Minnesota high school coaches seek leading edge for motivating athletes

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2013 - 12:49 PM

A cultural shift is changing how coaches need to connect with their athletes to motivate them, local officials were told.

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Lakeville North head football coach Brian Vossen

A high school coach with an open-door policy might sound good, but it doesn’t resonate much with athletes these days.

Instead, coaches should spend time in their athletes’ living rooms to find out who they are and what best motivates them, reflecting a new era of “transformational coaching,’’ a national researcher told high school activities directors from across the state last week.

The message from Jeff Duke, who leads a postgraduate program in coaching at the University of Central Florida, was part of a one-day seminar at Minnetonka High School called “Athletic Administrators Leading in the 21st Century.’’

Topics ranged from organizational and coaching leadership to law and liability. Presenters included Duke, who developed his “Three-Dimensional Pyramid of Coaching Success”; Mark Dienhart, former Gophers athletic director; Minnesota State High School League legal and legislative counsel and a roundtable of superintendents.

“This is about us getting better,” Bob Madison, Mounds View activities director and seminar steering committee member, told his 86 fellow educators, many of whom scribbled with pens, typed on tablet computers or listened with thoughtful facial expressions.

Make goals realistic

The first speaker, Dienhart, offered a sobering view of the changes within athletes and athletics. Athletics, he said, “is the primary source of status for high school students” but he wondered whether youngsters in the social media age are more concerned with celebrity than success.

He also talked about “goal-sickness,” his term for coaches who “could be taken over by wins and losses.” The job of a high school activities director, Dienhart said, is to “keep reminding folks that isn’t what it’s all about.”

Duke furthered Dienhart’s message and encouraged activities directors to remind coaches to win both on the scoreboard and in the hearts of their athletes.

“If the coach says, ‘Get on the bus,’ most kids will get on without knowing where it’s going,” Duke said. “So, who is coaching the coaches?”

His “pyramid of coaching success’’ starts with fundamentals, teaching athletes the skills they need for their sport. Few coaches, Duke said, will succeed beyond this level if they don’t invest in psychology, the second tier.

Today’s athletes, Duke said, feel they “should get something for playing sports.’’ He cautioned that motivating through the hope of a college scholarships or giving everyone a trophy at the team banquet adds to a sense of entitlement.

He challenged coaches to learn how to best motivate their athletes. Doing so also moves coaches to the third tier, transformation of the heart, both within athletes and themselves.

Staying on the ‘edge’

Duke’s presentation served as the day’s high point for several attendees. Fridley activities director Dan Roff said he heard a similar message at a conference for secondary school principals and was encouraged by the affirmation of what he is seeing in athletics.

“Transformational coaching is what’s happening right now,” Roff said. “There is a cultural shift going on and [Duke] is on the leading edge. We’re trying to stay on the leading edge so we bring that to our coaches and communities. We have to put our own brand on it but it’s the principals. You need to enter peoples’ lives today.”

Orono activities director Bucky Mieras said he heard about transformational coaching but wasn’t sure how to get there before Duke’s presentation. Breaking down the first two tiers, Mieras said, “really connected with me.”

Eastview activities director Matt Percival said Duke’s presentation encouraged him to modify his school’s upcoming summer coaches meeting and include bigger-picture ideas.

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    Tuesday July 2, 2013

    Three metro-area activities directors shared thoughts on last week’s “Athletic Administrators Leading in the 21st Century” conference at Minnetonka High.

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