Over the years I have developed something of a reputation for turning programs around in short order. Be it a high school program like LCC or a club team with Grand Lake United I have enjoyed great success in short order. As I find myself in the second year at Lima Senior I am being humbled by the slow progress of turning this program into the powerhouse I believe it should be. The talent is present, but the culture is not present. My previously successful "formula" for quick turnarounds is not working as well as it did in the past.
As I have been analyzing the current state of the program after our first year I have been giving considerable thought to what has worked in the past. I have also given serious consideration to what is different this time as I formulate the plan leading into next season. I feel things are beginning to fall into place and progress is being made. Writing of the process always seem to help me draw things into focus. You are privileged (or cursed, as the case may be) today to get a glimpse into this process.
When taking over a program and changing the status quo it is always good to have Trusted Agents or players who support your efforts. These are usually found in those who are juniors during the first year of your directing the program. Or at least I have been blessed to have found them in the junior class at past stops.
At LCC, we had a senior Megan who was on-board from the start. She took the brunt of resistance to change that first year becoming a lightning rod for any type of conflict that arose. She was strong and focused. Our junior was Shayna who bought in and shared the vision from the start. She not only understood what the process was but also helped define how the process would be achieved. Plus, she was strong enough to stand up to the negativity always associated with change and the negative leadership that sometimes emerges in the face of change. God Bless Shayna. Shayna was, at times, as good a player leader as any I have had the pleasure of working with.
With Grand Lake United it was my son Lance and his teammates Tanner and Adam who set the tone. Their expectations were high and became the standards the team held itself to. Adding Alex to that mix solidified our vision, our process and how we went about achieving in the process. We weeded out a lot of the resistance to change and negativity over a 2 year period. Alex handled any residual negativity with unbelievable diplomacy and firmness.
I take little credit as a coach for what these young people achieved. My biggest contribution was identifying the right people to lead the turnaround. Megan, Shayna, Lance, Tanner, Adam and Alex were easy choices as determined through both their words and their actions.
I have admittedly struggled to find the same type of player leadership in my current position. This past season's seniors never did buy into the vision. They were never able to define the process and so we meandered through the season. Now, it is true TEAM 29 at Lima Senior put together the best season in recent program history. I received lots of congratulatory remarks about having won 10 games in my first season at Lima Senior. It is also true, TEAM 29 never overcame the past culture of the program. I firmly believe TEAM 29 should have had 14 or even 15 wins by the time our season ended in the tournament. Culture eats talent and strategy for breakfast. I was reminded of this on more than one occasion this past season.
Whereas in past coaching stops I had always been able to identify junior leadership to drive the team forward, that was not the case at Lima Senior. For the first time in my coaching career I will endure two straight classes with below average leadership. And it might well be more than two years. Our current sophomore class some has possibilities for positive, process driven leaders, None are a sure thing. Cole, I force fed into a leadership role too early. He has many of the qualities I am looking for, but the circumstances were not right. Can he rebound? Can I help put him back on track? Micah is not (yet?) strong enough to stand up to negativity as Shayna did for her team. Sam is home schooled and therefore not with his teammates every day. He does possess nearly everything else I am looking for in a player leader. I have yet to identify the quality of leadership I seek in the freshman class either. Now, the current 8th graders? They have several quality leaders among them. They are probably 3 years away from having the type of significant impact on our culture that is required to move the program forward to where it realistically should be.
Trusted Agents II
Be it in club soccer or in high school soccer, parents play a significant role in your program. As a coach I interact with the student / athletes approximately 2-3 hours a day in season. Parents, naturally interact with their children a whole lot more. Hopefully. At every coaching stop some of the strongest resistance to change I encounter is from parents. It certainly was at LCC where the parents of the "star" were adverse to her having to share the glory (scoring goals) in the balanced system of play I brought to the program. I was also not allowed to cut two players (and their parents) from the program who made it their announced aim to subvert everything I did.
Parental resistance was also a major push back at Grand Lake United until I did cut players / parents from the "A" team and regulated them to the "B" team or cut them from the program entirely. Much easier to do so when the coach is in charge and the club administration doesn't want to deal with drama.
And once again, at Lima Senior there is strong resistance from a small group of parents seemingly intent on feeding the "me" in their child instead of the "we" in our program, our team.
I included this Trusted Agents II section only because as I look to identify leadership, define the process and formulate how we will navigate the process it has occurred to me I could move the process forward by cutting resistance from the program and advancing the soon-to-be freshman class into key roles earlier than I would normally like to. Sacrifice the team for the program.
To be perfectly honest, it is usually the past that motivates the change of culture and buy-in necessary to accomplish it. At LCC, the program had never had a winning season. They were hungry for a change. The biggest obstacle proved to be changing a few from "Me" people to "We" people. With Grand Lake United we had players passionate about soccer and tired of getting their butts kicked by the "big clubs" so they too were hungry, eager and receptive to change, At Lima Senior the upperclassmen are invested in and tied to their past by a recreational league state championship they won when they were in middle school. I sometimes feel as though they view that youth league championship as the apex of their soccer careers instead of a building block. There is seemingly little desire to strive for, let alone replicate, that championship success at the high school level.
In my coaching career, I have rarely been so filled with emotion as the day I overheard some of our varsity players say,
to give up or quit.