Skip to main content

Life and Leadership are Team Sports

| March 8, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, Life and Leadership are Team Sports, is an essay by Connie Buechele, Director of Information Technology, University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management.  Connie is an alumnus of the MOR Leaders Program.  Her essay first appeared as a program reflection last year.

Some of you may have read this book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, if not I recommend it.

In a similar way, I feel that I have learned a lot of leadership and life lessons from soccer.

Fifteen years ago, my husband, Mark, volunteered to help coach our 5-year old daughter’s first soccer team when the original coach quit.  Mark has now coached every year since, first for our daughter’s teams and then for our son’s teams.  Mark never even played soccer.  He volunteered to coach because no one else stepped up.  The main reason he decided to continue coaching was because of the life-lessons he wanted our kids to get out of soccer.  His team phrase has now become the club’s phrase:
“Play hard, play smart and have fun!”
Over the years, his young teams knew what to say when they were ready to head onto the field.  Mark asked, “what are you going to do?”  They enthusiastically respond:  “Play hard, play smart and have fun!”
As they get older, they are too cool for that phrase, but they still hear it echoed throughout practices to keep them on track.  How can that phrase apply to you as a leader? 
In soccer:
1.  Play hard means – Give your best effort.  As we say, “leave it all on the field.”  Then, no matter what happens, you know you did your best, for your team and yourself.  
2.  Play smart means – THINK before you act or speak.   The kids are coached to:
     a.  “Keep your head in the game” which means focus on what is going on and don’t be distracted by side items that are not part of your role or current play. 
     b. “Lift your head” which means stop focusing on the ball and look around before you kick to find the most strategic play. 
     c.  “Be a TEAM player”, not a ball hog.  Keep in mind that sometimes, instead of trying to dribble the ball all the way, so YOU can make the goal, it may be better to pass the ball to someone else. 
     d. “Be respectful” to the opposing team and referee or you can get thrown out of the game.  Part of being respectful is treating others the way you want to be treated, but if push comes to shove, stand up for yourself.
3.  Have fun – Having fun is a choice.  When you are having fun, it is easier to praise your teammates, talk and cheer each other on.  Besides, if you are not having fun, you are probably not very fun to be around…
In its simplest form, the soccer, life-lesson is: What makes you a good member of the team is usually what makes you the best you can be.  Life is a team sport.  As a leader, what kind of team member are you?
 Stop and take some time to reflect on what Connie has said and give yourself some feedback about the kind of team member you are, and that you want to be.  Then, step up and begin the work you need to do to become that person.
Make it a wonderful week.  .  .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.