In 1991 I was sent to Havana, Cuba as part of the advance team for the Pan American Games. I arrived a week before the U.S. Team, and my job was to get our equipment ready at the competition site.
The site was an hour out of Havana, in a rural area. I was there a few days before most of the other countries arrived, so I had lots of time where it was just a few Americans and the host Cuban team.
As I did on most trips, I hung the American flag I always brought along.
On this particular day, as I started to hang the flag, a Cuban noticed what I was doing and walked over. It turned out he was one of the rowing coaches and through our two cryptic-language-attempts it was clear he wanted to help.
He left for a minute and came back with a ladder. So up we went on the roof. He grabbed the flag from my hands, shimmied up the ladder, and attached it on top of the pole.
When we safely retuned to Earth (and I had my doubts about that for a moment) the irony of what had just transpired hit me. In Cuba, I had just been helped by a Cuban coach to hang an American flag … in Cuba.
The coach was stoked. He kept pointing at the flag saying, “Freedom. Freedom.” I could see in his eyes what a powerful idea that was to him. That was the first time I realized the true symbolism of our flag.
It also made me realize that in many ways coaches, not just Cubans coaches but all coaches, are longing for specific freedoms. Certain freedoms which our choice of occupation has made more challenging. Yes, yes, most of us are free to leave coaching when we want – that’s not what I’m on about.
A Coaching Bill Of Freedom
There are definitely freedoms in coaching. At the same time there are freedom-deficits in coaching, jails we find ourselves in, either through our own choices or someone else’s. These jails are restricting. Hamper us. Create fear. We should be free of those jails.
I submit to you 7 freedom-deficits I see coaches dealing with. My guess, some, or all, apply to you:
-Freedom #1. You should be free of the fear of violence. Way too many coaches are physically assaulted. We’ve been attacked, injured, killed by players, parents, and other coaches. It’s stupid. It’s unacceptable. But it happens. And it shouldn’t. (Jeez, I’ve been shot at twice.)
– Freedom #2. You should be free from mental abuse. The mental stress in coaching can be way out-of-hand. That’s one thing. The mental abuse, that’s another level. I know that sounds harsh, but crazily, much of that mental abuse is self-inflicted. We do it ourselves. For instance, last week I wrote how we would punch ourselves in the face for what we say to ourselves. I heard from one coach who said, “Ya got that right, brother.”
– Freedom #3. You should be free to earn respect. Respect is earned, but in a lousy environment that’s not going to happen. The assistant coach who is constantly berated by the head coach is losing respect, not earning it. Or a head coach who doesn’t have an opportunity to be herself is losing respect by the minute.
– Freedom #4. You should be free to learn as much as you can/need/want. Here’s some simple math:
- Learning leads to professional development
- Professional development leads to higher performance
- Higher performance is at the core of coaching
– Freedom #5. You should be free to be honest. If you said, at work, “In my honest opinion …” would you be scoffed at, or listened to? There’s a value to people’s honest opinion. Is yours valued?
Try this, find your boss, and say, “Y’know, I have an idea ..,” and stop right there. Watch the eyes. Did the eyes do the, Oh-brother roll, or were the eyes still on you? A data point.
How about this, a coach works at a school where social media is verboten. If he posts on Facebook, starts a blog, tweets – he gets fired. In his contract. What the hell is that about? I don’t know. Do they fear him being honest?
That melds into the next freedom …
– Freedom #6. You should be free to have a vision, and express it in a reasonable and professional manner. A core component of being a coach is being a visionary. You have-to-have vision. Then you have to be able to communicate – clearly.
– Freedom #7. You should be free to ask for help. I can’t tell you how often I say, “I don’t know,” as a coach.
- I don’t know how I’m going to raise that money.
- I don’t know how to design a workable training plan.
- I don’t know how to help this athlete.
- I don’t know enough about MRSA.
That’s a typical week, right there. Yeah, I know stuff, but I don’t know all stuff.
I’m lucky, I’m free to seek out help for when I don’t know. Part of that is my ego has given me freedom to look clueless. Part is being in a workplace where it’s okay to say, “Little help, please.”
Now To You
This gets messy, but you should be free to figure it out.
This ain’t easy. But, again, you should be free to figure it out.
Are there parts of your coaching where you feel like you’re in a jail? If so, how can you orchestrate a jail break? Listen, my friend in Cuba had three family members escape on a raft, across the Gulf. They risked their life for freedom.
Crazy what we’ll do for freedom. Think about these when you can, and let me know what you think, right here. I’d love to know.
- When I Quit Coaching, And Why I Came Back
- Why You Need To Do A Coaching Quest
- 5 Steps To Take When You Want To Give Up Coaching
(Smarter coaching is better coaching. Stay tuned to all updates and posts by joining the crowd, right here.)