Power trips

I learned something today. I was told that I am on a power trip because I want things in practice and games done my way. If that’s what a “power trip” is, I plead guilty.

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It’s a players game

One thing I’ve come to believe strongly over the years as both a player, a head coach and an assistant coach is that soccer is a players game. The ability of coaches to directly influence a game is far less than it is in other American sports. Sure, we coaches work hard to plan and run good training sessions and we try to set our team out so it can be competitive, but games are won and lost by players. That’s why I believe that in youth soccer. nobody should care more about the results than the players. Not parents. Not coaches.

On one of the teams I assistant coach right now, the U14 head coach is completely obsessed with winning a trophy (finishing first or second in the division). On the way to practices, he doesn’t talk about how players are doing or what he’s going to work on in practice. He talks about every single possible permutation related to his team finishing at least second.

The weird thing is I don’t think he’s obsessed with getting a trophy for the reason of satisfying his own ego. He seems to truly believes that the boys equate having a good experience with having a trophy to bring home. Many of them don’t have a lot of previous experience in actually winning soccer games and he thinks that them winning and having a trophy will keep them hooked into the sport and our club. That’s a fundamental misreading of the kids.

As I’ve mentioned before, these kids, like most kids, just want to play and have fun. They’re winning games and scoring a lot of goals and playing some really nice soccer and getting better individually. They *are* having fun. I’m sure they would love to have a trophy but I don’t think them having a good experience  depends on this. I’ve never once heard the kids ask what position we are in the standings or what position gets a trophy or what we have to do in the remaining few games to get a trophy. I don’t think I’ve heard one of them even mention the word trophy.

If they narrowly finish third, the head coach may be crushed, but the players won’t be. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Well that clears things up

As mentioned in the last post, I got a bit of feedback from parents about last autumn’s U13 season.

Some of the comments were as follows:

-I should be more rah-rah.

-I should be more business-like.

-I should focus more on basic technique work.

-I should focus more on advanced tactical work.

-I should focus more on the stronger players.

-I should focus less on the stronger players and more on the team as a whole.

-I am “a great coach” but here are 27 reasons why I shouldn’t be coaching. (This was in one comment by the same person)

After 12 years of coaching, you wouldn’t think anything would surprise me.

I’m glad I enjoy actually working directly with the kids, because the parents are increasingly becoming a nightmare.

Kids don’t care if they play, they just want to win

Kids don’t care if they play much. They just want to win.

This is one of the most common self-serving rationalizations that hypercompetitive parents and other coaches tell me.

It drives me nuts.

Last fall, I had a team of 11-13 year olds that had a very strong group of younger players. And these players were also very self-entitled and had, not surprisingly, very self-entitled parents.

My philosophy is that, barring discipline or injury reasons, every player plays in every half. I don’t do equal playing time but I try to give a decent amount of playing time to everyone. On a team with 20+ kids, this was difficult but I managed while still having a competitive team.

As you might expect, I got complaints.

As you might not expect, the complaints were from the parents of the stronger players. Even though their kids played more than the others, it still wasn’t enough.

I sent out a survey to the parents where they could leave anonymous comments. I wasn’t surprised that I got complaints. But if you’d asked me when I started coaching for a list 50 things I might be criticized by parents for doing, ‘being too fair’ would not have entered my mind. Yet that’s what I got from not one, but multiple parents.

One said that my policy of every player playing every half was unrealistic because winning is so important to young boys. Another said that I should play the stronger players nearly all the time because whether you play 90 minutes or 3 minutes, you’re a winner!

This is a self-serving rationalization.

It’s nothing more than parents pretending they know what kids want when they’re really just expressing what they want.

And it’s a bunch of b.s.

Let me tell you something. When I looked at the 10 players on my bench to see who I was going to sub in, I saw 10 pairs of eyes that were fixed on my every move. If I started to say the first syllable of their name, they would start to get off the ground.  When they found out it wasn’t their name, they sighed and looked depressed. When I gave a kid a chance to start a forward, both of which he’d wanted but I hadn’t previously accommodated, he pumped his fist and exclaimed “Yes!” When I would look past them on the bench to someone else, their faces would fall, like they’d just learned their dog died. Kids don’t care if they play 90 minutes or 3 minutes? Anyone who spent a few minutes with me as I made substitutions would learn that this is completely and utter garbage.

At higher levels, professional or college, standards are different. Some will play more than others and the others just have to accept that as part of the deal. It’s something they know going in. But at youth levels, everyone should play and play a good amount. You can learn by watching, but you perfect by doing.

And as this story about Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku illustrates, even professionals aren’t necessarily satisfied by winning, if their role is marginal. If a pro isn’t satisfied with the highest prize in club football as reward for not playing much, what makes you think a kid is going to be satisfied with some local U14 league or 4 hour tournament?