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Are we coaching to win or to grow men?

In life, we often get focused on the short-sighted philosophy of winning. In that process, we tend to compromise a few things to achieve the short-term goal for short-term satisfaction. If we are looking to “grow” vs win, we tend to think longer-term, giving up short-term wins while we build a foundation to win more consistently and bigger down the road. Nothing great is achieved short term. Nothing great is achieved without massive failure. In our world today, wins are needed now and failure is not an option because you could get crucified by the media, social media, your peers, and maybe even your boss.

As we look a little deeper, we think about kid’s sports and some of the things witnessed there. This is where the title, are we coaching to win or are we coaching to grow men comes from. I don’t mean to be sexist, it is simply a title that rhymes. This is male or female. I have witnessed some coaches that do both, teach winning while growing young people as best they can. I have witnessed some coaches solely focused on winning and it shows. These coaches’ attitudes are very “sharp.” They are overly aggressive towards not just their players but the other team. Their temper towards the refs is short-fused and can come unhinged, and their empathy towards players in the good times and the bad is typically absent.

I don’t usually write about situations this acutely, but what I witnessed last Saturday night at a basketball game involving my son’s team was nothing short of heinous and horrific. Of which I never thought I would see having been a part of watching little kids sports since second grade. It was Saturday night and an intense game was breaking out. We were playing a team that entered the game extremely confident they would win. As the game began to unfold, it was becoming apparent they may not win. Shots were going down for us and the game was flowing smoothly and in our favor. Shots weren’t going down for them, their kids were flat and tired. As the game transpired, the opposing team’s coach began to get more and more irritated, all the way to the point of achieving two technical fouls and getting ejected given his hideous behavior and action, complicated by some evident ill will words to both of the refs. As well as at one point, yelling across the court to one of our parents saying, “Come over here and say that!”

The demeanor of this team was aggressive, but as time went on it became apparent their will was no longer to win, but their frustration was pushing them to “take out our team” in some manner. Now, mind you, the leader of this team had escalated the situation through his repulsive poor leadership. Those intangible assets had now filtered down to his team. These things have gone on for years….his leadership style has formed the culture of this team…….

Which led to a “time stood still moment”. A player for their team became so aggressive that at one point he pulled one of our players, in a defenseless position, down to the ground slamming his body and head against the hardwood floor. Our teammate lay there with no movement. At that very moment, he had lost some sensation to his entire left side of his body, and something wasn’t right. An ambulance was called, our player was hauled to the local hospital and later flown to Wichita as there was concern about a traumatic brain injury given the reduction in sensation on the left side of his body.

What I didn’t include, is after it happened, the assistant coach, now acting head coach because the head coach had now been ejected, not only congratulated his player, he high fived him as he came to the bench. All this as our player lay on the ground motionless, the remainder of the team was laughing and giggling on the court about the situation.

Now what I want you to do is go back and read the start of this story to take it all in. Then I want you to sit back, reflect, and think through this situation. Ask yourself, this happened at what? A 6th-grade basketball game? Yep, you are right. This happened over a game? Yep, you are right. The coach was so angry he got two technical fouls and got ejected from the game? Yep, you are right. At a 6th-grade basketball game? Yep, you are right. Then one of his players intentionally pulled a defenseless player to the ground and almost paralyzed him? Yep, you are right. You mean to tell me the assistant coach high-fived the kid that did it?? Yep, you are right. You mean to tell me as our player lay on the ground motionless they laughed and giggled about it? Yep, you are right………………………..

The point of the story is, in your life, are you coaching to grow people, your kids, your family, your business, your team, your faith, for long term sustainable wins or are you coaching people to cut corners, be overly aggressive, and even unreasonable to win short term? Are you coaching to win and feed your ego or are you coaching to win long term by planting beautiful seeds of hope to reap a bountiful harvest long term that is much more fulfilling and much less glamorous?

As leaders, it is our job to grow the people around us each day. As leaders, before we can truly grow people around us we must first grow ourselves. We must get uncomfortable with ourselves and dive into self-help and self-improvement studies. As leaders, we must understand we are responsible for the actions of those we are leading, even if we aren’t on the court or in the building. As leaders we must understand we set the tone of the game, we set the culture for the organization. If it is to win at all costs, we must be prepared for the good and the bad.

Coaching kids is tough and it is hard. Kids don’t always listen, they don’t always pick up on things quickly, and they often fail miserably before they grasp the game or grasp the long-term culture of truly winning in life. But coaching and leading young people are very noble and very crucial as we are building their fabric of DNA into who they are becoming. We are responsible for their actions, attitudes, behaviors, and decisions. On Saturday night, we witnessed a poor decision by a player coached by an egotistical coach hunting for short-term wins to satisfy short-term gain in a 6th-grade basketball game. A player was almost paralyzed by those actions. I repeat a player was almost paralyzed. Let that sink in for a minute.

As a parent, I would encourage you to evaluate those that are influencing your children and ask yourself “is that leader or coach behaving and teaching my child the correct skills and mindset to make them a successful, compassionate, amazing adult?” We have been beyond blessed over the past several years to have our kids coached by some wonderful individuals, but this past weekend was a brutal reminder that not all coaches are created equal and not all coaches are out to mold these kids in a positive manner. It is our responsibility to make sure that those helping to form our children are instilling the same values that we instill at home and if they aren’t, find another coach! Find a coach that wants your child to be an amazing person later in life! Find a coach that is passionate about growing men as much they are about obtaining a win!

As many of you know, our family has a much different and very real perspective on poor decision-making and those consequences. We as leaders and coaches have a noble responsibility to coach to grow men not just to win. That is what the greatest coaches of all time have done and do. That is what John Wooden, Pat Summit, Lou Holtz, and Bill Snyder did. That is what Nick Saban and Chris Klieman do. They build a winning culture through building a long-term, sustainable, foundational culture of growing their people to be the best versions of themselves possible. Winning is like hunting, it feeds our ego short-term. But planting seeds like a farmer, tending to the plants, nurturing the plant, having patience, and continued growth lead to a bountiful harvest. Not a one-day hunt! Or one weekend of games to win a tournament. There is always another game, but there isn’t another life.


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