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Is Your Team Struggling?

My dad was always eager and ready for us to participate in sports. He never pushed it—it was our choice. But when we chose, he was a tremendous supporter. It was his belief that team sports involvement prepares a person in a unique way for life.

I thought of that when I read a recent interview with Urban Myer titled “Checking Under the Hood.” Myer is a retired American college football player and coach. Meyer served as the head coach of the Bowling Green Falcons from 2001 to 2002, the Utah Utes from 2003 to 2004, the Florida Gators from 2005 to 2010, and the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2011 until his retirement after the 2019 Rose Bowl. He is still employed at Ohio State as an Assistant Athletics Director and by Fox News as a sports analyst. Powerful words from Urban Meyer

He asked the question, “Is your team struggling?”, and then he talked about it and the reasons why. They struck me as entirely accurate and helpful for us who lead or coach teams in other areas. His introductory comments show the direction his assessment goes. Read and reflect for insight into yourself as a coach:

  • So many of us are excuse makers. That is who we are, and it shouldn’t be that way.

  • When you see a team struggle, the first people the fans or the media blame are the players and the coaches.

  • There’s not a bad player in the NFL. They’re NFL players; the same with the coach. They may not be coaching well or playing well.

Then he challenges coaches to check under the hood, take a deeper look, for insight. Myer says, “Every time I’ve had a team struggle, every time, it’s fallen in one of three categories: trust issues, a dysfunctional work environment, and selfishness.” Those things are hard to hear if we are coaching a struggling team, but necessary to hear.

Trust Issues

What is trust? Trust is “reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something." Myer says in coaching this shows up when “players don’t trust the coaches, the coaches don’t trust the players or, really awful, when the players don’t trust each other.”

You’ve seen that happen before, right? Think about that definition for a moment. Trust means that you rely on someone else to do the right thing. You believe in the person's integrity and strength. Because of that, because of that deep trust, you're able to put yourself on the line, at some risk to yourself. Trust is absolutely essential to an effective team in sports or business, or even a family team, because it provides a sense of safety. When your team members feel safe with each other, they will be comfortable to open up, to take appropriate risks, and to willingly expose vulnerabilities.

Dysfunctional Work Environment

As Myer fleshed this reason for a struggling team, he made these comments:

  • The expectations for a winning team are very hard, but we don’t work hard.

  • The coach is going to have to be really clear with his/her team. Not working hard is going to lead to frustration, anger, disappointment because we want to win a championship. The coach must directly communicate, “I’ve got news, guys--we are not working hard.”

  • Your work ethic must exceed or equate your expectations. That’s a good environment.

That last statement is so powerful. In my own leadership I have found that people like to have high expectations, but do not always have the mindset, work ethic, passion, etc., to really get after it and succeed. They don’t really want it. They want the reward that hitting high expectations brings, but not the responsibilities. Many are always looking for others to deliver the goods, to make the sacrifices, to go the extra mile.

This involves individual and team work ethic. Work ethic is about our attitude of determination, dedication, excellence, perseverance toward our job/responsibilities. It is composed of a set of values based on our ideas of and commitment to discipline and hard work. A strong work ethic is composed of attitudes and actions that reflect integrity.

When the environment is as it should be, the team members will do whatever it takes to complete the tasks for which they are responsible in a timely manner. It’s the dedication to one’s coach, employer, supervisor. It’s the commitment to the values of the organization. It’s a dedication to get things done and get them done rightly. Together, the players and coaches with a strong work ethic creates an environment of dependability and accountability.


Meyers speaks very directly.

  • Football is an unselfish sport. You’ve got to do the nasty.

  • You have to do the unnoticed stuff.

Myers is very clear that coaches and players must do what needs done, and not focus on who has it easier or what’s in it for me. A selfish attitude is ten times more powerful than a good attitude. It has an incredible impact on the team. Selfishness never builds relationships—it always pushes people away. It destroys. You can never be lazy or a glory hog.

How do you recognize a selfish team member, whether a coach of a player? They reject feedback. They are defensive, angry, resentful when someone challenges them or their choices. They want others to only focus on the positive contributions they make. They are not anxious for anyone to speak into their areas that need improvement or give input on things that could help them. They feel disrespected and turn on the person who offered it.

As you read the thoughts from a lifetime coach on the criteria for a struggling team, you must have had some concurring thoughts. I did too. Now, let’s act on them. We want our teams to win and enjoy the process.

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