This week I’ve been away with the NI Seniors Men’s football team as their strength and conditioning coach for the first time.
I was grateful for the opportunity and was looking forward to getting involved.
One of my roles is to take the team warm up.
I’ve lost count of the number of warm-ups I’ve taken in my coaching career but as this one drew closer I could feel myself getting more and more anxious.
This was only a 15 minute warm-up which I could take in my sleep.
Thankfully all went well and as the training sessions unfolded everything started to flow a lot better.
I soon realised that it wasn’t because these guys were international players that I felt a bit anxious, even though it did have a part to play, but because I didn’t have a connection with them.
It was my first time taking them and their first time meeting me.
It wasn’t until I got to know a few of them from chatting in the morning as I took their wellness scores or taking them through their gym programmes that we built a connection.
It may have been something that we both could relate to, or I was able to pass on whatever knowledge I could.
At the end of the day, these players are like anyone else, they are human.
THEY ARE HUMAN
They want to connect, engage in conversation, share stories and find out information that could help improve their personal and professional life.
This was only my first camp and I was really only setting the foundations by getting to know each player. Some were easier than others to connect with but the squad as a whole were super, including the staff.
The same lesson in terms of connection applies to all levels of sport from under 8’s to international level and even extends into your personal and professional life.
If you want to get on with people, help improve, inspire or win together then you must build connections.
Find something that you both have in common or find out more information on a topic they enjoy.
It may take a bit of extra time or research but it will be very much worth it.
Find the right opportunity when you might be able to get people on a one to one basis.
If you are a coach, get there early to set up before everyone arrives and use the time to speak with your players as they are coming in or whenever they are leaving the training.
Agree a time to meet up for a coffee in small groups and share stories and listen to what these people are saying.
These things will help grow strong connections but they will also let your players know that you are there for them and care.
If you don’t get a chance to meet them face to face, drop them a text or give them a phone call.
Start the conversation with a simple ‘How are you? How’s the family?’
Another way to build connections is by having fun. I was very reluctant to add too much fun into my warm ups with this group of players until I got to know them better and they understand my own personality and way of doing things.
Now I try and add in a little bit of competition and fun along the way.
Again it helps the players relax around me and sets them in a good mood before they move onto the next part of the session.
You could also add in team bonding sessions where you are as equally involved as they are.
Paintballing, adventure sports or even a fun interactive quiz are good ways to help increase the connection you have with your team.
Finally one of the best ways of building and keeping a connection is to let the players know that you care.
A coach once said to me, ‘If you want your players to know you care about them then simply care about them’.
It’s as easy as that. There is no way that you can pretend to care, because sooner or later it will show that you don’t.
Be there for your players when they need you most, both professionally and personally and you will soon build bonds that will be hard to break and help move you closer towards a winning culture.