
I enjoyed baseball as a kid. Any game with a ball, really, but little league baseball was awesome. Spring days, fresh cut gass, and the crack of the bat. However, I stopped playing baseball at the age of ten, mostly because I kept getting hit with the ball when I came up to the plate.
It was bizarre – I kept getting pegged. Kids were hurling gas and I was getting tagged in the head, kidneys, legs, everywhere. Until one day, I became fed up with getting hit by the ball. The day I moved on, I picked up my first lacrosse stick. Best decision I ever made.
I would go on to play Division I lacrosse at Navy and we enjoyed great success on the field. Unfortunately, I blew out a tire(my right ACL) during the second game of my senior year and that ended my college career.
Nevertheless, my love for the game still persists seven years later, and I have found a real passion in coaching high school lacrosse.
Because of flexible working hours, I coach a Varsity squad at a high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Going from one side of the player-coach relationship to the other has taught me two of the richest lessons in dealing with people. Note: you may be thinking that lessons can’t be learned from teenage boys that haven’t logged many hours in the “real world”, but I assure you they are people just like you and me.
Set the Standard Early and Often
The lacrosse program at the high school I coach at has a certain level of accountability and excellence baked into it. The coaches who precede me that are still on staff are excellent coaches. Also, the school is a private school and a good one at that.
Generally speaking, the boys at this school were raised to be respectful and hardworking. However, they are still teenage boys with varying agendas, motivating factors, and personalities.
Simple things go a long way: Day one, I noticed the team did not have a solid expectation of preseason conditioning drills and a coach willing to mix it up with them during these drills. So, I immediately jumped in to lead these conditioning sessions.
Nicknamed “landing zones”, these conditioning drills make you question whether you have the heart to deal with physical and mental exhaustion. They make you question your toughness, your willpower, and your fortitude.
This was a tone setter for the year. I was there to get the most out of these boys and they knew I was in it for them and with them. In addition to the preseason conditioning, I also noticed that pregame practices weren’t any different from other non-pregame practices.
The importance of the pregame practice having a special, sometimes subtle twist to them is to ritualize the shift from a practice mindset to a game mindset.
I added a simple throwing drill at the end of a pregame practice that was unique to any other drill we ran; a signal that we are now in pivoting to game mode. Like many rituals, this built excitement and helped mentally prepare the athletes 24 hours before gametime.
As a leader, you get one unobstructed chance to set the standard you want. When you are designated the team leader, whether promoted or brought in from the outside, you must jump on the opportunity to set the expectation. Failing to do so will make setting a higher standard down the road far more difficult – humans are creature of habit and are highly adaptive.
We rise or fall to the standard established by leaders and authority.
Legacy over Everything
Earlier this year, I wrote a post on being remembered in life and this resonated with my athletes, especially the senior class.
To enlighten my seniors, I held a private classroom meeting and asked them about two groups of athletes: “their seniors” and “their freshman”. In other words, I brought them into describe the boys that preceded them when they were freshman and the current freshman class under them.
I didn’t specify which group I wanted to hear about first or more about, rather just to talk to me about each group. Unsurprisingly , we spent 95% of the time speaking about “their seniors”, the guys that came before them.
We talked about all the lessons they imparted onto them; things they liked and things they did not care for.
Why didn’t we spend as much time chatting about their freshman, the guys looking up to this current crop of seniors? It’s because we remember our leaders.
We remember those that guided us and mentored us. We watched their every move, looking for guidance on how to be successful.
Then, I asked them about legacy and the things they wanted to leave behind. We agreed that they would leave the program better than they found it.
The underclassmen would remember how these seniors prepared for games, how they paid attention to detail in practice, and how to take care of one another as brothers.
We would embrace the grind together and help leave a lasting impression on the ones that will come after us. In short, we would be a great group of leaders passing down our expectations and legacy to our followers.
Set your standard of excellence and leave a person, place, or thing better than how you found it. Leaving your footprint in the sand of someone else’s beach is about as good as it gets in life.