Saturday, November 7, 2015

Great Expectations

I was writing an email to my soccer team on the Friday before Halloween and I was having fun with the words because in reality I was very frustrated. I didn't want the email to be filled with a negative energy and so I attempted to be funny and hoped that my teammates would enjoy it. That did nothing of course to resolve the source of my frustration: how to motivate a group of adults to improve their participation and involvement within the team. Adults have many conflicting priorities that can and will take ascendency over attending a scheduled practice. Finding/paying for childcare, attending classes and professional development events, work shifts and self-care particularly as age slows down recovery times. The difficulty, as it was pointed out to me, is managing expectations.

My expectation when joining the soccer team was that the time commitment was two days a week: one game on a weekend and practices on Mondays. During my time with an adult team we have never had the full roster show up for games or for practices. Indeed, we would not really want a full roster to turn up for a game since we’d have a lot of time managing substitutions with a full team on the bench and on the field. The need for that large a roster of course is due to the schedules of adults who are recreational athletes. Particularly when the season runs from September through all the rain Vancouver can throw at us till March. The conditions however, should come as no surprise to anyone who does anything outside in the fall/winter months of the Pacific Northwest.

So we come to expectations. We have accepted players on the team who are unable to attend practices due to other commitments because we need the numbers for games as the weather and time wears down our attendance numbers. This is a compromise that we have decided to make as a team in order to play games. So an expectation is established that for some members of the team, practice is optional. There are also players who must work or attend classes or have no childcare, obviously they are unable to come to practice so it is once again optional. At this point, how much of the team has been told practice is optional? Perhaps a third.

Then we come to new players who are available – keen to get back into the game and perhaps also use the sport as a portion of their personal fitness regime. These players come out to practice and make it fit into their schedules for perhaps a few weeks. And then the consistently low numbers reduce that enthusiasm and they begin to look for other means to maintain their fitness. Or perhaps they begin to make plans on the date of practice assuming that it will be cancelled. Now another third of the team believes that practice is optional.

Even so, with our roster of twenty-four this should leave us with the meagre eight we have set as our minimum to hold a practice. Yet that does not account for an incidental illnesses, last minute work projects or injuries from the prior weekend’s games. In the end we have three or four individuals who make the time to participate in practice.

If we were to use negative consequences for poor attendance, such as the common linking of game time to attendance at practices, we’d run the risk of being unable to field a full team. Also, these consequences could not be applied universally as it would be unfair to punish those whose work/school/childcare schedules cannot be changed. Our team is not a competitive team – we are in one of lowest tiers of the league. Some may expect that a recreational team will not always or may never hold practices but there are other leagues which are strictly recreational with only games. 

The first positive reinforcement that I thought of was something straight from third grade – an ice cream social. Which probably isn't very motivating for adults so then I thought perhaps a few drinks covered by the team budget for those who regularly attended a set percentage of practices and games. However not everyone likes to drink and I wouldn't want to put pressure on folks for whom this in not a good fit. 

In reality, such a “prize” isn't the motivator that I am looking for. We need to address team expectations and also what the players ultimately want to get out of being a part of the team. It makes me think of what my friend Jean, a certified life coach, is always asking – where do you find your joy? I think there has to be a meaningful conversation had with everyone on the team about what they want to get out of our team. And a part of that conversation has to be a reflection on whether we are a team that practices or a team that doesn't. If it is the latter then we don’t need to throw away a quarter of the fall budget on a resource we don’t use. The practice pitch we have, while gravel, is still not free and becomes more expensive the less we use it.

Of course, I'm doubtful that we could gather the team together for such a conversation so I think that the best bet will be an anonymous survey. It would allow people to speak their minds freely without concern that there will be negative repercussions towards anything reported. There needs to be a metacognitive approach to the questions so that people take them seriously and hopefully it will promote more honest and thoughtful responses.

Why do you play soccer?
How do you perform differently when taking part of a team sport or a solo sport?
What qualities does a good team exhibit?
What do you like best about playing with our team?
What do you like least about playing with our team?
If there was one thing you could change about the team, what would it be?
What is a reasonable expectation for player attendance at games? At practices?
What would motivate you to attend more practices?
What do you want to achieve at practices?

I think I’ll try answering these questions later and see if in so doing, I can refine them or find other questions that might be more appropriate.

WC: 1,066
NaNoWriMo WC: 2,214

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