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All NACDA Members
Becoming an Effective Leader
(June 18, 8:15 - 9:00 a.m.)



Miechelle Willis:

Our speaker, Joel Fish, has been a sports psychologist at Saint Joseph's University since 1982 and is the founder and director of The Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia. He is currently consulting the Philadelphia Phillies and 76ers, as well as the USA Women's National Soccer Team. He has spoken at more than 100 universities across the country and is often used as a source for CNN and ESPN.

Joel has spoken at several NACDA Conventions, including last year, when he presented a round table. He was recently named a Sports Ethics Fellow for 1997 by the Institute for International Sport. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to give you Joel Fish.

Joel Fish:

Thank you Miechelle. Thank you to the members of the NACDA committee who helped bring me here today. Joel Fish is my name. I'm a sport psychologist. I've had a chance to work with athletes of all ages and skill levels from little kids to the Olympic and professional ranks. I'm 43 years old. I played baseball through my college career at Clark University in Massachusetts. I've coached baseball at all different levels. I started working with the Philadelphia 76ers. I'm involved with the USA Women's National Team, I'm happy to say, which became the Gold Medal U.S. Olympic Team.

Through the NCAA Sports Sciences grant, I've had a chance to go all across the country doing training programs for student-athletes, support staff. I've brought this up to let you know that everything I talk about has one thing in common, that is, what goes up here, the mental part of what we do. The mental part of performance, of sport, of fitness, of recreation.

I want to talk to you about leadership, but do it from a different angle. In sports psychology, they've been publishing some statistics about people like us that are somewhat disturbing. Thirty percent of the people in this room aren't going to be sitting at a NACDA Convention five years from now. Maybe it's the person to the left of you. Maybe it's the person to the right of you. Maybe it's you. Not because you don't like what you're doing, but emotionally, you've had it. You're done.

We are going through all kinds of changes right now, all kinds of special pressures. Thirty percent of us won't be here. Why? You have to be emotionally charged. What a great opportunity here today. My goals are to help you take inventory. Where are you at emotionally with what you're doing? Where are you in terms of your energy level? Where is your staff in terms of their emotions? I want you to come out here with an idea to reinforce something you're already doing to keep your batteries charged because we can't lead other people if we're on empty. Or, maybe give you a new idea of how to keep your own batteries charged. Hopefully, you'll learn more about yourself because if we're going to talk about motivation, mental preparation, dealing with change, change produces emotions.

Emotions are not the enemy. Many of us are in a position of just learning how to handle those emotions a little bit better. If we can learn to manage all of the emotions that come about with the peaks and valleys of what we go through in a year, with the sea of change we're going through, the upheavals we're going through, we're going to be here five or 10 years from now with the same degree of enthusiasm.

If we can help somebody on our staff, manage all of the emotions they are going through, emotions aren't the enemy. We're all feeling a lot of emotion. That's what I've been getting. My goal, as you come out of here, is just learning again how to manage those emotions a little better, to take inventory, to reinforce what you're doing and set your goals on how to improve in that area. Thirty percent of us won't be here in five years from now. That disturbs me.

The way I want to go about discussing this subject with you is what I call the star system. If you're like other groups I've had a chance to do this with, you've been walking around your campus with your head up high, looking people in the eye, feeling fine. You have dignity and respect. Certainly, 30 percent in this room and people on your staff are walking around your campuses every day a little bit shaky. There are people walking around with their heads down. You can't lead other people when you feel like this.

My goal is that you take that one thing that's going to make you feel better about yourself. In doing so, you'll be able to lead other people. I'd like to give you some tools to make your staff feel better about themselves. Emotion is not the enemy. We have to learn how to handle that emotion, teach, educate and develop the emotion on your staff. I'm going to do that through what I call the star system. If you can take one thing to help you recharge your battery, it's been worthwhile for you.

This is a true story about self confidence. In 1975, me and my baseball team were playing Holy Cross. They had beat us 19 times in a row. But this game had some implications. If we won the game, we would advance to the city championship. If we lost the game, we were done. I had a coach who used to use all kinds of bizarre motivational techniques to get us psyched up for a game. We were in the locker room and he brought a big mirror into the room. He asked me to look into the mirror and say out loud, "I am a champion." Say this three times, but each time, say it a little bit louder. It sounded simple enough. The first time I looked at myself, I said, "I am a champion." The second time I said it louder and the third time, even louder. I couldn't look myself in the eye and really shout it out and my coach leaped on it right away. He told me to go out there and play as if you really believe that you are a champion. Tomorrow, figure out why you don't and work each day really believing it.

Not a great motivational technique, but it sure was a great lesson on self confidence. I couldn't really believe it. I have a feeling with everything you've gone through this past year, if I had a big mirror and asked you to look at yourself, many of us couldn't do it. I know if I came to your campus with a big mirror and asked one of your staff people to come up and do this, even less of them could do it. Why? Because it's normal for people like you and me, and people on our staff to go through what we call certain mental blocks of feelings that start to interfere with our feelings of self confidence. Maybe you can relate to fear of failure.

How many nights of sleep did you lose this year worrying about a compliance issue, a coach's behavior with a student-athlete? All of the things that we're accountable for is really out of our control. Maybe I couldn't look in the mirror that day, not because I was worried about making a mistake, but because of expectations? How many of you are still learning the skills necessary to deal with expectations. Many of us have been asked to do more with less. Some of us love that kind of challenge, but many of us are still learning the mental skills necessary to deal with those expectations.

Maybe I couldn't look in the mirror that day because of my relationship with my coach. I played for this guy for four years and I wasn't that comfortable with him. I had to prove myself over and over and over again. That was big pressure for me. Who is it that you feel looking over your shoulders sometimes that gets your stomach in knots? The president, the coach or a fan. Maybe for me, it had to do with a relationship with my dad. I love my dad. He's the greatest guy in the world, but he was one who came to every one of my games. He always asked me about statistics and did I win the game, not did I enjoy myself. The worst thing was getting that phone call, "Did you get in today, Joel? Why not? Did you talk to your coach?" We're still trying to prove something to, maybe someone in our department. One of our Phillies' fathers was dead and he still felt like his dad was looking over his shoulder every pitch. This is normal stuff.

Maybe it was the thing called perfection. We are in a tricky position because we demand perfection of ourselves and people demand perfection of us. But, if we're perfectionists, we're going to be one of those statistics.

Honestly, to this day, if I can't look in the mirror and still feel like a champion, take step one. Put your finger on what these mental blocks are. What's getting in the way? If we find out what's getting in the way, step two is, set some goals for ourselves. Develop a game plan. We love game plans to work on handling those feelings and managing those feelings just a little better. You're a worrier by nature.

We can practice what we call positive self talk. We, in this profession, tend to be great in giving advice to other people. For some reason, we can make the same mistake a minute or two later, but we don't say those things to ourselves.

We can turn this around. Bring a friendly voice with us to work. Continue to work on seeing two sides to every coin. There's two sides to everything that is going on and many of us need some help again in terms of fine tuning our attitudes, talking to ourselves, seeing the positive sides of almost any situation. It's an opportunity we should see as opposed to a crisis. If it's expectations we're dealing with, that's normal stuff. We can prioritize.

Some of us can draw courage from within ourselves. That's why these meetings are so important. I need you and you need me to get over the hump. What would you do in this situation? We need that courage when we're dealing with that person that makes our knees shake, that president, that fan. Our mental preparation begins when we plant that seed in our minds that today is our day. I am a champion. Watch ourselves perform in a successful way. Feeling successful, because if we go into work with that image every day, it increases our chances of making some of those tough expectations that we have.

If it's a relationship that you can identify yourself with is normal stuff. Okay. We've got to work a little bit more on our own communication skills. With certain coaches that we've had some challenges with, we're better able to be more assertive if we need to be. Saying, "Coach, I want this from you. I need this from you. I expect it from you."

We can practice and become more skillful at it. I just completed a study in terms of communication skills. I had about 200 athletes equally divided, male, female, Division I, II and III. I asked them what was the most important coaching behavior. What you see are the statistics of what people rank number one. Forty percent of the people said that communicating with players is the most important. Thirty-four percent said respecting players is most important. So, 74 percent of the people said, "Coach, it's great that you're great with the Xs and Os and you can motivate me, but it's really the people skills. I need to believe that you care about me. I need to believe that if I miss practice for one day, you're going to notice. I really believe that I'm here as a student-athlete, but you're really concerned about my welfare."

If we're going to get the best out of our athletes, over the course of a long season, many of us need to keep working on those listening skills, those communication skills, learning how to work with different personality types. We have to provide them with training for this. We have to provide them with time. We have to help them prioritize this if we're going to be the best we can be in dealing with some of those feelings.

If it's perfection, and believe me, I know from personal struggle with this, we might not get told about the 99 things we do well, but in our own minds, it's attitude. There's a difference between striving for perfection and perfectionism. If we really believe that and give ourselves credit every day for what we do, we'll be okay.

Set short-range goals, evaluate them with things we're doing well. Then, set new goals. If we believe it, if we communicate it to them consistently, we're going to help them deal with all kinds of mental blocks that sometimes get in the way of us being self confident and of our staff being self confident. You don't need me to tell you that being self confident is more than half of what we bring to work every day.

If we're going to sustain ourselves and be good leaders over the long haul, September, October, March, April, we've got to make sure of our self confidence. We've got to make sure that the people around us are strong in that particular area. Putting our fingers on what the mental blocks are and developing ways to deal with those feelings just a little better. There are all kinds of pressures we have to deal with now that years ago, we never had to deal with. All kinds of constituencies that we have to respond to, interest groups, all kinds of pressure.

If we learn how to deal ourselves with pressures better, we can learn how to help our staff deal with pressure a little better. It's something we can learn and help our staffs learn. It was a tough season last year for the 76ers. I had a chance last year to give some personality studies to the five guys they were considering for the number one pick in the draft. In fact, I'm in the middle of doing the same thing this year. I had a chance to sit down for three hours with five guys who were the best in the country. Much to my surprise, their personalities were as different as day and night, just like the personalities in this room, just like the personalities of the people you have on staff, day and night.

Those five guys had things in common, they were very competitive and they thrived on pressure. How do we learn to deal with pressure better? Step one is identifying where the sources of pressure are. If you get to that point, it's a big step toward developing a game plan to work with that pressure a little better. What are the five main sources of job pressure for you? If you had to list them, what are they? In any of those areas, have you found an effective strategy or technique to help you deal with that pressure a little better? Find just one strategy that would help you out.

If you verbalize something, it will help. I'd like you to turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself. I'd like you to compare notes. Talk about what the major sources of job pressures are for you. Let's see what we have in common and what we have different. I'd like to build on that. Thank you.

It's not hard for us in the '90s to identify areas of stress for us. You can't lead other people if that pressure has us on empty. You can't lead people effectively. Let me compare you again and this is not the most scientific study in the world. The biggest stress is constant demands. We're being asked to do different things now. We're being asked to win and graduate people. We're being asked to cut back budgets and provide equal programs for men and women. We're being asked to sustain and diversify our staffs. All kinds of constant demands in the '90s for us and this creates pressure. How are we managing that pressure? If we learn how to manage it better, we'll be able to lead better.

Secondly, is lack of appreciation. We're being asked to do all of these things and how many people say thank you? Coaches have a built-in staff, usually. It might be their assistant coach, but we're in a lonely position, aren't we? Despite being pulled in all of these different directions is answering to all kinds of people. We answer to student-athlete groups, alumni groups, faculty groups, trustees, presidents, fans, you name it. We have to deal with Title IX, diversity issues. All good stuff, but over the course of the year, it can pull us in many directions.

Unless we develop some kind of management skills, we're not going to survive. We came in this profession because we wanted to help people to provide good opportunities for them, not to become politicians. But, in the '90s, we have to be politicians. That creates feelings and feelings create pressure. How are we dealing with that? If we don't learn to deal with this better, we're going to be one of those statistics.

Finally, that good old lack of resources. We need the money to provide all of the programs and everything our teams want. Many, many more. The biggest thing missing from this list is the risky student-athlete behaviors. Just in the course of a week, if something happens, the media will have it on "SportsCenter" that night.

What are the sources of pressures we have? If we can put our fingers on them, we can start developing a game plan to reinforce some of the things we're doing, but also set some new goals for ourselves. It's a great time to take inventory of ourselves. Continue to work on priorities. Deal with those mountains. Whom can we trust for communication? We've got to find a couple of people around us. We need an outlet. It's got to be somebody on our campus you can ask what would you do in this situation. It's a lonely job. Loneliness, after a while, takes its toll.

We should delegate authority if we're being pulled in many different directions. Do the best we can and surround ourselves with good people. Try not to be threatened by surrounding ourselves with good people. We need people. We can't do everything by ourselves. Maybe we could in the '60s, '70s, but not in the '90s. Again, those political skills, networking, getting allies and getting more comfortable with our use of power. Many of us have power, but it's how comfortable are you with it.

To be a politician, we have to feel comfortable with the power we have, know where we have it and know where it stops. If we're going to deal with that political power better, we've got to use the authority and clout we have. We have to feel comfortable and actively do it and feel more at ease doing it. Remember, when we go home, we have to put on another cap. We can't treat our husbands, wives or kids like we do some other people. That could get us in trouble. Finally, with power, can we back off? Can we let somebody else be center stage? How we deal with power becomes very important in terms of dealing with some of the issues.

Then, there is maintaining integrity and keeping that ethical value of ours in the equation. Saying no if something crosses the bottom line. We're being asked to do all kinds of things. We have to know where our bottom line is, because if we feel that deep down in our gut something is not right, we've got to say no. If you can't, it will eat you up and you'll end up one of those statistics.

We're dealing with all kinds of special pressures. How are we managing those emotions? If we're going to be effective, we've got to manage those emotions a little bit better. We've got to help those people around us manage those emotions just a little bit better.

There's another area that we can help ourselves with and that has to do with where the basic source of our pressure comes from. Take a look at question one. If you had to total 100 percent, what percentage of your leadership pressure comes from yourself? You're a perfectionist. You could do 99 things right, but if you do the one-hundredth thing wrong, you're going to lay awake at night. How much of it comes from your friends? How are things going at school? Pressure, like can I have a few tickets?

Administrators, the people you're accountable to, what percentage of your leadership pressure comes from them? Whom do you have to answer to? If it's your coaches, what pressures do they communicate? Your community and what percentage comes from the fact that you can get your picture and name in the paper very easily. Alumni and family can cause pressures. Student-athletes can cause pressure.

If you had to divide up in your mind quickly, what percentage of your leadership pressures come from the following, let's see how you would divide that up in your own mind, if you will. Number one, understand where the source of pressure comes. Step two, continue to develop that game plan to help us deal with that pressure a little bit better. How many of you had at least 50 percent of the pressure coming from yourself? Raise your hand. More than half of us. How many of you had at least 30 to 40 percent from yourself? The majority of the people raised their hands. More than half of the pressures are coming from ourselves. The good news is, we can control that. That's not dependent on anybody else.

If we learn to how to lighten up and let go of a bad day, get support from other people, we can handle the pressure. The majority of it is still coming from us. The good news is that nobody can control that pressure better than ourselves. We have to keep finding ways for those of us who get into this profession and tend to be perfectionists by nature, and that's probably most of us, because to get into the positions you're in, you've probably pushed, pushed that high standard.

We're still learning the skills necessary to use that intensity to our advantage, but recognize when it's starting to eat us up. If we can do that and put into place some of the other methods we've talked about, we've increased the chances that we're going to come to work with a positive attitude. We're going to increase the chances that we're going to get back in touch with some of the feelings we had the first day we walked into the job. Those feelings of idealism, optimism, joy, are still in there for all of us, I know it. They just get a little buried underneath all of the other experiences we talked about.

I'd like to try to reconnect us again to what some of those positive feelings are. If we can reconnect it and find our way back to it, we're going to go back to our campuses with that picture of what we want and what we can be. I'm going to ask you to do me a little favor here, participate with me. Close your eyes for a second and listen to my voice, do what I tell you to do, think what I tell you to think and feel what I tell you to feel. Let's see what kind of images you get.

Imagine yourself in a movie theater with a big screen in front. The show comes on and it's about you at work. You feel great. Today is your day. You feel like a champion. It's great to be alive. It's great to be healthy and it's great to have the opportunity to come to work today. Notice how you feel. Your body is like a well-oiled machine. You're moving smoothly. You're thinking clearly and you're communicating crisply. Watch yourself. Something good happens at work. You have a good interaction. Notice how you feel. Watch what you do. Notice who's around. When that good thing happens, watch yourself, give yourself a pat on the back. Good job, which allows you to move on with renewed confidence, renewed purpose and dedication. Today is your day. You feel like a champion. It's great to be alive and it's great to be healthy. It's great to have the opportunity to come to work today.

Notice how you feel. Reconnect with those special feelings. You have the power and the ability. If something doesn't go your way, that's okay. Watch yourself deal with it and getting that emotion off your chest. Say something or do something that allows you to get back on track with new confidence and renewed wisdom and dedication. Today is your day. You feel like a champion. It's great to be alive. It's great to be healthy. It's great to have the opportunity to do something that I love to do today. Watch yourself. Believe in yourself. Believe you can access these feelings at any moment. You have the power and the ability.

Today is winding down and you're tired, but it's a good fatigue because you've given it your best effort. You thank your body and your mind because they've come through for you today. They've been your friend today. For one last time, remind yourself that you can recreate these feelings at any moment. You have the power and the ability. Today has been your day. You feel like a champion. It's great to be alive, healthy and have the opportunity to work today. Watch yourself. Notice how you feel. Believe that you can recreate these feelings at any moment. You have the power and the ability.

I'm going to count to three and then ask you to open your eyes. You'll remain proud and confident. You'll remain feeling very good. One. You're proud and you're confident. Two. You're feeling very good. Open your eyes. Some people love to do that the night before they go to work. Some people love to do that five minutes before that person they have to speak to comes in. Those feelings are there within us and we need to reconnect with them to keep our batteries charged.

I wish you would have been in my shoes during those minutes. You would have seen something very interesting. There were some people in this room who had resistance. It's resistance when we try to implement new ideas with our staff. What gets in the way of sometimes you trying new things? Think of a staff member you have to deal with. Where's the resistance coming from, because if we're going to keep a positive attitude and if we're going to help other people keep a positive attitude, we have to understand the concept of resistance.

What are the main forms of resistance? Why do people resist new things? One is fear of the unknown. The second is habit. We haven't done it like before you came here. Why are we going to do it differently now? Habit. We are creatures of habit. If we understand why we're asking for change and explain to that person and give them a reason, develop a new habit and good things can change. You're going to be dealing with different personalities. Some coaches' desks are really organized. Every piece of paper is in the right place. When you ask them to put their recruiting in order, do the travel budget, it's easy for them. Other people are not organized and their offices look like a storm just went through. You ask them to change some of their habits, do things a different way, follow our policies. For them, it's going to create all kinds of anxieties.

Fear of the unknown, habits, personality traits, are the sources of resistance. In us sometimes, where is the source of resistance in the people that we have to deal with every day? If we understand where that resistance is, embrace the resistance. Meet it head on rather than fight it, because that's when we get into those control issues. Oftentimes, we can get people on board little by little necessary for us to maintain some kind of positive attitude.

The biggest thing that comes to my attention in terms of positive attitude for us is how do I sustain it over a period of time? How do I keep some kind of consistency? I want you to know I'm just aware that, so far, I've just talked about you as ADs, but there are lots of other hats you're wearing.

If we're going to maintain some consistency, we've got to acknowledge the hat you wear, your mother's, your father's, your son's, your daughter's. There's extra curricular activities, social needs. The biggest question is, why am I feeling so tired this time of year? What I suggest for many of us is that we can wear all of these hats in October, September or November, but by June, we're tired. These hats start to be heavy.

I might be the last one to walk in the office like I'm weighed down. I need somebody to talk to. The same thing is true with student-athletes. By this time of year, the hats are heavy for them. Coaches ask me, "What's wrong with him? He used to be so motivated. Now he shows up for practice physically, but mentally, he's somewhere else." It's not that our athletes are lazy. It's not that they're not motivated anymore. They're wearing a lot of hats, and by June, they're a little tired. Now coach, you have a choice. You can either fight it, or learn how to work with it. You can learn to help that athlete identify which hat he or she is wearing every day and learn how to switch gears a little bit more.

The biggest question comes to me as to why aren't athletes the way we used to be. We weren't like that. Well, you know what, in some ways, we were. When we were 18 to 22 years old, we were also learning how to juggle these hats. But, for the coach, his sports is the center of his universe. For the athlete, it might be just one of the hats they are wearing. The athlete will tell me he's going to quit. He's not getting the same fire out of this sport anymore.

How important is your job? How does this athletic cap fit? It's crucial to whom I am. It fits snugly. Two, three, five, seven years into the job, how does the hat fit now? It doesn't fit the same way anymore. Maybe you're burned out. Maybe you should quit. I suggest to you that the challenge becomes how do we make this athletics director's cap fit for whom we are today. I can still make this cap fit, if I try. How do we keep our jobs creative, fresh and energized for whom we are in 1997? Not who we used to be in 1995, what conditions used to exist, but what hats are we wearing every day.

Our lives have changed since we got our jobs. Maybe we got married and we had a kid. Maybe someone close to us passed away. We're not the same. We can either fight the change, get angry at the change, or learn how to make this cap fit for whom we are today. Emotions aren't the enemy. We're just in a position where we have to learn how to manage those emotions just a little bit better. Respect the different parts of whom we are. Spend time with people who are close to us, not that we have the time, but making sure we make the time.

Keep ourselves physically in shape. Eat properly and sleep properly. There's five things you need to do to recharge your batteries, how many of them are you doing? If you don't have the time, make the time. All of our plates are full. The other parts of whom we are in 1997 are crucial for us sustaining job performance. It's an investment, if you need to see it that way, in terms of maintaining our energy level.

So folks, what we've talked about here today is my definition of a star. I've asked you to consider that the '90s are a very difficult time for all of us. Somebody said to me the other day that the job is 20 times harder than it used to be five years ago. Change produces emotion. We can either adapt to it or get crushed by it. If we can take one thing out of what we talked about here today, file it away, because it reinforces something you're already doing. It gives you a new idea. It helps you better understand. If somebody on your staff gives you an idea, reinforce it in something you're already doing. Take it back to our campuses because if we implement in these areas, three, five, seven percent, that's all, no matter what our personalities are. That is what we call in sports psychology, the mental edge.

If we believe we can change, we can improve in all areas. It starts with believing in ourselves. Other people can change too. If we go back to our campus and go back to that person who is a problem on your staff, sit down with them, try to wipe the blackboard clean, find the middle ground, try to work better together. People can change, if we believe it. It starts with ourselves. If we're here today and we improve one percentage point per week in terms of dealing with pressure, we can be better by the time school rolls around.

I have a sign up sheet in the back if any of you want any information on sports psychology. I can help you out in any training programs for school. Please let me know.