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October 14, 2013

The Impossibility of Leading Without Learning: How My Kid Taught Me How to Lead

Image: Flickr/clappstar

Image: Flickr/clappstar

There he was, in the open field. His black cleats were gingerly, but purposefully kicking his blue soccer ball. My son, looked focused and determined to score his 2nd goal of his Under 5 (U5) soccer game. As I was watching him sprint down the field using the “tiny kicks” that he had learned in practice, I had mixed emotions. See, I was not only watching as his dad, but as the coach of his team.

I know how competitive my son can be. He had mentioned to me many times during the game how badly he wanted to score another goal. I could sense that he was willing to do anything to accomplish this feat…anything. I wondered if he had picked up on something in me, though. See, I am also the ultra-competitive sort. I wanted to win this game, even though no one was officially keeping score. I was keeping track of the points in the game, however…in my head…and we were losing!
As my son approached the goal, I noticed my anxiety spiking. You would think that the competitor in me would appreciate this, but I didn’t. I really didn’t. This was because, my son, all three feet—something of him, was barreling toward the wrong goal! Seconds later, he kicked the ball into the other team’s net.
Conflicted Pride
Can I be honest? At that moment both my thoughts and emotions ran together. I was a little bothered on the inside. After all, this was the coach’s son for goodness sake. I felt all the judgmental eyes of the other parents burning a hole through my body. I assumed they were saying, “What kind of coach is this that his son scores in the wrong goal?” I was so anxious, I didn’t quite know what to do in the moment. Was I supposed to reprimand him? Should I go into some sort of tirade and chase him down the field while giving him a piece of my mind? Was I supposed to send a message that would resonate with the other players? This is the way that some of the coaches that I watch on TV respond. Some of them scream, yell, freak out, curse and throw things. Truthfully, I felt like doing some of that, just to prove that I was a good coach.
So, I ran on the field, my mouth about to shout the words, “No, son!” when I noticed something—my son’s face. I couldn’t read his expression at first. My initial thought was that my son was disappointed and that he realized he kicked the ball into the wrong net, but then I discerned his expression signaled something else. He was demonstrating a different emotion—pride. He was beaming! He was actually proud of himself!
Upon noticing this newfound sense of fulfillment in my son, I quickly stopped myself from screaming. I noticed that suddenly, the supposed judgement of the other parents and my own winning agenda disappeared. Those things didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered in that moment was the look on my son’s face. Instead of yelling, I put my hand up in the air and he ran over to me and completed the “high-five.” I still had a responsibility to him as his coach though. I needed to address the situation of kicking into the other team’s goal, which I did. I said, “Great job. Next time I want you to try to kick the ball in the other goal.”
I was proud of my son—in some sort of twisted, Bizzaro-world type of way. I was also proud of how I attempted to manage my own emotions. Sure, I wish that I could have done a better job regulating my own anxiety, but I am glad that I didn’t react the way in which my emotions were telling me to. I had a ScreamFree coaching moment—which is honestly a bit ironic.
Isn’t It Ironic…
I am a ScreamFree Certified Coach and a Marriage and Family Therapist. I have the pleasure of working with people all over the world in an effort to assist them in becoming a calmer, more connected parent, spouse and leader. Together, the client and I work through a myriad of family situations and scenarios as they seek to become the person they really want to be. With the scenario of a child’s soccer game, however, I almost became the guy I didn’t want to be—the screaming, yelling, pressure inducing coach and dad. While seeking to lead, I almost cast my position into the water like a child who tries to skip a stone.
The greatest leaders of our generation tend to be the type of people that can simply be calm in the midst of chaos, especially when the real turmoil is taking place inside of them. Even some of the sporting world’s most successful coaches share this peace-filled philosophy (think Tony Dungy and Don Shula). The leaders with the greatest amount of influence stay true to who they are while staying focused on the overall goal of the company, organization or team—all while remaining calm.
As parents, we are the first coaches and leaders our kids will meet. We are also the ones that will exhibit the greatest amount of influence over them, for our coaching extends throughout the years. How we choose to lead them will not only affect them now, but far beyond our lifespan. With that being said, we must ponder the type of leaders we want to be. Furthermore, we must continue to ask ourselves if we are leading them out of our calm or from our anxiety.
During my son’s game I found myself leading him and the rest of the boys out of my anxiety. This was because I had forgotten the purpose of the game as well as my purpose as a coach—to have fun. My son’s expression helped to refocus my attention to that which really mattered most. Once I was drawn back to the present I could concentrate on being a ScreamFree Coach—one that doesn’t need to scream, yell and berate players. One that can calmly focus upon the objective of the game and his objective as a leader, to put players in a position to meet their goals. In this case, my son’s goal was just to kick a ball into a net, whichever one that happened to be. Way to go, son!

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