Leadership Lessons From Coaching 3rd Grade Girls Soccer

I started the season with great anticipation. This was my first time coaching soccer in a league with over 6000 kids. I decided to get involved in coaching this season (like many fathers) as a way to connect with my third grade daughter. I felt a strong pull, not only for her, but for the other girls on the team to help encourage and train them in a fun sport. I was assigned as an assistant coach to an already established, dual head coach, husband-wife team, and as I said, I started with great anticipation. Or, more precisely, I started with a set of expectations and hopes.

When I met one of the head coaches for the first time, I asked if we should get together to plan out the season, what we wanted the girls to learn, etc. The answer was ‘no,” it wasn’t that formal or necessary and that we would discuss it at the first practice. I wasn’t too worried as this was a recreational league. The emphasis was on learning the skills of the sport, not so much on the competitive side of the game.

As the season went on, I found that I was not really utilized for my skills. In fact, I was never asked what my background or skills were. I was never consulted or asked what my thoughts were regarding training and developing the girls, where I saw strengths and positioning in the players, or what strategy we should take in the actual games. I was not included in assigning the players at game time or what we needed to do during the games to encourage and leverage our players. I was pretty much ignored.

Now some would say I needed to be more aggressive and make my thoughts known. Perhaps, but as an assistant to two other head coaches, I felt that might be out of place. I was looking to them to take the lead and give direction to strategy or at the least asking for team (the coaching team) input for the direction. The effect on me was more internal as I didn’t want to show the girls any disunity among us as coaches. I began to feel under-valued and not needed. I felt that my presence at the practices and games was not really necessary to the other two coaches – almost as if it didn’t matter to them one way or the other.

I did my best to teach the girls about position, technique, and so on. A huge disconnect came up when I would teach the girls one thing only to have one of the head coaches tell them the opposite on game day. There was no communication from the other two coaches to me regarding skills teaching, and therefore, created considerable confusion with the players. This too had an effect on me. I began to teach less and say less to the players as they were on the field on game day. It was the players, not me, who were getting yelled at for doing what I told them to do when it was in opposition to what the other coaches were saying. I felt bad for the girls, so I stopped telling them what to do.

I didn’t agree with some of the ways the two head coaches coached – in practice and the games – as I saw the ineffectiveness. I finally had a talk with both of them to express my feeling disconnected as a coach with them and how we might change to better our effectiveness as a coaching team. I utilized all my techniques that I have learned over the years to resolve conflict, such as, using “I” statements to describe the situation, talking about “we” when discussing solutions, and so on. The conversation went well, I thought, and seemed to have an actionable plan for moving forward. However, what I thought had been communicated was apparently different than what was actually heard. In fact, during the next practice, I was almost completely ignored by the other two coaches. They only spoke to me because I said something to them. It was everything I could do to not just walk off the field right then and there. I was frustrated, angry, and had no desire to continue putting effort into the rest of the season.

Now, before you think I am stuck in a whine-fest, I detailed my thoughts and feelings so that you, as a leader, can gain a better understanding of what your leaders and direct reports think and feel as a result of your communication and actions. If you are unaware of how your words – or lack of words – impact your team, your organization will become increasingly ineffective.

Here are the Learnings:

1. Expectations
Everyone begins a job or leadership position with a set of expectations and ideas of how that job or position will play out. Some of those expectations may be unrealistic, but they are there nonetheless. Part of leadership is managing those expectations on your teams. The first step in doing that is learning what those expectations are. This only happens by asking. So meet, ask, discuss, and get everyone on board with the reasonable expectations of the job and organization. You will need to revisit these expectations occasionally as time goes on. People will forget what was said and default back to their original impressions and expectations. Discussing what expectations were agreed to helps to realign and re-energize the leader or team member.

2. Get to know your leaders
You can’t align your resources if you don’t know them. If you are forming a team for the first time to work together, or you have just taken a new position, aligning your resources, both people and material, is foundational for success as a team (and ultimately, you as a leader). Spend time talking to your leaders and team, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and align them so your team compliments each other. You have to go beyond casual conversation here. You need to ask questions that delve deeper into the values of the team member or leader, their world view, their goals, their expectations, and so on. Depending on the length of the project or permanence of the team, a variety of assessment tools may be of use. Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, DISC assessments, Strengths Finder, and other leadership assessment tools can give valuable insight to how you and your team will interact with each other and the organization as a whole.

3. Involve the leader or team member in Strategic Planning
If you are leading leaders, you better be engaging them in their skills and strengths or they will go elsewhere. Today’s leader has a short tolerance for being overlooked and under-utilized. They have ideas. They have experiences that are beneficial. They have creative solutions to the challenges you and your organization face. Tap into that creativity. Engage your leaders on a deeper level. The momentum and energy you will see in them will trickle down throughout the organization in the teams and leaders they lead. Effectiveness will increase as will productivity, loyalty, and unity to the vision.

4. Create a team culture
Nothing kills a team faster than a leader who doesn’t foster an atmosphere where ideas are solicited, considered, and acted upon when appropriate. A mature and wise leader does not need to elevate himself or show everyone else he is the only source of answers for the team.  Everyone has a different perspective that is worth considering. The more you create this culture in your organization, the more open your leaders and team members will be to share their thoughts, perspectives, ideas, and solutions. In short, they will share more of their best because you are consistently showing you respect and value their best.

5. Stay keenly aware of the pulse of your team
When conflict arises – and it will – you need to be keenly aware of how your team is feeling and functioning relationally as a team. People don’t always share their feelings openly, but their body language is an indicator of what is going on inside. If you have a vigorous exchange of ideas and words in a team meeting and one of your normally vocal team members is suddenly less out-spoken, there may be something deeper going on. If you notice this same person looking down at the conference table more and less into the eyes of his cohorts, there is something going on that needs to be explored. Sometimes you need to investigate it right then and there. Sometimes it is better taken off-line. One thing is for sure, if you do nothing as a leader to address when a team member crosses a line, the team will eventually self-destruct into a group of individuals more concerned about their turf and numbers than the health of the organization as a whole. It is your job to keep your team functioning at its peak. It is your job to train your leaders to do the same with their teams. As you continue to improve your “awareness” skills, it will become very obvious to you when one of your team members or leaders is shutting down, even if the rest of the team doesn’t see it.

Look at the five learnings above. How would you rate yourself as a leader in these areas? How can you improve in these areas? Choose one to work on this week.

Original post at: http://www.indemandleadership.com/blog/posts/leadership-lessons-from-coaching-3rd-grade-girls-soccer/

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