CS Lewis

RLL 18--'Ragged: 5 Lessons From Preseason Training'

Real Life Leading #18

Ragged: 5 Lessons From Preseason Training

This week was the first week of full training (not just running) for my high school soccer team’s new season, and I learned a handful of valuable lessons that I felt were worth passing on and applying in other areas of life. This is my fifth year coaching at Westbrook Christian School, and we’ve been very blessed to have had some pretty great success. As a result of that, sometimes my expectations were a bit too high for the first week, and it took me a few days to realize it. By the way, I also learned there is a difference between ‘expectations’ and ‘standards,’ but more on that in a minute.

Lesson 1: Expect things to be a bit ragged at first.

The 2017 seniors from WCS with their AHSAA State Runner-Up trophy. An amazing group of players!

The 2017 seniors from WCS with their AHSAA State Runner-Up trophy. An amazing group of players!

Each of the past two seasons, our high school girls soccer team has made it to the state championship game. After that first appearance, we graduated seven seniors. After the second appearance, we graduated eight more seniors. So we have lost a significant amount of talent in the past couple seasons. However, we also have a lot of young players that are talented and promising. As a result of that, my expectations for the first week of training were sky-high, and so I was actually a little disappointed with our first couple of practices. It was only after discussing this with my wife and also my assistant coaches that I realized my expectations were unrealistic.

I find this is true in many areas of life: we have certain expectations based on past experiences, and then when the reality fails to meet the expectations, we are disappointed. This often happens with long-planned vacations or with Christmas-time family gatherings. We view our memories through ‘nostalgia goggles’ and then wonder why our present experiences don’t quite measure up to what we had pictured in our heads. This is what I was doing with my soccer team as well. When I stepped back to look at my team more objectively, I was also able to remember that even with those previous teams, our first few practices were pretty ragged.

This is natural for any new endeavor as well: remember what is was like the first time you tried to drive a stick-shift? Or the first time you used the vacuum cleaner as a child and got the cord tangled around various furniture? Whenever we begin a new season in our lives, we should expect it to take a while to smooth things out.

Lesson 2: Correct the mistakes and encourage the successes.

As the week of practice went on, I found that I had two primary tasks: correcting the mistakes and encouraging the successes of my players. Even the older, more experienced players needed to be reminded of certain aspects of technique and positioning, just as we often need to be reminded of certain things we’ve previously mastered. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We need to be reminded much more often than we need to be taught.”

In addition to correcting the mistakes, I also wanted to make sure that I was pointing out what my players were doing well. There's a saying in the teaching profession: "It's important to catch students doing things right." This is true at home, in an office, or on a playing field: if the leaders will catch people doing things right and point it out, especially things that were previously being done incorrectly, this has a lasting impact on the whole group.

Lesson 3: You have to be looking for the successes in order to see them.

Most people have experienced a situation in which we struggled with a task, finally overcame the obstacle, and then were bummed out when we realized that no one even noticed we’d finally achieved our goal. That’s a particularly frustrating place to be. So as leaders, we have to make sure that we’re constantly on the lookout for things that our followers are doing well so that we can be sure to notice them.

Some of the seniors and others from the 2016 AHSAA State-Runner up team. ALSO an amazing group of people!

Some of the seniors and others from the 2016 AHSAA State-Runner up team. ALSO an amazing group of people!

At home, if my daughters clean up their rooms or do the dishes without being asked, I try to be sure to thank them for that so as to encourage this behavior again in the future. On the other hand, if they do extra housework and it goes unappreciated or unnoticed, they are less likely to repeat that same action again. So we need to be sure to pay attention in order to make sure we see the successes, even if they’re only small ones. When we catch people doing things well and then show them that we appreciate it, it can go a long way. But in order to do this, we have to be looking for the successes and victories.

Lesson 4: Set your standards high and keep them there.

Years ago when I was teaching at a large public school in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I heard my principal say, “Having a great school is easy: set your standards high and then keep them there.” He made it sound so simple. And then he continued, “Oh, and hire a good lawyer.” His point was two-fold: first, if we set and keep high standards, it will help to raise the level of performance (provided we go about this in the right way); and second, keeping high standards will always be met with resistance by those who do not want to put in the work of maintaining those high standards.

Fortunately, most of us don’t face the prospect of a lawsuit in the way that public schools often do. The point about high standards is true in every area of life, though, and it is the leader’s job to set the standards and keep them there. As I mentioned at the beginning, there is a difference between expectations and standards: our expectations are often based on past experiences even when the circumstances have changed, while our standards are what we hope to achieve and maintain in the future, taking the new circumstances into account. So as leaders, let’s have realistic expectations while also setting and maintaining high standards for our groups, teams, and businesses.

Lesson 5: It's crucial to lead the leaders.

Not all leaders are created equal, especially when it comes to influence. Most people have experienced the truth of this as children on a playground or as employees in an office. Some people have a commanding presence simply upon entering a room, while others may more easily fade into the background, whether by choice or due to circumstances. So as leaders one of our tasks is to pay attention to see who the primary influencers in the group are. Once we have identified them, then we need to be sure that we are especially focusing on helping them be the type of influence that we want in our groups.

On the soccer field, this means that I need to choose my captains carefully. My leaders are not always my most skilled players or my most vocal players, just as the leaders in an office are not always the employees who are making the most money or the ones getting the most public recognition. The leaders are the ones that change the atmosphere by their presence, whether positively or negatively. If we are to have a lasting impact on our groups, we need to begin by leading the leaders that are already emerging and also keeping an eye out for the next group of leaders so as to be preparing the groundwork for the future.

Action step: this week, pay extra attention to make sure that you are catching your audience doing things well and encouraging them for it. Let me know what you see and how you pointed it out to them.

RLL #16: 8 Great Books for 2018

RLL 16: 8 Great Books for 2018

    Happy Sunday, everyone! Most people have already begun (and many have also already failed at) their New Year’s resolutions, so I thought instead of resolutions I would give you a quick update on recommended reading for this upcoming year. The good news is that it’s never too late to get started reading excellent books, so it’s a great way to not fail at your resolutions (for more info on how to do better at setting/reaching goals, etc, check out the excellent work being done by Michael Hyatt and Jon Acuff).

So, below is a brief list of books I recommend for 2018. They are of different genres, but the two things that tie them together are: 1) I am recommending them only because I have read them and found them valuable, not because I just *think* they would be good books to read; and 2) they all contain encouraging information about both life and leadership that I think everyone will find valuable and helpful. They are not listed in any particular order (i.e., which I like best, or which are easiest to read, etc), they’re just all excellent books that I recommend to people all the time. If you’ve already read one or more of them, I would LOVE to hear what you think about the ones you’ve read. If you haven’t, then let me know when you have and we’ll talk about what you learned. So, without further adieu, here’s the list!

1) ‘Steal the Show’ by Michael Port

I have been a high school history teacher for over a decade, so I am no stranger to being in front of a group of people and presenting information. Even for me, Michael Port’s book ‘Steal the Show’ is a treasure-trove of information about the art and craft of speaking and presentation-giving. It contains clear directions, helpful tips and exercises, and also activities for helping you practice and gain confidence for any and every situation in which you have something on the line. In doing so, it also contains insights into leadership, such as helping us to see why communication is so important and how we can become better at precise communication. As the back cover says, “Confident communication is a skill, and anyone can learn how to do it.”


2) ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis

In addition to history I also teach high school Bible, and I have used this as one of my textbooks for Bible class for the past five years. One of the classic works of the 20th century, ‘Mere Christianity’ was originally conceived of as a series of radio talks given by C.S. Lewis to the British public during World War II. Lewis articulates many valuable truths to the readers (as he did his listeners) through a blend of word-pictures, humor, and wit. Whether you are a Christian or not, this book also contains amazingly important information about human nature and relationships, about why we think the way we do, and about how important it is to examine our motives, thoughts, and actions. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”


3) ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien

Until I was in college, I wanted nothing to do with what I considered “nerd-books” (read: sci fi/fantasy novels, etc). But I was very blessed in my sophomore year of college in that I had a scholarship which paid for me to attend Oxford University (in the U.K.) for a semester. While there, I began reading JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis for the first time, since both had been at Oxford for much of the 20th century. In short: I fell in love with their work and have never looked back. ‘The Hobbit’ is an adventure story, full of exciting action, magic, and humor. It is also full of amazing wisdom and insight into human (hobbit, really) nature. I read this book to my children when they were younger, and it is one that I re-read every year. If you have always thought, “Yeah, those kinds of books just aren’t for me,” that’s ok. Give it one more try. “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”


4) ‘Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae’ by Steven Pressfield

This book is the story of the amazing Battle of Thermopylae, in which a small group of around 300 Spartan warriors held off a force of 2,000,000 (yes, you read those numbers correctly) Persian invaders. The story itself is incredible, and this book is written not as a history book, but as a novel, telling the story from the point of view of two main characters. It is a fascinating look into life in ancient Greece, but more importantly it contains extremely valuable information about traits of leadership, the importance of overcoming one’s own limitations, and the power of self-sacrifice in leadership. “The supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from-commonplace conditions.”


5) ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom

When I was a teenager, my dad had me watch this movie with him one weekend, and at the time I did not come close to appreciating how amazing it was. Last year, at the age of thirty-four, I got around to reading the book after picking it up at a yard sale, and I immediately felt a sense of regret that I had not paid more attention to the lessons Dad was trying to get me to see when I was younger. This book is powerful, insightful, touching, encouraging, joyous, and heart-breaking. It explores human nature, leadership, relationships, and love. I wrote about it more extensively in the second-ever RLL blog post (https://www.speakerjoel.com/real-life-leading-blog/j43ey4e8enp3btlw92gyw857xyam4w), and I still feel just as strongly about it. “That’s the thing, you see. Once you get your fingers on the important questions, you can’t turn away from them.”


6) ‘Out of the Blue’ by Orel Hershiser

My dad was a huge Los Angeles Dodgers baseball fan, and Orel Hershiser was one of those athletes that Dad always told me I should pattern myself after due to his character, not just his athletic ability. Hershiser is what Dad called a “classy player,” who showed respect to his opponents regardless of the situation or circumstances. That ‘class’ comes across in this book as well, which is mostly the story of the 1988 LA Dodgers season (in which the Dodgers won the World Series and Hershiser won the World Series MVP award), but it also is the story of Hershiser’s upbringing and his life off the baseball field. In the book, Hershiser is honest, humble, and self-reflective, and he shares much valuable information with the readers. I recommend this book to all baseball fans and also to anyone who simply enjoys a good read. “The most important thing is doing the right thing the right way and letting the results take care of themselves…”


7) ‘The Messiah Method’ by Michael Zigarelli

I am a high school coach and former college player, and so I’m always looking to improve my coaching. One of my former college teammates who is also a coach (and far more accomplished than I am) recommended this book to me a few years back, and I owe him a huge debt for doing so (Thanks, Cush!). Messiah College in Pennsylvania has a soccer program that is the best in the country on both the men’s and the women’s sides. Their record of winning games and championships is incredible, and in this book Michael Zigarelli (himself a Professor of Leadership and Strategy at Messiah and a high school soccer coach) looks at the seven disciplines that Messiah has followed to create such an amazing program, regardless of changes in coaching staff. The book is not about coaching soccer as much as it is about creating a specific type of culture and atmosphere within this college community, and thus the lessons are applicable at high schools as well as in businesses and in the corporate world. Their success speaks for itself, but so does the testimony of one former player, which captures the incredible atmosphere and culture at Messiah:  “I’d rather sit on the bench at Messiah than start anywhere else.” How many organizations have a culture that would inspire that type of attitude?


8) ‘Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections’ by John Wooden

This is a book my dad gave me for my 15th birthday, and I cannot remember how many times I have read it and referenced it. John Wooden is the legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach (back when coaches were also often still teachers, even at giant universities like UCLA) who is, even today, widely considered one of the greatest-ever coaches in any sport, at any level. He also was incredibly humble and kind, generous and caring. This book is a wonderful collection of thoughts, short stories and anecdotes, as well as lessons learned (and taught) through Coach Wooden’s life and career. It is inspirational, encouraging, challenging, and uplifting all at the same time. “Make each day your masterpiece.”


Action Step: Pick one of these books and read it! Then, let me know what you think about it.

As always, thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you! Let me know what you think about the list, and I would LOVE to discuss any and all of these books with you in the future. Have a great Sunday!

Walk Worthy,