Decision Making

I have written a lot about decision making in general and specifically about players on-field or in-game decision making.  I was talking with some friends last night when it occurred to me a coach's decision making is every bit as important as that of the players. Maybe more so in some regards.

Most people see a coach as the guy standing on the sidelines during games. This is the person who makes out line ups, makes substitutions and yells at officials during the game.  What they don't see is the day to day activity behind the scenes. 

Planning a 1.5 hour practice can often take me 1.5 hours.  I care enough to get it right.  There is analysis of where the team currently stands, specifics to be addressed, how to go about addressing these areas and planning for the needs to do so. 

Training and game schedules.




Assistant Coaches.

Post game meals.

Video Taping practices and games.

These are but a few areas coaches have input in on decisions being made.

It goes even further than that though.

On the roster of a soccer team you will have players that learn in many different ways. How do you select or design an activity that reaches across all of these?  Will you have to coach, instruct, teach the same activity in different ways to reach every player?  One size rarely fits all.

Sometimes I think people forget a coach wants to win. While there is a contest taking place on the pitch there is also a bit of a contest taking place on the sidelines between coaches. Which coach will have the better initial game plan and which will make better half time adjustments to provide the players the best opportunity for victory.

When I go about setting a line up it can be a difficult task. It's definitely not about putting your 11 best players on the field so much as it is about putting the 11 who play best together on the pitch.  This has been driven home hard in recent cub seasons as I have had a plethora of players who play center midfield for their high school teams. Some must change positions. Some may have to come off the bench as a substitute.

I have been following the teams that camped with us this summer and, of course, my son's high school team. In each case, I have found myself wondering about positions certain players have been placed in - not criticizing where a coach has decided to utilize a player. Just wondering what went into that decision making process trying to understand why the coach believes this is the way the pieces best fit together.

This is what I am getting at - most people know very little of all the decisions a coach must attend to nor do they realize the details of the process that take place far from the public eye. Parents tend to view a coach's decisions from the perspective of their child first and the team second. Whereas a coach must view things from a team perspective first with the individual players perspective being secondary.

Thus a player coming to his high school team after enjoying great success as an outside back for his club team may find himself playing center midfielder for his high school team.  Or a more than capable club winger might be asked to play as a goalkeeper in high school. It's how the pieces best fit together in a given circumstance. As a coach I both understand and appreciate this. 

Being on the other side of the pitch these last two fall seasons has been such a Blessing to me as I have watched the decision making process of coaches from a parents perspective, BUT with the inside knowledge of the vast variables a coach faces in making decisions. This has been of a tremendous benefit and influence to me as a coach.

In fact, this experience has provided me with the inner strength to make changes on the club level that I might not have had the courage to otherwise make.  A prime example was my calculated move to take a center midfielder and move him to left back.  There was some initial trepidation, even reluctance on the players part about making the switch. He bought into the move though. Asked questions and really studied and learned the position.  Best left back I have ever coached and without a doubt in my mind the best left back in the area right now. He would have struggled to find time as a midfielder on our club team. Now, he should have college coaches clamoring for his attention.

A second example can be found in the demotion of a player to our second team. This players mother was extremely upset. She went so far as to try and convince another coach to take over the team so that her son could remain with the "A" team. She talked about me behind my back and was just generally belligerent towards me. I attempted to explain the reasoning but she could not see the logic through her anger, disappointment and hurt.

The player was a bit more receptive. I think he understood on a deeper level that in order to have a great senior year in high school soccer he needed to change some things about his game. He had been named to the varsity squad each of his first three years in high school only to be demoted back to JV in short order. A definite pattern had been established. This young man worked hard this past winter and spring. He did everything I asked ... and more.  Not only did he learn to play at a higher level, he became a leader for our second team. He just blossomed as a player and a person.

Two great memories from this experience I will carry forward with me.  The first was the day the player handed in his "homework" to me. It detailed the perspective of 5 different players taking part in an exercise and he nailed it in an extended response form. It was well thought out and on point. A far reach from his one word or short sentence answers of his previous homework assignments.  The second was his taking over half time of a match. He was frustrated with a lackadaisical first half effort by his team, but he wasn't negative in addressing his teammates. He identified problems the team needed to solve, provided ideas about how to go about solving them and was very encouraging of his teammates.  I remember standing aside watching and listening in awe wondering where this had been in previous years?

The answer was quite simple, in previous years he had deferred to others. He had been surrounded by teammates who were a little further along the development trail of leadership. Now, he had to step up and assume that mantel. He always had it in him, but had never been in the proper circumstance to allow it to shine forth. The by-product of all this has been a huge surge in confidence.  This is a confident young man on the pitch. He's not a captain for his high school team, but he is a leader on the field. 

It may well sound as if I am patting myself on the back for coaching decisions that have turned out well, but that is the furthest thing from the actual truth.  I am not responsible for these players transformations and success.  They are.  I may have provided some tools or a venue, but these players put in the work and enjoy the success from having done so. 

The point I have sought to make is that most people (players & parents) do not consider all that goes into a coach's decision making process. Nor do they appreciate the allocation of time and effort resources that are involved in making the decisions coaches do.  Coaches can quite literally be exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally after a season concludes. The stress of constantly making decisions and balancing the interests of the program, the team and the individual player (in that order) can take its toll.

If only all we had to worry about was line ups and substitutions!

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