Patience and Attitude

I was talking with a colleague late last night about what it takes to build a program. He commented to me about not knowing if he had the patience to build the program he took over a couple years back. Keith called because he knows I have had some success in building teams and turning around programs. He said he wanted to pick my mind about the course to set for his team.

A couple of things instantly sprang to mind. First, was Keith's mention of patience and secondly that Keith knows the path to follow in building a program.  That meant to me that Keith was looking for support more than knowledge. It also meant his patience needed a booster shot.  I understand this.

Building or re-building a program is not for everyone.  It can be a grind and progress can come painstakingly slow. Instead of winning games your goals might include tasks such as stringing two consecutive passes together with proper technique and intelligent thought. Or perhaps teaching the proper angle of approach for a defender, the bounce step and cues for when to tackle the ball. When you are coaching a high school program, these are the last things you want to be spending a lot of teaching time on, but with the status of youth soccer in many areas of our country this is the stark reality of where the game stands.

In a different conversation last night I referred to having to spend high school practice time teaching basic fundamentals as being boring.  This conversation was with Marc, a veteran coach and my partner in crime this past spring.  We were blessed with athletes who were skilled and knew the game. Even so, we still did a lot of teaching, but it was with more tactical emphasis than technical emphasis. Marc's current high school program is a small one and co-ed competing against boys teams.  It's a challenge and one that will require patience.  It is not a new program and the previous coaches have laid some solid groundwork, but there is still work to be done. First and foremost might be with the youth feeder system.

I think it important not to equate patience with making excuses for the status of a teams play. There is a difference. Patience implies that time is a factor. With time, addressing the fundamentals of technical and tactical play will pay off. Success is not measured in wins and losses, per se, but by progress made in developing players. Progress is a positive measuring stick.

Making excuses is a negative and one cannot build positively on negatives.  There is an immediate need to break the chain of negativity. This is where attitude comes in, a point I reiterated with Keith last night. It is so important to celebrate success.  It does not matter if that success is trivial in comparison to other teams or other programs. The important thing to remember, to strive for, is daily improvement. When the team and its individual members walk off the pitch at the end of training or the end of a game, have they improved from when they stepped onto the pitch that day?

The coach must maintain a positive attitude.  This includes an air of confidence that he can give or share with the members of the team. It is  important that the effort of the players is recognized and critical that intelligent effort is acknowledged. This is the heart of coaching.  If a coach does not feel good about the progress of his team, he will be hard pressed to convey a believable positive attitude to his team. This is the lesson of intelligent effort from the coaching perspective.

Earlier I referenced having to work on basic fundamentals with high school players as being boring.  As a high school coach there is some measure of truth in this. We would much rather spend time more time on tactics than fundamental techniques that should have been learned before they come to the high school team.   In truth, teaching fundamentals is only boring in the context of having to do so with older age groups when there should be a greater emphasis on tactics for winning soccer.  Even then, teaching technique can be a very rewarding experience.

The last two camps I conducted this summer were spent teaching basic fundamentals to older age groups.  Sequence of touches, breaking lines, the two line game - these were all necessities for these camps before we could move into tactical aspects of play.  It is actually quite fun to see players improve their games right before your eyes. In a camp setting where there is no pressure to win this is easy to accomplish. Once the need to win is factored in, an urgency becomes attached to teaching fundamentals causing the process to become both stressful and, yes, boring. At least in the sense that this is something we would rather not have to devote precious training time to. How the coach handles having to spend an inordinate amount of time on fundamentals, his attitude towards it, will impact the process.

Now, if we examine the last paragraph a little closer there is a lesson to be learned. It is such a fundamental lesson, but one the US soccer culture has failed to learn. The consequences of this failure can be seen in our national teams level of play in comparison to those of the international community. We emphasize winning over development in our training.

Let's repeat that - We emphasize winning over development in our training.

I propose that if we train to develop, winning will take care of itself. This is the attitude I bring both to the camps I conduct and to the teams I coach. I do not talking about winning... or losing ... games with my teams. I do address improving and improvement on a constant basis. I design training sessions around taking another step forward in improving our play. I take the same approach to conducting camp.  I want to be able to identify noticeable and tangible improvement each day from the time we step onto the field to the time we step off the field.  As long as this is occurring, then being patient and maintaining a positive attitude with the process is easy. It's only when we prioritize winning over development that we become impatient and our attitudes suffer.

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