When you change the relationships in your life, you change your life. 

As a teenager, I played a lot of soccer. There was a period in my life when I would eat, sleep and breath soccer. I’m pretty sure I had t-shirts that read Eat, Sleep, Play Soccer! In these formative years, I learned a lesson about relationships I often use today in my coaching. 

The story begins one evening after soccer practice. My coach pulled a few of us aside to inform us we had been selected to try out for the regional select team. It was a big deal. We knew making the select team meant we had a shot at making the national team. Now it’s important to let you know early in the story that I never made the national or regional team, but that’s not the point of this story. 

I showed up forty-five minutes early on the first day of practice, I really wanted to make this team and knew that I needed any advantage I could get. As other players arrived, we warmed up by passing around the ball. As we played skills games, I could tell that these players were extremely talented. 

One of the first things I noticed was that, because all the players were so skilled, their passes were more accurate and predictable than I was accustomed to. As I continued to play with the regional team, I noticed I could trust that the person passing me the ball would give me a much more accurate pass than I was used to. I soon found myself focusing on what I would do after I got the ball. My confidence in the performance of the other players freed the cognitive load I usually expended paying attention to the pass I was receiving. 

After a few weeks of practice, I noticed that my own level of play increased or decreased, depending on who I was playing with. If I was with classmates who generally played for fun, the game was slower and the passes were often a little behind me or too far in front of me. When I played with the regional team, I played better because I had to do less correcting. The ball was usually passed to just where I needed it to be. This freed me up to focus on the next move, instead of having to think about first gaining control of the ball. 

Ever since, I have sought to play with people who are better or as good as me. When we work with high quality people, we produce better quality work. 

I have found myself telling people this story in many of my coaching sessions. Most recently, it was with a client who was thinking of replacing an assistant of seven years. His life changed when he later replaced her.

The quality of your work increases when you work with high quality people. When you trust the people on your team you can focus on what you need to do. My soccer memory has always served to remind me that it’s easy to think about relationship building in the context of networking yet ignore relationship building in the context of our own teams. 

Who do you surround yourself with who allows you to play at a higher level?