I can remember when I first watched a game in which Frank Martin (now the head coach for South Carolina University) coached. At the time he was coaching the Kansas State Men’s Basketball team. He was intense, loud, and his facial expressions probably scared the heck out of the casual observer. I didn’t know much about him and I didn’t know what the players that played for him thought about playing for him. Unquestionably his team played hard, but if I had a guess at that time, my guess would’ve been that they played hard out of fear. I would’ve guessed that players likely feared Martin and the ramifications that would come if they didn’t meet his expectations. Through South Carolina’s incredible Final Four run, however, my opinion has shifted to a certain degree. Many players on his current team have expressed their strong, supportive feelings on him. I still don’t know Martin, and I would guess that there are some that would argue that he is still borderline crazy, but through numerous press conferences and heartfelt letters he wrote to the South Carolina fanbase, I appreciated the authenticity in his words. I decided to write this article summarizing some of the applicable leadership lessons and daily life reminders I took away in reflecting on those words. I hope you enjoy!
Frank Martin was asked if he subscribes to the theory or philosophy of “tough love”. His response was, “I don’t know what tough love is. People use that term all the time. Because if you’re not being honest with your players, if you’re not giving them passion, then there’s no love. That’s phoniness.”
For me, this hit a chord with many personal philosophies that I hold close to my heart in coaching. Always demand the absolute best from players. Have high standards and high expectations for them. If they aren’t meeting them or you think they are capable of more- tell them. They won’t always like you at the time and they won’t always want to hear what you are saying, but at the end of the day- they’ll respect honesty.
Now, with that being said, context is EXTREMELY important here. There is absolutely a right way to relay a message and a wrong one. Can you be honest while still being respectful? Do you have emotional intelligence to understand how a person is wired and what the best way to motivate them is? Are you able to be demanding without being demeaning? Are there solutions attached to your corrections & honesty or are you just putting on an act to give the impression of being a “tough coach”? I understand what the reporter was asking in regards to “tough love”- but I think Coach Martin hit it on the head in terms of how a leader shows “true love” to someone. For any leader, I think it should always be a goal that every person in which they lead knows they are cared for, but also know that their leader, coach, or teacher is right there with them helping them reach heights that they’ve never reached before. This can only be done through high standards, authentic passion, honesty, emotional intelligence, and an underlying value of love and respect.
“You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed.”
Before I dive into this, I want to be clear that I do think kids’ lives have changed. There is more technology available than ever to make our lives more convenient and social media continues to become more prevalent. That has changed a lot of things for everyone, however, not just kids (we could have this conversation in a different thread). I hear so frequently that kids aren’t wired the same as they used to be; that this younger generation is “soft”. I think before that just automatically becomes the accepted truth we as adults need to take a really hard look in the mirror first. What are we modeling to our kids? Are our behaviors in line with what we are preaching to our children? What’s our message to them after they come home from a really difficult practice and are upset with the coach? What are the standards we set forth in our homes? How would we like to be parented, coached, or taught by us? I think there are some things that could be debated in Martin’s quote, but the underlying message of what he’s saying is dead on. We so quickly want to point the finger and put labels on on our younger generation, but before we do so, it’s important to look back in the mirror at ourselves first.
A reporter asked Martin what he told his team in the locker room after their Final Four defeat. His response was, “People keep score when you play games. 35, 36, 37 times a year and sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. That score eventually goes away when you impact people by the masses the way these kids have. That makes you a winner as a human being and that’s what matters. When we get home and they realize what they’ve done in our community, their hearts will open with joy. The pain of losing this game will eventually go away.”
I love this. Obviously as a competitor, you want to win. Martin communicates, however, that most teams end their season with some losses or place somewhere outside of 1st. What matters is the journey- who did you become in the process? How did you impact others? What things are you able to look back on and feel proud? On any journey or experience, when you put forth your personal best effort, have unwavering enthusiasm, and positively impact the lives of others, regardless of results, you will be able to look back and be proud of what you did.