This is an excerpt from Winning Ways of Women Coaches by Cecile B. Reynaud.
By Kelly Inouye-Perez
A motivational speaker from the Army once gave me great insights on organizing and deploying personnel to make the most impactful, positive use of their collective talents. Through the conversation with this person, I learned about how the Army is structured, how systematic it operates, and the level of respect that is required to function effectively within that environment. He used one phrase that really stuck with me: “Mission first, team always.” I really liked that concept. It made sense. He said, “It is the responsibility of each individual to figure out how they are going to help the mission of what you are trying to accomplish, knowing they are always going to be a part of this team.”
I had it reversed in my mind. I always put team first, meaning I was focused on solving the people part of the difficult task of defining athletes’ roles and trying to ensure that each player felt OK about their assignments and the expectations of them. But the “Mission first, team always” approach allowed me to determine and define more clearly what everyone’s role should be, based on how they individually could contribute the most to achieving our shared goals. That vision and emphasis is essential in getting the most out of individuals to accomplish a mission.
“Mission first, team always” is also very easy for me to articulate to our team. We are on a mission to win NCAA Championships on the field, but our goal is also to win championships off the field and to be able to truly develop leaders in life.
That simple phrase allowed me to stop and think about the role of every player on the team. I was going to be able to have one-on-one conversations and be really clear about each individual role and how it would help the mission. I found myself really comfortable engaging in transparent conversations with every player on the team and for every position. It was much easier to define clear-cut roles.
I was able to make crystal clear to each player what their role would be. For example, “You may just be a base runner, but you will be fully engaged in all of the practices, and when it comes to game time, I am looking for you to be a runner for this player when it comes to these situations, late in the game or early in the game.” I define the whole thing with the details so that they have a clear understanding of what I am thinking.
After that conversation comes the real test. I would say, “This is going to be your role, and I am not going to decide if you embrace this—you are.” I explain their role and ask for their buy-in. It is very simple. “Either you buy in because that’s how you help this mission, or you choose not to and this may not be the place for you.” It is not emotional; it is straightforward and very clear. Ultimately, the athlete determines through her actions whether to accept the role for the team or hold on to her own ideas about what role she will fulfill.