Tigers in the Rain

This is the first in what may become a series of anecdotal posts about what I’ve learned as a coach and how I think it translates to becoming a good manager…

After the match, my brother told me he knew how it was going to go when he saw them in warm-ups. The other team, he said, looked like they didn’t want to be there, shuffling around half-heartedly in the drizzle. In contrast, our girls were all smiles.

They’d been there before.

During the previous season, the TC Tigers hosted Shelbyville, a larger nearby school and a fierce rival. The rain came down in buckets that night. It was their last season on the grass, and the field held up surprisingly well. So did the girls, who beat the Golden Bears 3-1.

I’d never seen a match played in those conditions… until that night at the 2017 Sectional championship. At one point, they had to call the match on account of lightning, and the teams were sent off to the locker rooms to wait it out. But it eventually resumed, and so did the dogfight. Heritage Christian may have come into the game as heavy favorites, but our girls held their own and held the score 0-0 through regulation and two overtimes.

Then they won the shootout. And the hardware.

When he shared his observation with me afterward, I realized the team had achieved something else as well. Not only could they play well in the rain, they believed they could play well in the rain. And I also realized that it’s up to me to keep that belief alive.

We’re preparing them for a new season now. Only seven of the girls on the current roster were part of that Shelbyville game. That doesn’t matter, though. I’ve brought up those rain matches a couple of times in the off-season, when I’ve had a mix of those who were there and those who weren’t. I’d get them going, and then let the veterans reminisce about what it was like to play in those matches and to come out on top. And let the rookies soak it in.

The girls are going to win some and lose some. That’s the nature of the game. But if it rains during a match this season… well, I almost feel sorry for the other team. Are they that much better than every other team in the rain? Maybe not. But they believe they are that much better – even the girls who weren’t at those two matches.

A development team won’t ever be asked to write code outside in the rain. But they’ll have their own rain matches. A production outage, a performance issue, an angry customer… who knows what the situation will be? But there will inevitably be something – some bugaboo that they’ll be able to overcome once or twice. It’s up to the manager to spot those successes and capitalize on them. It’s up to the manager to nudge the team toward embracing them and allowing them to become part of its identity. It might take nothing more than a “Remember when…” at a team lunch. Whatever it takes, though, the important thing is to gently – imperceptibly – encourage them to believe in themselves, and in each other. Especially when the rain comes.

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