The pregame talk to my U12 soccer team started with “ok guys, we are playing short handed and we are not supposed to win this game”….
Not a very awe inspiring introduction but as I kept talking I looked at each of the players right in the eye and gave each of them a specific goal for this game. I told them that in the face of great adversity there are great rewards. If we lose, we are supposed to. But if we work hard, support each other through our mistakes, and execute what we have been learning in practice we will have our best chance for success. I was hoping they believed me, because I was not sure I believed myself.
I was hoping to merely survive the game and keep the score respectable. We had lost to the same team 4 weeks earlier when we also played short handed. My squad had 8 players due to baseball conflicts and the other team played with 9 and had a few on the bench. Mathematically the team with more players should win most of the time. They have more space to execute as well as substitutes to relieve tired players. I had none.
As our game progressed, I sensed something pretty magical happening. The selfish players were passing. The timid players were going in hard on tackles. The negative kids were encouraging their teammates.
My team played a perfect game and won 3-0 in a game they were almost guaranteed to lose.
As a leader and a coach I thought about my pregame talk long after the game had passed. Was I able to relieve some apprehension about being shorthanded by encouraging the players to focus more on the things we were in control of over the fact we were shorthanded? Did I do the wrong thing in showing less than 100% confidence in them? Did the talk even matter at all?
At the end of the game I realized that coaching sports, managing teams, or parenting children are all pretty similar. You try to teach to the best of your ability, do everything in your power to make sure the learning takes place, and then encourage proper execution. When the kids took my message to heart and played the way I intended, they overcame great adversity and were rewarded with a great win.