My good friend, John Snelson, is the athletic director and head football coach at Dickinson High School in Dickinson, Texas.
Coach Snelson spoke at the Ultimate Culture Clinic at North Forney in 2019 about the Dickinson 'coaches' unity roundtable he and his staff do each July when they begin preparation for the upcoming season.
It is a game-changer.
We did it the last four years at North Forney, and it brought us closer as a staff. It was time-consuming with twenty-two high school and middle school coaches, but all of us talking about what makes us...'us' was worth it.
Find a room where all can sit in a circle and look at each other. No cell phones, laptops, or electronic devices should even be in the room. We used the four questions (and added one more) Coach Snelson gave us, but there are a million that would be terrific.
Ask each question independently of the others. All will answer question 1 before going to question 2. The questions strategically begin easy or surface level, then get more personal each time. For example: 'Give us the name of your first pet or girlfriend' is an ice-breaker that will allow your coaches who are more introverted a chance to build some confidence. I added, 'what is your favorite leadership book' or coaching lecture as question number 2. It is quick and emphasizes our culture of the importance of growth-mindset coaches.
What is the name of your first girlfriend or pet?
What is your favorite leadership book or coaching lecture?
What was one outstanding characteristic of the best team you played on?
Who was the most influential person in your life, and why?
Tell us your life story.
Number 4 and 5 is where the magic happens. Coaches start to 'peel back the layers' and open up. The group begins to understand what has influenced every staff member. Most coaches will talk about their dad on the 'who was the most influential person in your life' question. They will talk about why he was amazing or how he gave them tough love, etc.
'Tell us your life story' is when some coaches will shed actual tears. Coaches tell of their home life, their family relationships, experiences from middle and high school, and anything else that has shaped them. They begin to become more transparent than they ever have with the staff.
When someone has opened up and shared their emotional 'life story' with their colleagues, it changes everything. We think differently about people when we know what shaped them. We have more empathy with them when we know the struggles they are dealing with.
Things are about to get REAL BUSY when practice begins. Coaches won't have time to do much more than 'stay afloat'. There sure won't be time to get to know each other better.
Coach Snelson does this as with just him and the seniors before the season starts. He says it is incredible to hear a group of seniors who know this is their last season break down barriers just like the coaches do. We have not done it this way, but we use the unity round table with our position coaches with their unit. It is a small-group bonding time that our coaches love as well.
Relationships are the key.
The more we know someone, the more we can love that person. The more we understand them, the more we can serve them when times get tough. If you carve out one day to do this with your coaches and another with your players, you and your staff will want to do it every year.