I often talk about the lessons I’ve learned after years of coaching. The things I would do differently, ideas I had late in the game, coaching practices I wish I had used more often. Today I want to talk about one of those lessons, in the hope that you choose to integrate some of this strategy into your own team’s practice plan a whole lot sooner in your career than I did.
To put it simply, journaling changes everything. It may feel like a frivolous thing that just takes valuable time away from technique training or cleaning, but it is so incredibly valuable from a mental stand point. If you want more motivated dancers, start journaling. Want dancers with better confidence on the floor? Journal. Want to help them learn more about themselves and improve faster? Journal. Want your team to be closer? Journal.
Benefits of Journaling
There is ample research in the field, but here are some highlights of the positive influence a journal can have in your life:
- Reduces stress
- Makes you more intentional
- Help you be aware of progress
- Boost mood
- Improve confidence
- Organize thoughts
- Make you a better leader
- Learning more about your self (reflection)
- Learn more from mistakes and grow faster
- Increase creativity
- Be more productive
Now if you’re convinced that it can help you (and I hope you’re at least intrigued to try it) there’s a few things to consider before you start. Answer these questions for yourself as a coach to determine what journaling will look like for your team. There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s about what’s best for you. Consider this the journal before the journal (wink wink). Reflect on your own purpose behind bringing this to the team, what you want out of it, and how it will work best in your schedule.
Questions to Answer Before You Start
- Why do I want to introduce this to my team?
- How much time do I want to dedicate to this? How often will we journal as a team?
- Are they private or do we ever share?
- Do I provide specific prompts for the team?
- Is there a schedule / routine we want to follow to make it easier?
- How will we choose what to write about every time? Schedule? Or maybe print all the prompts you like, put them in a jar and pull one out when it’s time.
Guidelines to Journaling
Here are some basic guidelines to journaling. Share these with your team when it’s time to get started.
- There’s no “right” way to journal. Do what works for you and encourage your team to do the same. This is not the time for perfectionism
- Don’t worry about grammar and spelling, just let it flow
- Write pen to paper, avoid letting your team journal on their phones
- Be honest and truthful with yourself
- Date your entries so you can go back and look at them!
- Let your stream of consciousness flow, try not to edit your thoughts
- Consistency is key, not so much what you write or how you set up the journaling practice, just that you stick to it!
What To Expect When You Start
A few clarifications to make sure you understand what to expect when you start
- It can be emotional. Depending on what you ask the team to write about it could bring up some difficult emotions. That’s ok, and even a good thing. There are clear long-term benefits for mental health but if it stirs up some emotions don’t shy away from that. Writing helps work through those emotions so that’s a good thing!
- Sometimes it feels hard and you don’t want to. You don’t have to force it but get in the practice of writing something every time your team is scheduled to do it. It doesn’t matter what you write, but write something!
- It may not feel easy right away (or even ever for some of us) but stick with it and give yourself grace if it feels hard. When people first start journaling they can feel shame around the fact that they don’t know what to write. “This should be easy, what’s wrong with me?” Be careful of those types of reactions, because then the journal process is stirring up negative self-talk. It may not be easy for everyone and there is nothing wrong with you if it is hard at first. That’s where prompts can come in handy to help get you unstuck, but ultimately ensure the team that if it feels hard that’s ok and it will get easier.
- Mistakes are normal and ok, the journal doesn’t have to “look pretty”. Your team may start to compare handwriting or colors etc. There is no rule that says it has to look pretty or will be more valuable if it is! Messy is ok, our thoughts are messy!
- If you get off track, you don’t have to quit, just get started again. Don’t throw away the whole season because you missed a week.
5 Simple Steps to Start Journaling with Your Team
Decide how often you want your team to journal and choose the specific schedule. If you’re easing into it, maybe you journal at the end of every Friday, or Wednesdays before warmup. Whatever works best. If team building is a part of what you’re hoping for, then you can do one day a week for a self-reflection prompt and one day a week where they swap journals with one person and write something encouraging to that teammate. You can implement “teammate Tuesdays” for example if that’s a goal for journaling.
Find your schedule of prompts and lay out the season. The last thing you need during competition season is to be stressed about finding the “right” prompt. That’s when you need to reflect and journal, not have it add to your stress! So if you’ve decided once a week, then count how many weeks you’ll be doing it and choose the ones you want and create a simple document with the prompts and dates. You can use this list to help you get started. Take the time to set it up, and it will be an effortless process that helps you during the season rather than another task on your to-do list.
Purchase notebooks for the team or have everyone bring their own. You can even have a team decorating party as a fun team bonding event to kick-off your new journal routine. These don’t have to be expensive, remember it doesn’t have to look pretty, and buying cheap and simple then decorating can make them extra special.
Have a meeting with your team and explain the benefits, plan, and rules for using the journal on your team. Take about 20 minutes to highlight why you’ve decided to do it, how it’s going to work for your team, and have them complete the first question to get the feel for it.
Start journaling! Implement your plan and stick with it. I also must say, it’s best if you journal too, Coach. You’ll see the benefits as well which will make it more likely you stick with it which is best for you and the team.