Winning is hard. Whether it is an individual or team sport, you and your team are going up against skilled opponents with similarly motivated scholarship athletes and experienced coaches. They have trained just as rigorously as your team.
For your squad to have the best chance of winning, your players have to be healthy, eligible and free of unnecessary distraction. This is also true of the coaching staff. Creating these optimal conditions for the possibility of victory, everyone associated with the program must be on the same page and give great effort throughout the year. A coach and his staff or an athletic director can’t do it all themselves. They need the assistance of others to accomplish the essential tasks like the ones I just mentioned.
These are the tasks that are often done without much fanfare. And often times the employees performing these tasks are taken for granted. This is unfortunate as you want appreciated people working in the department. Motivating someone that doesn’t feel appreciated is a near impossible task. Equally as important, these people impacts winning and losing. Their tasks doesn’t involve scheme or sport specific knowledge, but the tasks are nonetheless important.
When staffers don’t help the program in the ways they need to be or are capable of, they become internal opponents. It is hard to beat the opponent on game day when you have too many internal opponents and you as a coach or staffer are spending the program’s organizational energy fighting battles Monday through Friday with these internal opponents.
There can be internal opponents within the athletic department, in a certain department on campus or even in the University President’s office. We are led to believe through our association with a school or team that support for the athletic department or team will occur naturally. This simply isn’t the case. Decisionmakers have different interests, beliefs and agendas and often times they will come in direct conflict with those of an athletic department.
Internal opponents might be jealous of the attention that athletics and athletes receive, the compensation executives and coaches earn or the resources that athletics uses. Maybe that internal opponent is just simply apathetic. The source of an internal opponent’s animosity can come from many sources. Whatever that source is, their attitude and approach to their work makes doing yours more difficult.
Below are the different types of internal opponents that I have encountered in my time in college athletics:
The Entrenched is someone that has been at an institution for years. They have tenure. And they know it. And will remind you of it. Often.
Their response to requests for a deviation from what has been standard and outdated or unimaginative administrative practices is “this is the way we have always done things here at State U.” (The entire time you are thinking: “Maybe that is why you have lost consistently for so long here at State U.’’)
The Entrenched hide behind “that is how we do things here” or any similar variation of the phrase to avoid any type of action. It is easier to offer that as an explanation or excuse than to take a chance and try to do things a bit differently.
The Retiree is someone that is at the end of their career arc or they are perfectly content with performing this job and only this job for the rest of their professional life. The Retiree has no desire to fight for your program. They’re tired and have no energy to have difficult conversations or have confrontations on behalf of the program. The Retiree just needs to end this stage of their professional career. This has nothing to do with age. Young people can be a Retiree too.
There are a few times a year when you need something done after hours. The 9- to -5-er can’t be bothered to come in to help you finish a task. They won’t stay longer. They’re 9-to-5-ers after all. At 5 o’clock, the workday is over. They are like Fred Flintstone at the end of the day. They aren’t taking their work home and they definitely aren’t thinking of their work when they go home. When you need to hire a coach over the holiday break, they are the type that won’t come in to process paperwork even though they are in town because they are on their break.
The 9-to-5-er is offensive as you put in the hours and they don’t. You do whatever it takes to win and they can’t be bothered to give just a little extra effort. A successful program can’t afford to have these type of people. You need people that will work without watching the clock.
The Talker is the type of person that will talk and talk and sometimes the things they talk about is EXACTLY WHAT THEY SHOULDN’T BE TALKING ABOUT, namely, program confidences. They will spill the secrets of the program to anyone that will listen. If they’re opposed to what you are doing, they will tell others in the department or even in town. You can’t tell these people a whole lot. You can generally tell who they are because they will tell you things that they shouldn’t about someone else or some other program in the department. They will undermine you at every turn.
THE SELFISH/THE FRONTRUNNER
This is the person that likes what the job can potentially do for them than what the job is about. Expect their assistance only if it directly benefits them.
The Selfish/ Frontrunner also will be of assistance if your team gets hot and starts winning games. You will see them in the front row of games so that everyone can see them and thus associates them with a winning program. They want everyone to know that they have a part in this success. They are “all in” at that point. They are by nature, frontrunners, that is, always supportive when you are succeeding. They are the first to give you a handshake on the field after a win. After a loss, they are nowhere to be seen. (In fact, they might order the buses to leave after a road game without all essential personnel on the bus. Yup. I’ve seen that before.)You either need to have things benefit them or win to get them to do their job.
THE KNOW IT ALL
The Know-It-All gives you input into all aspects of the program or department when you don’t ask for it. They aren’t happy just working in their assigned area of expertise. They want to offer input on everything you and the program do. This is the trainer that wants to tell you what the team should be eating on Friday nights before a game, even though they would never eat with the team. This is the marketing person that suggests that you should throw the ball more to make the offense more exciting so they can sell more tickets.
The Dramatics are the those people that create unnecessary drama for you and the program. They are similar to the Talker but the Dramatic usually has you playing defense. The Dramatic is the person that has an issue with you or your program and never calls you or pulls you aside to handle matters. Rather, they are of the type that sends you an email and starts CC:ing everyone that they can possibly think of whether it is appropriate to or not. They are the ones to always run to someone higher in athletic administration thus making your life more difficult while trying to give the appearance of actually resolving an issue. You are left having to play defense and provide context to the dispute because they didn’t try to resolve their issues with you and the program themselves.
While winning is hard, trying to convert one of these opponents to your side is just as hard. You have to come to the realization that you have to work through and with these people to attempt to get your goals accomplished. You may not always get through to them. If you don’t, you can’t work with them in an angry fashion or treat them the way they treat you and your program. This is a waste of personal and organizational energy. It is also something that challenges your diplomacy, as well as patience, humility and your ability to problem solve.
Tell me your internal opponent story. Did I miss a certain type? What have you done to combat the internal opponents? Let me know what you think. I welcome questions or comments.
Juan Lozano is a sports attorney in Los Angeles, California that focuses his practice on representing coaching talent. He is a former Director of Football Operations at a number of schools. Lozano is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin Law School.