This article originally appeared at Soccer Classroom
Brooklyn's Here! (Photo: Steph Henley Photography)
At long last, my first child, Brooklyn, made her appearance in this world. Like a parent turning up late for after practice pickup, she made us wait…and wait…and wait…and wait. My amazing wife labored just short of forty-eight hours. Despite the disconcerting length and pain (and selfishly, my stress) of labor, Brooklyn came to us just perfect – I don’t mind saying so myself.
The nurses, staff and doctors – as well as the hospital – were truly first-rate. The quality of care was so impressive that I kept mistakenly referring to it as “the hotel.” I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals and to refer to a hospital as a hotel is telling you something about our amazing experience.
But, there was this Triage nurse in Labor and Delivery who was just awful…
Despite the exhaustion of the moment, it made me really think about the importance of the initial experience we’re creating for our soccer players – both as soccer clubs and coaches. (Yes, I’m crazy. I know.)
A Triage Nurse is Like Your First Soccer Coach
A triage nurse is your first point of contact care at a hospital. In many ways, this person is like your first soccer coach. His demeanor will shape your entire experience and mindset for your journey. Think about this: we had a great outcome, a healthy baby and I’m still writing about our first point of contact creating such a poor experience.
In my business, I’ve been talking a lot about “engineering the customer experience.” If you want your customer to leave saying, “This was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had,” then you better be thinking about how to create that experience – at every touchpoint in the experience.
As soccer clubs, how can we be sure we never lose laser focus on our player’s experience? How many of us are thinking about the type of experience we’re trying to even create for our players? With so many distractions and responsibilities, I know how easy it is to simply do the best we can in the moment.
I learned that it all counts: your preparedness and your attitude makes all the difference. How you present your ideas to your first-timers frames how they will perceive the entire journey. I learned that first-hand. Even though the rest of the experience was remarkable, I still had a bitter taste in my mouth. We can’t just be good and expect great outcomes.
I wonder what would happen to soccer in this country if we took the best of the best and had them coach our youngest players.
The “Good Enough” Principle Stinks
When you’re in love with your partner, it is downright scary and stressful to watch her in pain – standing there, helpless. And, knowing that the next screams of pain are a mere five to nine minutes away. Despite doing nerdy amounts of research about the birthing experience, we still had no idea what to expect in that moment. Was this normal? Why wasn’t the body responding exactly as it should? We’re no novices: Rachel and I have a combined 18 nieces and nephews. We’ve been around our fair share of kids and the start of life. Heck, at times, I think I’m running a day care on the weekends.
I don’t know if our Triage Nurse provided bad health care; in fact, I don’t pretend to know the quality of care she provided. She actually hardly did much for us and it seemed a bother when we asked for trivial items like ice chips or barf bags. I do know the hallmark of her care was indifference. She provided terrible human care.
I kept thinking, “It’s our first time here, Nurse Ratched. Please help us.”
She was there. We were in labor. This was about as far as the care or interactions went.
Her answers provided no insight or guidance to us rookies and amounted to, “Well, that’s just the way it is…” This was particularly true when we were presented with the scary option of taking morphine for the pain. For my wife, who doesn’t even take Tylenol, it was a scary thought. Morphine? That’s for drug addicts!
Nurse Ratched had a complete lack of appreciation for the magnitude of the decision or stress of the situation – at least in our eyes. It is difficult making decisions on no sleep and high stress. Despite my best Supreme Court questioning, it might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking. “Wha wa wah, wan wah wa wah.”
We opted out of morphine in the morning due to the lack of information. It scared us and we received no credible information to think otherwise. Incidentally, when offered morphine later for the continued pain, our questions were answered by a different nurse who sat bedside and explained, step-by-step the process, risks and gently guided us to a decision based around her expert experience. You know, she answered all the questions I had tried to extract from Ratched.
In our Triage nurse’s mind, I guess the care and experience she was creating was good enough. We weren’t dying and the baby wasn’t popping out yet. Check. But, let me tell you: “Good Enough” stinks from this side of the hospital bed.
In many ways, soccer parents entrust their children in much the same way that patients entrust care to hospitals: they go to the experts in the community and pay for services to have a great experience and outcome. This responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the front-line people, our coaches, to create an extraordinary experience for these fresh faces. Certainly, there has to be a shared responsibility between the clubs (finding the best coaches and training them) and the coaches (being engaged and interested) for this experience. How many of our clubs and coaches are providing a “good enough” experience for our players? And, I wonder what’s happening to those players who are getting “good enough.”
Why the Rest of the Team Inspired Us
For us, we didn’t have a choice: we had to continue the journey. Brooklyn was coming whether or not we had a cruddy medical team or not. We were a captive audience and had to stay if we wanted to have medical care when Brooklyn arrived.
Luckily, the rest of the team was A-MAZING. They made the experience remarkable (and so enjoyable) for us. It was such a stark contrast that it made me think about the differences in care. Was it competence? Or was it something else?
Certainly, “Nurse Ratched” seemed competent and had the credentials of being an RN. Due to the lack of care, I didn’t feel much towards competence of care, so I don’t think that was it. Competence, due to credentials, was a baseline of expectation – much like a coach taking an “F” course. To me, there were three compelling differences between our Triage nurse and the rest of the team:
- Compassion – Laboring for a long period of time is not fun. Our team felt that pain with us. Instead of dismissing it as simply “the way it is”, they re-assured, they held hands and they exhibited care that went beyond caring. It was personal to them. It didn’t change the pain, but it changed the way in which we felt about the pain. We’re in this together.
- Engagement – Our providers were “present” and “in the moment” with us. If they had something else going on, it certainly didn’t feel that way. We felt special, important and engaged with them in a unique way. They answered the barrage of questions we had gladly and easily. It wasn’t just their job; they wanted us to know the answers and make informed decisions. It’s a long time hanging around waiting for a baby. They got to know us personally and it made a difference in all aspects of care.
- Enthusiasm – I’d like to think that Rachel and I are pretty enthusiastic people. But, our team shared in our enthusiasm for the moment, reflected it back to us and amplified it by doing so. It was a positive spiral of enthusiasm for the process and the event. It further proved that enthusiasm is contagious.
If I was a soccer player, I would have never made it onto the other coaches in the club. My soccer experience would have ended with Nurse Ratched. I would have never experienced the fun, excitement and joy that soccer can bring. As Board Members of clubs and as coaches ourselves, we owe it to our players to create experiences that are remarkable – because “Good Enough” stinks. Nothing remarkable in life comes out of “good enough.”
I stand by the same thing I’ve been saying for twenty-plus years: the goal of any youth coach is to turn your players onto the game. Care about your players as people; invest in their success. Make sure they’re having fun, laughing and smiling a lot and feeling safe. If you do that, soccer will become their sport of choice because they’ll love the game. They’ll want to go to the backyard with a soccer ball at their foot. Their development will explode. You don’t necessarily have to have the awesome technical skills, but you have to educate yourself to age appropriate skills.
In fact, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most effective coaches – coaches who developed teams into eventual state champions. From a technical standpoint, they weren’t the most competent coaches – in fact, some of them never played the game. They certainly took the time and responsibility to educate themselves and surround themselves with trainers who were competent. But, distilled down, they were the most compassionate, enthusiastic and engaged leaders of young people.
It makes all the difference.
In your opinion, how can clubs and coaches create remarkable environments to ensure quality experiences for players and turn them onto the game?
Photo Credit: Steph Henley Photography