I was privileged to watch a college basketball practice recently. The team is close to the beginning of their season and their practice was ragged. It happens. The energy was uneven – swinging from under-energetic to desperately urgent. I watched as the coaching staff abandoned their original practice plan to focus on the team’s concentration, stamina, and heart.
These are the moments I get so glad to have the opportunity to witness. This was a time the coaches had to be nimble to meet the players where they were – to get the most out of a practice that was going a little south, diagnose underlying problems, and address them with helpful learning.
It can be a tough assignment because the leaders are in the middle of their own preseason stresses. They gave me a perfect opportunity to watch for self-awareness and self-control from the coaches.
The head coach was a rock star. She seemed disappointed in what she saw, but she never belittled the players as she pushed them to work harder. In fact, she explained to them the need for stamina and conditioning – reminded them of the challenges they would face when they began the combination of traveling, playing and going to classes.
She made the purpose of the challenging practice very clear. And then she stayed. Some of the players had more running than others at the very end – it’s the cost of not thoroughly completing some of the required exercises. The coach stayed.
She was hard…the point was well made. But she wasn’t harsh. She didn’t get angry, frustrated, or disgusted with the players. When the last player finished the extra rounds, she too was congratulated and encouraged – with the same sincerity given the others.
Here’s the lesson. The head coach didn’t give into her own frustrations – frustrations are emotional traps that can make a leader defensive and cruel. Frustration can lead a good person to fly off the handle, insult, and bully others. This coach held the balance between the hard work that needed to be done and the humanity of her players. She was hard, but not harsh. It was elegant leadership.