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3 Leadership Lessons I Learned on the Soccer Field

By Amanda Munsch

Amanda MunschMy first job after college was as an assistant collegiate soccer coach. Little did I know, that first job would also be my first leadership position. Looking back now, and having read the book Your First Leadership Job, I only now appreciate how ill-prepared I was to take on the challenges I would face.

Here are three lessons I learned...

Lesson #1: Technical experience does not equal leadership experience

3 Leadership Lessons I Learned on the Soccer FieldI had played soccer my entire life when I became a coach, so I knew the game better than perhaps anything else thus far in my life. That said, just as we know that technical experience alone does not prepare someone to be a good leader, so too it is true that playing soccer did not prepare me to be a good coach. Suddenly I was tasked with thinking about not just the game of soccer, but the personalities of each player, their strengths and weaknesses, how to motivate them, and understanding the team dynamic as a whole to help them achieve their potential.

Lesson #2: Leading peers isn’t easy

Picture this: I was a 23-year-old tasked with coaching players who were anywhere from 18 to 22 years old themselves. Finding a balance between friend and coach was often difficult, and I learned quickly that boundaries were important to set. The same difficult situation emerges when new leaders are tasked with leading former colleagues. Once the lines are blurred between friend and leader, it’s often much more uncomfortable to give developmental feedback and have performance conversations. In fact, DDI research found that the inability to lead former colleagues is one of the primary reasons first-time frontline leaders fail.

Lesson #3: Performance conversations suck, but they can suck less

I think it’s fair to say that most leaders don’t particularly enjoy giving developmental feedback to their direct reports. I imagine there are a few sadistic leaders out there that do, but most leaders give developmental feedback because it’s a necessary part of getting better. On the soccer field, the ability to give developmental feedback and talk about performance is not merely important, it’s a coach’s obligation to their players in order to help them learn and develop into a better player. One thing that I learned out there on the pitch, which has stuck with me ever since, has been that those performance conversations are far easier when feedback is given in the moment. As a coach, when I gave in-the-moment feedback with examples as they happened, what I was looking for from my players was clearer, and the example I was using could be correctly interpreted while it was top-of-mind. As a leader, the same thing is true. If you want to connect the learning opportunity in a meaningful way, use an example that is still relevant and top-of-mind.

In many ways I suppose I was lucky to have had a crash course in sucking it up and moving past my discomfort with giving feedback. It was all part of the job; I did not have a choice if I wanted the players on my team to get better. I gave feedback every day, at every practice, in every game, until it just became natural to give feedback. That said, it's now seven years later and I’m still working on the way I deliver feedback so that it can have a greater impact. In fact, I’m working on a lot of things to become a better leader. I’m re-reading Your First Leadership Job, I’m getting coaching from a fantastic mentor, and I’m trying to seek feedback instead of just giving it out. There are light years between who I was as a leader back on the soccer field and the leader I am today, but there are certainly light years between where I am today and the leadership legacy I would like to leave.

Amanda Munsch is DDI's Team Leader, Demand Generation.

Posted: 19 Dec, 2016,
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