Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lou Holtz and Leadership- What does your team expect from you?


Another summer season looms and teams and players eagerly await their tryout process. People are finishing workout programs, people are getting outside to work on throws, and advertisement for tryouts are being sent out by e-mail and posted on sites.

Every year you hear the same thing from almost every competitive team, regardless of division or city

  • We're a competitive team dedicated to winning/development
  • Our goal is to reach nationals/upas with a top x finish (Usually the goal is overestimated and never met)
  • Every spot on the team is up for grabs
  • There is always extra themes that are common for teams ("fun", "great learning experience", "serious" "young".
I think teams do a good job of explaining what they envision the team to be. The promotion of tryouts is a shot-gun approach, hanging up a proverbial shingle and hoping the right players (and lots of them) come to tryouts. Paired with some direct communication to desired player targets, this is usually an effective strategy for fielding a team.

The only problem with this overall strategy is people have heard the same message every year, and we're getting desensitized to the messages of hope, fun, and lofty performance goals. We know that not all spots on good teams is available. We know that particular skill sets are wanted, and you're wasting your money if you don't fit that mould. And we know that the tryouts are an imperfect process based on people's mind's eye making a decision on who's good and who's not.

So, what strategy changes can I suggest? One easy change to stand out among teams is when it comes to Leadership. Like all areas of life, Leadership is in desperate supply when it comes to ultimate.

Lou Holtz, former US college football coach and national champion with Notre Dame was a heavy accented odd looking man who wouldn't strike you as a great leader or a man who could lead others to greatness. However, Holtz was a man known for his wit and his character as a coach, recruiter, speaker and studio analyst.

What was the secret for this man? A lot more simple than you might think. Holtz sold players on his program and the chance to win just like ultimate teams do every spring, but he also sold his players on a philosophy- He could be trusted to do what was best for the school, for the team and for each and every player. In the world of college football, that is rare to this do.

Holtz has many quotes about his time as coach and on leadership, but his quote (about what players want/expect from a team and coach) is my absolute favorite:

Coach Holtz advises that players ask the following three questions to evaluate your leadership:
  • "Can I trust you?
  • Are you committed to excellence?
  • Do you care about me?"
Coach Holtz developed three subsequent rules and expectations he has used in his role as a leader:
  • Do the right thing
  • Do the best that you can
  • Show people you care.
If you use this advice as a team leader in ultimate, you're really offering your players more than a place on a roster. You've built a team and a culture that people want to stay with and people want to join. Too often we've seen teams add players to the team for family/relationship reasons and cut more deserving players. We've seen good players get away with too much, and players not know where they stand with the captain/coach. We've also seen players question what the goals are and how the team is progressing. All these problems can be answered with leadership that makes people know they will be taken care of, and need only focus on their task and job.

A very simple leadership guide for long term gain both on and off the field.


T1000 said...

I don't know, Steve. I don't dispute Lou's advice on any particular point, but doesn't it strike you as a touch vague or facile?

How many errant leaders consciously deviate from those points? I think that discerning the right thing, and knowing how to show you care are the hard parts.

Taylor said...

Heard rumblings of changes to the Ottawa system. Care to shed some light on that?

Sport Management Steven said...


Lou was a simple man. His 3 question approach was vague and simplistic, but the leadership community loves it because it touches all the main aspects:


Sadly, I'd say a lot of errant leaders fail to understand that all of the three points are involved. Some people focus only on results and some people focus too much on feelings and relationships.

Clear vision and goals are often missing, so that makes discerning the right thing almost impossible, and showing how you care often gets mixed up with doing what everyone wants.

Sport Management Steven said...


I don't want to shed light, point a flashlight or light any fires on "that".

As the summer season moves on, it will be easy to see who's doing what and playing where, and we all might be able to comment with more certainty.

Taylor said...

Fair enough. Wasn't trying to provoke. Just curious.