Passes, Rebounds and Assists: Recognizing Those Who Help us Reach Our Goals


This spring, I was not just a soccer mom: I was also a basketball mom and a hockey mom. (What can I say? Some seasons are busier than others.) And as one parent on the bench or bleachers among a gaggle of other moms and dad, I observed adult behavior that was, I hate to say, mostly detestable. I witnessed parents shouting at the refs for making what were, in their subjective opinions, bad calls that favored the other team. I heard adults making derogatory comments about players' skills and appearances. I saw countless parents who clearly believed that the coach needed their help. And probably worst of all, I observed parents screaming at their own children from the sidelines, "How could you have missed that?" undermining the very self-confidence and self-esteem that we are hoping that playing team sports will bring.

Nevertheless, in this thick black muck of uncontrolled, thoughtless and damaging behavior (yes, I have an opinion) there were a few parents who taught me — and our kids — a valuable lesson in teamwork. These were the moms and dads who consistently shouted, "Great pass!" "Nice rebound!" or "Way to get the assist!" They weren't only cheering for the kid who scored the goal or made the basket — they were acknowledging the critical supportive role that the rest of the players played. While some of these kids might also make moves that put them on the scoreboard, many of them would not have a scoring, starring role in this game, or maybe ever.

American humorist Arnold Glasgow once remarked, "A good leader takes a little more of his share of the blame and a little less of his share of the credit." A sporting teammate does, too, whether on the field, in the office, or at home.

This is my first season as a hockey mom. I know little about the game, other than the equipment alone made me queasy anticipating what could possibly happen that so much protection was needed. So, I didn't love that my son Jacob could get hurt. I also didn't love that it was outdoors well before the outdoors in New York was a tolerable temperature. And, as I believe I might have mentioned, I didn't love some of my bleacher-mates. But what I quickly learned about hockey made me a fan: they don't just keep track of the goals scored – they also keep track of the assists. While of course it's important to score, you even get credit for helping the person who helped the person who scored. And for my son Jacob, who hasn’t scored a goal this whole season, his assists made him feel proud. That he contributed. That he mattered.

Wouldn’t it be meaningful if we brought some of hockey’s acknowledgement and recognition to those who contributed in some small way to the goals we have achieved? How could morale be improved if we publicly and regularly gave credit to the people who helped us and, like in hockey, credit the people who helped the people who helped us?

Or what it would be like if, as in basketball, we acknowledged the people who passed the ball to someone who had a better shot of success? As a small business owner, I do this all the time when I am asked to take on a project or client that is outside my scope of expertise, or too big for me to handle successfully. Rather than shoot and miss (costing my client money and time, and costing me my reputation) I pass to someone I know who is better positioned to succeed. It requires a shift in mindset for ourselves and others where we recognize that its ok to admit you need help, that you can’t complete the task alone or even that someone else might have greater visibility, reach, or power to help get the task done.

Or imagine if we took lessons from the soccer field, where almost every player has the chance to be a passer and a scorer, depending on where they are on the field? If the goal is in your sight, go for it – no matter what your official position is.

Here are eight tips for bringing the wisdom of my spring as a hockey, soccer and basketball mom to your office and home:

1) Think about making your private thanks public. If you're used to thanking your support staff at an internal meeting, elevate your appreciation by making it a part of the event or project that they contributed to.

2) If you are a scorer (meaning, you tend to be the front person achieving the goals) offer to be someone's “assist” on a project that's important to them.

3) If you're a manager, make sure that those without formal leadership positions get a chance to shine by leading projects and people that will help them grow.

4) Ask yourself or your team, "Who else contributed in some way to this — and how?" until you run out of names. Then make sure to acknowledge all of those people in some way.

5) Create a reward system for people to use to recognize those who made a great pass, rebound or assist.

6) Practice passing – not when you don’t want to do something, but when someone else on your team has a better shot at scoring the win.

7) Teach your kids to recognize and acknowledge the rebounders, assisters and passers — on their sports teams, in their classrooms, and at home.

8) Invite people at all levels and positions of the organization to contribute their ideas and then really consider them.