When the Heat is Up, Hold to Your Big “Why”
I truly believe the most rewarding and stressful volunteer position in the world is youth sports coach. The expectations of parents surrounding their child’s athletic abilities at even the youngest of ages are enough to create some real high heat challenges to navigate. It feels ridiculous to even type that last sentence given the admittedly low stakes involved. But, when you consider the values and loyalties that parents hold when it comes to their children, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by the social media videos we constantly see highlighting bad youth sports fan behavior.
I built my leadership muscles around “holding to purpose” while coaching my daughter’s fourth grade softball team. I started the season with high hopes. We had a mix of returning players and first timers to the sport. I held a parent meeting. I spoke to purpose. Our goal would be to develop young players, giving them the opportunity to try out many positions in games. I elevated competing values. Winning was not first on my mind, nor should it be on the parents’ minds. Everyone smiled and nodded in agreement. We were all on the same page … until the first game when I followed my predetermined plan to replace our star pitcher with a less experienced pitcher in the middle of a tie game.
It’s one thing to act or intervene with purpose. It’s another thing to hold to that purpose as you navigate the ups and downs of adaptive work. Holding to purpose is about getting clear on what you or others value and what you or others want to accomplish. Once that is clear, you may try different strategies (we might call that acting experimentally) to meet that purpose.
What can you do to help yourself and others “hold to purpose?”
- Get clear about the difference between purpose and strategies. Your purpose, the big why behind your work, should stay the same. The strategies you deploy in the name of that purpose can and will change. Be flexible with your strategies.
- Keep a “not do list.” Populate it with things you or others may feel tempted to do but don’t align with your purpose. These may be default behaviors learned from past attempts to make progress.
- Have a routine. Be clear on the things you can do each day to keep you moving forward on your life purpose, your project purpose or a team purpose.
- Be intentional. Don’t float in and out of meetings and discussions with others. Take notes. Stay focused. Ask questions. Reflect for a few minutes following an engagement to consider purpose.
- Debrief and reflect. Regularly ask yourself and others about how well you’re holding to purpose. Where are we hitting the mark? Where are we off target?
I could hear the grumbles of the parents when I made my pitching change. At other times in the season, some became more vocal against the purpose I thought we had all aligned behind in week one. More than once, I was triggered and didn’t manage it all that well. But with the help of some great friends/assistant coaches, we kept to our purpose of developing players. I had to adjust strategies at times. I met with parents one-on-one away from their kids to check-in. I would remind our parents of fan expectations before games. I constantly talked to the young players about why we were letting them try many positions, even ones they weren’t comfortable with. And in the long run, I’m proud to say we finished a magical 8-win and 8-loss season. But, for the most part, we held to purpose and several years later I’m proud to WATCH many of those girls play high-level softball to this very day!