Leadership Lessons from Under 10 Boy's in soccer -
I had the opportunity to coach the Under 10 boy’s soccer team this fall season. Honestly speaking – I was terrified. How could I coach a bunch of 8 and 9 year old boys? So I thought I’d put all my learning’s on leadership to the test. Specifically, I had 3 authors in mind – Jim Collin’s “Good To Great”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s “Confidence” and Marcus Buckingham’s “The One Thing You Need to Know”. Each of these authors speaks to a different facet of winning in the business world – from Level 5 leadership, to a breakdown of what builds confidence in teams to having focused metrics to motivate people.
So here’s what I learnt from this experience after playing 7 games this fall.
Getting the team focused on one objective
We started by using a simple sounding acronym – FAST – Fun, Anticipate, Smart, Team. I quickly found that (a) it was hard for the kids to remember each element of FAST, and (b) it was hard to translate this into specific behaviors. This was too academic.
So I focused on just one objective. Play as one team. Just focus on passing. All our drills during practice, our team discussions prior to games was on playing as a team. This meant giving up the ball to your teammate, which is hard for an 8 year old to accept because they feel they are invincible, and they can do everything by themselves.
Building their self-confidence
As coaches, we ensured throughout the season, that every player played every position on the soccer field. The challenge was to keep them motivated, even when they didn’t want to play a specific position. We explained to each player their specific role for each position that they played. Specifically – if they were playing defense, their goal was to make sure that the ball would not even get to the goalkeeper. Their job was to be the ‘wall’ to support their goalkeeper. The mid-field’s role was to ensure that they got the ball to their forwards. And the forward’s role was to penetrate and find the open player. We asked the players to communicate in this context. This was a tall order for 8 year olds. As they played their specific positions, they found themselves raising their game, and supporting each other during the game. This was probably the single biggest lever we had as coaches in strengthening their self-confidence.
Playing better teams
I’ve always believed that if you want to raise the quality of your game, play a better team. We got very fortunate because we would get to scrimmage with the Under-12 girls team at practice. These girls were amazing. And they gave the Under 10 boy’s team a lesson in humility. After all the complaining about how unfair it was to play the older girl’s team, the boy’s got into the game and found that they could compete – if they played as a team. They never won even one scrimmage but they walked away feeling that they could take on any team – no matter what age the kids were.
Although the program doesn’t encourage keeping track of scores and win-loss ratios, its inevitable that people do. We were fortunate to have an undefeated record. The team played together, they had Fun, they began to Anticipate different plays by the opposing team, they played Smart, and they played as a Team. I guess they delivered on FAST eventually. It was more about showing them how vs. just talking about it academically! Maybe the learning’s from these authors were relevant, or not. All I know is that we had an amazing team experience.