We’ve all seen it. Sometimes, we see it in ourselves. A college game is on ESPN, and a coach is screaming on the sidelines. His face is red; his mouth is wide open, contorted, and his veins are about to pop out. Who knows—he may even throw his headset on the ground. The cameras stay on him because, well . . . his behavior at that moment is more entertaining than the game on the field.

Believe it or not, I can identify with this kind of coaching. I get emotional during games, and when I have coached teams, I can hardly contain my competitive spirit. As a coach, that spirit often surfaces through yelling and screaming.

The numbers tell us, however, that this coaching style is counter-productive with Generation iY. Oh, you may get the behavior you want in the moment, but over the long haul, too much damage has been done. I’ve spoken to countless student athletes who’ve transferred because of it, both males and females. I’ve met with college and high school students who tell me—the screaming doesn’t help.

Why doesn’t the screaming work?

Over the last eight days, I’ve met with three Division 1 NCAA athletic departments. In all three events, coaches commented on the fragile nature of student athletes today. They can’t seem to take criticism or harsh voices. One coach said his athletes “wilt” under pressure. Our research shows this is often true, but I wonder if there’s something deeper we can learn about effective coaching and leadership.

Practice Coach

John Wooden

John Wooden was known as a “practice coach.” The reason for this description is because he focused on the process—not the game. He taught his players that, if they get the process of preparation right, the games will take care of themselves. So he taught them everything, from putting their socks on correctly to avoid blisters to how to carry yourself before and after a game. One element about Coach Wooden stands out for me. He conditioned his players to listen to him through his wise and empathetic nature.

Wooden was known for rolling up a program and holding it to his mouth during games. He could communicate with his team this way, amidst the noise of the crowd. It was a sort of megaphone. In order to condition them to distinguish his voice from others, he actually rolled up the program during practice and spoke to his players, just like he would in a game. At times he was known to bring in other UCLA students to simulate noise in the gym. They yelled and screamed at the players as loud as possible. Then, in the midst of that noise, Coach Wooden rolled up his program and directed his players. And it worked. They could hear him and follow his direction in the worst of noisy arenas—and he went on to win ten NCAA championships.

Biographer Seth Davis writes: “Wooden believed it was his job to prepare his team to play. Once the game began, it was their job to show what they had learned. ‘Don’t look over at the bench when the game starts,’ he told them. ‘Just listen and do what you’ve been taught to do.’ Practice was Coach Wooden’s domain. The game was the players’ domain.”

Moving to a Practice Coach Style

1. It’s About Believing, Not Berating

Speak from belief. Look forward, not backward, when correcting players. During practice, you’ll need to raise your voice; practice should be tougher than the game. But, athletes can tell when you speak from “belief.” Research tells us that when offering hard feedback, the wording and tone means everything: “I’m giving you this feedback because I have high expectations of you, and I know you can reach them.”

2. It’s About Explaining, Not Exclaiming

John Wooden was known for explaining the “why” behind the standards and conduct he expected from his players. This conditioned them to assume: He’s always got a good reason for what he makes us do. He was more apt to put his arm around the shoulder of his player than yell at them. He was into results, not reactions. He knew if his team understood the “why” they could endure almost any “what.”

3. It’s About Inspiring, Not Insulting

Even hard words have a different feel when they’re spoken to inspire, rather than insult the player. Watch Nick Saban. Basically, he yells when his team is up (winning), and he’s trying to improve already good outcomes. If his team is down, he claps and shouts encouragement—even when things go wrong (a missed field goal; an opposing team’s interception, etc.). He discerns when inspiration is most needed.

4. It’s About Shouting, Not Screaming

Seth Davis also reveals that the notoriously disciplined and controlled John Wooden struggled to manage his own sideline behavior throughout his career. But watch him on the sidelines—he is shouting, not screaming. It was not uncontrollable anger or rage. He was a focused river, not a sporadic flood. It was a flow of words that ramped up the player’s passion, instead of beating it down. Controlled emotion is good; uncontrolled emotion is destructive.

5. It’s About Process, Not Performance

Great coaches believe this. UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance practices it religiously. He equips his team to manage stress by being tougher on them in practice, as they master the process, than during the games, when they enjoy the fruit of their labor. He simulates the stress of the game during practice, and then demonstrates a fatherly image during competition. He is emotional in practice, empathetic in games.


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Not long ago, I read the results of a study on happiness, which focused on children under 18 years old. I was immediately enraptured with this global report because I assumed with all the resources and technology we have at our fingertips, American kids would likely be the happiest kids in the world.

Ugh. No.

Our students are not the happiest. They’re not even number two. Or three. Or even four. Some of the statistics were surprising as they revealed counter intuitive insights about what our students are going through and how they feel about it.

Surprising Numbers on American Children’s and Teen’s Happiness

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Check out three results from this report from the “Global Kids Happiness Index.

1. Compared to the world, American kids are not the happiest by far.

While most define themselves as relatively “happy,” kids in countries like Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Germany are happier than U.S. kids. So while today’s parents work harder at it than past generations, our kids just aren’t as happy as they used to be.

2. White, affluent kids are less happy than minorities.

Of the four largest ethnic populations in America, the happiest are African-Americans followed by Asians and Hispanics. Coming in fourth are Caucasians. So, while the majority of American wealth is enjoyed by whites, it doesn’t equate to happiness.

3. Kids are far more worried about recession and global problems than school.

Thanks to ubiquitous technology and information, today’s teens are more stressed and distressed than past teen generations. Awareness of global problems results in students feeling more angst about global conflict than their own homework.

Wow. As a teen, my biggest worries were math and making the baseball team.

Three of the Greatest Sources of Happiness

Like me, you might be wondering—what did students say was their greatest source of happiness? In other words, what actually made them happy? To this question, there was a wide array of responses, but topping the list were these three:

  • Family – Time with family (extended and immediate) was the top answer.
  • Friends – Time with peers they enjoy, at school, evenings or on-line.
  • Free Time – Time to play, make up games, relax, and laugh.

Three of the Greatest Reasons for Student’s Unhappiness

Beyond this report on student happiness, I consulted the results from our 2016 Focus Groups with Generation Z. We met with four communities of middle school and high school students and made discoveries about their habits, attitudes and interests. Below are my conclusions on the biggest sources of unhappiness:

1. Anxiety

I have written much on the angst today’s teens and twenty-somethings feel. Despite their random posts on Instagram, many worry over world problems because they’re exposed to them on social media. They have a higher rate of depression and anxiety than generations who were unexposed.

2. Entitlement

A second source of unhappiness is obvious. Our generation (young and old) feels more “entitled” to possessions and perks than we did in the past. When we feel entitled to something, it’s easy to feel unhappy when things don’t go our way. Today, we have more “stuff”—but we have more expectations too.

3. FOMO

Finally, our young feel the tangible “fear of missing out.” Because they can see on their screens all that’s going on among friends, the social media posts can create unhappiness because they’re not in the middle of all the fun, all the time. This gives new meaning to the old phrase—“ignorance is bliss.”

Steps We Can Take with Students

If you spend time with teens who appear unhappy, why not talk to them about it. Get them to acknowledge why they are unhappy. Then, try suggesting three simple tasks. These are pretty timeless. I’ve seen them work as recently as last month.

1. Make a Gratitude List

The quickest way out of feeling down is to recall what’s going right in our life. Have students actually make a list of the people and realities they’re grateful for. Then, discuss them. Gratitude is closely related to happiness and smiling.

2. Mono-Task and Solve One Problem

Our unhappiness is often due to being overwhelmed. What if we suggest our students set aside most of what worries them, and focus on just one problem to solve. Then, mono-task—instead of multi-task. Achievement feels good.

3. Focus on “Controllables”

Lastly, students can beat unhappiness by focusing on what’s in their control and not what’s beyond it. There’s little more common for any generation than fretting over things we can’t change. We’re happiest when we take responsibility for our “controllables.”

Remember—the Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. We have to catch it ourselves.


Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

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This article is a simple reminder of a timeless truth:

“What gets rewarded gets repeated.”

My generation placed an emphasis on several priorities that I believe have backfired on our children. While the goals were well intentioned, they unwittingly manipulated our kids to value lower priorities over higher ones and to value the end, not the means. In fact, for too many high school and college students, the end justifies the means in almost every life context. We unwittingly taught our children to push for results without valuing the process.

Allow me to offer an example.

photo credit: 100_1603.jpg via photopin (license)

photo credit: 100_1603.jpg via photopin (license)

Too many parents have decided that getting into a great college should be the number one goal of a high school student. This priority led our students to do whatever it took to please Mom and Dad. The value turned into behavior:

  1. We pushed for higher scores on standardized tests.
  2. We paid for SAT prep at a special tutoring facility
  3. We prioritized academic success over everything.

I wonder if this is a misplaced priority. Our kids observe and listen to what we value, often taking their cues from our obsession with their performance:

  1. Kids find a way to appease their parents, even if it means buying papers.
  2. They figure out how to beat the system: high grades but low retention.
  3. They play a sport even if they’d rather do something else they enjoy more.
  4. They do the extra-curricular activity but deep down are miserable.
  5. They have higher rates of plagiarism than past generations.

From what I’ve read, this seems to have been a part of the problem with the rise in both youth anxiety and school cheating. Parents demand results; kids feel angst . . . and they cheat to cope with their inabilities. It’s become epidemic in some areas. Three out of four students in America admit to cheating in order to get through college.

A Statement That Stopped Me in My Tracks

These thoughts raced through my mind recently when I saw a sign hanging in public. The quote forced me to stop and think about what’s really important in life and what sustains our civilization. It simply said:

“We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”

I quickly sped down memory lane, trying to remember what my wife and I had said to our children as they made their way through school. We certainly encouraged them to study hard and do their very best in each class. We also encouraged them, however, to focus on behaviors and outcomes that were in their control. We taught them: “You will become what you are becoming right now.”

Displaying empathy for marginalized kids was one of those behaviors we talked about more than once. It was also something we tried to practice, both with neighbors who lived close by and taking trips to serve the homeless at Safehouse Outreach in Atlanta. My son Jonathan has always been drawn to reach out to those on the fringes who appear lonely, unpopular, or unfriended. My daughter Bethany has always stuck up for the person who appears different or quirky. Now that they’re both in their twenties, I am as proud of these predispositions as I was their good grades. Classrooms can only teach so much. These are actions that forge your character. Watching my two adult children today—I am pleased that somehow the right priorities stuck.

So, I just want to ask you: What do you emphasize in your home or school? Is it simply hard skills like math or science, or is it something they may end up needing every time they meet someone new? What message do you send them with your affirmation or criticism? Let me remind you of a timeless principle—what gets rewarded gets repeated.

What Really Matters

Deanna was a high school student who usually made good grades, but she stood out most to her teachers for her compassion. They all noticed the way she reached out to fellow students who didn’t seem to understand a subject. She consistently took time to be there for classmates who needed help, or encouragement or, perhaps, they just needed another person with whom to sit. Deanna lived to serve others.

One semester, her chemistry teacher was forced to give her a poor grade. He hated to do so, since Deanna worked harder than any student in his class. But, alas, she had earned a D, and he knew he had to grade fairly. His statement on her report card said it all. Next to the D, he wrote a note for both Deanna and her parents to see:

“We cannot all be chemists, but oh, how we would all love to be Deannas.”

Lets make sure we’re emphasizing what really matters and not misplacing our priorities.


Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

Today, I’m excited to share with you a conversation with Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. With over 20 years of educational experience, Dr. Carstarphen has an impressive record of transformative educational leadership. She will also be a speaker at our upcoming National Leadership Forum 2017. Below are some highlights from our conversation. Here is the full audio of our discussion:

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Tim Elmore: So let’s talk about social emotional learning. I know this is one of your major priorities—building whole people. Can you start this conversation by just answering why social emotional learning is important to you and the Atlanta Public School district?

Meria Carstarphen: We saw people living both in home situations and work/school situations that were steeped in chronic stress. The decision-making behavior for both adults and children was pretty terrible at the time. We felt like we needed to make social emotional learning a district priority because we can’t teach kids unless they’re willing to take some ownership in the learning process. The good news about social emotional learning is that these skills can actually be taught. By teaching it, the kids will develop these smarts and the heart to be better people.

Tim: Absolutely. Well I know some of the kids in Atlanta live in toxic homes or live in tough zip codes, so they are coming in with perhaps not great skill sets for building relationships, applying the knowledge, or having the right attitude.

Meria: It’s tough because for us it was compounded. Not only are they not getting those skills, but also they’re just not getting an education. So their level of frustration with the learning process worsened. People don’t care unless they know you care. Part of showing them that is to pause the high stakes academic conversation and just say, “We care about you.”

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Tim: Well just playing off what you said, I’ve read the numbers. Students participating in social emotional learning programs scored an average of 11% more on achievement tests and are 91% more likely to complete high school. In a survey, 93% of teachers said they want more focus on social emotional learning. They are realizing we need social emotional learning in order to do math, reading, or history well.

Meria: I hear teachers say, “I can do my job, but I’ve got those one or two kids that constantly disrupt.” What if you were able to teach a kid how to self-monitor, calm down when they feel angry, or work out their problems while the teacher is still teaching? What it does for teachers is, it lets them do what they do best—teach. Most of the challenge with teaching is classroom management. Imagine a new teacher being able to split that responsibility with the child.

Tim: That’s amazing. Well I know that as an educator, and certainly as a superintendent, those positive outcomes are huge for you. It’s not always a smarts issue with kids, it’s everything else going on in their life that prevents them from really tuning in. Why should colleges and employers who receive your graduates be interested in the fact that Atlanta Public Schools is focusing on social emotional learning?

Meria: The National Association of Colleges and Employers looked at what were the top skills that employers actually want from graduates. When we did the analysis of their top ten, five of them were actually the social emotional learning competencies. So it was things like: decision making, problem solving, communication, organization, and prioritization. Even the New York Times reported that kids who scored high on these kinds of social skills are going to be four times more likely to graduate from college. These skills must be taught and they can be. Aristotle said more than 2,000 years ago, “To educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

Click Here to Listen to the Whole Conversation


Join Dr. Meria Carstarphen at National Leadership Forum 2017
Fast Foward: Racing Towards the Future As Y Shifts to Z

When you attend the 2017 National Leadership Forum, you’ll get the key to…

  • Rediscovering the reason you began teaching or training young adults in the first place, with the tools to successfully stay refreshed throughout the year.
  • Mastering a teaching method that allows Generation Z to own their learning.
  • Enjoying a lasting connection with your students that compels them to give their best day in and day out.
  • Making Monday your favorite day of the week.
  • Preview where student engagement and education is heading in the future.

Learn More Here

Yesterday, I blogged about the damages of multi-tasking. As a multi-tasking addict, I have become a convert to mono-tasking—concentrating on one clear task at a time. I reject FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and embrace MONO . . . as in mono-tasking.

Today, I want to offer some practical steps to become more mindful. As I noted yesterday, “mindfulness” has become a buzzword in many circles of our culture. Some believe it’s some strange, Eastern hyper-spiritual, meditative practice. I suppose it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as becoming fully present with the people in front of you or the task you must accomplish.

I believe the reason for its current popularity is—our noisy, busy, cluttered culture. Thanks to social media and the FOMO, our brains rarely get down time, as psychologists say they should. Neuroscientist Moshe Bar, at Harvard Medical School, tells us our brains need to switch back and forth from activity to recovery mode. We need periods of recovery—but often don’t get them. Mindfulness is about putting down our “juggling balls” for a while and recovering. It’s embracing mono-tasking not multi-tasking. The benefits are tangible. And let me remind you, as I said yesterday, The American Psychological Association cites it as a hopeful strategy for alleviating depression, anxiety, and pain.

Ten Steps We Can Help Students Take to Become More Mindful

photo credit: Laura via photopin (license)

photo credit: Laura via photopin (license)

So, why not begin by helping students practice mindfulness with these actions:

1. Balance screen time with face time and alone time.

Moderation in all things is wise advice. Talk to kids about balancing time with screens, face-to-face conversations, and alone time. Depending on their personality, it may not be equal, but several daily hours with each is healthy. Reject “binging” in favor of engaging.

2. Consume more magnesium.

This crucial mineral is depleted when we’re under duress. It’s a catch 22 because when it’s low we feel even more emotionally reactive, according to nutritionist Dana James. Magnesium is in foods like spinach, kale, bananas, cocoa and almond milk.

3. Pause and discuss two questions.

Host conversations in a safe place where you can ask them two important questions:

  1. What are the advantages of our addiction to technology?
  2. What are the disadvantages of our addiction?

4. Sit down and do deep breathing.

This often sounds weird to some, but intentional breathing, where you’re mindful of your inhaling and exhaling can do wonders to reduce stress and focus our minds. Have them get quiet, close their eyes and take long, slow breaths in and out.

5. Take a walk in nature.

Anytime we exercise, it can reduce stress and help us center ourselves, but strolling in nature is the best. A Japanese study discovered a link between chemicals released by trees, called phytoncides, and reduced levels of stress hormones.

6. Commit to a regular technology fast.

Everyone I know who’s turned off the technology says the same thing: “At first it was hard, and then it became liberating.” Why not choose a weekly period of time and get away from the pinging of the phone. Stress usually drops and peace rises.

7. Get eight hours of sleep at night.

It’s common knowledge that teens actually need more sleep than their younger or older counterparts—but often get less, thanks to 24/7 social media outlets. We need to encourage them to actually turn off their phones and sleep deeply.

8. Talk about “trade offs.”

Grab some coffee and converse about how successful people make “trade offs” in life. They know that while they can do anything, they can’t do everything. They learn to make wise decisions and say “no” to certain options. And they learn to mono-task.

9. Find challenging work that demands your focused attention.

The research by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals that we get in a flow when we perform demanding work that forces us to focus our minds on achieving it. We are not distracted but devoted in this period. We are mindful.

10. Build an integrated personal brand.

Remind students that everything they say and do is building their personal brand. Social media posts all play into this—by default or design. Creating an integrated brand is a smart way to align themselves with one persona.

(This content is an excerpt from a book to be released this Spring called: Marching Off the Map. Look for it in early 2017.)


Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here