Taking ownership of your preparation

Fredonia swimmers receiving instruction prior to leading their groups through a training session during winter break (photo by Jim Fitzgerald)

After retiring, John Wooden traveled the country speaking at coaching clinics. He frequently told audiences about his goal as UCLA’s basketball coach — that after a week of practice, his players should be so well prepared for the game that he could theoretically sit in the stands and watch. Come game day, his players shouldn’t need him.

After four years in his program, North Carolina’s Anson Dorrance insists that his players have their “PhD’s in Soccer.” He wants them to have learned the sport so well that they can seamlessly transition into coaching at the age of twenty-two.

Both men are insisting that their players take ownership for their preparation. Like most human qualities, ownership is a learned skill.

New Paltz’s strength and conditioning coach Gary Gall reminded me of that last month in my interview with him. His system will percolate in my mind for a long time:

Jon-Ryan Maloney: We’ve talked about this in the past, but can you give more detail about how you organize your team workouts?

Gary Gall: When the athletes come down to the weight room I have a packet of folders for their session. Each folder comes with a detailed workout, and it comes with a name tag on the folder. The name tag has the last name of the four to six leaders I’ve picked out. Once they come down I’ll meet with those leaders for a brief time. We’ll talk about the workout, we’ll talk about any adjustments that need to be made, and we’ll go over what they need to know. On those sheets are a list of expectations from me about creating an environment, creating accountability, or guiding the freshmen. I’ll purposely put a weaker, inexperienced lifter with a certain leader to see how she handles it.

This is one of the big adjustments I made this year, because I never knew how much athletes took ownership of the workouts … So my first step with that was to use post-it notes for the leaders’ names on the folders. The leaders could change every week. You were given this opportunity, but it’s not your right to keep it. If you’re not doing what I think needs to be done, or you’re not doing quite enough, somebody else’s name will be on there.”

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