Leadership: Today's Practice; Tomorrow's Win
I got to coach a hockey practice today. I don't have a team this season because I'm putting my time into other activities, but Marci asked me to run her practice and I couldn't say no. There were a few things that came up that I think are important to point out.
For the record, I might skate at the highest available NCWHL level, but I'm not that great a skater. In fact I don't really think I'm that great a player. So when it comes to teaching fundamental skating and shooting skills, I can't do it. I don't understand skating or shooting well enough to even attempt to teach it to someone else. I usually like to get assistants for my practices that can cover my weak spots. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have time to line folks up for this practice.
Fortunately, there was a Blue game right before the practice. (Maroon would have worked also.) That meant that there were people available who do know how to teach the skills I can't. I just had to ask. I got two volunteers who were kind enough to help. Thanks Lisa and Shannon.
The point here is that when you need something; ask for it. The worst that can happen is that the other person says "no". You're no worse off. The other thing to remember about asking is that you don't know what is going on in someone else's head. I think we, as people, often make the mistake of thinking for other people and coming to our own conclusions about what they might say. So, we assume we're going to hear "no" and never even bother to ask.
If you want or need something; ask for it. You might be pleasantly surprised. Successful sales folk know exactly what I'm talking about.
I had set Lisa and Shannon the task of providing individual coaching, while I ran the group part of the practice. I had a list of drills that Marci wanted me to run and one of them was a backwards skating drill that requires backward crossovers. Which I can't do, let alone teach.
Figuring out how to do a backward crossover became a group effort. While the majority of women who play in NCWHL are adults I had one teenager in this practice. After I informed the team that I couldn't teach this skill, they decided to do the drill anyway, and see if they could figure it out. It became clear pretty quickly that Annie could actually do backward crossovers and the team just copied her. What I found fascinating is that Stephanie (the teen) couldn't believe that I couldn't teach her backward crossovers. She actually looked at me in shock. This made me realize how we change as we grow older. I take the act of collaboration for granted. Stephanie's reaction reminded me that collaboration is a learned skill.
Teenagers and some adults look to people acting as authority figures and assume that they have all the answers. They blindly follow without questioning what it is they are asked to do. Experienced people learn to question and collaborate. To the adults in my practice, I was the authority figure only in that I was running the practice. I made it clear where my skills were and they worked as a group to overcome my limitations.
I have often seen coaches schedule breaks in their practices. I don't do that. I don't like to waste time and I also think that people's bodies are different and they will need water or rest at different times. That is why I always tell people to take a break when they need it. This is part of my belief that people need to take personal responsibility for their own health and well-being. I also expect people to monitor their own injuries. I've had basic first-aid but I'm not a doctor. I don't know how you feel. Only the player knows that. This is the basic part of any practice or game I coach.
Today, the player's had an opportunity to take personal responsibility for their growth as hockey players. Before we hit the ice I told everyone that they were going to get about 15 minutes of individual coaching and that they should think about what they want to work on. (My apologies to Annie and Teresa I'll see what I can do for the next practice.)
Understanding your own weaknesses is a skill that must be learned as well as an ego hurdle that must be confronted. Hockey is such a funny sport. You get out there and you feel like you're tearing up the ice or that you look like Wayne Gretzky; but you don't. Your coach can tell you a million times that you aren't moving your feet and you won't believe her. I always recommend to people who are serious about improving, to have someone video tape them in a game. Watching that video will be one of the most humbling and sometimes embarrassing things a player will do. But it's an important part of taking personal responsibility for your on ice skills.
Taking personal responsibility requires taking action and confronting who you really are. It's not easy but it's the only way to improve.
Practice harder than you play
I'm still trying to get people to practice harder than they expect to play. I want to see players fall because they pushed themselves. I would love to see that in a practice. Practice is what I call "safe time." It's an opportunity to push your mind, body, and skills without worrying that you will hurt the team.
If you are looking to learn leadership skills, "safe time" is the time you spend with a volunteer organization. If you screw up while volunteering it is extremely unlikely that the mistake will effect your employment status or career options in a negative fashion. In fact, screwing up and learning from it as a volunteer is a great way to positively affect your career. I'm a big advocate of people using volunteering to learn leadership skills. Don't just read books about leading; go out and do it. Take some chances. I've been coaching for over 20 years and I've made some HUGE mistakes. And I've learned from every one of them. The funny thing about coaching is that even after I make stupid mistakes those people forgive me and want me back. Wow.
Practice your strengths
I think American society has conditioned many of us to think that we should only work on our weaknesses. And that is just silly. At the end of practice we worked on deeking the goalie. I told the women to line up so that when they finished the deek they would get the shot off on their forehand. I wanted them to practice the deek and shot that they were most likely to use in a game. Some of the skaters had a problem with this.
Let's just put this in perspective. The women that I coached today are intermediate level skaters. The probability that they are ever going to use a weak side deek in a game is very low. (Not including the fact that it's really hard because the shot has to come off the backhand.) I pretty much look at everything as a probability problem. What is the probability that working on a strength is going to gain you more than working on a weakness? In life the probability is pretty high.
If a weakness doesn't get in the way of your life objectives then the only work you should do on it is whatever is needed to not let it get weaker. (Or to get it to a point where it doesn't negatively affect you.) In life, where you're going to get the most bang for your buck is by strengthening your strengths. The "natural" aptitudes that you have that make you special and unique.
I'm a generalist. That is one of my strengths. I go deep enough into different subjects so that I have a "big picture" understanding of them. I am not the type of person who can get passionate about a subject and learn everything there is to know about it. I'm just not like that. Being a generalist is part of why I like small companies. For those of you who have been reading my blog you know I've been trying to figure out from a programming perspective how to distribute Excel computations on a compute grid, I then wrote a white paper on it (which you can download now), and last week I was wearing a marketing hat.
Find your strengths and make them stronger.
Becoming an expert
You might think it's funny that after I get done telling you I'm a generalist that I'm going to tell you how to be an expert. As a coach I've studied people because one of my jobs is to help each player achieve the season they want. For some this means they just want to have fun and for others it means that they want to have fun and improve. I can't help people if I don't know what they need or how to help them get there.
To become an expert:
1. You need to know what your objective is. How do you know when you're an expert? By what are you measuring yourself? If you don't have an answer to this then you will never know when you've become an expert. Waiting for other people to bless you as an expert takes the situation out of your hands. So figure out what it means to be an expert in your chosen field or subject and achieve those goals.
2. Practice is important because it allows you to find the boundaries. Huh? Since this post has had a sports theme I'm going to continue with a volleyball example. I was a pretty good volleyball player in high school. I'm only 5'2" but I could jump high enough to get my whole hand over the net. But only one hand. Now we had to play Fredonia and they had a much scouted hitter. She was really good. I don't remember her name but when she hit the ball you hoped it didn't hit you in the face. I shut her down by blocking almost every single hit. How? Because she had mastered the hit. By mastering the hit she knew exactly how to move her arm and body for maximum power. I am very competitive and I have mastered the art of figuring out how to win. Because she was always going for maximum power she only used a limited range of motion. Which I quickly figured out and took advantage of. An expert is aware of their boundaries and can adjust when necessary. She was good but she was not an expert. She was not aware of her boundaries and was unable to adjust to me. This is one of the reasons experts don't like amateurs. Amateurs are unpredictable, but real experts will also be unpredictable, they just do it on purpose. Find the boundaries.
3. Find a way to make practice fun. One of the obstacles for many people trying to master something is that the repetition of practice becomes boring. Very few people who don't figure out how to overcome the boredom of practice will become experts. I consider myself a joking hazard. If I don't have people laughing during games or practices then I don't think I've created a learning environment. We learn best when we are having fun. That is the bottom line.
Updated: To fix quote problems.