Hiring Lessons from Soccer

I have written before about workplace lessons that can be learned from the game of soccer.  It’s not that I’m obsessed per se, but since I am the Team Manager for my daughters U12 team, I’m involved in a lot of details and as a Type A personality I tend to give it my all.  Over the course of the Summer 2008 season I have a learned a lot of lessons from hiring a coach that can be useful when it comes to hiring and taking advantage of good talent in the corporate world:

#1 – Be willing to pay for talent.  For the last two summers the group of girls my daughter has played with have done “ok” but they simply haven’t played to the potential that we parents sensed that they had.  It wasn’t about the win-loss records, it was about their frustration at wanting to get better and not being sure how.  For years various parents have volunteered in the role of coach and have done a great job of encouraging the girls and sharing what knowledge they possessed.  This summer, however, we determined that the parents had done as much as they could and it was time to hire a coach.  The parents agreed to pony up the cash to hire a coach with the training and background to help the girls develop their potential.

#2 – Get help finding the right person from people who care.  To start the search, I cast a wide net and talked to several people that had potential to refer me to potential candidates for the coaching job.  I spoke with Board Members at our soccer club, the principal at my kids’ school, and coaches at local colleges and universities.  I got several recommendations for interesting candidates.

#3 – Pick someone who wants the job.  I spoke with 3 potential candidates and only one of them seemed to be a possible match.  Then at the last minute I got a call from the soccer coach as a local college.  He had run a camp during the summer that several of our girls had attended and he thought that one of his players who had coached at the camp would do a good job for us.  When I called the first candidate I had considered back and asked him about his interest in the position he replied, “The other position I am considering pays more, but you guys are closer and it will save wear and tear on my car.”  Hmmm.  Then I spoke with the last minute candidate – Jake.   He said, “I remember these girls from camp. They have a lot of talent and I think it would be really fun to coach them.”  I was sold!

#4 – Once you hire them, let them do their job.  As summer practices started, it became clear to me that Jake’s style was VERY different than mine, and the other parents who had previously coached these girls.  He was generally upbeat, but relatively quiet and not overly complimentary.  He stuck with basic drills and worked his plan.  I admit that as the season started his apparent laid back attitude was confusing to the parents at times, and more than once I spoke to him after a game or practice to get a sense for what he was thinking.  Each time I was always surprised at how much thought he had put into what he was doing, and how each action was calculated.  I finally concluded that we had hired good talent, and I needed to step back and let him do his job.

#5 – When you hire good talent, give them the resources they need to do their job.  One of our parents stepped up to the plate right away as assistant coach.  He managed the equipment, helped get the goalies warmed up before games, and generally backed Jake up in all aspects of practices and games.  This freed Jake up to observe the players, make plans, and manage the team from a psychological perspective – something we found as the season went on was an incredible gift Jake brought to the team.

#6 – Early on, accept qualitative results.  When you make the investment to hire strong talent in a particular role, it’s easy to get caught up in “silver bullet thinking” and imagine that this one individual is going to instantly make a difference.  The summer soccer season is long.  A team can work incredibly hard to post a 1-0 win against one team, and barely break a sweat beating another team 4-0.  So initial numbers simply don’t mean that much.  What we parents noticed with our girls right away however, was that the tension and sniping of the prior seasons was gone and that the girls will smiling, laughing, and joking as they left each practice and game. Winning games was nice, but seeing girls from 7 different schools slowly becoming a team that trusted and communicated with one another was more exciting to the parents than any quantitative result.

#7 – Celebrate small successes along the way.  If you made a good decision and hired real talent, the results will eventually come. As they do, take time to celebrate them.  Early on in the season, our girls played in a tournament where they made it to the playoff round.  This was the first time they had made it to the finals, and even though they lost and ended up with 2nd place, they celebrated making it to the finals.  As the season went on and the girls began racking up a winning record the team and parents embraced the chance to celebrate in little ways like having ice cream after a game or going swimming.

Of course, we saved the biggest celebration for this past Friday night when we went out to a local family sports bar & grill for good food, laughter and even some dancing…Why?  Because the girls concluded a great season by WINNING THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP!!!

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