In the spring of 2006, I was “voluntold” to be the coach of my youngest son’s soccer team. Minor soccer in Calgary is organized in tiers, based on player ability. My son’s team was at the lowest tier – Division 4b.
Although I played soccer as a kid, and one season in university, I’d never coached a sports team in my life, much less kids. My consulting practice was ramping up, and the last thing I wanted or needed was to be saddled with coaching a not-very-talented team of beginners.
The time came for our first practice, and I had no idea what I’d do. I showed up at the field, and as the kids arrived, they grabbed balls and ran around and I watched them, trying to get an idea of their skill level. It was, to put it mildly, abysmal. It was obvious that most of them had never played; they had difficulty with basic passing, dribbling, trapping. What had I gotten myself into?
I remembered some drills from when I played, and needed to quickly figure out how to teach these kids what they needed to do and keep the practice moving. How?
A few weeks prior, I’d been exposed to a remarkable learning system from WWII called Training Within Industry – TWI. One component of the system, called Job Instruction (JI) was supposed to be able to teach skills rapidly to brand new workers. It had been used to create the “Rosie the Riveter” phenomenon of training a completely new non-traditional workforce for the war effort. I grabbed a portable whiteboard and a pen, and quickly wrote out plans to teach a few progressively more complicated drills based on the JI methods, then called the kids together to get started.
JI uses a 4 step method for instruction:
- Prepare the individual
- Present the operation
- Try out performance
Based on what I’d seen while the kids were running around before the practice, I didn’t hold much hope, but I got them started. All I can say is “Wow!”. They caught on, faster than I would have thought possible, and we got through some very complex drills in that first practice.
You have to remember, these kids had been labeled as the least talented in the club, and most of them had never really played the game before. That first practice, and the JI method, laid the foundation for our season – they learned how to play the game, they dominated their opponents, they were undefeated and they came within an overtime goal (and a lucky one at that) of winning the city championship. Of the 16 kids, 9 were recruited at the end of our season to play for higher division teams, usually in higher age groups too. And all of them moved up to the higher divisions their next season. They started out as a bunch of bumbling kids, and they finished as a team of athletes with focus, skill and determination.
Damn, I was proud of them. And I learned something: the TWI methods have powerful applications far from industry. They just work. Period.