Swimming’s Championship season has arrived. Hooray! From now through the end of March at least, there is a college, a high school, or a USA Swimming championship meet somewhere every weekend. Hooray for that too. Swimmers like championship meets. So do coaches. Between coaching and recruiting, college coaches go to alot of championship meets. A Championship Meet is a celebration of the team’s season. In our numbers conscious sport, a Championship Meet is a time for looking at best times, and scores, and records, and for counting individual and team points and places. It is a time for measuring how this whole season came out, and for looking back upon all the days, and hours, and work, and “yards” and “dives” that went into it. It is also a time for looking ahead to what might be achieved next season. Coaches spend a lot of time thinking about winning during the championship season. They analyze teams that do win, and think of possible ways to build their own team into a winner. As their thoughts become long and deep, they wonder about what goes into making a winner.
“What Drives Winning?” is a big and an important question. All Coaches ask it. In his book, What Drives Winning [Green Dot publishing, 2015], Brett Ledbetter, a basketball coach turned educator and motivational speaker/writer, offers an answer. Ledbetter’s book does not have a question mark at the end of the sentence. That is because Brett Ledbetter knows the answer: “Character,” he says, is what drives winning. He begins his book by quoting Mike Krzyzewski: “Character is the foundation upon which you win (p.4).” Character is “who you are as a person (p. 5).” Character can be and, Ledbetter argues, should be, developed. A short form of his thesis could go like this: when you build a better person, you build a better player; when you build a better player, you build better team; and when you build a better team, you build a winner. None of this, he argues, neglects the x’s and o’s of a sport, or ignores winning. Rather than separating “who you are as a player” from “who you are as a person,” Ledbetter works hard to unite them because uniting them makes both the performances and the people better. Teams which are coached in this way, he says (and pardon the pun) and “lead better.”
Ledbetter fills his book with stories, and with specific practical exercises (such as “writing a letter to your sport, pp. 39-42) that coaches, players, and teams can use immediately. In Part II of his book (pp. 81-281), he focuseson ten character traits that can be developed to help build both character and performance. If all this sounds like “New Age Coaching,” that is because it is. Athletes today, as we all know, are different than they were a generation ago, different than we were when we went to school, different than our coaches were when they went to school and coached us. Because our current students are part of a “new age,” they need “new age coaching” as well. To really understand what Ledbetter is saying, it will probably help to listen to Brett Ledbetter yourself.
Brett Ledbetter is coming to the CSCAA Convention in May in Washington, D.C., where he will be one of the featured speakers. Thank Joel Shinofield for that. Shortly after Ledbetter’s book came out last year, Joel wrote about and reviewed his work in the June CSCAA Newsletter. He has followed that by inviting Brett Ledbetter to speak at this year’s convention. As always, there will be a lot of excellent talks at the CSCAA Convention this year. Among them, Brett Ledbetter’s may be “required.”
In his current book, The Road to Character [New York: Random House, 2015], PBS NewsHour and New York Times correspondent, David Brooks divides our human personality into two parts. There is the “Adam I” side of our nature; and the “Adam II” side of our nature. Adam I, he writes, is “career oriented and ambitious;” his virtues are “resume virtues” (p. xi). On the other side, Adam II is the “internal Adam.” He wants to “obey a calling to serve the world;” his virtues are “eulogy virtues” (pp. xi,xii). They are the deeper character virtues that refer to who we are as human beings. “We live in a culture,” Brooks writes at the beginning of his book, “that nurtures Adam I, the external Adam, and neglects Adam II (p. xiii).”
I mention David Brooks’ book for two reasons. First, because since it is also published in 2015, it may be an indication that thinking about and writing about character development is coming back into vogue. The pendulum, it seems, is swinging that way. I also mention David Brooks book because I worry that his Adam I vs. Adam II can be seen in coaching styles around the country. Coaching swimming is generally profession for the young. As young coaches, we are generally eager, ambitious, career oriented, success motivated, and in a hurry. We want big results, and we want them fast. In our rush to “success” and into building our resumes, we may neglect the Adam II side of our own nature and that of our swimmers as well. We have lots of data about times, and splits, and workouts, and paces ... and, in our haste, we may fall into the trap of thinking that knowing those things is all we need to know about coaching.
Such haste, and such neglect, can come at a very high price. Years and years ago, I remember hearing sports psychologist Thomas Tutko say that: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Those were sobering words for me to hear at that time of my life, and they still are. In fact, I would argue that if anything, Thomas Tutko’s words are at least as true now as they were then – and probably more so. “Teenagers and emerging adults,” writes Christian Smith in his book, Lost in Transition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) “desperately need other mature and concerned adults who genuinely care about and for them. Young people need to be loved, to put it as plainly as possible (p.7).” What makes Christian Smith’s work so relevant is that his research is based on over 250 interviews with young people between the ages of 18 and 23. In short, his book is a study of college students. What he says is what Thomas Tutko said so long ago: our first, and our most important job, is to care about the students who are on our teams.
Information is easy to find. Internet searches can yield vast amounts of information click after click after click. Our swimmers (and their parents) are searching the internet all the time. They have access to large amounts of data and information, just like we do. Our job is not to be the sole source and resource for all this information. Our job is to know what do to with all this information in a way that will help each individual person on our team become the best person and the best athlete s/he can be. Clearly the best way to do that is to respect, honor, and care about each person on our team. To put it all into three simple words: “Coaching Is Caring.”
Thank you for reading. Future issues of the newsletter may expand upon and add to these ideas.