This past summer, our daughters Emma and Sophie played soccer in Stanstead.
Stanstead is a small town. In Pointe Claire, where we used to live, there were more than 2,000 kids in the soccer program. In Stanstead, there were probably less than 300. So the girls played on a mixed team – boys and girls – aged 12 to 16 years. That’s one helluva stretch.Boys and girls – some just finishing elementary school and others going into their senior year of high school. Together in one gang for a summer soccer season that culminates with a one-day three-game tournament for the championship and a year’s worth of bragging rights.
The girls’ coach was Jen and her assistant was Sarah. Jen was headed off to grad school in psychology after the season, Sarah was in college. Each of them have a love of the game and they seemed to have a plan that included transferring that love of the game to the team during the course of the season.
The first few games were pretty rugged. The coaches were focused on working with the players to think of themselves as a team. Winning games would have been a nice bonus but it clearly wasn’t the screaming priority as the summer began. They practiced technique. They practiced passing. They ran. And they had a lot of fun.
And Jen and Sarah asked the kids to each write his or her goal for the season on a piece of paper. Jenn gathered the collective aspirations and continued her focus on building this group into a solid cohesive team.
She and Sarah would bring home-baked goodies [cupcakes and cookies] to games for the players. They had meetings on the pitch after the games – after-action briefs – and would talk about what they could do better next time out.
And the kids responded to the love, the respect, the appreciation and the real leadership of their coaches. The team that couldn’t buy a win early in the season began to gel into a tightly-bound group that moved the ball down the pitch with skill. They began to distribute passes while creating space. They called ‘man on’ while communicating between one another. They held their ground.
Emma’s season ended early when she blocked a ball booted by a 15-year-old boy on another team. She broke her arm in two places and finished the summer in a cast. However, she continued to be a part of the team. Jen and Sarah recruited her to provide her impressions of each half from the sidelines. Emma was included in the pre and post-game ritual team cheers and in the high-fives with the other teams after each game.
Though she was no longer an active player, Jen and Sarah saw to it that the team’s spirit carried well beyond the soccer pitch to include Emma – and other players who were forced to ride the bench due to injuries.
The team that began the season as a ragtag collection of seemingly mismatched kids who would never imagine themselves in the company of their teammates ended their improbable run with three straight victories in the championship – defeating the favorites in the final.
It was a fitting end to a magical season. At the end of the summer, Jen and Sarah gave each one of their players those notes they had written at the beginning of the season – with their own compliments and best wishes added for good measure.
On Monday afternoon, Matt and I were on our way down to the local hardware store to buy some ductwork supplies. Matt was driving when that my Montreal red light reflection instinct kicked-in. “There’s an emergency call,” I said and a few seconds later the Stanstead Fire Dept officer’s SUV rolled through the intersection running hot.
Matt said something about following him in case it was a medical call so we could lend a hand. He was driving so we did, turning right and following the SUV into the parking lot of a truck stop. The officer got out of his vehicle and headed toward the building. We followed at a respectful distance.
I kept thinking that there’s no way he’s going to want any help from a couple of ‘free agent’ firefighters from the next town up the road.
As we walked into the building, I immediately realized it wasn’t a medical call. The smell of something burning was in the air. Matt asked the Stanstead FD officer if he could use a hand – and seconds later we were assisting – first by helping to evacuate the building and then by securing the perimeter outside.
Stanstead FD units began arriving and one after another the firefighters BA’d up and began operations investigating the source of the burning smell. Matt and I ended up lending a hand on-scene for a couple of hours. We didn’t do anything special. We were just an extra couple of sets of hands and we took care of the traffic and perimeter issues – which in Matt’s case meant dealing with the drivers of several semis lined-up to refuel.
The investigation led the firefighters to an electrical problem and the scene was secured and cleared. As Matt and I were packing up to return to life as it was regularly scheduled, the PC came over to thank us personally for our help. It was a really nice moment and we both remarked to one another how good it was to be appreciated.
It was one of those emergency services-affirming moments where an eclectic group of professionals gather together at the right time for the right reasons. There’s something wondrous to be part of a dedicated team. It was Big Medicine.
Leadership is about instilling that sense of teamwork – that feeling that we’re all pulling in the same direction – together as one. Great leaders inspire, build confidence, enable compassion and creativity. They make us believe we can achieve the impossible. And often we accomplish improbable goals that no individual even thought was within our collective grasp.
Be well. Practice big medicine.