Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are you coaching a soccer team or running a program?

During a coaches meeting at Niagara College in September 2013, our Director of Athletics and Recreation gave us an important reminder "You are running a program, not coaching a team".

I took that to remind us of taking a more long term and holistic approach to how we deliver our program.  I feel I've always run programs, but the statement still begs thought and reflection.

Coaching a team is team centric.  Running a program is player centric.  The team's sustained success will come from the collective development of your individual players.

First, you need to answer the main question yourself.  Are you coaching a team or running a program?  As soon as you giver the question some thought and come up with an answer, your coaching will change.

My sons have had both types of coaches through their sports.  There were some who plucked group of players  and worried about that season.  There were others who treated their coaching as a long term project.

When you are leading teams at the grassroots level, I believe "running a program" must be the answer to the question.

Taking the attitude of a program:
  • Organize your program to prepare the largest possible pool of players for the present and future.
  • Take an attitude of a holistic approach to developing soccer players - physical-mental-emotional-technical-tactical
  • Have a mindset of your program contributing to the development of the person that is your player.
  • Embrace what other sports can do for your young athletes and applaud their non-soccer successes.
  • Ensure your program takes the safety and well-being of the player VERY seriously.
  • Have a protocol with respect to attendance, communication and conflict resolution.
  • Be prepared and open to improving yourself as a coach.
  • Be ready to let your best players leave and move to the next level up from you and have players ready to take their spot.
For our college programs, we would not have a prayer in preparing for games if our players have struggles and stresses outside of soccer.  Through academic monitoring, tutors, counseling, etc, we can help clear the players' mind to prepare and play.  Not only does it leave us with athletes ready to compete, it also gives them somebody to be accountable to and complete their mission at Niagara College, which is to graduate.
"Are you coaching a team or running a program?"
What if we focused on soccer and nothing else?  We would not know that Player A has to unexpectedly miss a game because he is failing a course and worn out their professor's patience.  Failure #1 - player not succeeding in school. Unacceptable.  Failure #2 - not having our best team for a game. Possible Failure #3 - losing a player to eligibility and having to recruit a replacement.

We have resources and paid staff at our disposal to help with all this.  What about the coach of a U10 team?

How might this sentences show the players and parents that you are concerned with the whole package:
  • "Players, I am 100% supportive if your parents need to keep you at home if you are falling behind at school or misbehaving at home."
  • "Bullying will result in you being sent home."
  • "If you disrespect anybody involved with either team you will be sent home"
If your players want to move higher with their soccer, that will be very very difficult if they can't exercise self regulation and keep up with their studies.

If they are not interested in moving up with their soccer, what will they get out of their experience with you if they take no life skills from it? 

My first exposure to a true program was my Grade 7/8 basketball team at St Andrew School, led by Mr. John Witlib.  You could not tryout for the team if you had a failing mark on your Thanksgiving report card.  You were to wear a coat, hat, gloves, scarf and boots during the winter months.  Your uniform came to school covered and on a hangar on game day.  Dress shoes, dress pants and shoes on game day.  No technical fouls for back-talk.  If you made the team you also registered for Welland Minor Basketball.  We had fun and we learned the game.  And our school won five straight city and county championships.  Same on the girls side, led by Miss Marg Connelly.

A lot of my coaching attitude stems back to Mr Witlib.

From a humanitarian point of view, you will develop more well-rounded athletes and people.  From a competitive point of view, you will end up with a deeper player pool to choose from.

Think about how you would answer the question.  Running a good program is hard work but much more rewarding.