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 40) 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 28) 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.

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


Change Without Trauma

Note: During the current “stay-at-home” mandates and other restrictions in place across the country, I am diving back into 11 years of posts, articles, and reviews across my different websites to bring back timely information for today.


As noted in yesterday’s post, change often comes in only two varieties: the trivial and the traumatic. Frantic, crisis-driven change is a poor substitute for timely transformation. There must be a better way.

We need look no further that our body’s automatic systems for some useful metaphors.

When you jump on a treadmill or pick up some weights, your heart starts to pump more blood, automatically. When you stand in front of a large audience to speak, your adrenal glands ramp us the production of adrenaline, spontaneously. When you walk from shade to bright sunlight, your pupils contract reflexively. Automatically, spontaneously, reflexively – these aren’t the words we use to describe how our organizations change, but they should be. That should be our goal: change without trauma.

In the mind flipping, VUCA world we live in, what matters is not merely an organization’s success at a point in time, but its evolutionary success over time. I recently remarked that being a part of my church’s rapid growth was like a “rocket ride” – and then a friend reminded me that rockets follow a parabolic path, and that most of the rocket sections ultimately come back to earth in a flaming shower of debris. Ouch!

How do you keep an organization – like your church – in “orbit?” Building a truly adaptable organization is a lot of work. It requires a shift in aspirations, behaviors, and operating systems.

  • An adaptable organization rethinks its strategy without having to walk through the valley of the shadow of death; it reinvents itself before getting mugged by the future.
  • An adaptable organization is one that captures more than its fair share of new opportunities. It’s always redefining itself, always pioneering the new.
  • An adaptable organization is more successful in attracting and retaining talent; it will have team members who are more engaged, more excited to show up every day, and are enthusiastic about their work.
  • An adaptable organization will be more productive in responding to emerging “customer” needs. It will take the lead in redefining customer expectations in positive ways.

Building a church that is as resilient as it is efficient may be the most fundamental organizational challenge facing today’s ChurchWorld leaders.

Adaptability really matters now.


Inspired by Gary Hamel’s What Matters Now as part of my research for a presentation at WFX Atlanta 9/19/12

They Made It – We Borrow It

There is no such thing as a truly original idea. – David Kord Murray

Great thinkers throughout history have understood this and used it to their advantage.

courtesy ledenergy.ca

courtesy ledenergy.ca

Connecting to and building on other people’s ideas and insights can compensate you better than the exclusivity of building something from scratch. Why try to come up with an original idea when someone else has already done the hard work for you? All great innovators cast a wide net to incite creative thought by looking beyond their category and into analogous organizations around the world.

Good ideas are everywhere, but only you can make them relevant to your world.

Debra Kaye, author of Red Thread Thinking, calls this process World Mining. She encourages us to mine deeply to:

  • Seek external inspiration internationally from other companies’ successes, from outside experts, and from creative consumers
  • Identify valued benefits delivered by analogous categories that speak to potential brand promises, brand characteristics, or product experience
  • Review innovative products that are changing competitive landscapes in other categories
  • Assess new technology as a basis for interest

David Kord Murray espouses a similar train of thought in his book Borrowing Brilliance. It will challenge you as it examines the evolution of a creative idea. It also offers practical advice, taking the reader step-by-step through Murray’s unique thought process. Here are the six steps:

  • Defining – define the problem you’re trying to solve
  • Borrowing – Borrow ideas from places with a similar problem
  • Combining – Connect and combine these borrowed ideas
  • Incubating – Allow the combinations to incubate into a solution
  • Judging – Identify the strength and weakness of the solution
  • Enhancing – Eliminate the weak points while enhancing the strong ones

Read a quick summary of the six steps here. You can also get more information here.

Any pool of ideas or existing assets, no matter how divergent from your own organization, can unlock new and even revolutionary areas of discovery and innovation.

The key to finding and borrowing rich resources is becoming attuned to the environment and seeing beyond what’s in front of you, whether you’re just an engaged consumer or looking at other cultures.

Set yourself on the lookout for threads and connections when you observe your surroundings, ask yourself questions, and free your mind.

Somebody probably made it first – it’s up to you to make it better.

inspired by 

Red Thread Thinking, by Debra Kay with Karen Kelly

Borrowing Brilliance, by David Kord Murray

Red Thread ThinkingBorrowing Brilliance

Leaders Should be Students of History

Usually the word “history” elicits one of two responses: a glassy-eyed stare and memories of those required classes in school that were mind-numbing, or an excited look followed by the phrase “Did you know that…”

I, proudly, am guilty of the latter.

Not content to read and study “normal” history (both my undergraduate and graduate minors are in history), I default to the obscure and strange. Who else would read books on the history of salt – or the history of dust – or the history of cod. Yes, cod. The little fish, that when salted, kept it edible for long sea voyages, allowing the “discovery” of the Americas by Europeans, among other uses (that’s a two-for-one use of history, in case you didn’t notice).

Leaders need to understand history, too.

Not just the history of books, though that’s a great start. Leaders in the local church need to know the history of the people and place they are serving. Only by understanding the past can you ever hope to lead to the future. Will Mancini, author of Church Unique and founder of Auxano, calls that “vision equity.” It’s the stories and actions over the years that have led that church to the place it is today. It’s the solid foundation that tomorrow is built on. To be ignorant of it or to ignore it is an invitation to mediocrity at best, or disaster at worst.

There is history in a place, too. Last week I was onsite for a Guest Perspective Evaluation at Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral, FL. During my Saturday evening walk around of the campus, I was struck by the visual and audible impact of 3 existing water features, and 1 more in the construction phase:


A simple aeration spray in the lake on the edge of the property.


This beautiful waterfall is at the edge a a large grassy play area by the children’s building.


This water jet fountain is the first thing you see on the path from the parking lots to the worship center.


Fellowship Park, under construction. The splash fountains in the center circle will be a kids and family magnet.

These water features are part of the history – past, present, and future – of Cape Christian. They are telling a powerful story in the community.

History is a rock. Not an anchor to the past, but a bridge to the future.

Are you a student of the history of the people and place you serve? If not, there’s still time.

Class starts today.


Beyond Mickey’s Ten Commandments: Leadership Lessons from Disney’s Imagineers

There are two ways to look at a blank sheet of paper. It can be the most frightening thing in the world because you have to make the first mark on it. Or it can be the greatest opportunity in the world because you get to make the first mark – you can let your imagination fly in any direction, and create whole new worlds.  -Marty Sklar’s words to the Imagineers in 1966

Retired Disney Imagineer Mary Sklar had a remarkable 54-year career with the Disney organization. His work covered many areas of the organization, but focused on Imagineering, the group Walt created that blended creative imagination with technical know-how.

Sklar is best known for “Mickey’s Ten Commandments,” but in his recently published book Dream It, Do It! he revealed 3 additional lists: 2 on “The Leader’s Bible” and 1 on “Followership.”

The Leader’s Bible, Part One

  1. Create and maintain a climate of trust.
  2. Be responsive and make decisions – that’s what leader’s do!
  3. Empower your teammates – it takes many hands to bake a success.
  4. Create opportunities for new birds to fly.
  5. Remember: experience is not a negative.
  6. Make sure yours is not the only voice you are listening to.
  7. Celebrate diversity and different points of view.
  8. Never rest on your laurels – the next at-bat is your most important.
  9. Take a chance – support risk-taking.
  10. Provide plenty of blank paper.

The Leader’s Bible, Part Two

  1. Be optimistic – if you are not positive, who else will be?
  2. Courage and confidence are major cross streets on the road to success.
  3. Make curiosity your search engine.
  4. Learn to love you next assignment – be passionate about whatever you do.
  5. Provide time to explore – but deadlines are great motivation and discipline.
  6. Take time to teach – mentors are mensches.
  7. Forget the politics – it’s not an election!
  8. Traditions are important – but change is the great dynamic.
  9. Team and work are four-letter words – but together they spell “winner.”
  10. Remember: the last three letters of trend are E-N-D!

WD Quote Dream It Do It

Sklar’s ideas and principles were developed and implemented over decades of leadership with Disney’s Imagineers. They were formed by lessons learned from Sklar’s mentors, most notably Walt Disney and designer John Hench. They served the team of designers, engineers, architects, technicians, and others responsible for creating the Disney theme park experiences well…

…they will be pretty good for leaders in your organization, too!


Inspired by Dream It, Do It: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms, by Marty Sklar Disney Legend and Imagineering Ambassador

Dream It Do It

Put Me In Coach

The challenge for leaders in every field is to emerge from turbulent times with closer connections to their customers, with more energy and creativity from their people, and with greater distance between them and their rivals.

Ten Questions Every Game Changer Must Ask

  1. Do you see opportunities the competition doesn’t?
  2. Do you have new ideas about where to look for new ideas?
  3. Are you the most of anything?
  4. If your organization went out of business tomorrow, who would miss you and why?
  5. Have you figured out how your organization’s history can help to shape its future?
  6. Do you have customers who can’t live without you?
  7. Do your people care more than the competition?
  8. Are you getting the best contributions from the most people?
  9. Are you consistent in your commitment to change?
  10. Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?


– “Practically Radical,” William Taylor

Before you can be a game changer, first, you have to be in the game.

Play the Way You’re Facing

As the father of four children, I suppose it was inevitable that they would become involved in sports, and therefore I would be involved in coaching their teams.

My initial adventure in coaching was with my oldest son in pee wee basketball, coaching a coed team of first-third graders. After three years of that, he migrated to soccer and I began a ten-year soccer coaching career with all four kids: team manager, assistant coach, and coach, with teams ranging from a preschool beginning team to a senior high classic team – and everything in-between. From 5-year-old “herd” ball to 16-year-old girl’s recreation to 18-year-old classic, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Not growing up with soccer, it was pretty much on-the-job training for me.

I read the books, watched the CDs, went to training classes, and got the coaching certifications. Practices for my teams were all the same: learn the game, learn to play together, and have fun doing it. In spite of the practices, hard work, and game plans, when game day rolled around and the first whistle blew, it was like a blank canvas for a painter: where do you go from here?

Sometime along that coaching journey, I picked up a saying that became my favorite instruction as a coach, whether on the practice field or in a game situation:

Play the way you’re facing

In soccer you must be prepared for instant action no matter what the situation. Your opponent may be driving down the field, heading toward your goal; you may be set to defend them one way but a sudden pass finds a whole new situation confronting you. You don’t have time to call a timeout, put in new players, and start a new play. The situation calls upon your instincts and training and awareness of your surroundings. You have to play the way you’re facing, and make the best out of it.

Isn’t it like that in ChurchWorld too? We have our long-range plans and strategic actions and bold initiatives and so on. More often than not, the world doesn’t work like that. New challenges can arise overnight. A crisis doesn’t wait on us; we have to meet it head-on. At that point, your leadership team can’t call a time out to let you regroup and develop a new action plan.

Church leadership is at its very best when the skills and characteristics instilled in the normal everyday learnings of a disciple are allowed to mature and be put into practice when the situation demands it. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, but we know the Creator and Lord of the days. If we are obedient to Him, He will see us through any circumstance, all the way to the other side.