Jonathan Sager talks coaching in his latest blog


American fan talks about coaching and soccer in the USA.

A couple of weeks ago I was away on a business trip to Northern Virginia.  While I was there I happened to go to one of the biggest malls in the country and visit a large bookstore.  Since I was there I figured I'd stroll through the sports section and look at the soccer books.

After avoiding the usual suspects, Soccer for Dummies and other various entry-level books, I happened upon a book about Pep Guardiola, called Another Way of Winning.  I'm not a huge La Liga fan, and I will admit I've rarely watched Barcelona, but I figured that since I had never seen this book before and I wanted to know more about managing soccer I'd pick it up and take a look.

I didn't open the book right away, even on the nights when I lay awake and couldn't sleep.  I had a couple of other books ahead of it.  But eventually I figured it was time for me to pick it up.  I've been glad that I have.

This isn't an endorsement for the book, I'm not telling you to read it.  What I'm telling you is that it has forced me to change the way that I look at soccer, or rather change my mind about how to coach soccer. 

I'll admit I've been stuck in a rut for a couple of years when coaching my daughter's team.  The past couple of years have been a little tough.  There have been mistakes and lack of preparation, maybe even some mistakes on my part by putting the wrong people in the wrong position.  Maybe I've even been too quick to use the same tactics.  I think I've been known to even give up at times.  Once the going got tough, I may have just packed it in. 

That's not to say I didn't have a couple of problems from the start.  I didn't have enough players, not everyone could make practice, I could only schedule practice once a week, players lost interest over the summer, etc etc.  Then in the fall when the games started I was left to pick up the pieces and try to make something of the year.  Even though many times I felt defeated even before anything began.  It's a terrible feeling.  Anyone who has ever coached anything and walks into the game already feeling like the battle is lost, they can know that feeling.  It's a let down.  It makes you question why you are really doing it.  The soccer season feels so long when you have that feeling.  And you also feel like you are letting the kids down.

As this season started I had high hopes but I also knew that I was moving up to the Under 10 division.  Another step up.  But with another step comes another set of issues.  Finally I had made it to the division of the goalkeeper and I was going to be able to use my experience to help a child learn the position that I love.  Who would have known that my daughter would volunteer to be a goalkeeper?  I can't tell you how proud I was to walk into the sporting goods store and show her the gloves, to buy her a brand new pair of Adidas Predator Fingersave gloves.  Seeing her pull them on, tighten the strap and throw her a ball was one of the greatest feelings.

Of course, maybe as a parent I'm overstating but I thought she did great as a goalie in her first game.  I thought she was aggressive and ran after the ball, she just isn't as big as the other kids and that leads to her having to overcome that disadvantage.  But I knew this would be one of the many disadvantages I would have to coach this team through. 

When I did finally pick up the book about Guardiola, we were already three games into the season.  At this point the old feeling of doubt was starting to creep in.  I kept asking myself, "am I doing enough for my players?"  "Am I teaching them the right things?"  "Am I positive enough?"  "Should we be winning?"  I looked around at the other teams I saw kids playing hard and running.  I thought for all the things that I do know about soccer, I should be able to install this into the players.

But the book put me back onto the ground.  It made me realize that it takes more than one coach, it takes more than an assistant coach or a goalie coach.  It takes more than a trainer, it takes more than one.  It takes a team, and it also takes a mindset and a culture.  In Guardiola's Barcelona, the mindset was Barcelona first, player second.  It takes a player realizing that their actions affect those around them and being able to see that and read what their teammates do also changes the game.  It also takes a coach fighting for the team.  Even if it may be a losing cause at some point, it's up to the coach to keep reinforcing that commitment in the players.  One thing that I've learned about Guardiola is that he loved Barcelona.  He couldn't hold back his love for Barcelona and it was one of the many things that helped him as a coach.  But he also worked hard. 

He grew up in a system.  He was trained in the Barcelona system as a youth, and he continued that system as a coach.  He was lucky to grow up in the system and be able to pass that on to the youth.  I only wish that kids here had that chance.

I can't compare myself to other coaches in the league, I can't compare myself to other coaches in soccer, much less other coaches.  I am only one person volunteering my time to help these kids love the sport I love.  I don't have professional training, and I can't pretend that I'm a top notch coach.  That's not to say I haven't felt the sting of defeat from time to time, even going so far as to apologize to my daughter for not being the best coach.  But I'm doing the best that I can and I'm going to continue to fight for these kids when I have to but be there for them when they need me.  I can't be afraid to change my tactics and I can't be stubborn.  I have to be flexible.  I have to be unflinching.  I have to be more than a coach, I have to be a friend.