What Coaching Girls Soccer Taught Me About Business & Leadership

When I started coaching my youngest daughters’ soccer team a few years ago I had no idea that the team would be successful. We don’t win all the time, but we win a fair bit more than we lose and the girls have fun. Isn’t having fun the main point when you are 11 years old? After years of seeing my older daughters with coaches that had varying styles, more than anything else I didn’t want to watch another coach that thought he was guiding the next World Cup team.

As my team started to come together the first season and got progressively better, I realized that I was compensating for my lack of soccer knowledge using basic business techniques. That started me thinking; can the style and system I’m employing to teach these girls be applied to my business? And does it make sense?

I started writing down what I was doing with my team to see if my thoughts were just jumbled baloney in my head, or if they made sense. So here are my observations from the past couple of years:

  • Understand why you are here. In the case of girls soccer it’s because they enjoy playing soccer, having fun, and hanging out with other girls they like. In business, you’ll have fun if you like your job and co-workers, but if the job sucks it will impact your whole life.
  • Layout some simple ground rules. Remind them on a regular basis of what those rules are. My rules for the team are:

1) Give it your best effort every time.
2) Respect and support your teammates and coaches.
3) No whining.

  • Expect failure. Growth comes by trying things you haven’t done before, and that means failure. If you aren’t failing on a regular basis that means you aren’t being challenged. Encourage people to try things that are hard.
  • Avoid negativity. It doesn’t advance your cause.
  • When teaching a new skill, demonstrate how it’s done, then have the player try it. Slowly at first, then faster as they get the hang of it. In business, give clear direction about your expectations and the desired outcome. Sometimes that means you give exact instructions because the job has to be performed in a very specific manner. Other times it means provide guidance and let the person learn on the job.
  • Occasionally you need to yell at people when they are lollygagging. But it’s only effective when done infrequently.
  • Foundational skills must always be the starting point. They have to be practiced all the time. In business, this means don’t overlook the basics because you are a veteran. The small things still count.
  • Have a plan for practice and stick to it. Know what you want to accomplish. This is when the learning takes place, so be ready to provide guidance when needed.
  • Have a well-thought out game plan. I spend a fair amount of time deciding what position each girl will play for every game based on their skills, ability to adapt, compatibility with teammates, and what I think my competition will do. I change that in a matter of minutes if the plan turns out to be wrong. In business be willing to change if your strategy isn’t working. Holding on to the railing as the ship sinks will only drag you down.
  • Know your competition. Know your strength versus them, and learn how to exploit their weaknesses for the benefit of your business and the clients you serve.
  • Get everybody on the same page. A team performs at its best when the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. My team played in a tournament last week in which we faced a team that plays in a higher division. On paper they should have been able to beat us handily. And on Saturday they did. But we rebounded and made it the Championship game, only to face them again. Now I knew my competition, and planned accordingly. I coached the girls based on that plan and they all bought in. We tied in regulation and went to penalty kicks. We won on the 9th penalty kick.
  • No matter how the situation appears, don’t give up. During that championship game, the ball was in our end of the field 80% of the time. But our team didn’t give up. When you persevere under difficult circumstances, on the field or in business, you are perceived as a leader.
  • Change is inevitable, and sometimes scary. Rather than fighting, embrace it and find the new opportunity. Four girls (our strongest players) left the team after last season to play in the higher division because they wanted more of a challenge. I asked our returning veteran players to become leaders and help the new girls we drafted integrate into the team. After little more than a month of practice, this is the group that just won the tournament. Seek the opportunity in change and figure out how to make it work in your business.

Most of these thoughts are fairly basic, yet they can apply in sports, business and life. I’ve taken several bits of inspiration from coaching, but I would say what stands out in my mind right now is to work at continually improving. Our team went to 6 tournaments before we finally won one. It was frustrating and I started to wonder if we would ever win a tournament. But we didn’t give up.

Business can be like that too. If you focus on growing and getting a little better each day, week and month, all of a sudden you discover you’ve earned more victories than you realized.

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