The NCAA recently banned two-a-day practices in football.
I have two comments.
“Good.” This is a smart move given the mounting data concerning cumulative head injuries.
“Dadgumit.” Where were all these smart people in the mid-1980’s?
I’ll tell you where they weren’t . . . on the practice field.
The practice fields of the 1980’s were not for the faint of heart. My boys marvel when I reminisce that there were no athletic trainers standing by in case of injury. If you got hurt, you limped out of the way so the team could run another play.
There was no Under Armour to wick away sweat. Sweating to the brink of heat stroke proved your manhood. If you threw up, you probably heard a coach say, “I like that kid.”
During two-a-days, it was not uncommon for me to lose 5-6 pounds in the morning practice, knowing that another session was coming that afternoon. The coaches’ solution? Take a couple of salt tablets and go to Pizza Hut for lunch.
(Today I have hypertension. Wonder why?)
There were no water bottles. Water was for the soccer team. (No offense, but soccer was considered a “European” sport back then. Hackles down, everyone, hackles down.) I do remember once that a bus driver left a hose out after washing his cheese wagon. A spindly sophomore found it but was quickly pushed out of the way. We all drank from the same hose without using hand sanitizer–appalling, I know.
It was in this no-nonsense, serious business environment that I made my first leadership mistake.
On our high school football team, if you were a starter, the coaches demanded that you set the bar for the rest of the younger guys to follow. You demonstrated respect, integrity, a good work ethic, and an aversion to drinking water while practicing. (Kidding on the last one . . . sort of.)
Normally, I was eager to uphold my end of the bargain. I loved the whole team concept–the leadership, the accountability to teammates. I still do. But there is a mischievous side of me as well . . .
So when the coaches called for the second team to get some repetitions one day, I gladly stepped aside to take a break from the heat. And then I got bored. I looked down and saw this everywhere on the practice field.
I know what some of you are asking. “Why not cut this down?”
Answer: Because coaches thought running through it was harder, and thus made you faster on game night; and those little black things that itched like crazy and ended up covering your arms, legs, back, and abdomen would stiffen your mental resolve, thus making you tougher.
I saw them as props.
Back in the day, our helmets had this perfect hole on the top that allowed us to insert air for protection.
It also provided me a great place to insert the bahia grass in the younger guys’ helmets as they waited for their name to be called to run a play.
After about the third one came to the huddle with the “antennae,” our coach stopped and looked at the unsuspecting victim. He reached up and pulled the grass from its perch, blew his whistle, and screamed one word, “Sprints!”
We ran. Kids threw up. Coaches could be heard saying, “I like that kid.” We ran more. Coaches liked more kids. And so it went.
Afterward, our coach wisely determined the prank actually originated with us seniors. We got a good lecture on leadership and the role it should serve on this team.
I was too young and stupid at the time to see it, but the coach saw talent in the juniors and sophomores behind us. We were pretty good, but the next two classes would be even better.
He wanted us to use our role to fit the situation.
Do you see how your role fits your situation?
Situational leadership defines how a leader should navigate around the willingness and ability of the people they lead.
There are four scenarios:
(1) A leader should direct when there is low willingness and low ability. This is basically telling people what to do and how to do it. Works well in crisis or during change management.
(2) A leader should delegate when there is high willingness and high ability. Delegation is used when leaders trust people to handle the process and the project without much oversight.
(3) A leader should coach when there is high willingness but low ability. Coaching is great in situations where people may be new on the job and the leader keeps their motivation high by teaching.
(4) A leader should support when there is low willingness but high ability. Use supporting when people are gifted, but don’t realize it yet, or when they may be unsure of themselves. In this situation, people are looking for a relationship to encourage, support, and watch their back.
Our coach hoped we would support the younger guys until their willingness matched their ability.
Instead, I gave them antennae.
I love to regale my boys with tales of my toughness and grit. Usually, just when I think I have them eating out of my hand, my dad unfolds his leather helmet and drops it on the coffee table.
“That ain’t nothing.”
And that is my second leadership mistake–making sure the old man ain’t around to undermine my greatness.
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