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Lessons Learned from Coaching Kindergarten Basketball

Written by Tanner Wycoff, Vice President – Commercial Real Estate Banking

This past fall, I was fortunate enough to coach kindergarten basketball through my son’s school, Pembroke Hill in Kansas City. My 6-year-old son loves all sports, but basketball is probably his favorite, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for a little father-son bonding. Twenty-four kids signed up and three other dads volunteered to “coach.”

Herding cats probably more accurately describes our Saturday mornings than coaching, but a few things became clear as we started practicing. On a basic, human level, we’re all driven by different motivations, and an effective leader accurately assesses them, and helps us perform under the circumstances. 

Willing and Able

Perhaps in a desperate attempt to manage the Saturday morning practice chaos, I started to remember key points from a “Situational Leadership” management training class. It turns out that some of the same principles apply whether you’re dealing with a colleague at work or a six-year-old playing basketball. (No offense to coworkers, past or present.)

As a leader, it’s critical to assess the situation and determine if someone is willing and able. Ideally, in the workforce everyone is willing and able, but many junior staff members and sometimes new hires are incredibly willing, but not quite able. As a new employee at First Business, I recently was in this situation myself. Perhaps I was a little less able than I am now, but I’m proud to say my willingness remains steadfast. With this combination of (quite) willing and (less) able, you’ll have more success tapping in to that unbridled energy and eagerness to learn by implementing mentorship programs, identifying educational opportunities, and providing close guidance.

As you can imagine, your established colleagues who score high on ability but, for one reason or another, aren’t (quite) as willing, a different approach is required. Maybe they need a new focus, goal, client, or project to energize them again, or maybe working as a mentor can provide a spark they’re lacking.

The same is true for kindergartners. Not all of them were able. Many had never dribbled a basketball before. They might have been incredibly willing, but were physically unable to get the junior-sized basketball up to the 8-foot goal. And, of course, not all of them were willing. Indeed, some appeared to be there only because their parents wanted them to play a team sport. (Parents, of course, also hoped the rigorous activity would tire them out for a nap.) Some of the kids focused on their friends’ outfits, shoes, or hair, not quite excited yet about the sport.

Meanwhile, some of the more talented kids with willingness and ability practiced crossover dribbling. It was quite the array of willing and able, which created some unique challenges, and reminded me of the medley of talent and enthusiasm in any work environment. Each of us has natural and learned skills and abilities and we’re all on a continuum of willingness to apply them at work. Some of us are motivated to be like the crossover dribblers and even better, and others aren’t quite there yet. But those individuals shouldn’t be counted out. Today’s air-baller could be tomorrow’s crossover dribbler with the right support and encouragement.

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