Work-Life Mojo: Soccer-Field Insights on Coaching

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After watching the Women’s World Cup for the last couple weeks (and ultimately their victory last Sunday!) I was thinking about coaching techniques employed that really leads to great teamwork. World Cup soccer is elite-level athletics, and their coaches are amazing. For LeaderMoms, the aspiration is to be awesome at work and present in important ways for our kids, and typically both require some doubt and discomfort.

Last year, I agreed to be an assistant soccer coaches for our youngest’s team, not because I have skill, but because there would not be enough coaches to field his team, and it was important to us that he play. Shortly after saying yes, I second guessed my decision. Do I know enough about soccer? What was I thinking?

That’s when I benefitted from good leadership. Our head coach, Andy, sensing my anxiety, reminded me of whatI do by day and engaged me on the task of priming this new team to connect and learn. His goal was to motivate the kids to learn fast, work together, stay on task, and provide one-on-one support as needed. And he wanted us to get exercise while we were there too, effectively getting parenting time and fitness in one activity, which made it a work-life mojo experiment. Had Andy not been intentional about challenging me to bring my strengths, doubt left unchecked would have trumped my willingness to give coaching a try.

With that purpose and charge that played to my strengths, and a sense of this having multiple benefits, my doubt and anxiety faded... And this is what better bosses do. They root us in our strengths, and remind us of what we can contribute in the context of the team. Thanks, Andy, for that reminder.

Then team of coaches set this strategy — and it’s notable for me because it took being outside of a work context to boil some complex ideas into simpler terms, and because it worked really well in terms of forming a team that got results, improved and had a great time. With that in mind, I offer the framework to you, LeaderMom members.

  • First couple of weeks: Focus on getting to know each kid by name and notice what they do well or where. Applaud effort. Engage the more seasoned players in helping the less experienced players learn faster. Make people feel like they matter and we see their potential.

  • Always: Model hard work, even if it means embarrassing yourself — i.e., being outrun by a kid who doesn’t hit your shoulder.

  • By week three: We asked these questions of the whole team.

  • Do you trust that we coaches know you are working hard and trying your best? Yes!

  • Do you think it is possible that, because of our position on the sideline with our view of the whole field and our experience, we might see something you don't? Yes, sure!

  • So, would you please, when we give you coaching and feedback…?

  • Resist the urge to defend or explain. Again, trust we know you are doing your best, and trust we are trying to use our line of sight to help.

  • Give us some cue that you are listening. Say, “Yes, coach.” Repeat it back. Acknowledge what we said please.

  • Give that suggestion a try and see if it is more effective. If it is, keep doing it.

They all said yes. And they did it. We actually made the playoffs. We didn’t win the championship, but people were cheering for our kids and they were cheering for each other. A league official said he was happy to see this group of kids come from behind.

Thanks, Andy, for a great experience built on and contributing to positive work-life mojo; no wonder you have such a loyal following in your day job.

What is the thing you aspire do to have 10% better work-life mojo? LeaderMom coaching can help you figure it out.

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Catherine Flavin