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Challenging coaching

Leading by example is not the best way to influence people, it’s the only way,” (Gormley, 2013). As a coach, I understand and wholly accept the responsibilities associated with being a leader. One must never underestimate the power of a single person, and for this reason, I acknowledge the power I possess in influencing individuals’ lives. I strongly believe that through a firm and adaptive coaching philosophy, I can teach and promote character development amongst my players. Players might forget what I say or what I do, but I know they will never forget how I made them feel.

One of my main priorities as a coach is teaching these young adults about personal accountability. What I expect from these young adults will be no greater than what I expect from myself. I strongly encourage players to take risks and make mistakes because the way I see it, the only way you can improve is if you challenge yourself by taking risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not living. I accept and acknowledge that I am not perfect, I am not always right, and I will make mistakes, but I hope that I have the maturity and the humility to admit when I am wrong. I also ask this from each of my players. One of the best methods to increase accountability is through personal evaluations and timely feedback. I do not believe in sugar coating criticism, I believe in being completely honest, direct, and transparent with all communication. At times, this may come across as brutally harsh, but I want my players to understand it’s only because I care and I genuinely want what’s best for them. I plan on pushing these young adults to their limits and beyond, I want to help them believe in themselves as much as I believe in them, and I want them to have aspirations far beyond any they’ve previously acquired. In order to evaluate their individual progress as well as my own progress, I plan on creating pre-, during, and post- surveys for each of my players to complete in regards to the season, the team, and myself as a coach. You cannot solve a problem if you do not know one exists, thus through these evaluative surveys, I will be able to objectively identify, and hopefully resolve, potential problems.

Communication is absolutely key in every relationship. Many conflicts and problems arise from miscommunication and misinterpreting the message from the other party. These issues can be easily avoided with face-to-face, honest communication. I emphasise face-to-face communication because a lot of the times messages are misinterpreted because the way in which the message is delivered is lost, especially through technology. I also emphasise face-to-face communication because over 70% of all communication is nonverbal. For this reason, I strongly encourage and ask all of my players to maintain eye contact when talking to me. Although this might seem intimidating, it ensures both the player and myself are engaged in the conversation. I firmly believe that the best way to get respect is to give respect. Because of that, I will respect all of my players as the individual young adults that they are, but accompanying this respect is the expectation that they will also behave like one. In order to promote personal accountability, I rarely want to hear from parents. If a player has any issue whatsoever, I want them to come directly to me. I will ensure I, as expected from my players, respond to the issue truthfully and respectfully.

To me, winning has no bearing on my definition of success. As John Wooden states so eloquently, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” At the end of the day, if you can look every player and coach in the eye and honestly tell me you played your heart out and did the best that you could possibly do, then that to me is the true definition of success. Success is not something that is quantifiable or measurable. It is not something that is defined by one moment, rather, a collection of moments; the journey, the process. Success also comes from within; it comes from a burning desire to reach your excellence. I do not believe in extrinsic rewards, nor will I use them as my primary method of reinforcement. Nothing is more beneficial to individuals than intrinsic motivation. Once players master the art of playing for self-satisfaction and pride rather than for recognition and praise, then they will be successful. I want to encourage and remind players who they are really competing with. At the end of the day, the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. Continually comparing yourself with others not only sets up the environment for failure, but also hinders the opportunity to reach one’s excellence. As long as you’re improving and learning from your mistakes, you’re one step closer to being the best person you can become.

A core value that I hope to instill in my players is the art of being integral. Integrity is defined as what you do when no one is watching; champions are made when the stadiums are empty. What separates a great player from an excellent player is the amount of time they invest outside of practices and games. Some skills require mundane, monotonous repetition from individuals which are unrealistic to be obtained or performed during practice. I believe that players can improve their technical skills more from the hours invested outside of practice rather than those invested in practice. It is my responsibility as their coach, however, to guide and provide these players with the necessary techniques required to reach their excellence. As mentioned in UNC’s twelve core values, the truly extraordinary do something every day. In order to be the best, you must learn from the best. My players will become students of the game; they will watch film and they will watch as much professional soccer as their time permits. Although not as heavily emphasised, I also encourage my players to read. Read about successful individuals and their autobiographies and attempt to identify why they became so successful. It will invariably be the individual’s attitude, not talent, that separates them from the rest. For this reason, I would rather have players with an extraordinary attitude than an individual with extraordinary talent. Although talent is necessary to truly succeed, a positive attitude is necessary in order to be coached. One thing that cannot be taught and that I am more inclined to favor over any other quality, is passion. A player who is passionate, who gives it their all, all the time, will invariably play. You cannot tell someone to want something; it has to come from within. A player with this passion, this competitive fire, is more valuable than any talented player on any team.

In order for me to maximise each individual’s potential, I must first invest in each individual player, not only as members of my team, but as humans of this world too, “Players don’t care what you know, until they know you care.” Not only do I care about these players’ growth and development on the soccer field, but my primary focus is watching them grow and develop their character. Although I promote caring about my players, I respect that there is a fine line between friendship and a working relationship and in order to maximise their potential, I must maintain a professional working relationship. I will disclose information about my personal life only as appropriate and necessary to gain players’ trust. I do not hesitate to admit that I will have favorites nor will I deny that I will treat each and every one of them differently. I strongly associate myself with the following quote from John Wooden, “I will attempt to give each player the treatment that he earns and deserves according to my judgment and in keeping what I consider to be in the best interest of the team.” In order to do this, I must know each athlete and what makes them ‘tick’ and how to maximise their ability. So when it appears that my actions are “different”, find reassurance that all of you are different too and respond differently to various stimuli. It is my responsibility, therefore, to find the stimulus that stimulates you most effectively.

Teamwork doesn’t appear magically just because someone mouths the words. It doesn’t thrive just because of the presence of talent or ambition. It doesn’t flourish simply because a team has tasted success,” (Riley, 1993, pp. 15-16). Another key element of a successful team is producing a team environment that is conducive to maximising individual character development. A key component of building character is knowing when to discipline and how to discipline. As a team, we will devise a set of rules and consequences which all must obey. There will be a few rules that are non-negotiable though. For instance, there will be absolutely no tolerance for bullying. On or off the field, this behavior is not condoned and will be disciplined immediately. I strongly advise against running as a form of punishment as it can strongly discourage players and force them to turn against you as a coach. I do, however, believe in using playing time to discipline players. In order to remain credible amongst my players and parents, my disciplinary actions must be consistent, regardless if you’re a starter or a bench player, there will be no difference in consequences. Another major determinant of producing a successful team is team unity. No player is bigger than the team, nor is any team bigger than its individual players, “The strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf.” In order to consistently perform at our excellence, the team must be united especially because we’re only as strong as our weakest player. I cannot force you to play for each other, but I can create an environment in which players feel like they belong to a large family and WANT to play for each other. You do not have to like everyone on the team, but you do have to love them like family. This implies that you will not only hold yourself accountable, but you will also hold your teammates, your sisters accountable too. Part of being a successful teammate is knowing and accepting your role on the team. Although you might not like your role, you must ensure you do everything you can to succeed in this role, because succeeding in your role will strongly increase the chances of succeeding as a team. When something goes wrong, we do not blame or point fingers; we win as a team and we lose as a team. We take accountability for our actions, or inactions, and we discuss how we go about resolving this in order to prevent it from reoccurring.

In regards to developing players’ technical skills, I encourage them to spend more time working on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. This might seem absurd, but let me explain. If every player only works on their weaknesses, then they’re essentially becoming “average”. If every player works on their strengths, however, they are becoming exceptional. As a coach, I will play players for what they can do, not for what they can’t do. This doesn’t mean players should completely ignore their weaknesses, but I do believe they should invest more time specialising in their strengths.

I firmly believe that what goes on off the field is more important than what goes on on the field. Many games are not decided on which team is technically better, most games are decided upon who wants it more. For me, every game is important and no game is more important than the game that we are playing that week. Sure, some games will be more physical than others, but they are all equally important, they are all an opportunity to better ourselves as individuals and collectively as a team. In order to prepare for these games, players must remember they can only control the controllables. We cannot control the weather, nor can we control the ref, and we also cannot control the way we perform on any given day, but we can control the following three things; work ethic, attitude, and body language. Once players control what they can control, their performance will increase significantly. As they say, life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it. I also strongly believe that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Nutrition and rest are two key components of preparation. The necessary rest and sleep is vital to function at optimal performance. Nutrition is also just as important; we are only as good as the food we put into our body. Would you put diesel into a brand new Ferrari? No. By eating “fast food” before a game, that is essentially what you are doing. Your body is a sacred masterpiece and must be cared for accordingly. For this reason, I have attached an in-depth, informative document regarding the foods necessary to fuel your body.

I believe the best way to practice is to adopt the same mental arousal as utilised in games. Although this is extremely demanding and taxing mentally, it is the only way to truly ensure an optimal environment for individual and team development. This arousal will be developed through strict, realistic routines and firm discipline. Depending on my training schedule, I will either hold one or two technical training sessions a week which will be short, sharp, and intense. In the other training session(s), I will focus primarily on tactical skills using the games approach.

I understand and wholly accept that I am responsible for the development of these players, both as athletes, and as people. I also understand that the best way to influence these young adults is by modeling appropriate behavior. By caring about each player individually, I also ask that each player does the same. One thing that is severely lacking in society is our ability to express empathy. By caring about all players, especially injured players, I hope to develop these individuals’ empathy towards others and themselves. My vision with these players, will therefore, focus on developing transparency, accountability, empathy, and a love for the process – not the destination.

*Please note: This document is my unedited coaching philosophy that I submitted back in late 2013.

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