August 27, 2008
Can you COACH ALL KIDS and still win? By Jim Buxton
Is it possible to be a "nice guy" and still win the game, or was Leo Durocher right when he said that "Nice guys finish last"? To look at that question, I have to remind you that we're looking at recreational (house league) soccer, not Travel or high school soccer. Additionally, we're assuming that the local soccer board has set up expectations that there be roughly equal playing time.
Here's a nice story to suggest that being a "nice guy" and winning are not necessarily mutually exclusive. A number of years ago, my friend Keith Bagley was coaching Under 10 soccer in the South County Youth Soccer Association in RI. Keith was a former college player at University of Conneticut which was, and is, one of the best college soccer programs in the country. In his twenties and thirties Keith played for one of the best adult teams in RI, the Kingston Kicks. Keith was an excellent player, was known to have a considerable soccer IQ, and thus had a lot of credibility. Keith's team could lose an Under 10 soccer game, and no one was going to wonder about the coaching.
Keith had two of the very best youth soccer players on his team, Andy Glidden and Matt Horan. They both could take the ball from one end of the field, and evasively dribble to the other end and put the ball in the net almost at will. Many coaches would structure their whole game plan around the idea of getting the ball to those 2 guys. However, Keith definitely did not do this. I don't think he thought this would be responsible coaching in regard to the rest of the team. In my words, Keith wanted to coach ALL OF HIS KIDS. In his practices, Keith stressed, demonstrated and practiced ball control with a focus on passing.
So, Keith's pre-game message to the team, including to Matt and Andy, was to pass the ball. On the sidelines, you would hear Keith periodically count aloud how many successful passes they had made. You could dribble a few times, but you had to give the ball up; what mattered was the teamwork: the passing. To their credit, Andy and Matt went along with this unselfishly, and their parents seemed to support the strategy. At halftime, Keith would alert his team how many passes they had connected on, and the whole focus of the second half was to beat the first half pass total. Keith's team passed a lot more than any other team, and …………………………. they lost ……………. all the games during the regular season. Matt and Andy scored a lot less goals than they would have if they were free to win it by themselves.
What was important to Keith was not the score, but rather the fact that as the season wore on the quality of play, of everyone, improved significantly. At the end of the regular season, every team was part of the playoffs (a reform we were proud to have instituted). First round of the playoffs, Keith's team won their first game of the year. They won the second and third game, and made it to the South County finals where they triumphed once more. They went on to the state Under 10 playoffs in Bristol where they won one or two rounds, and they made it to the state final, where they ……………………………………….(drum roll, please!) ……… ALMOST won. I went to watch the final game, and in a dramatically close match, Keith's team lost in overtime.
Moral to the story: If you follow Keith's strategy, all your kids will improve, such that when you get to the finals, your impact players will have a lot more help in winning the game, AND YOU WILL ALWAYS WIN IN THE END??? Not really! Would the strategy work for every coach with every group of players? Not necessarily? Keith was an exceptional teacher, and was able to get more out of his role players than most coaches might have been able to get. Also, Keith had the credentials such that he would not be doubted, as his team embarked on a risky plan which brought no wins during the regular season.
Bottom line question: Would Keith's strategy be the right one if they had lost in the first round of the playoffs, and therefore went "Ofer" for the season? Question #2: What percent of coaches have the ego strength and credibility to do what Keith did?
Check back next week for another great article to help you coach your team to success…..