My Bonehead Coaching Mistake (and how it changed my life)

My First Cancer Half Marathon

As a young, straight out of college know-it-all hotshot player and first-time coach, it took me no time at all to make a huge bonehead coaching mistake. I was humbled two games into my first soccer season. I was thrown into coaching by an unfortunate circumstance. I inherited a well-organized and talented team when the previous coach, Alan,  an amazing man, was diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t continue coaching.

In short order, I learned the team’s cheer, got them organized, brought my hard-nosed and disciplined approach (to this U11 team) and away we went. As far as wins and losses, we were super successful – we won two of three tournaments and lost in the finals of the third. We finished on top of the league. Looking back from a playing point of view, I couldn’t be more proud of our players: we trained hard, showed up to play every match, and I’m thankful to have had a goofy assistant coach, Bruce, who leveled out my approach and would keep the team laughing. (If you don’t think Assistant Coaches are life savers and should be a complement to your skills, please think again.)

Bonehead Mistake

My bonehead mistake led to the most important lesson I’ve learned as Coach (Hint: It wasn’t how to win all those games).

My lesson: Perspective.

Let me tell you a story of how I learned it…

During our first home match, Alan felt up to it and came out in his wheelchair and onto the sidelines. I welcomed him, chatted about players and substitutions and received his input as the game progressed. To me, it was still his team; I was just a surrogate. We were down 1-0 at halftime and that’s when my bonehead mistake happened.

It was my worst coaching moment. My body still feels the hollowness fifteen years later.

Fired up that we were down 1-0 to a team that we should have been beating, I headed straight out to our “halftime spot” at the top of the D in the penalty area. As I trudged along, I prepared my three coaching points for halftime and gathered my thoughts. My players were trained to grab our stuff and hustle to the D, so they all went flying by me. Upon my arrival, I wasted no time at all and started right in with my coaching points and trying to rustle the testosterone up and out of these eleven year old kids. And then it happened…

I looked up. I froze.

Alan was being wheeled across a bumpy, overgrown field by his beanpole son. In my haste to coach and win, I had left my humanity on the sidelines. It was awful. My focus on winning trumped all else.

I had lost my perspective on the important aspects of what soccer is really about and the master lessons it will teach.

Soccer Lesson…Life Lesson

The indelible lesson it burned into my twenty-two year old mind has been a gift to all my teams throughout the years. The goal of the game is always to win, but we can never, ever lose perspective on how we go about winning. Despite all the success I’ve experienced with my teams, I’ve never sent a player to professional soccer. Even if I did have a stable of players in the EPL or MLS, I am steadfast in my belief and perspective that we coach to cultivate great, kind, respectful people first and great players and teams second. And, all of our actions must reflect that belief…your players are watching.

The game of soccer has many life lessons to teach. What lessons have you learned while coaching?

Published by

The Coach

Jerry Macnamara is “The Coach” and founder at Soccer Classroom. For more than thirty years, Coach has been a player, coach, trainer and administrator. He shares your passion for the game and helping players grow through age appropriate soccer skills and drills. Feel free to contact Coach with questions

8 thoughts on “My Bonehead Coaching Mistake (and how it changed my life)”

  1. Excellent article and great life lesson! As a seasoned player myself the importance of developing players as respectful individuals is crucial to their success on and off the field. Soccer is a team sport much like the game of life and these qualities are necessary. Excellent perspective coach.


  2. I’ve learned that no matter what, never step away from your basic coaching beliefs. Especially what to to in order to get a win. I had a team walk in and just start bouncing my 2 smallest players on the field. I actually considered having my 2 biggest girls give it back to them. Thankfully i did not….Through superior goalkeeping early we held them off and rallied for 2 goals in the 4th to walk away a 3-1 winner. Never compromise your basic beliefs…ever!!


    Comment by The Coach
    November 18, 2010

    Hey Bob-

    Awesome stuff! I think the important lesson here is to HAVE a coaching philosophy that you can stand by and you share with your team and your parents. I’ve been working really hard on a seminal piece about creating a Soccer Coaching Philosophy. I’ll have to send it over to you once I have a rough draft presentation for your feedback.



  3. jmac,

    Thanks…I need to go back to those days of 8 year old soccer and never forget the basic beliefs. Just read this again and I need to stick to my basics and put the rest of it aside.


  4. Great article, I would love to see your Soccer Coaching Philosophy as well. I coach HS girls soccer in Indianapolis, Indiana USA. I try to create a culture where the development of the individual player comes before the results. The funny thing is, that they both go hand in hand. We have had success in my three years of coaching, but it is all tied up to our basic principles. We create a curriculum for the players where they learn topics such as leadership, responsibility, accountability, personal behavior, etc. It has worked very well for us.


  5. Good read and reminder of perspective; especially when sometimes all people see are results. Results – and what is defined as results? – will come through if we all stick with our foundational development beliefs.


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