Dispensability

dis·pen·sa·ble/disˈpensəbəl/Adjective: Able to be replaced or done without; superfluous.

The boys are crushed because I wasn't there.

I’m thinking about what doing a good job means. For example, athletes are measured by their impact. In the Fink Tank and other analytical sports columns, use statistics showing how well a team does when a certain player is present or absent from his team’s lineup.

Take LeBron James with the Cavaliers. According to one poster:

LeBron James: 548 Games Played, 339 Games Won. LeBron James’ Win Percentage = .618

Cavs win percentage without LeBron James = .384 (26 Games) Difference = .234

LeBron was an indispensable part of the Cavs’ winning. The same analysis is possible in soccer. Go no further than columns like the enlightening Fink Tank, which looked at Steven Gerrard’s play for Liverpool in 2005 and found his presence was not as meaningful as many sportswriters and fans seemed to believe. He was not among the top ten difference makers as measured by points (for wins and ties) accrued by his team when he played: “Gerrard, however, does not belong in this company. His performance this season has been vastly overrated and he is actually ranked 289th.”

Byron heading athletically here. Later he'll score the game-winner.

A good player can easily be defined as someone whose presence gives his team a heightened likelihood of success. But does the same hold true for coaches, managers, and parents? I’m thinking not necessarily. Take for instance the Viking Hammer yesterday; they played PSG (Paris St. Germain), the best team in their age group. In fall 2009, PSG were 8-0-1 and beat us 6-1 and 5-0. Last October they beat us 2-0 and it wasn’t that close. Yesterday the Hammer beat them, 3-2. Down 0-2 at half time, they redoubled their efforts and won the game with Byron’s last-minute goal from far outside the area. The boys had never come close to winning in any of our previous encounters. You might notice I’m saying “they” instead of “we” here, that’s because I wasn’t there. I had to work the day job. Am I sad I missed it? Of course. But I also feel a great deal of pride because it means I have built a team that can run without me.

The minute I took this team I started looking for an assistant coach. I wanted a parent who

The game was marked by physical 1v1 contests

had played a good amount of soccer and whose philosophy was compatible with mine. But I also wanted a free-thinker to generate new ideas. I got lucky and found it in Kieran, born and bred in Ireland. He played all through his youth and was an avid fan as well. I invited him to help me out and he shows up as often as he is able. He took his coaching courses and got the “F” and later the “E” license, so he is completely qualified to coach a game in my absence. If I can’t be there, the team has a certified coach who can carry on.

I also have made a little warm-up routine the boys do before every practice and game. The Dynamic Warm-up  has replaced the old static stretching we used to do when I played. Research has not proven whether warming up or stretching prevents injuries. What our warm-up does provide is an opening routine and a transition from daily life to football life. As soon as I saw that the boys knew how to do the warm-up, I stopped leading it. The boys started doing it themselves. If I can’t be there, the boys know how to get ready on their own.

Jesse leans in and gets his arm in front. He'll win this confrontation.

Last example: today, eleven boys were on time for our last game of the season. Our equipment was late due to a miscommunication and we couldn’t do our normal pre-game routine. Since we had time and didn’t have our soccer balls, I gave them something else to do. I said, “OK, there are eleven of you. Make the lineup.” Then I turned and walked away. I heard them discussing it. “Kavi plays defensive mid, he was so good there yesterday.” “Sam, Will our goalkeeper is late, you play there.” “We need speed wide, Willie you go to right mid.” They made one that was better than anything I could’ve come up with.

I think coaching, like managing and parenting, is like teaching a kid to ride a bike: we have to make ourselves dispensable. If we have to be there all the time, we haven’t done the job. If we can let go and the kid rides away without us, then we have succeeded.

At work, we will be reducing our force over the months to come. Nervous people will be trying to prove their value to the bank, demonstrating that they should not be let go. But a good manager knows that if he has done his work well, he is dispensable.

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
Lao Tzu

Kieran talks post-game. He deserved a "W".

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