<even if your team is falling apart, don´t give up>
Being sixteen nowadays must be difficult. First love, big career/university decisions, (probably) first glass of alcohol and first cigarette, first need to “grow up”. Add all those flashy magazines telling you how to look, TV commercials telling you what to eat, what to do – and parents who do their best to influence their kids before they leave home (read: before it is too late).
And now imagine that you – as a sports/debate/what-have-you coach – are facing five/eleven/infinity-minus-one teenagers to whom you need to explain that
a) if they want to become a part of the team, they need to work hard indeed – rewards don´t just materialize themselves out of thin air (surprise, surprise!) and
b) people stirring conflicts are not desirable in this community.
This task in itself wouldn´t be so difficult if it weren´t for one extra obstacle: Imagine that two days ago, these five/eleven/… had a huge fight and now refuse to talk to each other. (And no, you can´t just select a new team. There is no easy way out here.)
Believe it or not, I think I have found the solution to dealing with (over)sensitive teens. Here it is. (Coaches, teachers, supervisors, take note – or help me improve this recipe :))
1. Highlight common ground: Goals everybody shares, benefits, rewards (including fun, for example). Praise hard work but do not publicly shame those who are currently shirking. (You will deal with those later.)
2. Make them feel at ease. Show that it is normal that sometimes things go wrong. Don´t be afraid to admit that perfection is impossible – but motivate them, because if they try hard, near-perfection (read: performance you can be proud of) is attainable. Have you ever done something silly? Make them laugh. Show that you are more than a strict coach who will lead them to success; you are also a friend who “understands”.
3. Point out flaws, but don´t be too specific (yet): Explain what sort of behaviour you support and expect (and why, if necessary) and set the rules: Be strict, but stay within reasonable bounds: There is only so much pressure a stressed high school student can endure.
4. Open discussion. Ask them – where do you see the problem? What should change – what should I change, for example? This has two purposes: One, you show them that you value their opinion, two, you might get to hear what might be the factors splitting the team apart.
5. Finally, one-on-one session. Take the time, talk to them, one by one. Now you can be very specific. Moreover, when they are alone, they are more likely to tell you what is really eating them. Based on that, you can either think of a conciliatory activity (bowling? BBQ? cycling trip? …sky is the limit!) – or help individuals talk about a specific problem. (Chances are, you are unbiased and can see the whole picture – which they probably can´t.)
Result? I don´t know how about you (but I would love to hear 🙂 ) – but as far as I can tell, my conciliatory recipe worked like magic on the national team: While in the morning it seemed the kids would eat each other alive, in the evening they all genuinely worried when one of them had to see the doctor because of severe pain in her hunches (no clue how that happened – you just can´t leave them unattended!). “Tick” for today. We survived.
</even if your team is falling apart, don´t give up>