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The Mental Game

Credibility is undoubtedly the key to successful coaching. Your players must believe in you and your philosophy. Furthermore, they must trust you and believe that you make fair decisions based on what is best for them and the team. How can you enhance your credibility?

Keep in mind that credibility is not something you automatically receive with the title of "Coach" but is something that you develop and earn by the way you conduct yourself, make decisions and treat your players. While credibility may take some time to build and then must be diligently sustained, the benefits of credibility pay off immeasurably in the success and satisfaction of your team as well as your coaching career.

At the 1997 NFCA convention, I had the opportunity to learn from many credible coaches including the Speedline/NFCA Coaches of the YearññMike Candrea, Rick Bertagnolli, Craig Nicholson, Sharon Lehman and Henry Christowski. Their session on the "Secrets of Success" provided several practical insights on how coaches can enhance their credibility. Three main points emerged which I would like to focus and expand on. At the end of each section you will find some questions to reflect on in an effort to assess and improve your credibility.

1. Value and emphasize the process of winning.

All of the coaches on the panel continually emphasized the importance of the process. While they did set goals to win conference and national championships, their primary focus was on the process of achieving those goals. They stressed the importance of quality practices and doing the little things that often distinguish the successful from the mediocre.

Too often coaches get caught up in numbers and outcomes like wins, batting averages and ERAs. Obviously these outcomes are important but the key to achieving them lies in the process. Do all the little things right and the outcomes will take care of themselves. Emphasizing the process puts you in the best position to get the outcomes you want. Ask yourself, "Do I focus more on numbers and outcomes or on the process of being successful?"

By emphasizing the process, credible coaches are able to get their players to value it as well. They compliment and reward their players based on effort and executing the fundamentals of the game, not just on the results. The players then learn that the key to winning championships is a season filled with hard work and quality practices. Ask yourself, "How much do I emphasize the process of being successful to my players? Do I encourage and praise them for doing the little things right even though they might not always get the desired outcome?"

2. Place principles above winning.

Another characteristic the credible coaches shared was that they were not willing to compromise their principles for the sake of winning. Many of the coaches described situations where talented players needed to be confronted because of poor work ethics, bad attitudes and/or inappropriate social behavior.

While some coaches have a tendency to coddle their superstars or look the other way when they are causing problems so as not to upset them, these coaches were willing to confront them and risk offending or even losing their superstar for the greater good of the team. Unfortunately, I have seen too many teams fall apart and coaches lose credibility because they create a double standard between their superstars and subs. While you might be able to ìsaveî your superstar, you will end up losing the respect of the rest of the team. Ask yourself, "Am I willing to constructively confront a player who does not live up to the teamís standards even if they are my best player?" By placing their coaching principles and the welfare of the entire team above the immediate need to win, these coaches earned the respect and credibility of their team, which established the important foundation for winning in the long run.

3. Care about players as people, not just as athletes.

The final and perhaps most important key to credible coaching is the ability to sincerely show and tell your players that you care about them. Credible coaches embrace the philosophy that "players donít care how much you know until they know how much you care."

The "Coaches of the Year" panel described several ways that they demonstrated their concern for their players. These included an open door policy, the ability to listen and being genuinely concerned about them both on and off the field. While some coaches may profess to have an open door policy, the way they communicate and react to problems actually closes players off to using it. Credible coaches listen to their players and their concerns rather than lecture them. They seek to arrive at common solutions instead of overreacting and blaming players for the problems.

Furthermore, credible coaches invest the time to learn about their players away from the field. The get to know the person and their interests, goals, frustrations, family and friends. This sincere care for the overall person has the additional benefit of creating an environment where players are willing to "spill their guts for you" as Arizona Coach Mike Candrea puts it. Ask yourself, "Are my players willing to spill their guts for the team? How well do I show and tell my players that I care about them as people?"

Credibility is at the core of successful coaching. Invest the time to assess your credibility as well as enhance it using some of the strategies outlined by your colleagues across the nation. Not only will the benefits of greater credibility show up in the win column, but more importantly, they will provide you with the satisfaction of developing winners in the game of life.