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The Little Things Make a Big Difference

Greg Shelley, Ph. D. Director of Leadership Academies at Georgetown, Colgate, and Lafayette

Sometimes we need a moment to step away from the "big picture" and focus on the little things, the important things, and those seemingly trivial things that need our attention . . . right now. The "little" things are generally not difficult . . . they just take a little extra time and demand a little extra effort.

It might be a phone call that we continue to put off, an email that needs to be "proofed" before sending, a word of encouragement to a teammate, a smile as we hold the door for a staff member, or a surprise "thank you" note to an assistant coach for a job well done. Whatever the task, remember that the smallest things can make the biggest difference.

In their book, "The Power of Small: Why Little Things Make all the Difference", Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval argue that bigger is not always better. In fact, these authors challenge all of us that our smallest actions, words, and gestures often lead to our greatest long-term rewards and outcomes. In short, our kindness, willingness to help, attention to detail, attitude, desire to offer a positive word, or our simple "please" and "thank you" responses will make all the difference in building strong personal and team relations.

Team members (players and coaches) tend to work harder when they know others care about them and want the best for them. As a result, our smallest actions and gestures often have the largest impact on our personal relationships and long-term team successes. It doesn't take much . . . but doing the little things may be the difference between playing a good game and winning.

Below are 5 coach and athlete suggestions for doing the "little things" that can give you the competitive advantage over others.


Look for opportunities to practice "little" actions and gestures that promote kindness and encouragement, as well as build commitment and confidence. Offer a word of encouragement or be complimentary when others least expect it. Say "nice job", "please", "great work", "thank you", and "I appreciate your effort". Be positive, uplifting, and esteeming when working and interacting with other teammates and coaches.


In the technology driven sport world, every MySpace and LinkedIn communication, email, text, twitter, Facebook posting, personal blog, as well as any on or off-field behaviors and interviews -- are but one small click away from becoming "front-page" news. What you say, the words you choose, and how and where you choose to communicate things have the potential to be made available for all to see, read, and interpret. So, re-read the email for proper wording and tone, think about how your text or tweet message might be perceived, make sure all addresses and names are correct, and consider who might read what you are posting and sending. Stop, double check, and think again before you post it or send it.


If you are a coach, consider an athlete suggestion box and encourage your athletes to make suggestions as to how the team might be improved. Ask your athletes to be specific, but remind them that if they are going to complain about anything . . . they must offer two suggestions for how to fix the problem. If you are an athlete . . . use the box. Make helpful suggestions and offer constructive input for making your team better. You have a voice, so use it appropriately and with respect.


Everyone has something to offer the team. As an athlete, be sure to encourage your teammates (especially those teammates who don't play as much) and remind them how important and valuable they are to the team. Coaches, look to build trust and confidence by treating everyone with respect and dignity. Be purposeful in striving to make a positive impression with everyone. Everyone does matter and they need to feel like they do.


Slow down. At the end of each day make a list of three positive things that took place . . . then take the time to appreciate them. Did an athlete compliment your coaching? Is an athlete's attitude getting better? Are your athletes more responsive to your coaching changes? Are your team captains "stepping up" and improving their leadership? Whatever was positive today, take the time to appreciate it.

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