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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coaching Champions (Dear Katie V3 #10)

Dear Katie,

The other week, I had the honor of coaching a great group of middle school boys to a county championship in soccer.  When you get your first teaching position, I highly recommend taking on a coaching position or becoming a sponsor of a school club.  Not only will it bring you added revenue as a part time job, but it allows you to see your students in a different light...and allows them to see you in a different light as well.

I had two young men on the team this year who were very quiet in my class last year.  Spending the season on the soccer pitch allowed me to see great senses of humor that they both have.  Laughing with them was one of the fringe benefits this year.  You will see students who may struggle academically excel in the sport or club activity you are leading.

Coaching makes you more sensitive in the classroom that you are teaching the whole child, not just the facts and skills of the subject you were hired to teach. 

Over the years you may have heard your grandfather talk about me and baseball.  You may be wondering what do I even know about soccer, I think some of my players wonder that as well, and even I do at times.  You do need to know something about the game for sure, but their are some universal coaching philosophies I use on the athletic field as well as the classroom.

1) If you want your players to "Play Great" treat them as "Great Players"

I always ask my players opinions on what we are doing well on the field and what we could do better.  In this way I am demonstrating that I trust and value my players' judgment; that I am a coach willing to listen.  In the classroom, ask for their opinions on your teaching and lessons.  It will give them a feeling of ownership; it is not your classroom, but OUR classroom.

The team isn't "MY TEAM" but "OUR TEAM".

It is also important to make your players believe they are better than they think they are.  It is not making them believe in a lie, but it is to encourage them to play at their very best every moment they are on the field.  On the sports field, it is to motivate them to believe that no obstacle is to large for them to move.  

Why Not Us?

Our battle cry for this year was, "Why not us?" First, it focuses on the fact it would take a team effort to win a championship.  The second is to get in their minds that one team has to win the championship, so what makes other teams more deserving or capable than us.  Why can't we be the ones who win the whole thing.  

You would be surprised how many teams lose the game before it begins 
because they BELIEVE they are supposed to lose it.

In the classroom, too many teachers state, "This is test is going to be difficult" rather than "This is a tough test, but I know you are ready and able to do a great job on it."  


2) Sometimes not being an expert makes you a better coach

I am a baseball player, played it through college.  Was All-Conference First Team in High School.  I come with a wealth of baseball experience to the boys I coach, yet my record in the county tournament for baseball over the past 11 years is 7 wins and 11 losses, while in soccer over 7 years it is 10 and 5 with 2 county championships.  Makes you wonder what sport I actually can coach better. (BTW I did play soccer up until sophomore year in high school, so it is not like I never played the game).

Many of the men who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame as managers were not the best players (some never even played in the majors and if they did, they were up in the Big Leagues just long enough to "enjoy a cup of coffee).  The list includes Tony LaRussa, Tommy Lasorda, Sparky Anderson, great managers, not the best of players.

It is said that the best players tend to make bad managers because they expect their players to do the great things they did naturally.  And because it came naturally to them, they find it difficult to explain how to do it better. 

As a soccer coach, I have to ask questions of soccer minds (thankfully I work with a top notch soccer player and another person who is engrossed by soccer and knows the game) to better understand the game.  I have to break things down rudimentary to my team so I understand what I need them to do, thus being clear in my instructions,  In baseball, I think I rely on my own knowledge too much and find it more difficult to break down the steps of a proper swing.

As a teacher, it is something to remember.  The concept you are trying to teach may come easy to you, but may not come easy to your students.  Don't assume they understand what you are trying to teach them.  Break it down.

The best teachers are NOT those who can spout complex ideas using big words.
The BEST teachers are those who can break down complex ideas into bite sized chunks.

3) Mistakes Happen

When I coach, I do not hold mistakes over a player.  Errors and turnovers will occur.  If they didn't, I wouldn't be coaching humans.  If a coach belittles a player for a mistake, that player will begin to play too cautiously, never taking calculated risk.  And your team will never play to their full potential if they are not willing to take risks.

If a player believes a mistake will place them in your dog house
They will play beneath their ability in order to avoid mistakes

You should point out mistakes, it is how we learn, but you need to allow the player to get out there and try again or they will learn NOTHING.

In order for a student to grow, they need to feel comfortable taking risks in your classroom.

As a teacher, you must point out if a student answers incorrectly.  However, praise the effort, thank them for the attempt.  Let them know you would be more happy with them to try and fail rather then to never had tried at all.


As the last whistle blew, my team charged the field hugging and jumping on each other.  We received our trophy and met their parents at midfield.  I had them stop celebrating for a moment and asked them to take in the moment because after we left the field that day, that team would no longer exist.  In silence we all looked at each other, coach, players, parents.  All beaming, all proud.  It was a great memory.

Also a bittersweet moment, but I made sure I looked into each boys' face to remember the effort, talent, and fun they brought to make us the best team we could possibly be.

Remember, you only have your students for a brief season of their lives.  
What do you want to instill in them?
Can you both beam with pride when it is over?
That is how you coach Champions.

Your Favorite Soccer Coaching Relative,

Uncle Kevin

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