There’s a lot we can learn from Sports.
Of course, there’s no “I” in “TEAM.”
No one likes a sore loser.
The players who “Leave it ALL on the court EVERY game” are usually the best performers.
While the team must execute properly, it’s the coach who builds and teaches them the strategy they’re executing.
The coach also has that most difficult challenge of finding each player’s MOTIVATION and nurturing that motivation such that it shines at exactly the right times.
Identifying each player’s unique talent is also essential. The best of the best know to foster and build on these talents and integrate them into the overall strategy rather than obsessing on perceived weaknesses.
As I have watched my daughters play (Basketball and Soccer) through the years, I’ve seen myriad coaching strategies, and it is through these that I now find myself evaluating many life experiences through this filter of “How’s the coach doing WRT leading this team?”
From this perspective, I can almost always identify the primary cause of failure (Loss of game) relatively easily . . . and it almost always boils down to ONE pivotal decision made by . . . yes . . . the coach.
I also learned a LOT about Leadership during my time in the Army.
Even as i watched “Blackhawk Down” last night from the perspective of my experience as a Combat Engineer Officer in the US Army (and my observations on the sports fields/courts), I was quick to realize that the whole operation was doomed even before “GO” as a direct result of 3 key leadership decisions made by the General who was calling the shots from the TOC (Tactical Operations center).
- Pre-mission decision not to send AC-130s for close air support
- Failed to factor in Civilian “Outpost reconnaissance” – civilian Women and Children reported the incoming US Choppers on cell phones thereby giving the Warlord’s forces ample time to scramble and get ready to defend – erasing the oh-so-crucial “Element of surprise”
- After the first chopper went down and the supporting forces reported that it would soon be over-run by opposing forces on the ground and asked for permission to engage and secure the area from the air, the General denied the request “Unless you are being engaged” . . . This single decision invited the disaster that led to the remainder of the fight – including the downing of the 2nd chopper.
19 US soldiers lost their lives and many others injured . . . over 1000 Somali’s died . . . While it’s always much easier to be an “Armchair Quarterback,” I’ll venture to say that if that General had not made those 3 faulty decisions early in the engagement, the mission outcome would have been radically different because the US attacking forces could have SURPRISED the Warlord’s forces, grabbed the subjects, and disappeared in the matter of 30 minutes (This was the goal) . . . Instead, they endured 9 hours of a series of bloody gauntlets.
On the Sports field, the stakes are not nearly as high (although you wouldn’t know it by the amount of fervor that comes from some Parents), but I think there are some principles that would serve all of us well to remember.
For me, it all boils down to “Put me in coach – I’m ready to play today”. I’ve copied the lyrics of the song at the end of this post. So much of the success of every great team includes the “requirement” of great Leadership on and off the field of battle . . . and this leadership necessarily includes intentional development of “junior players” . . . ALWAYS!
This begins with letting them play, so “Put me in coach – I’m ready to play today.
Below are some thoughts that swirled through my head as I watched one of my daughters “warm the bench” almost every game this season.
- The coach told me “She doesn’t know the plays.” She tells me: “The coach has spent all of the practices on the court teaching the plays to the starting 5 girls and 2 subs and told us younger players to sit on the edge of the court and watch to learn.” I know that the real Learning of plays comes kinetically through OJT (On the job training) such that it happens by “muscle Memory” – there’s not time in a game to think about what to do – It’s gotta be programmed to be automatic and confident action.
- Trained NOT to score! I’ve noticed that the whole team has been trained to be great at dribbling and passing but only for the purpose to feeding the ball to either of 2 “shooters.” This strategy works well if the shooters are having a good day and hit a good percentage of their shots, but what if they don’t? I can’t tell you the number of times the non-designated shooters had wide open opportunities for easy shots but didn’t take them because they had been programmed NOT to shoot.
- An exhausted (and increasingly ineffective) starting squad – This notion of keeping the starting squad in the game for the whole game is IMHO criminally idiotic. Game after game, I witnessed the same 5 players perform well in the first half of every game and then lose it all in the 2nd half. Poor things were TIRED. The other team got to know their strategy and their chemistry better as the game progressed . . . and the season was a losing season. Meanwhile, 3 eager (and FRESH) “junior players” sat on the bench and cheered them on as they also begged “Put me in coach . . . I’m ready to play”
- Limited Depth – At the end of this season 4 of the 5 starters will graduate, and the coaches will have to build a brand new team next year FROM SCRATCH. Of course, they’ll repeat their pattern and pick 6 players to groom as starters . . . and they’ll be completely surprised when that season is another losing season.
- Self esteem – there’s a real shortage of it from all of the players. The Starters get so exhausted, they can’t play their best and feel bad about their poor performance and their loss. Meanwhile, the bench-warmers are convinced the coaches think they aren’t good enough to play in the game.
- Motivation – It’s there as evidenced by the requests to “Put me in” . . . but it’s seldom rewarded/released
- Esprit de corps – Here’s the cool part. the players have bonded with each other regardless of all of the above. All they want is to play basketball and support each other. Winning would be nice but isn’t the requirement for them individually. Included in the chatter after each game is wonderment as to why the coaches didn’t play the bench-warmers?
All of these principles apply wherever there’s Leadership . . . which is – well – EVERYWHERE!
We are ALL leaders, and we ALL have the power to “Put ourselves in”
My question for you then:
Will you put yourself in . . . Are you ready to PLAY?
Stop getting ready . . .
Will you let me know how it goes?
John Fogerty – Centerfield Lyrics
We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field
Just roundin’ third, and headed for home, it’s a brown-eyed handsome man
Anyone can understand the way I feel[Chorus]
Oh, put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today
Put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today
Look at me, I can be center fieldWell, I spent some time in the Mudville Nine, watchin’ it from the bench
You know I took my lumps when the Mighty Case struck out
So Say Hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio
Don’t say it ain’t so, you know the time is now
Yeah! I got it, I got it
Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes
You know I think it’s time to give this game a ride
Just to hit the ball and touch ’em all – a moment in the sun
It’s gone and you can tell that one goodbye
[Chorus: x 2]