A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day. #13 Leadership is a team sport.
Last 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.
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.