The Athlete and the er… Not-So-Athlete

My soccer playing and can run-all-day son has decided to take it upon himself to get me into shape. I am about 3 or 4 lbs over my ideal weight (give or take a few tens of pounds), and have dodgy knees (legit, I had a torn meniscus fixed last year). Not only that but I can’t remember the last time I would say I was in shape, maybe 25 years ago? He has taken on quite the challenge. He’s probably one of the healthiest people I have met in my entire life, and for the next few weeks he has decided my life is going to be ruled by a Couch to Heart Attack Inducement app. Knowing I am going to be holding him back he is still prepared to be my running coach. What a kid.

This got me thinking to coaching. I have made so many mistakes in this area. In the beginning I followed the calf path, focused on standard drills, shouting instructions, making decisions for my players, and judging success on results. As I began to study, and now as I read comments from coaches now on various discussion boards or forums, I see the tide is slowing shifting. Performance is becoming key – results are the consequence, not the goal.

As coaches how often do we want people to perform at a level they simply aren’t ready for? Let’s say you are coaching a team and a whole bunch of new players come in, how do you find balance between integrating the new, and challenging the core you already have? Do you expect the new players to get up to speed with the existing team, or do you slow down the existing team and try to bring the new players up to speed?

Based on where I am right now, with my athletic kid trying to drive me to standards that will probably kill me, I am trying to evaluate how much burden is on the people at the higher level to integrate the others into the team. Does development in a team sport always have to be about the game, or can we also help our kids develop by encouraging them to help develop others? I think we can do more than teach sport and I think the burden on coaches is to win through developing character, integrity, teamwork, effort, and attitude – not focusing on how to win games.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – What do you want your team to look like now and in the future? As a youth coach, would you rather have a team of kids who help, support, and encourage each other to grow and be stronger in the future at the expense of a few wins on the field? Give me teamwork and growth over a collection of talented, but uncoachable individuals any day.

2 – There are many lessons a coach can teach about life through soccer, and understanding how to support others for the good of the whole is surely the most important of them. I spoken of Albert Camus a few times, but a practical example is Sir Alex Ferguson who built an entire empire of success on the idea that no individual would ever be bigger than the team.

3 – Even for the most goal-oriented individual, such as I used to be, it is not that hard to change mindset. Instead of setting a goal and number of wins, think about growth. What do you want to see from players this year? When you have new, less experienced players, what benchmarks will you have for them? Create people-growth goals, not measurements of success based on wins.

On a final note, please take a moment to check out an amazing group of people who do exactly this, using soccer as a platform to teach life lessons. Coaches Across Continents uses sport as a vehicle to create Self Directed Learners who can identify, address and solve problems specific to their community. Check out their Facebook page here: Coaches Across Continents

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