The 10-80-10 Principle

On Friday I had a ZOOM call with the other coaches in the club that I work with. We had a special guest that has had a huge impact on my coaching path, Coach Alan Knipe! Coach Knipe was my coach during my college career and I spent a year on his staff while I was earning my masters degree. He is a former Olympic Men’s National Team Head Coach and has won the past 2 NCAA Men’s Volleyball National Championships (2018 and 2019).

During my time playing for coach Knipe and when I was a member of his staff I acquired a lot of material that I use today in my coaching career. One book that I have and use quite a bit is “Above The Line” by Urban Meyer. I will be sure to get into the book more in future posts, but today I would like to write about the 10-80-10 Principle.

What is the 10-80-10 Principle?

According to Urban Meyer, he believes that this principle is the best strategy to get the most out of you team.

The way he demonstrates this principle is by seeing your team as a big circle. At the center of your circle is the nucleus, this is the top 10 percent of your team. Surrounding the nucleus lies the bulk of the team, the 80 percent. Lastly, is the bottom 10 percent which is the outermost part of the circle.

Urban Meyer 10-80-10 Principle.jpg

Top 10 Percent: These are the best of the best on your team. This does not refer to talent or skill but that the players that embody everything a member of your team should. Most of the time these players are either your captain or someone that the team is always looking up to. These player are always seeking ways to get better, such as getting extra practice, looking to watch film, or always seeking feedback.

The 80 Percent: This is the bulk or majority of your team. They are always at practice, they do their job, and are an extremely important part of the team. These individuals usually do not have the extra drive to be the best player or teammate like the top 10 percent.

Bottom 10 Percent: This is the group of players that are usually not interested or have push back towards the team. Usually these players seem to be late a lot or miss practices with out any excuses. Sometimes they seem to just be coasting through practice, not caring about the information that you are providing to the team. Coach Meyer refers to this group as “coach killers”

Leadership/Coaching Challenge

By now I am sure that you have pictured one two players from you team for each one of the groups. After you identified where these players are at in the principle what are we to do with it? Well, the key with this principle is to see how many of those 80 percenters can be moved into the top 10 percent.

When listening to Coach Knipe talk about this the other day he brought up one method that he has used himself. As a coach we need the top 10 percent players to PHYSICALLY bring an 80 percent player along with them. What ever it is that the top 10 percent player is doing he needs to take the 80 percent player with him, if he goes to practice early, goes to get an extra weight lift session in, takes extra time for study hall, or even goes in to watch film with a coach. When this happens that 80 percent players sees the difference between him and the elite. This extra work and time that they put in soon enough becomes a part of the player that they are. Eventually resulting in them becoming someone who is in the top 10 percent.

This method of physically bringing the players along is tough to do as a coach. When the extra work is forced upon by the coach it usually is resented by the player in the 80 percent. However, when it is one of their teammates bringing them in for the extra work it, most of the time, ignites a new fire in that player which makes them want to become better! With this the concept of inclusion among players/teammates the transition from the 80 percent to the top 10 occurs organically.

As coaches it is our job to work with that top 10 percent to create the teams culture. This is not an easy task in a short amount of time but with trust and communication it is very possible!

In no way am I saying that you stop working with anyone who is not in the top 10. This is only for the leadership/team dynamic aspect of your team. When you empower you top 10 and demonstrate to the rest of the group the work that this team is about then everyone will soon be pushing everyone and your team should be on a roll!

Team Experiment:

Coach Knipe shared a story of when he was talking to another team about this principle. After he finished explaining all three sections to them he asked the group where everyone saw themselves (for the most part players will be harder on them selves than we as coaches are). When he asked the group to say who they thought was in the top 10 percent they all commented on one player specifically. Then he told the group to think about how they would help someone move from either the bottom 10 percent into the 80 or from the 80 into the top 10! The players were instructed to email their head coach their individual plan by the end of the week. Coach Knipe went on to say to the group that the top 10 will do this right away with a lot of effort, the 80 will do the minimum to get by in a timely manner, and the bottom 10 will write a short made up plan on their phones and send it at the last possible minute. Sure enough this is how all the emails came in to the head coach later that week!

This prinicple is something that has been very effective for me with many of my teams and I know that I will continue to use it with future teams as well. Now that you understand this I challenge you to try coach Knipes experiment with your team. Educate them on the principle, ask them where they see themselves, then have them email you their plan to help move players from one group to another!

Embrace this challenge and let’s grow the top 10% together!

-Coach Windy

Link for “Above the Line”:

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