Lean Transformations Group

Great Lessons Can Be Learned in a Loss

Miller A. Bugliari.

A name that you likely don’t know unless you follow New Jersey high school soccer.

I grew up in New Jersey, which is why I know that Bugliari began coaching at The Pingry School in 1960. Since then, Coach Bugliari has amassed an impressive list of awards. His teams have a record of 812 wins, 102 losses, and 68 ties. While I never played for him myself (I played for Newark Academy), I did have the pleasure of being one his assistant coaches in the early 1980s. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this time in my life since the lessons I learned from Bugliari continue to influence how I approach my work. One lesson in particular has always stood out as being fundamental to his ability to develop winning teams year after year. It’s a lesson that has helped me through difficult times, and it applies to business as much as it applies to sports.

I had coached soccer for about five years when I received a call from Coach Bugliari. I saw it as an opportunity to learn from a master. Many things about how he ran practice and the way he taught were interesting, but the more I observed Bugliari, the main thing I picked up was the pattern (Kata) he used in coaching games. First was excision to the game plan. Then came adjustments to the game plan. Then substitution to get more players into the game.

Sometimes the timing would shift, but it was always the same pattern: Follow the plan. Introduce a new plan. Test new players.

When I had the opportunity, I asked Coach Bugliari to explain his thinking. Why the pattern? He explained that it always starts with the basics of preparation. If you know your players and have developed their skills properly, if you’ve taught them how to execute properly, if they are properly conditioned and you have good scouting, you can go into each game with a plan. This is why the first phase is executing to plan. Most of the time the plan works really well (in his case, 812 wins!). But at some point, that game is either won or lost and it’s time to move to the next phase. Phase two is about preparing for the next game. Again, if the basics are in place, you can start the process of preparing the team for the next game. (Bugliari always introduced the plan for the next game in terms of what he expected the team to be able to do in detail). Then comes the third phase: working on player and team development for the next season.

A simple kata: Prepare for the game you’re going into. Execute to plan. Prepare for the next game. Prepare for the next season.

Watching Coach Bugliari follow his kata in preparation through games and through the season was incredible. There were games that his team won quickly, which meant he could get to focusing on player development fairly early in the first half of the game. There were other games where teams were able to the execute to plan right to the end. And more importantly for my own learning, there were games where the team failed to execute to plan (or the plan was just not good). In these games, Coach Bugliari knew when to mentally move on to the next game or, as hard as it was, to the next season.

In those instances, I’ll never forget Coach Bugliari explaining to me how there are great lessons to be learned in defeat. He made sure that individual players and the team as a whole learned this lesson, even when it was strong medicine!

What is making me think about Miller now? It’s not hard to guess. In my gut, I know that while it is really hard to do, it is important to devote time to the next game. We need to solve short-term problems, yes, but we need to be thinking long-term. For so many of us—trusted advisors, leaders of organizations, political officials—now is the perfect time to ask ourselves if we’re thinking about the next game and the next season. At what point can we take some of the team and have them to start scouting the next game? Which skills and capabilities will your organization really need to win the next game? Do we have the patience and courage to ask who and what we need to develop for our organization to be ready for next season?

Oh, and by the way, Coach Bugliari is still coaching. This kind of perseverance inspires me.

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