It’s easy to define what makes a player great in any particular sport. Typically, great players commit their lives to the game. Every waking moment is about achieving victory for one’s team, no matter the cost. It is more difficult, however, to determine what makes a great coach.
When you think about the great coaches in the history of sports – Phil Jackson, Pat Summitt, Don Shula and many others – what is it that they have in common? In truth, it’s a number of factors. These men and women are, in almost all cases, thinking about the long game. They’re concerned more with long-term legacy than short-term success. They’re also attuned to the rhythms of the game they coach, be it soccer, baseball, or basketball.
Today, we’re going to look at five traits that make a great soccer coach. Read on:
1. Know The Fundamentals
Any true coach must know the fundamentals of the game so they can teach their players to master its more challenging tenets. All of your players will have different aptitude when it comes to the basics of the game – there is a spectrum of talent, and, as the coach, it is your job to manage that spectrum so that the team as a whole plays to the best of its abilities. With that in mind, it is imperative that a great soccer coach keeps his players in touch with the fundamentals of the game, so they don’t start to stray too far from what their function is. In other words: you have to master the scales before you learn to play like Jimi Hendrix.
2. Know Your Team
It sounds deceptively simple, but a great soccer coach knows their team. They know each player; they know each player’s individual moods, eccentricities, strengths, weaknesses, and more. They know how to use their players like a chess player uses pieces on a board: strategically. Someone like Phil Jackson may have known that Michael Jordan was his star player, but that didn’t stop him from utilizing the likes of Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen to the fullest extent of their talents. Coaches, take the time to get to know the players on your team on a personal level. The team as a unit will be all the better for it.
3. Show Support… And Tough Love, When Necessary
Communication is essential to being a good soccer coach. You have to know when it is time to affirm your players (not so much that they start to rest on their laurels, just so that they know when they’re in the zone), and when it is time to show tough love. A good coach never berates his team for inadequacies that he caused. A good coach talks to his team with passion, intelligence, grit, and conviction. A great coach understands that victory is not one by any one person, but by physical and verbal and spiritual communication through a group of individuals.
4. Protect The Players
Soccer, like any sport, comes with the possibility of players hurting or injuring themselves. Knowing that, it is crucial that a great soccer coach takes whatever pre-emptive measures he can to prevent this from happening. In this case, however, the concept of “protection” isn’t strictly limited to injury. For instance, if you’re a soccer coach and you have a mercurial, hot-headed player on your team who’s prone to fighting with the opposition, you have to do whatever it is in your power to see that that player doesn’t fly off the handle and doesn’t get hit with some kind of violation. Protect your players, and they will protect you – it’s a reciprocal relationship.
5. It Helps If Coach Has Been A Player Too
Doc Rivers. Bill Russell. Steve Kerr. Joe Torre. What do all these men have in common, aside from impressive track records and a shared desire for greatness? It’s simple: they were all once players who eventually became coaches. In other words, these men understand the game inside and out, and what’s more is that they have proven to be effective communicators (there’s that word again) with the players on their teams.
There comes a time in every star athlete’s life where they are faced with the prospect of hanging up their mantle and retiring, or staying in the game, one way or another. The coaches I’ve just listed, and there are others as well, are men who wanted to continue to give their lives to the game that nurtured them, even when they themselves were too old to play. And yet, there is something beautiful in that relationship: a star athlete ages gracefully before inheriting the responsibilities of a teacher, in effect passing along their wisdom to a new generation of trailblazers.
Master these five lessons, and you too will be a great soccer coach. As always, thank you for reading.