4 Lessons on Team Dynamics Learned from My Kids’ Sports

The start of fall rings in the season of multiple sports for our family. While I was protecting myself from the elements during the rainy, windy soccer game and then again, during the brisk temperature of the ice hockey rink, my mind drifted to the lessons we can learn from kids sports (or any sports for that matter). These lessons are also very applicable to any team endeavors including the team dynamics of managing a project.

You can’t control anyone other than yourselves

Teams, sports or project, are comprised of multiple people with very different and dynamic personalities. Each person is added to the team for their unique perspective and talents. It’s important to remember, both as a project member and team contributor, that you can only control your actions. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, or is doing something to negatively impact the project, you can try to influence them. However, the change in attitude or action can only be driven by the person doing it.

One option you have is to step up and fill a gap or try to positively offset the negative behavior. It won’t always work. In other cases it may be enough for the offending person to change their ways.

Sometimes external elements will adversely impact your performance

Outdoor sports are at the whim of the elements. While sometimes it is extreme enough to cancel or postpone the sporting event, but more often than not, the teams just have to power through it. In a project, there are also external pressures and decisions that will adversely impact your performance.

As a project manager, you need to do the best you can to minimize the impact. This might equate to sheltering your team with an umbrella or blanket. It is important to openly communicate about these challenges. As a team member, you need to trust that your project leaders will do their best to shield you from those external influences. Sometimes these efforts are not enough, and then you need to make do with the information and circumstance you have on hand. Like team players should never stop a play until the whistle is blown, team contributors should not stop working towards the end goal until directive is giving to stop or change direction.

You shouldn’t ignore those players who just show up everyday

My youngest daughter plays hockey primarily to spend time with her dad. She’s been playing for 2-3 years on a club team. Admittedly, soccer is not her favorite sport. She knows that playing a second sport often helps improve the first one. That all said, she goes to most practices, sometimes begrudgingly, and participates in all games where she isn’t already playing soccer. This does not mean that every waking hour is consumed by soccer either. It’s unusual for Ana to do an external practice.

This weekend was the first time this season I saw Ana play in both her soccer game and her hockey game. This year is the first year where Ana is playing on a full soccer field, so I wasn’t sure how she’d do. There’s a lot of running involved AND there’s an awful lot of opportunity to get distracted. She did well. Ana stayed focus, she didn’t get too far ahead of herself, or too far behind. The real drastic improvement was in her ice hockey game. This was the first game where I saw Ana as a real hockey player. She had a few shots on goals, plus a few assists. One was a beautiful play, where Ana actually looked up, acknowledged another player then passed the puck. Ana also had several breakaways to the puck, where she beat out the other players.

Something can definitely be said for showing up every day. You are going to improve a little  each time you get out there. Then one day, you will have actually made such significant improvement that everyone begins to notice.

You have to differentiate to separate yourself from the crowd

This one is somewhat in jest of the numerous Ana-like names on Ana’s soccer team. There’s Annika, Anna, Ana and Christiana, who prefers to go by “Ana.” We can’t use last name initial either as Ana is also, “Ana E” (as is Christiana). As you can imagine, this leads to some confusion about positions and field feedback. It’s easy to assume that it’s another  player receiving the feedback. This is not unlike a project team with multiple software developers, analysts or designers. External stakeholders do not necessarily understand the nuances of what each person is doing.

While most examples will not be as blatant as the 4 similarly named girls in the example above, you should assume that everyone is not educated about what you bring to the table. You will need to educate them. Whatever your primary strength, you should be highlighting this throughout your customer interaction. If your expertise is search engine optimization, demonstrating the techniques you use and their impact to the customer experience would differentiate you among your peers.

I’m sure there are quite a few other lessons we can learn from our extra-curricular activities. These were the ones that came to mind this weekend, with our specific games and circumstances.


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