Songwriter Neil Young, NFL coach Jim Harbaugh, and management guru Tom Peters all tell us that we are either getting better or we are getting worse - there is no standing still. That is one odd trio, so it must be a proverb that travels well.
One of the essential challenges in the soccer development industry is to get better at what we do. Because soccer coaching and teaching systems and processes have been around for such a long time, there is a conventional wisdom that says they cannot be improved.
We believe we can do better than that.
Actually, we must do better than that. International coaches must get better because our American customers have become more knowledgeable and more demanding about soccer products and services. They need us to get better because they want to get better.
And players, their parents, volunteer coaches and soccer associations deserve better, because they are paying hard-earned money for training in a tough economy.
So how do we get better? Where does it start? Who is responsible?
The truth is that there is no Department of Continuous Improvement. But there are sound steps to take. Here are five that work for us:
1. Expect and empower everyone to be responsible for getting better, from coaching staff to regional managers to C.O.O. to ownership. Our coaches have the freedom to work within a curriculum framework that allows and encourages them to implement change on the field. And our ownership is enthusiastic about change, always trying new ways to connect with our customers. So improvement happens bottom-up and top-down.
2. Our good friend Greg Gardner, a salescoach at IBM, thinks our belief and enthusiasm in our work creates an "unfair advantage" for us as we compete in the soccer marketplace. We cultivate that belief and enthusiasm in an environment where change is desirable, and where it is expected that people will challenge each other - not in a personally offensive way - but in a way that promotes team-wide improvement.
3. This happens each Friday in our sales conference call, where each regional manager tells our team why they are winning, and why they are losing. That gives rise to a healthy discussion about what is and isn't working in other regions. It's a sharing of best practices that promotes accountability and teamwork.
4. Our regional managers travel to our Pittsburgh headquarters for an annual Summer Summit. The summit theme? Getting Better, of course. Three days of intense conversation, visioning and planning, covering everything from gross margins to social media. There will be no back-patting about the status quo.
5. So getting better isn’t boxed up as an off-season project, and it isn't just a workshop theme. It's an everyday commitment to ask ourselves and our team how we can improve the player experience, what can we do to improve our coaches, and how we can give our great customers more than their money's worth.
Chris Andrew runs our Chicago Fire Camps & Training affiliate; reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. H.B. Mertz is President of YESsoccer; reach him at email@example.com
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