For the first time in a couple of years, I have been coaching a junior football team. It is a grassroots under-16s squad and we have a wide range of abilities. I’ve been enjoying the process and have been running two 90-minute sessions for the boys each week.

As I’ve reflected on the approach I’ve taken, I’ve become aware of the parallels with leading organizational change. In fact, I think that there are at least these five lessons that you can take from my football coaching expereince into change projects:

  1. Set crystal clear objectives. I have established an overall philosophy for the team and create a clear focus for each training session. The boys didn’t necessarily understand what was required at first, but, four weeks on, they are starting to repeat back to me our key goals and objectives.
  2. Provide plenty of opportunities to practice new behaviours. Whether the session is on playing out from the back, finishing skills or defending, I try to provide many opportunities for all the lads to develop and practice these new skills. Only through repetition and practice will they be able to show their skills in the pressure of a game.
  3. Reward behaviours, not just results. During our practice we play small-sided games. In each game I will change the scoring system to focus the players’ minds on the skill we’re trying to develop. For instance, on a session focused on passing and possession, I give the teams a point for every five consecutive passes and three points if they score a goal from a five-pass move.
  4. Combine team and individual challenges. Most of the session is focused on how the team overall is doing, but I balance that with specific challenges and goals for individuals. That way, we’re developing each player as well as the team.
  5. Review progress regularly. I review each session in detail, based on feedback from the boys and my own observations, building lessons learned into future sessions. I also build accountability by updating another coach who challenges me to try new things and manage performance.

To be honest, I get frustrated with football training sessions where the players just have a game, or where they spend half the session waiting patiently in line to carry out a drill. I think it’s essential that the players should be challenged and developed and that the session should maximise their involvement.

I get equally frustrated with change programmes that are reduced to introducing new IT systems supported by some one-off training sessions. Developing high-performing organisations and building new skills and behaviours requires a more holistic approach. Which of these five lessons could help you improve the delivery of organizational change across your business?

Off The Record: Give Him a Ball (And a Yard of Grass) by Sultans of Ping FC

Give him a ball and a yard of grass

He’ll give you a move with a perfect pass

Give him a ball and a yard of space

He’ll give you a move with godly grace

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