So I wrote a blog last year about how through being a benchwarmer in college I learned a lot. Here it is, and its probably applicable to most kids on teams since we all know high school and college seasons usually don’t go according to plan.
Now that the players have been spoken for, I wanted to throw some thoughts out there for you coaches. Namely, I’ve put together Coaches: 10 Commandments for a Great Season.
I could write a heck of a book about the cast of characters I’ve had as coaches and what they’ve taught me, both good and bad, and this is just a synopsis of that.
But before we get into the commandments, I want to make the point that if you want to be successful this season, and have the kind of season that your team remembers in a positive way, both on and off the field, first and foremost you will need to have some balls.
And I’m not talking the kind of balls that your freshmen lug out in an oversized bag and roll on to the field. The kinds of balls that I’m talking about are the ones that take you out of your comfort zone and make you make tough decisions, or have the awkward conversations. The kind of balls that maybe make you unpopular here and there, but that gain the respect of your players, and make them want to lay it all on the line for you as their coach whether as the star or as the last kid on the bench.
So without further ado, here are my
Coaches 10 Commandments for a Great Season
1. Be Willing To Take a Short Term Loss For a Longer Term Gain
As human beings we are wired to take action towards the short-term benefit. There’s a reason why most of us, if given the opportunity would sink our teeth into a glazed donut before annihilating a stick of celery. It’s easier, it’s tastier, and it makes us feel better in the here and now. Conversely, if we check back in, in a couple of months, to see what the donut eater versus celery annihilator are looking like, there starts to be a noticeable difference.
Same with a team.
To be successful, you need to be willing take the less appealing road at times. For example, call out that star striker or maybe even bench her if she is being a cancer to the team on or off the field. Sure maybe it will cause a loss or two in the short term but in the long run, no championship team is going to be on the back of one player. And I can say from experience from coaches who had the balls (there’s that concept again) to take the long-term gain approach with situations that eventually it pays off. Most importantly, the team gets a boost from a coach that sends a clear message that no one is above the team and they aren’t afraid to sacrifice in the short term to make that clear. In other words, always look to chow down the celery.
2. If You Take Them Have Faith In Them
One thing I have never understood in coaches is having players in a uniform on the bench if they don’t believe that they can contribute in some way on the field. I can’t begin to explain the number of times that I have seen the difference of what confidence in a player by a coach can do to that player’s performance.
Sometimes for whatever reason, players don’t find that within themselves, and the difference between knowing the person on the sideline believes in you, is what can carry you to a great performance, allowing you to relax and believe in yourself.
I believe coaches have two roles: to teach the skills necessary to succeed, and through their belief and encouragement, pull that skill in the best manner possible out of every player. I can’t say the countless times that I have seen players wither on the bench all season, knowing their coach doesn’t believe them through their actions, body language and words, and then a sudden injury happens and that player’s on-field performance is needed.
Unfortunately, most people treated with the use of a discarded piece of trash all year aren’t going to be the one to be in a mental space to score the clutch goal when you as a coach need it. Championship teams need everyone in some way or another. Don’t take players unless you have faith in them.
3. Lead By Example
This sounds obvious, but I’ve been in too many situations to know that it is not (the following are all situations that as a player I have had coaches do).
If you demand your players to have respect for the team, don’t have your assistant coach running a session, and chasing after balls, while you stand out of the rain under your umbrella, talking to him/her like they are your personal slave.
If you want your team to be the fittest one, come to the field looking like an athlete yourself. If you are demanding commitment from your team, be at every single session, and be there early.
If you want a team that makes the best of each situation and doesn’t complain, don’t spend games berating referees on the sideline.
Ultimately we are all products of our environment and our culture, and how you conduct yourself at the head of the ship is going to be the example that sets the tone for your program, no matter what your words suggest.
4. Treat Everyone Equally
For anyone that’s read my blogs before, you likely are familiar with the radness that was my coach in Norway for 1.5 years at Kolbotn, Dan Eggen. He was a stud of a player with many years in La Liga, 90 minutes for Norway at CB against Brazil in a ’98 World Cup win, and Champions League experience under his belt. He had a gift as a teacher, but most importantly, and something I will never forget and always try and bring with me as I go into coaching, Dan understood how to treat people and thus bring the best out of a team.
The year I came on to the team, they had come off a season that they had totally underachieved, came 4th with a team full of stars, and by all accounts had a coach that had let the players run the show, killing all forms of team chemistry. Dan came on board, having lost 4 current and former Norwegian National Team players, with a young team that had been slated to finish towards the bottom of the standings.
Dan let everyone know pretty quickly things would be different, the first practice we had. We were playing 4 v 2 and one of the remaining star players made a bad pass and looked at the young player she had sent the pass to, to get into the middle.
Dan happened to be watching and immediately said to “Inge” to get into the middle. I don’t know if she or the rest of the team around her looked more shocked.
The whole 4 v 2 exchange with Inge sent a clear message that everyone took note of: Nothing was going to be handed to anyone, and he was in charge and going to be influenced by no one. You could almost feel the vibe on the team shift in that instant. Players that were made feel invisible by the coach the year before felt they now had a chance (and some had earned starting roles by the beginning of the season) and star players knew that they had to show up and play every day or they would be on the bench just as quick as anyone else.
Dan basically wrote the book that year confirming my belief that if an environment is run the right way and a certain culture is created within a team that amazing things can happen. We led far “better” teams in the league for most of the season, before settling for the bronze medal. He brought the best out of everyone by treating everyone equally, and together we rose and had an unbelievably memorable year, the favourite one of my soccer career.
5. Have the Difficult Conversations
None of us like having conversations that we know are going to make the person on the other side feel badly. But on the other side, although even though we are getting information that we don’t want to hear, most of us respect, and can accept information far easier if someone has the courage to deliver it to us.
You know the conversations I’m talking about; those that let a player know before you announce the starting line-up in front of the team, that even though they’ve started the whole season that you’ve decided to make a change.
It’s those things that you convince yourself you don’t really need to do, and take you out of your comfort zone, but playing by the golden rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) usually builds towards something good, and more importantly builds the respect of those around you, something that usually isn’t missing from any championship team.
6. Come With An Open Mind
As a player, you know the feeling. You can sense it. No matter what you do, before you have even stepped on the field, you’ve been pigeon holed into a certain role within the team or as having certain characteristics and you live up to them.
We’ve all heard it before, and know who we “are” by the time we hit high school. “You’re bad on defense”, “you give the ball away too much, “you’re fast”. You hear these things repeatedly and soon enough you start to believe whatever it is you are told.
As coaches and leaders, our expectations affect those around us. You may have heard of that experiment a few years ago where two teachers were given 2 third grade classes of equal academic ability. One was told that she was given extremely gifted children while the other teacher was told her kids were just average. At the end of the year they tested the children and sure enough the teacher who had been told she had gifted children’s students scored incredibly high on the testing, while the students who had tested equally the year below were now far behind. The first teacher taught the students like they were geniuses, because she believed that they were and they rose up to that standard, while the other “average” students stayed the same. This plays out on fields across the country every day.
Soccer is a subjective game, and sometimes if we are so tuned in on a player’s supposed weakness that’s all our eye will see and that’s the limit we’ll place on them. Consciously take an open mind with your players and give them your willingness to believe that they can translate their weaknesses into strengths. And that is why you are a great coach, because you are going to help them make it happen.
7. Make Everyone Earn Their Place Every Week
I can’t tell you the number of teams that I’ve been on where, win, lose or draw, the starters and non-starters know what the starting line up is going to be week after week and how that totally kills the competition aspect of practice and the enjoyment of the environment in general.
In these situations, starters begin going through the motions, because they can, and they know no matter what, they will be starting, while the non-starters will be a variance of people a) looking like they are playing for the World Cup Final because they still believe there is a chance their performance in practice will count or b) apathetic because they believe no matter what they do, they will not get a chance.
It’s exciting coming to practice every day knowing that something is on the line. That something can be taken away or something can be given. Create that environment.
8. Be Aware of How You React When Times Get Tough And the Message It Sends
How many times do seasons start with fresh optimism, new players, lots of work put in and then the players see the coaches start to falter when the first bump is hit.
Countless books could be written on seasons that end in a championship, which faced many bouts of adversity along the way. The difference, between teams that end up winning a championship, versus ones that crumble are in the messages sent by the leader.
When you’re losing, do you start to lose your cool on the sideline, blaming the ref, the food that the pre-game restaurant served? Do you blame the players who “just aren’t good enough” by screaming and humiliating them in the middle of the game?
Championship coaches keep their cool, they act the same whether they are in the middle of a winning streak or a losing slide. They believe in their players, they believe in their process, they know that they are one win away from things turning around.
9. Surround Yourself With Better People Than Yourself
To surround yourself with better people than yourself quite simply means that you are secure enough in yourself and what you have to offer, that you can draw in and appreciate other people who know more than you. You can do this, because ultimately the desire to better yourself far outweighs any fear you have in how you will look or the consequences if someone around you knows more than you.
I had a conversation with a friend the other day about what we felt was the one quality that if it were erased would have the most positive impact on the world. And the concept of “insecurity” was brought up.
Insecurity means not having enough confidence in yourself and what you have to offer that you choose to cheat to win, or cut other people down to make yourself feel better. Insecurity makes people throw integrity through the window, makes people say nasty things behind other people’s back and makes people surround themselves with people they believe are lesser than they are so they can always look like the smartest one.
Have confidence in what you have to offer. Bring in smarter people, people who will teach you, and who by their pure presence will inspire and push you to be better.
10. Make Better People
In this day and age that we are constantly force fed a diet that suggests to us that our worth as a coach and a human being is based on how many wins we have, it’s easy to forget the most important and impactful gift you have as a coach and as a person: to make better people.
Every decision and action you take is imparting a lesson to your players who are trying to figure out what really matters in this world.
And through my experience, the coaches that made better people also were the ones who brought home the championships. Sure there were exceptions here and there, but in the end, those championships fade but the memory stands strong of the people that taught me something about how to be a better human being.
And that is the gift you are given every single day you step on the field as a coach.
Now don’t forget the Coaches 10 Commandments and go enjoy your seasons!