It’s the first day of your summer workouts, and as you look at the players suited up and ready to get to work, all the faces are different. Seeing your returning players combined with a new group trying to fit in is nothing new to you. Tryouts end, rosters are posted, and suddenly your team takes on its own identity.
As new players come in, the question is, “How do you determine the face of your new team?” Often coaches try to make their new team fit in the mold of past squads, only to discover that the face of the team has an entirely new look. As players graduate, so does your team, which means it’s vital to see how returnees fit in the goals you set. Looking at the makeup of last year’s team, pick out the returning players you want to build the foundation of your new team.
Reflecting back on one of the best teams I have coached, a team built on the values of trust, commitment, desire, hope, confidence, and love. This group played together for four years and held each teammate accountable for their actions on and off the field. You see, the face of your team begins to take shape in the classroom, where you find discipline and a desire to learn. Their dedication to completing work on time told me a lot about their work ethic and responsibility. Once they took to the field, you could see a sense of purpose with every training session. I’m not sure where I heard this, but we started each training session with each player saying they would strive for perfection. Would we ever reach perfection? No, but if we tried the next day to become perfect based on yesterday’s performance, our face turned into a determined desire to win. No compromises.
So what does this have to do with the new squad of players? Some of the same values from the previous year carried over, but some of the values were lost with graduation. The leadership of the previous year left my new team searching for the player that could lead the team under a whole new set of values. The new group of players lacked confidence, trust, and belief. My previous team had seen its own ups and downs and was committed to not repeating the previous year’s performance but building itself on the foundation of working toward perfection.
How does this transition play itself out? My following team didn’t know how to trust each other and pointed fingers at each other; thus, we struggled with consistency which translated into not being accountable for their own play. While this is frustrating as a coach, I had to put a face on this team. It meant bringing in captains and laying out expectations for their leadership. It meant that they had to learn to trust each other and develop a mentoring attitude.
The important thing that coaches must learn is this doesn’t always turn into wins, but it gives value to getting better every day. I learned a long time ago that my job as a coach is not to teach these guys how to play soccer, but to teach them the skills to deal with facing challenges as adults, to be better brothers, loyal friends, loving sons, and most importantly, better husbands and fathers. As seasons go by and players move on with their lives, the impact you have on former players can be seen as you watch them grow. Sometimes they make bad decisions and choices, but you know how important the part you played in their lives comes when they turn to you for help because they trust you. That is the face of love taking its shape from lessons learned on the field.
By Jim Beck