A special day. (1)

Make today special

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Missouri Special Olympics. My job was to help at the award station. There were about 20 of us assigned to this station. We were all from different backgrounds and different walks of life. We represented several generations and to my knowledge, only two of us had volunteered at this event in the past. We were a team of optimistic rookies.

Before the events began we were given our instructions and then we waited, and waited, and waited. I began to wonder why they had assigned so many of us to the award station and I questioned if my time could be better spent at another station.

And then it happened. Mulitple events finished at the same time and the athletes, their buddies, event escorts, and family members descended upon the award station. They arrived excited and in anticipation of receiving their awards. Little did they know that this ragtag group of volunteers didn’t have a well-oiled system in place.

Before we knew it we were experiencing a slow-moving and unorganized awards ceremony. It took us a few minutes to realize, “this isn’t working” and then we adjusted our plan on the fly and created a much better experience for everyone involved.

But here is why the experience was so special. At no point in the day did anyone express frustration. Athletes and their buddies had to stand in a long line – no problem. Family members had to wait a while to see their loved ones receive an award – no problem. Volunteers were asked to fill different roles to keep things moving – no problem. On some deep human level, everyone just decided that today was going to be special. We unconsciously agreed that we were going to bring our best as well as bring out the best in others.

And here is what I learned; it was a choice to make that day special. We all made the choice to smile, laugh and offer an endless amount of compliments, words of encouragement, and high-fives to strangers.

Every single day you have the opportunity to offer good to the world. The choice really is yours.

Choose to make today special.

roots

How deep are your roots?

When I was a kid there was a tree in our front year. I used to race home from elementary school to climb that tree. I wanted to see just how high I could climb. I loved to push my luck as I inched dangerously higher and higher than the day before. As a kid, it was all about how high I could climb but as an adult I often find myself thinking more about a tree’s roots and less about how high the branches extend.

Roots matter. They provide a tree with the nutrients it needs to survive. Deep roots also provide a tree with the stability it needs to withstand a storm. Strong winds may come but a tree with deep roots will survive that storm.

But the redwood trees are an exception to this truth. These trees often grow to well over 300 feet tall and many can be found standing strong at 20 plus feet in diameter. People travel the globe just to see the redwoods with their own eyes. These trees tower over all other trees and their height alone should make them susceptible to damage. A redwood should be an easy target in a heavy rainstorm, a tornado, or when lightning is present, but these trees are very resilient. By looking at a redwood one could easily assume that their roots go to the center of the earth to supply all the nutrients and stability that such a massive living structure would need to survive. But that isn’t the case. The redwoods have a unique root system that typically goes just 6-12 feet deep. How is it possible that these trees rarely fall over?

The redwoods stay standing because their shallow roots intertwine with the roots of the other redwood trees so they are literally holding each other up. The trees grow in close proximity to each other so they can share nutrients and physically support each other. Beneath the surface, it’s as if the redwoods are standing with their arms locked together. They are saying, “we are in this together, we are one, if you want to knock one of us down, you’ll have to knock us all down.” Their roots provide strength and their strength lies in their connection with each other.

The moral of the story? Plant yourself next to good people and find ways to purposefully connect with them.  When you do you will find that you can survive the most difficult trials by relying on and providing for those around you.

Being connected to others matters. When people and teams stay connected they share their resources and provide strength for each other and when that happens everyone has the potential to grow to new heights.

What are your roots connected to?

Scars

Calluses, scars & dirt …

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a convention for soccer coaches. While I was excited about speaking I was also really looking forward to some one-on-one conversations that I had scheduled. I was purposefully using my downtime to connect with some really good people.

For the last year, I have been working remotely with Sarah Dwyer Schick, the Founder of The Sports Bra Project, but this event was the first time she and I would actually be in the same place. We agreed to meet in the hotel lobby to talk, brainstorm, and dream about how we can continue to work together to empower girls and women both locally and globally. When I arrived in the hotel lobby I knew we would have to find another place to talk because it appeared that everyone at the convention who wanted to meet with someone else had also selected the hotel lobby! But as I surveyed the crowd I noticed a theme; all the men were in suits and all the women were in heels. It was like a giant board meeting was being held in the lobby. These were clearly the people who make decisions on legislation, policy, and funding for various programs and organizations.

Sarah and I decided to make our way upstairs where registration had been held a few days earlier. There were still a handful of tables and chairs that hadn’t been packed up yet and so we found a quiet place to talk. As a looked around I saw a few other small groups and I just smiled. Some of these people I knew by name and others I knew simply because of the work they are doing. These are all people who are doing great things in the world. They are using their voices and platforms for good. Some are using the sport of soccer to make a difference in their local communities and others are impacting people halfway around the globe. The individuals in this room see people’s needs not from a distance but up close and personal. They work among the people they love. They are literally doing the work.

I strongly believe we need good people who can advocate for legislation and policy while speaking ethically about the distribution of funds. But the people I connect with the most are the ones with calluses on their feet, scars on their knees, and dirt under their fingernails. When you walk closely with the people you love you will get a little dirty.

And I’m okay with dirt under my nails …

 

10 Things Preteens Can Do to Grow as Leaders

10 Things Preteens can do to Grow as Leaders

A few months ago I had a speaking engagement. I was talking about leadership and after the event, a mom and her son pulled me aside to ask a question. I would guess the young man was in 5th grade. His mom shared that he was a reserved person but that he really wanted to be a leader on his team. He just wasn’t sure where to start. This post is a direct response to that question.

For every young person who wants to become a leader, don’t wait for someone to assign you a title or appoint you as a leader. Leadership is a skill and the only way to get better at leading is to practice your leadership skills. Below you will find some tangible ways that you can begin to grow as a young leader.

Please feel free to share this with young people who would benefit from this list! I will post the list on twitter as well.

10 Things Preteens can do to Grow as Leaders

1) Ask, “How can I help?”: One of the best ways you can develop your leadership skills is to ask, “how can I help?” This shows you are willing to serve others. When you see someone doing physical tasks ask, “how can I help?” Great leaders are always looking for ways to help others. When your coach is setting up the field before practice ask, “how can I help?” When your coach is carrying equipment to the car after practice ask, “how can I help?” If a parent is bringing water to the field ask, “how can I help?”

2) Connect with Your Coach: To be a leader on your team, you may need to serve as a bridge between your coach and your teammates. Be intentional about connecting with your coach. Take a few minutes each week to get to know your coach as a person. Ask them some simple questions. For example; where did you go to college? Did you always want to be a coach? What do you love about coaching?

3) Connect with Your Teammates: In order to lead your teammates, they will need to feel a connection with you. There will always be some teammates you connect with more than others, but each teammate will need to know that they have a connection with you. During the course of a week purposefully divide your time between your teammates. Ask different people to warm up with you or to do drills with you, sit by a different teammate on the bench, and walk off the field with different players so you can connect with them.

4) Express Gratitude: One of the ways leaders can grow is by expressing gratitude. Be intentional about saying thank you to the adults who are a part of your team. This includes your coaches, the referees, and parents. By saying “thank you” are practicing gratitude which is an important leadership skill.

5) Do the Dirty Work: It is important that as a leader you are willing to do the tasks that others do not want to do. Look for moments when you can do “the dirty work” like picking up the trash around your field, carrying equipment, or collecting balls that might have gone out of bounds.

6) Take Care of Your People: Leaders are always thinking about others. When you know a teammate is struggling with something reach out to let them know you care. A simple text, a card signed by the team, or inviting them out for lunch when you know they are having a hard time will let them know that you care for them.

7) Find a mentor: All leaders need a support system. As a young leader think about an adult or an older teenager that you respect. It doesn’t have to be a coach. It can be someone who leads people in other ways. Ask this person if they will serve as your mentor. Request to meet with them face to face so you can ask them questions about any challenges you are dealing with. Use this time to learn from someone else who has been in your shoes.

8) Ask, “What do you need from me as a leader?”: Be willing to ask your coach, “what do you need from me as a leader?” This will demonstrate to your coach that you are willing to grow and do whatever the team needs. By asking this question you will better understand how you can best be a leader on your team.

9) Support Another Leader: Great leaders understand the value in supporting other leaders. When you see a teammate stepping up as a leader be sure to support that person. If a teammate speaks up, look them in the eye and give them verbal feedback. Say things like, “you are right” or, “that’s a good idea” or, “thanks for speaking up.” This lets them know that you support them in their desire to develop as a leader.

10) Be the First: As a leader, there will be times that you will need to “be the first.” When your teammates are complaining about the officials you may need to be the first to say something positive. When the team isn’t giving their best in practice you may need to be the first to give your 100% best effort. When the game takes a physical turn and players are getting out of control you may need to be the first to tell your teammates that this isn’t how we should act. Great leaders are willing to be the first in difficult situations.

She young (1)

“She’s a young coach …”

Last spring I had the pleasure of working with an up-and-coming young female coach. Not only did she play soccer at a very high level, but she has that “x” factor as a coach. She is wise beyond her years, she has invested in her own development as a coach, she has the ability to teach the game, she inspires her players, she holds them to a high standard, and she leads her players to places they haven’t been before. I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches, but this one will go as far as she wants to go in coaching.

At one point we were discussing some of the challenges she was facing. She shared with me that some of the dads of her players didn’t like how she managed the team tryouts and they had been vocal about their displeasure. She also shared that some of the parents had complained about who she selected for Varsity and others continued to question her ability to be a coach. I asked her how they justified those comments and she replied, “because I am young, I can’t help the fact that I am 26, but they question everything I do and they say it’s because I am young.”

As she continued to explain some of the parental issues on her team I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, I knew I had to tell her something that wasn’t going to be easy for her to hear. I said the following, “their criticism and disrespect for you isn’t because you are young, it’s because you are a woman, but they don’t have the courage to say that.” Her jaw dropped.

I continued to share that when a “young coach” is a male his youthfulness is seen as a positive attribute. We often hear parents saying that he connects with his players, he understands this generation, and that he brings a lot of energy. The same logic is not applied to young female coaches.

“She’s a young coach” and that should be a good thing. If you want her to ever be a seasoned, experienced, veteran coach, then she needs to spend some quality years as a young coach. But let’s be honest, her youthfulness is not the issue here, it’s just easier to blame it on that than to deal with the underlying, and at times overt, sexism in athletic culture.

It’s time for a change. We can do better.

Kids deserve the opportunity to learn from great coaches and some of the greatest coaches I know are young women.

 

Tiny Hands

Tiny Hands

I recently did some leadership development and teambuilding with a high school hockey team. On my closing day, they gave me a gift bag. One of the items included was a pair of tiny rubber hands – I know, I was confused too! The girls could sense my confusion and they started yelling that I needed to put the tiny hands on my fingers and pull my shirt sleeves down to make it look like these were my actual hands. I complied and we all had a good laugh, but I was still a little confused.

The coaches explained to me that during the previous season the term “tiny wins” was their catchphrase. They were building the program and they focused on the little things, the little wins, and fittingly the tiny hands became symbolic of tiny wins.

I strongly believe that healthy cultures focus on the tiny wins. Leaders who do this understand the behaviors needed to create those tiny wins are the same behaviors that create the big wins.

Many years ago I took over a college soccer program that had hit rock bottom. In the previous season, the team had gone 1-18-1 while giving up 84 goals. I knew my first year was going to be about teaching them how to win while not actually winning very many games. It was going to be a long process but I was confident that we could teach them the skills needed to be successful. My plan was to place a high value on academics knowing that winners need good time management skills. We drew a hard line on alcohol consumption knowing that winners have self-discipline. We had clear expectations about what to eat because winners make good decisions. We didn’t just set these as rules for our program, we also talked about how we were developing the skills which would lead to wins. Additionally, we filled our training sessions with competitions and we celebrated each of the victories. We created opportunities for tiny wins in our program.

We also spent an insane amount of hours doing service learning projects in our community. This was a positive experience because of the deeper sense of connection that we made with each other, not to mention the value we added to our community. As a result of our service in the community, we were given an award at our athletic department banquet. The award was a surprise to the team but I’ll never forget the moment. One of our juniors who really struggled with the on-field losses said to me with a massive grin on her face, “it just feels so good to win SOMETHING!”

And our tiny wins added up. The next season we went 8-5-5 and it was the first winning season for those seniors. It wasn’t that we magically became great soccer players, we simply learned how to do the little things. We were intentional about creating moments for tiny wins.

If you want to change the culture you are in think about the tiny wins you can work toward. Invest in those areas and celebrate your success. The tiny wins will develop the skills need to create the big wins.

Also, you should buy some tiny rubber hands to serve as a reminder of what you are working towards 🙂

-Don't swing at ...-

“Don’t swing at …”

It was a beautiful spring day and I was in the dugout with an NCAA college softball team. I had worked with this team all year and I was excited to be on the bench to see them in action. On that day we were playing a doubleheader against the #10 team in the country.

The first inning was rough but otherwise, I thought we played well. We lost 2-0 but I saw some positives. We had good leadership on the field and in the dugout, we responded well to moments of adversity, and all the players were embracing their assigned roles for the day.

After the first game, the team jogged to the outfield to regroup. As I walked with the coaches one of them said, “Hey, will you talk to them? They’re tired of hearing from us.” The answer was an easy yes for me.

I stood in front of the team, each of them on one knee with the coaches standing behind them. I remember saying something like, “Hey team, I’m not even going to try and talk to you about softball because you guys know I was a soccer coach, but I’ll give you some insights on what I observed.” I went on to say how I thought we were in the game and though we made some errors I loved the way we responded in those moments. I mentioned that the opponent was a really a good team but we managed to get runners on base and we had our chances and then, then I went off script… I said, and I can’t make this up, I said this to an NCAA college softball team… brace yourself …“it’s not like we were swinging at airballs.” Yep. Wrong sport. Wrong terminology altogether. And in that moment the players fell over the laughing, the coaches couldn’t look at me, and I couldn’t compose myself either. What a moment!

I share that story because I so frequently hear from young leaders that they are afraid to say the wrong thing and as a result, they don’t say anything at all. Here’s the truth; there will be times when you will say the wrong thing – trust ME on that one! But here is why that particular moment worked out:

  1. They knew my intentions: Because I had been working with them for many months they understood that everything I did was to help them develop, so a mistake on my part was easily forgivable.
  2. They trusted me: In our previous encounters, I had pressed them on some difficult team issues. I asked hard questions but what I did with their answers built trust between a tight-knit team and me an outsider. I had authentically earned their trust. In a moment when I clearly said the wrong thing, that relationship didn’t fall apart because the trust was real.
  3. They saw me as human: In that moment they saw me laughing at the absurdity of the situation and they saw me as “one of them.” Too often people view leadership as being “above” their people but I strongly believe the most effective leaders see themselves as being “with” their people. In this situation, the team saw me as someone just like them, full of flaws and very human.

But the story doesn’t end here. You see we had another game to play and early in the game, our pitcher caught one of their batters swinging for the fences. This player swung hard and missed and then it happened … our entire dugout started chanting, “airball – airball” and that’s when I knew we were good. When teams can laugh together that’s a sign that trust has been built.

And to this day I remind their coaches on a regular basis of my deep and profound softball knowledge: “Don’t swing at airballs.” Words of wisdom right there …

If you want to lead stay true to your intentions, earn the trust of others, be human AND laugh together when you make a mistake. Leading is worth the risk of making a mistake.

This is good, again ...

“This is Good,” again…

Like most other speaking engagements I found myself standing before 30 high school student-athletes sharing my favorite story. I share this story with every group I work with. Honestly, I find it to be much more than a story; for me, it is a way of life.

The story is called “This Is Good” and the message is all about perspective. The reality is when bad, negative, or frustrating things happen we each have a choice in terms of how we want to respond. We don’t have to know how something difficult is going to be good, but the idea is to simply leave the door of possibility open that something good can come from something bad. In the face adversity can you say, “this is good?”

I shared the story and encouraged the student-athletes to have a “this is good” mindset. I also warned them that when they embrace this mindset life will present them with plenty of opportunities to think, believe, and respond by saying “this is good!”

The next morning I woke up at 5am to head to the airport for my 7am departing flight. As I grabbed my phone off the charger I realized there was an issue with my flight. It hadn’t been delayed, it had been canceled. Urgh. I quickly called the airline and they told me I had been re-booked on a 2pm flight. I hung up the phone just as my friend/host was asking if it was time to go to the airport? I replied, “go back to bed, my flight has been canceled.” I’m not sure who said it first but the words “this is good” were certainly spoken.

In that moment I had a choice to make; be angry or believe that in some way this could be good. I chose to embrace a “this is good” mindset. As a result, I got to sleep in – YES! And my friend/host and I had lunch with another person I really needed to meet. So yes, my canceled flight was in fact good.

And for the record, my 2pm flight was delayed until 7:45pm which meant I would miss my 5pm connecting flight so my friend/host drove me a couple hundred miles directly to the airport of my connecting flight and the entire way I kept thinking, “this is good.”

Try it, but believe me when I say, if you embrace a “this is good” mindset you will suddenly see so many times when you can put it into practice … but it’s worth it.

Trust me, this is really good …

MagicTrick

It’s not a magic trick … working with introverts

When I work with teams, educators, and corporate groups we always spend a significant amount of time processing what we experienced together. I hear it from people all the time, “how did you get her to talk?” …”he NEVER speaks up, how did you do that?” … “I can’t believe she was willing to share, I swear she hasn’t spoken in a year!”

Let me be clear, it’s not a magic trick! To get more people to speak up, you simply need to create space where they feel comfortable sharing. This can be a challenge when working with introverts who need time to process their thoughts internally. However, statistically, 50% of people are considered to be introverts, so when we create space for them to participate in the dialog everyone benefits.

Here are a few tools I utilize when working with groups:

  1. Research says that most people who were born and raised in the US are uncomfortable with silence after 3 seconds. If you aren’t sure that is true, the next time you are in front of a group just stop talking for 3 seconds and see what happens! As a result, our culture tends to fill the silence with more chatter since we fear the perceived awkwardness. As a result, the extroverts keep talking and the introverts struggle to get their thoughts together amid the noise and chatter. Individuals with a preference for introversion typically need 8-10 seconds to process their thoughts before they are able to share. When we give them that silence they can hear what is in their heads and share it with the group. Knowing this I usually do two things when I’m working with a group:
    1. Explain the process/purpose: I explain this concept to the group. In fact, I test the “3-second theory” by pausing for 3 seconds after I make that statement … 3… 2… 1… clue the laughter! By explaining to a group that I will wait for 8-10 seconds before I move on to the next question I remove the pressure that some people may feel to fill the silence. I explain that while some people may feel uncomfortable I, as the facilitator, am not uncomfortable and they don’t need to worry about how I am feeling. Instead, they can see this as a process which invites everyone’s voice into the space.
    2. Put the process into action: When I ask a question to the group I will typically ask it several times. The first time someone will often answer right away. The next time that may also be the case but when I ask it again and it isn’t answered right away I count to 10 in my head. It never fails, when I get to 10 someone raises their hand to share because they have had the time they needed to collect their thoughts. Explaining the process/purpose and putting it into action has been a valuable tool for me.
  2. When you want to debrief as a large group consider how you can allow people to process before a large group conversation. When I want a large group to share their thoughts on a closing question I will often explain to the group that they have three options for processing the question before we gather as a large group to share our thoughts:
    1. Option 1: Go to the back of the room in a group and talk about the closing question. Typically those with a preference for extraversion will be drawn to this very verbal and high energy process.
    2. Options 2: Find a partner and discuss the closing question together. Generally, those with a preference for introversion will be drawn to this process since it creates deep, meaningful connections.
    3. Option 3: Spend some time in quiet reflection writing your thoughts about the closing question. This process is often selected by those with a preference for introversion as it gives them the space they need to organize their thoughts.

Allowing people to first process a question in a way that is most natural for them prepares them to be able to contribute to the large group conversation. When we ask a people to share off the top of their heads we are catering to extroverts who are energized by the process of talking through things. If we want to hear the voice of introverts we need to understand they need time and silence to hear their inner voice.

I would encourage you to think about how you can apply these techniques. You may be surprised how much others have to share when you create the right environment for them.

If you are interested in learning more about introversion and extroversion I would be happy to talk with you about my work with Myers-Briggs. Understanding how you and those around best function can be life-changing! You can request more information here.

-So you want me to shoot more-

“So you want me to shoot more?”

Years ago, I recruited a very good soccer player to the college team I was working with. She was the “real deal” and I was so excited to have the opportunity to coach her! She made great decisions off the field, was an A student, a great teammate, managed her time well, and she was a talented soccer player – what a combination!

But the truth is I struggled to coach her during her freshman year. It wasn’t her work ethic or an attitude problem, it was a communication issue. It was like we were speaking two different languages. Here is what our conversations often sounded like when I was giving her feedback:

“We need you to get higher into the attack.” … “So you want me to shoot more?” …”No, but give yourself some freedom when we have possession.” …”So I don’t need to track back as much?” …”No, you still need to track back but you can move into that space more.”… “So you want me to …”

Ultimately, I would get frustrated and she would be on the field totally confused about what we needed from her. And let me be clear, this was a player I adored and I knew she was trying her very best, but we just couldn’t get on the same page.

When the seasoned ended I knew I had to make a change, I owed it to this student-athlete to figure out how to help her to be at her best. I made an appointment with the Director of our Academic Support Center and I explained the situation. I ask if there was any insight she could provide on how this student-athlete processes information because what I was doing CLEARLY wasn’t working.

The Director asked me if I was familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and I nearly jumped out of my seat with excitement! I had been a fan of this assessment for many years but I had never considered using it with a student-athlete.

I met with this player and I explained that I was frustrated with our communication. Like many student-athletes, she immediately thought she had done something wrong. I was quick to explain that was not the case. As a coach and an educator, I took full responsibility for not being able to teach her in a way that works for her. I strongly believe as coaches we need to adapt to the unique needs of our players and I had not done a good job of that with her.

She was open to taking the MBTI and the results were amazing! She and I were wired very differently and in the stressful moments of a game I was digging it to how I like to learn (assuming that everyone is just like me) and she needed the opposite. I was literally coaching/teaching her as backwards as I could – no wonder she was confused! But the MBTI gave me a very clear understanding of what she needed from me as her coach. As a result, we were able to come up with a plan and I adjusted how I gave her feedback to allow her to be at her best.

I am so grateful that we had an Academic Support Center, that I had a student-athlete who was willing to try something outside the box, and that together we figured how she best learns.

Years later I made the decision to become a certified practitioner of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I can now help others with this process. If you’d like to talk about how the MBTI can help you understand yourself and those around you please click here.

Oh, and her sophomore year, well, that was fun. She was a beast, but more important was the deeper connection we developed in the process. Our student-athletes deserve to have our best and sometimes that means we need to ask for help.

My experience says it is worth it.