Uncharted Waters
By Dan Bauer

Read a fantastic piece on the analysis of the idea that we are not all in the same boat right now, but we are all in the same storm. If you are on a 100,000 ton freighter or single sail dinghy, the effect of the storm will be significantly different.

It reminded me of the 1996 motion picture White Squall, starring Jeff Bridges. A prop I used on more than one occasion to lead my team toward the importance of team unity. Bridges is the captain of the Albatross, a small vessel of teenage boys, on a character building voyage to learn the importance of discipline and teamwork. Bridges explains to them, “The ship, not the individual, is primary. One learns to serve the ship, anticipate her needs and fulfil them constantly. If he does not, the ship will not serve him.”

Where we go one, we go all, becomes the mantra of the Albatross.

As coaches we are the captains of our ships, but know all too well it is the competence of our crews that will determine our success. The traditional coaching model that I experienced as a player was founded on hard, strict and unforgiving introduction. Coaches set the demanding tone early with the idea you can always back-off the throttle later. Virtually every coach I played for or worked under has followed that formula. We dive into the 1st Dimension hard, we push, we demand, we physically challenge our team. Making demands of players we don’t yet know is almost always accomplished through fear. It has indeed proven to be effective, but is always dancing on the line between striving to win and doing whatever it takes to win. Some coaches never leave that phase of player development. It is how they were coached and where they are most comfortable. We demand our athletes get out of their comfort zone, but sometimes we are unable to do it ourselves.

We have since discovered the importance of getting to know our athletes and build a culture of trust. The 3D framework has opened the doors for us to explore the 2nd and 3rd Dimensions that are essential in establishing the trusting relationships we need with our athletes. It is there that we can begin to develop the character traits we value so highly.

We need to be ship builders, relationship builders.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a particularly devastating impact on my family as my twin daughters were denied their final crack at winning a national championship as members of the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds women’s hockey team. Their season ended two days before their scheduled quarterfinal game of the NCAA DIII tournament. The pain, frustration and anger were profound. There were no words; no comforting that could come close to easing the firestorm of excruciating emotions. Unable to console them or myself I was sinking in a quicksand of anger and self-pity. Compounding my emotional state of mind was my impending resignation from my current head coaching position. I was in need of therapy, physician heal thy self, I found it.

Like most coaches this was not my first time moving on from a program. Ironically this one had a similar feel to a past experience when my departure didn’t come until after our season had ended. I was challenged once again to say goodbye without a face-to-face meeting. I meant I was headed for a re- test on my progress in achieving the 3D goal of stepping into the lives of my players. I would spend the next week writing letters to each player on my team.

As I sat down to pen my personal farewell letters, it reminded of the great lesson I learned from my previous attempt. The difficulty or ease of each letter was directly related to the level of relationship I had achieved with that player. Simply identifying the strength and weaknesses of their physical skills was easy because it is on display at every practice. But I wanted these letters to be about the character and attitude of the 2nd and 3rd Dimensions of the 3D framework. What was it about their personality that was most interesting and valuable to our team? Had I really learned about who they were beyond the depth chart? Perhaps a behind the scenes act that had impressed me or an act of empathy toward a teammate. My theme was meant to accentuate the positive, but without straying from the truth. Stealing from author Brene’ Brown, I try to adhere to a policy of “courage over comfort.” Skirting the truth often keeps everyone comfortable, but it also inhibits self-reflection and personal growth. Those coaches who are stuck in the 1st Dimension will face a most difficult challenge or perhaps great opportunity during the mandated physical separation of the pandemic restrictions. It was a lofty and time consuming task, but in both instances it was invaluable to my growth as a 3D coach.

Time is something most all of us have an excess of right now.

Perhaps this catastrophe is providing us an opportunity to express meaningful feelings that time doesn’t allow during the speed of the season or that cannot be adequately conveyed in a 160 character text. Writing individual letters is a deep dive that you may not be willing to take. The message delivered will be important in the evolving relationship and trust you are building, but the personal insight it provides you may be even more significant. You will quickly discover whether or not you have moved past X’s and O’s and onto the mind and spirit. It may even cause you to reevaluate your current coaching practices.

Coaches are essentially navigating their ships, through the many storms each season brings. Like the National Weather Service, we could give our storms names, like Selfish Player, Overbearing Parent or Lack of Talent. These may be new experiences for young coaches, but for veterans there are few bodies of uncharted waters. We face these storms with very different skills, resources, experience and crews. The storms are an important part of “the journey is the prize” refrain we believe in.

If we don’t know where we are headed on this voyage, we can set any course and see where we land. Or we can use the map the 3D framework provides to enhance our skills as a leader and construct the framework to build the character and competency of our crew.

Permission to change course, aye, aye captain!

If you have never taken the 3D journey, you can sample the 3D Coaching training for free at www.becomea3dcoach.com.

Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at drbauer13@gmail.com

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