Sunday, October 07, 2007

On Coaching

Having coached for 20 years and having just witnessed, as a referee, many soccer games at our town's Columbus Day tournament, I again reaffirm my long-standing unscientific survey of games by noting that the teams that do the best are the one with the quietest coaches. Why is this?

Soccer is a thinking person's game, and it is hard for a player to think if an authority figure is yelling at you as the ball comes your way. Kids who are trained to think learn how to make the right decisions in the split-second action of a game. Kids who are trained to listen to their coaches learn to wait to be told what to do.

Here's what I was taught by a great coach, Dean Conway, in coaching school and try to pass along to my fellow coaches. You coach during practices or quietly on the sidelines to the players who are waiting to be substituted in. You do not yell instructions to players on the field -- especially ones near the ball -- because (1) by the time you yell something, the play has developed and your instruction is too late; (2) chances are that your instruction was wrong in the first instance, anyway; and (3) if the player is listening to you, she is not able to think for herself or does not hear a teammate calling for the pass or otherwise saying something important.

Coaches who are reading this and don't believe me should hear what the kids say to each other and to me (as referee) on the field when their coaches persist in yelling instructions. Trust me, their comments about you are not pretty.

As a coach in a tournament, I love it when the opposing coach yells instructions. Two things happen. First, I see the other team's players get all tense, make mistakes, and lose their sense of teamwork. Second, my kids turn to me and say, "Can you believe that guy?" Then they (not I) win the game.

16 comments:

A said...

So true. I think the coaches shout from the sidelines for mental satisfaction only.

Taki said...

Paul,

An interesting point. I had the distinct pleasure of being coached by Dean Conway for a number of years while in grade school and high school.

I always found his calm coaching style to be extraordinarily effective for many of the reasons that you discussed. Coaches have little effect on the direct actions of the game and there is certainly a psychological cost associated with being screamed at on the field.

As someone interested in healthcare issues, I enjoyed coming across Dean Conway's name in one of my favorite healthcare blogs. Fun!

Best,

Taki
(http://ihealthsystems.blogspot.com)

Anonymous said...

You sound like a life coach....lucky players and parents!

Anonymous said...

I am currently in the process of reading Tony Dungy's book "Quiet Strength". It is an excellent book. Coach Dungy is one of those quiet and remarkable coaches.

Marianne said...

I was remembering a past Columbus Day tournament in Newton this weekend. The team I was coaching was really struggling. They were playing well - but weren't taking any shots on goal in game after game. Obviously, you don't score if you don't shoot.

At practices, one of our girls, a team leader, had started this habit of making "grass angels" before practice had started. So, I had a team of eighth grade girls out on the field making grass angels every day. At some point, I promised them that if they put a shot in the net, I would do a grass angel for them.

The weather at the tournament was kind of like today - serious drizzle. But, finally, they made their first goal of the season. That Newton mud felt great doing a grass angel surrounded by my girls doing the same thing on the sidelines!

Michael D. Miller, MD said...

Great comments Paul. Having played and coached at various levels your words ring very true. As a novice coach I yelled a lot, but now recognize your wisdom - which can be seen reflected on the TV coverage of a great local coach, Bill Belichick. Even between plays he is almost never seen yelling or even talking to anyone except players not on the field or the other coaches. (OK sometimes he yells at the refs.) I've also seen the same thing in managers in the business world: Good ones plan with their team before things happen, don't intercede during the action unless they are part of the implementing group, and engage in analytical learning afterward, not assigning blame or taking credit.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,
You obviously know what you are talking about as anyone who reads this can tell. I had the pleasure of being on your team for 2 years in a row and I can't tell you just how much I have learned from you. Now when people say "where'd you learn those moves?" or "Wow who was your last coach?" I can tell them who coached me.That is when it really sinks in how much I have improved with your coaching. Thanks so much.
~ R.R.

Anonymous said...

My daughter was a fortunate member of Paul's winning 1201 team a couple of years ago.

They lost miserably to a Winchester team three days before the Columbus Day tournament began. Something special happened over that weekend and they made it into the finals against the same Winchester team. At the half it was 0-0. The Newton parents went crazy cheering and people couldn't understand why, but we did. Our girls had held them. In the final three minutes we scored and won. Paul, on the sidelines, beamed. Our girls were ecstatic. It was a well deserved win with a team that enjoyed themselves and was out there having fun - and playing amazing soccer.

PS Later in the season they again lost to the Winchester team, but couldn't have cared less. The one trophy that will never be given away (and doesn't fit on a shelf) is the one won during that wonderful NGS Columbus Day tournament 2004. Thanks Paul!

Anonymous said...

Please make this post required reading for all attending physicians who berate, demean, or speak contemptuously to their residents.

Anonymous said...

One only need to look at Terry Francona who says openly that he does not need to tell the Red Sox how to play baseball. He lets them play their game, the work has already been done in practice. Any form of intimidation, a coach yelling is a prime example, only serves to undermine the effectiveness of any individual effort. Hear, hear Paul. Our daughter was lucky to have you as coach last year.

Anonymous said...

It was a true gift to be on Paul's team last year as a parent! We have all learned so much. Isn't this true in so many aspects of life? I agree - this should be required reading for ALL who want to be good managers of their lives! A game (project, test, etc.) is only an opportunity to find out what can be improved for the next challenge. We focus too much on the outcome and neglect the importance of the process! This should be part of NGS coach training so that more of our children can learn from their coaches! As my daughter says, Paul is the greatest coach she's ever had in her 8 years playing at NGS! Thank you, Paul!

David said...

I completely agree with you and very much disagree with you. You make some very valid points about kids being the ones to make decisions on a soccer field. That is definitely in the best interests of kids developmentally. However, there are many important points a good coach can make in a match in anticipation of certain situations (ie, not ball-watching, cutting off forward paths to goal, tighter man-marking). I personally have played the quiet role in matches and the loud role in matches in low level soccer competition as a coach. I know that our results defensively are MUCH better when I am involved verbally as coach (much like a loud goalkeeper). If a coach can direct like a loud goalkeeper should, I firmly beleive a team will benefit from it. That is the reason most coaches want instructive goalkeepers involved verbally in the game. And the players have the ability to absorb instruction while they play from goalkeepers which contradicts several of your points. Nevertheless, people should listen to the positives of your opinion as there is definite truth to what you have stated. Parents who want results ruin the game for kids! Regards.

Paul Levy said...

We might not totally disagree, if you are saying that you don't talk to players who have the ball. Advising a player on position, when the ball is away from him or her, can be helpful.

Michael said...

I'd echo that sentiment - if a defender is hanging back when the play moves forward, or the keeper is picking grass, or the offense never gets back to help out on a counterattack, they often benefit from being encouraged to stay in the game even when the ball is distant, although again it's probably better if kids absorb these messages before the game - in my opinion it's a sign of coaching failure if too much direction is needed during the game.

SFG said...

Please make this post required reading for all attending physicians who berate, demean, or speak contemptuously to their residents.
Oh please. He's a CEO, not God. ;)

Istvan said...

I am coaching U-11 Boys and I have to admit that I have a tendency to yell but also I hate the remote-controlled soccer play. I think if it does not bother the game, yelling of constructive instructions during the game may be good. I have to emphasize that this requires a consistent and clear communication language. I think the major problem with yelling is that usually even the coaches do not know what they want and totally confuse the kids by this behavior. If there is a clear strategy, which is regularly or from time to time reinforced, if necessary, by short yelled instructions during the game, it could be helpful and the team’s performance can be enhanced, at least in this age group. The instructions should not be strict commands but rather encouraging and clear comments. In my experience, the kids need this type of feedback as well as they need cheering.