What is Your Coaching Philosophy?

By Mike Singleton, Director of Coaching, Mass Youth Soccer

As each of us matriculates through our coaching careers, we may face a variety of situations, challenges, and players. Whether it be coaching a recreational team and the challenge of managing that team with it's wide range of players, coaching a club team in a competitive tournament or coaching a regional or national team, I feel there is foundational knowledge that can help guide our actions through all of these challenges.

Knowing why we are coaching and what we hope to achieve through coaching can play a critical role in guiding our behavior. Staying true to our personal mission is also key to making sure we send consistent messages to our players.

Any of us who have been coaching for a few years will have met a variety of coaches with a variety of motivations. We have all met the coach who is entirely driven by winning or ego. We may also have met the coach who is living vicariously through the players. Other coaches may coach because it gives them a release from "regular life," while still others may coach because they have fallen in love with the game and want to share that sentiment.

Some enjoy working with children and watching them grow up. Some have found it to be a great way to spend time with their own child. Yet, others are coaching because if they had not volunteered, their child would not have had a team on which to play. Whatever the reasons, we now find ourselves committing much energy and time to the youngsters with whom we work.

Encountering such varied motivations on a daily basis leads me to ask myself quite often about my motivation for coaching. I have won a few championships as a coach, but those titles themselves do not play a part in my motivation in any way. Do not mistake me, I have as much competitive fire in me as anyone and I do enjoy winning. However, winning is not my motivation.

Years ago, when beginning to attend college, I told myself that I wanted to make children's lives better. In whatever way I could manage to do that, I wanted to make children smile and feel good about themselves, and about life. At times, after a stressful day or a tough loss, I question if I am staying true to this goal and if I am truly making any difference. Other times, the players I coach make me feel like the luckiest person in the world to be doing what I am doing, and assure me of my focus.

The smile of a 5 year-old running to practice and screaming "HI, COACH MIKE!!" makes me share in that bright smile and feel incredibly lucky that I am able to do that. Laughing when a parent tells me their seven-year-old asked if I could join them on their family vacation, or having players ask me if I saw the skill they performed for the first time as excitedly as they would ask if they could see the presents Santa left, lets me know something is right. What signs are you seeing in your players to indicate this to you?

When taking this job, I left a team and received some e-mails wishing me good luck. One e-mail read, "To me, it seemed like you really cared enough to get to know us as players, as well as individuals off the field. We loved all the team bonding activities and that season really brought us all to become better friends and teammates. I think that you were the best thing that happened to our team, Mike, you really helped us learn the game from different angles, and you renewed our love for soccer."

Another wrote, "… you made me love the game and want to play my heart out not only for myself, but for you too. You've helped me develop immensely as a player, and you made soccer fun. You knew us as players like no other coach does, and it really made the difference. Our team could have never done as well or been as close without you as our coach."

These are my most cherished trophies and no championship I ever win will mean as much to me as those words. They will shine brighter in my mind than any trophy could. These players told me I not only helped them develop as soccer players, but that I enabled them to have fun and build close relationships with others on the team. Most importantly, they knew I cared about them as people, regardless of what happened on the field. I think they may have even smiled once or twice. I know why I coach.

With these thoughts in mind, I ask you … why do you coach? In the ever-increasing high-pressure world of soccer, this can be a difficult task. Are you consistent in your behavior and in following your philosophy? Are you seeing signs from players that the coach you see yourself as is the coach they see? Have you looked back over your actions as a coach of late to determine if your actions fall in line with the philosophy you have as a coach? When people ask me if I believe that a coach is a good coach, I ask myself if I would want my own child playing for that coach and trust in that coach's guidance for my child. Is that you?

Season after season, year after year, we sometimes drift off the path we originally set for ourselves. I know I have been guilty of this. Sometimes, it takes a little push or question from another person to steer us back to that path. We can also hold ourselves to task on this. For the players' sake, let's be the people providing that push or asking that question of one another and ourselves. In the end, it is the players that will benefit most — and keep us smiling as well.