Leadership lessons from a legend
By Greg Bach
Great leadership is anchored in the art of elevating, inspiring and caring, which is exactly what Beth Launiere has been doing for more than 30 years and counting.
The legendary University of Utah volleyball coach has piled up nearly 600 wins, a bundle of awards, and impacted countless lives along the way.
“Making people around you better is what leadership is about,” says Launiere, co-author of STOP COMPETING AND START WINNING: THE BUSINESS OF COACHING with Leo Hopf. “It’s not about pulling people and it’s not about yelling at people. Leadership is about using your sphere of influence around you to make people better.”
For coaches navigating the youth sports landscape, the sharper their leadership skills the better their teams will perform.
And the more rewarding the experiences will be for their young athletes.
“It’s about serving them and helping them learn and helping them feel comfortable, as much as possible, through difficult situations; and helping them have confidence,” Launiere says of leading young athletes. “Those are the things that it means to be a servant leader. I always tell my team if I’m pulling them, we’re not going to be successful. But if I can help them along the way on their journey our team is going to be successful and we’re going to find ways to be successful.”
During the past several years Launiere and Hopf, an avid volleyball fan and business consultant who has advised some of the world’s most dynamic organizations on their strategies and decision making, had been doing presentations at various coaching conventions that were producing rave reviews.
And it sparked the idea of doing a book together.
“It’s a passion of what I do on a daily basis and what he does on a daily basis and it was just great synergy to come together and create something for coaches,” says Launiere, the 2019 Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
The book – for coaches, administrators, athletic directors, and anyone who works in any level of sports programming – covers a goldmine of material: the importance of a growth mindset, delegating, goal setting, the power of empathetic leadership, trust, inspiring young people, and much more.
We spoke with Launiere on a wide range of topics that relate to coaching and leading young athletes. Use her insights to help guide your teams and be a positive influence on their lives:
USING PRACTICE DEBRIEFS
During Launiere’s practices there is a lot of talking – but it’s not all coming from her.
A post-practice ritual features her team gathering and players sharing their thoughts on what unfolded during the session.
They even do it after some of the drills during practice.
“We call them de-briefs,” Launiere says. “We always de-brief at the end of practice, and sometimes after drills, too.”
These gatherings have produced noticeable results, too.
“It’s been really powerful because when something didn’t go well and our players had a chance to voice their opinion to each other it’s usually pretty positive,” Launiere explains. “It’s usually something like ‘hey, we can do better at this’ or ‘we can do better at that.’ And then the next drill becomes that much better, and they know that they have had an impact on the practice. Just communicating with them and asking them – because communication is the key to everything.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAILING
Young athletes hate when it happens.
And most parents typically cringe when it happens, too.
But going through rocky patches, failing, and experiencing the sting of a setback is mighty valuable for overall growth and development.
“I think failure is critical,” Launiere says. “If everything goes well you don’t have to respond – you just keep going. Failure is something that forces a young person to be uncomfortable and to have to look at the situation and then try to make changes. As coaches that’s what our job is – to try and have our players make changes to get better and to grow. And so, if they don’t fail they’re not going to do that, and we don’t have the opportunity to point things out to them on how to grow and how to respond.”
THE POWER OF EMPATHY
Sports are hard, and kids are going to be frazzled and frustrated as they strive to pick up skills along the way.
“It’s important for volunteer coaches to understand that this is very hard stuff and young players are going to be uncomfortable when they’re being asked to do things in front of people that they can’t physically do and can’t be masters at,” Launiere explains. “But if you have patience with them and if you work with them and if you intentionally teach them life-long lessons as they attack these things it’s a very powerful experience to help young people grow.”
Communicating with athletes that you recognize the difficulties that are tied to the process is all-important in their pursuit of improvement.
“Empathy is a very strong emotion and it’s very powerful for athletes to understand that you understand what they are going through,” Launiere says. “It’s one of the most powerful things that I try to communicate to my athletes.”
POSITIVITY AND PATIENCE
Two traits Launiere encourages today’s volunteer coaches to latch onto as they navigate their seasons are positivity and patience.
“The process of change takes so much time,” she says. “So my message to volunteer coaches is just to be patient, be positive, and make it fun. Having fun is still very important at my level and we talk about it all the time. My athletes want to have fun and I want to have fun – it’s important.”
By draping practices in that all-important positive energy and fun, chances are kids’ seasons won’t be derailed by those frustrating moments that are a part of every athlete’s journey.
“Frustration is a very powerful emotion that gets in the way of learning,” Launiere says. “So you have to keep that at bay and keep the process moving forward.”
Young athletes want to play for coaches who are enthusiastic teachers and leaders.
“Having good energy and being positive is important and it sure goes a long way with young people,” Launiere says. “Having them have a deep level of trust that you’re going to be there for them, that you’re going to be positive in teaching them, that you’re going to put your arm around them when they need that, and you’re going to push them when they need that, that’s inspiring to young people and that’s what they want. They want to be challenged and they want to know that people care for them.”
Follow the authors on Twitter: @CoachLauniere and @leohopf
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