RLL 73: Leadership Lessons from Soccer Seniors 2019

Real Life Leading 73: Leadership Lessons from Soccer Seniors 2019

This past week marked the beginning of soccer playoffs for my high school soccer team, and it proved to be quite the exciting time. We have three seniors on the team this year, all of whom have been excellent and key contributors throughout their entire careers. We were blessed to be able to celebrate them and recognize their accomplishments at a senior night ceremony during one of our games. Since then, I’ve been considering some of what they have taught me over the years, and I came up with two quick lessons that I want to share with you.

Had to get a team picture after a 4-3 double OT win in the playoffs!

Had to get a team picture after a 4-3 double OT win in the playoffs!

The first lesson is the importance of resilience. You could also simply refer to this as toughness or hardiness: these girls are resilient. They have overcome all kinds of challenges in their four years together on the varsity team: multiple injuries to themselves and/or teammates; changes in our school’s area (meaning our conference opponents) and classification (the size of schools we have to compete with); personal issues off the field (what teenager doesn’t face those, right?); and the usual assortment of issues in the classroom (again, think back to your own high school days).

Through all of these difficulties, these girls have remained tough and continually overcome these obstacles, culminating this week in a 4-3 win in double-overtime in our first playoff game this year. In fact, in each of the past four years, these girls have helped win at least one game in the post-season, an accomplishment never before achieved by our soccer program. They’re tough. What a great example, and what a great reminder to me: no matter what’s going on, my job is to continue moving forward despite whatever obstacles happen to appear.

Celebrating our seniors with their special gifts on Senior Night 2019!

Celebrating our seniors with their special gifts on Senior Night 2019!

The second lesson is that they’re consistent. They show up ready to play and to work every day. High school soccer season in Alabama is a long grind, beginning with preseason training right after New Year’s and not ending until the end of April or even mid-May (depending on the post-season). So for these girls, while other seniors are getting ‘spring fever’ and thinking of graduation and summer, they’re continuing to work and to sweat at practice and in games. And they’ve been at it for four years of high school (and many years before that). Though there are always ebbs and flows during a season, it’s been a joy to watch them come out to play and work hard at every opportunity, and our program is better for it. Again, what a great example to set: always come ready to work and to give your best effort.

These two reminders hit me this week, and so I wanted to share them with you. Whether you’re a business leader, part of a blended family, a college student, a parent, or anything else, you can benefit from remembering to be resilient in the face of adversity, and from being consistent in your hard work every day.

Action step: This week, look for new ways to overcome obstacles that have held you back, and commit to working hard each and every day.

RLL 52: 'The Messiah Method'

RLL 52: 'The Messiah Method'

Last year in one of my first blog posts, I wrote a little bit about a book I had read called The Messiah Method: The Seven Disciplines of the Winningest College Soccer Program in America, and today I want to take a more expansive view at it. Written by Michael Zigarelli, a business professor at Messiah, the book is not about soccer per se, but rather it’s about leadership and it contains wisdom that can be applied in any area of life. Today, we’re going to take a look at the key principles in the book as well as some specific applications that can be made. I hope you’re as excited as I am; I love this book!

The men’s and women’s soccer programs at Messiah College have won a combined 16 national championships in 18 years. This is an astounding record of success in any sport and at any level; the purpose of the book is to explain how these programs have been able to attain and sustain success for such a long period of time. The book, written after many interviews with current and former coaches and players, focuses on seven key disciplines that form The Messiah Method.

Discipline 1: Pursue a higher purpose than winning—Success begins by redefining it

Here we learn that, though these are ultra-competitive college soccer programs, their ultimate goal is not simply to win games and championships. Rather, their goal is to glorify God and to encourage each other in everything that they do: academics, athletics, social life, and relationships. The success, then, is a by-product rather than the main focus. “We definitely want to win, but it doesn’t define us. Our worth as a person isn’t wrapped up in it,” says Brad McCarty, current Messiah College men’s coach.

Application: Remember to keep an eternal perspective in our homes, our jobs, and our lives. Our goal is not earthly success but rather bringing eternal glory to God. When we do that, we will experience success as a by-product.

Discipline 2: Be intentional about everything—There’s more under your control than you realize

This blog is all about leadership. We, as leaders, have the power to make changes in our little pockets of the world, and this means that if things aren’t going the way we want them to, we are responsible. “As the leader, you have the power—all the power you need, in fact—so use it to create the team and culture you really want.” (pg. 67) Often we lament that we don’t have the power to change certain situations, but the truth is that this is often a cop-out for when we don’t want to rock the boat.

Application: If there are changes that need to be made, be intentional about addressing them. Choose to consciously make adjustments wherever necessary, especially in regards to relationship-building.

Discipline 3: Recruit the “both-and” players—Why talent is not enough

Often in sports and in life we see that exceptions are made for people with outstanding qualities in other areas: athletes with great physical ability aren’t held to the same academic standards; employees with great sales records are let off the hook for not attending mandatory training, etc. However, at Messiah, they blow this notion up by refusing to compromise their standards. “While elevating faith to a paramount ideal, they do the same with intellect. While affirming the value of discipline, it affirms the value of imagination…While maintaining that absolute truth exists and is knowable, it also allows students to think broadly for themselves to pursue it.” (pg. 85)

Application: Examine your life and the people that are in your family or organization and see if/where you have compromised one value in pursuit of another. Then, raise the standard back to where it needs to be to develop “both-and” people, not “either-or” people.

Discipline 4: Cultivate team chemistry—how close relationships create a competitive advantage

While both teams pursue team chemistry in a variety of ways, my favorite part of this section talked about how one of the teams has what’s called Forced Family Fun nights. On these occasions, the players are required to get together and go to a movie, or have a game night, or participate in another team-oriented function. They don’t always like missing out on other events, but all of the players talk about how much this helps their relationships with each other. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, when we like someone we are more likely to work extra hard for them. As Zigarelli writes, part of team chemistry is “mutual feelings of loyalty and empathy for one another.” (pg. 113) This is more powerful than we realize. Says former coach Dave Brandt, “There is nothing more important than organizational culture. And it is 100 percent under your control.” (pg. 137)

Application: Have regular opportunities for relationship-building in your home and organization. As I wrote in my book, “If you take care of relationships, the results will take care of themselves.”

If you want to learn more about Mike Zigarelli and his book, listen to this great interview with him on the Way of Champions podcast, found on the Changing the Game Project website. There are also other amazing resources on this site, so be sure to check them out as well! https://changingthegameproject.com/mike-zigarelli/

Discipline 5: Link training to the match—what everyone knows but few can do

This may be the most soccer-specific principle, but it still applies elsewhere as well. In soccer, the idea here is to make every activity at practice useful and applicable to game situations. In life, the idea is to make sure that we are consciously training our audience using activities that are useful and applicable to their real lives. One example from our world is teaching our children to wash their own laundry and dishes and to cut the yard. These are life skills they will need when they move out on their own in just a few years. Often we hear about letting kids discover their own way, but often that’s simply an excuse for abdicating parental responsibility. As current women’s coach Scott Frey says, “Freedom becomes chaos without structure.” (pg. 141) Our job as leaders is to provide a framework in which freedom and creativity can be exercised safely.

Application: Honestly evaluate the training provided at your job, or the activities you do with your family to see if they are applicable in real life situations. If not, consider changing some of them to make them more relevant.

Discipline 6: Choreograph Game Day—Readiness by design

This is closely related to discipline 5 and again has to do with creating a structured environment. The purpose for choreographing certain things is to have an established, comfortable routine, and we all do this: think of your morning routine and how it often feels uncomfortable when that routine is upset by travel or other circumstances. As Dave Brandt said about preparing his players for games, “I’m anti-distraction. I try to eliminate these and set the team mindset.” (pg. 173)

Application: In our homes and at work, look for ways to eliminate distractions and set up helpful routines that allow your group to focus on the task at hand so that they are always ready for whatever may arise.

Discipline 7: Play to a standard—secret to sustaining success

Any successful person can tell you that what’s even harder than having success is sustaining it, often because complacency steps in. When we’ve set a goal and then reached it, our motivation wanes, and then we find ourselves having less success. Rather than focusing on just a goal, then, what we should focus on is reaching a standard of excellence every day. Pursue perfection, even if we’ll never reach it. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” (quoted on pg. 191). The idea is that “Playing to a standard means doing everything with utmost quality and distinction.” (pg. 191)

Application: Instead of being solely outcome-driven, we need to focus on doing the best we can in every situation, constantly seeking to improve. Coach Frey states it best: “When we play and train, it is so irrelevant what anybody else in the world is doing. I don’t care what this team or that program has done. It’s all about us and what we can achieve.” (pg. 190)

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, especially for soccer people but really for anyone interested in becoming a better leader. Give it a read and let me know how it helped you!

RLL 46: Goals and Goals

RLL 46: There Are Goals, and Then There Are Goals

Happy weekend, everyone! I hope your week was excellent, full of learning and opportunities to show leadership. As usual this week, I had a great time teaching, coaching, living, and learning, and today I want to share a couple lessons I learned from coaching youth soccer that apply in other areas of life as well. The lessons this week are about setting goals, not necessarily scoring them in youth soccer games.

My daughters and I with two of my favorites! These two girls (one already a Division I player, the other on her way to becoming one) know from experience how to set goals and how to accomplish them. Also: YES, I’m standing on my toes in this picture!

My daughters and I with two of my favorites! These two girls (one already a Division I player, the other on her way to becoming one) know from experience how to set goals and how to accomplish them. Also: YES, I’m standing on my toes in this picture!

As background: last weekend was the first soccer game of the year (if you read last week’s blog post, I mentioned it just a bit; if you didn’t you can go check it out here: https://reallifeleading.com/real-life-leading-blog/h2z6f5p2n8cc766t46jmf59r8jmtth). What I didn’t mention last week is that, though we had fun and worked hard, we didn’t actually play very well. And that leads to the main point of this post: if we are to improve, whether in soccer, in our family lives, or in our businesses and education, we have to honestly evaluate what we’ve done well and what we need to work on.

The first thing my team needed to address was our inability to play as a team, to work together. Lots of kids all running around doesn’t actually mean we worked as a team. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” We needed specific goals to work on this week, and they had nothing to do with actually scoring goals in the game. So, my first question for you is: what are your goals? Short-term, intermediate, and long-term? If you’re not sure, then you probably shouldn’t be surprised if you’re not making as much progress as you’d like. So, lesson #1 today: set goals! For more specific info about goal-setting, check out the excellent work being done by Jon Acuff in his book ‘Finish’ (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N4VVT1Z/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1). [And for the record, I’m not affiliated with Jon in any way, other than following him on social media; I don’t get anything if you buy his book. I’m just sharing it as a resource.]

If you want to learn more about why goals are important (but relationships are even more important), go pick up a copy of my book on amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Inverted-Leadership-Others-Forgetting-Yourself/dp/1983110167/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1528802141&sr=8-1 .

If you want to learn more about why goals are important (but relationships are even more important), go pick up a copy of my book on amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Inverted-Leadership-Others-Forgetting-Yourself/dp/1983110167/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1528802141&sr=8-1.

The second lesson for today, and this is just as important: celebrate when your team does well. When you reach certain milestones along the way, celebrate them! I spoke with the players at halftime of our game yesterday, and I asked them to remind me what we had worked on at practice. They were able to tell me, and so then I asked them if they felt that we had done those things better in our game. Every one of them said yes, and so I said, “You’re right, you’ve played great this morning!” They got excited, they continued to work hard, and if possible, we played even better in the second half of the game. When we see that we are making progress toward our goals, in encourages us to continue working to achieve more. Whether that’s in sales, in speaking, with grades in school, or with losing weight, we need to celebrate when we accomplish tasks.

The best compliment I received after the game was from one parent who said, “The season in our league is so short that we normally don’t see real improvement from the team and players until the final week. We’re only in week two, and the kids played so much better!” That made me smile as a coach, and I’m already excited about sharing that compliment with our players at practice this week. I hope that your week is also successful and that you see results as you move closer to your goals!

Action Step: This week, set some goals that are reasonable, measurable, and attainable, and then celebrate as you work your way toward accomplishing them. Then email me and let me know how it’s going!

As always, be sure to share this with friends, and also be sure to check out my latest media mentions and podcast interviews:

Media: https://theperfectinvestor.com/2018/08/joel-hawbaker-of-real-life-leading-discusses-confident-humility-on-influential-entrepreneurs-radio-show-with-mike-saunders/

Podcast interview: https://soundcloud.com/user-461894793/episode-26-humility-with-guest