Michelangelo warned us, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” How can coaches keep their athletes from falling into this trap, from falling short of their potential.
No Shortcuts to the Top
A coach called me recently to talk about frustrations with his team. He was not happy with their level of commitment, intensity, and inner drive.
As a case in point, his athletes had decided to skip the end of a prescribed workout. When confronted, players pointed to an intense training session earlier in the day, believing that they needed a break.
From the coach’s perspective, the skipped workout was specifically designed to help train the team to push through pain and fatigue, to exercise their mental toughness.
They backed down instead of stepping up – they were settling for good enough. What they were sowing were seeds of disappointment.
This mentality, left unchecked, would guarantee that these talented athletes won’t reach their potential.
Aiming for Average
Abraham Maslow coined a phrase, “the psychpathology of the average.” The term refers to those who aim to be ‘normal’ or ‘average.’ He says this is, “so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it ordinarily.”
This happens to teams that have expectations like:
- be competitive in our conference
- be above .500
- fight hard (win or lose)
Coaches likely have good intentions when they allow expectations like these to fester in their locker room, but they are shooting their own team in the foot.
3 Dangerous Messages Aiming for Average Sends
Aiming for average sends 3 ill-advised messages to your team:
1. I don’t believe in you.
When the coach doesn’t believe in his or her players, they stop believing in themselves. I call this the self-fulling prophecy of leadership. Your players will rise or fall to your expectations – even if you don’t explicitly state them.
2. You don’t have what it takes.
Settling for average tells athletes they will never be good enough. Players may develop symptoms of what psychologist Martin Seligman calls, “learned helplessness.” They stop trying, stop working hard to get better. Athletes just go through the motions.
3. Mediocre is acceptable.
When athletes sink to low expectations and stop striving for improvement, mediocre output becomes the norm. Unfortunately, these tendencies may infect players off the field and court too. Mediocre may begin to define their identity (how they view themselves), negatively impacting their ambition, initiative, and trajectory in life.
Turn the Tide
“Leaders cannot accept mediocrity, as it impacts the culture of the organization.” Wise words from a legendary winner, Alabama’s Nick Saban. Instead infuse your athletes with optimism, a growth mindset, and the prevailing confidence they need to maximize their potential.
Never settle for good enough.
Question: How do you keep your athletes from settling for mediocrity?