Ted. No, not the movie. Ted, A soccer coach.

I received a call from Ted recently. He was down in the dumps and thinking of getting out of coaching.  I had been expecting this, but still wasn't fully prepared to discuss this with Ted.  A little background may serve to bring things into focus for the purpose of this article. 

I have known Ted for years. He was a very good high school player who went on to play in college.  He was hired into a  good school system, but one that did not allow first year teachers to coach. They wanted their teachers to get a foundation in the classroom before branching out into extra curricular activities. When the head soccer coach position came open a couple of years later Ted applied and ultimately was awarded the job.

Now, Ted is one of the most enthusiastic people I know. To say he was excited about this opportunity would be an understatement.  He knew how he had been coached as a high school athlete and also how he had been coached at the college level.  His intentions were to bring what he had learned as a college athlete to the high school level.  He wanted to reverse engineer the college athlete and bridge the gap between levels of play. This is a notion I highly applauded as I believe too often high school athletes are under-coached in the sense that too little is asked of or expected from them. Even so, I cautioned Ted to be realistic.  I counseled Ted to take stock of where the athletes were and then look to the vision he had for how they could play.  In between the starting point and his vision was where all the work would need to take place. 

All these grand ideas and an overflowing fountain of practical knowledge Ted wanted to share with the high school players never really came to fruition. Ted came away convinced high school players were incapable of what he was asking of them.  In fact, Ted called because he was thinking of resigning from the high school position. He thought maybe he would be better at coaching college athletes.  I called B.S. on this entire idea.

Let's back track just a bit.  When Ted was contemplating becoming a high school coach and sharing his collegiate experience with younger players I applauded the notion.  I also suggested Ted evaluate where the high school athletes were and where he wanted to take them.  The process of progressing from point A to point B could then be defined.  I think what happened with Ted was he noted what he wanted to change but didn't take into account all of the details of process that would be necessary to effect that change. 

Another young high school coach told me last fall that my approach with club athletes would not work with a typical high school team.  Again, I called B.S. on this theory.  It has worked with a high school team. In fact, a high school team were my original "guinea pigs" for our current coaching methodology and system of play. I took a team that in 11 years had never had a winning season, was a sieve on defense and dominated on offensive by one player and turned them into a regional qualifier behind a strong defense and balanced scoring in our second season.

I did so in part by defining where the program / team / players were while knowing where I wanted to take them.  From our starting point we built a foundation in all aspects of the game that allowed the transformation to take place. We worked on changing a losing culture into a winning one while simultaneously implementing gradual changes to how we played the game and most importantly how the game was thought.  The critical element to this was empowering the athletes to make mistakes ... and learn from them. We did not pick apart their decision making process that led to mistakes. Rather, we challenged them to think differently, to find alternate solutions to the problems they encounter.  And maybe most importantly in this regard was the possibility of redefining the problem or obstacle they encountered to allow for a broader spectrum of solutions to be entertained.

That first year was brutal for me as a coach. We lost games we should not of lost. Or more precisely, we lost games that first year that we easily won the second year.  I was confident the transformation would take place while knowing the learning curve would be steep.  This is where Ted is at this moment. His season was a difficult one for him.  Progress did not come quickly enough.  There was resistance to some of the changes he implemented.  I don't think Ted realizes how close to a break through he might actually be with this high school team. I encouraged Ted to once again evaluate where the program is and where he wants to take it.  Could he identify progress?  Then once again identify a process to take the team from current point A to the point B he envisions for them.  

When a process breaks down I have found one of the best solutions is to back track a bit. Identify the problem and then identify the problem for the team. Discuss it with the team. Break it down to the smallest detail and begin reconstructing what it is you want them to achieve. Build understanding right along side of technique and tactical application.  Give them the small picture - all the little details - so they gain a fuller appreciation of the large picture or grand scheme of things through poise and confidence in the smaller setting.

For my teams, learning patience when playing out of pressure that we might be able to then counter with speed has been a focal point.  When I first introduce the idea of being a counter attacking team everyone thinks "win the ball and go!" when there is actually so much more involved if it is to be done effectively and efficiently.

I think Ted is going to give it another go with the high school team.  As we talked I could sense Ted beginning to understand he needed to define the process better not only for himself, but for the players as well.  The proverbial wheels were churning and enthusiasm seemed to be creeping back in as well.  For Ted the process seems back on track with a better appreciation or perhaps a deeper understanding of the necessity to TEACH the process of how to get from point A to point B.  I am confident that should Ted stick with it, he will guide the program ever closer to his vision for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment