The second habit that author Stephen Covey covers is ‘begin with the end in mind.’ He begins the chapter asking readers to imagine themselves at their own funeral, and think about what they would like people from the different sectors of their life to say about them. This is the ultimate example of this habit, and helps to frame the rest of the chapter. The idea is to have a clear understanding of your destination before you begin your journey. Having a clear idea of where you want to end up allows you to retain your focus as you are battered by minutiae day to day, and helps protect you from veering off course. It also helps you to avoid pursuing a goal mindlessly, only to realize your success was ‘empty’, and that your real priorities lie elsewhere.
The first way I think this applies to coaching is having a clear idea of the identity you want your team to have. This can start very basic, and can go as deep as you want, or need. This identity can be a function of many things such as the players at your disposal (inside and outside of your club), the culture surrounding the players, your training environment, resources, etc. A massive part of this is also influenced directly by your own preferences as a coach of the style of soccer you are passionate about, and capable of coaching. For me personally, establishing my own coaching identity began with reflecting on team’s I enjoy watching play, and coaches whose work I respect. Without that idea of how you want to have your teams attack, defend, and play on the weekend, your training sessions and your messages to the players will lack focus. Without a tight level of focus, the individual player’s development will be stifled, as well as the team’s. It can be too easy to get caught in the cycle of fixing what happened in last weekend’s game and preparing for next weekend’s game without putting in any robust work into your own team’s identity. Of course we need to adapt to our opponents and fix problems, even at the youth level. However, it is important that over time, your team is consistently able to put their stamp on a game regardless of outside factors. Building a clear vision before starting your work with a team helps insure consistency and focus in your messages to the players at training.
Of course the same principles apply to building a club. At Los Gatos United this summer, we brought in hundreds of players, added more than a dozen teams, and hired additional staff as both coaches and in leadership positions. It would have been easy to say yes to every player, hire the first coach that walks through the door, and slap on titles and responsibilities to the first person to volunteer. Part of what attracted me to the club in the first place was the clear vision of the leadership from Shaun Tsakiris and Shawn Blakeman. They knew they wanted to build a club with a community feel to it between members, teams, coaching staff, administration, and families. They never wavered from their commitment to bring in 'good people’ at all levels, regardless of a person’s resume or track record. Coaches, families, and players were not recruited, or sold any marketing BS to bring them in; in fact, any player or coach who wavered on the decision to join was told that maybe this isn’t the place for them. From my experience, the people and things you say ‘no’ to are often more important than what you are saying ‘yes’ to. The leadership at Los Gatos made it clear up front what the direction and expectations were for any new members, even if that meant missing out in the short term. We have our Core Values posted in our office as the highest item on our wall, so that it is visible no matter where you sit in the room. These values can be viewed HERE on our website.
Setting and sticking to your values up front is an extremely difficult, but worthwhile policy. Once institutional inertia sets in after a period of time, an organization starts to take on a mind of its own, and decision-making becomes more automatized, and individuals can be trusted to take on more efficacy and responsibility. Insuring that you are not compromising on your values in the early stages is critical. If a culture is properly built and then maintained, the assimilation of new members will not rock the boat. Any one who does not fit in will either be turned away, or will self-select out of joining. If on the other hand, you are simply reacting to your environment without a clear purpose, you leave yourself constantly vulnerable to outside influences.