Don't Miss or Underestimate This!
Something powerful happens when a group of good people come together around a common goal. Bringing people together in a positive way around youth sports activities in our community not only benefits the kids, but brings adults together in really positive and powerful ways. There are more than two teams on the field for every practice and every game. If we underestimate the team of parents, the teams of coaches, or the teams of volunteers and staff that make these activities possible, then we’re missing out on a super powerful resource - and possibly some awesome friendships.
The Teams Contributing
Most of the attention on a soccer field is directed at the ball. Coaches and those who understand the game tend to zoom out a little more and watch players shapes, movements, and timing. Referees are watching for compliance, energy levels, safety, and fairness. But if we zoom out even more, individual parents, groups of parents - and zooming out even more, club and organizational leadership, come into focus.
Opportunities to forge positive relationships around the game are not limited to those wearing uniforms. The opportunity for parents and other volunteers to come together and create value for one another are limitless!
Friendships extend form the soccer field into other areas of life. Synergies and community building can grow in many directions.
What Happened On Our Fields
To illustrate this phenomenon, I draw on experiences I had this past two weeks with my Club Academy. Our Academy serves kids from 3-8yrs-old and is structured around large group practices once or twice per week depending on the age, and games once per week. Planning for the season started many months before and opening day was two weeks ago.
Opening day is always awkward. There are new players, new parents, new coaches... no one really knows what to do or what is expected, so people stand around, see one another, and look for some direction. Everyone wants to fit in and everyone is hoping that they and their kids will have a good time on this new season adventure. This season's opening day had it's share of confusion, but for the most part went smoothly.
We did have one thing going for us this season, however - more rigorous preparation. Parent meetings all around, schedule postings, communication channels posted... good level of parent engagement.
On the field, when I asked for volunteers, lots of hands went up. Most volunteers followed through and got registered and trained. Most showed up on the fields for practice and games, pitched in, and seemed to have a great time. Pre-activty huddles gave everyone an overview of the plan of the day. Post-activity huddles provided important insights about how we could improve and what we're doing well. Positive sounding emails have been flowing into my inbox. Text messages to my phone are useful, productive, and fun. Smiles are clearly visible on both kids and adult faces. Groups of parents who are not volunteering are huddled together chatting, relaxed, and seemingly enjoying themselves as their kids play.
It is amazing what happens when people lower their guard, embrace a common goal, and allow themselves to be part of something larger than their own life. I'm seeing parents working on fields with kids who are not their own - clearly and conspicuously giving of themselves to the community we are making.
This is an environment ripe for producing great things!
What's Happening Here?
One plus one does not equal two when synergies between people are allowed to develop. Two people can accomplish much more together than two individuals can. A team of people working together can accomplish exponentially more that the same number of individuals can.
We start with a plan that answers the question: what kind of experience do we want our members to have? We give that plan structure in the months leading up to season open - then add a group of well calibrated, generous, and good natured people who want to have a good experience as much as we want to give it to them.
As we execute the plan, it becomes abundantly obvious that it takes more than one person (or whatever small group you have) to pull off. As long as the environment is safe, fun, and structured well enough to support what's about to happen, the best that people have to offer comes bubbling to the surface. Volunteers step forward, names exchanged, hands shaken, smiles shared, and we're off to a great start!!
We are social creatures and we are genetically wired to work cooperatively in groups. When people know they are contributing something of real value to a vision they all share, the magic of human power emerges.
While we may not be able to measure the effect of synergy in terms of how many volunteers are doing tasks 1, 2, or 3; we can experience the effect of synergy in the feeling of positive energy or Vibe that's flowing between people.
Why Is This On My "Important Stuff" List
It may sound soft or ethereal to focus so much on the energy on the Vibe that a positive environment can give rise to, but I believe it makes a big difference. Kids surrounded by a positive vibe feel safe, react well, and want to come back. Parents, volunteers, and coaches who are surrounded by a positive vibe put in more time, more energy, and get more out of the environment. Negative vibes, by contrast, create disfunction in kids, repel good people, and make for an unpleasant experience.
Where positive relationships, synergy between people, and a good vibe exist, organizations get a chance to grow in new and exciting ways. People working and playing together generate more ideas, contribute more hands to the effort, and make supporting the mission something to look forward to.
Especially in the younger ages, one primary development objective is for kids to come away with a positive emotional response to the youth sports environment. Where parents are making friends and people are having a good time, kids will naturally enjoy this space. Activities becomes something that everyone is looking forward to. That changes the get-ready phase, the car and driving phase, the activity phase, and the car-ride home.
Be the Change...
I have deeply and thoroughly enjoyed these last two weeks of this season. what I've seen on the fields is positive and I see kids and parents really engaging. I've made friends both on and off the pitch and see a potential army of good people who will take over when I eventually step away from my Club and hand over the reigns to my successor.
I also recognize that not every environment is like this. My own Club wasn't like this for a long time and still isn't across all programs. It takes a time and energy commitment up front to ensure that everyone feels safe and well cared for - prerequisites for people to relax and let their hair down, so to speak. It takes significant investment to draw out and cultivate the positive energy that people bring to the environment. It takes organization to be able to channel positive energy when it emerges. If no one in on point doing this important work, then it's only by chance that the Vibe will emerge.
The best way to make sure that your organization has positive Vibe is to make it happen. If someone else is leading the effort, find a way to contribute and support. If no one else is leading the effort, find a way to get it started.
I started as a soccer Dad on the sidelines. From Dad to assistant coach, assistant coach to head coach, head coach to Director, Director to President... every step of the way, I had an idea of what I wanted to see from the community I am a part of. I ran into a lot of obstacles and walls, failed lots of times, and kept getting back to the problem. I finally found what I have been looking for. These last two weeks have empowered many people to go above and beyond. The environment is safe. The environment is fun. The environment is age appropriate and well organized. And there are lots of opportunities for good natured people to emerge and contribute. They are doing exactly what human beings do best - being part of a community and contributing to its success.