As a club coach, high school coach and AP Girls Director, there are numerous expectations from parents, players and managers. The typical grading scales for soccer success include wins/losses, player improvement, statistics, number of players in your club, tournaments attended, club ranking, etc. Those are easy to evaluate and obvious.
As a coach, I find myself constantly trying to live up to the expectations with a pressure to “be the best.” Why would anyone want to be apart of a losing club or a losing team? The amount of money, travel, time and energy spent to give players the best opportunities to find success creates pressure for the coach and unfortunately trickles down to the player.
I don’t know if we will ever get out of this expectation of winning at all costs, but as I begin my 18th year of coaching youth soccer, I’ve tried to find the balance of teaching our players to be better teammates which can lead to those wins, statistics, club rankings, etc. In today’s soccer world I see more and more players acting as individuals. They are consumed with getting recruited, having the statistics, and making their parents proud but forgot what it means to be a good teammate. The idea of self-sacrifice for the team has become obsolete. Soccer is a team sport, not an individual sport, and as coaches, parents and managers we need to reassess our expectations.
The concept of a team player is one component of the soccer grading scale very few consider important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched and coached at the highest Division I Soccer levels and seen a team not perform because they did not play “as a team.” Top programs can have All-Americans, All-Conference players, and nationally recognized coaches and still fail because they didn’t come together as one unit.
I recently sat in on a lecture by Dr. Greg Dale, the Sports Psychologist for Duke University’s Athletic Department. His focus primarily discussed the mental game of his student athletes; however, I was surprised to see the very first topic he discussed when building a systematic mental approach was to “be a great teammate.” It wasn’t about mental toughness or mental imagery, but instead the power of a great teammate. Dr. Dale asked his players, “Are you making your teammates better? Are you an anchor or a sail?”
Are you an anchor or a sail?
That is a question our players need to ask themselves every time they step off the field. Did I help my teammates sail to success or had my negative attitude and energy created an anchor which led to defeat? As coaches we need to ask our players these questions often. My role as a coach is constantly battling those few parents who are putting pressure on their kids with joystick coaching from the sidelines, “Shoot, score, pass, etc.” The bigger picture for these kids is to be a part of the team’s success while also improving individual success. If players are pouting, not passing in situations because of parents’ expectations, yelling at teammates, yelling at the referee, and creating an anchor of negativity, then they have missed the mark of soccer success. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to play 1v11, but I guarantee the eleven players who come together will win every time.
So how can we come together as a collective group to teach these kids soccer and life lessons? All players will move onto other “teams” in life whether its work, friendship, marriage and/or community service. If they are the constant negative anchor, the not-so-great-teammate, then they will fail in other facets of life. Of course, I still encourage our players to focus on their individual skills because their efforts help the team “sail.” I know, as a teammate, if I saw my friends working hard, I wouldn’t want to let them down by not trying to improve. There is a balance between improving individually while also seeing the bigger picture of the “team” concept.
As soccer parents I challenge you to encourage your kids to see the big picture. The power of a team lies in the togetherness, not just the individual skill. As Dr. Dale quoted, “There is no correlation between talent level and attitude. You will not be a better player if you have a bad attitude. Your effort and ability to be a good teammate takes your talent to the next level.”
Let’s all choose to be sails!