My high school coach, Joe Falana, earned his 600th high school win this past week placing him among the elite coaches in the country. The NSCAA high school rankings (slightly out of date) shows that he should be in the Top 10 or so for all-time wins in the nation. Obviously, not a bad guy to learn under and absorb his passion.
I played when he won his 200th match and was on teams that won him his second and third state titles. I think this makes me officially old and reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” Anyway, that only proves my playing days were a long time ago since he’s now at 600 wins and seven state titles. I’m just happy to have coached a number of youth teams who experienced success under Joe. And, I chuckle now as I remember one parent proclaiming 20+ years ago that Joe should retire because the “game had passed him by.” Hope that guy is still practicing elder law because he knows nothing about soccer. Laughable.
When a coach succeeds for such a long time, it’s worth taking a look at the “formula.” Not only has Joe been a top soccer coach, but he has also been a successful entreprenuer – opening a soccer store in 1979 – when the sport was only in its infancy. You can’t have the best players and teams consistently for 37 years, but he finds a way to succeed each and every year. Mr. Falana is a master of instilling focus, motivation and confidence into adolescent high school players to consistently get the best out of his small community of 13,000 (and high school of about 600).
I still distinctly remember the end of year middle school sports meeting heading into high school. We were handed the “Haddonfield Soccer Playbook” (yes, a soccer program with a playbook – hint: we scored LOTS of goals on restarts) that detailed exactly how we played soccer and included “Falanaisms” – special Falana sayings to inspire. We were simply told to memorize it and that practice started on August 27th at 9am. Typical of Joe, the meeting lasted about thirty seconds before we were dismissed.
Here are the coaching and playing lessons I learned from Joe Falana:
Passion: Anything worth doing and achieving is worth being passionate about.
Soccer Priorites: Family, Church, School then Soccer. The only one that could be changed was church before family.
Be Specific, Have Roles & Give feedback: Everyone on a soccer team has a role. And, you’re expected to fill that role. Joe can make your ears bleed. How? Simply don’t fulfill the specific role he’s laid out for you as a player. He’ll give you that feedback straight away – lots of time screaming onto the field, “Who’s man is that?” I don’t think there’s ever been a player on Joe’s sideline who thought, “I don’t know what I have to do to play more.”
Do Something I’ll Remember: A Falanaism to do something remarkable. I have a few stories that aren’t available for public consumption. But, I think I did at least 2 things he remembers. Maybe 3.
Be a Master Storyteller: Joe could inspire or make you laugh by telling stories of previous teams and players – building on the program’s legend that already inspired young players. He spun tales and said things that only a charismatic leader could get away with on a field.
Care about the things you control: Don’t worry about the referee, the other team, the weather, the field conditions. You can’t and won’t control those things, so put it out of your mind. Focus instead on your performance and the impact you can make on a match. A great example of a master motivator providing the “internal locus of control” and focus in order to conquer any challenge.
Win Each Game, Not Every Game: While I was in high school, we were 81-9-8, won four conference, two sectional and two state titles. Our goal was never win a conference, regional or state title – not even to win every game. Our single-minded goal was to win each game – today’s match. After all, you can only play one match at a time. It didn’t matter who we were playing next – the best team or the worst team. Discussing anything other than the very next opponent was grounds for dismissal at practice. It’s why Haddonfield rarely trips up in games it “should” win. And, the ultimate theory was that if we simply win “each game, one game at a time” then everything else takes care of itself.
Don’t be “newspaper” tough: Simply put, we were not allowed to read the newspaper. And, if he ever caught wind that you read the newspaper, the wrath of God fell upon you. This played back into the single focus. Reading the paper talks about yesterday. We have to worry about today. Besides, why would you care about what a washed-up former athlete covering high school sports really thinks anyway? Good point.
Outwork the opponent: “It’s not how good you are…it’s how bad you want to win.” We certainly played against teams that were more skilled than us. But, our relentless dedication to “out-everything” the opponent willed us to wins. A hallmark of Joe’s team through the years is relentless determination.
Operation Rough and Tumble: Joe’s teams have toughness personified. (Chalked up to great storytelling: The player who was told he needed to be tougher to play more and had to be willing to run through fences to win the ball…only to have the player take off from the spot and try to run through a fence. He left a dent in the fence and started the next match.) You have to be tough and courageous to consistently win 50/50 balls. A rally call: “To and through and everything in between…” The reality is that the team that wins the ball controls the game, possession and opportunities, so the forumula was simple: win more balls than the other team. After all, a Falanaism proclaims, “The meek shall inherit the earth, but I say they won’t win the ball.”
And, they wouldn’t win 600 soccer games. Congratulations, Coach, on your well-earned 600th win.