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Part III: Becoming a Double Goal Coach – The Process of Learning to Coach Life Lessons

by Adam Sarancik


In Part I of this series, I explained that to successfully teach life lessons within the game for beyond the game, coaches must first learn to not see their team members as only players, but must first see them as persons and athletes. In Part II of this series, I explained how to set goals for teaching life lessons and how to use quotes and homework to help players start to put those lessons into practice.

I ended my last post by explaining that one of the best ways to mentor a player how to do better not only in their sport, but in their lives, is to role play. I stated that one of the best formats for role playing is to use the same preparation, reaction, action format that coaches should use when they train their team members as athletes or as players in their sport.

The examples I will use is the common one in baseball of a hitter having to deal with a bad call by an umpire and, in the life of a student, being given an unfair exam by a teacher.

Here is how the format of Preparation – Reaction – Action looks for both examples:

A. Bad Call in Baseball Game

  1. Preparation (Content and Context – when, where, and how does this occur and why is it important to deal with it properly?) 
    1. You are the clean-up hitter and you strike out with the bases loaded on a pitch that was clearly not a strike. 
    2. Your whole team and your fans are watching your reaction – if you stay positive, their negative reaction will be minimized and they will move on quickly and you will set a great example of how to deal with adversity in the future. If negative, they will be distracted and wallow in negativity which will likely lead to more poor results and more bad calls by the umpire in that game and future games. 
    3. Your reaction to the call will affect your focus and play on defense – ditto for your team.
  2. Reaction (what should your verbal and non-verbal language be when the issue arises?)
    1. Any verbal comment or negative non-verbal reaction, e.g., slamming down of the helmet or bat, will have severe consequences including ejection from the game by your own coach or by the umpire
    2. Must be role played during scrimmages and game-sims at the end of practice!
    3. Role play must include an individual and/or team “mistake ritual.” How am I and how are we going to react when this happens?
  3. Action (after the issue arises and your initial reaction, how are you going to deal with it before and after it occurs moving forward?)
    1. Discuss in practice how hitters get three strikes and the hitter must take accountability for what happened on the first two strikes.
    2. Also discuss that with two strikes the hitters must adjust to the umpire’s zone.
    3. The player and the team must immediately re-focus on supporting the next hitter and tracking along with the game situation or, if it was the third out, they must re-focus on playing great defense.

B. Unfair Test by a Teacher

  1. Preparation
    1. You failed a “pop quiz” or did poorly on a midterm exam that included questions on material you barely discussed in class or did not discuss at all.
    2. Both of these situations happen frequently in school. If you fail to anticipate them or if you react inappropriately to them, it could: (1) negatively affect not only how well you did on that test, but your grade in the class generally, (2) how your classmates react to the test and how your teacher acts toward your class moving forward, and (3) what your attitude is toward school generally. 
  2. Reaction
    1. As with the bad call in the baseball game, any verbal or non-verbal negative initial reaction could have serious bad consequences. 
    2. These test issues are very common and therefore, should be role played and designed into a life lesson discussion as a part of the practice plan early in a player’s career!
    3. What will be the student’s “mistake ritual” when these types of things happen? e.g., visualization of something positive, positive self-talk about recommitting to better study habits and that the poor grade can be overcome, breathing techniques, etc. (just like the strike out can be overcome by playing great defense). 
  3. Action
    1. Make a habit to ask every teacher at the beginning of every term if they give pop quizzes and test on material not discussed in class.
    2. Make a habit of reviewing the subject on a regular basis not just when tests are scheduled.
    3. Make a habit of going to see the teacher during office hours days ahead of scheduled tests to discuss material that will be on the test.
    4. Make a habit of asking other students who have taken the class from this teacher previously about the teacher’s test philosophies – you might decide not to take the class from this teacher at all if possible! 
    5. Remind yourself that class grades are usually affected by many things including homework, class participation, and multiple tests and that sometimes extra credit work is available to bolster poor results in other areas.
    6. Also remind yourself that grading commonly has a subjective component that can be affected by a teacher’s view of your work ethic, attitude toward the subject, and respect for the teacher.

I think you can see how easy it is to use this format to use your sport to teach life lessons. Yes, it takes time, so you need to prepare these role paying scenarios prior to the season and to delegate some of them to your assistant coaches too! And believe it or not, it is becoming very common for coaches in many sports to start their practices in the classroom where these role playing activities are easy to do. (Although some of them such as the bad call by an umpire scenario, might have more effect on the field!)

One more tip regarding the “action” component to teaching life lessons; use team- building activities to illustrate them! My favorite ones to teach life lessons are those that involve service to others with no expectation of monetary return. They are simply voluntary. These can include:

 * “Miracle” or “Challengers” Leagues –play your sport with children with disabilities
 * Visits to Children’s Hospitals 
 * Community Work Projects
 * Gather Used BB Gear for Disadvantaged Youth – ABCA “Turn Two for Youth”
 * Volunteer to Read to Elementary School Students
 * Host a “Parents Night Out” with players as babysitters
 * Canned Food Drives
 * Raise Awareness Campaigns
 * Clean up a city park or a local youth league’s baseball field
 * Help to promote and work at a school event

Of the non-service activities you can do to teach life lessons to teach team members, reading as a team the book Chop Wood, Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf is my favorite. It’s a simple, but highly entertaining story with very short chapters that have a bounty of great life lessons for discussion. You and your team will love it!

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Learn more about Sarancik's book, Coaching Champions for Life


Adam Sarancik has spent most of his adult life mentoring youth ages 8-22 in baseball, softball, soccer, and basketball. He is a favorite speaker at and director of coaches' and players' clinics. He has also developed several youth baseball leagues. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University, his J.D. degree from the University of San Diego School of Law and his Masters of Arts in Teaching from Western Oregon University. Adam is also an Impact Trainer for Positive Coaching Alliance and the author of  two books: Coaching Champions for Life and Takeaway Quotes for Coaching Champions for Life.

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