Watching the World Cup, I watched with pride as one of my favourite coaches of all time, Eli Landsem manned the sidelines for Norway. I was lucky enough to have her as a coach when I played for Fortuna Hjorring in Denmark in 2004 and it was Eli who orchestrated my move to Norway in 2008.
Coaches have such an opportunity to make a positive, long-lasting impact in people’s lives. Unfortunately I feel like a lot of coaches get distracted by wins and losses and forget that.
It got me thinking as to what qualities have made up those coaches that made that special impact. Ironically these coaches were on 3 of the most successful teams I have played for in my career. But that’s not why I have such fond memories of my time with them.
Two of the biggest qualities, when I think of my three favourite coaches of all time, were
a) That I felt they believed in me as a player and truly wanted me to succeed (even if I wasn’t always in their starting line-ups)
b) They treated me and everyone else on the team with respect and fairness with their power as coach, and created an environment where there were no egos and one where hard work truly was appreciated and rewarded.
My three favourite coaches of all-time are Frank LoFranco, my coach in 2007 for the Ottawa Fury, Dan Eggen who was my coach for a year and a half in Kolbotn in Norway (2009-2010), and Eli Landsem, currently the coach of the Norwegian Women’s National Team, who was my coach for the 2003-2004 season with Fortuna Hjorring in Denmark.
I will now go into more detail about why these coaches are three that I look back on with fondness, and who have qualities that I will take with me as I eventually transition from soccer and into my own career.
Keys to a Great Coach/Leader
1. Clear Communication:
I think no story more clearly illustrates this point than when Eli told me back in 2003 that I wasn’t in the 14 players that were travelling with the team that weekend. We had just finished in 2nd place in Europe, and competition for spots was fierce. Eli pulled me aside before she read the list of 14 that were travelling to let me know I wasn’t going, the first time that had happened to me that season. She told me that there was another player who had been training better than me that week and she felt that that player deserved a chance. She told me how she believed in me as a player and what told me specifically what qualities I needed to continue to refine so I wouldn’t be in that position again.
I walked away disappointed, but with a profound amount of respect for Eli for
a) having the guts to be absolutely straightforward with me in telling me what I needed to be doing better (I knew she was spot on, on what she said as well) and
b) being absolutely fair in giving another player who had been doing well in practice a chance, when she had been better than me that week, even if that had negative repercussions for me.
I realized that although Eli gave me information I didn’t want to hear, I was not upset at all because she was so respectful and straightforward in the manner in which it was delivered. The news, although negative in that instant for me, reinforced a playing environment that people were rewarded for hard work and good performances, and was one that I appreciated and wanted to be a part of.
2. Everyone Treated Equal
In 2009 Dan Eggen took over our team Kolbotn. It was my first year with the team.
Dan had an unbelievable playing resume, with stints in La Liga (Spain’s top league), in France and Denmark’s top leagues, and most impressively he played 90 minutes at center back when Norway beat Brazil at the 1998 World Cup. It was his first time coaching girls and we were one of his first teams.
I have always had a very strong belief about how a coach can dictate a season through providing a good environment and can bring out the best in a group, through treating people equally and holding everyone to the same standards. Watching Dan coach that season was like watching a thesis unfold in front of my eyes as he proved my hypothesis true.
The team had just lost 2 current (at the time) Norwegian National Team stars, and another 2 former National Team players, one of who was the team’s leading scorer. Everyone predicted that our team in 2009 was going to be towards the bottom of the table as we had lost these 4 starters, and now was left with a very young team.
The team had underachieved the year before finishing in fourth place, and many of the girls had said that the biggest problem was with the old coach, who let a couple of the players run the team, and an environment that existed where people could float on their reputation, while others worked hard day in and day out without ever getting a chance.
The first week of practice Dan set the tone for the season. One of our star players was in a 5 v 2, and a pass wasn’t perfect, and so the ball went out. She could have made an effort to get the ball, but she didn’t and instead pointed at the other player to get in the middle.
Dan saw this happen, and told her to get in the middle, that she could have made more of an effort. She looked at him in shock, as she was the kind of player that most coaches didn’t have the balls to stand up to. This player promptly got in the middle, and had a clear message sent to her that she wasn’t going to get any special treatment (knowing she had to fight for her spot, she promptly had an incredible season for us) and everyone else on the team knew from that moment on, that if they put the work in that they would get rewarded. That year was the most incredible team environment that I have ever been a part of.
We promptly led the league for most of the season to everyone’s shock, before faltering at the end and settling for a bronze. Through the environment Dan created, he squeezed the best out of every single player. More importantly, I think if you asked every single player on that team their favourite season of soccer, most would say that year, both on and off the field. It truly was a soccer utopia, and a season I wish I could hit the repeat button on, over and over again.
3. Lack of Ego
The year that I went to Ottawa and had Frank as a coach, I had just come from an awful environment with a coach that was on an absolute power trip. It was an environment that would have made one close their eyes and feel like they were amidst soccer’s version of a dictatorship. Fear was the prevalent emotion, as this coach made sure everyone knew that he held the keys to their national team dreams. Everyone kept quiet and made sure they did not step out of line, although there were many things that registered negatively on our respective moral compasses.
I have learned since then how ego seems to play a role in many coaches make up, and unfortunately how some coaches, when presented with the opportunity, use their power in a negative manner.
What I appreciated about Frank was that he didn’t seem to have an ego. He could admit when he made a mistake, he would listen and welcome feedback from us, and again he created an environment for the team that wasn’t about him, but instead was about us. He was so secure in what he offered as a coach, that he never had to put any other coaches or people down, and he didn’t try to exude professionalism. Through his actions he defined it.
My short few months with Frank were some of my best memories from soccer, and my only regret is that I only had him for such a short period of time.
I haven’t even mentioned what I learned on the field from Eli, Dan and Frank, which is ironic, as they also were three coaches that I learned so much about how to play the game from.
What sets all three of them apart was that through their actions, they truly created a professional environment, which is so rare in the women’s game. More importantly, they used their power in a positive manner.
They brought the best out of me as a person and a player, as well as those around me. Although all three teams were championship contenders, their greatest teachings were not in soccer; they were how coaches/people in power have the ability to leave an indelible mark by treating people with respect, a mark that lasts longer and has a greater impact than any amount of wins and losses. I hope I always make the choice as Eli, Dan and Frank did with me to use any power I have over others in a positive manner.
It’s just another example of how soccer has proven to be a vehicle to teach me a very powerful life lesson and another reason why I am so grateful for how these lessons have shaped me as a person.