I am coming off of a long publishing hiatus, as my crazy spring (yes, I realize that it is July) has come to a close. Bear with me as I finally try on my new format here- instead of holding myself to lengthy, profound (at least in my own mind) chapters, I will try instead to pen much shorter, pithy perspectives. In the background, I am still fighting to finish the first draft of my book, but still don’t want to lose the discipline and the connection of this blog. I now have a backlog of topics to get out of my brain and onto the screen, and I plan to hold myself to 500 words or less. For those who know me well, conciseness is not on my lists of strengths… but I hope that this allows me to write more regularly via stream of consciousness while still making a key point or two. Can I be profound and pithy? Only time will tell…
And no… my long-winded 177 word intro doesn’t count against my 500!
Let the Players Play, and the Coaches Coach
Part of the reason that my writing took a backseat is that I put away my author’s quill for a few months and replaced it with a baseball cap. This spring, I held the prestigious position of head softball coach for my daughter and her 8 year-and-under girls softball team. It was my second year coaching, and this has easily become one of my favorite ways to invest my time. No, I am not a huge fan of managing the logistics of rescheduling rainouts or insuring that the critical snack duties are fulfilled for every game (The parents failed to deliver a snack for a game last season and I was concerned that the world might actually come to an end). But the day-to-day working with the kids, helping them to love and learn the game, and watching their vast improvement from the first practice to the last game is something that I have enjoyed far more than I could have imagined.
Given that this is a beginner’s softball league, there initially is a lot of necessary “micro-management” to not only keep the games moving, but also to protect the safety of the kids. Combine metal bats, projectiles, and the attention span of many 8-year olds, and it is easy for all sorts of chaos to ensue. In an effort to contain this “entropy”, typically two or more coaches stand out in the field as and help to “direct traffic”. Depending on the coach, this role can range from “Molly, quit building a sand castle” to “Mary, throw it to second base!”
This year, my coaching staff made a very conscious effort to remove ourselves from the field of play as the season went on and to empower the kids to take what they learned in practice and to own it for themselves. While this was somewhat uncomfortable and assumed a certain degree of risk, it paid huge dividends for not only the confidence of the girls but also for the results on the field as well.
1) The kids took accountability for the results. They encouraged each other, communicated back and forth (“Force out at 2nd Base!”), and paid far more attention than when coaches were on the field.
2) The girls felt far more pride in their achievements. When a brilliant play was turned on the field, it belonged solely to the girls… and the pride was contagious.
3) They better learned from their mistakes. When something went wrong, they had to figure it out themselves and the lessons were far more likely to stick.
4) Hustle increased dramatically. As they became owners of their destiny rather than blind followers of the coaches, their passion and energy grew immensely.
5) The coaches could step back and focus on the big picture. Instead of being “puppet-masters” for the game, we instead could think through strategy and motivation. By actively managing less, we were able to coach more… and the results improved while our own satisfaction increased.
This lesson applies to many “grown up” organizations as well, as coaches feel obligated or even pressured to “play” for their player rather than to “coach” them to do it themselves. Particularly as pressure increases to win, it takes discipline, trust, and courage to step back and to let the players own their own destinies. While in the short-term there will be some bumps in the road, in the long-term not only will the results of the “game” get better, but the team will get infinitely stronger to deliver an empowered culture, a winning “score”, and also sustained results.
Okay… so this was 600 words, but at least it is a step in the right direction!