If You Want to Be a Coach, You’d Better Have a Whistle

Like many parents, my coaching career began with my own kids. First it was my oldest son (now 34) and Pee Wee Basketball. After a couple of years, I traded my tennis shoes for a pair of soccer cleats, and began a 10-year run coaching various levels of soccer teams for all 4 of my kids at one time or another, often multiple teams in the same year. When my youngest son (now 22) moved beyond my coaching skills and desires, it was time to retire and become a spectator.

Of the many lessons I learned as a coach, one stands out:

If you want to be a coach, you’d better have a whistle.

Imagine a group of 14 5-year olds, most who have never participated in any kind of organized sports. Add a beautiful spring day, a group of over-eager parents, and the child’s natural tendency to just want to kick the ball. Often jokingly referred to as “herd ball”, that’s what most kids’ introduction to soccer looked like.

Over a 10-year period, I coached 14 different teams, often 2 seasons a year. The teams went from beginning level soccer as 5 year olds to Challenge level for 12 year olds to Classic level for 18 year olds. Coaching both boys and girls of all ages and skill levels, with each one bringing their unique personality to the field, it was often challenging at best to coach.

Enter the whistle.

Coach's whistle

You may consider it a throwback to a different time, but I found it quite effective for all ages of players (and quite a few parents, too). It may have been unorganized chaos on the field to begin with, but after two sharp and loud blasts on the whistle, the players would stop what they were doing and give me their attention. What I did with their attention is another story, but it’s the sound of the whistle that is important here.

It stopped everyone from what they were doing and turned their attention to the coach.

You may not be a coach, but as a leader you have a room full of team members, often doing all kinds of different activities at once. When you need to get their attention, what do you do? How can you quickly and efficiently get their attention and make the best use of everyone’s time?

Leaders need a whistle, too. 

The difference between a great practice session and a good one – and often the difference between a great organization and a good one – is established in systems that allow your productive work to be obsessively efficient.

Great leaders step in with whistles – clear, distinctive signals – to make people’s practices efficient as possible – even in professional settings and even with adults.

How is time wasted in your organization? What can you do differently?

Maybe it’s time to buy a whistle…

inspired by Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

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