“Coaching” is actually a means to obtain the “I want its” before our players are ready to “provide its.”

This is part #4 of a multi-part series covering all aspects of player development.  In part #1, I talked about the development of coaches. In part #2, I talked about exactly how coaches can get themselves going the right direction. Last week in Part #3, I discussed one of the major impediments to player development and really began to dive deeper into what it actually means. This week, in part #4, I will start talking about truths and player development.

Coaching Is (Not) a Tool

     Red-faced and fists clenched, the toddler yells with murder in his voice, “I want it! I want it! I want it!” We have all watched this scene unfold in the grocery store. We may have even watched our own children do this (once). Now that I am older and mellower, I sometimes grin a little as a young mom tries without success to stifle the out-of-control screams of a child who is denied something.

     It is human nature to want it and want it now; it is also a sign of immaturity.  Being willing to delay pleasure for a greater result is a sign of maturity.  However, our soccer culture teaches us to live for the now. “I want it!” we scream and we can get it if we are willing to compromise the development of our players.  “Coaching” is actually a means to obtain the “I want its” before our players are ready to “provide its.”

Joining in the Lie

     I have heard it said that if you tell a lie often enough, loudly enough and long enough, the myth will become accepted as fact. Repetition, volume and longetivity will twist and turn a myth, or a lie, into a commonly accepted way of doing things. Entire populations have been lulled into the approval of ghastly deeds and even participation in them by gradually moving from the truth to a lie.  Throughout history, twisted logic, rationalization and incremental changes have allowed normally intelligent people to be party to ridiculous things. Propaganda, in particular, played a big part in allowing these things to happen.

     We have propaganda within our coaching culture today. I’m not speaking in a political sense, but rather recognizing that there are coaches out there who want us to think their way and who will go to great lengths to accomplish that. The newly successful collegiate coaches and coaches who line the touchlines for large clubs, in particular, are very good at imposing their way of coaching, which, of course, fuels their ego and molds our impression of them.  If players see a coach or hear a club again and again tell them they will win championships or play in college if they play for them, they can fall under the illusion that with the joining of this team or club, those good things will happen to them. They may not really believe they will play in college just from joining a certain team or club, but haven’t you noticed that ugly people aren’t used in TV commercials to sell cars? We aren’t really falling for that lie, or are we? I’m just asking. After all, we do buy the car and then justify our purchase on the basis of something academic like gas mileage.

     When we participate in what other coaches identify as normal, even if it is stupid, we gain acceptance into the club. Sometimes, we don’t even realize what we are doing is stupid because we have been taught that it’s just “the way you do it” and so we never ask why.  As we participate in the myth, we learn to spout the principles of the myth. After the years go by and we have invested more of our coaching personality and persona into the myth, we become great coaching disciples and can preach and teach the points of the myth with great fervor and volume.  We become such experts on the myth that we can sell our players’, their parents and even other coaches on joining the lie.  I once joined in the lie, but no more.

Don’t Let the Soccer Monkeys Pull Your Players Down

     The importance of ‘Playing Pedigree’ has been sold to the players so aggressively; so loudly and so often that for them to imagine playing without any pedigree requires myth busting.  We, as coaches, have to help our players systematically destroy the inner-workings of the myth. Pedigree is so ingrained into the soccer culture that most players (or even coaches, for that matter) can’t envision playing for a coach whom doesn’t have the top credentials, a team that isn’t a State-Cup contender, a club that doesn’t place players at the NCAA Division I college-level or with teammates who don’t have the same “playing pedigree” as they do.  Our players have been sold on ‘pedigree’ with such repetition and such fervor that most players cannot conceive what it would be like to play for an un-known club, with no reputation or history –even if it meant that club was the player’s best option. Just as slaves born into slavery can’t visualize freedom, too many of our young players don’t know what it would be like to wake-up, step-outside and play the game in the street with their friends…with no lines…no cones…no bibs…no goals…AND…no COACHES!

    Observing and/or interacting with hundreds of coaches and thousands of players over the last several years, I have found that a major barrier to player development is our view of it. Most coaches who have made the decision to really, intensely, focus on properly developing players have experienced something weird: ridicule.  Coaches and players both, whom are disciples of the myth that “pedigree is the way,” have ridiculed those on the path to true player development.

     John Maxwell tells of a study done on monkeys.  A group of monkeys were locked in a room with a pole at the center.  Some luscious, ripe bananas were placed on top of the pole.  When a monkey would begin to climb the pole, the experimenters would knock him off with a blast of water from a fire hose.  Each time a monkey would climb, off he would go, until all the monkeys had been knocked off repeatedly, thus learning that the climb was hopeless.  The experimenters then observed that the other primates would pull down any monkey trying to climb.  They replaced a single monkey with one who didn’t know the system.  As soon as the new guy tried to climb, the others would pull him down and punish him for trying.  One by one, each monkey was replaced and the scene repeated until there were no monkeys left in the room that had experienced the fire hose.  Still, none of the new guys were allowed to climb.  The other monkeys pulled them down. Not one monkey in the room knew why, but none were allowed to get the bananas.

     Coaches aren’t monkeys, but sometimes we exhibit behavior that seems rather chimp like.  We don’t even remember why, we just know that we need to score more goals than the opponent in order to win. So, when anther coach decides to really focus on player development or a player decides to change their training environment in order to better their development, we laugh, get angry, turn up our noses, blackball them and pull them down. We coaches are like the last set of monkeys. We roll our eyes and we spout the pat lines associated with the myth as if anyone not wanting to play or coach for a certain team or club is unintelligent.  That coach must be a simpleton, a fanatic, or, worst of all, “uneducated in the game of soccer.” If this is so true, then why do so many “highly qualified” coaches lose more than they win? I think a “highly qualified” coach that loses more than they win is like a shop teacher with missing fingers.

Myth vs. Truth

     I am so tired of seeing coaches fall victim to this coaching myth, that I really have a drive to expose the inner-workings of it by attacking any sub-myths that I come across. However, I need to warn you to watch out for your instinct to defend the American way of coaching. Whoa…now…calm-down all of you American coaches. Relax and go take a ride to cool off for a while, so you can clearly listen to what I’m saying.  I might be onto something.  If, after you bust-up the myths, you conclude that I’m just a nut with a keyboard, you will not be forced to change. However, just in case the hundreds of coaches and thousands of players whom have popped the myth balloon and are seeing success after doing so – have something they want to say to you...keep following this blog.  Go ahead and let your guard down.  You can always put the shields back up later.

     Remember, it is human nature to want it and want it now; it’s also a sign of immaturity. Imagine coaching for 13 years and for the last ten you have been doing the same thing.  You found something that won you games in the third year of your career and have stuck with it since.  Now, let’s use the ACTUAL numbers from a coach I know in that out of all the players you have coached during those 13 years, only 7 were ready to move onto the next-level.  When we break that down and look at it statistically it shows some rather interesting results. Let’s say that you’ve had an average of an 18-player roster each year. That calculates out to only 7 players ready for the next-level from a potential pool of 234. That’s a 2% rate of proper player development.  Now, let’s look at this same-rate but over a 20 year span of coaching. After 20 years the percentage only increases to 3% and if we extend it out over a whole career of 30 years, there really is no movement in either direction as the percentage remains at 3%.  An entire career of coaching and only 3% of all your players are ever ready to move onto the next-level – really? Is that what you want your legacy to be?  Is that why you’re in this game?  Is it worth all the wins you accumulated over the years? The wins you sacrificed player development to achieve?  We coaches have to remember that a major barrier to developing players is how WE view player development.

     Coaching itself brings on enough risk to offset any advantage that could be gained from any amount of tactical knowledge. Coaching without a focus on player development is like playing the lottery or other forms of gambling that will make you rich.  Lotto and Powerball are a tax on the poor and people who can’t do math. Coaching without player development is like putting a tax on our players that is higher for those whom aren’t as naturally athletically gifted. Like in any “loan” transaction, the borrower becomes the slave to the lender.  The same relationship takes place with coaches who rely on player’s natural abilities and don’t take the time to develop them.  They are slaves to the coach and only as valuable as the natural abilities they possess, but also abilities that they cannot control. So, both coaches and players continue to believe the myth that success at this game is limited only to those with natural athletic superiority.  When coaches continue to function in this way, they are literally ‘co-signing’ for the future of the player’s career. As with most cases of co-signing agreements, what follows is broken hearts and broken dreams.

     What I just don’t understand is why coaches feel the need to train in ways they don’t need and use players in ways they don’t need in order to impress people we don’t like.  This is like that “Whole Life Insurance” scam that circulates heavily every few years.  ‘Whole Life Insurance’ is a horrible product. Why would you pay someone interest on your own savings?  Why should players’ want to ‘invest’ their time with a coach that isn’t going to ‘payoff’ that investment?  That’s backward and it does not make you smart.  You see, I’ve learned that 90% of players don’t systematically make the best choices for their development.  Unfortunately, most new players to most clubs will be entering based upon myths and that is an insult to the game itself.

     I once heard someone say that the average millionaire drives a two-year old car with no payments.  So, if a millionaire can do this, then why can’t coaches take the time to develop their players properly?  Is it that much of an ego-shot to take losses for the sake of player development?  Seriously…a millionaire can drive a two-year old car and we can’t lose some matches, so our players improve? Ridiculous!  Don’t our players and the game itself deserve to drive a brand-spanking, shiny new car?

     When you play with snakes, you get bitten. When we’re not teaching our young players to make responsible decisions about their own development, then we might as well toss them into a pit full of snakes to play with.  We need to teach our players this simple fact: Work and get to play; don’t work and don’t get to play.  What would many coaches do if many more players were taught this?  What would players do, if they were taught this? What would the game do, if players were taught this?

Coaching is Not a Tool

     Are you beginning to understand that coaching is NOT a tool? This myth and all its little sub-myths have been spread far and wide. Always keep in mind the idea that if you tell a lie often enough, loud enough and long enough, the myth becomes accepted as a fact. Repetition, volume and longevity will twist and turn a myth, a lie, into a commonly accepted way of doing things. No more. Coaching is not a tool; it is a method to make coaches successful, not players.  The borrower truly is slave to the lender.

     Your greatest asset as a coach is your player. If you treat your players like property…think of them with a “what can you do for me yesterday” attitude, you lose.  When you invest in your players, you become successful and can; if not win, at the least be competitive in every match you play.

     How much better would your players be, how many more matches would you win and how much would the overall game improve if you focused on proper player development? Our players are our greatest success-building tools, not coaching. Success in this game begins with a permanently changed view of the coaching myths.

This was part #4 of a multi-part series covering all aspects of player development.  In part #1, I talked about the development of coaches. In part #2, I talked about exactly how coaches can get themselves going the right direction. Last week in Part #3, I discussed one of the major impediments to player development and really began to dive deeper into what it actually means. This week, in part #4, I will start talking about truths and player development.