Yesterday I coached my son Magnus’ 6th-grade football team against a really strong opponent. I am the defensive coordinator. Which means that I spent many hours this week preparing for the game.
Here’s a breakdown of my efforts:
- I watched game film of our win last week. Then I went all John Madden, and telestrated the game film on Hudl to show our team things they did really well. And things they need to improve. There was plenty of both.
- I watched game film of our upcoming opponent to understand their offense. I documented every play and every formation they ran in their past 2 games. Then I strategized a game plan to defend them. I even considered cutting off the sleeves of my hoodie to help me channel my inner Bill Belichick.
- I created our 3 different defensive lineups (Black, Red and White) that would ensure everyone on the team got to play defense.
- I worked with my fellow coaches Josh Hunt, Jon Eippert, Paul Lillyroot, Scott Steger and Ryan Smith at practice for 2 hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to prepare our boys for the Saturday game.
I was confident that we had a great game plan and that our team was talented enough to win the game.
But we got beaten badly.
I was frustrated and disappointed with the outcome. But I didn’t throw any chairs, clipboards, or hissy fits. I knew that we were playing a great team. And I saw them do the same thing they did to us to their previous 2 opponents. I realized that sometimes you can have a good plan, feel prepared, and still get beat.
But something interesting happened on my drive home from the game.
In the car, Magnus shared with me and my wife Dawn that the football players on his team sit together at lunch at school. I asked who sat together. He replied, ‘Everybody.’
He continued. ‘It’s really fun. We sit at a table that is supposed to sit like 6 people. But we crowd everybody in. There are probably 15 guys who all pack together at lunch.’
Stunned, I asked Magnus who specifically sat together. He again, said, ‘Everybody.’ Then he listed them by name. And sure enough, he included everyone on his team that attends Steffen Middle School in Mequon. (There are other kids on his team at 2 other schools in town.)
The kids he listed included the stars of the team and kids who are just happy to participate. It included kids who were born and raised in Mequon and new kids who just moved in from other towns and states. All of these 6th graders are in their first month of middle school. Which can be a challenging and lonely time.
As I drove the last couple of miles home after our loss I couldn’t help but think that while we lost the game that day, our team was winning at life. That the team culture we were creating at practice and through the broader Mequon-Thiensville Cardinal football program, and indeed the Homestead High School program, was translating to a winning team culture at school and in our community. The boys have developed strong bonds of friendship and a team identity. And just as importantly, they have someone to sit, talk and laugh with at lunch.
Not all of your wins show up on the scoreboard. Focus on developing a team culture where everyone feels included, and everyone feels important. Focus on the goals of unity, support, and continuous improvement. If you do, the wins will surely come. Often in unexpected ways.
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+For more of the best life lessons I have learned check out my new book, What Does Your Fortune Cookie Say? from Ripples Media. For more ideas on team culture, look for my next book, The Culture Turnaround that I co-authored with Jeff Hilimire. The book is scheduled for publication in November.