It was the first practice of the new year and I was talking to my high school team before training. They had finished their dynamic warm up, when I brought the group in for our pre-practice brief. I posed the question to the group, “what do you want to do better as a person or what is a goal of yours for 2017?”
Each player had to quickly come up with an answer. The answers had to be original, so they could not repeat what someone next to them said, as kids sometimes do.
A few responses were school related, one player even said she wanted to be nicer. My assistant coach said she wanted to get her EMT certification and my response was to qualify for the Boston marathon.
And then there was Bel, now Bel is a sophomore, and has already committed to college to play soccer. She is a quiet player who does not normally say much, at least around me. Her response, was “I want to raise better pigs.”
Now, we live in Orange County, California and quite honestly it was a response that I never expected. A few girls giggled, but I remembered that Bel is a member of 4-H, and quickly asked her to tell us more. In that moment we learned that she raises pigs and shows them and sells them. And apparently her last one was not as good as they buyer would have liked. Now where am I going with this you might ask?
In that moment I was immediately reminded of the fact that results, stats, and trophies are not what should matter. What should matter first and foremost is establishing a good relationship with your players, and within the team. The somewhat random statement of “I want to raise better pigs” showed me the following:
- That our team had established a level of trust amongst one another, where a player could share something she held special, unconventional and personal.
- As a coach I realized that these young players have many interests and goals outside of soccer that need to be respected and acknowledged.
- Getting to know one another as people is one of the keys to the success of your team.
- Each player is unique, diverse and is motivated differently. Respect and embrace the diversity in your team.
No soccer coach plans to hear a response like Bel’s, and I was caught completely off guard. It really helped bring me back to why we are here, to connect with our team and to get to know them outside of their playing abilities. To realize that our players are unique young people with interests, goals and passions outside of the game of soccer.
As coaches we have a responsibility to be a positive force in the lives of the athletes that we have the honor of working with. We have to think beyond the field taking time to establish a caring environment for our players, one built on trust and respect.
Ultimately, we as coaches need to understand that in order to help raise better kids, we might need to learn more about raising better pigs.