My life is all about soccer these days. My kids play almost year-round now. And as someone who has never played the game, I didn’t exactly dream about the day I would be a soccer mom. Let me quickly clarify that I wouldn’t trade it for the world but suffice it to say that I’m not always completely engaged in every single minute of the game in front of me. This weekend included the end-of-season playoffs, so even more soccer than a normal weekend! During these games, I noted some similarities between good soccer and good leadership, namely
Communication , Perspective, and Role Recognition
Good communication is key to team success, whether on a soccer field or in an organization. In my soccer experience, effective communication starts with the coach. A coach who is a great communicator establishes multiple types of dialogue. There is coach-to-parent dialogue, coach-to-player dialogue, coach-to-coach dialogue and coach-to-referee dialogue. I think of one coach in particular that excelled in communicating. He was consistent in the format and frequency of his reminder emails to parents, he was positive and encouraging with the players, he respected the referees at all times, he was completely present and engaged at all practices and games, and he connected with other coaches to learn from them and share ideas. When I think about an organizational leader who also excelled in communication, the similarities are apparent. This leader was also consistent in the format and frequency of email communications and all-employee meetings. He was positive and encouraging, not with false praise, but with meaningful feedback. He disagreed with colleagues at times, but always respected the overall goals of the organization and provided support when needed. He also collaborated with peers to establish industry standards and to create best practices. Personally and professionally, working with great communicators is a positive and efficient experience that leads to team success.
After some quick calculations, and I estimate that I’ve watched over 500 soccer games in the last 20 years. The most misunderstood concept for us non-soccer people is the offsides rule. According to Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) Law 11, a player is in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. He is not in an offsides position if he is in his own half of the field of play. Yeah, that means nothing to me either! Here’s what I do know about the rule: the only chance of a line judge calling offsides with any accuracy requires the line judge to keep pace with last defender. Which means, often the line judges are *literally* running down the sideline to ensure they have the proper perspective to make the call when needed. But guess what happens a lot? Spectators, camped out on bleacher seat, make it quite clear that THEY know when an offsides rule should be invoked. And are often quite vocal about it. The vantage point they have is no where near the angle that is needed for an accurate offsides call, but they still feel compelled to offer assistance. How is this related to leadership? The best leaders (and spectators!) leave the call to the experts and support the decisions of those with the best ‘angle’ of the situation.
3. Role Recognition
Amazing coaches and fantastic leaders have an ability to see individual strengths and develop a team that capitalizes on the distinctive talents of the team members to serve a greater cause. They understand how the individuals work together to be competitive. A great soccer coach knows that a goalie needs to have a long attention span and super quick hands. She also knows that her midfielders need to have lots of endurance to run up and down the field. A great leader knows that her marketing director can’t be afraid to share new ideas. She also knows that her payroll coordinator needs to have great attention to detail. And for coaches and leaders, the success only comes when they foster individual strengths in an environment filled with trust. This might seem like difficult task given the significant differences in personality and diverse abilities of the team members. Recognizing individual (soccer player and employee) capabilities, and how they play into a larger structure requires a time investment and an understanding of team dynamics that few have perfected. But when they get it right, amazing things happen for the individual, the team, and the organization.
What qualities of great coaches and leaders do you appreciate ? I’d love to hear from you!
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