It’s Going To Unfold. Enjoy It.
Trust me when I tell you, “Life is unpredictable”. We human beings can only control so much. In order to survive as a coach over the long haul without causing yourself an inordinate amount of self-imposed unnecessary stress, you must become comfortable with giving up control and accepting the fact you can’t control everything. You especially can’t control the outcome of “Massive Games”! If you can’t come to grips with the fact that the outcome of games are for the most part out of your control, you will inevitably only succeed at driving yourself completely insane. I know firsthand because I used to be that coach. I drove myself nutty living out every single second of the match, gritting my teeth, yelling non-stop, ripping the referees, getting on my players, being distracted by the opposing coaches and living and dying with every single kick of the ball. I literally was one enormous ball of crazy energy during “big games”. The problem was my lack of emotional control was stopping me from analyzing the game and making important decisions. My emotions were leading me on a passionate journey all over the place while paralyzing my ability to coach and focus. After years of beating myself into an emotional coma during big games, I accepted the fact that all I could do was prepare my team the best way possible, make a couple tactical adjustments, provide added energy from the sideline and shout some directions for the players if needed. After that all that’s left to do is watch the game unfold. I am not saying the coach can’t change the outcome of the game on occasion but in general all the hard work is done before the game. Once I accepted this fact, I regained control and became a better coach and leader. When I look back and reflect on how I used to handle myself on the sidelines, I feel slightly embarrassed. Today, my new found calmness allows me to keep myself and my team more focused on executing the game plan, its much easier to ignore all outside distractions (coaches, fans, officials, poor conditions) and it takes all the extra not needed emotion out of the game. One of the main points I tell my players is “do not let your emotions or the other teams emotions or actions distract you from the task at hand. Focus solely on the game and executing the game plan. Soccer is a game of passion and emotion, but those strong feelings must be funneled into executing the game plan with energy, discipline and focus. No exceptions.”
The clock will tick down and the game will be over before you know it. Live it. Enjoy it. Be present in the moment but do not let the moment become to big where you and your team lose focus and stray from executing the game plan. If you want to win the big games, be in control of your emotions and actions. Being in control is a skill and not something you will learn over night, you and your players will have to work at. Train your team to focus all their energy and passion into the area of executing the game plan. Do it together as a unit. That’s how teams win titles and quality programs are made.
My team competes in a National Championship format that uses a playoff system. The playoffs require you to win or your season is over. In order to win the championship you have to win something like eight games in a row against good competition. Obviously that is no easy task and it comes with an ample amount of pressure as well. This year the #1 seed played a team that received five red card ejections as the game had to be stopped. Another team had three red card ejections in similar game. It says to me that the #1 team was well trained at keeping their focus and sticking to the task at hand, while the team with five red cards probably lost control of their emotions and had completely given up any game plan. The #1 team is the best for a reason and it is not just the way they play. “Derby Games” require discipline to win. Look at this year’s Manchester United versus Manchester City game. United’s defender put in two reckless challenges causing United to go down to 10 men. That lack of focus changes the game. That is the difference between winning and losing.
Win or Lose – Do It Right
At the end of the day there can be only one winner. The great Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson is quoted saying “the only thing guaranteed in football is eventual disappointment”. That statement doesn’t sound so optimistic or inspiring, but ultimately it’s the reality of soccer. Eventually your team is going to lose. It might not be today or tomorrow or this year, but trust me it is coming. When that final whistle blows and the score is not in your favor, it is very important to take defeat with class, dignity and respect for all those involved. I understand the intense feelings of disappointment that come with a big defeat, especially a season ending one, but soccer is a game we play for enjoyment, to test ourselves, to form friendships and learn about life. Win with dignity, sportsmanship and class but lose with it as well. Your role as the coach involves teaching both a philosophy of sport and life. You must mentor your players in more areas than just tactics and technical components. Be a role model and include lessons on what it means to be a respectful, responsible, ethical and good person. A good coach is a person that can lead a group of people in the right direction in sport and life. If the “Massive Game” does come and you lose, be prepared to have already covered what you expect out of your team in defeat. I tell my players all the time that only one team can win the “National Championship”. That means 200+ teams will end their season not being the “National Champion”. If and when we get eliminated, I stress the importance of congratulating the opponents, thanking the fans, shaking the officials hands and leaving a good impression. Don’t be that program who leaves any bad impression whatsoever after defeat. Its simple to win and be respectful but true character is shown when you lose.
I have been through some of the most devastating loses you can imagine. Losses that rip your heart out and make you want to cry. The most important thing is when those heart-wrenching moments come and you lose, you must be gracious and keep your head up and wish the opponents the best of luck going forward. That is your job as the Head Coach. Anything less is unacceptable in my book. The team will follow your lead but you must lay the groundwork from day one. I stress this because I have seen the ugly side of the game with teams who want to fight after losing, coaches who won’t shake hands with have zero control of themselves and their teams, players who go after the officials, property destroyed and all out brawls go down. There is no room in the coaching profession for these people and “Derby Days” can only be enjoyed if the coaches are true leaders.