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In order to have good management skills, you need to kick some balls

After a recent seminar, I was sitting in the bar with some of the folks, drinking martinis, and the conversation shifted to managing people.

Everyone else was a manager, and they all were giving each other advice on how to manage difficult employees. They were recommending various books on managing people, with names like “Who Ate My Bacon,” and “7 Habits of Type A Dickheads.”

Since I can’t even manage to manage myself on a daily basis, I only had one piece of advice for the group:

Want to learn how to manage people? Coach your kid in a sport.

You learn more about managing people from coaching little kids than you ever will at a management seminar or from a book.

I know this from experience, because I was once pressured into coaching my son in soccer when he was seven, despite the fact that I knew nothing about soccer at the time.

I mean, I knew nothing. If you told me each side played 22 people at once, I would have believed you. The only thing I knew was that you could not pick up the ball and run with it, which seemed rather silly to me.

But, I remember thinking, how hard could it be? I mean, it’s six- and seven-year-old kids. I figured coaching would just be a matter of herding them onto the field during games, and trying to avoid getting kicked in the nuts during practice.

What I didn’t realize is how fucking serious some of the parents take this shit . . . even at the 7-year-old level.

So approaching the first game, I was nervous. Real nervous. At that age, the coaches are actually out on the field with the players, so all eyes would be on me.

It was worse than I imagined.

First thing I had to do was set the lineup. Dylan, this big, fat kid, wanted to play goalie. Fine. Nichole, this little blond girl who is half the size of anybody else, wanted to play defense. I tell her no, and stick her at forward where she won’t get run over.

This is the extent of my strategic plan. Put the fat kid in the goal and the midget where she won’t get hurt.

Then the game starts. It is immediately apparent to me that the other coaches know what the hell they are doing. They have clipboards. Fucking clipboards.

And they are communicating to each other with hand signals!! They are setting plays, moving their kids around, calling out when to center the ball (whatever the hell that means), executing perfect corner kicks (whatever the hell those are) and generally running their team with precision.

My contribution, on the other hand, is to keep yelling, at the top of my lungs, “KICK IT!! KICK THE BALL!! KELLY, KICK THE BALL!! BOBBY KICK IT OUT OF THERE!! KICK IT KICK IT KICK IT!! KICK IT ZACH!!” Over and over again.

The name of our team is the Tigers, and I can hear our parents yelling from the sidelines things like, “SET THE TIGER DEFENSE,” and “CENTER THE BALL, CENTER THE BALL,” and “WIN IT WIN IT WIN IT WIN IT!!!” and I have no idea what they are talking about, so I just start yelling even louder, “KICK IT!!! JESSICA KICK THE BALL OUT OF BOUNDS, KICK THE BALL OUT OF BOUNDS!!”

That last little bit of coaching genius came to me when I realized that the clock didn’t stop when the ball was kicked out of bounds. And since it’s only two 20-minute halves, I figured that if we could just keep kicking the ball out of bounds, they wouldn’t score.

It didn’t work. We got smeared. We got smeared all year. But just from that one season (my only season as coach), I did learn some valuable lessons about how to manage people.

Here are some of the kids who were on my squad, and the lessons I learned from them. I give managers everywhere this advice free of charge:

Dylan. Dylan is the big fat kid who wanted to play goalie. What I didn’t realize is that he didn’t want to play goalie because he was good at it, or because he thought he might be good at it. He wanted to play goalie because that meant he wouldn’t have to run. But apparently, he also thought it meant he wouldn’t have to move. At all. As ball after ball went flying past Dylan into the goal, it was all he could do to half-assedly raise his right arm to shoulder level. He didn’t even move his feet.

Management lesson learned: Make sure people are in the job they can do, not just the job they say they want to do. Now, the only way Dylan will ever play goal again is if he is willing to lie down in front of it. That would stop most shots.

Peter. Peter was actually pretty good. He might have the most talent on the team (after my kid, of course). But he doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to play. At practice once, he was supposed to be doing a dribbling drill, but he kept picking up the ball and bouncing it on his head. “Peter,” I said, “You’re supposed to be dribbling it with your feet.”

“Okay, Mr. Penis,” he said, as he ignored me and kept bouncing the ball on his head.

This is a true story, I swear to God.

Now, I’ve been told before that, because of my unusual haircut, I look like a penis with ears . . .but never by a seven-year-old. I realized right there that I probably wasn’t going to make a big difference in Peter’s life.

Management Lesson Learned: There will be talented people working for you who just aren’t motivated. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Jack: Jack is insane. He won’t pass the ball to anyone. He won’t dribble the ball. During practice, no matter what drill we’re doing, Jack just runs around like a wild man, kicking balls as hard as he can. He kicks them into the parking lot, he kicks them into other kids, he kicks them at the coaches. After the first practice, Jack’s mom came up to me and said, “I guess you can see that Jack is pretty competitive.”

“No,” I wanted to say. “Michael Jordan was pretty competitive. Your kid is a spaz.”

That said, however, I’d rather have the misguided exuberance of a Jack than the talented nonchalance of a Peter any day. So I created a brand new position for Jack. “Jack,” I said to him. “I like the way you kick. How would you like to be The Killer Striker?”

“Yeah!” he said.

So after that first game, I positioned Jack by our goal, with instructions to kick the living shit out of any ball that gets within 20 feet of him.

Managerial Lesson Learned: Don’t try to change people. If you can’t fire them, find a job that suits their talents.

Nichole: Nichole is the girl I mentioned earlier, the smallest kid on the field, no matter who we played. Well guess what? She’s a tiger. She’s a little bitch. She’s mean and gutsy and terrific. She’s my best defender.

Managerial Lesson Learned: Don’t judge a book by its cover. True talent is often hidden.

So, managers, if you want to learn how to manage your team more effectively, put down the Covey book and go coach a bunch of kids. You’ll learn a lot.

3 Responses to “In order to have good management skills, you need to kick some balls”

  1. Kristen

    I love everything you write, but not being a parent or, thank whatever-merciful-deity-cares-to-be-worshipped-by-me a manager of people, I got nuthin’ to offer on this post.

    I’m putting in another request for the “Cindy-fixes-a-noisy-balcony-door-with-a-paper-clip-and-spit-in-the-middle-of-the-night-after-elbowing-Steve-out-of-the-way” post. Let me know when that one makes the blog. I got LOTS to say on it! 😉

  2. Kristen

    Or, if you prefer the “politically correct” title: Gender roles in the Crescenzo household are incredibly healthy and progressive.”

    I still like mine better, but you do what you like.

  3. Dan Huang

    This is brilliant Steve…I have coached soccer for more than 8 years and it’s a good analogy. Dylan and Nicole analogy is so bang on. I think the sequel to Will Ferrell’s soccer movie Kicking and Screaming should be based on your story…with you as Will Ferrell with Mr. Penis being your character’s name. LOL

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