How My Best Lessons in Leadership Came from 7th Grade Boys

For three years in college at Hamline, I had the opportunity to coach junior high basketball at St Paul Academy. I started coaching 7th grade boys, then coached the 7th and 8th grade team combined, and then coached the 9th grade team. This meant that I had a core of about 6 boys for all three years. Despite reading dozens of leadership books, attending numerous leadership trainings,  and being around some amazing leaders professionally, the lessons I return to most often in my leadership I learned from coaching those boys.

1. When they lost, they didn’t need to be told what they didn’t do well.

The losses hurt and they felt the sense of failure all on their own. What they needed from me at that time was to be reminded of all that they had done well. That helped them remain hopeful, not give up, and keep working hard to be successful.

Today when things don’t go well for members of my team I try (and often mess this up) to remind them all the things they did well. It doesn’t make the frustration or hurt go away but it can help them learn from the experience rather than just feel defeated.

2. When they won, they didn’t need to be praised.

The wins were amazing and uplifting. What they needed from me at that time was a reminder that in spite of their win, they could do even better. When they had won, they were very open to hearing how they could do even better.

Today when we have a great success, I try and see what we can learn about how we can take it to the next level. With a victory in our sails we’re often more open to constructive feedback and willing to let our walls and defensiveness down.

3. Winning doesn’t matter.

I told my team again and again that wins and losses don’t matter. What mattered was playing as well and as hard as we could. We lost many games to far superior opponents despite playing as well as we could. We also won many games where we played with little teamwork, poor execution, and a lack of effort against teams that we simply over-matched  I was always aiming for us to do as well as we could and letting the wins and losses take care of themselves. This might seem like a simplistic philosophy only suitable to 7th grade basketball…but it also worked for one of the best basketball coach in history – John Wooden.

Today I try and focus on what we can control and let go of what we can’t. We may not be able to completely control the outcome but how can we focus on the variables we can – hard work, planning, collaboration, being centered, thinking clearly, and more. Just because something didn’t work out the way we had hoped doesn’t mean we failed. Just because something does work out the way we hoped doesn’t mean that we didn’t mess up along the way.

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One Response

  1. Very nice, you’re welcome for all the important lessons learned 🙂
    In all seriousness, you were always excellent at staying on top of all of the lessons listed above…especially with your more high maintenance players, not that I fell into that category…again 🙂

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