One day, the beginning of an off-season, there was something I had to take care of before the session. I was on the premises, but occupied. I knew it would only take a couple extra minutes, but I was aware I wouldn’t be present at the top of the hour when we were scheduled to begin.
The group contained some rookies, but there were also some veterans. I was privileged for a number of years to have my sons as participants in the program, and they were present as well. I was confident it wouldn’t pose a problem since I knew what I had taught them.
As I walked through the door fully expecting them to have started their warm up, they were all still sitting on the ground half-heartedly stretching but really just talking. I knew they hadn’t lost track of time because the first thing they did was announce I was late (I’m sure you have gotten that before).
I asked them why they hadn’t started and they responded by saying, “We were waiting on you.” WRONG ANSWER.
So I reiterated to my veterans something I know they had heard on more than one occasion: “If no one’s in charge, take charge.” They hastily got up knowing full well what that meant and the leaders finally did what they should have done five minutes prior: they got lined up and started their warm up.
The warm up isn’t necessarily the start of the workout. Simply showing up is the start of the workout.
When I spoke about the expectations of all athletes, the first thing I listed was attendance. Showing up is half the battle. Showing up on time AND on a consistent basis is the full scope of the attendance portion.
Now, when it comes to identifying leaders, you’ll recognize the ones who are the “first ones in, last ones out” type. You’ll also notice the attitude with which they show up. I’ve had plenty of athletes who were consistently on time, however consistently unmotivated to workout.
Leaders show up mentally ready to work. The moment they show up, they start warming up, not just sitting idly on their phone waiting for the session to begin. Leaders have a mindset that they are not just going to go through the motions. Getting the mind right for a workout could technically count as the start of the workout.
I’ve noticed there is a budding movement promoting a return to a discipline-oriented culture. My favorite resources on the topic come from military veterans.
A while back, I asked a friend of mine, Navy SEAL veteran, if there was any such thing as an "ex-SEAL". Without delay he said no. His reasoning was that some things become a part of you - a part of your proverbial DNA.
One of my favorite influencers in the leadership arena is Jocko Willink. He was a SEAL Team Leader who now teaches leadership strategy. He most notably said, “Discipline is freedom.” I highly recommend his book, “Extreme Ownership.”
The point of the above is I have always highly advocated for athletes taking ownership of the program. It takes discipline to do that.
Back to our example narrative--your team is present and accounted for. They are ready mentally. It’s time to start. It’s time to line up.
Do you have leaders you trust to take action if you aren't there? My assumption is you are always there, but maybe you’re like me and must tend to an urgent matter just prior to the session's start. Heck, you could be in the room talking to a VIP guest, in full view of your team, hoping they make you look good. These are just a couple of examples where leaders in your program can take ownership. The question becomes, have you taught them that?
There may be some degree of “auto-pilot” with the start of a workout where you are simply supervising the standard daily stretching and warm up protocols before getting into any specific programming for the day. Don’t make the assumption your athletes will just do it. Lining up can take more discipline than you think.
For instance, perhaps you have a large, diverse group. I’ve consulted with coaches who were responsible for training multiple groups together--at one time. While the athletes were familiar with the basic procedures their team would follow, things got muddied when they all came together. Without proper coordination, lines can be uneven, crooked, poorly spaced, leaderless, or all of the above. It starts with you teaching it--discipline. Take time to teach athletes this principle.
As important as the lines are, the lanes are even moreso. Good lanes are important for safe training. There should be no reason to have athletes running into each other.
Not to mention, designating lanes are important for flow. Efficient processes result in better training. Flow is not just about staying in lanes, it’s also understanding where a lane ends. Your athletes need to understand how much operating space they have and how to stay out of the way of somebody else once they are done with the exercise.
As for the lines, optimize your space and go wider first. From there you can go deeper. From experience, the longer the lines, the more athletes got lost and I couldn't see the forest through the trees. Shallow lanes were easier for myself and my assistants to monitor.
A practical tip to assist with this is to set cones. Cones can establish boundaries, or limits. If you’re at an indoor basketball court, there may not be much wiggle room, but use of every foot of space is a must. If you have help, assistants at the back can help keep lines even in length.
Choose line leaders who are responsible for their space and can help streamline the flow. This assumes the rest of your athletes are good followers. It’s incredibly important to have line leaders who want to lead the line. Assign the responsibility to an athlete willing to take it. In a school team setting, by default, the leadership role falls upon the seniors. In my head coaching days, I didn’t allow for any failure that could have easily been prevented. If an underclassman wanted to take charge, fine. If a senior wanted to bump him down the line, fine. Somebody take charge.
I can think of all sorts of analogies from the phrase “take charge,” but I’ll use this one: What is a charge?
One thing that comes to mind is an electrical charge. You charge whatever device you like to use (phone, tablet, watch) so it can function. If you are in charge, you have to provide the energy to make everyone else function correctly.
As coaches, I know we intend to set good examples, however, it is important to draw it out of your kids. Charge them with leadership. Attempt to establish the Line Up as the simplest part of your training so you can pay closer attention to other details.
Finally, good leaders help at the end. No matter how your workout started, you also want a clean finish. My coaching cue is “pickup, put up, clean up”. Make sure your leaders help here, even if it’s seniors delegating to underclassmen. For middle schoolers, make sure they don’t abuse authority; at that age, no one is exempt from clean up. Good leaders are willing to do it themselves anyway. Help your athletes understand the importance of their training space and to take pride in it.