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How New Union Leaders Solve The Experience Gap

I felt panicked. Anxious. Insecure.

“Must be a super tough negotiation with a high-profile employer,” you say.

Not quite. I was helping coach Junior Varsity football at my former high school.

Coaching high school football can be nerve-wracking without the proper amount of experience.

The players aren’t the only ones who get nervous during a high school football game.

Are you laughing? How could coaching JV football cause such panic? It seems like it should be a blast, especially for a football fanatic like me.

Certainly, I loved the kids, the practices and the games. I felt invigorated and upbeat after spending time with the players.

But this past season’s foray into coaching proved a humbling experience. I had coached football many years ago and believed that my return would take only a modest adjustment on my part.

Boy was I wrong!

There’s No Substitute for Experience

As they say, there’s simply no substitute for experience. And I was experienced enough in life to know that I was seriously behind the eight ball when it came to coaching.

When you work for a long time like I did as head of a local union, even the toughest challenges become familiar. I went to the office every day anticipating employer disagreements, contract issues and protracted negotiations.

As unpleasant as this all sounds, I got used to it and pretty good at handling what I euphemistically called “opportunities.”

As a new football coach, I had to work through my own nervousness, doubt and worry – feelings I hadn’t experienced on a job in many years.

So I put my nose to the grindstone, asked a lot of questions and looked to my colleagues for counsel who had a long history of coaching high school football.

I’d finish coaching one game and the following day find myself parked in front of the computer screen, breaking down our next opponent’s plays on film, evaluating their tendencies and preparing the next game plan.

How to Persevere Through Inexperience

Our team finished the season in a respectable second place in a highly competitive league. I challenged myself and survived to tell about it. The best part is that I met new people and cultivated new friendships.

If you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, don’t give up. Here are three things you can do that will help you finish the game:

1. Figure out what you don’t know and ask for help. Talk to people who’ve been there and ask them what they did when faced with a similar challenge.

2. Arm yourself with knowledge. Read as much as you can on the broader subject. You’ll find nuggets that you can carry with you as you tackle your next opportunity.

3. Visualize different outcomes. Think about what will make a successful resolution and work backwards to identify the steps that will get you there. Prepare for and work around worst-case scenarios.

You are not the first person to confront this particular can of worms and you won’t be the last. Someday you’ll be sharing your wisdom born of experience to the next newcomer.

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About the Author:
FX Crowley is a Public Affairs and Labor Relations Specialist, and former 15-year Business Manager of IATSE Local 16, San Francisco. A third-generation San Franciscan, FX can break down any football game from Pop Warner to the Pros and analyze it for hours. Contact to learn more ››