I’ve had a few days to reflect after our JV and Varsity seasons with the Boys Soccer team at Minnehaha Academy has ended.
Here are a few of my keys to coaching a team during COVID:
Be grateful — Those who know me hear me say that I’m thankful and grateful a lot. But what many don’t know is, that isn’t my nature. Into adulthood, I had to learn the importance of gratitude and how to practice it. And, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t confident that we would actually play games, when we started trainings sessions in July. So i constantly reminded my players to be thankful for every practice, every day at school, every single game.
Be agile — Defined as, “having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.” That was the word I embraced, shortly after COVID-19 imparted the world. It was demanded of me professionally, as every consulting client was lost due to the pandemic. It was demanded of me personally, with the kids virtually learning and my wife virtually working. The in soccer, many adjustments were required, departing drills and procedures that myself and Varsity Coach Juan Andrade-Vera may have become accustomed to. After opening the season with two losses, I also had to adjust our formation to accommodate for four players — three of whom had never played soccer — who were adamant that they would only play defense. In front of the four defenders, I employed two central defensive midfielders to provide some support and help us transition into our offense.
Set clear expectations — Players specifically thanked me for the grace I showed them. But I am uncompromising in my demand that players put forth great effort, at all times. The theme I had for the season — always adjusted to each unique team — was to have a “Growth Mindset.” So I visited with each player and set a preseason goal and then checked in with them every 10 days or so. In addition to putting forth great effort and having a Growth Mindset, I also emphasize that we do not measure success by wins and losses. Rather, we strive to play toward a standard that we, as a team know, based on practices and moments in games. The players experienced that throughout the season. Like when we played a brilliant first half to take a 2-1 halftime lead, then completely get outplayed in the second half — yet somehow hold that same scoreline to win. Or like when we dominated a first half and then allowed the first goal early in the second half to fall behind. But the boys stayed resilient, and we scored three goals in the final 14 minutes to earn a hard-fought victory. I was told that we lost to those two teams by a combined score of 16-0 last season. Coaches create culture — and that culture matters.
Have fun — Isn’t that important? Especially for our children? They need to be active and competitive. Sometimes, though, I wonder what we’re doing in youth sports, when you look at the sidelines and on the playing fields, and you don’t see much smiling and laughing. Sports should be fun, even at the highest levels. There’s no doubt that Heung-min Son is one of the best attacking footballers in the world, but he also showcases his joy countless times in any given match. Or what about Usain Bolt, or Diana Taurasi? Adults can do more to reinforce to young athletes that they should relish the competition and opportunity to do their best, regardless of the outcome.
We did have an impressive record but what I’ll remember is the fun that we had together, the growth the players had collectively and individually, the opportunity to partake in this amazing game and, most of all, some of the feedback I received.
From a player
“Coach Sean, you have motivated and pushed me, and believed in me as a player more than anyone else. I have become a greater player because of you. Thank you.”
From a player’s mom
“I first want to thank you for being the best coach (my son) has ever had. YOU — by far — have given him the most of any coach. You have made him feel seen on the field and have been tough but fair with expectation! I so appreciate the culture you created on the team.”
From another player
“I want to thank you so much for making this first soccer season so much fun. My transformation as a player was because of your coaching. I can’t wait for next season.”