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Athlete Centered Coach 12 The Power Of Stories

Stories: Off-putting, Challenging, Empowering

What is your story? That is one of my favorite questions, but it wasn’t always. Initially I didn’t like it when first asked, as I did not have a story to tell. Later, when I had a story to tell, I wasn’t sure if it was one that people wanted to hear. As I get further along in life, I feel very blessed to have confronted by this question. It challenged me, it taught me, it opened me up to learning and engagement. What is your story? Think about it, you are in the middle of a story. The story of your life, the story of your coaching, playing, growth as a person.

Generally we have an idea of how we want our stories to end. Figuring out how to get from where we started to where we are now can be an instructive pursuit, but most importantly, it’s figuring out the next steps of where we are going, from where we are at the moment to where we want to go that is the story we want to write. It starts with the question. What is my story? Sometimes you hear people say in a sad way, ‘that’s the story of my life’, as though hardships follow them more than anyone else. We have the power to write a new story!

Where is the disconnect between story telling, coaching and learning?

Our society has become more and more technological, and this can be part of the disconnect in actual learning, but really only if we allow that. The time tested method of teaching throughout the centuries was that a master would take on a small cadre, or maybe only one apprentice to show them the ropes of how to do something. I was recently in Bethlehem, where the art of carving olive wood will mostly likely die with the last remaining carver of such wood in a certain style. There is one last master craftsman in that specialty and the art will die with him, because none of the younger generation is willing to learn the trade. We face similar challenges in coaching as many long time coaches retire and die off from the generation of baby boomers. Part of the great hand off that will have a tremendous impact on future generations will be captured in great story telling, and younger coaches sitting at their feet will be engaged in that learning. Our stories will also need to transcend and engage the new technological culture.

How did we get here? Where we currently are is in a space where coaches gather on a court or in a room and hear a lecture, having no further contact with the instructor, left alone to interpret and synthesize the knowledge for themselves. We at USATennisCoach are actively engaged in mentorship approach. We listen to your story and we share our own when it’s appropriate to help with the lesson of overcoming a challenge. We want to know your story. And we put our story out on every major social media channel. (We want to do more snapchat than we currently do). Coaches as story tellers have a much deeper impact on the lives of players, than those who simply give out information, commands and instructions, as though we could drill a hole in someone’s head, insert a funnel and pour the information into them. A story told by Steve Chandler, one of the great life coaches, who also is friends with Lute Olson one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time, highlights how this works. The story goes something like this: Lute was running practice and something was going wrong on the court, a player made a bad decision. Lute did not yell at the player like many coaches do when players make mistakes. He blew the whistle, asking players to freeze. He then asked a question, “Jason, what do you see?” Jason paused, looked around and responded, “I see that I had an opening to make a pass to a player who had an open shot.” Lute agreed, blew the whistle, and play resumed.

What does that story mean to you? How is your story similar or different as a coach? Note that I am not telling you the point of the story, I simply told it, and then ask you what you got from it, then you own the information better. See how that works?

The Story of the Player on the Day

I learned to ask my players more about the experience they are having on the field of play, then giving them my perspective. They tell their brief story, and I listen. I’m not the one running out there. I don’t feel what they feel. I’m not pressured by what they are pressured by in the competition. I may ask them, “Do you see how…?”, helping them to recognize an important aspect of the competition. We don’t have time to argue, either they see it, or they don’t. Perhaps given a few minutes to process the thought about what is the story of the competition, they come to the realization, or maybe their interpretation is different. I have had players come back to me with a different idea as to how to attack the situation, or seeing a more subtle but important advantage to be gained, we write the story in a way that will work for them.

Home Town Story

When I coach a team, the most engaging stories for my players are hearing about people they know, current players, recently graduated players, players from the school who have gone on to a measure of fame. The subconscious message that comes across during the telling of these stories is that stories could be told about them, later. This is a sidebar motivator that they can become a part of the annals of the stories.

When I taught high school, quite often in class, and almost every class, I would tell a story about people succeeding or maybe cautionary tales for my high school students. The amazing reactions from students and their perceptions of what was actually happening were quite odd. Even though I was well known, and hated by some, for using the entire classroom period, with very little dead time, students memory of how our classes were quite different from reality. The rumor that was told was that “Mr. Patton is always telling stories.”, “He tells stories the whole period long”, “He wastes a lot of time with his stories.”. Which is amusing, but also many more students remember the stories I told with a lot of appreciation for making class fun and meaninful. I have run into numerous students from that high school around town, and when they want to talk with me, it’s usually because they enjoyed my class, when I ask them what they remember, you know what they say… the stories made it fun, they were inspiring. I would tell them stories from my own life, and it would give the students who cared and wanted that a better connection with me on a personal level.

The Challenge

So, the challenge is this, be a story teller, be a better story teller. Listen to other people’s stories, help them write better ones. Each competition is a story, and each interaction, each bit of dialogue between action develops the plot and can change the direction of the outcome, when told well.


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