Some people are naturally empathetic and have the ability to truly put themselves in other’s shoes. I am always amazed at my wife’s gift of empathy; she can literally feel the emotions and experience the thoughts of other people no matter what it is they are going through. It gives her an amazing perspective on how to help people and how to relate to people. She can see all the angles and not approach other peoples problems through her own perspective, but approach it from the individual’s perspective. It allows her to come along side the person and work together through a solution.
Unfortunately, I am not naturally gifted in the way my wife is, but luckily I get to be married to her and get a little insight into what it means to be empathetic.
I think every coach goes through phases in their career, and we have to keep evolving as we get wiser (the word I am going to use instead of older). I started coaching collegiately as a sophomore in college and when I say I didn’t know anything about coaching, I am not exaggerating. I thought because I could hit a ball kind of hard on a girl’s net that I could be a good coach. As surprising as it was to me, that was not the case –weird, right? I loved volleyball and I loved the team concepts, but I really didn’t understand how to teach either one. I was there for me and wanted to feel like I was so valuable people would just get better because I was present. I think a lot of young coaches experience this — the feeling that I am here and that’s enough, if players don’t improve and our team isn’t successful then it’s the players’ fault not mine. I’ve tried to come up with a really clever name for that phase in my coaching career, “too cool for school,” “get over yourself,” “wow, you are awesome, idiot,” “nobody is impressed.”. None of those felt right, so I’ll move on.
After about three years (yes, I am a slow learner) I started to figure some things out, not many, but some. I realized that my skills had no value other than the ability to lead drills, which really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. I started to understand that teams are built by relationships and that athletes are developed by training not watching. I could see what needed to be done for us to improve, but I still didn’t know how to do those things. This phase I’ll call “ready to learn.”
Fast forward to the phase I am experiencing now. I skipped a few phases, but stick with me here.
This generation of players wants more than anything to be understood, to be heard from, and to be connected. I have learned that empathy allows me to approach each player differently and it gives me insight into how individuals are best coached. You can’t coach every player the same and without empathy you can’t understand what it is that each player needs. This isn’t easy and I fail at this all the time, but I appreciate its value and I work hard to see things through my players’ eyes. Luckily I am surrounded by an amazing group of people who have a natural ability to do this and it keeps me on my toes. When we strive to understand first and be understood second incredible things happen.
Mathew 7:12-“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
All of us want to be understood and to be heard, but first we have to understand and to listen. When you are around people who do their best to understand you and listen to you, there is an energy that follows, it motivates you and you will accomplish spectacular things. I have seen this principle applied first hand and when it happens it’s magical.
If you truly want to be a part of a team, a real team, then you have to have empathy for everyone involved.
Teams are built when EVERYONE understands, “It’s not all about me.”