This fall Kathy Kuchas coached my grandson Zach’s flag football team. Having a woman football coach is not a common experience for most thirteen-year-old boys.
Build leader independence
What makes Kathy unusual is not that she is a female football coach. It is how she coaches her team to be self-reliant. One of the interesting things about flag football (a game for 11–13 year olds) is that the coaches are present in the huddle. If you are on the sidelines watching a typical game, what you see are eight 13-year-olds huddled up listening to their coach, clipboard in hand, showing them the next play to run.
Not so with Zach’s team. What you see are eight 13-year-olds in the huddle deciding for themselves the next play to run. No coach in the huddle with these boys; Kathy is on the sidelines, shouting an occasional hint about what to do next or some well-placed comments to players who are out of position, but most of all she is shouting encouragement.
It takes more than individual skill to build a team
Kathy’s coaching philosophy is very different from the other coaches in the league. She teaches more than blocking, running, throwing, and catching the ball. She teaches self-reliance and teamwork. Her team is a skilled, confident group that knows how to play the game, communicate, and make decisions in real time. Their huddles consist of a brief discussion of what is going on in the game, the play the boys think will work, and deciding on the play to run: a rapid assessment/feedback/decision-making process that would be the envy of any business team.
One night when driving car pool, I asked the boys in the back seat what they liked about playing flag football. In one voice they said, it’s lots of fun because we are learning new things all the time.
Kathy’s teaching paid great dividends on the weekend she was unable to attend a game due to a family commitment. Another lesson about what is important for the boys. Her team played as they always had, calling their own plays and deciding what to do. They won the game even when their coach was not present. A result I don’t think would have been possible with the other coach-dependent teams in the league.
Teams that learn together thrive
Kathy validated Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson’s research (Teaming, Jossey Bass 2012) in which she states that teams that learn together outperform teams that don’t. In addition to being competent in the task, in this case playing football, Zach’s team exhibited what Edmondson calls “reciprocal interdependence,” the back and forth communication and coordination essential to getting the work done.
Without knowing the research, Kathy was able to create a winning team where the team learned more than just how to play football; they learned self-reliance and how to really work together as a team. These lifelong lessons will serve them well long after they are finished playing football.