This weekend’s U10 boy’s soccer game once again provided great illustrations for how helping people get better at… whatever it is you want them to be better at. Our team was up against a tough team with a very talented striker and a screamer coach (you know the kind – yells at the kids constantly, your basic nightmare if you’re an 8- or 9-year-old boy).

Honestly, we were getting creamed in the first half. This kid ran at us from every part of the field and I could see my players start to panic whenever he touched the ball. Honestly, I was getting a little twitchy too. I found myself within inches of becoming the screamer coach myself, tempted to yell things like, “NO, DON’T JUMP. DON’T RUN AWAY. DON’T BE SCARED.” Of course we were scared, and my natural inclinations weren’t going to make us any better.

We got to half-time leading by 2-1, but that was a travesty of a score. We should have been losing 3-0. I took a deep breath and thought about how to redirect the boys on my team. Then it hit me – stop focusing on what you want them NOT to do. Instead, focus on what you want them TO do.

It’s the difference between telling a person, “Stop doing X” and telling them “Try doing Y”. In the first case, they can’t help but focus on X – it’s what you’re talking about! Similarly, in the second case, they focus on Y because that’s where your focus is.

So the team talk was simple: start attacking Patrick, the killer 9-year-old, farther up the field so that he can’t get up a head of steam and dribble straight through our net. They understood, re-focused, and went back out to play.

Think about something you’d like to see change in a colleague or a person you’re coaching (or even your boss!). How much are you focusing yourself (and the other person) on what you really want instead of on what you wish would stop? Maybe that simple shift will change the conversation.

The end of the story –  our boys ended up dominating the second half and winning 5-1…