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The Midweek Motivator – The Hard Road To Excellence

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. But I DO and I understand.” (Chinese proverb) 

A few years ago right out of grad school, my daughter accepted her first teaching assignment at Hyde Schools in New England. While there she befriended a coach who experienced the above proverb in practicum when he reluctantly accepted the challenge of coaching women’s soccer. 

He started the season in a bind, not knowing any of his female combatants, he told of meeting his team for the first time. None of them wanted to be there but since the school requires every student to participate in one varsity sport, there they were; twenty-some girls, none of whom was a gifted athlete nor had the faintest interest in playing soccer. Further the coach admitted he had never played soccer but had been a varsity lacrosse and basketball player, so he carried a modicum of pride and hope for their first practice. 

Jewelry glistened in the late summer sun along with punk hair, torn T-shirts and makeup. Some brought their purses to practice. It was a scene more out of a rock concert than a varsity practice. Even an apparition of Tom Hanks would not have embellished the scene’s irony! 

The coach remembered his simple message: “From the start we’re going to go through the motions that serious soccer players do: show up on time, dress like soccer players dress, and wear serious expressions when we compete, even in practice.” Coach instilled the “no tee-hee rule,” handed out uniformed scrimmage shirts and required wind sprints after practice. He added he didn’t feel much like a soccer coach since he was mostly embedding expectations. Hard drilling practice weeks meant weekends off; otherwise it was back to the field on Saturdays. 

Morale was low; the team didn’t score a goal until the fifth game. But out of doubt and agony, slowly progress came. Players concluded “as long as there’s no way out of this sport, playing is more fun than watching.” On parents’ weekend the team played harder and better than ever, yet at the end of the season the coach admitted, “I didn’t have a lot to say at our sports banquet.” 

But then in their second season the girls reported early for practice and came together like a Disney movie. Veteran players enforced standards for new arrivals and the coach was able to introduce advanced soccer strategies. The women decided it was “cool” to try harder, “un-cool” to exhibit old attitudes and behaviors. The team emerged from the season as champions of the Maine Independent School League. In only a year the women had evolved into a pursuit of excellence-a lifelong experience they could draw on forever. 

As a leader never underestimate the battalion strength of Motion, Effort, and Excellence. We create “motion” by showing someone they can do what’s expected. We have to show and stress “effort” by convincing them “desire” and “competency” go hand-in-hand.  

Only then is “excellence” achieved as a person finally gains their independence by uniformly chasing their personal best. And by moving through these phases in your building, your team makes its transition from “organization takers” to “organization givers.” And it’s at that point, they become truly successful.