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The Price of Leadership (Originally Published April 12, 2009)

I saw an interview of a famous coach once, I don't remember who it was. The person interviewing him was asking him about the criticism he was currently getting from various quarters - his players, fans, and the media. This was a very successful coach who by any measure was one of the all time greats, his team was winning but were enduring some difficult circumstances.

I loved his answer. He said, "Well, that's the price of leadership. Win or lose, I get the heat."

That answer has carried me through some difficult coaching situations. I used to really get bothered when people would criticize me, because it is almost always unfair criticism. It's unfair because people on the outside of the situation are only dealing with a small portion of the information. It's just human nature, especially when people are creating change and having success.

For a while, when these criticisms would get relayed to me, I would say in response, "That's the price of leadership", but Jan made me stop saying that because she thought it sounded pretentious - it did, another mistake - so I stopped saying it. Now I just say nothing and understand that as a coach it comes with the territory.

As the person who is entrusted with making decisions, you are defining team reality as you see it. In team sports, sometimes you have to do what's best for the team, sometimes you have to do what's best for the individual. I've said it before, that is the essence of coaching - defining the truth, especially when it's not what your athletes/parents/constituents want to hear. You won't always be correct, you will never make 100% of the people happy, and you will be criticized. That's what you are signing on for - that's the cost.

As a coach you will experience unbelievable highs that over time will be in equal measure with incredible lows. But those highs come with a price - criticism. The price of leadership.

If you make enough correct decisions over time, if your decisions are fair and measured, if your athletes grow to understand and respect your leadership, you will eventually be rewarded with athletes who will grow to not only give you the benefit of the doubt but defend and support your decisions. I recently had a 16 year old player (who I've coached for six years) confront (appropriately - sort of) an adult parent from another team in response to such unfair criticism against me.

That's your payment.

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