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Mastery and purpose

This is a reflection that I wrote for the @UnitedCoaches Master Coach program …

During our discussion on staff development, a pair of slides were presented that identified mastery and purpose components.

Mastery was described as “striving to improve on a daily basis …, viewing what they do as a craft, demanding effort, grit, and deliberate practice, and … always room for improvement at the task at hand.” Purpose was described as “aiming to positively contribute to something larger than the individual selves, … meaning, impactful, and understand the significance of what they do.”

The concept of mastery can be applied within many life contexts, not just soccer or coaching. One of the challenges that we face as coaches is to impart an understanding and appreciation of mastery with our players and parents. It is often the case that players look for extrinsic gratification – wins, goals, accolades – rather than taking pride in the mastery of the skills required to achieve results. The nurturing of grit is an integral part of the growth process. Aiding our players in a learning process in which failure is valued as a teaching tool requires patience and self-confidence from the coach. Continuing to provide challenges for our most elite players is also a component of quality teaching.

As coaches and directors, it is essential that those around us work with a purpose aligned to the organization’s goals and objectives. Each individual must determine their reasons for being a part of the organization. For players, it may mean belonging to a group, or for the enjoyment of the sport, or for aspirations such as college or professional opportunities. There may be a financial incentive for coaches, or taking satisfaction in working in youth development, or contributing to the community, or leaving a legacy. There is room for different purposes in many organizations as long as the goals, objectives, and standards are agreed upon. For example, some players on a team may be driven by college scholarship opportunities, while others are more interested in the social environment. If all players understand the expectations and commit to the standards, the varying purposes can successfully co-exist. Likewise, staff coaches may embody a variety of purposes as long as everyone is executing against a common set of objectives.

It is necessary to recognize that not every player or coach may share our particular purpose. However, we need to understand where our players and coaches are “coming from” so that we can present a vision and environment that matches their purpose. In my experience, dysfunctional organizations and teams share a common attribute of mismatching individual purposes to group objectives and standards. In some cases, the elimination of disconnected individuals can address the problem. In other cases, it may be necessary to reimagine the organization to better represent the participants. For example, placing a team in a lower league classification as a reflection of a declining commitment of the players to pressurized environments – a common outcome at high school ages as players’ interests change.

The notions of mastery and purpose are a foundation in development – individual, team, and organizational. Expressing these concepts with those around us, understanding our own needs, and working in organizations that reflect our values are essential in creating a harmonious environment.