C’mon Royce!


I think one of the challenges in being a leader (in many capacities: work, home, volunteerism, friends) is to know how hard, and when, to push. It’s a skill that’s developed over time, and through some trial and error. I’ve had plenty of both. 

Yesterday was Royce’s last soccer game of the season. She’s naturally gifted in soccer. I’m not saying she talented enough to be an Olympic athlete (Erica, hold our summer plans for 2020) and while she’s really good, what she really has is some exceptional potential. So it got me thinking about the role of leadership and coach because yesterday’s game served as a microcosm of learning for me.

So last night it was a frustrating game to watch as a parent. Mostly, because she was playing poorly. And it wasn’t that she was having an off night, she just wasn’t playing hard. And that’s what bothered me.

So the dialogue in my head, and ultimately with Royce, went pretty much like this:

First quarter. Okay, Royce, she’s a sweet kid but she’s not playing well tonight. Yes, she just wants to to have fun–that’s cool, right? Last game. Just try to stay quiet and leave her alone. She’ll get in her groove. If she does anything good, just cheer her on (not much cheering). Alright, even if she doesn’t do anything good, cheer her on (cheering commenced). Be patient, Dad. Chill out. Shut up. 

Breaktime: “Hey Royce, love you sweetie. Good job, atta girl, keep it up. Hustle. I’m watching!” 

Second quarter. No improvement. In fact she’s getting sloppier. And it’s not that she’s a bad player, or having an off night. In fact, she’s really talented. She’s just NOT hustling. She’s NOT focused. She’s not in the game, just running around aimlessly…Okay, Dad, maybe slow down a minute here. We ARE talking about seven year olds! But still, I countered myself, she needs to learn discipline, and hustle–to give it her all, that it’s not okay during game time to play like a wimp or halfway. Okay, I figured, now it’s time for a pep talk when she comes on the sidelines. I’m going to address it. Let’s keep it positive, let’s try to spin it nicely and encourage her, you know, we don’t want to quell the fire and enthusiasm. Don’t want to hurt her feelings and all, I mean, let’s be politically correct–what if you told your kid the truth and the protective services showed up and carted you off? Let’s keep it poz…

Breaktime: “Royce, you’re doing really well (that was not true and I shouldn’t have said it) but let’s try to up the volume a bit, okay? Just give it your all. Follow the ball. Hustle. 100%” 

Third quarter. Nothing. Zero. She’s still dancing around the field, goofing a bit, wandering around, kicking the ball but not following it, playing really timid. And I am now beyond frustrated. But then I think, okay Dad, you’re a big time type A/high achiever type. Maybe you just need to run a few laps and work some energy off you? But, no, there’s something to this…She’s GOT to learn through practice the magic of success, which is founded in hard work and tenacity. If she doesn’t learn now through these examples, just WHEN will she learn? This can be fun, I’m all for fun, but how good is she really going to feel at the end of the game if she “funnily” danced about the field but didn’t play her heart out? How about in other areas of life when she doesn’t apply herself? This is when the behaviors are set. It’s my obligation to say something. 

Breaktime: “Royce, I need you to look me in the eye and answer a question to me…Are you giving it your all out on that soccer field? Are you REALLY giving 100%? No? Okay, I didn’t think so. Royce, it doesn’t look that way to me either. Remember when we talk about wanting to be great at something? Here’s what great looks like: it looks like hustle, 100%, sprinting after the ball, following the ball after you kick it, being focused and not goofing around. I love you, but right now I need to be a straight talker with you–you’re not playing well–but it’s all in your head. You can do it, but it’s your decision, and you’ve got to want it. Do you want it? Really, do you want it? Okay, look at me and tell me you’re going to do this, I don’t care about scoring goals, I just want to see you leave it ALL out on the field. You should finish exhausted. Do your best. Just do your best. C’mon Royce!” 

Fourth quarter: Magic happened. It was like a new day, and totally new game, and a new Royce. I’ve never seen her exert that level of effort, I could see her focus in her eyes and she was all over the field. Aggressive, a great passer. Sprinted endlessly from one side of the field to the other. Tenacious. The level of pride that I felt was indescribable, but not for me–instead, it was for her (okay, a little bit of fatherly pride as well).

After the game ended, we did the tunnel and the kids ran through. The coach pulled her aside and told her “great fourth quarter finish, Royce!”. And I looked at her, and asked, “how do you feel?” with a smile on my face? And she answered back, while unsuccessfully fighting tears, “I feel so proud, I did it–I finished strong. I feel so good about myself.” 

This is, at the core, one of the challenges and gifts of leadership.

In this instance, it took me three times to get it right–but fortunately there were four quarters to the game. I tried to not say anything. Sometimes that might be the right thing to do. Certainly, it’s the easier one.

Then I tried to espouse the suggestions within the context of some bunk–like I tried to find something positive to say and then wrapped the feedback within this little morsel of meaningless praise, and in doing this what I really did was a disservice by complimenting something that wasn’t good, and I diluted the candid feedback that could make her great (side note: I think it’s always important to try to find a few things someone does or did right, but you can’t make something up either). 

Finally, I relegated to the best approach of all. Be a straight talker. This is the approach I usually go for, but with my kids I felt relegated to this stepwise pattern for whatever reason. Compassion? Wanting to be nice and encouraging? Not sure. 

It’s hard to know when to use each approach, there are times when you just need to shut up and let it roll. And others when you just need to cheer and encourage, or perhaps try to find a few things people are doing well along with one thing they need to work on. But, finally, there are also those times when you just need to be a straight talker, and say “Hey, you’re not doing your best. Let’s see it.” So, it surprised me, be last night was one of those nights for a seven year old. Yet, it was really profound for me–because it was such a simple situation and I saw the results play out in such an interesting way. 

Great job Royce!


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