Words of Advice for Soccer Parents

Before I launch into my semi-rant about soccer parents, I fully admit that I have crossed the line on each and every one of my suggestions below. I am just as competitive and excitable as the next parent, so this post is just as much of a reminder for me as it is for those out there who are slightly oblivious to their scary soccer parent ways.

All three of my daughters have played soccer at some point in their lives. My oldest daughter played through third grade, but soon discovered that she really didn’t LOVE soccer and moved onto other activities. My other two daughters love the game and will probably stick with it a little longer.  They are both on solid teams and we are grateful for another extension of our village helps them to grown and thrive.  And while we parents have had our differences about things such as time-commitment, coaching, etc., on all of these teams we have tried to hold in balance the need to keep the game fun, teach fundamental soccer skills and give the girls a healthy experience of competition and team play.

This past weekend one of my daughters played a game where I am confident in saying that the other team modeled ways not to be helpful soccer parents.  The other team looked like they had three coaches, which one could argue is a little overkill for 8-year-old soccer, but they were actually fine and it is well within any team’s right to have a coaching team. What I had a problem with was the army of parents who apparently thought their role was to act as de facto “assistant” coaches.  Sure parents, yell, scream and be obnoxious as you want, but at least do it from the place where the league has asked us to remain, on the designated sideline parent area.

The other team had three parents or grandparents in some rotation standing behind their goalie, constantly in her ear telling her what to do, and at one time chastising the other defensive players for making X do it all by herself. And yes, loud enough for the rest of us to hear. Then there were the five or so parents who decided that the rules about who could be on the team side of the field did not apply to them. Our coach has been very clear that only official coaches with a league coaching card are allowed to be with the team during the game. This makes a good deal of sense as it allows the team to focus on one person and one set of directions. Apparently the other parents did not hold this view as illustrated by the parental coaching cadre who strategically situated themselves on the team side of the field and offered coaching wisdom throughout the game.  The best part was when one of the other team’s parents was so bold as to walk right IN FRONT of our coach as he yelled out directions to his team.  Now our parents are far from quiet and reserved, but even from the official parent section on the other side of the field we were speechless.

But it gets better. After our coach realized what was going on she called him on it.

COACH – Excuse me, are you a coach? Only official coaches are supposed to be on this side of the field. Do you have your coach’s card?

PARENT – I’m not going to answer that.

Seriously? Did you just plead the Fifth Amendment at an 8-year-old soccer game?  Now unless your team is sponsored by Solyndra, I think this should be a clue that you might, just might, have crossed the line.  So, in order to avoid booking my own ticket to Crazy Soccer Parent  Town, let me offer a few reminders for us all . . .

  • It’s just a game - After the game – which we lost - a few parents were talking about how it sure would have been nice to win this one. Of course, our girls were pretty oblivious to the parental sideline antics of the other team or our own reactions. They were disappointed by losing, but 10 minutes later had moved onto making plans to bake cookies when they got home. Obviously, I do not let such things go as easily.
  • You’re not the coach - I have coached before and know that, even with the best of intentions, parental coaching is not helpful. Not only do you send mixed messages to the players, but you unintentionally chip away at the authority of the coach. It is important in team sports for the players to develop trust in their coach, for the coach to instill big-picture strategies and not have to deal with parents make matters more confusing. Parents can work on skills at home, help the kids process winning and losing and support the coach, but unless you really ARE the coach, you are NOT the coach.
  • Competition can be healthy – Parents have to help their children to discover the joy of healthy competition. Sports is a great way to develop discipline, character and commitment, but competition taken too far, can lead to an attitude that everything is a competition, everyone is someone to be beat and worth is based on winning and losing. This shows up mostly in how parents act on the sideline. Do we give credit for a good play by the other team? Do we use language that is appropriate for the age group? Do we play by the rules that we agreed to? The list goes on and on in how we can teach our kids that winning really is not everything.
  • “Taking a knee” is important – Whenever a player on either team is hurt, our girls place one knee on the ground and wait until the player is back up before clapping for them. This show of courtesy and sports[wo]manship is a crucial part of life and sports. No level of competition takes precedent over the health and well-being of another person. “Taking a knee” in life, politics and work even when our deepest professional or ideological enemy is in pain helps us to see everyone as a complex being and not as some anonymous humanoid on the other team.
  • This should be fun – At some point we can push our kids too far. Yes, we all want our kids to thrive and sometimes they do need to be challenged to keep moving forward, but knowing the difference between parenting that sucks the joy from an activity and parenting that helps them improve in ways to unlock new experiences is crucial. I know far too many adults who, as children, enjoyed playing an instrument or participating in an activity only to lose all enjoyment because of parental pressures to succeed. Sometime, our kids just need to do things because it’s a fun thing to do.

Now I am sure there are many more tips we could offer one another, but this is a start.  Please feel free to share your own soccer parent story and/or offer up any more tips for healthy parenting from the sidelines.

What Leaders Can Learn About Change From Facebook


[Photo: drurydrama]

Tickers, blue corners and close friends oh my.

Yes, Facebook has done it again. Not since the great “Rounded Corners Kerfuffle of 2008″ has there been such an uproar over changes to the design and architecture of our beloved Facebook. I know that there are a variety of reactions to the recent changes, but it seems as if many of the people who are pitching the biggest fits are folks who, in other contexts, consider themselves agents of change. So yeah, for all of you who genuinely seem pissed off about the recent slew of changes, I am unapologetically pointing my bloggy Judgey McJudgerson fingers at you!

All of the outrage reminds me of a quote that I heard at some point and have adopted for myself . . .

I love change . . . for other people.

. . . because when it comes right down to it, most of us do not easily embrace change as much as we would like to think we do. Most of us like to guide the change, be part of the change-making and be comfortably on dry land when the waves of change arrive. So on those occasions when change happens TO us we let the status update wrath rain down. Love you all, I really do . . . but sometimes we need to take a step back and lighten up or at least be a little more playful about our disdain for Team Zuckerberg.

At the same time, the outrage over the changes offers us a unique opportunity to examine our own leadership in times of change. For those of us who are in the business of helping organizations: churches, boards, etc. navigate change, this episode can offer some insight into how we lead the daunting task of communal change.

If you have no idea what the heck I am talking about check out this Washington Post article about all of the recent changes. Basically Facebook has just kicked Google+ in the [choose your own body part] and duplicated some of the things that made Google+ the cool new kid on the block in terms of how you see what you see and from whom you see what you see. You see?

But back to change leadership. Here are a few thoughts about change that leaders can take from all of this. These are not stand-alone ideas, but a few postures of leadership that can be woven together in order to create meaningful change.

  1. People do not like to be surprised - Excluding the occasional surprise party, unexpected clean kitchen and/or an unsolicited show of affection from a loved one, human beings do not like surprises. Now I am not sure that Facebook, with its scale, can completely inform the masses, but generally speaking, most of the conflict that happens in smaller organizations occur when people are surprised by change. Good leaders to not catch people off-guard. Genuine notification and interaction during all stages of a process of change can inspire even the biggest detractors to get behind the idea of change.
  2. We like to control the change – Related to number 1, most people want to be part of the change. Even the best leaders are willing to be lead, but when left out of the loop, those same leaders, who might otherwise welcome change have the kind of negative visceral reaction that we are seeing about Facebook changes. Again, it’s economy of scale, but be it Facebook or a board of directors if the change process engages those for whom the changes will impact in a way that shapes and forms the changes there will generally be more buy-in from those might not even agree with the specifics of the change.
  3. Trust must never be taken for granted – One of the biggest mistakes that new leadership makes when trying to lead change is overestimating the social capital that he/she has and needs with the body that is being lead. Yes, you can sometimes take advantage of honeymoon periods of leadership, but overall even the most drastic and surprising changes can be buffered if folks trust the leader. Apple is a great example of this. Because “the cult” trusts the Apple brand so much, we eagerly await the next surprise. Sure, we want to be the first to know, but there is such a high level of trust that Apple can almost dismiss numbers 1 and 2 as they think about the next changes. Facebook does not carry that same kind of trust, recently even seeming like a necessary evil in the world. Organizational leaders must be able to discern those times when building trust must take precedent over the immediacy of the change and eventually must be able to use the process of change itself in a way that builds trust.
  4. Sometimes you have to go for it - Sometimes, we must go big or go home. The shadow side of a deliberate process of change is that “…sometimes we talk about something so much that we think we have actually done it.”* We follow rabbit trails of engagement or discernment that lead to a wasteful use of resources, avoidance of making decisions and/or catering to those who would prefer that things always stay the way things are.
  5. Our response to the reactions to the changes can be just as important as the changes themselves – With numbers 3 and 4 firmly in my mind, sometimes how we respond to bad change decisions can help build trust in a way that makes future changes that much more meaningful. Leaders who can deftly and genuinely apologize for mistakes without abdicating their role of leadership build a culture where people are not afraid of failure and think about change in a different way. Individuals and organizations can then be seen not as monolithic decree makers, but as places where the complexities of change, success and failure can be handled without anxiety and panic.
  6. Remember that this too shall pass – Without seeming to have a heart of stone, in the face of change good leaders do not add to the anxiety of the body or let outrage drive a faithful vision. While leaders must do all possible things to make sure that change is received well, most leaders know that it rarely is to the extent that we would like it to. Taking the parachute view of the life and rhythm of an organization allows leadership to avoid jumping from crisis to crisis to the detriment of the larger movement of the organization. Crucial to keeping the long view is knowing that most crisis are really not crisis at all and that once people can vent a bit, most change handled well will be embraced. Take for instance the aforementioned 2008 Rounded Corners change. Facebook is now back to square corners and here is their explanation why. Yes, passionate at the time, but from a wider point view, just an evolution of the culture.

I am sure there are more things that we can learn, so please feel free to offer them up here.

* I stole that from someone who stole it from someone else.


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