Ingredients of a Successful Team: Coaches, Part Two

By: Captain Myles A. Alexander, USAF - December 17, 2013

-To the Coaches-

Baseball coaches in dugoutWe’ve all heard coaches and leaders speak of these terms. But the challenge is how do you achieve it? I believe it all comes down to roles. Leaders have a role and followers have a role. If those roles are clearly defined, and everyone performs their role…that still may not be enough to ensure success.

It is essential and expected that you clearly define what the team’s objective is when first forming a team. Express your expectations continuously and remind your new team of the goal, the prize, the reward. Encourage as well as challenge them. Push them to their limits. Tear them down in order to build them up.

In the military we have a formula when forming a new team. S+S+S=C  Stability + Stress + Success = Cohesion. Stability means providing the basic necessities. Stress comes from you forcing mental pressure and physical exertion upon them. The more stress the quicker the group forms cohesion. This is easily witnessed during boot camp or two-a-days in football but how often does baseball start off like that?

I understand that most baseball-minded folks are very different and more reserved than a Drill Instructor and many football coaches but a little stress and success greatly accelerates unity and quickly deciphers the leaders from the followers.

You as a coach have Absolute power. You can make your players do what you tell them.

But what you really want is called Referent Power which is when you can convince them to WANT to please you and each other without the need for much coercion. That’s true referent power and is much stronger than any dictator.

How do you achieve that? 

You MUST lead by example and be Honest, Competent, Inspiring and be Fair. Even if that means getting out there and performing the drills with them yourself! When my unit is performing our Physical Training and testing, I do everything they do…Better Even if that means I have to go out and run on my own every day so this 36-year old can keep up with the 19-year olds! It’s not to show off but to gain respect, to show unity and to challenge them to improve our chances for success as a unit.

There is no greater asset for you than to find that player/leader that physically and mentally challenges his peers. When the others realize that that guy can do what they are doing and still have the energy to push them…they will respond and try even harder. No one WANTS to be the weakest link. Empower that leader. Show confidence in him. Challenge HIM more than the others! You can’t be his buddy just because he is Mr. Everything.

But all this brings up another challenge. Commitment. First understand that individual commitment can never be forced. It must come from within. It’s a conscious and sometimes unconscious decision each of us makes when we decide to do something. Without a high level of it, mediocrity will prevail. Never accept mediocrity from yourself or your players. Every practice as well as every game should be performed to the best of yours and each player’s ability. A team under stress must experience little successes along the way. This will build the cohesion that is so important to reach a goal. No matter how small it may seem, you must acknowledge little victories to keep morale up. But don’t become the “Everybody’s a Winner” rah rah cheerleader either. It’s a balance between challenging and rewarding. Motivating and knowing when enough is enough. It’s about gaining your player’s trust.

Above all else… LEAD BY EXAMPLE which first begins with your own self-discipline. If you are out of shape, get in shape. Or else it’s a heck of a lot harder to make your players see the importance of physical conditioning.

In most military leadership courses to this day, one man is always studied - George Washington. To many he is just our white-headed first president from the history books or that face on the dollar bill, but to me, we as a nation would not exist had it not been for this one man’s desire and unwavering faith for a better existence, absent of tyranny.

During our Revolutionary War, the First Continental Army’s encampment in Valley Forge was so dangerously close to being the end of the revolution and the United States of America. The record cold winter of 1777-1778 left them all freezing to death. Suffering in subzero temperatures with bleeding, bare feet and almost no clothes, George Washington was there for his men, fighting to keep them alive. When times were the bleakest men were dropping dead all around him from starvation and pneumonia. Washington’s leadership and stubbornness served him well and he used his resourcefulness to somehow motivate those men to keep trying. He motivated them with his words, his actions and his love for his men. The trust they had in him had developed over the course of two years and that trust motivated every last man to keep going through the terrible winter.

He ordered fires to be made and even collected wood himself although the only wood around was poor for burning. What little heat they had was better than nothing at all. He would not eat unless the men had eaten first. He couldn’t even provide them with a pay check. He told them exactly what the circumstances were and gave them all the opportunity to go home.

He lived that miserable existence as one of them, another man like them, and not some superior officer who was well taken care of.

Through the victories and losses, he pushed through and held his head high. His headstrong ways never changed and that stability was what kept his troops going through it all. When you are a coach, you must assume that role as the selfless leader and check your EGO at the door! Your team can never see doubt in you. They cannot see wavering commitment from you. They have to believe that you believe in them and the end goal and that you will do your part to attain it. You can achieve it, but you must gain their trust.

About the author: Myles Alexander is a former outfielder at The College of Charleston, has worked various Diamond Prospects events and has covered games for DP too. He is presently a Captain in the United States Air Force and has served one tour in Afghanistan.