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Effective Team Leadership During a Time of Crisis

Posted by Mike Jacobs on Feb 22, 2016 in Education, Membership, Community 1 Comment

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Editor’s note: This is the first article in the 2016 Leadership Series written by the NSCAA Board of Directors. The first post is by Mike Jacobs, Immediate Past President of the NSCAA and Assistant Technical Director at Sporting KC. 

It was originally published here but has been updated for this series.

How someone responds during crisis is the ultimate measure to their mental toughness, and nowhere does that get magnified more than on the playing field in sports, and by the team’s leader and coach. 

Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, had a very tough job on his hands in 2014.  Coaching a team in the NBA Playoffs is a tremendous challenge, but having to do so in the wake of his team’s owner making racist comments that eventually led to a ban would make that challenge even more of an uphill battle.

There would be so many easy excuses to make for the Clippers’ locker room to fold after that happened – to lose focus, and to subsequently be eliminated from the playoffs.  Opposed to that happening, Rivers did a tremendous job of managing his team during a time of crisis – leading his Clippers to an epic 7-game series victory over the Golden State Warriors to advance to the next round of the 2014 NBA playoffs.

After listening to Doc Rivers in an ESPN interview during that difficult period, and how he sifted through this recent challenge, Brian Dodd wrote a blog post called, Practices Of Highly Successful Leaders During A Time Of Crisis.

I liked Dodd’s perspective and wanted to share my reflections on the topic. Highlights of Dodd’s list of best practices for dealing with crisis included:

Highly successful leaders during a time of crisis have been prepared for this moment – I believe that the best way to prepare your team for critical moments in a game is by having them put under adverse situations in practice, and doing so under game-like demands.  The more that is a part of your daily atmosphere and culture, the more prepared you are to deal for it when it’s real.  Just like a fire drill when you were an elementary school student.  No matter how well-schooled your coaches or teachers are how your parents raise you and prepare you is the key cornerstone in that equation.  

Highly successful leaders during a time of crisis refuse to be victims – Doc Rivers’ father taught his son a lesson at a very early age when he told him that he would never be a victim.  Rather than play ‘woe is me’, do something about it.  I feel like I tell players once a day – “deal with it.”

Highly successful leaders during a time of crisis do not play the blame game – During adverse moments, if you are going to try to solve the problem, you don’t have time to point fingers at someone else.  As Dodd wrote, during a time of crisis, the problem is to always define the problem.  The solution then becomes obvious.  

Highly successful leaders during a time of crisis press forward and embrace the daily routine – Stay the course.  Rather than get distracted by the things you can’t control (the actual crisis), focus on the things you can control (your own attitude, and your own effort).  The NBA playoffs did not stop just because of Sterling’s comments.  There were still games to play.  Rivers knew “We had to go to practice that first day right after it came out.”

Highly successful leaders during a time of crisis give a vision for a brighter tomorrow – There is a reason why the windshield in your car is significantly larger you’re your rearview mirror, and that’s because what’s in front of you is critically more important than what you’ve already passed.  Today’s failures will create tomorrow’s successes. Rivers pointed out, “I think something good comes out of everything.”

Today, I’m fortunate to work with Sporting KC’s Manager and Technical Director Peter Vermes, as his Assistant Technical Director. There is no problem-solver that I’ve ever been around that is as effective in dealing with crisis, and I am amazed at his laser-sharp focus and commitment towards doing the right thing.  He creates tremendous buy-in from both his players and staff by being more organized than his opposition, being the hardest working person in the room, and most committed to the cause.  It’s those qualities that also help calm those around him during times of challenge, because it breeds confidence.

If I could add one tip to Brian Dodd’s article, it would be that highly successful leaders during a time of crisis seek trusted counsel, and this is one area where the NSCAA can offer powerful support. 

Take a look at your network and personal and professional connections, and make sure you’ve surrounded yourself with people that you can both consult about strategies as well as assist in enacting tactics when the going gets tough. Network. When you’re at the Convention, taking a course through the Coaching Academy, or working towards building a better association through the Advocacy Council, you’re bound to meet others coaches, peers and mentors who can support you in future challenges.

From the NSCAA Online Resource Library (Login Required)

NFA Conflict Resolution by Ruth Nicholson

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Building a Successful Practice Starts with the Coach by Bobby Howe

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    • Brian Dore
    • 02/26/2016 11:43am

    I found this article to be great seeing how I am now the head coach of a u9 girls team that just went through a mass exodus. We had 4 girls and the head coach leave and go to another club. Now I am in the process of getting the parents as well as the kids to deal with this crisis.