From the Desk of Nick: Lessons from a Kindergarten Coach

posted by Nick Nielsen on Monday, May 30, 2016 in Unified Communications and IT Blog

My story isn’t unique. I’m a 37-year-old Sales Coach with two rambunctious boys, including a 6-year-old in Kindergarten. Being a Sales Coach is challenging; it’s a daily grind, with emotional highs and lows, comedic moments, and pride-filled moments. When I chose to teach the fundamentals of sports to 5 and 6-year-olds, my experience told me (I’m brimming with confidence) it would be a piece of cake.

That’s when it happened. Ten minivans pulled up to the sports complex, and before I could blink, a dozen crazy kiddos busted out into a wild game of hide and seek, ignoring my barking orders. There I stood, empty-handed. I was a coach without a whistle.

Lesson 1: bring a whistle. 

Many of the best lessons I’ve learned in my day job, as a Sales Coach, are the result of being a Kindergarten Coach. Whether it’s Basketball, T-Ball or Flag Football, teaching 6-year-olds how to play the game the right way presents many parallels for life and sales.

Here’s how the most basic principles of the game apply to both professions:

Kindergarten Coach Sales Coach
Use Good Sportsmanship Use good Salesmanship
Play Hard / Be Aggressive Work Hard / Be Assertive
Be a Good Teammate Be a Good Teammate
Don't Give Up don't Give Up Until It's Time (aka Listen to your Coach)
Listen to Your Coach Be Coachable


In a perfect world, this seems pretty believable. Seems pretty obvious, right? These aren’t ground breaking observations; these are some of life’s golden rules. In most business cultures, acting in accordance with these principles will result in highly engaged employees who adapt well to the company culture.  It sounds like a coach’s dream.

But what happens when life gets in the way? Try chasing 10 Kindergarteners around the field with one ball and tell me chaos hasn’t taken over. (Remember my missing whistle experience?)  The important thing to remember in these situations is to take a deep breath and go back to your key coaching principles. Below are the steadfast principles that I turn to:

  • Establish a Vision for Success
  • Demand Persistence and Determination
  • Build a Strong Personal Relationship with your Players
  • Develop a System for Accountability
  • Make it Fun

Now that you’ve applied your principles and equipped yourself with the important tools you need to be an effective coach, you have to be able to effectively motivate your teams with some fun rewards. Believe it or not, the rewards for kindergarteners and sales reps are surprisingly similar.

Kindergarten Coaching Rewards Sales Coaching Rewards
Ice Cream Adult Beverages
Trips to the Swimming Pool Trips to Happy Hour
Sleepover with a Friend Afternoon at the Golf Course
Staying Up 30 Minutes Past Bedtime Taking the morning conference call from home.


You probably noticed that the toolkit is focused on rewards and not punishment. Reinforcing positive behavior is exceptionally important. Kindergarteners are usually 6 years old, (warning: salespeople, don’t take this the wrong way) we as sales people, have been known from time to time to act like a 6 year old might. So we have to be very sensitive about how we dole about punishment. (Spanking in both cases is frowned upon).

Coaches love practice. So let’s put into play some common situations where your principles, tools and common sense come together to provide a solution any reasonable coach could agree to:

Kindergarted Situation Sales Situation The Only Reasonable Action for Coach
Ten children fighting for a basketball Multiple sales reps fighting for the same lead Take the ball (or the lead) and go home
Players picking dandelions in the outfield Reps setting their fantasy football lineup at work MAKE LOUD NOISES! It usually gets their attention.
Player gets hurt when making an aggressive play Sales rep loses out on a request for proposal

Plan A: Rub some dirt on it
Plan B: Get a Bandage
Plan C: Get Mom

Team plays well and wins the game Team works well and makes their goals

We enjoy ice-cream (kids) or margaritas (sales reps)
*It is important not to confuse these.

Player makes a great play Sales rep has a great meeting and closes a deal Attaboys are effective, but making an observation specific to what they did well is even better.


Matching Kindergarteners with Sales Professionals is a silly comparison. They each have their unique needs and qualities. The lesson here should be that leading people is a privilege that you should find enjoyment in the challenges and rewards it offers.

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About The Author

Nick Nielsen began his work in the telecommunications industry in 2001. Prior to that, Nick attended Coe College, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication, was a student-athlete, served as a coach post-graduation, and also met his wife, Wendy. He then went on to earn his Master’s from the University of Iowa’s Tippie MBA program. Today, Nick serves as Vice President of Sales for GreatAmerica Financial.  Prior to joining GreatAmerica in 2008, he served in various leadership positions with U.S. Cellular.

  1. leadership
  2. sales
  3. sales training
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