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On the pitch, in the courtroom

jeremy-rachlin-revI’ve been spending Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings this spring on the soccer fields of the Olney Boys and Girls Club assistant-coaching my first-grade daughter’s soccer team.

Recently, as we were tiredly picking up cones on the field one evening after practice, our team’s head coach jokingly asked me if it was harder spending all day being a lawyer or spending an hour coaching 15 girls between the ages of 6 and 8. I laughed and noted that both have their own challenges. As I was driving home, however, I realized that there are some similarities between my day job as a lawyer and my moonlighting job as an assistant soccer coach.

Dealing with controlled chaos

All lawyers know that a typical day in the office can be chaotic. Clients are phoning, opposing counsel is emailing, cases are in settlement talks, the court wants dates when you are available for a hearing and discovery in another case is due tomorrow. Still, we find a way to triage these tasks in our mind and move forward.

Similarly, life at soccer practice may simultaneously involve a girl in tears from falling to the ground, another girl whose hot-pink shoelaces need to be tied and an argument between two girls about whether one had played by the rules in a drill that requires mediation, all the while knowing that parents watching on the sidelines are keeping a keen eye on things to make sure that their daughters are getting something resembling soccer instruction.

In both situations, we find a way to deal with the drama and the chaos on the field, triage the crisis situations and move on to our next drill.

Communication is key

I find that as a lawyer, communication skills, particularly translating legalese into easier-to-grasp concepts, is an essential and central part of my day. Clients are lost and frustrated if they don’t understand case strategy or procedural posture if we shoot a string of technical words at them in a phone call or email.

Similarly, I find the most essential part of coaching to be delivering instruction in a way that the kids can process the information and learn. Most of this comes down to word choice and trying to describe clearly and simply a physical movement that I can picture in my mind. I have seen some of the most talented athletes fail as coaches because they simply lack the ability to translate something that comes so easily to them into instruction that more inexperienced participants can process.

Projecting confidence

Finally, an admission: Although I am an assistant coach, there is a reason I am only an assistant coach. My soccer experience consists of playing one spring season of soccer as a 6-year-old, watching a few MLS and World Cup matches, and attending a Bundesliga match. I have enough knowledge to coach first- and second-graders, but not much more than that. But I have no choice but to project confidence to these kids. If I don’t show to these kids that I know what I’m doing, I can’t expect them to listen to me.

Similarly, we often find ourselves in unfamiliar situations in court. Although we try to anticipate for every possible contingency or legal issue, inevitably the situation arises where we feel we are treading water. Add to the equation a client sitting with you at counsel table and it can make for a truly queasy situation.

We have no choice but to project confidence. We project confidence to the court, to opposing counsel and our client. If we do not project confidence in these unfamiliar or unanticipated situations and do our very best to competently and confidently navigate them on the fly, we cannot expect our client to continue to give us their trust and confidence.

Even though I don’t entirely know what I’m doing as a soccer coach, it really does feel great after leading a sedentary 9-to-5 to get out on a beautiful spring evening and run around. And it makes it even more special to see my daughter filled with pride that her dad is one of the coaches.

(Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t end my post with a shout out to the ORANGE LIGHTNING in the OBGC girl’s developmental soccer league on their big win against the purple team last Saturday!  It was totally the coaching.)

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