This Year… Learning Leadership Through The Worst Coach Ever

Over the summer I normally try to post a couple things that I learned over the previous school year. If you have anything you learned from last year that you would like to tell me about, send it my way smcgever (at) pv dot younglife dot org

This story is a lesson I learned about leadership development. One of my goals as a parent is to coach my kid’s sports teams. So when my son wanted to play another season of basketball, I was excited. I have coached 9 years of high school basketball, as well as helped with various clinics, skills sessions, etc. I also have coached little kids; in fact, I coached my son in the same league just a few months earlier. So, on the registration form I marked the box saying I would coach. Strangely I never got a call…Except when my son’s coach called to announce the first practice.

To say that I was disappointed is an understatement, but my kids have been coached by other parents at other times so I was prepared to see what was in store. Only it got worse. Don’t misunderstand me on this description but the coach was not what I expected. She had huge frizzy hair, she wore an XXXL jersey (tucked into shorts), she had high top shoes, and the biggest fully leather fanny pack I’d ever seen complete with three large zippered pockets. She looked like one of Marge’s sisters on the Simpsons. To my surprise I found out she was a lawyer as well.

I could easily look past this, I do this all the time with club kids and all kinds of people! But, in this case, it just got stranger. Her husband was her assistant coach and it appeared his only job was to yell at the kids and keep the score of the game, though the league doesn’t keep score, and then he would announce it to the kids at each time out. She also mistook basketball for a form of football, complete with “handoffs”, and encouraging pretty much a running game that included no passing. She yelled at the kids a lot, she confused them, we ended up losing every game, only three kids showed up for the team picture… I could go on and on.

At the beginning of the season I offered to help in any way, but she quickly declined saying she didn’t need help. So I sat at each practice and game in complete amazement and disappointment as I saw the kids learning terrible habits, being ridiculed, and just overall having a terrible time.

Then it dawned on me, this is an incredible leadership assignment. How do I help our team, even though I was basically powerless to do so? I had to figure it out.

After some thought I realized my goal would need to be helping the coach to see that I could help her become an amazing coach. After a practice I went up and talked to her about how hard it is to get the kids attention and I applauded her willingness to volunteer her time. That broke the ice. Then I said that I liked one of her drills (which was a bit of a stretch but I had to start somewhere). After she told me a little more about what she was trying to accomplish with it, but that it wasn’t working quite how she through, I knew I had my chance.

I told her that I thought she could end up being a fantastic coach for kids. When I told her this vision that I had for her, her eyes opened up. At this point I wasn’t stepping in to do her job, or to do it for her, I was going to help her be who she wanted to be.

I won’t go into all the details about how I executed my plan, and in all honesty it didn’t make the team much better, but I was able to help her see, even if only briefly, who she could be by believing in her and giving her vision. This is what we do as YL leaders, we step into lives of kids, other leaders, and even donors and parents… often uninvited, but figure out how to help them see who they could become. It takes risk, wisdom, some people-skills and most of all, faith.

What leadership lessons did you learn this year?

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