When you Systematize, You Sterilize

“To systematize is to sterilize.”
– Shlomo Maital

Lionel Messi plays soccer with the joy of a child. His inventiveness and wizardry can leave you (his opponents too) gaping in awe. In an interview for the New York Times with Jere Longman, Messi stated that he would quit the game as soon as it stopped being fun.

I have three kids and I’m convinced that they will far exceed me in their capability in pretty much anything that they’re working on currently. The capacity and abilities of my daughter, for example, in ballet and building fairy houses is well…already beyond anything I’m capable of, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. My boys, currently nine and eleven, are into skiing and soccer at the moment, and because of the understood 10,000 hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, I’m quite certain that they will far surpass me as well.

Last night I coached an indoor soccer game with my son Will’s team, and although individually each player is quite talented, we were playing a team that was a little bigger and little older than us. And while it was a close match at halftime, in the second half the opposite team outscored us probably 5-1. Later that evening I attended a party and I was chatting with Artie, one of the fathers of a player on our team who had grown up playing a game called futsal. Futsal is a game in which you play with a small ball on a small court, and the ball doesn’t bounce so well. The game rewards creative, inventive play, and since it’s played on small court, like indoor soccer, most goals come from either breakaways or crisp passing to find opportunities. The game does not reward a single individual attempting end to end efforts.

Artie was suggesting that we should play the game more like basketball in which once we lose the ball our team should retreat immediately back to a defensive position and wait for the opposing team to attack. Once we regain possession of the ball we should try for breakaways down the wings – down the sides and out of traffic on this small field. He pointed out that almost all of the goals scored in the game came from breakaways, we should employ the same tactic.

I’ve only been coaching soccer and lacrosse for a few years now – mostly to my young boys – but Artie has clued me into a couple things that Daniel Coyle has known from studying the worlds best coaches and players around the world, in disciplines ranging from skiing, to soccer to violin playing. The best coaches he finds, talk less yet say more, and let the kids define the play to accelerate the learning.

If you’re a parent watching sports, you have observed it is quite common to see coaches and parents from the sidelines yelling directions or ideas. But as the kids will remind me, and I’ve already observed, they really don’t hear very much as people yell from the sidelines. They hear you in the small moments when you speak to them personally and directly. The second key idea is to set up structured drills, but then allow the exercise to evolve as the kids choose the way the drill is created in real time.

The first idea is intuitive. It makes sense that if you pull a child aside and speak to them personally and customize each tip and bit of advice to them individually and let them understand you know them, your small bit of advice will resonate more strongly.

And the second idea – the one in which you allow the kids, the players, let the drill emerge as they see it happening, allows them find play and individual expression and joy in creating each moment, because the play comes from their own personal expression of skill and ability.

These ideas are aptly applied to our work. Daniel Coyle has spent the last few years studying just such coaches and players on a world class level and found numerous examples of how the best players and coaches mine and build brilliance from seemly “average” players, workers, contributors in almost any discipline. Join us December 7 for a live, interactive event in which Dan Coyle discusses these findings and provides clear, actionable tips on how to crack the talent code.