The Evolution Of Happy Teams

posted by Coach Dawn Writes
Friday, September 16, 2011 at 3:32pm EDT

My blog is a place for coaches at all levels who are interested in building teams, motivating their student athletes, and coaching ideas that work. You won't find drills or job postings there, but you will find thoughts from a self-proclaimed coaching nerd who wants to help coaches and teams thrive.

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So, it seems that I’ve embarked on a happiness series without really intending to!  I’ve written about the secret lives of happy teams and how limiting choices actually makes us happier…and today’s post is about the evolution from shallow, short-term happiness to long-lasting, meaningful happiness.

Why is this important to me?  And more significantly, why do I think it should be important to you?  Because I believe a substantial secondary responsibility of any coaching staff is to prepare our athletes for the real world.  And I believe that empowering our players with the knowledge that they can control their emotions and not be controlled by them is pretty important.  And I believe we have the opportunity to show them that happiness is a choice and it is achievable…even when life’s circumstances aren’t the happiest.

According to Martin Seligman in his TEDtalk, Positive Psychology, there are three levels of happiness:

  1. The Pleasant Life.  This is the short-term, outward happiness.  Teams in this phase of happiness have lots of visible displays of affection (smiling and laughing)…they look like they’re having fun.  These teams are all about experiencing the fun, pleasure, and camaraderie involved in being on a team.  Unfortunately, as soon as adversity strikes, their pleasant life is long gone.
  2. The Good Life.  These teams know what their strengths are…on and off the court, and they build their program around them.  This won’t work for coaches who have a scheme that they use with every athlete and every team, every year.  The programs that experience the good life are willing to focus on the team goals to such an extent that they encompass every aspect of their lives.
  3. The Meaningful Life.  Teams that live the meaningful life know their strengths like those in the good life, but instead of just using them for their own benefit…they use their strengths to better the world around them.  Through his studies, Seligman found that people who combine their strength with philanthropy have longer lasting happiness.

I love this progression because it goes from a selfish place of making sure that I feel good to the selfless position of ensuring the happiness of others…and having my own happiness as a byproduct of that action.  Great stuff!

Here are some actions that we can take with our teams, depending on where your program is within the happiness continuum:

  1. Think yourself happy.  Seligman called it “design a beautiful day”, we’d call it visualization.  This corresponds most closely with The Pleasant Life because of its focus on how we feel and our own personal happiness.  The good news is: it works!
  2. Intentional engagement.  Forcing our teams to hang out at the beginning of the season may be awkward at first, but this is how we get to find our strength as a team.  We’ve all played that team with a player that’s way better than anyone on our team…but we still win.  That’s because we know our strength lies in the group, not the individual…which is a good marker of teams living The Good Life.
  3. Philanthropy.  I don’t think this necessarily means going out to a soup kitchen or building homes with Habitat for Humanity…though it can.  I think we can stay within our sport and still make a difference.  It can be hosting free sports clinics for kids, deciding that your team will support another team at all of their games, or even adopting a local elementary or middle school team.  If our teams can find ways to combine our love of sport with giving to others, then we’ll be living The Meaningful Life.

If we focus on the process of happiness with our players, hopefully they’ll be more successful in our gyms and classrooms…and also after they’ve moved on to their professional lives.

Also in my Happy Team series: The Secrets of Happy Teams, Why Having Less Options Will Make Your Team Happier.

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