It’s been a couple of weeks since we hosted our 2023 Coach Retreat at Ponca State Park, which has given me time to reflect on where we are and where we want to go.
These humans spent a rather cold weekend being silly, sharing ideas, and making connections across teams. It reminded me just how much I miss seeing kids on bikes, seeing coaches working together, and all of us coming together to play bikes and party on the trails. I left Ponca with my heart full and jazzed for this season ahead of us.
Relationships are Everything
I think I heard the word “relationships” and the phrase “it depends on the individual athlete” more than a dozen times that weekend.
We spent time learning about coaching students on the autism spectrum, which sparked a conversation about working with all students on an individual level. The phrase, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.” sticks with me. We discussed at length how getting to know our athletes as individuals and working with parents to better understand our athletes is imperative as we help them set and reach their goals.
I heard the phrase, “It depends on the athlete” several times. When we approach the work we do, it is important that we consider the athlete in front of us as an individual, whether they have autism or not. What resonates for one student-athlete may not with another. Acknowledging that each athlete has different abilities and different motivations only means that we are able to meet our athletes where they are and help them get to where they want to be.
Why Rules Aren’t Enough
One of the most important conversations we had this year was a discussion on the benefits and limitations of rules. Rules help set the tone and expectations, but they will never be sufficiently specific to cover all situations. This is where grace, sportsmanship, and a strong culture of community are essential.
When faced with conflict and when the rules do not offer a clear path to resolution, the culture we create with our teams and in our league needs to fill in the gaps and support us in our mission to develop character and community. We are never going to achieve a culture through rules. Rules help us create structure and procedures, but they do not build culture. Our behaviors and how we treat each other create culture.
At the retreat, coaches came together to identify elements of team culture that are important for all of us (inclusivity, support, fun, friendliness, respect) and elements of team culture that we want to leave behind (overemphasis on competition over cooperation, gamesmanship, clique-y-ness). When asked to describe our league culture, coaches said we are inclusive, encouraging, respectful, and supportive. What this tells me is that when we work together to know and understand each other – and set common expectations – we only strengthen our community.
This one conversation solidified that our mission and our core values really are at the heart of everything we do. I am proud that I get a first-row seat to witness the magic our coaches create both on and off the trails. I cannot wait to see what our coaches and athletes accomplish this season.