You would not dream of suiting up and taking on the New York Giants by yourself. I don't care if you're the biggest and strongest dude on the planet. You're going to die. Literally. I have found in my lifetime of working in corporate America and in business that the same is true off the field as it is on the field. No employee or CEO is going to survive long in business without a team. The stronger the team, the better chance the individuals on that team have of winning. Strength of a team comes from places few people know to look. If you've never considered where to look for team strength, you may be surprised by some of the things I'm going to say today. For experienced coaches and business people, get ready to smile.
In this episode, I hope to shine a light on a few things that most people don't consider important. However, those in the know understand that without this, your chances for success go down a lot. Join me for a few minutes as we talk about the whole team and why you're important - no matter how popular or well known your contribution is.
As a listener and maybe as a Patron of this show, you're important. It doesn't matter if you have a background in soccer or not. What matters is your desire to contribute and your willingness to be part of a team that is working together to bring value to the community.
I've had some interesting discussions this week. In one case, a fellow by the name of Richard reached out to me via email and text. He's a long-time, 30+ year coach and former President of the Club I am currently President of. He's coached at high schools, at colleges. He's run our club for a couple of years, and he carries a lifetime of wisdom and passion for players and the game that is refreshing for me to experience. I think anyone who has invested real time and energy into developing kids is infected with the desire to do more. It's just so satisfying to see the effect we can have on the world when we choose to give to others. Coaching is all about helping people to realize the best version of themselves., and when they do, and we're lucky enough to witness it, there is little else that compares to that feeling.
Despite the huge value that Richard brings to the world, he was President at least three President's ago. Coaching has changed. Community demographics have changed. The competitive landscape has changed. And I certainly bring an emphasis to the Club on both the business back end - as an investment banker and consultant to other businesses, I naturally gravitate towards the infrastructure, to risk mitigation, to creative financing, and to long term strategy that I don't imagine many people really care about. But I love it!
Richard and I were sharing perspectives - both old and new - when I noticed that he looked a little out of his element. Website conversion rates, using a financial statement to get a picture of operations, and creative financing techniques are not just not something he had reason to dig into in his former roles. You can't blame him, right? Most people will die a happy death without ever having explored these subjects, but they are a real and regular part of my vocabulary and thinking. I got the sense that he was almost apologetic that this wasn't his thing. He clearly has a ton of value to bring, but in different ways.
My brain jumped the rails a little during our lunch conversation. I was at first a little surprised by what i saw in his face, and I brought the conversation where this episode is hopefully going to bring you and I.
You. Are. Important.
You Are Here
Like players on a soccer team, once kids get old enough to have mastered the basics, and start specializing - we're talking about around age 14 - everyone has a different role to play. A good team doesn't have 22 Strikers. It doesn't have 22 goal keepers. It has goal keepers, and creative strikers. It has composed center mid-fielders, tall and fearless defenders, fast wingers, and coaches who can stitch them all together.
Soccer clubs need coaches and assistant coaches to function. They need these people who will have direct interface and be most directly responsible for day-to-day development of our kids to be cleared as safe to work with kids, to be motivated towards self improvement and continuing education, and to have the kid's best interest as a priority. But coaches and assistant coaches are only part - perhaps the most visible part - but a part, none-the-less, of what makes a good Club.
There is a young woman by the name of Amanda that I've started working with between 6-months and a year ago. Amanda graduated from high school and college nearby. She used to play for the Club I am President of, and she has fond memories of her time playing with our Club. I think it's safe to say that she considers herself a supporter of youth sports and of our Club in general - even though she did not go on to play college or professional soccer. Her childhood experience was enhanced so much by playing team sports that I can almost hear her smiling through the phone when we talk.
Amanda is a graphic artist. She has her own business and she does awesome work. She has skills I could only dream of having and she spends her professional time developing those skills. She now designs our banners, flyers, and signs.
How important do you think it is to me to know that her love for our Club is baked into each piece she does for us? How important is Amanda's work to the continuing growth of our club and for connecting families in our community with the lifetime of memories they can have from being a part of it? Without Amanda, people would be looking at my art - which means they'd likely be doing what they could to avoid looking at it. I am no artist. With Amanda, families see our stuff, find their way to our Website, and are inspired to sign up and start a journey they hopefully will remember well into their adulthood.
Running a soccer club is in most cases, running a business. Mine is structured as a 501(c)3. It comes with all the duties and responsibilities of a not-for-profit. We file taxes. We maintain liability insurance. We have to do marketing, pay property taxes, think strategically, keep meeting minutes, send out mail, build Web sites, maintain newsletters, etc etc. If you're an employee, have a company of your own, or have ever BEEN a customer of a business, then you've got something to contribute. Even if what you do is no more complicated than putting stamps on envelopes, without your help, the team can't score.
Don't sell yourself short when it comes to your local club. You have skills that creative leadership can no doubt find room for. I want our Club to channel the skills and talents of our members. I want everyone to feel like they're part of making the mission a success. I suspect your club leadership is the same way.
Goals Worth Doing
- 501(c)3's like the club I'm responsible for are mission driven. Big missions. So big, in fact that they can't be accomplished by one or two people by ourselves.
- For profit clubs have similar missions with an added component of making money for the underlying business.
- Schools have a mission of educating kids - and most include some youth sports programming because educators know that youth sports is a powerful teaching tool.
Our Club mission is to deliver Character, Development, and Fun Through Youth Sports. Our mission is our rally flag. It's also too big a goal for any one person to do alone! Big goals are like that. They demand a team!
Big goals worth doing are worth doing in groups. Goals worth doing have an impact on the community and possibly on generations to come. What we're doing in youth sports is much bigger than town pride or winning what meager college scholarships are available to help offset the cost of an undergraduate degree.
What we're doing is equipping young people to handle life. We're giving them the gift of teamwork, and sportsmanship, and respect, and empathy, and good work ethic. We're teaching kids to be effective in life - win lose or draw. To push themselves harder and to know that victory lies on the other side of effort.
Diversity of Thinking
We get better together when we solve problems together - on the pitch and off. The more perspectives we bring to the table as we problem solve, the more options we have. I'm not talking about racial or gender diversity. I'm referring specifically to a phenomenon written about in Harvard Business Review in an article titled "Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse." See the bottom of my show notes for a link to that article so you can read it for yourself. Researchers in this study found no correlation between racial or gender diversity and problem solving, but they found significant correlation between cognitive diversity and problem solving. In other words, it wasn't the body, skin color, or genetics that made the difference in performance for these teams, but the way the individuals on the team think. The more diverse the thinking, the more effective the problem solving team.
Good managers in the workplace know this. By way of example: as the CIO for military medical logistics back in the late 90's and early 2000's, I worked with a woman about a decade or two my senior by the name of Brenda. Brenda is not her real name, but I don't want to risk offending her if she's still alive and listening to my show. Brenda did not like me. I think I represented to her all the things she didn't want in her workplace: a cocky young guy with a seat on the board of directors, a head full of new ideas, and a mouth with a track record of stirring things up. She made her displeasure known - usually in as public a forum as she could manage.
Every time Brenda was at a meeting, I knew I had to be on top of my game because if there was even a tiny hole in my presentation, she was going to drive a truck through it. She had the advantage of many years of corporate history, a sharp mind of her own, and a lack of fear of exposing weaknesses I had for all the world to see. She embarrassed more than one time.
And that is exactly why I came to want her at my meetings. I didn't like the feeling of being embarrassed, but i did like the quality of my presentations a lot more when I knew Brenda was going to be in the room. I thought more carefully about what i was doing. I explored more options and i came better prepared when I knew she'd be there. To this day, I recognize the value of having a Brenda in the room when I'm making decisions. She thought completely differently from the way I thought about the world, but that is precisely why she was so valuable to have around. Her way of thinking was as important as mine and her presence sharpened my arguments.
The same holds true for different backgrounds and different approaches. As long as everyone is on board and working towards accomplishing a common goal, then diversity can add strength to a team. Just as I have borrowed from my corporate or business ownership experience to coach on the field, other Club leaders can borrow from their parent pools, from people like Rich, Amanda, and countless others to solve problems we face in youth sports.
My favorite parent liaison, Emily, got the job after yelling at me on the sidelines of a soccer event. She saw broken communication with my academy parents, thought enough about it to have something meaningful to say, and she had the courage to say it. Perhaps MOST importantly, she wasn't just about complaining. She offered to step up and help fix the problem. She was sincerely my hero for several seasons in a row. She's done great things behind the scenes - simply sending welcome emails to every parent who registers. That made all the difference!
The Role of the Coach or Leader
The cap stone that brings all diverse thinking together is a common goal and a willingness to work together and do whatever is necessary to accomplish the goal. If your organization is clear about the goal and people are willing to get behind it - even when there are differences in thinking about how to accomplish it, then you're lucky indeed! One person needs to make the final decision and be the tie breaker at the end of the day, but when everyone contributes, the outcome can be brilliant!
So what to look for in your leader or coach... I'm of the mindset that coaches and other leaders of humans are like a cross between farmers and puzzle solvers. As a farmer leader, our job is to influence the environment to make it possible for humans to succeed. We provide sunshine in the form of praise to indicate the direction of growth. And we occasionally have to provide a little fertilizer. Use your imagination for that one.
As a puzzle solver, we have to get to know each of the people we're working with. We need to know their strengths, weaknesses, and how they may or may not fit together. We set out to assemble our team in the best possible configuration to allow the team overall to be successful. There are always more than one way to assemble a team of people, and the process itself is iterative. But the goal is to make people feel successful on a personal level and to make the team successful overall as a group. We look for people who can work together and we strive to understand where they fit (and where they want to fit) in the big picture.
This is not different than getting to know our soccer players on an individual basis. We come to know their speed, their ball handling skills, their level of composure, of courage, their work ethic, and how the respond to criticism. We search for a place on the field where everyone can not only have personal success, but can help the team succeed to score goals together - literally.
No one player is any more important that the others. Together, they work as a unit if we do this well, and they get to experience first-hand, what it means to be part of a winning team.
- Lewis, Alison ReynoldsDavid. “Teams Solve Problems Faster When They're More Cognitively Diverse.” Harvard Business Review, 20 Sept. 2017, hbr.org/2017/03/teams-solve-problems-faster-when-theyre-more-cognitively-diverse.