Four Leadership Tricks for Soccer Coaching (or anywhere you lead)

Leaders lead wherever they are. Folks who have been trained to be leaders carry a skill set with them that can be useful just about anywhere.

Last year, Will's soccer team didn't have a coach. Four weeks in another dad and I got tapped to coach the team. Donald and I had such a good time. We decided to coach again together this year.

Here are four quick things we try to do every week on our team (and these are actions that I think translate well beyond the soccer field):

1) Make a personal connection

For Donald and me, our personal connection starts by learning kids' names. We work hard to know the names of all the kids on the team after the first week. We use their names when we're guiding them and encouraging them. There's a huge difference between saying "Great shot!" and "Great shot, Dabney!"

High fives, fist bumps, taking a knee so we can look them in the eye ... all of these help us connect with these kids. And they have an impact on everyone's experience.

Connecting personally is a core value of Latino leadership and I think it reflects something special that God has given to the Latino community to bring to bear in the world. I've written more on this elsewhere because this is such a high value for me.

How are you making a personal connection with the people you want to lead?

2) Keep the tanks full

We spend the full hour on the field talking, shouting and yelling. We're constantly pouring encouragement into our players. We tell them how fast they are, how persistent they are, how great they're doing. We constantly look for things to praise (and it's not hard to find lots of stuff to say!).

Our team is rowdy, wild and fun. The kids stand a little taller when they step onto our field. They know we enjoy being with them. When we see them off the field (at school or at the grocery store), they're eager to come up and talk with us.

People are attracted to leaders who make them feel good about themselves. And is it any surprise? God's attractive word to us is one of love, affirmation and acceptance. The only reason he confronts us on our sin is because he cares so much about us. His compassion drives him. He keeps our tanks full. As leaders, we're wise when we do likewise.

How are you filling the tanks for the people you lead?

3) Build on the positive

As a coach, it can be tempting to hammer on the negative. Our kids are six and seven year-olds. Many of them have little soccer experience. They have a lot to learn. But we don't focus on that. We focus on what they're doing right and build on that.

Will hovers around the goal and loves to clear the ball to midfield. We can build on that. Aaron attacks the ball wherever it is. We can build on that. We'd be making a huge mistake if we tried to get Will to chase the ball all around the field or tried to sit Aaron in the defensive box. We might make a well-rounded player, but we'd kill their enjoyment of the game. They each bring different strengths to our team, strengths we can build on as we develop them as players.

As a leader, this is something I spend a lot of time trying to do. What are people good at? What do they seem to enjoy? It's a lot more fun (and more useful) to develop a strength than to focus on a weakness. The apostle Paul wrote a lot about spiritual gifts, how God graces each of us with a unique contribution to make to our community. Leaders who lean into this reality have a lot more fun.

Look at the people you're leading. What positive things are happening in and around them that you can build on?

4) Stay focused on the big picture

Why do we play soccer? We're out here to have fun. The kids want to know if we're winning or not (we get asked that after every goal). Donald and I always respond with: "Are we having fun?" The goal of soccer at this level is to have fun. If we start focusing on who scores more goals or who has the happiest parents or who is executing the most perfect plays, we'll miss out on what we're actually on the field to do.

Part of the work of leadership is to draw your team's attention back to the big picture. They won't do that themselves and that's not their fault. The big picture is always under attack. We settle for smaller and more achievable objectives, things that are easier to measure, things we can control. Folks who have decided to lend their leadership gifts to a community will have to constantly put the periscope up and make sure the focus isn't lost.

In the places where you're leading, what's the big picture? What are you hoping to accomplish and how are you keeping that big picture in focus for yourself and for your team?

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