Aside from a smattering of applause here and there, the parents were completely silent. And myself, as the coach, instead of standing on the sidelines and giving instruction periodically to players, I was sitting on the bench watching quietly, with a clipboard updating positions where the kids were playing on the field. And keeping track of time remaining in the game.
We were participating in a weekend of “Silent Sidelines.” Aside from light applause, parents and coaches are all asked to remain silent throughout the game. The point of the exercise is to give the game back to the kids because it is, after all, a game. Instead of listening to the often confusing shouts of parents and coaches who can succumb to “joysticking” players from the sidelines and providing specific kinds of shouts and directions – “Move left! Farther! Faster! Pass Pass! Get back on defense! Quick!” – the adults stay quiet while the kids work it out themselves.
During these games, the only thing you hear is the kids talking to each other on the field. And over the course of the game their banter got louder and more assertive. They gained confidence in supporting each other, and less distracted by the usual noise from the sidelines. Almost universally, everyone participating last weekend agreed it was a valuable exercise.
I embraced the notion of “giving the game back to the kids” to the extent of even allowing them to pick their own positions during substitutions. The only provision, of course, was that kids could not choose the same player to substitute for. It worked for the most part. I had to intervene a few times when kids all wanted to play the same position.
The exercise reminded me of David Kelley, CEO and founder of IDEO, the premiere design and innovation firm. As you can imagine David has often assembled and led team meetings populated with sharp, creative and opinionated people. I had an interview with Stanford professor and writer Bob Sutton who described David’s behavior at these meetings. When things are going poorly – when there is a lack of focus and agreement and direction – Kelley will spend a significant amount of time at the front of the room guiding discussion and reinforcing ideas from everyone. And when the discussions are going well, he will move to the back of the room, and only punctuate the discussion with occasional provocative questions.
And when meetings are going very well, if you aren’t paying attention, David might slip out the door. Because he understands not only that the best ideas come from the people in the organization but also that his presence can possibly stifle conversation, and get in the way. He calls this “Managing by walking out the door.”