Is it time to fire your most talented athlete?

 In Coach

Early in 2019 entrepreneurial guru Gary Vaynerchuk discussed the topic ‘Why you might need to fire your most talented employee’.

It gained millions of views and comments online, as he spread the debate across his myriad mediums.

The crux of the sermon was how toxic people can stifle a team environment, no matter the extent of their individual work output.

Vaynerchuk contended that toxic people lead to a stagnation of workflow – a devastating outcome in today’s fast-paced commercial environment.

People will avoid holding meetings with toxic people, they will be afraid of approaching toxic staff with new ideas, or they’ll become distracted worrying about who will undermine them next.

You can undoubtedly translate that to the sporting field.

How many of you have a favourite team which has actually performed better when missing one of its troublesome ‘stars’?

At what point does a coach consider that, for all the ability of an individual, that their mere presence is more detrimental than their absence?

In an ideal world, we want them to be in solidarity, contributing to team harmony and enabling success for all.

However, that may be very difficult to do.  So, where do we start?

To consider all possibilities we must first step back from emotion and initial reaction, and analyse the situation objectively.

There are two broad areas that may be our focus:

  • Values;
  • and Competencies

When starting out it is important that we define our values as a team.

We will go into more detail about defining values in another blog, but we if we have our values then we should have a clearly defined set of expectations as to what we believe in.

Secondly, we should understand the characteristics we need to make our team successful.  We need to define these competencies.

We then need to understand where each member of our team is, and where we are collectively, across these competencies.

In Coach’s Companion, we allow you to group these competencies in Pillars.

You may have pillars on leadership and communication, in addition to sport-specific skills and physical performance attributes such as speed and power.

Assessing and understanding each individual’s level of competency in each of these areas is vital to their development, but it is also vital to understanding where we are as a team.

We can use a 360degree model of appraisal so that our team members self-assess, are assessed by mentors or coaches or managers, and are assessed by peers and external experts.

These appraisals should always be conducted as a way of determining where someone can improve.

That is their primary purpose.

Great athletes can contribute to great teams, but ultimately to be great teams and high-performing teams, we need ‘balance’.

To have balance it could be considered that as a collective group we can achieve certain standards of competencies across all pillars.

Understanding where each individual and where our team is collectively, helps to determine whether we have balance.

However, when situations become difficult and emotion is in play, our values and competencies help guide us objectively.

We might have a minimum level of standard expected for some of our competencies around ‘collaborating with others’.

We could have an objective measure about training attendance or subjective measures around contributing to harmony.

By using multiple measures and modalities, and multiple reviewers, we can build a picture of performance in certain areas over time and remove arguments about bias.

This helps us determine whether a particular player meets our expected levels in one competency or another, or in one collection of competencies in a pillar.

Effectively we are creating measures, for not only where and how a player may be valuable, but also where and how an individual player may be below expectations in other standards.

If the net result to the team does not prove beneficial, it gives us a good starting point for working with the player on the areas they need to improve.  We can have the hard conversation with the player about where they are and where they need to be.

Conversely, the player behind the ‘star’ in selection for the same position might be the type of player that provides positivity, dependability and a work ethic, evidenced across a broad range of competencies and appraisals.

They might beneficially influence teammates and improves balance and ultimately results.  Even though they appear far inferior on first thought at the selection table, when you break it down, they are the far more logical option.

This ethos could be summarised as: Your performance is not so much about your own impact, but how you impact the performance of the team and of others around you.  Of course, we’ve long espoused the notions that ‘There is no ‘i’ in team’, that ‘The team is more than the sum of its parts’ and ‘The team comes first’.

But how many coaches or group leaders can easily make the call when it is the standout talent who is unsettling harmony?

Quantifying and defining it can exhibit how plainly they are not contributing to positive outcomes where expected.

Even just stepping back to consider the individualised impact on teammates can provide a revelation of perspective for a coach.

Instead of thinking “How did that player arriving 15 minutes late affect their preparation?”, think “How did that player arriving 15 minutes late affect this person, that person, and the other person”.

What you’ll likely find is that rather than having an equal impact for each teammate, some will have an exacerbated reaction, while others will not be perturbed at all.

That in itself is an interesting case study, revealing what is important to some and not others and providing insights that may influence future team exercises or recruitment.

It’s important this mindset of selfless consideration about the morale and concentration of the team is passed down to players at a young age.

We have an opportunity when working closely with younger players to drastically open their minds and provide life-changing perspectives.

Some comments you might hear from players who haven’t fully developed the concept of considering others are:

“So, what if I can’t make training? I feel prepared.”

“I don’t like getting ready early before the game. I’ll turn up when it suits me best.”

“I’m doing gym in my own time. I don’t need to put in as much effort when I’m with the rest of the squad.”

In the above instances, the player in question may genuinely feel like they are doing the best thing for the team’s performance, because they are trying to prime themselves for optimal output.

Thus, it becomes a matter of education to open their eyes to how their behaviour impacts others and leads to disadvantageous outcomes.

For that reason, it’s not a situation where you draw a line through somebody’s name straight away because they refuse to buy into team ethos.

Allow them the chance to grow and see things from new vantage points before judging whether they are being purposefully or irrevocably harmful to team culture.

Remembering that a coach’s job is to foster those under their control for the best trajectory over the course of their life – not just through a solitary season – and it’s important to keep in mind what lessons need to be taught early.  If poor attitudes are allowed to fester, it may get to a stage where that athlete’s dream quickly disappears because of something that was overlooked in their formative years.

Early determination of the values and competencies you want for your team is a strong step in the right direction.

Appraise and develop your team. Make decisions for your team that result in the best for your team.

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