The Platinum Rule - By Jessica Bracamonte, Assistant Softball Coach at Duke University
Like many young athletes, I started out being coached by my dad and I always thought that if I could play for my dad then I could play for anyone. I was right. Not because my dad was the toughest coach I would ever have, but because my dad would ensure that I didn’t quit. To say that I played for some really tough coaches would be an understatement. As far as I knew, it was normal. It was the price that had to be paid if you wanted to “be the best” and “play at the next level”. I would be lying if I said that playing for those types of coaches didn’t help me develop mental toughness and that they weren’t a big part of my success. Under these coaches, I learned softball skills, resiliency, discipline, hard-work, and competitiveness which were all necessary to getting where I am today. What I didn’t learn from these coaches was patience, compassion, understanding, relationship building, and the type of love every player deserves to feel from a coach. Naturally, I started my career modeling the very coaches I credited for giving me to tools necessary to be a strong softball player and even “stronger” person. I would eventually learn that it was what I didn’t learn from them that would be the missing pieces in my ability to become the best coach and person I could be.
Despite my mentor (and boss at the time) trying to teach me and get me to fill in the gaps of my coaching philosophy and style with the missing pieces I mentioned above, like most lessons in life, I would have to learn this one the hard way. Throughout my six years at Central Michigan, I will say that I “improved” every year. I yelled a little less, punished less frequently, coached a little less through fear, and gave a few more high fives here and there. In my mind, I had come a long way and bended enough to “do my part” in meeting this “softer, more fragile” generation where they were. When the time came for me to move on to the next chapter of my coaching career, I was heartbroken saying goodbye to the players I would no longer coach. I would soon find out that not all of them felt the same way. To say that I was taken back would be an understatement, I was shocked and confused. Knowing how deeply I loved and cared about each one of them, I couldn’t wrap my head around how even one of them would feel any sense of relief that I would no longer be their coach. This was a defining moment for me both in my career and in my personal life. I was forced to take a hard look in the mirror and ask myself who I wanted to be as a coach and person, but more importantly, how I wanted my players to see me as a coach and person.
Lesson number one: They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. This quote was front and center in my boss’s office. For six years, I saw it at least once a day. And for six years, I thought that my investment in them as players, how hard I pushed them to reach their full potential, and how consistently I held them accountable showed them how much I cared. Discouragement set in after finding out that wasn’t true at all, so I reached out to a friend for some advice. He was in the business of teaching leaders of various companies how to retain employees after frequent loss and turnover. After ranting and raving about how I couldn’t understand how any one of them would have a bad thing to say about me and how it was their problem not mine, he said to me, “And how is that working out for you?” After talking through various areas of improvement on my end, it came down to the quote I saw for six years but didn’t really understand. I could be the most knowledgeable, hard-working coach in the country but until I put the time and effort into showing them that I cared about them as people first, they didn’t care how much I knew about softball or making them better players.
Which leads me to lesson number two: The Platinum Rule – treat others how THEY want to be treated. Many are familiar with The Golden Rule of treating others how you want to be treated. It wasn’t until this point in my career
that I realized The Golden Rule wasn’t cutting it anymore, and the point I also realized I wasn’t even following it to begin with. Treating others how you WANT to be treated, and treating others how you can handle, tolerate, and push through being treated is very different. I got to a place where I was able to ask myself, if I had a choice, would I have chosen to be coached through and led with the styles I was coached with? Would I have chosen to be yelled at and embarrassed publicly in front of teammates and opponents? Would I have chosen to be motivated through fear? No. If I could choose the qualities and style of my employer, what would I choose? Ninety percent of my current players at the time didn’t want to see me go, but what about the six teams before that? As a coach, you can’t control how you are viewed by your players, but you can absolutely impact their perceptions with your actions or lack thereof. I needed to do a better job of embracing The Platinum Rule and treat them how they wanted to be treated, because at the end of the day that’s all everyone wants regardless of what you’re capable of enduring.
Lesson number three: You CAN have it both ways! The best kept secret of coaching is that you can push your players to be the very best version of themselves AND do it in a way that they will respect and appreciate you, imagine that. Not only can you show them how much you care, treat them how they want to be treated AND get the best out of them, without the first two your chances of ever truly getting the best out of them significantly decrease. There is a balance that must be found, but more importantly, there’s some prioritizing that needs to be done. What are the most important things to you as a coach? Most will answer using all the buzz words such as culture, relationships, and development. I know I did. But what does that mean? At my core, those were important to me and in my mind, I was doing all the right things to contribute to that type of environment. Where I went wrong was not being open to new ideas of how to obtain those things. As a coach, part of your job is to challenge your players in various ways and stepping out of their comfort zone is a big one. It was time for me to step out of my comfort zone and dive into new ways of how to find better balance.
For the last three years I have spent a significant amount of time developing the missing pieces to this puzzle of what it means to be a great coach. Through various books, videos, podcasts, social media platforms, workshops, and mentors, I have learned more about understanding people, being a more desirable and effective leader, developing relationships, and why empathy is not only okay but necessary. This turning point in my career was the start of my journey toward developing a humanistic approach to coaching. I didn’t know there was an actual name for this style of coaching until going through the Coaching the Whole Athlete program, but it assured me that I had the right idea and was on the right track toward my journey of being the best coach that I can be. There is always work to be done and new things to be learned, but this approach has changed my life and the lives of my current and future players for the better in so many ways.
Jessica is in her third year as an assistant softball coach at Duke University. Prior to Duke she was an assistant at Central Michigan University from 2013-2019, where she also obtained a master's degree in Sport Administration. A native of Southern California, Michigan became a second home to her as she also attended Michigan State University from 2007-2012.
As an athlete, Jessica was a standout outfielder and four-year starter at Michigan State from 2008-11. As a senior, she led the Big Ten with four triples while hitting .328, slugging .458, and driving in a team-high 28 runs. She played professionally with the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch League in 2014.
In her spare time, Jessica loves to spend time with her dog Daisy going to the park, on hikes, and long walks. She likes to travel and visit Michigan and California whenever she can.