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Management Lessons on the Track

How many of you coach school sports?

It’s my third season as a Girls on the Run coach. Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a national program designed to introduce elementary school girls to running, and at the same time help them navigate social pressures about how to look and act by developing healthy interests and self-confidence.

I love it and want everyone to be a part of it. So, as a well-intentioned and newbie coach, I let everybody on the waiting list into the program. 29 girls showed up to practice. You can’t teach a group that large about self-image or choosing your friends. You can’t even hear yourself think! As the other coach and I were pulling girls off the fence, yelling across the track and triaging a bloody nose, I looked at her, crossed my eyes and said, “You want to grab a beer and figure out a better way to do this?”

Now we could have limped through the season like this, doggedly pursuing the curriculum from the GOTR handbook. But that wouldn’t serve the girls well. They couldn’t participate in the lessons and we couldn’t teach them our passion for running. We were babysitting or barking orders instead of connecting with them. They’d go home and tell their parents the program sucked and not sign up again next season. Plus, every practice would be migraine-inducing and probably scare off our volunteer coaches.

Nope, we had admit that the prescribed program was broken and come up with a better approach, stat.

The head coach and I met for that beer. We organized our 29 girls into four groups. Then we set up four stations. Coach Michelle and I would lead the GOTR curriculum plus a runner’s workshop at two of the stations. The other two stations would be dedicated to actual running laps on the track. We’d rotate the groups thru the stations so we had no more than seven girls at a time.

We piloted it last week and it was a total game changer! Since we were working in smaller groups, it was easier to get to know each girl. They were more comfortable speaking up. I was able to ask each one why they signed up for GOTR and what they wanted to get out of the program. From this exercise I learned about their running backgrounds, whether they had support or role models at home, etc. I felt much more connected to each of the girls and they got much more from the practice.

If we hadn’t taken the wheel and invested the time to overhaul things, we would’ve lost the girls and the interest and support of their parents. All the wonderful life lessons that come from GOTR would have slipped through our fingers.

That’s what happens when we kick the can down the road instead of taking accountability. We become disenchanted and distanced from the situation. We let stuff happen TO us rather than driving outcomes. There’s always that fork in the road where you have a choice. Before the clients slip away, relations turn tenuous and jobs become unfulfilling, Take The Wheel.

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