What are Your Talking Points?

By Greg Earhart

Leave it to Matt Gianiodis, perhaps the funniest coach on deck, to succinctly state what’s in the back of every coach’s mind.  Mr. Lochte and crew have provided us with a teachable moment, but what are your talking points?  With many campuses beginning classes this week, here are a few ideas:

  1. Communicate your reason for being and connect them:  What are your departments’ expectations?  How does this translate into your team’s mission and your method of coaching?  To that end, make sure that your kids know who and what they are representing and fighting for.  This isn’t a one-time message of course, but it’s a starting point.
  2. Make it Important, but don’t preach:  Students are bombarded with thousands of messages including those from our own department.  About five years ago, a whole growth industry emerged to highlight the negative consequences of social media.  Back then it helped kids open their eyes.  Today, they just roll them.  To combat that, keep things positive.  Instead of telling them what NOT to do, ask them how they want to be viewed on campus?  I always liked asking my team, “If a reporter from ESPN called you and asked about your teammates, how would you describe them?”  Nobody wants to be held to lower expectations so they use aspirational adjectives.  Put them on a white board and encourage them – daily – to live up to them.
  3. Make this example relevant to your campus.  While most our teams’ antics aren’t likely to generate an international incident, their impact is more localized and immediate.  Consider how a sexual assault changed the student body perception of an elite men’s swimming and diving team – despite the university seemingly doing everything right.  How is your department likely to handle a disciplinary action on your team vis-à-vis the star point guard?  Your kids might not relate to Lochte, but they know the score on their campus.
  4. CYA.  Despite your best efforts to implement #1-3, college students screw up.  Have you prepared for that eventuality?  One step is to clearly articulate your expectations.  Do you have a written policy on alcohol?  On hazing?  On travel?  If not, why not?  Think of them like a will.  You don’t want to need to have it, but the risk you expose yourself to without one is too much.  Make it a collaborative process.  Input from your captains help give you buy in.  Input from your sport administrator gives you some flexibility and input from a legal professional can give you cover.  Of course, that assumes you: 
  5. Have the courage to take a stand.  When a coach gets into hot water because of student-athletes, inaction is often the culprit (think Art Briles).  As competitive as we are, none of us faces the pressure to win in a way that should cause us to sacrifice our roles as leaders or educators*.  I think most of us have higher aspirations for our teams than our superiors do.  If you do the right thing, you should expect to be supported.  If you’re afraid of doing the right thing, are you in the right place?

We’ve got a great opportunity in the year ahead – not just to capitalize on the excitement of the Olympics – but also to demonstrate that Lochte’s actions are the exception, not the norm.

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* (In fact, we are in the middle of a study of how athletic directors’ evaluate their swimming and diving teams and the results are startling)