Managing Technology to Keep You in the Game

My daughter, Caroline, plays on a girls' travel hockey team that takes her all over the country. We often use technology to stay connected when I can't attend the games--facetime, calls, texts and emails. The team even uses an app called Teamsnap, enabling me to manage her crazy schedule, get in touch with other parents, and receive real time game updates.

Recently, Caroline participated in a tournament in Boston, where her team competed against some of the top teams in the country. I couldn't attend, but with Teamsnap I was able to cheer when Caroline scored, and to worry when she was in the penalty box. This is a great example of technology doing its job--serving us, actually bridging a gap instead of creating a divide or conflict.

I came face to face with one such conflict on the morning of the last game of the tournament, when my husband called and explained that my daughter had been benched and would not be playing. The reason? She glanced at her cell phone in the locker room.

At first, I was disappointed and even a little angry at the coach. But then it made sense. At the beginning of the season, Coach D had told the parents, "People either love me or hate me. There is no in between." He has extremely high expectations, demands hard work from the girls, and puts as much energy and focus on team culture and relationships as he does teaching technical skills. And he, like the rest of us, knows that relationships and technology don't always get along. So, he has to be proactive, making his expectations clear and holding the girls accountable when they don't meet them.

In other words, Coach D is a good manager.

I remember dinner one night after a game in Hershey Park, looking over at a stack of cell phones at the end of the table, while the girls laughed, told stories and played cards. It was quite a sight. No one was distracted with a text, and no one was more interested in posting a photo of the meal on Instagram than in eating it with friends. Before the technology takeover of the last few years, it never would have occurred to me that just sitting at a table together would be so radical. And so necessary. Indeed, the no-technology rule has allowed these girls to get to know each other and build friendships critical to playing a team sport. After all, just as the classic Gallup poll found that people who had a close friend at work proved far more productive, these young girls will just play better hockey when they feel connected.

A group called the Positive Coaching Alliance supports team sport guidelines and offers a great example of how businesses might work with employees who can't tear themselves away from their phones.

When one coach wrote in, asking if phones should just be banned, this was the Alliance's remarkably reasonable response:

Talk with the team captains, or other leaders on the team, to determine whether there are any legitimate reasons for the players to have access to cell phones at some point before or after games. For instance, for away games, the time or exact location may change at the last minute or the game may go longer than expected. Players may want to share this information with someone who is coming to watch the game or pick them up afterward. Once you've had this discussion, set whatever limits are reasonable for your team...Explain to the players the reasons why these limits will make them better as individuals and as a team. Then ask them to take personal responsibility for respecting the limits.

They will keep their phones, but turn them off and put them away according to the rules. Set some consequences for violations. Ask the captains and other leaders to help you enforce these rules. While this approach might require some extra vigilance initially, in the long run it can enhance a team culture of respect and the learning of the individual players.

When Caroline took out her phone in the locker room, in that very important space devoted to team-bonding, pre-game music pumping, and strategy, Coach D benched her. She deserved it. When she gave in to her urge to check her cell phone, her actions were not aligned with the culture and values of the team. She was allowing technology to distract her, instead of using it for good. And Coach D was willing to accept the temporary loss of a strong player to uphold the values he had worked to create. His mission was that important--and Caroline's moment of weakness gave him the perfect opportunity to send a message that would definitely be heard loud and clear.

When the first period ended, Coach D beneficently released my daughter from her smart-phone sentence, and she rejoined her teammates on the ice, playing the rest of the game. In the end, the score was tied. But Caroline and her teammates are still winning big.