My younger daughter is in 3rd grade, and last summer she joined our local recreational soccer league. Our first season continued through the fall, and she had a great time. She prefers to play defense and she’s become very good at aggressively intercepting the ball and booting it up the field as far as she can. At this level, that’s excellent defensive play.
My role during our first season was to watch from the sidelines and yell “encouragement” at the team. I had a lot of fun as a supporter, and it was a great introduction to life as a Soccer-Dad.
Now that it’s spring time, we’ve just started a new season, but unfortunately we had a shortage of coaches, and so this past Saturday I found myself coaching our first competitive game of the season. It was… surprisingly stressful.
Before I get into this, it’s worth knowing a few things:
- For an Englishman, I’m pretty mediocre at soccer. I know the basic rules (yes, including off-side), but the only games I ever played were at the park with friends.
- The team was a mix of girls who have played a season or two (like my daughter), and girls who were playing in their first ever game.
- We had a grand total of 3 practices before the first game – in which we focused on advanced skills like “how to kick the ball”.
Unexpected situations abound
So when game time came around, several of the team (myself included) were facing new situations, where we didn’t have any past experience of what to do. For example:
- If your game is on Field #4, and you can only find fields #1, #2, #3, #5 and #6. What do you do?
- If the game is about to start, and you are short one player, what do you do?
- Do you put the shin guards inside or outside your socks?
The most challenging scenario occurred near the end of the first half. We have two girls on the team who take turns being goalkeeper, and while under pressure from the opposition, the “currently-not-goalkeeper” forgot that she wasn’t currently goalkeeper, and stopped the ball with her hands. Uh oh.
The referee blew the whistle for a penalty. Our actual goalkeeper (who has never played a game of soccer before) wasn’t really sure what a penalty was, but somehow pulled off an improbable save!
Unfortunately, hardly anyone on the team had experienced a saved-penalty before, and so they didn’t know what to do next. Our goalkeeper threw the ball out towards our other players, who didn’t pay much attention to it, at which point the opposition striker took the ball and scored.
Inexperience can lead to panic
In our soccer game, we encountered a lot of situations that were new to us. To some degree this is a good thing – our brains like novelty – but it’s not hard to go from “novel and interesting” to “stressful and scary”. I’m not ashamed to admit that I found the soccer game stressful. Even though it’s 3rd graders. In a recreational league.
In the telecoms world, we have a treasure trove of experienced technicians and leaders who have seen it all. If you have past experience of a situation, your brain can calmly evaluate it, remember what has happened in the past, and then select a course of action. You already know the options. You know what is likely to work and what isn’t. So there’s no need to panic.
Our challenge, throughout the industry, is that there aren’t enough experienced people – some are retiring and some are changing jobs. In some cases the experience itself is becoming redundant – as new technology requires different types of experience.
So what can we do?
I’d recommend three key approaches to this challenge.
- Create experience – can we find ways to build experience among the technical team? Maybe that’s a training course. Maybe that’s building a lab for testing and experimentation. Maybe that’s doing something new, but in a controlled environment (rolling out a service to friendly customers, or testing the impact of a power failure during a maintenance window).
- Share experience – if your team has a mix of experienced and more junior technicians, then look for opportunities for mentorship. Maybe they can work together on projects. Maybe the experienced techs can share stories of tough issues. It’s very tempting to assign a task to the person who knows how to solve it – but if you do that, no-one learns anything.
- Borrow experience – predictably, given my business, I think that sometimes it’s very useful to borrow (or hire) experience from external sources when you need it. Frankly, that’s the entire reason for our business. We spend our days focused on voice-related problems and projects, mostly on Metaswitch equipment, and so we have a lot of experience in those areas. What is stressful for you, may be mundane for us – so let us know if you’d like some help.
P.S. We had a strong second-half and won the game 4-3. Go Dragons!