Brave New Soccer
Although my knowledge of soccer rules mostly originates from Google searches, I’m the assistant coach for a soccer team of rugged, brawling, and competitive… five-year-olds. With near-hurricane winds and a temperature suitable for ice-fishing, our soccer season began with its first practice. The younger siblings and parents huddled together for warmth on the sidelines, their cheeks streaked with wind-tears, while the small soccer hooligans began their practice.
There was a difference this year, though, from last. Our local soccer league outsourced the coaching to a professional team of soccer-elite. The professionals were clearly in a different class from the outset. They arrived on the field with authority, Umbro sneakers, short haircuts, and positive attitudes. They were armed with whistles and British accents, quick feet and soccer jokes. They didn’t seem to simply know how to play soccer or how to coach soccer, it was more than that. They were soccer.
The old coaches sheepishly learned the drills along with the children. We were now relegated to running the drills – not designing the drills. Shouting out “red light” “green light,” but not deciding that we were playing red light/green light. Our metaphors changed – fields became islands, out-of-bounds were forbidden waters, and goals became metaphysical ice-cream stands by the beach.
When outsourcing has crept into children’s games, you understand its pervasiveness. Outsourcing is not just about foreign jobs or lower-cost work. It’s really a philosophy of work efficiency over some other abstract human element that is difficult to adequately describe. There could be no argument that the practice wasn’t better, but what price do we put on that lost feeling of design? When you bring in hired guns, you acknowledge that this is a goal-driven event: you want to pay for results, not simply create an experience. In a very small way, this is how the programmer must feel when confronted with an Accenture technology takeover. Where they once architected, they now code. Where they once managed, they now complete tasks.
When we manage a company, we have to decide how much emphasis to place on results and project delivery, versus people and their time. We can hopefully afford some level of human inefficiency for the sake of experience. It is a choice to value continued learning and empowerment over short-term, machine-like precision and efficacy.
After the cold practice, the kids of course still wanted ice-cream. This they universally agreed upon. They also agreed that the practice was fun – the new metaphors engaged their imaginations and the drills taught them some new skills (and kept them from freezing.) It was overall, a good practice. A better practice, in fact, for to speak of the new practice in terms not relative to the old would mitigate the jarring contrast. And there is now a goal. We don’t quite know what it is, but there is now a goal. And it needs new feet to kick the ball. Progress, I guess.