Sometimes I try to teach some non-soccer stuff to the Hammer but have to sneak it in, like wrapping the pill from the vet in sausage to get it into the dog.
It’s hard to have time with these highly scheduled boys, it’s like meeting with a tiny CEO. They come late, leave early, miss training because in addition to soccer they have things like other sports and school functions. Each minute counts. When they are at soccer, they bristle at breaks and pauses, especially if they do not see the relevance. If they were in cars their bumper stickers would say “I’d Rather Be Kicking the Ball.” It’s like you’re running a dog-walking service and decide you want to teach them to sing a capella; a fool’s errand at worst, against the grain at best.
But here’s the thing: if you have that dog-walking service, you know the dogs will remain dogs all their lives. As a coach, I know that these boys will not be soccer players forever. The odds of one making the pros is approximately zero. One in twenty may play in college. And although my goal is for them all to play for their high schools, as it gets closer I am seeing those chance recede, like the image of water on a hot two-lane desert highway. I’m guessing 50% will make a high school team at some level and maybe half of those will get a varsity jersey.
Seeing this, I talk about things besides soccer. The NYT ran this interview (might need a login) where the CEO was asked, “What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned? and he replied:
If I was going all the way back, it would be playing on my school’s soccer team, because we were on the same team together, most of us for eight or nine years, and we were at a really little school in Chicago that had no chance of really fielding any great athletes. But we ended up doing really well as a team, and we made it to the state quarterfinals, and it was all because of teamwork.And the one thing I learned from that was that I actually could tell what someone would be like in business, based on how they played on the soccer field.
So even today when I play in Sunday-morning soccer games, I can literally spot the people who’d probably be good managers and good people to hire.
This isn’t unique to soccer, many captains of industry swear they learn more about a person over 18 holes of golf than they ever could in the office. And I think they’re right. It was at a PCA conference where someone taught me the phrase, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” and it’s stuck with me.
If I tell the boys to do 20 “rowboat” crunches for example, some will do 20. Some will do 20 if I’m looking at them, but fewer if I’m not. And some will have a story why they can’t do 20. Some will take it as a personal commitment and do whatever it takes to keep their word, others will try to avoid getting caught doing less. The question is whether I can move the numbers from the second group to the first. As a coach, can I teach the life lesson, or am I trying to get a Golden Retriever to sing four-part harmony?
One thing we’re doing now is reading a book, The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player, by John C. Maxwell. I got it one day and after I read it I noticed there were just as many chapters as I have players. So now, each week a boy reads a chapter of his choosing and verbally reports to the team on three questions:
- What does the chapter say?
- Do you agree or disagree and why?
- Do you see any application for our team?
This takes less than five minutes. Nica, our newest player, volunteered to go first and selected the chapter “Enthusiastic.” He correctly identified a key theme, that a team player brings positivity to the group. I asked one of the boys to repeat what Nica had said, and it turned out he wasn’t listening. Using a techinique from Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, I had Nica repeat himself and then went back to the player, who then summarized correctly — an enthusiastic team player brings positive reinforcement to the group.
Seconds later, the same boy started criticizing a teammate who had missed a few practices. I stopped him and asked if he remembered what he just had said about positivity. He had. I asked him how his behavior exemplified enthusiasm, and how making fun of a teammate in front of the group exhibited leadership. “Don’t you want to be a leader?” I asked.
He looked down at the ground and said “No.” and later “maybe” he would in the future. His father is the assistant coach and was in the group. I was afraid to look but I think he turned pale. I’m also thinking it was an interesting ride home for them.