Blogpost, self-reliance

A Fat Coach Is A Bad Coach?

It was proposed as a thought experiment at a coaching course that I attended. The coaches in attendance were asked to imagine that another coach at their club show up to every practice smoking a cigarette. What should be done? The answers ranged from removing the coach completely to a discussion about appropriate behavior. Then the coaches were asked to consider what actions should be taken if a coach is overweight. The prompt was used to spark debate among the participants. I was reminded of this last night when one of my favorite pundits mentioned on Twitter that it bothers him when professional managers are unfit. He got a large number of negative comments and I think deleted the tweet. My intent is not to start a huge debate nor to get lambasted on Twitter. More than anything, I’m looking to unpack this idea with a bit more than 140 characters (or however many it is now).

A coach’s job is to influence her/his players regardless of the level. Whenever thinking about the subject, I always consider Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence.” It breaks people’s ability to persuade into six principles: Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, Authority, Liking, and Scarcity. Although it is not the end all be all to influence, it creates a simple model for dissecting people’s ability to persuade.

Taking the discussion back to coaches, making a blanket statement about any one characteristic being bad or good is probably inaccurate. The question becomes whether or not the coach is able to achieve desired outcomes with her/his players. In the professional ranks, the desired result is more victories than defeats. At the youth level it could be a variety of things: skill development, character building, physical fitness, or a variety of other possible outcomes.

The professional coach is the easier discussion. Does it matter if a professional coach is overweight? Probably not. As long as she/he is performing at a level commensurate with the desires of the club management, then it isn’t all that relevant. Players who are at or near their athletic peak will not particularly be looking to their coach to be a physical role model. It may help or hinder their ability to influence their players in specific area around diet and fitness. However other authorities can be brought in to handle that aspect. It’s the wielding of the other principles of influence in other areas that determine the worth of a professional coach.

The discussion of a youth coach brings in a multitude of variables that muddy the waters. Youth coaches can be role models to their players on a variety levels. Their appearance is a form of social proof. A message that is subliminally received is “at a certain point in adulthood, exercise/fitness is not as much of a priority.” The amount to which that aspect will influence is unknowable considering all of the other influences in children’s lives. Our fast food culture is much more complicit in that area than any one individual. Hopefully an overweight coach is delivering in a variety of other ways that influence the players in a positive manner. Reducing a coach down to one characteristic is not a fair estimation of their overall value. So a fat coach does not make a bad coach. Nor does a slender coach make a good one.

The final bit of consideration that I would offer here is a revisit to the 6 principles of influence. Although I believe that people can be over weight and be a good coach, I’m overweight at the moment and I’ll leave the other part up to my players. The idea I’d like to visit is, can any of us be the best coach that we can be while carrying around that extra bit of ourselves? We ask our players regularly to give their best to the team but do we respond in kind?

Reciprocity – Is it possible to give back to our young players the energy, enthusiasm and effort that they put in?

Consistency/Commitment – Are we staying consistent with the values that we profess to our teams about the importance of fitness and commitment to the team? Perhaps a team looks a lot more like a family.

Social proof – Are we adding to an already broken cultural model of what adulthood looks like?

Authority – Are we harkening back to a “do as I say, not as I do” ethos of leadership? Because if we know what’s best, then why aren’t we doing better?

Liking – Do we like ourselves enough to have people emulate us? It’s an interesting question.

Scarcity – There is a shelf life on this existence that we have. Should the message be that we are trying to conserve the precious resource of time through better decisions or toss it with all of the other disposable things in this world?

All of these questions have personal answers. Blanket statements rarely work. The only thing that I’m sure a coach should never be is abusive. Beyond that, the shades of grey are infinite. Each of us must look ourselves in the mirror and also imagine the view of us from the people that we coach. If you like what you see, carry on. If not, then change. No one is going to force it on you because they have their own baggage. As a coach, you are intended to be a leader. The most important person for all of us to lead is ourselves!

Team on 7! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, TEAM!

Pete

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5 Ways to Win at the United Soccer Coaches Convention

It’s that time of year again where I make my trip to whatever city is hosting the United Soccer Coaches (former NSCAA) Convention.  It is great to spend 4-5 days talking, thinking and learning about soccer.  If this is your first time or you’ve never gone, here are some ideas on how to get the most out of the Convention.

  1. Decide – There’s more than enough going on at the Convention for just about any soccer coach/fan.  Deciding what it is that you want to get out of the Convention will get you much closer to achieving that goal.  It’s fine to spend some time wandering around the exhibit hall but it shouldn’t be your only activity.  Decide on some presenter that you want to see, Bill Beswick is one of my favorites.  Decide on the concepts that would really help your team, club or players.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be a paratrooper – This is my term for showing up to a session and deciding quickly that that topic, presenter or material is not what you were looking for.  Don’t be afraid to move on to another session.  There’s more than enough going on that you can have two or even three worthy sessions in each time slot.  So plan ahead.
  3. Engage – There are thousands of people here with the same passion as you.  The possibility for common ground is immense.  Although it may be more comfortable to only talk to the people that you came with, you’ll probably find that engaging with new people creates new possibilities.  This does not mean stalk Thierry Henry to pick his brain about how to fix your U9 girls team’s finishing problem.  There are more than enough people here who would be eager to talk to you about it though.  So step out of your shell.
  4. Get out of your lane – There are so many facets to this sport on display over the next few days.  Sticking to your own area is a great way to leave with the exact knowledge that you had upon your arrival.  Make a concerted effort to learn about something outside of your personal “wheel house”.  I once attended a panel discussion on club finances.  It gave me an insight into the work that my club’s treasurer was doing and helped us to prepare for some future financial concerns.
  5. Show up – Over the years, I’ve convinced several friends and colleagues to go to their first Convention.  Almost all of them are now yearly attendees.  There are many people in the soccer community that were disappointed by the qualification failure of the USMNT.  That problem will not be solved at this Convention.  However the solutions to American soccer problems will come from many of the people and ideas that are here.  As I hope that we’re beginning to see in many areas of life, a better tomorrow is not dependent upon the chosen few at the top.  It is incumbent on all of us who care to show up early and often to help get things right.

Baltimore is one of my favorite cities! The Convention Center is in the Inner Harbor area which has a lot of great restaurants. If you feel like getting out of the area where all of the soccer people are, you can head over to Fell’s Point or Canton. Those areas have slightly more local feel. Looney’s is my personal favorite. I go there for the crab melt! Enjoy the Convention!

SoccerLifeBalance

5 Ways to Win at the United Soccer Coaches Convention

IMG_3094It’s that time of year again where I make my trip to whatever city is hosting the United Soccer Coaches (former NSCAA) Convention.  It is great to spend 4-5 days talking, thinking and learning about soccer.  If this is your first time or you’ve never gone, here are some ideas on how to get the most out of the Convention.

  1. Decide – There’s more than enough going on at the Convention for just about any soccer coach/fan.  Deciding what it is that you want to get out of the Convention will get you much closer to achieving that goal.  It’s fine to spend some time wandering around the exhibit hall but it shouldn’t be your only activity.  Decide on some presenter that you want to see, Bill Beswick is one of my favorites.  Decide on the concepts that would really help your team, club or players.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be a paratrooper – This is my term for showing up to a session and deciding quickly that that topic, presenter or material is not what you were looking for.  Don’t be afraid to move on to another session.  There’s more than enough going on that you can have two or even three worthy sessions in each time slot.  So plan ahead.
  3. Engage – There are thousands of people here with the same passion as you.  The possibility for common ground is immense.  Although it may be more comfortable to only talk to the people that you came with, you’ll probably find that engaging with new people creates new possibilities.  This does not mean stalk Thierry Henry to pick his brain about how to fix your U9 girls team’s finishing problem.  There are more than enough people here who would be eager to talk to you about it though.  So step out of your shell.
  4. Get out of your lane – There are so many facets to this sport on display over the next few days.  Sticking to your own area is a great way to leave with the exact knowledge that you had upon your arrival.  Make a concerted effort to learn about something outside of your personal “wheel house”.  I once attended a panel discussion on club finances.  It gave me an insight into the work that my club’s treasurer was doing and helped us to prepare for some future financial concerns.
  5. Show up – Over the years, I’ve convinced several friends and colleagues to go to their first Convention.  Almost all of them are now yearly attendees.  There are many people in the soccer community that are disappointed in the qualification failure of the USMNT.  That problem will not be solved at this Convention.  However the solutions to American soccer problems will come from many of the people and ideas that are here.  As I hope that we’re beginning to see in many areas of life, a better tomorrow is not dependent upon the chosen few at the top.  It is incumbent on all of us who care to show up early and often to help get things right.

Enjoy the Convention if you’re already going.  If you’re not, get a one day pass and check it out.  Philadelphia is one of my favorite venues for the Convention.  The Market next door, the “Rocky Steps” and the city in general make it a fun time.

Thanks!

Pete

SoccerLifeBalance

Talent and Tryouts and Trainers! OH MY!

wizard of ozIt was a big deal!  I remember it very plainly.  My parents, brothers and I would all sit down with popcorn and watch “The Wizard of Oz”.  It was an annual occasion.  The movie is definitely a classic but I think that the ritual and nostalgia factor make it a little more important for me.  Despite being released in 1939, the story stands the test of time.  A young girl has a magical adventure that ends up being a dream but she learns that her search to distant lands led her back to the home and people that really mattered in the first place.  Most of the things that she desired or feared ended up being fake or easily defeated.

As the spring soccer season continues, I am inundated with emails about tryouts, camps and recruiting services.  It is not a new thing that is unexpected.  However following many discussions that I’ve had with members of my own club, I’m left wondering if the modern American soccer culture isn’t a lot like Dorothy.  Are we searching for something that is hollow and the truest prize is in our own backyard?

It is tryout season and clubs throughout my area will be selecting the best talent they can find.  Then they will pair that talent up with a paid trainer in order to improve upon that talent.  (Full disclosure I am a paid trainer)  Games will be won and lost over the course of the year.  Then the cycle will repeat.  The teams and players will progress down the yellow brick road toward what exactly?  The best of the best will be professionals.  The second tier will play in college.  The rest will either fizzle out along the way or play in a recreational type setting for as long as they enjoy it (love men’s and women’s leagues!).  So is it really that a majority of us are hoping that our kids get to that promised land of professional or college that we’ve created this monster system?  Or is it that we’ve forgotten where we are and where we’re going?  My fear is that in a few more years many people are going to find the little man behind the curtain and be shocked.

CoachingSoccer is an inherently simple game that has so much to offer to the people who play and watch it.  The positives that it offers to young players are generally intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  Physical fitness, self-confidence and camaraderie just to name a few.  None of these positives require talent, tryouts or trainers, OH MY!  In fact all three may inhibit the expansion of these intrinsic positives because they are all short term.  Talent is relative and momentary.  Tryouts make players commodities first and people second.  Trainers are generally interested in the short-term improvement of skills in a very selective area.   It is not that these things are without their place.  However they should not be the silver bullets that are used to propel our young players forward.  If the vast majority of youth soccer players are not going to end up in the top two tiers of involvement, then should we (the adults) be building the yellow brick road?  Or finding our way back to Kansas?

My beliefs is that the solution is on the horizon if enough people are willing to look for it.  It all comes down to focus.  If the focus is put and maintained on the idea of making our kids great people first, then we all win regardless of the outcomes on Saturdays/Sundays.  Do we have to pay for that service?  Most likely not.  It takes involvement and time from the adults who truly care about the kids.  My father coached my teams for year and his soccer knowledge, at the time, came from books.  The game has progressed since then but so has the knowledge of the parents and accessibility to information.  Since the focus is not on game results, tryouts might go away or be held every two or three years.  That way the team gets to be “a team”.  Finally what will happen to the talent of our players?  Won’t their soccer skills drop if we no longer employ these improvement strategies.  For the long term, does it matter?  Off the field, my soccer skills have saved a few glass bottles from breaking.  Other than that, the non-soccer skills have been far more important.  Learning how to lead, fitness, problem solving and self-improvement are all practical skills that were honed on the field.  In the short term, there are other ways to improve one’s soccer skills without expensive trainers.  It’s called practice!  Kids are extremely adept at using YouTube to figure out many things.  Perhaps watch that video with the child and go into the backyard to practice.

In ten years will we not know our extremely talented former soccer players?  Or will we have a self-reliant young person that we can relate to who was OK at the kicking game?  There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.

See you on the field!

Pete