7 Ways to Grow Off-Season Player Buy In

By Nancy Justis, Outlier Creative Solutions

Every year around the spring, one of the most dominant challenges and topics of conversations I have with  coaches is getting "player buy-in" to an off-season program.

One feeling coaches continue to articulate is this: "I care so much more than my players. They just don't seem to want it like I do."

Does this sound familiar to you? Probably. I know, I can empathize.

When we are building a program, what is one of the first things we look to do? Set standards! We tend to believe everyone needs more standards and higher standards. We can all work harder, smarter, and more consistently! Right? And we seem to have this belief that if we simply raise standards kids will rise to that standard as if that is all it takes! But the flaw in this approach is that they are often done in a way to "control" behavior instead of empower individuals and build character.

And when we set standards in an effort to control or get compliance, we get relationships built on fear and players who see those standards as obligations instead of opportunities to learn and grow. Controlling standards are often set, communicated, and enforced in such ways that they fail to consider the circumstances and needs of the person.

The reality is that most kids have a lot going on in the off-season, other sports, summer jobs (which are invaluable life experiences), vacations, and just being a kid.

Leisure Athlete versus Performance Athlete

Mark Bennett, the founder of PDS Coaching, spoke about leisure athlete versus performance athlete on the Coaching Culture Podcast Episode 78.

If you were to categorize your athletes as performance or leisure, many coaches might classify them based upon skill level or ability, but Mark defines the performance athlete as an athlete giving his/her very best outside of "practice" time or the basic required training your team or club requires. When a coach is not holding them accountable, are they training hard by themselves, eating right, sleeping right?

Now, based on that standard, very few teams have performance athletes. Bennett suggests that we have almost two pathways or systems of support, one for those athletes who choose the performance pathway and one for those who choose the leisure pathway. The leisure athlete can and should be held to a high standard of giving their best in practices and games, but what differentiates the pathways is the support we give in training behaviors and the process outside of our required training time.

We need to be having this conversation with each of our athletes and supporting not shaming them in whatever path they take. Athletes shouldn't feel ashamed to change their mind on the path they want to take, with both doors always being open.

Regardless of whether we are at youth, high school, or collegiate level, the truth is we don't need or shouldn't want a bunch of performance athletes. We need to be supportive of the holistic development of all the people we work with. Performance athletes will sacrifice and miss out on valuable life experiences: summer internships, trips abroad, mission trips, and other high school and college experiences.

So, the challenge is to have two pathways and let the path be the choice of the athlete. Some coaches are eager to design and implement the most complete off-season program EVER! Great, but don't expect every kid to be brought in and have 100% commitment, because the reality is that it doesn't align with their aspirations. Sure, he or she may want to win a championship, be a starter, or make the all-star team, BUT it isn't the only thing they want in their life and it shouldn't be.

Regardless of whether they are leisure or performance athletes, here are some ways to get buy-in and raise the standards and behaviors in your program.