What I learned from coaching.

So my first high school soccer season as a coach has ended. Let me just say, I learned a lot. I learned a lot about soccer, teaching, people, and life in general.

The biggest point I emphasized for my team was that we would never get outworked. Our work rate would always be higher than the opponent. I made a big deal about having a good work ethic and putting forth effort. And for the most part, I think we did a good job of maintaining a solid work ethic. I would say that only in two games throughout the season did the other team outwork us. And believe me, I let my boys know how frustrated I was when it happened. But there were many times when they made me proud of their work rate. I remember several occasions when the opponent’s coach would even yell at his team, “They are out working us right now.” I would smile so big inside when that would happen. I guess my deal with work ethic is it’s something that no one can take from you, ever. No matter what happens in life and no matter how hard things get, no one can take away your work ethic. A strong work ethic is something that can be carried into everything you do in life – your school work, your job, your family, anything. And people with a good work ethic end up doing something special with their lives.

As the JV coach I found my scale for success changing as the season went on. I started out the season telling the boys that we would go undefeated. That goal ended in game 2. But as the season continued I started to think more about the future of the program and how success could be measured in more than just wins and losses for this team. I really started to focus more on player development and preparing them for the Varsity level (where wins and losses really do matter). Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to win every game and I would still lose sleep after losses. But when it came to practice and training, I prepared practice plans to equip the players for the next few years and not just the next game. There are some coaches at the high school level that play a certain style of play that ‘can’ win games (especially at the JV level), but that style doesn’t prepare the players for the next level. It is very tempting to fall into this style to win, but I resisted. I really hope it pays off in future seasons.

I also started to realize that there has to be a balance between preparing for the future and maintaining success in the current season. It’s true that if you sacrifice too many wins in the ‘now’ for wins in the ‘future’ you can hurt team morale and kill the kids’ spirit.

One other thing I learned from coaching this season is that you can gain a lot from a win, but you can gain even more from a loss. Losing gives you this feeling that can only be described as a sickness that doesn’t heal until you get to redeem yourself in the next game. At least it is that way to competitive people. The thing about sports is that one team has to lose…every time. So no matter what, one team is left feeling that way. And that feeling is what drives you to work harder and do everything possible to keep from feeling that way next time. The good news though is that in sports you always have that next time to redeem yourself. It’s not like you are ever really playing your last game. You always get another opportunity to come back and make it right next time. Whether it be next week, next season, next year, whatever…there is always another chance. Man, I love sports.

The negotiation process

Negotiation – to arrange for or bring about through conference, discussion, and compromise. 

At least that is how Webster defines the term. I prefer to describe the term as “the art of two people protecting their own interests while awkwardly attempting to not step on the other party’s toes.”

Negotiation can be fun, but it usually isn’t – especially, when it is with friends.  As a startup company, most of our contacts come through friends and relatives.  This can cause some discomfort when trying to agree on services and prices.  Our company prides itself on providing value-add to every customer.  And we always will.  Our goal is to treat every customer fairly and produce a solution that will leave them satisfied.  But when it comes to dealing with friends we find ourselves being extra sensitive during the negotiation process.  It is as if all of the rules of negotiation go out the window and you are left begging for the process to end and wishing either you didn’t know this person because either a ) you could play hard ball with them or b) you could just walk away.

The first rule of negotiation is “never accept the first offer.”  This can be as much for the other party’s pride as it can be for you getting the best deal. Think about it, if you come to me and say you will give you $10,000 for that car, and I immediately accept, aren’t you going to be left thinking, “I could have got the car for less, why didn’t I start lower?”  So, instead I should always come back with something higher than $10,000, even if it is only by a small amount.  This lets you know that you are in my ballpark and not starting off too high.

The second rule of negotiation is “don’t get the shaft.”  Basically, this means don’t be the guy who walks away thinking, “Oh, crap, what did I just agree to!”  Make sure you are fair with yourself as well as your counterpart.

The next rule of negotiation is the golden rule – “always be prepared to walk away and say no.” There is always an alternative offer out there and you never need something so bad as to violate rule #2

A few other rules to try to follow

– Try to avoid making the first offer.

– Be comfortable with silence.

– Never disclose your bottom line.

– Learn all you can about the other party.

– Don’t negotiate with yourself.

These rules are simply guidelines and everyone should follow a framework that makes them comfortable.  It is a difficult thing to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.  The real problem is that neither side wants to feel like it lost.  Let’s face it; one side always loses, at least by a little. Hopefully, both sides at least feel like they are better off than they were before they closed the deal.  That should be the goal of any negotiation.

Oh, and as I said before, when negotiating with friends, none of this applies. Just be prepared for a painfully awkward moment or two.

I don’t remember the class when they taught me how to ______.

I must have missed the class where they taught you how to hire an employee, or collect sales tax, or register to be an official LLC, or look professional when invoicing a customer, or “fill in the blank”.  There are just so many things that are necessary to know (or figure out in my case) when starting a business that aren’t covered in any courses offered at most universities. 

It is no wonder so few people pursue entrepreneurship.  The paperwork alone is tough to manage without hiring a lawyer, an accountant, and a business consultant to help you out.  Unfortunately, most people don’t have the budget to afford such luxuries.  They are left to do exactly what I am doing, struggle through the processes themselves (I would like to note that I do have several friends and family members who have been tremendous help along the way).  I consider myself to be a smart person, and some of this stuff is kicking my butt.  There are just so many things to do and so many steps involved in each thing that it is easy to become overwhelmed.  It is quite a deterrent really.

Throughout the past few months I have learned so much about running a business.  It has really made me start to think about how valuable an entrepreneurship program could be.  I’m talking about a program that focuses on all the important and unimportant things that are necessary to know when running a business.  A program that prepares you to do everything from developing a business concept all the way to collecting checks from the customer.  This program would teach you how to apply for a tax id number and then hire an employee.  It would teach you how to connect with clients, write a proposal, develop a statement of work, and then invoice the client.  Heck, the program would require you to start your own business, assisting you with all the irritating bureaucratic annoyances that you have to deal with you along the way.

I know some universities offer an entrepreneurship program, but most universities don’t. UK is one that doesn’t.  UK offers plenty of business courses, but none of them are focused on entrepreneurs.  UK also offers an MBA program, but it mostly focuses on theory and management.  It doesn’t teach you applicable concepts and skills that are necessary to start and then run a business.   Maybe after I am a successful entrepreneur for a while, I will start an entrepreneurship program at UK.  Now that would be fun, teaching motivated students how to grow their awesome ideas into something of value.

My first statement of work

Today, I received my first signed SOW. We have completed several projects, but this is the first official SOW that we got signed. Business has really picked up over the last couple of months. Still not enough to support myself and my team full time, but we are getting there. We go to a conference this week where we will promote our business to several school districts in the state of Kentucky. We will be competing for clients against companies like Microsoft, Dell and Pomeroy (my Father’s company). I know we will learn a lot, but I also think we can turn some heads. Our team is very talented and we offer below average rates. I am excited.

We are also giving a presentation on Web 2.0. Ha, like are the experts on the subject. Oh well, we can act like it anyways.