Lessons from Mentors.

I have a stated goal of learning something new each and every day.  My coaching mentors have been great aides in this pursuit.  One lasting lesson that resonates with me is to focus on those things you can control and do not waste time on those things you cannot control. Taking this advice to heart has allowed me to exercise great patience which has been of benefit to me personally and also to the teams I coach.

Properly preparing for whatever task is at had is another lasting. I can recall as a young coach preparing meticulously for practices.  I chose activities carefully and with purpose. Planned specifically. Truth be told, I do this in almost all facets of my life. For example, I rarely have gone into a meeting unprepared. Preparation is the foundation of confidence and in turn confidence is the key to success.

Sometimes learned lessons can seemingly come into conflict with one another. Usually, this eventually proves not to be the case. As a young coach it drove me crazy to diligently prepare for practice including a specific number of players expected to be in attendance only to have players not show up for one reason or another.  All that diligent effort on my part blown all to hell! How dare they just not come to practice?!?

And so I learned the importance of flexibility. My first coaching mentor planned practice sessions with adaptability being a key component. A theme was constant but activities had an element of fluidity to them and could be changed or adapted to fit the number of players available. You see, he could not control whether any given player would attend practice or not.  For some, indeed a vast majority of players, missing a practice was simply not an option.  Attendance was expected. There always seems to be an exception to the rule though.

It took awhile for me to understand this. While my expectation remains every player will attend every practice, if numbers for practice are not what I expected then to be I simply adjust the activities.  Now, experience has made this a much easier task to take on and achieve with acceptable results.

I have wondered on occasion if I knew then what I know now, would I have been so upset as a young coach when players failed to show for practice?  The experience factor plays a large role in this process. I'm not sure I would have had the mental catalog of soccer activities I now possess that allows me to easily adapt on the fly.

Dealing with difference of opinions with referees ...  Yeah, this is an area I am much improved in. In all the thousands of games I have participated in as a player, coach, referee or even as a fan, I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I have witnessed an official change a call. Just something I cannot control so I don't waste time arguing with officials.

Difficult parents?  When a parent believes they are acting in the best interests of their child there is no other opinion that matters. A coach certainly is not going to control a parent. I have had mothers flirt with me in an attempt to gain favor with me for this child. I have had confrontational parents attempt to bully me in order to have their child play a preferred position, start or play more. Helicopter parents who hover over their child in order to protect them from ... well, whatever perceived threat they imagine in the way of their child's athletic success.  In any of these instances and countess more not mentioned here, a coach cannot control the parents. I have learned to not waste my time worrying about parents. I cannot control them so why worry about them?

Another lesson learned is a coach really needs to limit social interaction with parents and families. As a young adult league coach I often found myself coaching friends. Not really a good idea.  It can be done successfully and I was able to navigate those potentially treacherous waters fairly successfully. And as a parent coach I often found myself coaching sons and daughters of our friends and neighbors.  Again, not something I would recommend for inexperienced coaches. Sports have a strange super power that can cause the most sane of individuals to become stark raving mad lunatic parents out of their minds.

I tried to attend team social functions where the player families were present. Disaster. I took my cue from ultra successful coaching mentors who were cordial with parents but never socialized with them. Communications were limited strictly to "business" in the sense of interacting with a single team parent to coordinate travel, pre and post game meals, parents night, senior night and the end of season banquet.  And these communications consisted of the parents doing all the work and informing the coach of need to know details only. I take my cue from Dick Hagen, Bob Seggerson, Larry Lewis and others.

As a parent I was often involved in selecting coaches who we would allow our son's to play for, but beyond that I did not intrude on the coaches space. I didn't always agree with a coaches strategies or tactics. I sometimes questioned starting lineups or distribution of minutes, but only to myself. I supported our sons coaches.  The only time I recall being upset enough to confront a coach was when one played my son almost an entire game after he had two days before been carried off the field with severe cramps. We had gone to an alternative medical specialist to deal with the cramps and she had performed miracles to relieve the cramping.  He could not walk into to the office but two hours later walked out under his own power.  Genesen Acutouch,  Un-freaking-believable!

I continue to learn on a daily basis. Many times lessons learned long ago are revisited.  The world is constantly changing and this affords endless opportunities to continue learning. And even when the status quo seems to remain the same, there still exists opportunities to learn anew.  For example, today I learned about Donatello's David and other art and artists of the quattracento era, Who knew?!?  Right?

Go forth to gain knowledge, control what you can control and don't sweat the rest.


It's been awhile since I last posted.

The last year has been a difficult one physically for me.  I was injured on the job and my (now former) employer contested my Workman's Compensation claim delaying treatment of my knee injury several months. Then, in January a simple hang nail on my thumb became infected that resulted in a 6 day hospital stay during which I nearly lost the thumb. It is now September and that healing process continues.  I have new employment and a new coaching gig.  I love my work, but the coaching has been a challenge.  No complaints here, challenges allow for growth and I have continued to learn and relearn each and every day.

One thing I have known for a long time is that each team takes on a personality that reflects
the player who emerges as the dominant personality.  Coaches speak all the time about senior leadership and how critical it is to a successful season.  Yet, it's not always a senior who steps to the fore. This I have learned again. 

Coaching at a small school can be a challenge. Sometimes it quite literally requires an all hands on deck approach just to field a team. With only five returning players from last years squad this is the situation I faced for this season. As late as May it was in serious question as to whether or not we would have enough to field a team this fall. We played our first game with 10 players. That was our entire roster.

Something remarkable has been happening with this team.  They did not complain about only having 10 players for the first game. They went out and played.  They played with courage and a spirit that restored my faith and hope in the process.. We got thumped 0-11 with the opposing coach keeping his stars in the long after the outcome was decided. Even so, it seemed as though we competed better as the game wore on. There was no quit in any of the players despite facing insurmountable odds. They competed to the best of their ability until the final whistle.  They joy of playing was evident in them.

The second game was much like the first. We again lost badly and the opposing coach kept his star players in way past the point when the outcome had been decided. We bent this game. Maybe lost some of our spirit for awhile but rallied in the last 20 minutes to again display courage, enthusiasm, spirit and ... belief.  Belief in one another and what we are setting about to accomplish. Trust.

Did I mention we are a co-ed team playing against boys teams?  Yep, five of our 13 players are girls.  Nine of our 13 are freshmen and sophomores. We have been playing against boys teams loaded with juniors and seniors. And our spirit has been strong. This is the most coach-able group of players I have had in ... a long time .., maybe ever. Certainly since the 2014 club team, but that was under completely different circumstances.

We don't talk about results. Our focus has been on personal records in fitness and skill test in practices. In matches we set goals based on what we have practiced. We are improving in all areas. And because we have taken this approach, the student athletes have a means to measure both their individual and collective improvement.

Throughout this summer and the first part of the season a young lady has stepped to the fore for us. At this point in the season there can be no doubt who the leader of this team is. We reflect her buoyant personality and spirit. I've only ever seen a freshman once before have such an impact on a varsity team. He is a special player, maybe the best I have ever been around, a better leader and even better human being. This year's young lady is right there. We will see how the rest of her high school career turns out but it is off to a most promising start and the bodes well not only for her but the team and program as well.

And we have a 14th player set to join us next week. I don't think he has ever played soccer before, but he sought me out in school last week to express interest in playing. There's something good happening here in the face of adversity. I am dumbfounded that student athletes continue to join our program as we have been trounced in the first two games.  It's the spirit of these young people that is attractive to their peers. It's not exactly been "all hands on deck" but it is becoming enough hands on deck and those who are joining continue to reflect the spirit that defines this team. I'm not sure where this path is leading me, but I do know this simple fact - coaching has not been this fun in a very long time.