It Takes a Village
It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, “it takes a village.” Parents say it, teachers, coaches… we can’t do it alone. We need to the benefit of mentoring, I have to admit: I didn’t get it at first. In every aspect of life, I am always open to hearing other people’s opinions and advice. I always love learning from people who are where I want to be someday.
But when it comes to the day-to-day business of coaching I was alone. I always felt like I was coaching on an island by myself. When I had to make a decision about tennis shoes, when I had to pick competition music, and when I got those nasty parent emails demanding to know why their sweet (and perfect, of course) child didn’t make captain. I was alone. Sure the island may be beautiful, but it’s a little scary all alone. I hadn’t learned yet that mentoring is the best medicine.
Why don’t we ask for help?
I don’t think it was a pride issue that I never reached out to other coaches. Instead, it was more of an insecurity issue. I wanted everyone to think I had it together. I started coaching at a very young age, and somehow I equated asking questions with showing my weaknesses. On top of that, I was sure the more veteran coaches never needed to ask for advice. They never struggled with a choice, and they never had backlash from mean parents because they were established and proven success stories. (I hope you hear the dripping sarcasm. I think it all got more complicated the longer I coached).
After 6 years I was able to create a JV program and bring in an assistant coach and my coaching life changed astronomically. I finally had a partner. Someone to forward an email to and say, “What do we do?!” Someone to talk me off a ledge when I needed it. Someone to support me when I have a crazy idea, or better yet tell me it’s too crazy and I should go back to the drawing board. Over the years I had a few different assistant coaches, who all brought something special to the team and into my life. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Because who wants to suffer those snowy football games alone?!?
Since then, I have joined local and national coaches associations, worked with teams outside of my own, run events, and generally speaking just grew my tribe of trusted people around me.
I wish I had found my tribe sooner. I wish I knew about mentoring.
So now I’m one of those veteran coaches and let me just say
COACHING TAKES A VILLAGE!
No one should have to coach alone, and if you think you’re better off coaching on an island let me be blunt: you’re wrong. You may be the only coach of your team, and that’s ok, but it doesn’t mean you should coach alone. Everyone needs a tribe of people around them; a support system. Someone to help you when you’re down and someone to celebrate and bring over the wine when things are going well. (Ok, probably bring over the wine either way).
It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been coaching. In fact the longer I coached the bigger my village grew. I had a few expert technicians around so when I had a dancer who couldn’t get a skill no matter what I tried, they could give me advice on how to help her. Even if it’s something you “should know how to do”, it doesn’t hurt to get advice from someone else and try things a new way. Coaching and mentoring are two halves of one picture. You shouldn’t coach alone.
When you’re pushed out of your comfort zone as a coach, don’t go it alone!
I have a strong ballet background and it has served me well as a coach. Until about 10 years in when things changed at our school and within our state championships and suddenly my team was competing hip-hop! Let me tell you, that decision sat in the pit of my stomach a lot. I knew it was the right thing for the team but was I able to coach a hip-hop team? Luckily, I had a pretty big village around me by this point so I found those people who are experts in what I lacked. I found an excellent choreographer in the area. I called on friends to come in to clean throughout the process and give me opinions as the routine evolved. Eventually, I even did extensive research on costumes and sought advice there as well.
It Takes a Village… to coach a dance team
I finally realized that reaching out for help wasn’t a poor reflection on me. Rather it made me a better coach to use my strengths where I could, and seek help everywhere else.
Changing categories at the competition was terrifying. Not because I thought my team wouldn’t do well. But because I thought I wouldn’t do well. If I had been coaching on an island, I would have been a terrible coach, I’m sure of it. Instead, I had a trusted group around me and wasn’t afraid to ask for advice when I needed it. Combined with the rest of my coaching skills that are not style dependent, we had a successful transition. It takes a village!
This all came up for me when I attended the first meeting of the National Dance Coaches Association. A group of men and women joining together to educate, inspire, and advocate for dance coaches (high school, college, and all-star) across the nation. (If you haven’t looked into it yet, check it out!)
Those three days, working side by side with talented coaches from all over, was one of the most inspiring events I’ve been a part of. It was the ultimate example of a village coming together to create something bigger and better than any of us. There were no specific agenda, company affiliations, or hierarchy, just people united for the same reason: to work together. It was truly created for the coaches, by the coaches and you could feel the passion all weekend.
Put your ego aside…
I mean this two ways: your ego that says you are above others, and the self-reflecting ego that stands in the way of asking for help. At the NDCA congress, I was surrounded by people who not only had impressive coaching resumes but had incredible talents outside of the coaching world: teachers, businessmen and women, website designers, media professionals, and on and on. It was our combined talents that sparked such inspiration. No one was trying to toot their own horn or say we should do things a certain way. Everyone was open to ideas and shared their thoughts.
Now it wasn’t always rosy, we didn’t agree on everything. But when we didn’t agree there was an actual conversation around the issue, respectful debate, and eventually a common resolution. Maybe it’s just me but I think that can be hard to find! In this group, when everyone was willing to be an equal member of an amazing village, it worked and we are all better for it.
The point is this: my personal village of people has now grown to include a wealth of people nationwide and I am so grateful. I wish I had grown my village sooner, so they were there when I needed them recently.
No matter where you are in your coaching career, I hope you find your village of people. Don’t wait until you’re “established” or veteran to realize that you can ask for help and advice and there are so many people out there willing to help. If you are a veteran coach, maybe you can be a mentor now, while still seeking your own village of help when you need it. Through coaching and mentoring simultaneously, you build a village around you. Whether it’s a small tribe of assistant coaches or a nationwide village, that group is essential to your coaching success and sustainability.
Asking others for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.
Coaching takes a village and I hope you’ll consider me a part of your village too.
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