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Know That It Is Not Possible To Know Everything You Think You Know (Learn from Mistakes)

April 29, 2011

“Failure can not be your final destination, rather you can use it to shatter limits on your journey to greatness”Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Men’s Basketball Coach

June 15-30 in Michigan may be the most stressful time of year for all soccer coaches and administrators. That’s the time of year when all the clubs run tryouts for the next year. That’s when all the usual suspects show up to see
if they can make your club’s team. It’s when parents have devised plans to attend their chosen club(s) so that little Johnny can play for their favorite club, or the best club or maybe just with their friends. I can’t communicate just how misguided I feel the whole process is and what it does to parents and kids. Over the years, I’ve learned more about the human psyche just from those few days of stress each June.

In today’s competitive world, I’m fully aware that some organizations recommend that parents get to know the coach before tryout. The argument goes that the more likely you are to know the coach and his/her philosophies and style, the
more likely you are to make a better judgment about having your child tryout for that coach. Generally, I agree with this, but I also have an issue with the whole “shopping around” that the competitive and highly lucrative youth game has become. Not only does the act of “shopping” say to your current coach “You’re not the coach for my little Johnny”, but it wraps the “Helicopter Parent” image on so many. Even worse, it’s the coaches who then have to manage these “Helicopter Parents” in addition to the challenges of just coaching!

We continue to make the mistake in the US that says we must have our kids with the most successful, most competitive program in order for our kids to progress and succeed in life and as athletes. I now of plenty of kids who went through high-level, highly competitive clubs who now regret making that choice. They realize that they could have remained with their original clubs and grown just as well. Was it a mistake for these kids to go the direction they chose? Not necessarily. It’s just something they’ve come to regret at the moment, but I’m certain they will recognize other mistakes later in life that will have far greater impact than which soccer club they chose to play for.

Spring 2004, we’re coming to a close of the U10 season for my oldest son’s team. I’ve now been coaching the both teams for 2 years, and we’re beginning to see successes and improvement on the field. At the end of a game, I’m introduced to a family and their son interested in attending my tryout in the coming weeks. They say that they’ve watched a couple of our games and they like the way I communicate with the boys.

Sure enough, that boy shows up, along with 60+ other players for the tryout! It’s the largest tryout group I’ve had to deal with so I employee several dads to help with the various timing activities I always run through. One is this new boys’ father.

He’s definitely a likeable guy and asks good questions. He’s detailed in handling the task I’ve given him and does a fine job at it. We are able to form 3 teams that year, and his son makes the “B” team. At that time, I had another coach
working with me, so he was given the “C” team to work with for the year. I would stay out of coaching or training the team so it could be his to develop.

Back to the dad – as we begin summer training, he expresses interest in assisting me, which I accept since there really isn’t anyone else that seems to have the interest or seemingly general athletic knowledge. Over the next 3 seasons,
Coach A and I worked well together. We always seemed to be thinking alike at game time as I would seemingly say something to a player that he was just about to. We joked often about how this would happen, but in the end, we were doing our best to make the boys better players. I even helped him for a season on the basketball court as our boys played together on a fun, tournament team with several of the same soccer players. There certainly was a time in my past when I wanted to coach basketball, but the way basketball coaches are almost encouraged to scream and yell at their players just did not fit my style. The way soccer flows on the field and how events unfold fits more with my style of coaching.

Coach A and I also became pretty good friends over those 3 years. We travelled together to a few soccer tournaments, broke-bread at each other’s homes and did things friends do – communicate about our families and kid’s lives. Thankfully, this ability to communicate helped when after those 3 years, we both determined that it would be best for the team that he step down as the team’s Assistant Coach and allow me to have some other, young professionals step in with some assistance. We both originally approached the subject with trepidation, but it was the same conclusion we both wished for.

Unfortunately, more than a year later when another coach took over the team, with me still assisting, we had something of a small falling out. At a winter indoor game, I was coaching the team as the new coach was out-of-town. In that game, my son apparently said “Shut Up” to the parents and apparently looked straight at Coach A on the other sideline. After the game, he approached me and my son about this. Details aside, there was little communication between us after that day most likely because I didn’t agree with his evaluation of the situation or that I basically sided with my son. Granted, my son needed to be a bit more mature in the tone with which he spoke to the adults, but part of my coaching philosophy encouraged players to speak to their own feelings and tell parents to keep quiet during games. It might not be popular, or seem disrespectful — as Coach A expressed — but it’s the principle of leading young men to have confidence and courage is particular situations that I was standing my ground on.

It wasn’t until later in the year when drama surrounded the Plymouth Soccer Club that I realized just how little my so-called friends were no longer communicating with me and the mistakes I made would stack up.

Amidst this drama our club Director of Coaching called a meeting at which all of the coaches and numerous parents, including Coach A, showed up. Only one Board member was present as we were told the other members were at other meetings. To-date I still can’t determine what those meetings were. In my role, I had every right to ask the questions but never did so publicly. Anyway, Coach A didn’t say a word at the meeting. He never made eye contact with me nor attempted to speak to me after. With so much happening at that time period – right in the middle of the firestorm – I didn’t, and still don’t, understand why he never asked me any questions. He loved to ask questions and dig deeper in to a conversation, but not in this particular situation. To this day, it’s a mystery.

In retrospect, the real mystery is why I didn’t just ask? Why didn’t I approach him about it? Why, after he took his son to another club at the next tryout, didn’t I try to understand his perspective of the issues?

Furthermore, when at the Board meeting just before tryout, Coach A made a statement that appeared to support the problematic existing Board, why did I continue to remain so silent? It was this approach of silence that caused so many problems for me and the many relationships that suffered in the Spring of 2010. I wasn’t learning from my mistakes and I still did not know what I did not know!


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