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.)
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?