Winning Your Players through Trust, Loyalty, and Respect: A Soccer Coach's Guide

High School Soccer Programs: Do You Trust Your Players?

Are you able to trust your players in a game situation? Do you give them opportunities to make mistakes? Do they know you trust them? Or do you feel the need to be in control of practically every situation?

I witness coaches, every day, who scream instructions continuously from the sideline during a game. For some, it’s intended to be meaningful information. For others, it’s a way to let go of nervous energy.

Why do they feel the need to verbally control every pass, every run, every aspect of the game? It’s expected behavior in basketball games as coaches run up and down the sideline, but what about other sports in large outdoor venues? A player on the other side of the field has no chance to hear exactly what the coach is shouting.

What about on the job? How would we react if a boss was running up and down the hall screaming instructions to his or her employees every second? We’d think it was absurd. So why is it that coaches struggle, from time to time, with trusting their players? Is there a way to let our athletes make the majority of decisions during a contest? It all depends on your style of coaching.

How can a coach get on the path to building a program that enables players to make sound decisions during a game? Here are some steps to take.

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Establishing a Program of Trusting Our Players:

  1. TEACH / TEACH / TEACH – Begin in practice. In every activity, teach the decision-making aspect of solving the challenge as well as the skill. Paint a picture your players can see.
  2. COMMUNICATE – Explain your game or match expectations and related benefits for the player and the team. Every situation on the field creates unique solutions and possibilities. Players need to know that you are allowing them to decide which solution is best.
  3. REFRAIN – After a questionable decision, choose an appropriate time to talk with the player. Take your emotions out of the equation if it’s during the heat of a game. In practice, you may want to talk right away, taking advantage of a teachable moment. During a game, it may be after you take your player out of the action, or even after the game.
  4. RELIVE – Ask your players to revisit situations, visualizing what they experienced. Listen, Listen, Listen. Allow them to talk without feeling you have to jump in and correct every sentence, thought, or idea.
  5. OPTIONS – Did they see other options available, or were there any? They will know what the right decision should have been 99% of the time. Tell them you have faith in their ability and know they’ll get it right the next time. Showing confidence will give them the courage to make decisions.
  6. FREEDOM – Share with players how mistakes are a natural part of the game. It’s what they do after a mistake that counts the most. When you free a player’s mind, it allows them to make good decisions without feeling pressure from you and lets them resume play more quickly.
  7. CATCH THEM BEING GOOD – When they get it right, let them know! Praise, Praise, Praise. In practice, stop the activity and replay it with the same successful sequence of events and decisions.
  8. TRUST – Let go, and allow players to make decisions and grow! It may take time if you feel the need to always be in control. At every game, give up just a little bit more, and you’ll be amazed at what your players can do.

A perfect example of putting trust in a player’s decision – that I will never forget – happened to me after a tough battle leading to a shoot-out.

Penalty shoot-outs are the most agonizing situation in any soccer game. At that point, two teams have battled it out for 110 minutes with no clear winner. Usually, all the players are exhausted and mentally drained, whether they admit it or not. That was the situation we faced in a regional final against our fiercest rival, several years ago, when we had to pick five players to shoot. Never an easy task, especially when your talent is evenly balanced.

In addition, this particular game would be the end of an era because the next year we would both be heading to tougher districts and regions. We had won three regional titles, and our opponent had won two, and now the chances of us meeting in a regional final again were slim. After this night, we’d both have three regional titles, or we’d have four, and they’d have two. I had a lot of faith that we’d take home number four, but in penalty kicks, anything is possible. “Coach, I need your list,” the referee shouted as I thought of who best to put forward as our five shooters while discussing it with my assistant coaches.

As I mingled with our players, Erica, our captain took me aside and said, “Coach, let Megan shoot. She’s great in PK’s, and I know she can do it.” As the idea was processed, I acknowledged her and walked away. So much to consider, and I didn’t want to make a mistake.

Finally, I looked at my list, thought of how much I trusted Erica’s opinion, and put Megan’s name down. We would win our fourth regional title that night and Megan would make her shot. Certainly a joyous occasion for our team, and a moment of trust between a player and a coach, that I will never forget.

The benefits of allowing players to make decisions are endless. Here are seven:

  1. LEADERS – Your team doesn’t need leaders if you don’t allow them to make decisions on and off the field. When you teach them to make sound decisions, you allow them to lead. Even if they, at the time, don’t know the right decision, there is someone out there that does. They’re your leaders, and they grow in this atmosphere.
  2. STRONGER INDIVIDUALS – Life is about making decisions. Often there is no one there to guide you or help, and decisions have to be made. You’re getting your players ready for that time.
  3. KEY MOMENTS – With a few seconds or minutes to go, you may not be able to yell loudly enough for a player to hear what you expect. Teaching them to make decisions will allow you to relax and let the players influence the outcome when it’s needed most.
  4. PLAYERS’ TEAM – Players will always have more passion and pride in a team where they feel comfortable and able to make decisions during a game. By showing confidence in their abilities to make those decisions, you’ll make them feel a part of something bigger.
  5. SUCCESS – It is wonderful to see a player’s face and reaction when they do something remarkable. Most don’t realize it’s thanks to finding the courage to make a great decision. By taking time in practice to teach that process (as well as before and after a game) you’ve put the player in a position to succeed.
  6. CONFIDENCE – As players’ confidence levels progress during their careers, they’ll feel more comfortable coming to you with positive suggestions for practice and games. Ultimately you’re building assistant coaches on and off the field that will benefit you and your team.
  7. REWARDING – As a coach, we have to remember what we do is always about the players. Our responsibility is not only about what players are now, but what they can become. One of the most rewarding aspects of coaching is seeing a player after their career with you and realizing how they’ve progressed. Remember, you have a small part in that!

Successful teams always have players on the field who feel comfortable and confident in making challenging decisions. It doesn’t happen overnight, and they’ll make mistakes just as we do. As coaches, we have to provide an environment for that trust to grow and prosper.

Trusting your players is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give them. Take time in practice to share your expectations and then – when a player comes to you in a critical situation with a solution – you’ll know you’ve done your job.

About this Article

This article was extracted from Winning Your Players Through Trust, Loyalty and Respect (C4) by DeAngelo Wiser.

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