The Importance of Setting Clear Expectations

As a private baseball coach who has been doing private baseball lessons for over eight years, I take great pride in my role in the lives of the players I’m fortunate enough to work with. Even if I get a client who I only happen to work with once, I know that my demeanor, presence, attitude, and the things that I teach him or her has an opportunity to make a lifelong impact. Even just one thing I say can possibly makes something click, or create a catalyst of motivation for that player to expect more out of themselves and strive to achieve their full potential. It’s amazing to have a connection to what you do for a living such as this.

When I was younger my dad was pretty hard on my brother and I. He was a football player growing up who had an absent father himself. When he was alive, he used to say, “Son, excuses…they don’t pay my bills, they don’t give me thrills, I DON’T WANT TO HEAR THEM.” He said this to us from a young age. He set an expectation with us that excuses would not be tolerated.

Excuses for what?

Not playing well in the game? Not doing the dishes when we were told? Not saying thank you? All of the above.

It was inserted into my blood flow that I wasn’t going to accept excuses out of myself when things didn’t go as I planned or if I happened to fall short.

My dad was not a very compassionate man. As a coach, I aim to learn from this and exercise some compassion in the way I go about setting this expectation, but I also know how thankful I am for the tough love my dad gave me and how it has helped me become a more responsible man.

In my opinion, coaches who have an ability to balance compassion and tough love are the ones who pull the most meaningful greatness out of their players in the long run.

I have found that there is great power and significance in a coach’s ability to (tough) lovingly set an expectation that excuses are something that we can not accept out of ourselves as people and as athletes. Not making excuses is just one piece of the champion pie, a fundamental mindset. Our expectation as coaches (should be) that our players reach an eventual maturity that excuses are non tolerable.

So then what is tolerable?

Authentic ownership of things that happen is tolerable.

Ownership and a realization that we do not go through life and sports, but we grow through life and sports.

To live our lives the best that we can, we have to keep expecting ourselves to grow and hold ourselves accountable to this.

It will be an absolutely foundational teaching for my son or daughter (when I have them someday) that we don’t fail, we only grow. The only time we fail is when we do not respond like the champions that we know we are and that we work towards being, EVEryday. My expectation of my own children will be to create this mindset. This fundamental mindset changes the world we live in, and it drastically changes the landscape of the fields we play on and the interactions and experiences we have in sports.

I always ask my young guys how it feels to strike out or make an error, especially the ones that I see have a tendency to get emotional in a game or a practice when things are not going right. It never feels good to strike out or make an error, it’s the worst! What feels good is having a strong and present enough mindset to realize that one strikeout or error will not beat you, and that it can actually serve to help you in the long run. It also feels good to know that you can be conscious of the fact that your champion response to the negative things that happen on the field has the opportunity to re-lift the positive vibration of your team in any given situation.

Your response can help you learn how to not strike out again in the future, so long as you are consistently allocating your focus towards the positive and what is coming next, rather than what has happened in the past.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to have my guys run into the dugout with a huge smile on their face after a strikeout or error; what I am expecting though is for them to hold their head high and process the event that took place with a progressive and positive fundamental mindset rather than a guilty or negative mindset. If something further needs to be said, I will say it.

I do my best to set very clear expectations for my players.

I tell them that I expect them to respond like champions to negative things that happen in their games and in their lives. I expect them to be the best they can be by giving themselves and their teammates 100% of their effort every time, even when they don’t feel like it. The communicated message of this expectation obviously alters greatly depending on the age, passion, personality, skill level, and expressed goals of the player, and it is my job to decipher this communication effectively by determining these factors according to the specific individual.

In sports or life there is never a one size fits all, at least not in my opinion. Everyone is a little or a lot different, and not all the players I work with have the same goals.

For me, I knew that I fully 100% wanted to be in the MLB when I was 11 years old and that did not change…I can’t expect this same connection I had to baseball out of all of my players, nor do I want to. What I can expect is that when I talk to my players about why they are working with me and what it is that we are trying to accomplish, is that they will understand the meaning of accountability. I love the opportunity to plant this seed in a loving yet clear way to even my youngest players. I laugh at thinking that a 6 year old needs to have the will to win…no, it’s not like that. What I expect and what I consistently remind my players of what I expect, is that they have a will to improve, even at 6 years old. This is a fundamental thought process, or FTP is what I call them, and it plants the seed at a young age and it needs to be watered often if we want to allow our champions to thrive at the highest levels – mind, body, and spirit.

Why are we here?

My general question in our first interaction is “why are we here?” I say, “it’s two-two word phrases…HAVE FUN + GET BETTER.” I tell them, “My goal as a coach for you is to teach you the necessity of getting better EVEryday in all that you do.” I generally follow this up with, “I expect you to finish school everyday and ask yourself, “Did I get better today? Or did I just cruise?”

You see, I never had a coach ask me that when I was growing up. I never had someone tell me that I HAD TO GET BETTER EVERYDAY, not when I was growing up at least, and not in those specific words, and not as a foundational state of mind. I’ve been fortunate to tap into, grow and harness over my motivation and inspiration in the later years of my life until now. I believe every child has a much better opportunity to channel their own inner motivation and inspiration through learned habits and accountability from a young age. It has to come from the parents to be a core trait in the child, but I know that my role plays a big impact as well. 

Yes, I make my expectations clear that my players are responsible for leaving each session and each day of school asking themselves the question, “Did I get better today?” I’ll never make them ask themselves this question because I want them to think they are not good enough.

I phrase it more in a way that I want them to think that they are GREAT enough and responsible for tapping into their greatness.

They are worthy of someone caring and having someone in their corner that’s willing to tell them things they may not want to hear and even things that may not feel good sometimes when they need to be held accountable. That’s why my first responsibility is to be a coach and mentor, and my second is to be a friend.

My two expectations with every single practice and every single day of my life out of myself and my players is to be the guy or girl that knows how to have the absolute most fun of anyone on and off the field. (I’m a master at having more fun than anyone, I can’t be beaten.) I expect this fun to happen through the balance and understanding that the path to fun is through hard work and achievement, not just cruising all the time. We have the intention to optimize our fun as well as our improvement on and off the field everyday…it’s the only way. We must set and re-set the expectation every single day. We must be farmers and we must continue to water this expectation if we want it to grow into something great.

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