Connecting with 8-year-olds when you’re not Justin Bieber

This is the third year I’m coaching girls’ soccer. I started when they were first graders and hadn’t quite grasped the concept of the game. While they definitely get it this year – and are playing on bigger fields with goalies, it’s a completely different dynamic. We’re finding it harder to get them to pay attention and listen to the coaches. They’re less respectful in many cases. More sassy.

Seems the secret is to keep them constantly moving so they don’t have time for chatter. To wear them out. I started coaching because I thought it would help me become a better manager and leader. I thought it would build patience since effectively communicating with kids is way different than adults.

Right now I’m struggling with the right way to engage with the team. On the one hand, you want them to want to be there. To want to practice and learn. I’m pretty sure they want to be there – but think most of the time they’d prefer to chit chat than focus on skill building. You don’t want to yell them into submission. But if you’re too soft and lenient, they’ll roll right over you. Yelling is rarely an effective means of communication with anyone anyway – not with kids nor your spouse and coworkers. In fact there’s a great book on this for the work place. You have to command respect. It’s a delicate balance. I had it figured out the last two years, but so far, haven’t found that middle ground. They’re simply not much interested in listening to us coaches.

I need to adapt my style – and am working to find out the right style. It’s a challenge and the reason I’m doing this. It’ll make me a better communicator if I can figure it out. How can I instill the right attitude on these 8 year olds? How can I make them want to listen? To pay attention to what we coaches are trying to teach them? Certainly they don’t care that the three of us are racing from work two evenings per week to coach practice. I never thought about that when 8. And how do you know if you’re making a difference?

Same goes with managing people. You have to adapt your style to each person. To find that entry point. The emotional connection. Hire great people and your job is much easier. You can spend your time leading vs. managing and accomplish so much more. Many don’t like to manage people. They hate the politics and HR aspects of it. Gets in their way. Sure, managing those that don’t care is no picnic, but again, it goes with the job.  You do have more leverage here than with kids and customers. Customers can easily go somewhere else.

Engaging with customers and prospects is similar to communicating with these 8 year olds. You cannot control them. They really don’t care what you have to say. They really don’t have time to listen. You have to adapt. You have to find a way to motivate them to part with their valuable time to care about what you have to say. By making their jobs easier. Talking louder will never work. Just adds noise. It’s hard work and requires understanding their customer personas – what makes them tick. What their problems are. Just as I need to do (or at least try) what with these 8 year olds aside from Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa. I need to be kid-centric and wow and delight while teaching Soccer skills just as companies need to be more focused on wowing customers than touting how great they are and operating solely from spreadsheets.

I thought it would get easier as they get older, but am seeing that it’s getting harder. 6 and 7 year olds are very different creatures than 8 year olds. If I can find that way with my other coaches to wow and delight these kids this season, I’ll let you know. My work is cut out for me. But if you have any secrets you want to share about motivating kids, I’m all ears.

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