Team Dynamics by Teri McKeever & Kathie Wickstrand Gahen (2010)


Published


[McKeever]: All right: we are going to try not to trip over each other physically—with cords—and verbally and mentally. We practiced this at one o’clock last night, so we’ll see how well we do. I’ve just been informed she added more things when I told her we had enough for three hours. So I don’t know where it’s going to go, but bless her heart we’re going to try this here.

I wanted to start by talking a little bit about why I’m personally so passionate about this topic, and why I think this is the reason that you see Berkeley and Teri McKeever have had a huge amount of success. Huge: that’s a little arrogant but a nice amount of success. I really think that it is. I’ve said this before: what I love about college coaching is I think it takes a very individual sport and it adds a whole team dynamic to it that’s different than a club or a high school. I think that can be a very, very powerful tool for performance in the water, and probably most significantly for performance in the workplace and in your family structure and everything else.

I just wanted to speak a little bit about how Kathie and our paths crossed. When I first got to Cal, I very much struggled for a while. There was something that’s funny that Tim says. I remember going to NCAAs and looking at Northwestern, and first of all being attracted to Kathie’s colorful outfits and their team. And I kept going: “How are they getting all the relays in the top-8 when there’s no individuals even maybe in the top-16, and definitely not in the top-8. Maybe one or two, but like every relay is in the top-8. So it just made me think: people are over-achieving when they’re swimming for the team. I have never been one that’s really reached out, well I hope I am now; but early-on I saw reaching out and asking for help as a sign of weakness. That if I said, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” that people would think less of me, that that would be used against me. I was just at a place where I had to reach out to somebody, and I called Kathie and she was in a part of transitioning out of coaching.

I have worked with her, as her being my life coach and personal coach, since probably about 1999. I’ve had her work with the team in different capacities. Since the last three years, she has come on our team retreat that we do at the beginning of the season. She was with us last weekend, and one of the things I would just want to throw out there that I found is: when I would go on a retreat—or I would do some of these activities—when I was facilitating it or trying to run it myself, the coach part of me was so concentrated on ‘am I doing it right’, ‘am I gaining what I need to accomplish’ and ‘what do I need to do next’, that I couldn’t be part of the team. What’s been really powerful the last three years when she has come on our retreat for the last… and it’s a 48-hour period, is I truly… and my assistant, truly get to be part of the team. She facilitates the activities, the discussions, and I am not saying pay attention now, I’ll be back at a certain time. She is doing all that and I pop in as part of the team, and the team gets to see me as part of the team; and I think that’s really important. She has lots of good information that she is going to go over, and then I hope to add some of the practical things of how I’ve use it over the years.

[Wickstrand Gahen]: So, good morning; thank you Teri. I want you all to fold your hands in your lap and look down. How many people is your right thumb on the top raise your hand? Okay. How many people is your left thumb on the top, raise your hand? Okay. So you have doing that since you’ve been in the womb—you’ve been doing that, for some of you, 60, 50 years. That is a habit that you formed, and if I told you from this day forward that you had to do it the opposite way, it would take you a good three months for you to do it successfully.

I think what happens with a lot of coaches and athletes is: what you do is you work on it for a week, you can’t do it and so people give up on it. I hear a lot of times when people try things they say: ‘Why try that?’ And I usually say, well how long did you try that? And they’ll say: ‘Well, I tried it for a while.’ And I’ll say, how long did you try that? And they’ll say: ‘Maybe a couple of weeks.’ And I think it’s important that you let yourself and your athletes know that for any kind of behavioral change to happen on a permanent basis, it takes you consistently doing it for three months. That’s a long time for athletes that like quick results and coaches that like quick results.

So what I hope to do today is give you some tools to add to your toolbox. I think as a coach, it’s very important for you to have a lot of different tools, and what I want to start with is to talk a little bit about the stages of team development. How many people know about this? And a lot of people don’t—see Teri. A lot of people don’t know the stages of team development. If you have a master’s degree and you studied family systems—which I know a few of you in here did—they teach you this anytime you have a group, where a group is four or more people—so all of you are in charge of groups. I consider myself now a coach, but I also consider myself a facilitator and the definition of a facilitator is the one who brings out the best in others. Facilitators don’t tell people what to do, they ask a lot of questions. So I hope as a coach, today, you learn some techniques that you can also ask questions because that will bring the best out of your athletes; instead of telling people—I think coaches are really comfortable with the telling part.

All teams, all groups, go through predictable stages of development. The first stage… these are the stages: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Transforming. Have any of you heard those words before? Yes. Okay. So I’m going to go through them and give you an example of what this means to you and Teri is going to talk about how it relates to team.

So the first stage is: Forming. It’s the orientation stage. We’re all, right now, we’re all forming right now. It’s what I call the nicey-nice stage: everyone’s polite, they put their best foot forward. It’s getting-to-know-you. When you start back in the fall, if you’re a college coach or you’re an age-group coach, it’s the first couple of weeks or two. These are the questions that your athletes start to ask: who are we, where are we going, how are we going to get there, how should I behave, and what’s my role going to be. So, for example, if you’re role on the team has been one of a leader and you go to a new team, you have to start with a new role and how do I want to show up on this team?

The next stage is: Storming. And this is the stage that I think a lot of teams get stuck in. They get… some conflict comes up, something on the team happens, and you stay here and you never get to the next stages that we’re going to talk about here in a second. This is the control stage. This is where your athletes start to criticize your ideas. I encourage you to welcome that as hardest there is to do. I do not like people to criticize my ideas. How many people like to be criticized? Raise your hands. Okay, your athletes will all test you. I believe the only way to real intimacy in life, and intimacy is in to me I see, is through conflict. So you can’t have that kind of team that I think Teri creates on a year-in, year-in basis—if you see your team, you can see that—without going through storming.

So they ask: ‘Is this still a good idea that I’m here; I don’t think I really want to be here?’ ‘I’m really upset that I switched teams.’ ‘I really wish I hadn’t come to this college.’ ‘I really don’t think that the way you’re training me is correct.’ You as a coach cannot get defensive, which I think for most coaches that’s the first thing you want to do. ‘Yeah, I hear that you don’t think this is a good idea. Wow, tell me more about why it’s not a good idea?’ You defuse it, and it’s amazing what happens when you just defuse it and listen. People all of the sudden just love you. What’s going on among us? Why are we fighting? Who do we like? Who do we not like? What are we trying to accomplish? Why should we change? Why should I train like this? This worked.

A lot of athletes and coaches get into: “This worked 10 years ago, so I’m going to still use it today.” How are we going to resolve our differences? I believe as a coach and we’re not going to talk about this today, it’s so important that you teach your athlete some way to resolve conflicts. How many of you sitting here like conflict? (Raise your hand.) Okay not a whole lot of people. How many of you think you deal with conflict effectively? Okay. Most people. And I especially find this with coaches: they do not like conflict. They don’t want to deal with it. Go figure that out. You and Sally Joe and Susie and Bob, you figure it out. If you don’t know how to deal with conflict, believe me your athletes don’t know how. There’s lots of good books about that, and I was going to say a little bit about that but Teri said we’d be here for three hours… I’m not allowed to comment on that.

The next stage is: Norming. That’s the cohesion stage. It’s: we are a team, we finally feel like a team. Now some of you are going to ask: how long does it take people to go through these stages? I believe it’s how you work with your team. If you’re inexperienced with communicating with your team, it takes a lot longer. If you’re good, if you’re an effective communicator, you go through these stages quicker. This is when you start to see increased productivity. You start to see that they’re getting it. You start to see that they’re working more as a unit; not the unit you want to see at the end of the season, but its better. And the questions that you can ask your athletes: ‘How can we work more effectively together?’ ‘How can we support each other?’ ‘What do we understand about each other?’ ‘How can we make good decisions together?’

The next stage—there’s two more—is: Performing. This is the go-for-the-gold stage. This is when you get into task performance. You’re focused on that. What are we doing really well? What do we work on? What do we want to accomplish? What are we thinking about in the future? You would hope that when you get near a big meet that you’re at this stage.

Lastly, there’s the Transforming stage, and this may not seem like a big deal. It’s the goodbye senior, hello freshmen stage. Let’s do it all over again. If you’ve been coaching like Bob, there’s some people Teri has been coaching for years. I asked Teri last weekend: how many times have you gone through this cycle and what did you say?

[TM]: Like 30.

[KWG]: Thirty-some times. If you’re a coach, you have been through this cycle. And I think for me, it helps me when I know what’s going on in the team. This is the closure stage. What have we accomplished? We need to celebrate. What comes next? I was talking to an athlete—a very, very good athlete that was at Division IIIs—and she… there was no banquet, there was no closure, there was no celebration, there was nothing. And I’ve been talking to her every week and she is still… it’s September and she is still stuck at NCAAs. There was no closure on their team whatsoever. There was nothing about celebrating what happened as a team, and I think closure is so important. So how does this relate to you?

[TM]: That’s my cue. The thing that shocked me, I had seen this and read about things and I was aware of this. when Kathie brought this up in our retreat last weekend and she asked the girls: how many people have heard of this? There’s 25 women in the room; none of them had ever even heard of the concept. Which, to be honest, that really surprised me. I don’t know where I heard it the first time, but they weren’t even really aware of it. So we just went over the stages, so that they would know that that’s predictable. Whether we understand it or not, or know about it or not, it’s going to happen. So by giving them that information I hope that as we move through it, they’ll have some realizations of why we’re doing it.

The other thing that came up and we asked them: I, at different times, have decided, wrong or right, to bring somebody in mid-semester. Anybody brought a new athlete in mid-semester? Okay, you start at the beginning, okay. I might have been performing, but the minute I introduce somebody new, I have to go back up to the top. A new trainer, a new academic advisor, a new strength coach: anybody that’s working with your group and has an integral part in that is going to start the cycle over no matter where you are in the season. I think that’s something to really just be mindful of. It doesn’t mean you don’t do it. I think just as a coach you have to look at that and you kind of weigh through the pros and the cons.

The other thing that I think has been really helpful in our program is to really embrace the conflict stage. I think they are just a lot of people, maybe women, and college-age women in particular. Kathie asked how many people like conflict, it’s not like everyone went like this [physical motion], okay? I don’t think it’s about liking it, but getting more comfortable with it. I don’t really like conflict, but I’m more comfortable with the idea that that’s going to happen and that I need… my job is to work through that conflict. If it’s an athlete and me, like Kathie says, to listen, to not get defensive, which is very hard for me. I think it’s hard for most people and then to set yourself up as a coach on how to deal with it.

I don’t know about you. How many people, when an athlete comes up and says, “Can I talk to you for a couple of minutes?” You just go, “[Indiscernible] [0:18:49].” Because my mind goes, “Oh shit.” [laughter] Something’s wrong. They want to talk. Something’s bad. Oh, what did I do? Who did what? And sometimes it is: “Teri, you know I want to tell you blah, blah, blah….” And you feel good. So now, if you want to meet with me and you’re on the team, you’ve got to… first of all, I just tell them that—exactly what I just said to you. I let them know that when you come up the way I’m wired, when you come up and say, “I’d like to meet with you,” that sends a shiver up my spine.

So the first response will be, “Whoa,” and then I’ll get in a place where I can go, “Okay, how long will we need?” They always need two minutes, which ends up to be 20 or two hours. [laughter]. I think it’s teaching them what do you need and being real with what do they need from me. So if you tell me you need two minutes, lots of times I’ll give you two minutes and if you’re not done, that’s not my issue, that’s their issue. I think you’re coaching them on that. If they say they need 20, then they’re realistic with what they really need, and I think that’s an important skill to teach them as well. They have to write down what they want to talk about, or what our meeting will be about, so that I can be in a place where I think that I know where we’re going. I don’t like to be surprised by things. And then, I think what conflicts and its teaching. it’s not just you as a coach, and your assistants are helping resolve through any of these or being mine, it’s empowering your team members.

We have 10 freshmen this year and it’s the biggest class I’ve had coming-in in four years. The seniors were a big class and this is the next one. The other ones in between, they have been, and some were, small and I’m down to a sophomore class of one—because through some of conflict, and through what we are going through, Cal wasn’t the right place or whatever. It was 3, and now we’re down to 1: so it’s not like it was 10 and I scared all of them away. I mean we’re down to one person, and so all summer, as we were moving through—even with the seniors last year—we really talked about, as we were introducing new people: you’re responsible for teaching the culture of the team. What’s important? Managing yourselves, bringing conflicts that need to be handled by Teri, that could be handled by Kristen [Cal women’s assistant], and that could be handled with the captain—be mindful of that. That has really helped, I think, our team operate at a higher level. So those are the three things I wanted to kind of bring up.

[KWG]: Thank you Teri. So I want to talk about… we’re going to introduce a way of having a team meeting. And before we do this, I believe that most of us are like this iceberg : that 10% of what you see of the iceberg is above the water, and really the majority of the iceberg is under the water and you don’t see it. I think that’s true with yourself and with your athletes. I see Aaron: I see what you’re wearing, I see your glasses, I know where you work. I know about you. I know you’re image, what you show the world. I might know a little bit about you.

Really the important part, and I believe how you motivate and inspire yourself and others, is below the water line. What’s real about you? What are you feelings? What do you value? What are you excited about? What makes you cry? What makes you happy? How are you with your family? Really I think if you want to touch your athletes and inspire them, you have to get below that water line.

My other big belief is: if you don’t do that with yourself, there is no way you are going to inspire your athletes. When I work with coaches typically this is how it goes: Okay, I want that handout because I want to use it with my athletes; tell me what to do because we’re having this trouble; I want to do this with my athletes. And I say, “Hold on; whoa. We’re not even going to work on your athletes right now; we’re going to work on you.” And that makes people sometimes very uncomfortable. So I want to know about you as a coach below the water line and what’s real about you.

So this is a saying I like: “There is the part who we pretend we are, the part that we’re afraid we are, and then there’s the part that we really are.” Last weekend when I was working with Teri’s team, I would ask them a lot of provocative questions, and some of them would say, “I have no idea how to answer that.” And I love that answer. I love when people are willing to say: “I don’t know how to answer that; I don’t know who I am.” My answer back is: Are you willing to know that? Because to go to the next level with what you’re wanting to do, you’re going to need to know that. I believe the reason athletes struggle is not what you think it is, usually; it’s because they lack self-awareness. They don’t know what their strengths are; they don’t know what their weaknesses are. They don’t have…

I loved yesterday when Monica [Schloder], the little ballet woman, was talking. I know that’s not really how you call her… [laughter] a feisty ballet woman. She talked about some great things yesterday, about awareness. I think if you’re a coach, be aware of: what’s my body language? How am I standing? How am I talking? How am I coming off? If I’m out to dinner with my team, am I on my cell phone? If I’m talking to them, if I’m being focused, if I’m being present. So I really want you all to heighten your own self-awareness and your team’s.

So, I’m going to present a topic, and I call it a circle talk. You don’t have to call it this; you can call it a team meeting. But typically, on most teams, a team meeting is this: the coach stands here [point to dais] and the swimmers sit like you all are sitting. Now what inherently is wrong with this picture right now? I’m not part of the team. What else? There’s a big, huge power dynamic and power difference.

[TM]: Differential.

[KWG]: Thank you: there’s a power differential. I’m standing up, I’m the authority. The reason why I call it a circle talk is because, when you do this, you’re in a circle—and I think it’s extremely important that you be in a circle. Whether you’re a high school coach, an age-group coach, or a college coach, you can do this. For all you guys out there that are thinking, “Oh here she goes, this is all touchy-feely,” touchy-feely equates to feelings. I’m hoping all of you sitting here have feelings because I guarantee you, your athletes do. So I want you all, and I don’t think just men have a problem with that by the way—so that was a little stereotypical but I do think a lot of men will say, “Oh, there’s that touchy-feely stuff.” And I try to refrain that and say, “That’s great. I love that you say that word. Let me explain what that means to me. It means that you’re having feelings.”

So circle talks are important so you can express your thoughts and feelings. They are not where you’re sitting there preaching to them or saying ‘this is why we need to do this.’ When you sit and talk to them, they are usually tuned-out after 2, 3, 4 minutes. When you do a meeting like this, they will be engaged, and they will be more alive and consequently down the road, they swim better. It’s important that people are in a safe and nurturing place, and I work very hard when I work with teams to create safety. That doesn’t just happen; you don’t just say to people: “Okay, feel safe, be trusting of me, sit down and let’s go.” It happens over time.

So we go over the guidelines, we sit in a circle, we do something called a check-in and we do paired-sharing. Now a check-in, Teri I’m going to have you model a check-in, would you? [laughter]

[TM]: This is the slide she added.

[KWG]: Yes. [laughter] I wanted her to be surprised.

[TM]: I would just like to say too that, as a coach, it’s not practical every time you have a meeting, or you have something you want to go over, to sit in a kumbaya circle and check-in and do paired-sharing and everything.

[KWG]: No.

[TM]: So sometimes I use different techniques. But I do think it’s really important to look at the dynamics of where you’re meeting. If I want to go over something a little more serious, I’m not going to have that on the pool deck, while the men’s team is walking out, getting ready to go in the water; because they’re not going to hear anything I said even if we are in a circle. I just think it’s really important to look at that and if you do….

The last three meetings that I had before I came here were about rules on our team and what the expectations are. I purposely put them in a situation like this, and I stood before them because those are non-negotiable things. This is what you’re going to do. This is the way I’d like to have it done, and even make that a little softer. I just sat down in front of them and did it. I think there’s a lot of different ways that you can think of.

But a “check-in” is just going around, and it kind of sounds silly but, “my name’s Teri and today I’m feeling excited and I’m looking forward to the meet” and then they would go around.

[KWG]: Yeah, so it doesn’t have to be anything all real… it’s just they say their name, they say how they’re feeling and you might ask them to check-in with how they feel about the upcoming meet. And you tell them there’s a time limit.

Paired-sharing, I’m sure you all know what that is, but when this is really important to use is… let’s say you’re in the Storming phase, and there’s some conflict on the team. I could throw out all sorts of different conflict. But let’s say there’s some conflict in the team. This is a perfect time to do this. Get a partner; get somebody you don’t know very well. Have a seat. And then I’m going to give you all sorts of questions you can ask. So these are guidelines

[TM]: You know what, can I go back?

[KWG]: Yes please.

[TM]: The paired-sharing, I use that a lot at times before a meet. I might say we’re going to warm-up—like literally right before—and I’ll go: “Get a partner.” The other thing you’re teaching them is looking each other in the eye when you paired-share. Like Kathie and I are not paired-sharing right now because we’re looking this way; we’d have to look at each other. And paired-sharing is I talk, she listens, and then she talks, I listen. It’s not a conversation. It’s just one person talking. And I might say, “All right the person with the longest hair go first and share what event you’re most looking forward to swimming in the dual meet today.”

Twenty seconds later, switch. And then, “Okay what do you know about the opponent?” Twenty seconds switch—and you might have like five things—and then I like, “What do you think our team goal ought to be for this dual meet?” Switch, flip, and then that might be one that I open up and go, “Okay give me three things we’re going to work on this afternoon?” Turns, being encouraging, and making sure we do warm downs between events—so now we’ve got team thing. They’ve got some little interaction with the teammate, and then we just go do our stuff. Then at the end we check-in on what the three goals were and how we did on them.

[KWG]: Great. Okay, these are guidelines to team meetings, so we’re just going to go through these really quick. If Teri and I feel like there’s one we want to say something about we will, okay? So number one, you always… and I think it’s important that you come up with your own guidelines for your team. Number one: you always have permission to pass.

[TM]: Second one: respect the start and stop time. I think for me, that’s huge.

[KWG]: I have worked with Teri for years, and I can guarantee you this is true. I have never, ever been to a meeting that she’s run—and I’m guessing I’ve been to hundreds—where they have ever started late or any of her athletes have been late—ever, ever. So her athletes respect time more than any team I’ve ever been on, and I’ll tell you I’ve worked with teams where the coach is late, the athletes are late. I’m supposed to start at nine, we end up starting at 9:45 and the coach didn’t really care, the kids don’t really care. And I’m telling you that transforms into the team culture and how they swim.

Use “I” statements when talking about you—I have a slide about this in a second. I’m a big… I think this is really important.

[TM]: Be an active listener; listen to and show respect for the contributions of other team members. I think that’s… we could go on: you could do the whole presentation on what it means to be an active listener. Body language when you’re listening, and all sorts of ways of engaging.

[KWG]: Listen with your heart and your ears, not just your ears. I’m a big believer… when I understand someone’s life and I know where they’ve come from, I’m able to really have a lot more compassion and empathy and listen with my heart.

[TM]: Participate fully and encourage active interaction. I’m sure your team is like my team. Some people will talk all day. Other people won’t talk at all. I think my job is to tell someone to shut up sometimes, or that’s enough or thank you; and then the other: “What do you think?” Until you get to where you feel like you’re… I think that shows them that as a coach, you’re valuing everybody’s contribution. Not by how long you’ve been here, not because you talk. You don’t talk, but you’re creating what’s important.

[KWG]: And I say if you go first, go last. If you always go last, go first. If you like to talk a lot, don’t talk as much. If you don’t like to talk at all, I want to hear from you. I encourage people to do the opposite, so they get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because, as athletes, they’re constantly uncomfortable and they’re trying to get back in their comfort zones. Your job is to teach them how to be uncomfortable on a regular basis, and be okay with it.

Next, avoid disruptive side conversations. So you have to be willing to say, as she said, “Be quiet.”

[TM]: React instructively to what might be perceived as a negative comment. We could just go on.

[KWG]: Everyone participates, no one dominates—and that’s what Teri said a little bit ago.

[TM]: Be succinct, avoid long examples and stay on topic. I think that’s really important to model that because we all know they will take it the direction they want to go, if you let them.

[KWG]: Don’t be afraid to interrupt when people are talking. I think interrupting is a good skill and anything can be said with grace and dignity. So I can interrupt and be a jerk, I can interrupt and say, “Excuse me I would really appreciate if you stayed on topic.” And bring them back.

[TM]: Listen with your ears and with your heart.

[KWG]: Oh, I added that twice, sorry.

[TM]: That’s okay. You’re good.

[KWG]: No sarcasm: it’s the major defector of creativity. What that means is: it’s okay to be funny. A lot of people come from really sarcastic homes, and I think with sarcasm there’s always a little bit of truth: I don’t really have the guts to tell you exactly what’s going on or how I feel, so I’m going to say it sarcastically because I’m more comfortable with that. So I really encourage your team to let go of the sarcasm because a lot of people get their feelings hurt with that but they don’t say.

[TM]: There are no dumb ideas, be open. Minds are like parachutes they only function when open.

[KWG]: Okay, one person speaks at a time. When I have a circle talk, I have an object. I have a wooden heart, and so whoever is holding the heart, they’re speaking and everyone else is listening. And when they’re done, they put it in the middle of the room and then the next person goes.

[TM]: I’ve had at different times… like we’re the bears. I’ve had a bear, you toss the bear, and when you have the bear that means you’ve got the floor. So you could make something, have one of your team members make something—that’s a place you can get creative.

Everything that is said here, stays here. Confidentiality: for me that’s huge on our team. That’s something that we don’t start the retreat the first day and we’re down at the bottom of the iceberg. I think people need to really know… as a coach, I feel that that’s really important to teach people: what exactly that means. And I’ll go over really specific examples of confidentiality. And if we go on a retreat, Kathie does a great job of this. What you can share, what’s appropriate to share with a boyfriend or a roommate. You can share like she always says, you can share your experiences, not talk about what someone else said at the retreat or at a meeting or whatever.

[KWG]: No put downs. Listen to the speaker without judgment or criticism.

[TM]: No cell phones, texting, computers. I don’t know about you, but when I first started coaching I didn’t have a handout that had media policies. Now I have a media policy, and we talk about when you use your cell phone and when you don’t. Facebook, Twitter, I have a couple of people that have – wasn’t it [Chad] Ochocinco that got fined $10,000 for tweeting on the sideline. That’s something that I think we’re going to have to think about; I hope I’m ahead of the curve.

[KWG]: At the retreat, they were not allowed to be on their cell phones. For three days her team, they were not on their cell phones. They were not on their computers. They were present and learning new ideas, and I’m sure that was a stretch for some of them.

[TM]: It helps too [that] we went to a place where there’s no cell phone reception. [laughter]

[KWG]: Yeah, we purposely did that.

[TM]: So you can make that happen.

[KWG]: No alcohol or drug use. We were at this retreat, and the person running it kept going on and on and on about how there was no alcohol use. And I love what Teri said; she said: “Trust me they’ll have bigger issues to deal with if that’s a problem.” And what I can honestly say is, when we go away on a retreat, that isn’t even an issue with her team. That’s the culture, that it is.

[TM]: It could be an issue other places.

[KWG]: Yes it could be.

[TM]: Be inclusive; sit, talk, and exchange with different team mates. I think that’s really important too. Kathie talked about the comfort zone. In the paired-sharing, people will go to where they’re comfortable. Your job is to, again, continue to stretch, and it broadens the understanding of the team and team members and I think that’s huge.

[KWG]: There are no negative feelings. Any feeling is welcome, as long as it’s expressed appropriately. And I like to teach people that when people say, “I feel fine”, that’s not a feeling. When people are learning feelings, I have them stick to four: happy, mad, sad, and fear. All feelings are covered by those four. So if they have trouble—“I don’t know how I feel.”—I have them pick one of those. Are you mad? Are you sad? Are you happy? Are you fearful? And that’s a good springboard for them to jump off of.

[TM]: Talk only about what you think and feel. Do not talk about what other people have said. No crosstalk; focus on your feelings about a topic.

[KWG]: So I wouldn’t say: “So Teri when you were talking about your mom and how this happened, boy it really made me sad.” I’m not going to crosstalk; I’m not going to bring up in a circle talk that someone else said. I’m going to keep it to myself, and, as the facilitator, I make sure that people do that. I will interrupt and say, “I want to hear about you and your feelings.” Because a lot of people are uncomfortable about that, so they’ll try to talk about someone else.

And then lastly, we say what other ones do we need to add?

So at the beginning of the year, this is what I go over with the team—if you’re going to have any kind of meetings—so that there’s some safety and some guidelines.

We’ll do this real quick. Okay I need two volunteers; come on up here. This is about “I” statements, which I said I’m really passionate about. If you speak an “I” statement, it’s the language of responsibility; it’s clear communication. I would encourage you to watch the rest of the day how much you talk in “I” statements. I’d like you to read where it starts “When you…”.

[Volunteer 1]: When you are the leader, you have to be really careful about the words you use because others are listening to you, and if you call yourself by the wrong pronoun they get confused as to whether you are them or you.

[KWG]: That was confusing, correct? Come on up. Thank you. All right, you read the same one underneath that.

[Volunteer 2]: When I am the leader, I have to be really careful about the words I use because others are listening to me, and if I call myself by the wrong pronoun they get confused as to whether I am them or me.

[KWG]: Thank you. So, how many of you have had an athlete come to your office and say, “Well, you know, we’ve been talking and a lot of people, you know, a lot of people on the team are upset.” [laughter] Okay. That does not fly with me. If you allow that, you’re doing yourself a disservice.” My answer to that is, “Go get them.” [laughter] “Go get them; go get them all. I’m happy to hear it, go get them. Otherwise, speak an ‘I’ statements, because when you speak in ‘I’ statements it makes it a lot more….”

Let’s say somebody comes into my office: “Kathie you made me feels angry when you told me that I was late and you made me feel that I wasn’t a good swimmer and you never complement me. You are such a mean coach. You really don’t like me. You always pick on me and you’re so impatient.” So it’s like you, you, you. When people talk like this immediately you’re on the defensive—you stop listening.

Last weekend, I had Teri’s team get a partner and they had to do this. They had to say this. They came up with things. They did it, person with long hair goes, and then short hair goes. They had to come up with these. Then the same thing. “Bah, I feel happy when you call me.” “I want to see you more often.” “I need you to still be in my life.” “When we don’t talk, I feel sad.” So it’s about me. So when they come in and talk to you about the whole group or something, ask them to speak in “I” statements.

A lot of times this is what happens with men and women. One person on the team gets really riled up. They are very powerful. A lot of times some of your better swimmers, they are very feisty. They have the power persuasion; like she said yesterday: they’re good oracles. So they get riled up about something; they get everybody on the bandwagon. So you as a coach think everybody feels that way, and to be honest with you there’s 20 people that wouldn’t have the nerve/don’t really care about it. They would never say anything to you, but because they don’t have the ability to stand up against the really strong person: “Oh yeah, I feel like that too.” “Yeah, I’m mad too.” “Oh yeah, she really has a problem with that.” So it really cuts out a lot of the conflict, the gossiping, the back stabbing.

So for the next day or two be aware: do I speak in “I” statements?

[TM]: I think, too, when we did this, it was interesting that the girls were saying that when they were doing the “you”, that if someone was saying ‘you did that’, that they could actually feel themselves physically trying to move back from it. And then when they were saying ‘you’, they said they felt themselves getting angry. And with the “I” it was like more calming.

[KWG]: Yeah that was fascinating.

[TM]: It was just good for people to receive that, like your athletes to receive a ‘you, you, you’ from a peer and see how it makes them feel. I think there’s a little bit more empathy for them not wanting to do it.

[KWG]: Come to you. I’m not going to do that ; you saw nothing. [laughter] You saw nothing.

So here’s just some sample questions. I’m not going to go through all these but these are just to give you ideas. You can ask anything. So if I got my group into a circle and I just wanted them to get to know each other better…. At the retreat last weekend, I think most of the kids, they went in scared. All of them said they were anxious. All of them said they were uncomfortable. All of them said they were scared. And what would you say, Teri, they said at the check out. How did they feel at the end of it?

[TM]: More like a team and exhausted, because it is 48 hours of doing something like this, it’s very draining. And you know the thing too, like we’re kind of saying “retreat.” This idea of sample questions or team meetings, I have a big pet peeve when people think to do team building only the first three weeks and then you’re like, “Okay I did it, now we’re a good team and here we go.” Or, “Okay, we’re going to put a cow cap on and we’re going to put the same shirt on, now we’re a team.” I think that team building and building your culture and teaching your values is an ongoing thing.

What I really learned as a coach is that you need to hit this over and over and over again. That I think anybody’s role in the group is always going to come up against… I refer to it as ‘a line in the sand.’ In our program that line is why there’s gray area. We talk about operating in gray and that my job is to manage gray. And they continually push up against what are the boundaries on this team, this organization. Your job is to be consistent in sending the same message that this is what’s acceptable, this is why this person’s doing that, and just communicating more than anything else.

[KWG]: So these are just questions Keith can attribute to this. That every Wednesday night at a team meeting—and sometimes it was every Wednesday, sometimes it was every other—we would sit and just ask questions. It wasn’t necessarily to talk about: ‘Okay so who are we going to beat this weekend?’ ‘Who’s going to do this?’ ‘How many points do we need to make?’. It was: ‘What do I add to the team?’ ‘What do I take away to the team?’. It’s important to think of what do they take away from the team? What do they add? If you’ve got kids that go: “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Before you do this with… I think the most successful people are the ones that have the most self-awareness. So when you go down there, I would like for you to ask this of yourself. So Bob, what do you think it’s like to compete against our team? What behaviors am I willing to work on as a coach? What words would I like others to describe me as a coach at Timbuktu? What do I add to my team? What do I take away? I would say write these down. See what you come up with. See how aware you are of your impact on your team.

I’m not going to go through all these, like I said, because we’re like Teri said, time goes very quickly. So here’s more questions . Thank you Jay, you just take a picture of it, there you go. There’s more questions. I like this one: How do you handle pressure situations and adversity? Give an example how you handled it.

Yes, Teri, I’m sorry.

[TM]: No that’s fine. I was just going to say Tim said I had the opportunity—I haven’t been on the road—I don’t know how long ago. How long ago was Pan Pacs, but this is one of the things we did in the first women’s team meeting is I put them in groups of, there was 30 women, so I put them in six groups of 5. And I sometimes just put the groups… we number off, but in this case, I wanted there to be a more seasoned person with a rookie—Rachel with a Natalie or something like that—and then I had 10 questions. What did it feel like to make the Olympic team? What do you think it will feel like to wear, or what does it mean to you to wear a USA cap? Why did you start swimming? What’s your favorite part about swimming? Just things.

And so they shared it, and went around. It did take 40 minutes or whatever, but I think it was really important just to get beyond: ‘I swim the 100 backstroke, you swim the 10K’, and we don’t really have anything in common. Well we’re both going to wear a USA cap. We’re both competing in a major international meet in the United States for the first time in 16 years. Just things that maybe you want to bring to their attention, and you want to get them to think about.

[KWG]: It’s to get people to go below that water line, to talk about who they really are. When people are able to do that, and you create an opportunity to do that, they will feel better about themselves—their self esteem is raised. There’s increased productivity and then they swim better. I love these questions.

To get back on track, we need to stop and ask ‘what do we need to continue?’ Again, just another question, and these are questions. You can do a whole team meeting on this: What adds to our team dynamics? What are the things that add to our team? What are the things to take away from our team?—I wasn’t allowed to put a picture of anybody I knew on there. (Teri it’s 10:04.)

[TM]: Can I say a few other things?

[KWG]: Sure please. [laughter]

[TM]: Okay I’m a big believer that to learn new things, read new books. Jimmy said something about that yesterday. Here’s a great article in New York Times about the inverse power of praise. How she was saying yesterday, stop saying: “Good job, good job, good job.” I used to do that all the time; I would just say, “Oh good job, good job, good job.” And I like to work with coaches like, “How do you talk to athletes after they swim? How do you give them feedback?” That’s a really important teaching piece. This book I am loving; it’s by the guy who wrote this, it’s called Nurture Shock and it’s about how to praise children and people in a way that will motivate them. If you constantly say ‘good job’, they get afraid to try things. So this is very good, it’s by Po Bronson, Nurture Shock. It just came out.

Another really good book, kind of on that topic, is called The Mindset by Caroline Dweck—she’s over at Stanford, but that’s okay. [laughter]

[KWG]: He talks about her in this book; those two have studied together. Do we have anything else?

This is my contact information, you can email me. You can call me if you have any questions, that’s what I do for a living. I have lots of different tools for your tool box to add if you would like. Yeah, I’ve done a presentation on this before, this is the disc—it’s an assessment that you can take that if you want to learn more about this. I’ve done this with Teri’s team. I’ve done it with lots of different teams. I think every team should have this information. I’m passionate about this. If you want to learn more about it you can always email me or call me.

I just want to say when I quit coaching in 1994, what I wanted to do was I wanted to take the perks of being a coach, that I loved this kind of thing, and make a living out of it. One of the great joys in my life has been being able to work with Teri and her team, and to see what you’ve done and as a woman and for those of you that are women sitting out there in the sport. You know what it’s like to be a woman in this sport, and I just want to say I am just so proud of you and congratulations. [applause]

[TM]: This disc is a behavioral assessment, and you can Google it to find out all about it. One of the things, this has been huge in my coaching career, because Kathie talks about the self-awareness. I can honestly say that when Teri McKeever stopped trying to be Richard Quick and Mark Schubert and all the other wonderful… Nort Thornton, all the wonderful coaches; and just try to be the best Teri McKeever, that’s when good stuff started to happen. This helped me accept what my weaknesses or shortcomings were, to know what I needed to the work on, to be proud of what I did well.

It’s also helped me for the last 12 years. Helped me pick a good assistant coach, because every time I’ve looked for an assistant coach, I’ve been in a different place. And people that I’ve interviewed, I’ve asked them to fill this out and Kathie and I have gone over it. Okay this is how this person will compliment you, these are potential conflicts you’ll have. This is what you’ll need to do and so it’s worked really wonderful that way. As Kathie mentioned everyone on the team has this. They have each other’s and I use this before Pac-10s, before NCAAs. We do a team meeting a piece on: “What shows up for you most significantly under stress? What’s going to be your value of the team?”

And I model it. My value of the team is I’m a good problem solver. I’m going to be able to be ahead not just in the moment but ahead. But one of the things that shows up when I’m under stress is I get very demanding; not demanding, I get overly critical. So I might not… for a kid that wants me to tell them how wonderful they are, I might go, “Awesome, swift. Now we got to blah, blah, blah.” And that doesn’t mean I don’t think it wasn’t great.

It’s my nature when I’ve got 25 people to manage in 3 days is that I’m going to do a “good job”. I’m not going to say good job because that’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. But what was the good job about it. And then I’m going to give them stuff that they need to work on. They know that isn’t about them, that I’m mad at them, I don’t have time for them. That’s me; and their job, your athlete’s job, is to also adapt to your behavior. I’m the constant in the environment. My job isn’t to be 25 different versions of Teri McKeever; it’s to be respect that I need to treat each person differently. But their job is also to recognize that I’m the one that they also have a responsibility to adapt to as well.

[KWG]: So when you nurture your behavior—I love what she said when she said stop trying to be Richard Quick or being Mark. When you nurture your behavior and nurture who you are, your best self comes shining through. Stop trying to be other people, and figure out who you are and be your own best self, and that’s how you’ll be successful. Shall we ask for questions?

[TM]: Yes, we have four minutes. [laughter]

[KWG]: Okay, you had your hand up for a long time. And ask who you want to hear from and you write the pin down.

[audience member]: Either one of you: If you’re coaching age group swimmers in a circle discussion and you hear the same answer because they tend to do that over and over again, what’s the proper way to respond?

[KWG]: I set that up beforehand. I say: I want to hear whatever you hear; if you hear it, don’t repeat it. If I ask for five people to share I want to hear five different things. If you’ve already heard it, don’t share that because they do, do that. How creative.

[TM]: Way in the back there.

[audience member]: If you’ve got a men’s and women’s team, would you suggest separating them, and if so, how would you go about it differently with the men’s team?

[TM]: Okay, I think personally when I coach the men’s and women’s team, I think you do this together. I think you do it the men only; I think you do it the women only. I think it’s important—this is just my belief—that if you’re in charge of a coed team that there’s 3 teams that you’re managing: you’re managing both, you’re managing a men’s squad and you’re managing the women’s squad, in my opinion. I think that this is not… I do it exactly the same way. I make men sit in a circle. I doubt I’d give him a teddy bear to pass around. [laughter] But I think that it’s important that they explore the exact same questions.

[KWG]: Corrie?

[“Corrie”]: I guess just wondering, as a college coach and when individuals have issues on the team that does come out within the team—it might be housing, rooming situation; it might be other stuff that goes on. How much, as a coach, do you think it’s important to get involved and try to help with those types of conflicts? Either one can answer.

[TM]: I have an opinion but you go ahead.

[KWG]: I want to hear what she says. [laughter]

[TM]: Well, I think that as soon as that starts showing up in the locker room, or anywhere that it bring in other team members, that it becomes an issue that you need to talk about. So I would get those two people and we might… and then maybe I facilitate something. But I think you don’t go looking for that stuff. I’m under the belief that by the time I hear about it, it’s been there for a while, because they’re going try to hide it from you. And if it is, yeah I think you need to deal with it.

[KWG]: And I would tell you this: I think that Teri does a really good job. We could do a whole talk on picking team captains, and believe me she has tried a million different ways… okay, a lot of different ways. I think that she does a really good job of picking captains that understand conflict, and are willing to deal with it appropriately and not get sucked in by it and get all co-dependent and try to fix everybody. You don’t want two captains getting the life sucked-out of them because they’re captains, everybody’s coming to them. You want to teach kids how to deal with conflict in a respectful, effective manner, and if you don’t teach it, it will get ugly.

[audience member]: In a circle, do you have like optimal sizes, groups; if it’s too big or too small?

[KWG]: I think five is about a small as I would do, and I’ve done, in a team situation, I’ve had a group as large as 50. And what I’ve done is when everybody’s going to share, I create different small circles but then I bring them all back into the big circle and I say: “Okay now I want to hear from each circle; I want to hear one or two people.” So their attitudes and whatever they had to say comes out. In Teri’s team, how many did we have, 28? 25? We made groups, and they where with their group all weekend long, and then we would come back to the larger group because it’s just time.

[TM]: It depends, too, on what the topics are and what you’re trying to get across. One thing that we’ve been or we did last weekend was just: “Would anyone like to share something that they think the whole team needs to hear?” And then if somebody feels that they want everybody to know, that gives them a place to do that.

[KWG]: And you’d be surprised. We divided up into smaller groups, then I put the heart in the middle and I said, “Does anybody need to share anything that they shared with their smaller groups?” And I say maybe four people did and that was it. Not everybody wants everybody to hear it. They just wanted to say it in their own group. Yes?

[“Keith”]: I always feel like you have the best intentions at the beginning if you do stuff like this, and then you get into the season and you’re so busy, are there other times where you feel it’s important to do this other than before a meet?

[TM]: I would just say, I can stand here without a doubt and say I do know how we won an NCAA title and we won an NCAA title because we do stuff like that, and I might give up 1500 yards. As a coach I think it’s important operating at the highest level, and I’ve got to show that by taking time out and looking at my weekly plans and real time, I think it’s hard in a collegiate season from mid-October to Thanksgiving. That to me is the hardest part of any season, and I always make sure I do something, 3 or 4 different somethings, in there to address that: talk about that, we’re in this together, what are we struggling with? I think it’s just really important that whatever you’re comfortable but that’s a great question.

[KWG]: Well Keith, how often do you think we sat and did this kind of thing?

[“Keith”]: A lot. You would sacrifice yards or philosophy at least once a week.

[KWG]: At least once a week I did.

[TM]: This is—sorry, I’m overpowering her. This is my belief. This is where I’ve gotten better. If something happens, that’s a teaching moment. You stop and you address it, because that’s how you know when to do it. If something’s bothering you or something doesn’t feel right or you don’t know what’s going on, you stop. ‘All right I feel like somethings going on, I don’t know what it is, I’d like to talk about it. I feel like we’re not as motivated as we need to be.’ You know, as a coach, when you just have that feeling like: we’re off track and I don’t know what it is. Or something happens that is not acceptable in your culture. I think you have to stop and I just say: All right, we’re having a teaching moment. And then I’ll tell them why that frustrates me.

I think your athletes, if they know why… I used to just kind of get angry and frustrated and they know that whether I say it or not—it’s like the body language woman [said] yesterday. They know whether you like it or not. That’s the thing that I have found so challenging. I can feel like I’m… their reading me. 25, 30 people are looking and they’ve got 25, 30 interpretations of where you are or whatever. You can’t hide that all the time. If something’s going on, or something happens, I have found it, for me, it’s better for me to be able to say ‘Here’s a teaching moment’, and then I can move on. Because what was happening is I couldn’t move on because I was still kind of frustrated with it, and that’s how I know when I need to stop and look at what to do.

One more , your choice.

[KWG]: Oh, I can’t pick you pick. Okay your hand way up.

[audience member]: So, in an example like that, and maybe it just depends on what happens, would you stop the work out?

[TM]: Yes.

[audience]: Get everyone out and sit down.

[TM]: No, no, no. I would stop the workout though. I’ve stopped in the middle of the set and gone, “Whoa, that’s not what I’m looking for. And this is why it’s not, this is what I expect, we’re going on the top.” That’s our team meeting. [laughter]

[audience]: Then maybe after two weeks if that wasn’t working you’d have a team meeting.

[TM]: Oh it wouldn’t go for two weeks. [laughter]

[KWG]: It might go for two days.

[TM]: Yeah.

[KWG]: Maybe. Thank you.

[TM]: Thank you.

##### end #####

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news