Kevin and I go back to Mr Murray’s 9th grade Biology class — and so we sat some 34 years later in his home in State College, PA rejoicing a long lived friendship. And what’s best is that only part of it is reliving the old days.
So Friday night I gently arm twisted him to do a ds106 radio broadcast. Among our conversations about the old days- how we did that super 8 video production of I am the Walrus in Mrs Tharpe’s English class, we also got to a really interesting part where he talked about his passion for coaching a girl’s high school soccer team.
The irony is that we played together in high school, though I bailed after JV, he went on to play varsity. Full circles here.
Not to lavish too much, he has been doing this 20+ years, and with over 300 wins, has more than any other coach in the state. I kid him about this being his important work, while the day job is just a job (though he does hold a high level job… in… widget sales, lets say.
I have an archive of the conversation, but given I have the photos and the audio, I extracted some key points, like the connection between coaching and storytelling.
The powerful part for me this weekend was spending a few hours with him Saturday as he coached a game, and to see his work in action. And do some photography. Soccer for him and his team is more about the game and winning, there are some life lessons here.
Soccer is a Toy Story reason to come together to try to experience something thats real.
There’s a lot of interesting juxtapositions and balances that manage to keep it real. I’m a male, much older now than when I started, coach of young female athletes so we have to achieve this gender balance.
They are high school students aspiring to attend really agressive academic institutions, yet they still want to be athletes, so there is an academic tension.
And then there is this real life tension as these young girls have always been willing to entertain– that sports don’t matter, but the manner in which we are trying to achieve our goals matter. That constant balancing act of leading, mentoring in a genderless, un-biased environment — and unbiased in many different dimensions that we tend to talk about in our work lives and private lives actually have manifested themselves over two decades on the soccer fields of the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. If you talk to some of the alum who I stay in touch with; they are still formative experiences. Its a laboratory for creating — every year we try to create a utopian society, where we get along famously and accomplish famously. The goal isn’t just getting along, the goal is getting along for a purpose.
All those stresses teach us something about ourselves, about how people work together, and we all then translate it to family life, school, going into college.
Soccer coaching, arguably more than any other sports, soccer is very much a players game. We talk about flat worlds and empowered work environments in IT in particular. Soccer coaching is a lot more like directing a play or a movie where you have long periods of training where you teach, like, “here are the lines” “here is what we are trying to get across” “here’s the blocking” then the director walks away, the curtain goes up, the play goes on. The director is sitting in the back completely powerless.
That’s how soccer coaching works. All the preparation is pre-game, the game is all about the players, and that’s taught me a lot about work– just get some principles in places, get some goals in place, get people the skills and tools they need to work. Get good athletes– and stay the hell out of the way.
I almost say nothing during games. In practice there are times I am really vocal. I stop practice, I get really animated–some of these are 14 year old gils but I get in their faces. It’s like,”Here’s our expectations, you know the rules, hold yourself to a higher standard. Tomorrow its up to them, self accountability, all that stuff.
Practice before games is about a long arc of storytelling. The place I really learn is half-time. I have 10 minutes. The actresses perform for 40 minutes, and for ten minutes, actually less, I have to tell a story. Here’s what you did well, here’s what you did poorly. And here’s the motivation for doing it.
I generally think about it as 90 seconds to get to a neutral place, 90 seconds to get back, now I am down to 7 minutes. Within that, I only have 5 or less to get their attention. So I have to break my story down into 3 distinct elements– technical, tactical, emotional. I have to connect all three of them, and during the first half I am writing a story. I am blocking it on paper– now on my iPad– I am blocking a story I know I can tell in five minutes, because the other guy is trying to do the same thing.
With every pass on the soccer field over 100 decisions are made. In a high school girls soccer game in Central Pennsylvania, there are a lot of passes that go errant. So within a 5 minute period truly there are 100s of thousands of decisions that are made. What are the two things I can say to move my audience to a positive direction. Thats the metaphor for making a difference.