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Great Advice for Adult Coachs of Children's Sports Teams!
on December 31, 2000
I found this book to be totally delightful as a model for how to be a better adult coach of a children's team. For many years, I have recommended that all those who want to learn how to be better leaders and managers begin by taking on these coaching chores. This is the first book I have ever seen that successfully captures the important principles of coaching these teams. This book deserves many more than five stars for that accomplishment!
The benefits of that are many. First, the players will get a role model of how to cooperate in order to be more effective. Second, the coaches will learn how to be better leaders, and will be able to use that skill in other areas of their lives. Third, the parents will learn what to encourage their children to do in order to get the most from the team experience, and this will bring parents and their children closer together.
The book's fable boils down to four key principles:
(1) The team needs a shared purpose, values and goals.
(2) Skills need to be developed individually that enhance the team's effectiveness.
(3) Enhance team effectiveness by integrating the individual skills properly.
(4) Repeatedly reward and recognize individuals for taking actions that enhance team effectiveness.
A weakness of the fable is that it doesn't give enough attention to how to achieve the first principle for the typical team. My suggestion is that you poll your players before the first practice to find out what their purposes, goals, and values are. Then hold a meeting to discuss what you learned, and build a consensus from there. My experience has been that 99 percent of the players want to have fun, want to improve, and win at least a few games. Be sure to find out what they think is "fun" because it's often different from what the coaches would assume. Fun usually turns out to be loosely supervised scrimmaging time. When that was the case, I ran a brief such scrimmage at the end of every practice until the last player was picked up by her or his parents.
The other place where I would like to make a suggestion is about recognition. I was a coach for 14 years, and I found that giving individual awards to every player for every game worked very well. Everybody does something right at least once in a game. I would make a note of it, describe the reasons for each award, and hand out a little token at the end of each game for each such award. At the end of the season, the player could turn in these tokens for other forms of recognition. I also shouted out the person's name and award when they won one. That way, each child could be a winner every time we played, even if the team lost. And we did not lose very often. The players loved to win those awards for passing, defense, and offense. Scoring accounted for well less than 10 percent of the awards in my experience.
This book has one of the best exercises I have ever seen for convincing people to work on team skills. You divide the players into the "best" math students and the least good ones. Then you teach the least good ones how to cooperate to win an addition game. You let the "best" math students struggle on their own. The least good ones will win almost every time. That will make quite an impression on the players about the importance of teamwork.
The book is probably intended to encourage teamwork on the job, as well. That translation will be harder for most to make. The work environment is mentioned relatively little in the book. Also, how is the sense of shared purpose, values and goals supposed to emerge? You may know how to do that from your own experience and reading other books, but most people reading this book will be at sea. Also, how do you decide which skills the team needs to work on? That is also something you may already know how to do, but most people do not. And the book doesn't explain. I'm sure you see the problem.
I do think that the book will be somewhat effective in making those who focus on their individual work performance rather than the company performance think twice. The analogy (not used in the book) that may help is of Michael Jordan. As a young player, he focused on his own statistics and the Bulls did not win championships. Later, he worked on making the other players better, and the Bulls won all the time. Phil Jackson, as coach, played an important role in that transition. That example will be known to most basketball fans.
Let me compliment the authors on their fable. I have read their other books, and this one is both more interesting and more heartwarming than the others.
After you have finished reading this book and applying its lessons to a coaching situation with youngsters, I suggest that you read "The Goal" and "The Fifth Discipline" to get ideas about how shared purposes, goals, and values can be developed in the workplace. These books will also give you many ideas about the skills that a business team needs in order to be more effective.
By the way, if one of your children or grandchildren is about to start a sport where you will not be coaching, I suggest you give a copy of this book to the coach and ask how you can help the team. He or she will undoubtedly get the message.
May your life be filled with high fives!