5 things soccer coaching taught me about life.

by jamesjohnson92


My nine-month journey coaching soccer has been eye opening. Not only has working with children provided me with countless insights in to life, and the world around me. But learning the game, from the other side of the touchline has been very rewarding.

The skills you learn in sports as a child are valuable throughout your life. Whether it be teamwork, sharing with others, how to lose gracefully – and how to win even more gracefully. Being exposed to new situations and experiences, surrounded by different people in an ever-changing environment.

It’s safe to say that as time goes on, and as we stop playing organised sports we lost sight of some of these things. For some of us, they stay on like they are the most natural things in the world. If you’re like me and were blessed with some good coaches who were also role models, some of it will probably stick on with you for the rest of your life.

Being able to coach these things, like my role models did back in my childhood, has been great life experience for me – and something I feel all of us can benefit from.

So, here goes – the top five things I’ve learned from coaching soccer* this year:

#1 – Work as a team

‘Alone we can’t do much, together we can change the world’ – Bill Austin

The player who tries to play alone, the one who tries to take all the shots, make all the tackles, only dribbles and is completely unaware of the fact there are 10 other players on his team – rarely makes it very far.

They might score a few goals now and then, occasionally play the ball through an opponent’s legs and make the odd clearance at the back. But for the most part they end up tired, red faced and frustrated. The team they’re playing on usually loses as well.

The same goes for the real world. Trying to go it alone, doing it all yourself without asking for help or favours is the hardest route to follow. In the words of networking icon Keith Ferrazzi, ‘There is no such thing as a self made man’.

Everybody needs someone else to get to where they want to be. Whether it’s customers buying your products, your colleagues sharing your workload, your friends helping you find another job or getting the answers to some of your questions from that one person who knows.

Asking for help and using the people around you isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s the mark of someone who is good at what they do.

#2 – An assist is just as good as a goal

Goals are what we aim for in soccer; the more of them we have, the more chance we have of winning. That is, providing the other team hasn’t scored any at our end. But, without the build up to a goal, it probably wouldn’t happen.

The possession play, the passes, the short little dribbles, the runs off the ball. All of that builds up to an emphatic finish where the crowd jumps up out of their seats and screams and shouts. Or in my case, the parents mumble and do a little clap.

For the most part, unless it is an outrageous finish, the person who made the pass to set up the goal gets just as much – if not more- credit. Selflessness is something in soccer players that people look for, because as mentioned in #1, a one-man team gets nowhere.

Making ‘the pass’ outside of soccer is essentially, helping people. Taking yourself out of the equation and using the things you know, the connections you have and the tools you’ve acquired for the betterment of someone or something else.

Whatever you give out in to the world, has a way of coming back and finding you; and usually ten fold. It allows you to build lasting relationships and connect with people on a far deeper level than you would just grabbing a coffee and talking superficially. Help someone move house, put them in contact with your friend who is a publisher or just offer to support them in their upcoming cause. You’ll find as soon as you start doing this; the things in #1 come far, far easier.  

The world would be a far batter place if we all put as much emphasis on the assist as the goal.

#3 – Be on your toes

Soccer – and sports in general – aren’t always about what happens, but how you react to it. Do you keep low, keep your eye on the ball, stay goal side are you thinking ahead?

The player who stands on their heels and waits for things to happen, gets beaten nine times out of ten. They’re not the first to the goal, they get beaten to the ball and people turn and look at them as if to say ‘What the hell are you doing?’.

If you stand on your toes and have your feet in the right position, you are ready for anything. The time almost seems to go slower and you’ve got more room to get in to the right position. Whether it’s a ball coming at you from thirty feet in the air, an attacker that’s making an awesome through run or if you can break on to the ball and get ready to score.

If you’re on your toes and prepared for things, life goes a whole lot smoother. If you’re going to a job interview, research the company. If you’re meeting a new client or making a new connection, do a little Google search and see what makes them tick. . Of course, there are always those unexpected things that life throws at you – none of us can predict the future. But if you’re pursuing something, be ready for it to go wrong or for something out of the ordinary to happen – you won’t know what it is – but if you’re aware something could happen, you can get back on track quicker.

#4 – Be Positive

This fall I inherited a girls soccer team for a few weeks whilst their coach was away on business. The league we work with is one hundred percent amateur coaches, so they go walkabout from time to time. Their coach is of a good standard though and has coached to a high amateur level for a long time.

At one point mid-practice I told them to get a water break, and I have never seen a team look so astonished to be allowed water at any time in my life. It was almost as if everyone in Oliver Twists orphanage was allowed to stand up and go and get seconds. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was odd to see.

Then, game day came around. We were 1-0 down at half time and the team sat down in a circle in front of me – almost wincing like a dog who had just had it’s nose smacked – waiting to receive a stern talking to about what they were doing wrong. When I asked what they felt they were doing right, and that I was proud of everything that they were doing – they just needed to keep the ball more, they didn’t look quite sure how to react.
It turns out their coach – no matter how technical skilled he was – couldn’t get across to the kids. He’d tell them what they were winning out of luck and not skill, focus solely on what they were doing wrong and tear their game apart piece by piece. They didn’t like playing for him, and they were not motivated to do well – other than by their own desire to win.

Simply by praising them and believing in them, the team went on to play far better – according to them, ‘the best soccer we’ve played all season’. We eventually lost 3-2, but for a team of 9 players, who had never scored more than 1 goal in a game, that’s not too shabby.

The lesson in this is that being a positive person doesn’t just have an effect on you; it affects everyone else around you. People believe in what you’re doing, they want to be around you and you can make almost anybody’s day. You might even make someone believe in themself. Whether it’s giving a compliment, speaking positively about what they’re doing or just being an all round nice guy.

#5 –There are no perfect playing conditions

No matter what, it can never be perfect. It will either be too warm or too cold. Too windy or too dry. The pitch will be too muddy, too dry or too hard. The ball isn’t the ball you use at practice. Your cleats suddenly feel a little bit small or you forgot to have your 9:17am cup of coffee.

I’ve been to fields where I could belly slide in mud and take a shower under the goalposts; and I’ve played on AstroTurf that has melted to bottom of my cleats. There have been hailstorms, heat waves and humidity you could wade through. 

The perfect moment doesn’t exist. You just have to get up, put your kit on, do your thing and play your absolute best. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. But there is no perfect time to go on the field and play.

The same goes for you. There is no perfect moment for you to do what you want to do. There will always be something or someone in your way, an obstacle to face or a problem to overcome. You wont have enough money, the right amount of time or enough people behind you.

You just have to suit up, go out and get it done. Make the pitch, start your own business or start writing that novel. Get on stage and sing or start telling jokes.

Whatever it is that’s stopping you, forget about it. Go out and make a start. Even the smallest step can make the biggest difference.

Challenge: Find which one of these points resonates with you, and use it. Not tomorrow, not next week, but today. From the moment you click the ‘X’ in the top corner – that big red button that severs your tie from me – make it happen. Incorporate it, from that moment on.


*To my English readers, Soccer is football. Please don’t crucify me when I get home. Thanks. Love you.

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