Fix the Hole in the Roof, Part One
The last time I had my chimney cleaned, the guy cleaning my chimney told me that I have a small area by the chimney where the shingles have lifted which should be repaired. He said if I don't look after the repair, one day I will have a leak in my roof.
The day he told me that, I was mentally making plans to have it repaired. That was over a year ago and I still haven't done anything. One day, when I least expect it (Christmas Day, when I'm away for 2 weeks, when I try to sell my house) I will probably experience a flood of water from my ceiling and I will be saying to myself - I should have fixed that.
Every team in sports has a hole in the roof - a weakness that if left unchecked will surface at the point of highest stress and potentially adversely affect results. An obvious example of that was Shaquille O'Neal's free throw shooting. Shaquille O'Neal was a dominating 7 foot 2 inch center who could score at will in the post, but he was a horrible free throw shooter. In the playoffs teams would routinely foul O'Neal on purpose because his free throw percentage (shooting on an undefended basket) was lower than his scoring percentage on a defended basket. This was called the Hack A Shaq defence - unheard of in NBA history - and it cost his teams victory in many important play off games. Shaquille O"Neal eventually became a better free throw shooter and then won 3 titles with the Lakers.
Many times on sports teams the hole in the roof relates to personality issues. A team member is selfish, or arrogant, or devisive - or possesses other personality traits that can negatively affect the team. Most of the time it's ok, because other team members make allowances and concessions for that person, "that's just Tom, he's OK once you get to know him." But at the big game, the big race, invariably, Tom implodes because the rest of the team, under increased stress, needs to spend the extra mental energy they spend on Tom on themselves.
Personality issues are greatly magnified if you have more than one person with similar negative traits on the team. Under stress these people will bond and the negative energy is multiplied. They will find allies on any particular issue - who's racing and who's sitting, what the race plan is, what's for lunch, did we do well, is the coach doing a good job, you name it - and create divisions within the team. My rule of thumb is a team can have one of any particular personality type on the team, but not two (unless it's a positive personality trait). A friend of mine who has coached for many years has actually said to me after cutting someone in a try out, "he's really good, but he's crazy and I already have one crazy."
If you have one crazy, you have to manage them, and you need to manage them before the stress of the big race is added. Put another way, don't try to fix the hole in the roof on a rainy day. Like my roof, personality issues on a team will cause problems at the worst times if they are not dealt with before they become a problem.
Fix the Hole in the Roof, Part Two
I am surprised and pleased that someone posted comments about the previous blog on the dragon boat forum even more pleased with the discussion that follows. One comment discussed "tolerance" of athletes behavior by coaches and team captains as follows;
At a paddler's level, is tolerance reinforcing unwanted behavior?
At a captain's level, is tolerance going to affect retention of other paddlers?
At a coach's level, is tolerance going to erode motivation and team dynamics that supports the performance of the crew?
Discussion follows about the ramifications of tolerating presumably talented individuals with negative personality traits.
I offer the following perspective;
1. If you tolerate it it will become the norm. For example, if you tolerate lateness, then people will come continually late.
2. The team captain's job is to lead by example. They have to define behavior by example 100% of the time. I have had very few team captain's in 30 years of coaching. To be a team captain, the team has to see this person as an unquestioned leader, and as such, you don't need to designate them anyway. If the person is in reality a team manager, then you should call them team manager.
3. Tolerance of negative behaviors, no matter how skilled the player, will absolutely erode "motivation and team dynamics" and affect performance, UNLESS, the team knows the coach is in the process of dealing with it. The coach does not have to fix negative behaviors overnight, the team just needs to know he/she is aware of it, is dealing with it, and will not accept it over a long term. Coaches with alot of credibility get more benefit of the doubt on dealing with issues.
Of course some coaches will tolerate things longer than others. John Wooden, the famous coach of UCLA Bruins, who won 10 NCAA basketball titles in 12 years would not tolerate anything that affected team chemistry. In 1973, junior center Bill Walton, had one of the all time great performances in the NCAA Championship game, hitting 21 of 22 shots in leading the Bruins to victory. That summer, Walton became very active the American anti war protests, and grew long hair and a beard, in violation of Wooden's strict policy of short haircuts and no facial hair. When he returned for his senior season, as the unquestioned top player in the nation, he refused to cut his hair and shave his beard and "join the establishment". The team keenly watched how Coach Wooden would deal with this "in your face" violation of one of his rules by a player most thought he could not play without.
Wooden, at the first practice, called the team into a huddle. He looked Walton directly in the eye and said, "Bill, we all admire someone who stands up for himself in the face of adversity, in support of his beliefs. We are really, really going to miss you." And then he went about coaching as usual. Walton left practice, got a haircut and shave, and returned. Crisis over.
Either change behavior and move on, or make the decision to accept the behavior and live with it.
If you tolerate it, it will become the norm