Stop Joysticking Your Team!

I’ve come to really like my son’s soccer coach in not only his knowledge about the game, but in his demeanor and approach as a coach.  In having him coach my son for the past four seasons, I almost forgot exactly what sets him apart from other coaches….until I witnessed the last game of this last season.

The last four games of the season were based on the culminating conference tournament.  We won our first two games, but lost the third game in the final seconds.  As a result, the final game would determine whether we become the Conference Champions.   And, while we played the previous teams earlier in the season, we had never played this upcoming team before.

Our kids looked good in warm-up and set about their normal routine in line-up for the starters taking the field.  The rest of the team sat on the bench, including our coach.  As soon as the whistle blew, the other team fiercely took to the ball with their speed and size.  Amidst the normal cheering from the fans, I quickly scanned to locate the person who was exceptionally loud shouting at players from across the field.

The other team’s coach was screaming to each of his players and pointing to places where they should have been standing.  He yelled at a player for not passing the ball to another player who was open.  He barked at another player for not dribbling closer to his foot.  And, he even roared at a player for not covering our open player who took a shot at the goal.

Nodding my head in disbelief, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the coach, even though my son was playing on the field!  To see if I was the only one witnessing this spectacle, I scanned across the field to our coach to see his reaction.  There he was sitting on the bench, quietly watching the game and talking to the players on the bench.

At this point, we were losing 0-2.  Yet, despite the score, I was elated with this realization:

I would rather be part of a team that loses, than on a team with a leader who joysticks others!

It was like watching a child play a video game manipulating the virtual, online characters.  Just watch any teenager playing Fortnite, and you’ll quickly observe him/her yelling at the screen for the player to move!

In watching the two coaches “coach” their players, I remembered back to our coach’s first Parent Meeting with him sharing his coaching philosophy – games were meant to observe and help with formulating future practice needs.  He wanted the players to learn from failure and mistakes.  He also desired for the players to talk with each other to “coach” each other up.

While the other team did end up winning the game, I wondered if the cost was worth it.  Although they got the trophy, they had players that, from my observation, didn’t know how to actually play the game on their own.

The same holds true in leadership:

If you want to truly lead, stop joysticking your team!

Here are 3 Focus Areas to help prevent you from joysticking your team:

  1. Focus on Big Picture.  Too often leaders get caught up in solving the immediate problem only.  While dictating commands may be perceived to “get the job done”, it only builds compliance.  Instead, work with your team to show them the big picture, the whole field, and allow them to gain perspective for how the current work fits in the overall picture.  When this happens, it builds understanding and a motivation to accomplish the work.
  2. Focus on Cross-Training.  Although your team members may have a particular position or be well-suited in an area, allowing them to work, or at least be exposed, in other areas helps them to better understand the connectivity of the work.  They may not only provide a different perspective in seeing it from their vantage point, but they may also gain a deeper appreciation for someone else’s work.  And, in doing so, they may better understand how to better support others involved in the work based on the current work they are doing.
  3. Focus on “Why” Not “How”.  When leaders take the time to explain the “Why” in the work, it creates a better understanding of how to approach it.  When leaders explain why a process is needed or why it was created, it helps the team to recognize where things fit, including them, in the work.  When the leader then explains the “how”, there is much deeper sense of awareness to distinguish and execute the plan properly.

After four seasons together, the coach informed the parents that he’d be creating a new club team and gave each family an invitation to continue on the team or join another team, with another coach.  Without much conversation, every player and parent made the decision to continue with the coach, regardless of the club’s affiliation.  The coach had our respect.  The success of my son’s soccer team will come from the coach’s focus on helping the players to understand position, fundamentals, and building teamwork.  When winning isn’t the primary focus, our team will find true success!


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