The greatest culture book I have ever read is Legacy by James Kerr. Kerr goes deep into the heart of the greatest sports culture of all time, the New Zealand All Blacks, to study every detail of how they operate as an organization. Despite seldom having the most talent on the pitch at any time, the All Blacks have maintained a win percentage above 80% over 100+ years! So what is the key ingredient to their special sauce? Storytelling.

This answer has gotten me thinking about what we emphasize when we communicate with our young athletes. My default has long been a narrow focus on instruction, technique, and drillwork. My rationale was predicated on a series of egotistical assumptions: I know more than other coaches, the kids will always listen to me, and disciplined training will win the day… But this is not the way the world works. People (especially young people) are inherently skeptical, are seldom receptive, and apply little of what they are taught. It is for these reasons that the real question is not “What do I say” but, rather, “How and Why do I say it”

Breaking down those walls of close mindedness is the key. In the third most viewed Ted Talk, Simon Sinek explains his belief about what drives behavior change. In short, Sinek believes that people act out of emotion and, later, rationalize their decision. At its core, this is marketing – an attempt to connect with the way people feel through pictures, video, music, symbolism, and word play.

We are loyal to Coke because the commercial is full of wholesome people and tell ourselves it is because we prefer the taste over Pepsi. We are loyal to Ram trucks because they are driven by hard-working farmers towing down dirt roads on commercials and then tell everyone it was the turning radius and 4 door cab that sold us.

Young athletes respond no differently. Stories cut straight to the heart. We can tell our 8th grader that selflessness is important or we can tell them a story about the most selfless moment we have ever witnessed. Stories are how we inspire. They are better than the carrot and the stick. Stories stoke the intrinsic flame of motivation. They attach what children know they want with a vision of how to get there.

When we give up a little bit of control and open to the idea that children will walk their own path if we brightly light the way, we become better teachers, leaders and mentors. As Kerr states in Legacy, “Inspiring leaders use bold, even unrealistic goals to lift their game and the power of storytelling to ‘sing their world into existence’. They tell great, vivid, epic stories of what is possible to themselves and their teams – and soon the world repeats their story back to them”

Until next time!

– Ryan Klipstein