By Mike Singleton
Events of the World Cup teach us coaches a lot about the ever-changing game of soccer and the players.
The French team’s meltdown has highlighted multiple players’ willingness to challenge their coach and team leaders. The England team seems to have had its share of players who are willing to tell the coach what he should be doing.
These cases seem to highlight a growing trend of players publicly questioning coaches and leaders. I personally do not recall a time when public questioning from players during an event was so prevalent and it leads me to believe we have not seen the last of it.
When coaching collegiately or playing myself, I never recall myself or others publicly questioning our coaches.
If we had a question and if the coach had told us we were allowed to have questions, we would talk to him individually or as a sub-unit of the team to share our thoughts.
This was never done to challenge or create conflict but rather only done in hopes of working together to improve our team.
Were there times when players would be asking the coach about limited playing time? Of course, but never publicly. Did we have questions about our formation? Of course, but we would never suggest a formation change, especially publicly!
Given, I never played in a World Cup and was never as good as these players are. However, does being a high-earning, professional soccer player qualify such behavior? How does such public questioning affect a team overall?
Team cohesion and unified belief has a lot do to with team success. Are these questions attempts to build those things or impulsive actions leading to their deterioration?
Such are the challenges now facing today’s coaches.
Although we are not in as “high profile” situations as these coaches are, we need to come to grips with this issue. Even if there is not a news crew to publicize player’s questions, it might be smart to ask yourself if your players question you openly.
Have you created an open setting in which all are asked to be part of the solution? Or is it more in a confrontational style? If you are seeing such behavior, how can you manage it?
Ignoring it will guarantee your team will splinter, maybe not physically but certainly mentally.
Given it is hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that team cohesion and players being “on the same page” are not critical factors of success, this is as large an issue of coaching as defensive or offensive tactics.
It raises the question in my mind as to whether such behavior should help color a coach’s player selection. We have all come across phenomenal players who are cancerous to team chemistry. How big of an issue is this to success?
Whatever level you coach at I hope you ask yourself these questions.
Our young players see and hear these “role models” and even before this World Cup there has been much more evidence of player’s voicing their opinion more regularly.
If this is today’s player what does it force us to do as today’s coaches?
(Mike Singleton is the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association's Head State Coach and Excecutive Director. He is a Region I ODP Senior Staff Coach and a U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer National Staff Coach.)