First of all, what makes “the best” coach? I have had so many coaches growing up. If I had to guess, I would say I have had between 30-40 different coaches throughout my travels, summer camps, and various teams. Out of all of these coaches, I had eight ‘best’ coaches that I will remember forever. I have categorized these coaches as the ‘best’ because they each excelled in different aspects of the game. Rick knew everything about defensive shape. Kirby was creative and made every practice different. Jammer was hilarious. Jesse and Jim were obsessed with technical ability. Ferdi had a way with words in pregame speeches and halftime rollickings. Jordy analyzed everything about the opposition. Steffen had a secret recipe for creating the ultimate team bond. Each coach had their differences, but all of them had five things in common that went unnoticed. Read along as I reflect on why these eight influential coaches made the most impact on my soccer career.
1. A checked ego.
Ten years ago I watched a random YouTube video of Jose Mourinho. While he was on camera, there were three hundred kids playing soccer in the background. He said, “It’s so great to be out here, none of these kids will be ever play professionally, but so many of them will love the game forever”. A timeless quote. My coaches knew we weren’t the best, but I could tell they enjoyed coaching us. The best coaches share their love for the game with the best players, the new players, and the worst players. The best coaches want to improve every player every time they are on a soccer field. The best coaches want everyone to love the game, and to continue loving the game forever. Everyone deserves to have the “best” coach, and we should all aspire to be that person.
2. An obsession with watching the game.
The best coaches I had were always watching the game. Every time I went to their house for a team party, soccer was on the TV. Every time I went into a meeting with a coach, soccer was streaming on their laptop. Each time I saw a coach watching the game, they had a different purpose for watching. Sometimes they were simply supporting their team, sometimes they were analyzing a team shape, other times they were watching just one player. The best coaches spend hours watching the game because they love it, and the obsession trickled down to so many of their players. I have had countless days watching three Premier League games in the morning, a Bundesliga game in the afternoon, and a women’s college soccer game in the evening. I spend hours and hours watching the game because I love it so much. To be the “best” coach, we should all watch the game with the same infatuation.
3. An unconditional love for the team they support.
Of the eight best coaches I’ve had throughout my life, I can tell you exactly which soccer team they supported - even if I haven’t seen some of them for 15 years! I remember each coach talking about their team at every practice, while comparing my teammates and I to the professional players. I would return home from practice to watch their team and recall seeing similar game scenarios to what I learned in practice that afternoon.
When I was 12, I remember playing a game of 5 vs 2 (we now know as Rondo) at practice. I thought it was a silly game. No one was moving. There were no goals. But then I watched Barcelona play the same game before a match, then Bayern Munich, and then my own team, Tottenham Hotspur. Rondo became my new favorite game. Now, I watch and read the way Pep Guardiola creates microcosms of the game, and I try to relay the same information in my team sessions. I even teach my players the definition of microcosm! This is all because my coach, Rick, supported Barcelona.
4. They have a knack for finding moments to be seen and not heard.
The best coaches I had after every session put us into game situations and they watched. They observed. They never stopped the flow of the game. I never left practice thinking, “wow, my coach talks too much!” - even if they talked for an hour straight. When they did step in, it seemed like they were straight to the point, hitting us with one piece of information before rolling the ball out again. During scrimmages and in most games, the best coaches say nothing because they had already got their point across. To be the best, find the right time during your practice or games, to be quiet, watch, and let your players play.
5. A plan.
The best coaches always had a notebook or a piece of paper with them. I remember my best coaches reviewing their notes before sessions or while they were setting up the next drill. As a player, I thought nothing of it. Now as a coach, I know exactly how long planning a session can take. Sometimes it comes quickly, sometimes you want to try something new, sometimes you modify what you have done before; but the best coaches are always thinking about what they are going to do next. Eventually you will get so good at planning creative and intentional sessions, you will start to plan the smallest of details. How will this drill progress to the next? Where can I place the cones so I can use them repeatedly throughout the session? If you want to be the best coach, you need to be organized. You need a plan.
*This is from personal experience as a player, but as I continue to learn more about the game from a coaching standpoint, the trends listed above are still as prevalent today as they were when I was playing..
Thanks for reading,
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