I Had to do Something to Improve the Relationship Between My Best Player & the Rest of the Team...

I coached all three of my sons in baseball and I coached one year at the varsity high school level, but I must admit, I enjoyed coaching soccer too. When I was in high school ('70-'74) there was a big difference between football players and soccer players, and being a football player got you a whole lot more respect than soccer players and as a result, we football players carried ourselves with a great deal of machismo. I did have a lot of friends on the high school soccer team and my senior year my friend Carlos, an exchange student from Mexico who took high school soccer to a new level, asked me to play a 16-game schedule on a spring/summer travel soccer team. Carlos was an incredible soccer player and he had some of the best-looking and most popular girls hanging around him too. Even after I insisted I was a football player and not a soccer player, Carlos refused to take no for an answer. I eventually accepted his offer provided I got to play defense, more specifically, sweeper, and hang out with him and his groupies after the game...

Although I played football for seven years, I learned the game of soccer quickly and by the end of the season, I wished I had played soccer in high school. Everything about soccer was so much more chill than football. There were no angry whistles chasing you around the practice field and no egomaniac coaches trying to challenge your manhood on the sleds. Comparing the two sports, soccer was much more civilized... 

Fast forward to fatherhood 20 years later when soccer had become a mainstream recreational sport that almost every kid played. I was able to coach soccer because of my brief experience on that travel team. I coached some all-boy teams, mostly indoor, but in the fall I coached a co-ed rec outdoor team and it was really a lot of fun coaching girls, something I had absolutely no experience with having three sons. One of my teams had some of the best female soccer players in the league. In my experience, I found girls to be very coachable and totally willing to embrace the team concept, unlike some of the boys.

On that particular team, we had some really good boys too, but Chris was the superstar. He was bigger, faster, and stronger than most kids his age (12). He had already been successful playing competitive soccer and he was by far the best player on my rec team and one of the best players in the league. Chris was highly competitive and he definitely had a healthy ego, he wanted to win. Everyone did, but Chris had the unique ability to score whenever he wanted, sometimes going the length of the field and not passing the ball to his teammates. This put him at odds not only with players on the team we were facing, but also with some of the players on our team who started to grow tired of his selfish play and his ego, even though he was a big reason we were winning. They rolled their eyes and talked shit behind his back and I had to do something to improve the relationship between my best player and the rest of the team...

During one practice, we shared a field with another team and when the coach asked me if we wanted to scrimmage I said sure. They were short one player so I had to give him one of mine. I could've given them anyone, but much to the surprise of the kids on my team, I decided to let them have Chris.

When my kids saw him lined up at center forward on the other side of the ball they thought they'd finally have a chance to put him and his ego in their place, but when the scrimmage started Chris immediately took control of the game. By halftime, he'd already scored four goals and my kids were exhausting themselves trying to keep up with him. He proved to be the most difficult opponent they'd ever faced. He was that good.

When I addressed my kids at the half I told them what they had to do to prevent goals and score a few of their own. I had a whiteboard and I drew up some plays, but as I spoke I could sense their frustration. For the first time, they were experiencing what it was like to play against Chris. I explained to them that Chris was an extraordinary talent, a dominant player, and difficult to stop. After the way he played in the first half, they all agreed.

After the scrimmage, I huddled up my team and I could already see a slightly different relationship developing between Chris and the rest of the team. They were showing Chris a little more respect. I spoke to him about passing the ball to his teammates more, explaining how important it was to keep his teammates involved, especially when we were up by several goals. He started passing more and his teammates started to appreciate his skills, and that's when they all started playing together as a team. They finished the season undefeated.

This happened at a time when every kid got a small, cheap, plastic participation trophy (YUK!), and league rules prohibited coaches from presenting individual awards. I broke the rules! I went to a trophy shop and had bronze-plated trophies made for all my kids that said "UNDEFEATED". Fuck the rules and those cheap little participation trophies everyone received, my players had earned real trophies!

Two of my sons were on that "Undefeated" team and of course, I still have their trophies…

Most good coaches try and get their weaker players to improve, but an even better coach can reel in his best players, keep everyone involved, and get them all playing together as a team. In my opinion, that's the key to success in any team sport…