Let me set the scene, for those who don’t yet know me. As a sports coach, I run a pretty tight ship. Discipline, and commitment are very high on the list of values which I hold important. Of course, they are not the only values, however because we are still at the stage of building a winning culture, they are key.
As you can imagine, the quickest way to build discipline amongst a team of 50 young players, was to be a relatively stern coach, and I use the word “relatively” loosely.
With this in mind, you can imagine it would be quite difficult for an individual player to challenge anything I say, especially in front of the entire team. So to ensure that this does not become a negative dictatorship, not only did I nominate 4 captains, but also emphasised at every possible opportunity, that these captains are the voice of the team.
This empowerment of the captains is not a one time thing. It is not enough to just nominate them, and expect all issues to reach you through them. This I learned the hard way, in my previous life. On the one hand you have to build trust with the captains, so that they know to come to you with issues, but on the other you have to find ways for the team to understand that the captains are their voice.
This I have been working on from the start, and it came through in the most unexpected moment, in a way I would have never imagined.
The penultimate game of the season was an away trip to play the national champions, a very difficult game which needed everyone’s full effort. Unfortunately, one of our players did not turn up for the bus to make the trip. No prior information, no explanation, just didn’t turn up. Turns out, that he got his dates mixed up, and thinking we were playing on Sunday instead of Saturday, signed up to work the nightshift. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late to back out of work, as he could not find a replacement.
In my view, this is the ultimate crime in a team sport, not showing up for a game. Set aside the headache which it causes coaches, as your game plan suddenly has to be altered, but more importantly you’re letting down your teammates.
So now I had a decision to make as to how to react. Another important factor to consider, is the fact that this player is in his final year with the team, because next year he will be too old to play; so a “long term” punishment was not available.
To cut a long story short, I only saw one solution to this situation, remove this player from the squad. After a discussion with the rest of the coaching staff, we all conquered that we had no option but to cut this player from the team.
At the start of the next practice, I called a team huddle, and announced the decision to cut this player from the team. I explained that not turning up to a game (especially with no prior information) was the ultimate anti team behaviour, and as such, there was no place in our team for this individual. As you can imagine, I left the team in absolutely no doubt how serious I believed this offence to be.
At the end of my announcement, as usual I asked if there were any questions. To my absolute shock, one of the captains stood up and asked if there was a way for this player to remain, and instead be somehow punished. I was not prepared for such a question, so I answered honestly, that I did not see a way for him to remain. I explained that it was a case of trust, which he violated. He firmly answered that he trusts this will never happen again, and wants to vouch for this player personally. I turned to the team, and asked if anyone else felt the same way, and immediately all hands went up. To my shock, this was not one of those cases where hands slowly started going up, and others felt pressure to join, this was an instant reaction from the entire team, ignited by the voice of their captain.
As a team, we decided that he was going to be suspended from the final game of the season, but would be allowed to return in the playoffs, if we made it through.
Even though my initial reaction was one of disappointment, because the team did not share my view, I very soon realized the incredible power of what had happened. The TEAM supported one of their own, in a moment when he needed that support the most. The TEAM stood up, at a moment when it would have been easy to just hide. The TEAM showed that in difficult moments they stand together.
Irrespective of the place, a team is a team. All these principles are the same in the workplace. As a leader you want to create an environment which allows your team to speak up, at both good and bad times. If you have great direct relations with your team, excellent, if you need help use captains, team leads, supervisors or however you call them, but use them and empower them.
Moments of adversity, are the ones that truly bond teams together. This particular incident, was a turning point for the Kings team, and we drew strength from it in the coming times. Use the tough times to make your team stronger, when a client is not happy, when deadlines are pressing or project status is burning red, these moments can bring you together, but only is you laid the groundwork from the beginning.
Kraków Kings u18
A manager with 15 years of experience gained in England, the USA and Poland. He has managed such firms as SKK S.A., EPAM System, IBM and SolarWinds. An American football player. He is oriented towards the achievement of goals through teamwork. Captain of the University of Hertfordshire Hurricanes team with which he twice won the championship of England. Captain of the Great Britain youth champions. He combines the positions of chairman and trainer of the Krakow Kings team, with which he has won the Polish league of American football.