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Running a Business Made Me a Better Coach for My Kids’ Team

Turns out that lessons learned in the boardroom also apply on the ice.

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It was 0–0 at the end of the hockey semi-final third period and going into overtime. Every child wanted to start, and my 8-year-old twins looked at me in hopes I’d choose them. Like any parent, I wanted to put my kids first. But to be a good (and fair) coach, I had to make sure they all got a chance to play.

When I first started coaching my sons’ hockey team, I did it to carve out some more time for them, and to use my own experience to help the team grow and win. I didn’t realize how similar it would be to building and managing my company. It’s not easy to do either. However, being a CEO has actually helped me become a better coach — and taught me several things along the way.

This story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

It’s All About the Teamwork

Building a company means building a team of people that can work together and play off one another’s strengths. As a CEO, you have to recognize that everyone contributes to growing the company. You have to create a culture where individuals can learn, grow, win, and believe in what they’re doing. Fortunately, building balance and collaboration at work has actually helped me with this as a coach, as well.

My sons’ semi-finals was a tight game, and that’s when teamwork was at its most crucial. In the final minutes of that game, we had to choose who to play — it wasn’t an easy decision. All the kids wanted a chance to score, but they also wanted to win, and we needed to put in our strongest players to do that. So I spoke to the whole team about how they had all contributed to getting us to that semi-final game. Whether they got to play in it or not, each knew they had made an impact. This helped create an atmosphere where each player felt good about themselves and excited to be there as a part of the team.

Feedback Is a Two-Way Street

It’s not easy to manage dozens of expectations coming at you from a dozen different angles in the startup world. But the best way to handle them is to listen and be responsive to feedback. This approach lets you build trust, gain people’s confidence, and respond to the things that truly matter.

This experience in my startup helped me prepare for the high expectations of parents on my kids’ team. When the season started, a few parents approached me with concerns that their children didn’t get as much game time as some of the other players. Listening to their feedback, I knew we needed to make sure each child was playing when they could, as well as growing and learning in the sport. It also gave me the opportunity to explain to the parents how everyone wants to be on a winning team, even if it means they don’t get as much time on the ice. By listening to one another, the parents and I worked together to create a more equal team that was also a happier, more successful team.

Building Confidence Is Key

When you have confidence, nothing can stop you. At work, I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to build your team up and to highlight your small wins just as much as your big wins. You have to build confidence in your team, learn from your mistakes, and not be afraid to try.

This is even more important on the ice. At the end of the semi-final game, I did eventually choose to play one of my sons along with a stronger player. The opposing team dropped the puck, and my son scored the winning goal. It was the best experience, and all the kids’ faces and emotions exploded. They were so happy!

However, the team never would have gotten to that win without believing in themselves and one another. When I first started coaching them, they weren’t comfortable with the sport. Throughout the season, we consistently gave them feedback and encouragement, and eventually they stopped being afraid to run with the puck and shoot. When my boys and their teammates got nervous about the competition during the semi-finals, we reinforced that it didn’t matter who we played — we just needed to play our game. The more we inspired confidence in them, the better they got. For being the youngest and smallest team, they did an impressive job winning the semi-finals. And they wouldn’t have been able to do it without confidence.

Winning Isn’t Everything

As a CEO and founder, I’m aware that my team is looking up to me, and I don’t want to let them down. However, there will always be difficult moments and decisions in business. And when something doesn’t go as planned, you have to put on a brave face. Let your team know how well they’ve done and how they can continue to build off of their past accomplishments.

Even though it’s never easy to lose, it’s actually taught me to be a better coach. When my sons’ team made it to the finals and then lost the game, I probably took it even harder than they did. I’m competitive by nature and I felt like there were different decisions I could have made to change the outcome. As the coach, though, I had to stay strong for the team, and tell them how incredible it was to get that far.

Despite losing, you could see how proud the kids were of themselves. As a team we made it to the finals. Each game was an accomplishment of its own. While they were definitely upset, they had built up their confidence so much that they knew they could build on their past wins as they got ready for the new hockey season. Losing is hard, but it’s sometimes the best path to success as it helps you learn and improve.

Mark Ghermezian is a father of five and the founder and CEO of Fourpost, a family shopping destination. Prior to Fourpost, he co-founded customer engagement platform Braze (formerly Appboy) and served as CEO for nearly 10 years.