Thursday, January 25, 2007

If the shoe fits ...

Recently events in my professional life have led me to seek new employment, and I need to be able to explain to my employer, as I exit, WHY . I could just say "better pay, more challenging work, good opportunities", but that doesn't capture the emotion . I realized as I pondered this that the issue at hand is reflected in other aspects of my life, and in the lives of others around me. Especially in rugby related aspects ..

Here's what it comes down to. No matter how old we are biologically, we all still resemble children in that we're constantly growing and changing as a result of our experiences. Let's imagine that that growth could be measured by the size of our feet.

When you start a new job, you and your employer look for a fit. Like a good pair of shoes, the job needs to be right for you and you for the job. The skills required shouldn't be less that what you are capable of, in fact they should probably be a little more. Basically the shoes should fit, and they should leave room for you to grow. In exchange for nicely fitted shoes, you make an agreement with the employer to do all your walking and running for their company.

There's a breaking in period, and before long those shoes fit like a glove! Things are perfect. But, as you grow they start to get snug. That's about the time you start itching for a promotion. For bigger shoes. If you don't grow, and lets face it, plenty of people don't - you could wear those same shoes for a pretty long time. But if you do grow, eventually the shoes are going to get really tight.

Ever walk long distances in a pair of shoes that were too small? Or run? It hurts like hell. The smaller they are, the more it hurts! Walk enough, and those shoes dig and rub and cut you. Owwww! Sure, you can walk across the street or around the block, but after awhile your feet just can't take the punishment. When this happens, you need a new pair of shoes, and you are even more insistent that those shoes have room for you to grow.

On the flip side - you might get a pair of shoes that's too big? Ever try to walk or run in shoes that are too big for you? You can get hurt! Trip on your feet! Fall Down! Disaster! Sure, maybe you'll grow into them, but if you keep getting hurt trying to run in those big shoes, eventually someone is going to take them away from you - for your own good as well as the company's.

Sometimes you'll change shoes. One day you might be in hiking boots, tennis shoes, the next, flats, or maybe heels. We all have more than one pair of shoes in our closets. The one thing they have in common is that they all FIT.

Bottom line, if your employer isn't keeping you in the right shoes, eventually you'll stop running for them.

Now in my situation I'm certainly not saying that "the man is keeping me down". It's not that at all. The reality is that all the big shoes are filled, and there's no likelihood of them being vacated any time soon. To further complicate things, there are others at my level in the same situation as me. The store, shall we say, is flat out of my size, the waiting list is long, my feet hurt, so I chose to shop somewhere else.

Same goes for our relationships, as coaches, with players. We can't ask a player who's never been exposed to weight training to suddenly step in at lock for the A side at a National Championship game, and you can't just throw the brand new rookie into the spot vacated by an Eagle and expect brilliance. I think for the most part we all do a pretty good job managing this side of it.

But how about the opposite? How many of you (be honest, seriously) have internally laughed when a player came to you asking to try place kicking, wanting to run quick-tap penalties, asking for a bigger leadership role, or wanting to play a new position? If you listen carefully, what they are really telling you is "coach, my shoes don't quite fit".

The PCA (positive coaching alliance) refers to this particular issue as "the Just Right Challenge". In order to keep players growing, we need to always challenge them to the next rung. It should be close enough to reach with a stretch or a jump, but far enough away that real work is required to get there. For most players the incentive to reach that rung is playing time on a higher level squad. B to A, A to Select Side, Select Side to USA. Challenging the player is only one part - we need to be willing to reward ...

So what do you do, as a coach, when you just don't have enough empty shoes? Imagine that you inherited a brilliant U-23 player, but you already have a brilliant senior player in that position? How much risk with selections can a coach take in order to make the reward for the challenge tantalizing enough? How to you manage the sizes of all these shoes? One thing I've learned for sure .. that brilliant U-23 player playing behind a brilliant senior player will find a new team if you (we) don't manage the situation right. And that new team will probably have some big shoes waiting for her.

This whole shoe things applies to coaches too. The team, metaphorically, becomes your shoes. If you go out there with your big feet, thinking your going to change the world and win nationals, and have a 3 year plan, bla bla bla, and your team is the local D3 drinking team that just needs a coach on the book for compliance purposes, you're big giant feet are gonna hurt bad. Vice versa, if you've been coaching for only a year and have limited knowledge or experience with the game, and you manage to sell yourself to the local super league team, things will get ugly fast when that team's giant shoes trip up you and your tiny feet.

That's it - sometimes its not about a good coach or a bad coach, good job or bad job. Its just about the fit.

Sidebar: Did you know that kids who grow up in countries that don't wear shoes have the healthiest feet of all?

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post from both the career and rugby perspective. Thanks for some insight...