I listen to enough of Tim Ferris’ podcast and the associated zeitgeist that I had heard of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Last year at a 3four3 camp in North Carolina, I saw a copy in a ‘Leave a book, take a book’ shelf at my hotel. Sadly, I was halfway through my Game of Thrones book, and couldn’t leave THAT behind, so I violated the spirit of the shelf and took it anyways.
I finally got around to reading it last year, and am working through the 7 different habits. As I tend do with anything educational, I relate whatever I consume back to soccer to see how I can apply it to my profession. I want to do a post for each of the 7 habits as I finish the chapter. The first habit is Be Proactive. To summarize the habit, we can choose to accept responsibility for our own behavior and conditions in life. Once you accept that responsibility, if you allow outside forces to control you, you are allowing yourself to become reactive. Someone who is proactive is not someone who is never influenced by outside forces, but is someone who chooses how they will respond to their own circumstances, and works deliberately to influence them.
The first thing that came to mind, especially in my new setting at LGU, is that most organizations (soccer clubs) are reactive. When something goes wrong, or when something unexpected happens, most directors, administrators, coaches, etc. end up reacting to a problem. The most prevalent example in youth soccer in the Bay Area is when a family is looking to make a move away from their current club. At that point, the coach will hold a meeting with the family, promise a better experience (playing time, position, team placement, etc.), the director will phone up the family and look to persuade them, and the club may even ask other families to put pressure on them to stay. I call this type of reactivity ‘fire fighting’. Everyone on the club’s side feels valiant and heroic for all the effort they put in in a brief period of time when a problem arose, but when a new problem arises next week/month/year, they will have to do it all over again.
A proactive organization in this scenario would look to build a culture and environment where nobody wants to leave the club in the first place. Rather than reacting to problems as they arise (‘fire fighting’), a proactive person or organization should be building robust systems and relationships that either prevent problems, or streamline solutions. I call this approach ‘farming’ (I swear I am stealing this from Gary Vaynerchuk or someone, but couldn’t find anything from a quick Google search). Some of the things we are putting into place at LGU that illustrate a proactive approach are detailed player evaluations (written and in-person with families), consistent collaboration and coordination between age group directors and coaches, training sessions led by the directors Shaun Tsakiris and Shaun Blakeman, and constant clear communication to the families from the coaching staff. All of these will help improve players, improve teams, and create a strong bond of trust between all the parties involved that we are all pulling in the same direction.
From a more individual perspective, I have thought about how I can be more proactive and less reactive in an individual team setting as well. The most important way we can implement this approach as coaches is to embrace this attitude of accepting responsibility for your circumstances. If your team sucks at defending corners, it’s your fault. If your forwards are missing easy chances, it’s your fault. If your defenders are getting beat 1v1 defensively, it’s your fault (these are all real problems my teams have had by the way). Instead of blaming your players for what is happening on the field, accept responsibility, and teach them, improve them, COACH THEM.
This could also apply to whatever is happening mid-game. If you are getting shredded by a team’s left winger, or if you are unable to work the ball into your best attacker in the final third, find a way to influence the game to solve a given problem. It could be a 2 sentence conversation with a player, a substitution, a position change etc. Embrace your role as a coach, and do whatever you can to have a positive impact on the game for your team.
If a training session is not going according to the plan you set, figure out why and find a solution. Maybe you need to demand more intensity from the players, maybe you need to actively coach them through a sequence so they can start finding the solutions for themselves afterwards, maybe you need to make the grid bigger or smaller or a million other things. But don’t be a victim of circumstance and accept mediocrity in your sessions, and just coast through it.
To reiterate an earlier point, being proactive does not mean you are never vulnerable to outside forces. The shady club down the street will always try and poach players. Families will always feel like their kid deserves ‘more’. Players will have moments of low focus and effort, or make the same wrong decision five times in a row. You can’t control these outside forces, but you can absolutely choose your response to them, and find a way to make a positive impact.