What do coaches look for in players?

I have recently been involved in a round table discussion of "What coaches look for in players".  It came at an apporpriate time as I faced some difficult decisions in rounded out a club team roster.  It may come as a surprise to you that the most valued trait was decision-making skills.

Of course, everyone wants great athletic talent and wonderful skill sets but as the disccusion contnued it became apparent to all the ability to read the game, soccer IQ, vision were traits valued as much as pure athleticism or great skills.  The focus turned to the word potential being the label apllied to great physial athletes with poor or underdeveloped decision-making skills.

Over the years of coaching I had arrived at this conclusion without ever expressing it in words.  Experience as both a player and a coach provided examples of great athletes who were mediocre players.  People who could thrive on individual talent but never seemed to mesh well in team settings. People who dominated weaker opponents with sheer physical talent only towily when faced with playing against good athletes with better decision-making skills.

In the end, it is the mind that seperates the truly great from the merely good, the good from the average. The players hat are able to "think the game" instead of being satisfied with just playing at the game are the ones I want. This is what enables career "role players" to last as long as they do in some sports. They know who they are as a player and how their abilities fit in to the grand scheme of the game. It is also what allows an all-time great like Michael Jordan in basketball to move from being an incredible athlete his first few years in the NBA to a 6 time NBA champion in his later years.

Decision-making can be an acquired skill. Coaches must provide players with the necessary tools and ample opportunities to practice decision making on their own.  A coach must be comfortable in the knowledge that good decisions come from experience and experience is often the product of poor decisions. 

A fascinating discussion that affirmed what I have come to realize as a coach.  That realization has come from 30+ years of making mistakes as a coach. Many, perhaps most, of the decision making skills I have today are a by-product of mistakes I have made along the way.  I've learned from mistakes and have been able to apply what I have learned to not only help myself but also to provide others the value of my experences.  I'm not done learning though.  I still make mistakes.  My decision-making skills still have room for improvement.  And that is the most valuable lesson I can impart to the players I coach.

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