Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Difference Between Treating Players Equally and Fairly.

If you know who I should credit for this cartoon, please email me. Thanks.
Do you know the difference between treating players equally and fairly?  There is a huge difference. How we treat different players is influenced by so many things including our perception of what some people refer to as "attitude".

Aren't we supposed to treat everybody 100% equally?  Can we? Should we? Are there standards for everybody to keep?

The first problem is coaches aren't sure what to do and do not have a lot of experience dealing with a variety of personalities looking to them for guidance.  They are usually volunteers in a pay-to-play system. (The pay-to-play model complicates things way more than people appreciate.)

The second problem is parents can't make up their mind on what they want or how teams should be managed.  Many want to win and want the coach to play the best players to win, yet they all paid to play, but they don't want their child to be one of the players that doesn't play in the system where they want the coach to play the best players etc etc etc.  A lot of conflicting feelings swirl in every parents head when it comes to their child.  That's natural.

The third problem is the players.  Unless a coaching staff gets to know each player and discovers what makes them tick, treating players fairly is very difficult. 

I am a faulted, judgmental human like everybody else.  I paid a lot of attention to my favourite mentors and they have helped me shape my own philosophies towards my feelings on how to treat  players.  I still have a long way to go but I am enjoying the journey.  As I get older I find myself less worried about the generally accepted theory of treating everybody 100% equally and more worried about what a person brings to the group and how I can help them bring even more, while being fair to everybody.

Admittedly, my exposure to special education and accommodated students as an educator has profoundly influenced how I manage my players and teams. 


I would like to share some of those philosophies and ideas here. For better or worse, I hope they make you reflect on your own philosophies.  My promise to my players is that I keep an open mind so my philosophies are open to adjustment if new and credible information is presented to me.  If you and I ever had a conversation about "attitude", you shaped this article.  Even if I disagreed with you, you shaped me.


Do you know your players? Really really know them?

  • If you don't know your players, individually, then you may as well treat them equally because you are in no position to treat them fairly.
  • Do you know the names of your players' parents and siblings? Their family situations? 
  • What school do they go to? Do they LIKE school? If not, find out why.  This information will really help you.
  • Are they on an IEP at school that would give you information about how they learn? We've had players with various accommodations at school.  Knowing this information helps you and the player get the most out of your interactions. Trust me on this one.
  • Do they have other interests? Other sports, activities or hobbies?
  • Are they recent immigrants from non-English speaking countries? If so, learn some general phrases in their native tongue.
Cooperating and conforming do not always equal a "good attitude".
  • First of all, what is a good attitude? Can it be measured? The answer is NO and that makes the equation more complicated.
  • As a coach, who said YOU had a good attitude or are in a position to judge attitudes.
  • There are coaches who feel those who do not subscribe to the same opinions as them present a poor attitude. Don't confuse the two.
  • Do you REALLY want a team of players who are all the same and all resemble you? Are you somebody worth resembling? (sorry, I had to ask)
  • Think about people who made an impact in a game or any other pursuit in life.  Was it possible that they were good team players, but not always conforming or 100% cooperative?
  • Do you remember teammates and players who didn't fit the general mold of your teammates?  Did that mean they were bad teammates?
  • Some kids may not be naturally wired to be fully co-operative, but that doesn't mean they aren't learning or playing hard/smart. Go back to "Do you really know your players?"
Think about how to treat people fairly, not equally.
  • I don't treat my three sons equally because they are three completely different men.  They always were. My parents did not treat my brother, sister and me equally, but they were fair.
  • There is a difference between fair and equal. You can only treat people equal if they are 100% the same and in the same situations, which thy aren't.  
  • We need to have expectations from everybody, but they don't need to be the same. I can expect every player to maintain/enhance their speed, but I can't expect them all to be as fast as my fastest player.  Having said that, I do expect my fastest player to always be my fastest player. Is that fair? Yes!
  • My expectations and demands from players depends on the player.  Should I expect the same from my best player compared to my 18th player? For my best player's, 18th player's and team's sake, I hope not. Fair, not equal.
  • Compare the personal and physical traits that make players successful in various positions.  Are your goalkeeper, striker and centre defender the same people or do they have the same jobs? If not, then how can you treat them 100% equally?
  • Before you put on your tough-guy-hat and say "I am gonna straighten that player out", make sure you are not trying to snuff out what makes them the player they are.
  • For me, the most difficult part of doing this is holding my ground when treating players differently (and, hopefully, fairly) , knowing the player who feels shortchanged now will understand what we are doing next week, when they get older or when they coach.
  • Be careful how "black-and-white" you are, how you declare yourself as a "black-and-white" coach or how long your list of "team rules" is.  Rules must be enforced, without exemptions. If you have set rules that are allowed to be broken you will start to lose credibility with your players.
  • Part of treating your players fairly can and should include a component of aspects where they are all treated equally.
  • If a player has outside challenges or issues that make it difficult to satisfy your measurable expectations, work with them to manage themselves so their commitment to their team doesn't suffer.  Do them a favour and teach them a good life-lesson: do not let them use their challenges as an excuse.  This might require you dedicating a little more of your teams's resources to them, but remember; fair, not equal.
What should be equal? Change what you think is attitude to measurable components.
  • List what you deem to be components of what you thought were attitude and you will discover items that you should treat players equally on. Measurable, not subjective.
  • These components may include, but not limited to; punctuality, team duties, treatment of equipment, personal equipment, disclosure, treatment of injuries, institutional standards (OCAA, OUA, NCAA, etc), social media policy, etc.
  • After you make your list, then you are left with the part of the player that makes them an individual.  It's this list of the contrasting traits of our players that makes team sports so enjoyable.    
I guess what this boils down to is that you have a team of distinct individuals and that team needs to be managed.  Some individuals will not fit a coach's mold and that is difficult for some coaches to accept.  I have seen coaches cut or bench players because of what they perceive to be a bad attitude might just be an individual who expresses themselves differently. (in this department, most coaches are always learning and growing)

My experience also tells me an effective tool in dealing with players is an honest assistant coach and a strong team captain with good people skills.  Discuss your players with them and their insight will either reinforce your view or convince you to rethink your position. 


In summary: list the measurable parameters that you can use to treat each player EQUALLY. You will be surprised how long that list can get and that's OK, but be careful.  Items not on that list make up is what makes that player special.  This is where you start to treat players FAIRLY and can personalize your program.  

Challenge: Having a universal set of expectations for everybody, yet setting up an environment that allows each player to be challenged at their level, for the good of the player and the team. 


Challenge: If you coach in a pay-to-play system ensure you know and adhere to your club policies. If you have a plan or philosophy for managing your team, ensure your club supports it and communicate this to parents and players before tryouts.  This goes back to parents who may not truly know what they want and/or you being unsure how you want to handle your group.  You are dealing with their children's self esteem and you want everybody to improve and succeed, so communicate with them. Win-win.


Challenge: Ensure your philosophy is consistent with who you are.  Be confident in what you are doing, and project that confidence.  Your players will notice you handling a player differently.  Not better or worse, just differently. 


Challenge: Don't lose sight of what you're doing and unknowingly offer a player preferential treatment.  This could be dangerous to your team's chemistry.


Challenge: If a player has outside challenges, do not let them use that as an excuse.  Their ability to manage themselves and satisfy their commitments will help them later in life.  If they arrive at a point where they must make a difficult choice, then that's what needs to happen and you need to support them; life-lesson. 


For the record, I have mishandled situations with players in the past, but I like to think I reflect afterwards and keep getting better at it.  My mistake was usually caused by the fact that I didn't know all that I needed to know about that player.  


Managing a group of individuals takes experience and a LOT of mistakes.  If you are a new coach or new to a situation, reflect and give yourself a chance to learn and grow.