5 Small Business Management Lessons Learned While Coaching Kids

small business management

While I was building my business, I also coached my kids’ soccer team for eight years. I had the ideal coaching situation, older siblings who played on high school helping me coach their younger siblings’ teams. It was good for me, and for my kids, and it was fun.

I discovered some things coaching that worked just as well when managing a growing business. Below are my 5 small business management lessons.

1. Simple is Really Effective

In my earlier years we’d coach the kids about teamwork and passing and triangles and positions. What we got was a collection of confused kids. Later, we started focusing on just three things:

  • Get the ball into the goal.
  • Keep it out of our own goal.
  • Go where the ball is going, not where it is.

The point in soccer is to score more goals than the other team.  The team we coached when we finally helped the kids focus was untied and undefeated. The kids loved it and I learned a small business management lesson.

 2. “You Did it” Works Better Than “You Idiot”

The kids I coached didn’t learn anything from angry adults telling them what not to do. Or even worse, that what they just did was wrong thing. “Why did you do that” and “I told you not to do that” does nobody any good.

Dressing somebody down in front of peers does nobody any good. Not kids and not adults.

On the other hand, praise worked really well. I don’t mean just praising the athletic kids who did everything right. With the kids who didn’t get it as easily, we would wait patiently, until – even if by accident – they did it right.

Then we’d cheer like mad and celebrate, “Yes, that’s it! That’s great! You got it right!” That worked better than anything else.

3. Rewards Should be Served Hot

For the soccer kids, shouting and praise “in the moment” was way better than the pat on the back later.

In business, reward people the moment you get the good news. This is way more powerful than anything that you do later. Reacting fast to your own people is as critical to a business as answering sales queries quickly. Do not wait. Don’t take a note for the next salary review. Do it right now. Every day you wait dilutes the impact.

A quick bonus, such as a $100 gift certificate, can have more impact than a future salary increase. I’ve seen that many times. If you are limited to the monthly increase, announce and execute it immediately.

4. Turn Peer Pressure to Peer Power

We’d praise the kids when they were together so they could all hear. We’d let the whole team know about what somebody did well.

Good people want praise and peer recognition. If you’re the boss, then you should always be looking for ways to praise somebody. Not the meaningless self-esteem-like prattle nobody respects, but serious acknowledgement for good work should happen in meetings, in an email, even on the wall.

So give that bonus in a meeting where peers are present. Give it along with an email to the group, so the person you want to reward gets the additional benefit of an email to save and use at some future point.

5. Combine Praise With More Responsibility

When one kid dribbled well, centered the ball, and set up a goal – we’d position them to do it again. When a kid seized that opportunity, took the assist and scored the goal, we’d put them where they could do that again. This point is my favorite because it has a double whammy to it.

If you reward success with more trust and responsibility, you simultaneously improve your team. People who don’t want to do more might not be motivated by more responsibility, but then by definition, those aren’t the people you want to reward anyhow.

Soccer Photo via Shutterstock


Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

8 Reactions
  1. I agree. It is better to encourage than to discourage. You really can learn a lot from kids especially since our generation is so focused on technology that we tend to forget how real life functions.

  2. These are great tips for leading the team that you have. I often talk to my clients about the importance of putting the right kinds of people on the team in the first place. I encourage them to identify characteristics and qualities that make good employees and to interview for those things. Hire for intangibles, teach the skills. You can’t teach the intangibles. These tips work best on a team with the right kinds of intangibles.

  3. This was a very interesting article. I am also coaching children soccer and they really have taught me a lot. This article has also been thought provoking and applicable. I will definitely use these tips for my coaching and in a future work environment.

  4. Ha, I enjoyed this one especially, because, as it happens, I was one of the coached kids, this post is by my dad.

    Looking back on those days, and running a business now as I do on my own, the coaching soccer was good for the entrepreneur’s work-life balance because you can juggle a lot of things on your schedule, but if kids and parents are expecting you at soccer practice, you have to go.

    I see that now as an adult, and entrepreneur, and respect all the more what my dad was doing when we were kids.

  5. Tim: What is the name of the soccer team?

  6. Hi Martin, thanks for the question, and here’s a wave, I see you so much in the blogosphere etc. Names? These were kids’ teams, little kids, and about eight years worth of them, each with a different name. All for sport and raising kids. Cheers, Tim