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Setting Expectations

Student-athletes tend to thrive when they have structure. And the best coaches learn early on that part of offering structure means clearly defining expectations. What are some ways to do this?

While different coaches have different strategies, most agree that repetition is key. “Not a single day goes by where I don’t reestablish what we should be doing and who we are,” says Paul Mainieri, Head Baseball Coach at Louisiana State University. “Before every practice or game, I talk to the whole team about our expectations. And I always finish by saying ‘Let’s have fun today,’ because that’s how I want them to approach the game.”

For Jeremiah Robbins, Head Baseball Coach at Lewis-Clark State College, working hard is important. He wants his players to have what he refers to as a “blue-collar mentality.” To make that happen, he constantly talks with them about using their time the right way.

“Every day, we try to teach them that building great relationships and developing a great program takes time and effort,” says Robbins. “We want them to focus on the daily process and investing their time, not just spending it. We constantly remind them that championships are a byproduct of working hard and having great teammates.”

Any time your team is gathered together is an opportunity to reinforce your goals and expectations. Sometimes repeating certain phrases or doing a specific activity can help structure these moments and make it easier to get the point across.

John Dowling, Head Baseball Coach at McLean (Va.) High School, understands the importance of these team times and has come up with simple, yet effective, ways to get the most out of them. One is starting each practice with a thought of the day. This could include a quote or mantra that aligns with his philosophies and reflects what he hopes to see from his team. To help set the stage, at the first practice of the season, he gives a longer talk about one of his core principles—the value of competition. 

Along with verbal communication, coaches have found that writing down their philosophy can also be very helpful. For example, Dowling gives each player a business card with the team philosophies written on it. He asks them to keep it in their wallets in front of their IDs so they look at it often. Mainieri supplies every player a written document titled, “The Philosophy of LSU Baseball.” Bullock distributes a parent-player handbook at the beginning of each year that features his philosophy, followed by a PowerPoint presentation to reinforce it.

There are a number of other creative ways to keep your philosophy front and center throughout the season. Brian Ash, Head Baseball Coach at Jefferson City (Mo.) High School, asks his players to come up with three or four bedrock principles to focus on each year. He then prints these on the back of t-shirts, puts them on posters around the locker room, and displays them on a sign at the entrance of their field. He encourages players to touch the sign whenever they walk by.

With today’s players so in tune with video, some coaches use the screen to communicate their philosophy. Jad Prachniak, Head Baseball Coach at West Chester University, uses it to provide examples of how he wants his players to approach the game. “We talk a lot about always doing the right thing,” he says. “But I also like to show them clear examples of what that means, such as sharing a clip of a football player giving it his all even when his team is losing by a lot so they can see what 100-percent effort looks like.”

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