Thursday



No one has ever rested their way to success.

Continuing Education

Here in Ohio it is a frigid -7 degrees Fahrenheit  this morning.  What better backdrop to continue learning about the game?  The truth is I have over 200 DVD's and 100 books on the game of soccer.  I often accumulate more of these "in-season" stock piling them for the winter months when active coaching opportunities are limited.

I have just concluded reading an outstandingly good book titled Soccer for Thinkers by Malcolm Allison.  As has been previously mentioned on this site, I participate in a couple of email groups comprised of coaches from around the world. While these groups are small (12 - 20) people a wide range of age and competitive levels are represented. Everything from U16 through college and the professional ranks.  The participating individuals are themselves a ridiculously good source of information on the game.  The recommendation of Soccer for Thinkers is a prime example of this.

Obtaining a copy of the book proved to be a bit of an adventure.  It has been out of publication for 35+ years and as far as I can tell was never published here in the United States.  I searched the Internet daily for over a month before I found a copy to purchase.  Oh, there are copies available, if you wish to pay the price.  They are quite expensive.  A recent search found the cheapest price being $312 dollars plus shipping from England.  It's a great book, but not worth that price.  I found mine here in the states for $50 plus $20 for shipping, but it took diligent effort over the course of a month to locate a copy at this price.

If not for the coaches email list, I would not have ever known about Soccer for Thinkers.  In discussing this book with good friend Graham Ramsay he seemed a bit amazed I had not only heard of the book but had obtained a copy of it.  Graham is a great resource person for me.  The conversation immediately turned to other out of publication soccer books and it turns out Graham has a few stockpiled in various storage locations.  AND, he contacted someone in the England who also has a stockpile of similar books.  I am in the process of procuring these now.

The thing about Soccer for Thinkers is that it validates many of the approaches I have adhered to in recent years.  I understood I was not inventing a new system but I struggled to find a template for how I envisioned the game should be played.  I found it, albeit belatedly so in the process, in Soccer for Thinkers. 

My coaching philosophy and style has evolved over the years. With all the DVDs and books in my soccer library I have obviously become a student of the game. A primary reason I began accumulating DVDs and books was being left unsatisfied by the NSCAA and especially the USSF coaching courses.  For me, the NSCAA courses present good information on a limited basis.  They point you in the right direction, but its up to you to follow through.  The USSF tests what you already know and reverse engineering of their courses is the best way to learn new things from them, in my opinion.  In addition to DVDs and books, people like Graham, Ken White, Steve Burns and the members of the coaching lists I participate in have been extremely valuable resources of information and sounding boards for me.

One theme or focus for this winters learning is the Commitment Continuum made popular by Jeff Janssen.   This concept has been around for a very long time. Janssen has simply brought it to the fore in recent years through his work with various college programs and an ever growing list of books on leadership in general. His works are very good and if you have not already, have a look at it. 

Two well known disciples of the commitment continuum are Anson Dorrance of UNC women's soccer and Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan football.   They have made a science of including competition as part of, perhaps the driving part of, the commitment continuum.  They chart everything.  They make everything in every aspect of training a competition between teammates. They "publish" the results on the locker room walls.  It is an approach that has served both men extremely well.  Motivation is plainly a driving force behind this approach but if we are completely honest about it, they are identifying the winners on their rosters. These are the people they want to go into battle with.

My question is, will it work in high school soccer? 

It will.

In fact, it has been working in high school soccer for years.

I used to relate to people how the training sessions at the high school program I began my coaching career with were "wars".   Intense, competitive daily sessions.  Those practice sessions were often more competitive than the matches those teams played against opponents.  This is a theme often espoused in athletics.  "Practices were so hard that games were easy" is a well known sentiment made famous by coaches like Lombardi, Wooden, Schembechler, Bryant, et al.  I don't think I ever fully understood or was able to succinctly communicate just what this meant until recent years.  This past spring I had nearly 50 players interested in play U18.  This is an unprecedented number for our rural area.  Some self-selected in the face of competition for positions on the "A" team. As decisions had to be made for the final roster spots on that "A" team I found myself cutting some very good players.   The determining factors were found in their performance on the commitment continuum.  

I did not have the luxury of filming every practice or even every game so I could not chart as many things as I might have liked to.  I suppose one could say I was left to take a more subjective approach since my decisions were not supported by charted and documented statistics.  Still, my decisions were driven by a commitment continuum - I observed the approach, attitude, effort, deportment and comportment of players.  Those who were immature, inconsistent and incapable of focusing for the length of an hour and a half training session were relegated to the "B" team or self-selected themselves off the team and out of the program.  The result was a stunningly successful club season. 

So, much of my time this winter is being spent of refining my approach to the commitment continuum with hidden gems like Soccer for Thinkers thrown in for variety and spice.  If you have suggestions on books or other materials for me to review, I am always open to suggestions.  And if you yourself would like further suggestions, please do not hesitate to ask.  Coaching is a brotherhood. I often hear of football coaching staffs going to another teams staff to learn how they do things. It happens in basketball all the time.  No so much in soccer, I think.  This is something that probably needs to change if we really want the sport of soccer to reach its full potential in this country.

Wednesday

"You got it all wrong."

Memories.

A few years back when I had just begun the CBA Blog an opposing coach came up to me before a match and said, "I've read your blog. You got it all wrong. I used what you wrote as a scouting report on your team. We're going to show you how wrong you are!"

Well, okay then.

I have been coaching sports for nearly 35 years now.  I have seen quite a bit. This is one of two pre-game meetings between coaches that really stands out in my memory.

To be honest, this guy unnerved me a little because I wasn't at all expecting this type of greeting. As I recall, I extended my hand and offered "Good Luck to you" then walked away.  I never mentioned the encounter to my team. I did make a point about playing and executing our style of soccer though.

Let the opponent scout you all they want to because in the end it is always about execution.

I am not big on changing formations and styles of play from game to game. I believe in assessing my teams strengths and weaknesses, then selecting a formation and system of play that will work best for the team. In the preseason we may tinker with it all a bit, but we want everything in order early in the season. Then we stick with it. Fine tuning it as we go.

About as far as I will go in terms of dramatic adjustments for a specific opponent is to man-mark a individual opposing player whom everything the opponent wants to do on attack flows through. The "hub player," if you will.  Think of it as soccer's version of a box and one basketball defense. Call it a 10 + 1 soccer tactic.  Ten players staying in our zonal system of defending while one man marks the opponents hub player.

That evening the opponents came out all hyped up for the opening kickoff.  Their coach had given them a scouting report based on my writings here on this site. One could see the excitement in their eyes, the energy coursing through their bodies.  At that point I worried more about our team matching their intensity than anything else. Then again, maybe I was simply looking for these things because of the pregame meet with their coach?

The opponents had the kickoff and immediately came at us - a couple of quick touches between players as they moved directly down the field. As they approached our defending third the ball was sent wide where our left back read the play and intercepted their pass. He immediately hit the target forward in the next channel over, who dropped the ball back to a CM another channel over. The CM  then played back against the flow to the left back streaking down the flank. We caught their defense shifting again when the left back crossed the ball as he entered the final third of the pitch and the other CM finished for our first goal.  27 seconds into the match and we are up 1 - 0.

So much for their scouting report on us.

The deflation of emotion was visually obvious in the opposing teams players. Several looked to their sidelines. The coach tried to pump them back up.  We scored again about 3 minutes later.  The rout was on.  I was tempted to really pour it on them, but we didn't.  No need to punish the opposing players for their coach's words. If I recall correctly, the game ended at  6-0 our favor. We held it down.

The opposing coach refused to shake my hand after the match. Go figure. A few days later I sent him an email offering to do a camp for him and his team. No response although I did get a "Read Receipt" back so it's possible he at least glanced at the email. 

This article is not about my always being right. I am not and that is why I need my Savior, Jesus Christ in my life.  I make mistakes every day. Lots of mistakes. We all do.  How we handle the mistakes we make is what defines us on and off the field of play.

In the situation discussed here, I trusted our formation and system of play. More importantly, I trusted the players who would play the game for us. We went out and played as we had trained to play. What went in during training came out during play. Life is like this. What we allow into our hearts is what will be found in our minds and be manifested in our actions and words.

One of the best learning experiences I have had as a coach came when the team I was in charge of got a butt whupping the likes I had never before received nor have ever received since. It was an indoor game and the final score was something ridiculous like 0-24.  I knew the opposing coach, Ray. As young men we had competed against each other in various sports. My side usually got the better of things.  Not on this day.  And I need to mention that I specifically requested of Ray that he not do anything to artificially hold the score down.  He graciously did a few things anyway, but I viewed the beat down as a learning opportunity for our team. A few days after the match I searched Ray out and we talked a bit. I asked him to give me a scouting report on my team. He was a bit reluctant, but eventually acquiesced.  I listened and I learned.

When we faced that team outdoors the next spring the result was much closer. They still won but the score was respectable. We were competitive. When we faced that team in a tournament the next fall we defeated them and won the championship. Ray and I have exchanged a few good natured barbs about how he helped build our team. I remain grateful for Ray's patience and honesty in evaluating our team's performance. He taught me a lot.

My offer to do a camp for the team we routed was made in the spirit of the game. I'm not sure it was received that way. The offer was not accepted. I did what I could do to help a fellow coach and improve the game a little bit.  In the end, he got it all wrong.  He made a mess of his teams play that day and refused help when it was offered.

As coaches and players of the beautiful game we have a responsibility to help one another uphold the spirit of the game.  It's only when we think of ourselves as bigger than the game itself that we find ourselves in a real struggle.  Again, life is like this for it is only when we think of ourselves as bigger than life itself do we tend to find ourselves struggling.

Oh, by the way, immediately after that 0-24 butt whupping I had the team back to our house for a pancake breakfast. The kids played video games and tossed a football around the yard. We didn't dwell on the loss one bit.  And a side note to this story is the core of that team went all the way to the OHSAA Regional Finals as high school seniors.

Tuesday

Coaching is all about REALTIONSHIPS

I recently spoke with a coach who expressed concern that he didn't have the teams undivided attention as it concerned soccer.  Tom related although the boys were attentive while he addressed them a couple seemed to take the first opportunity to consult with their parents about what was just discussed.  Tom went on to tell how he first noticed this during a match when after the half time discussion a player turned to his father in the stands behind the bench and asked for input - both for himself and his team.

This is a tough one.

I'm not sure I have a standard answer ... or remedy... to offer on this subject.  Instinct tells me to return to asking questions. And again, the most important question is probably going to be "why?" 

I have seen this happen before.  Most recently this past fall with my son, Lance.  His high school program had long since lost energy and momentum as a legendary coach hung on far too long. It was with excited anticipation that Lance embraced the new coach.  I watched that excitement lose its luster and fade quickly as Lance realized he knew more about the formation and system of play the new coach was implementing than the new coach himself did.  As the season wore on, Lance began turning to me, in the stands, looking for ... I'm not entirely sure.  Support, I suppose.

I was myself very uncomfortable with Lance, in full view of coaches, parents, teammates turning to me in the stands.  To begin with, I simply gave a thumbs up and clapped my hands in encouragement.  These were delaying tactics on my part. I don't think I fooled anyone, especially Lance.  There came a point in time when Lance did not hide his disdain or frustration any more and simply asked out loud after the coach's half time discussion what he and his team needed to do.

Well, that certainly put me on the spot. 

It also was a clear single that the coach had lost, if not the team, then certainly its best player.

(We later discussed this situation in private as a family and modified behavior accordingly.)

Now, I am unsure of the exact circumstances surrounding Tom's situation, but it sounded to me like certain players, if not the entire team, had lost confidence in his abilities as a coach.  I know Tom to be more knowledgeable than the average high school coach. He's a bit inexperienced but is finding his way. Tom is very open to asking for help in seeking to improve his own abilities and those of his team.  So, where the disconnect with players / his team originated from, I am not sure.

I believe Lance's perspective in his own situation was basically two-fold.  First, he felt his coaches underestimated the team.  At one point early in the season Lance stated he felt they were being coached like a U12 team.  Secondly, Lance believed the coaches lack of experience in coaching the system they were installing hampered the teams ability to an extreme degree.  I would concur on this second concern.  The correct strategies were in evidence but the timing and rhythm in the execution of these were quite off.

Attempting to figure out how to advise Tom while these thoughts are caroming about my mind was difficult enough, but my mind also wandered back to my stint at LCC. That girls team was rolling and, I believe, on its way to playing for a state championship at Crew Stadium in Columbus.  Then the wheels fell off.

There were parents of a couple of players who did not want me coaching.  They did not like the hire. They did not like that I was brought back for a second year despite having guided the team to its first ever winning season and rewriting the school record book in both offensive and defensive categories.  That's ok.  In fact, it's part of coaching. Some like you as a coach. Some don't.

I "lost" two key members of that team who then openly and actively sabotaged the teams efforts.  Why did it come to this?  I put the programs interests first, the teams interests second and the interests of individual players third. The players in question were third and that resulted in bruised egos and hurt feelings. They, and one specific parent, made it a priority to win a battle not caring about losing the war.

I felt I could not allow this to become the situation with Lance and his team.  It was not an easy thing to do.  I could not simply support the coaching staff because Lance would know I was being disingenuous - after all, over the past three club seasons I had taught Lance (and several of his high school teammates) the formation and system his high school team were attempting to play.  My strategy as a parent was to cheer what was being done correctly - positive reinforcement.  Of course, this was avoidance of the issue - those simple things that needed to be corrected to achieve success on the field.  It's a helpless feeling.

Lance's coach lost the team. The team lost the season.  The coach took it out on Lance.  It was a disaster.  Somewhere between Lance's situation and the LCC situation lay the answer, imo.  In fact, I knew what the answer was - cut the players who did not buy-in to the coaches vision. 

After an in-season drinking party on the LCC practice field, several inappropriate pictures posted on social media and one player telling me to "go fuck yourself" I went to the athletic director to have the trouble makers removed.  This was a private Catholic school dependent on tuition and donations to survive.  I lost that battle due to fear the school would lose the student / athletes in question and the associated revenue.  The team lost an opportunity to play for a state championship.  Individual awards were lost or diminished.

Lance's approach was to stick it out and be the best captain on and off the field he could be.  Lance was moved from position to position as the coach attempted to "stick a finger in each new leak" that sprung open.  Lance went willingly along with this even while he knew this was not the proper way to address the teams issues. Unlike with the girls at LCC, there were no grounds for the coach to dismiss Lance other than possibly for seeking in-game advice from his father.  The season was lost.  The boys had a chance to win a league title, but ended with the worst season in decades at the school.  Lance was passed over for awards. It was a disaster.

That old coach who over stayed his welcome and usefulness?  He used to cut talented players in the preseason. I never understood why... until recently.  This is my advice Tom - if he knows a player / parent will be trouble, cut the player and move on.   This would have even worked in Lance's predicament. Lance would have moved and transferred schools. He might have had to sit out a few games but the happiness factor would have more than made up for that.  Instead, the rookie coach could not let go of his most talented player, but also could not fully embrace him. 

I believe coaching is ALL about building relationships.  That is what we are discussing in this article. Failed relationships to be exact.  Here's a secret, no coach has a perfect record in the area of coach / player or coach / parent relationships.  Coach / assistant coach relationships also fail. This is why it is necessary at times for coaches to cut talented players or fire competent assistants.  It can be a simple matter of addition by subtraction.  And this is not necessarily an indictment of player, parents, assistant coach or coach - it just means the fit was not right.  We have all seen the coach who moves on from one failure (Bill Belichick with the Browns moving to the Patriots) to success somewhere else or the underachieving player who changes teams and suddenly begins realizing his potential (David Oritz moving from Minnesota to the Boston).  Or in life, a first marriage ends in divorce, but a second marriage celebrates a 30 year anniversary. Not every relationship can be saved, nor should every relationship be saved. Sometimes the parties just need to go their own ways for the benefit of all.

Help!

One of my pet peeve's is the person who needs help, but will not ask for nor accept help. I think this stems from a time in my life when having lost my father I needed help in the form of a male role model, but so many turned away from helping me.  No big brother. No other family or family friend. No one from the congregation. It was a lonely time in my life and I admittedly struggled to find my way.  I knew I was struggling.  When I married I held hope the new father-in-law might fill some of the void, but part of me knew before I ever said "I do" that was not going to happen either.  Quite literally I Thank God and his Holy Word for helping through that time in my life.

At some point in time I made a conscious decision to offer help anytime I saw someone in need. This was noble but misguided as well.  Some people just don't want the help. They might be confident in their own ability or they might view "help" as a threat to themselves or their position - for whatever reason they simply are not ready or willing to ask for or accept help. 

The very act of asking if someone needs your help can be intimidating to the person your offering     help to.  This is especially true when the person being offered help does not realize (or agree) that help might be needed.

Let's be honest, those of us who are parents have had to deal with children who think they are prepared to go it alone. It is often a case of not wanting help even when they recognize they need help. The struggle to be independent and accountable.  It's what we want for our children, but we want to "help" them get there as seamlessly as possible.  Again, a noble, but misguided idea.

What does this have to do with soccer and coaching?

I am sure we have all had encounters with players who we deemed "damn near uncoachable," as I phrase it.  Strong willed, strong minded individuals who were convinced their way was the right way even in the face of mountains of evidence their way was detrimental to the team effort to achieve a common goal.  We cut the player just to be rid of their disruptive influence or if the player is especially gifted we keep them on believing we can be the person to finally channel their attitude and ability in a positive and productive direction.  Sometimes the player comes around and sometimes you end up wondering what the hell you were thinking in keeping them and praying for the last day you will have to deal with them.

It's not all about players though.

There is a young coach I have been mentoring for a few years now.  I made the initial offer of help to John in the form of sharing resources I have with him.  After several months passing, John accepted the offer. We have developed a great relationship over time. I was initially in a role of mentor to John, but as time has progressed we find ourselves friends and peers.  This is a success story that goes far beyond the coaching relationship John and I enjoy for it's impact has been and continues to be felt by the players passing through John's program which itself has grown throughout the years.

Another example shows mixed results thus far.  Several years ago I took on a former player as an assistant coach. There was a general consensus of opinion that Ryan had the makings of a very good coach. This had been discussed since Ryan was a captain for his high school team and in some corners it was hoped that he would eventually come back to lead the program.  Maybe it was the expectations being heaped upon Ryan that gave him pause about coaching. To say he was reticent to the idea of coaching is somewhat an understatement.  As time passed Ryan did become involved as an assistant with the high school program and was eventually named to succeed the long time head coach.  All seems to be going according to long ago hopeful plans.

When I started coaching soccer I knew nothing about the game. Soccer wasn't even a school sport during my childhood.  I had to become a student of the game. I bought books and videos to study, but the single best thing I did was to ask questions of established coaches.  The local high school coach, Dick Hagen, was a starting point, but to be perfectly honest he did not know much about the game either having never played himself. He was simply more advanced on the same path I was beginning to travel. A good resource for sure, but not the be all / end all of a coaching mentor.

Graham Ramsay, a former professional player, coach and administrator who conducted camp for that high school team became a mentor to me. As did Ken White (University of Louisville / BGSU / NSCAA national staff).   There were certainly others along the way - some I learned the "do's" of coaching from and some I learned the "don'ts" of coaching from.  All have helped in one regard or another... because I was receptive to being helped.  I knew I needed help and went looking for it from the most qualified individuals who could offer it to me including a couple of email lists of coaching peers who have been wonderful resources ... and critics when necessary. 

Ryan's first year as a head coach was pretty much a disaster.  It was the worst season in terms of won/lost/tied record in decades at the school.  Coaching mistakes cost the team several victories. Because I had endorsed Ryan for the head coach position and even campaigned to the athletic director on his behalf it was difficult to see him struggle so.  To make matters worse, Ryan chose assistants who themselves had zero coaching experience at the high school level.  The learning curve was huge and to my knowledge they went it pretty much alone.  I had offered to help in any way I could, but was never taken up on that offer. 

One of my pet peeves is the person who needs help, but will not ask for nor accept help.  Ryan needed help and you might think my offer was about mentoring Ryan but it goes far beyond that narrow scope or view of things.  You see, another lesson I learned long ago was that when one person struggles there is a ripple effect. One person's struggles affect many other people.  The young players on the high school team did not deserve the season they ended up having. They were too talented to be a sub .500 team.  In fact, the pre-season consensus amongst experienced coaches in the area was the team had a chance at the league and district titles.

Help was offered to Ryan, but he was unwilling or unable to accept it.  The program, this past falls team and individual players suffered for it.  Help was offered to John and he eventually accepted it. John's program, this past falls team and the individual players that comprised the team are an improving lot. They continue to become stronger.  While a tale of two programs, both can have bright futures. I know John's will because he constantly seeks help... and not just from me. He's open to help from wherever and whomever he can find it.  Hopefully Ryan will grow into that mindset as well. There are plenty of people who are willing and more than capable of helping him - the question is, will Ryan be receptive to their offers?

James is a third coaching associate. I have known him for over a decade.  His program is bottom tier in the league they play in. Has been the entire time I have known him. He could use some help. It's been offered repeatedly, but James continues to do what he has always done and unsurprisingly continues to have the same type of results he has always had.  He continues as the head coach because ... well, I'm not real sure. Soccer is evidently not a real high priority at his school.  Losing seasons are the accepted norm.  It's a terrible rut to find one's self in. 

Which bring me back to Graham Ramsay and the building of the Shawnee soccer program.  There was a time when long-time coach Dick Hagen knew he needed help. He hooked up with Graham Ramsay who was key in helping to build and develop the program over the course of more than a decade. This culminated in a state semi-final appearance during Ryan's senior season.  Shortly after that season Coach Hagen began to become disenchanted with Graham conducting summer camp for Shawnee. This eventually led to Shawnee looking elsewhere for help.  Not coincidently this coincided with the Shawnee program beginning to decline. A decline that picked up speed in succeeding years and eventually culminated with Ryan's first year as head coach being the worst in recent program history.  In a manner of speaking, Ryan now finds himself in a position similar to where Dick Hagen found himself in the late 1980's - the coach of an underachieving program in need of ... help.

What I encourage you as coaches (and players) to do is to actively seek help. Be open minded and receptive to the help offered. Take from each helpful person the bits and pieces of information that resonate with you. Continue to educate yourself and explore both the game and the coaching profession to its fullest.  The minute you stop growing your trade, is the moment you should get out of coaching.  There is always more to learn and more coaches and players to learn from.  Be aggressive in seeking help and in accepting help when offered.  Approach each day with enthusiasm to learn previously unknown to man-kind.

And for those of you offering help, remember to be patient.  While watching someone needlessly struggle as they muddle through gaining experience is difficult it remains the responsibility of the person struggling to seek help, ask for help and accept help.  No one can do it for them.  It is much like alcoholism or drug addiction in that the addict must seek, ask for and be receptive to help before help can do them any good.   That time may never come. Sad, but true. 


 
I'm not trying to be the best player.
 
I'm trying to be on the best team.
 
Klay Thompson

Dealing with Expectations

A valuable lesson I have learned concerns expectations placed on players, teams and coaches.  I am not sure there was a specific point in time when I realized addressing expectations was a coaching technique, but there is a necessity to train on how to handle expectations.  If we accept there are four basic facets to the game - technical, tactical, physical and psychological, - then handling expectations falls in the psychological category.

Recruiting often brings a lot of hyperbole to athletes and builds expectations for them to an unrealistic level.  When an athlete does not live up to expectations he is them considered a "bust".   One need not be a highly recruited athlete to have expectations thrust upon him. Consider the best player(s) on a high school team. These are the athletes expected to lead their team to victory, a winning season, a league title, a state championship even. 

Similar expectations can follow a coach. Successful coaches tend to be upwardly mobile and are recruited to new positions after having success in their current situation. Some coaches move every couple of seasons while others remain in the same position for years seeking to build a dynasty.

Just because an expectation exists does not mean it is based in reality.  In fact, many expectations are more hopeful in nature than they are grounded in reality. In the construct of today's youth sports where big, strong, fast can be valued over technique and tactic in pursuit of wins this is ever increasingly a truth.  Time and again I have witnessed the dominant player in U12 fade away and abandon the game entirely as other players catch up to him (or her) physically and surpass them technically and tactically. And it's not peers alone who can surpass once dominant youth players but the game itself can leave them behind.

This is where managing expectations comes in. And let's be honest about this, very few youth coaches actively seek to manage expectations.   Youth coaches tend to ride the best player for as far as that player can take them. They may seek to put a better supporting cast around the dominant player or recruit other dominant players to play along side him.  Our local youth sports organization has followed this path for the last 10-12 years to disastrous results. 

A one time well-oiled feeder program that regularly produced 10-15+ athletes for the high school teams has in recent years has produced 4 or 5 each fall.  Why the drop in numbers?  A change in philosophy that produced initial results that proved to be false in the long run.

When my sons began coming through the SSA teams were randomly selected each year. Those WCOSA league teams were not always successful against teams from opposing school districts.We put together all-star teams comprised of the best players from each team to play in local tournaments and generally had very good success. During this time the high school team was the dominant program in the area.

The change in philosophy was to begin placing all the best youth players of an age group on one team and leave them there from year to year as they progressed toward high school.  At first glance, this may appear like a good idea and while the SSA WCOSA league teams initially fared better, the high school program began a sharp decline both in terms of numbers and competitiveness.

Some of the best youth players are leaving the sport. And not necessarily to play another sport either. Those youth teams (regardless of the sport) that enjoyed so much success coming up through the system cannot achieve a .500 record on the varsity level of play. Obviously there is a short in the system somewhere.  In my opinion, this short can be found in a general category I term "Dealing with Expectations."

We need to go back to the idea of big, strong and fast (BSF) youngsters dominating youth sports physically to produce wins. There will come a time when your best BSF is not as good as an opponents BSF is.  This is adversity.  The expectation was for your BSF, your "best" player to carry your team to victory and now that has not happened. 

What now?

I remember a young lad by the name of David.  Now, David was BSF to an extreme extent. As a 10 year old he was physically capable of playing U14. He scored at will and when in goal, no one scored against him.  I coached David as a U8 and recommended that he be moved up an age group or two, It didn't happen and we never lost a game. Only one team came close to competing with us (David).   I coached David again as a U12 on a tournament team and quickly realized the need to adjust my own expectations.  In a close match I had turned to David and said something like, "We need you to bring your "A" game today. Put us on your shoulders and carry us to victory."   Yeah, definitely not one of my better moments as a coach.  I was young and dumb coaching my eldest sons team and wanting the win. I placed unrealistic expectations on David who failed to live up to them leaving everyone dissatisfied with the experience. I messed up BIG time.

I learned the lesson though. 

From that point forward my teams had no "stars" in terms of expectations.  More importantly I learned even the best players need to learn to deal with adversity and the expectations that can lead to adversity.  This is where our local youth program, the SSA, is failing kids and thusly failing the high school program as well.

As I stated earlier, when my eldest came through the youth ranks teams were randomly selected each year.  This lead to a competitive imbalance against teams from other local associations who stacked their best players all on one team.  Let's also remember that it was our local high school that was the dominant program in the area while the high schools those other teams fed into were weaker. Although the transition was slow, those roles have now entirely reversed.

My contention is that by placing all the best players on a single team and leaving the remaining teams in the program with the "leftovers" many of the important lessons necessary for eventual success were denied to players who would have benefited greatly from those experiences when they arrived to the high school program. 

If your BSF never experiences adversity, how will he know how to overcome it when it does arise?  Splitting up the best players during their youth years almost guarantees those BSF players will meet with adversity, aka losing or failing.  And if you have talent divided among multiple teams with each team having a dominant BSF of it's own (relative in nature, of course) then more players will learn how to lead through adversity.  Spreading the wealth (talent) in the youth ranks serves to develop better leadership depth.  It also serves to prepare a larger group to deal with the hyperbole of expectations.

Then when you bring everyone together on one team in middle school or freshman soccer the pecking order amongst players can sort itself out.  But now when the best player, no longer necessarily the BSF, meets adversity there is depth behind him (or her) to help guide the team through and on to victory.  The phrase used to describe such players today are "outliers", those kids for whom expectations are moderate at best, but who are capable of stepping to the fore when necessary to carry their team. They give "surprise" performances that catch opponents off guard,  The confidence necessary for such performances are rooted in their experiences in youth soccer.  At some point in time, they persevered in the youth ranks. They had that one game when they got "hot" or were "in the zone" and carried their team. The seed for the expectation that they could do so again was planted in that youth game.

So too were the realization that the BSF or best player cannot carry the day each time out.  These players need to realize they are not expected to do so each time out. The expectation is for them to be consistently good each time they take the pitch but the realization is that some days they will perform below average.  This is when other teammates need to understand the expectation for them to step up. They need successful experience in order to do so and that type of experience is found in youth sports.

I harp back to recent articles I have written where I recounted one coach's lamentations about being unable to scout our club team the last couple of springs.  "We played you 3 times this season and watched you several more. Your team is impossible to scout.  It's a different player having a big game every time we watch. You generate goals differently every time we watch.  How do you coach that?"
   
Expectations have a lot to do with it.  I consciously sought to lower the expectations for some players and raise the expectations for others.  I did not want one or even two dominant goal scorers. I wanted a team full of players capable of scoring goals.  Take the pressure, the expectations, to score off the best goal scorer and make him even more productive by doing so.  Raise the expectations for outliers to score goals by giving them the confidence to do so and enabling then to explore the game to it's fullest extent in pursuit of doing so - we raised the bar for these players and they strove to meet the expectations. Some might say we had certain players over-achieve, but not based on our expectations for them.

This past fall, the new high school coach set very low expectations for the team in general and many players specifically.  He just did a terrible job of managing the expectations in general.  The results were the worst season in decades for the program.  Many players and the team as a whole lived down to the expectations he set for them.  There was emphasis placed on BSF when such really did not exist on the team.  Too little emphasis was placed on tactical and technical considerations when a solid foundation was present to be built around.  Everything was topsy-turvy and as a result individuals and the team as a whole underachieved even to lowered expectations.

There is a very real need to establish expectations for each position on the team and for the players who will be playing those positions. Matching players to positions in this manner is important, but not necessarily the end-all for positioning.  Do not sell players short, but also do not place unrealistically high expectations on them.  Watch closely how players respond to situations. Their (re)actions will often indicate whether you need to raise or lower expectations.  And please watch how players interact with one another.  Do not mislabel an outlier nor the star - this past high school season saw the coach do both leaving a confused, disappointed and largely directionless group of players.  The players absolutely know when a coach does this.  Dealing with and managing expectations for the individual and the team is not something normally found in textbooks or coaching courses, but it should be.  It can make or break the individual, the team, the season. 



Monday

MLK or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

"Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]"

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

 While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle--have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

Friday

Over-coaching

Over-coaching takes away
 
the opportunity
 
for your players
 
to practice and hone
 
decision-making skills.

Saturday

Burn Off

I was awoken this morning by a deafening explosion.  An isocracker at the local refinery exploded and shook our entire house.  There were no injuries or fatalities associated with the explosion and fire. They have everything contained and are allowing the remaining crude oil to burn off. 

This mornings events got me to thinking of players, coaches, parents and even referees who can be volatile during matches. Sometimes people allow their emotions to explode and when this happens it is often prudent to allow whatever is fueling the outburst to burn off before confronting the individual or attempting to address the issue.  Sometimes a yellow card caution or a red card send off is unfortunately necessary to allow the cooling off period to ensue. 

Some memorable incidents I have witnessed fall into two basic categories - uncontrolled and controlled.  The uncontrolled might include a parent being "thrown out" or sent to the parking lot for abusive language or behavior toward an official.  Or perhaps a player sent off for violent conduct.  I have seen coaches, more so in basketball, intentionally gain a referee's attention with a controlled or intentional outburst designed to do so.

In each case it seems to me the person "going off" feels a need to be heard. Once they have had their say, the incident often ends then and there.  The impact such outbursts have can be wide ranging. Sometimes a coach needs to "fight" for his or her players.  Giving a referee a good ear full perhaps sends a message to the players the coach has their backs.  When done intentionally, this could fall under the heading of gamesmanship.   A controlled explosion for a designed purpose, if you will.  Limited collateral damage.

Uncontrolled explosions, or when emotions run amok, are far more dangerous.  Left unchecked these explosions can lead to violence, injury and as we are sometimes reminded of, death.  When this occurs the intrinsic value of athletics is lost.  When winning or losing becomes more important than the spirit of the game emotions get the better of people - almost always with negative consequences. 

The character Chick Hicks in Disney's movie "Cars" is used to drive this point home. I use this example because it is one this generation of young players is familiar with.  Chick is focused solely on winning the Piston Cup much as the movies protagonist Lightning McQueen is at the start of the story.  The tale is of Lightning McQueen's growing to appreciate the intrinsic value of the overall experience.  That it can never be and never is about the individual.

A soccer match is a team effort. It takes two teams, two coaching staffs, a referee crew, ground crew, spectators, ball boys, scoreboard operator, box office personnel, concessions workers and more to have a quality experience.  Everyone has a role to fill.  No one person's role being more significant than another persons role.   We are all dependent on one another.

The refinery fire this morning will have a similar impact on its operation.  My understanding is the isocracker that exploded is one of the first steps in the refining process. It heats the crude oil so separation can begin to take place before  different parts are refined into a various products.  That explosion will set things back for quite some time.  An uncontrolled explosion on the pitch can have much the same effect. 

Friday

Opposing Principles of Play

I have published these and similar thoughts before. They are extremely important for both coaches and players to understand.  Consider this a short guide to transition from playing AT soccer to actually playing soccer.



Attacking Principles of Play                                  Defending Principles of Play

1) Penetration to score                                            1) Delay the Attack

2) Depth to stretch the defense vertically                2) Support behind 1st Defender

3) Width to stretch the defense laterally                  3) Compactness

4) Movement of Players & Ball                                4) Maintain Balance

5) Creativity & Unpredictability                                5) Discipline & Patience

 

Thursday

Prospective College Student / Athletes

The best advice I can give to prospective student athletes
is to make a 40 year decision and not a 4 year decision.  
Your playing career is fleeting,
but your education will last forever.