I have struggled quite a bit through the years as a coach about how to appropriately set goals for my teams. It seemed to me that the ultimate goal was always to win a championship and that was about it. Pretty obvious in my eyes! But over the years it has become for me not what my teams are going to win at the end of the season but more what kind of team do I want them to be. What is going to be the team “identity”? How are other teams and people going to see us as a group of athletes?
My list of goals is not very measurable and I know most coaches will want to start looking at subsets of games and analyze different statistical numbers to be able to evaluate team goal performance. These measures can be very effective, but they don’t speak to team identity and an overarching philosophy that a coach may want to bring to a team and the way the team plays and conducts themselves.
Here are some lofty goals that I like to set for my teams:
1) Be the hardest working team in the league 2) Be the fastest team in the league 3) Be the most coachable team in the league
After we set these goals, we absolutely have to talk about how to get there in simple terms.
How can we become the hardest working team? How can we become the fastest team? How can we become the most coachable team? The entire group, players and coaches, have to sit down to discuss these goals, discuss how to get there AND most importantly, commit to these goals as a group.
I have written before that the key to playing good hockey is to play full speed and pressure the puck all the time. These two things inherently make you the hardest working team and the fastest team. When a team is playing full speed it simply makes it difficult to play against them. They make the ice smaller for the opposition simply by skating and playing quicker. When there is great puck pressure opposing teams will feel that your team is fast as time and space is taken away. Coaches often tell their players to not let the other team outwork them. Players instinctively know what that means and it is critical to winning hockey games to outwork your opposition.
One of my most important goals is to be the most coachable team in the league. I often tell my teams at the start of the year that I want people who watch us play to say "Wow! That is a well-coached team!" This is where I make it very clear that being "well coached" has nothing to do with me as a coach and everything to do with them as players.
I also believe it’s important to have that goal of winning a championship. There is really no sense in not having that as a goal. It may involve smaller steps - win half our games, make the playoffs, etc. but ultimately, winning is important. I know that sounds very politically incorrect but athletes have to embrace wanting to be the best and wanting to win. That’s the point of sports and to not have a goal to win on the playing field every game is missing the mark. Teams and athletes put in the time and effort to be their best so that at the end of the day they can prove that in competition.
To me, a coachable team is one that plays "as a team". From the stands, a coachable team looks like they know what they are doing positionally - together - and do the little things well: line changing, winning battles on the boards, making good decisions, etc. So, what it comes down to is how well a team can execute what a coach is teaching throughout the year.
There was a great quote on the internet that I found interesting but a little scary too. Patrick Murphy, coach of the University of Alabama Softball team said "Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults, let your kids get use to someone being tough on them. It’s life - get over it."
Should winning a championship be a goal set at the beginning of the year? Absolutely. In fact, team goals can be set in many different ways with many different measures, but defining team identity through goal setting can be the most valuable and long lasting to team and player development.
Read more from Coach Traugott on the art of coaching. His eBook Creating a Culture of Confidence is a terrific resource on coaching the mental side of the game.