Don't ignore player discontent

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.)

5 comments about "Don't ignore player discontent ".
  1. Al Micucci, July 15, 2010 at 2:17 p.m.

    I believe that you establish a tone when the players are young. As they get older and more mature you open up the lines of communication with regard to level of competetion, style of play and even positions. The players earn the right to give input by training and playing hard and by being a part of the team for a significant amount of time. I am pretty sure that the players can understand the difference in thier stuation as opposed to the "professional" situation. Hopefully as a coach you have earned their respect and they trust you to make the right decision for them and the team. Now the parents.......!!!

  2. Cal Bears, July 15, 2010 at 8:40 p.m.

    Sorry, Coach, but I believe the attribution of blame at the beginning of your article is somewhat misplaced. Your storied tenure at UC Berkeley ended when (1) the program failed to adequately leverage Berkeley's location, wealth of resources and status as an educational institution to obtain more than 1-2 quality recruits a year from '84-'89, while other programs such as UCLA and Santa Clara, were bringing top notch players on by the dozens; (2) Cal failed to make the post-season for three years straight; (3) the team managed a brutal three year win/loss record from '87 to '89; and, most ironically, (4) during a private team meeting, as several players voiced their displeasure with the coaching staff, you informed the team that you would step down from the head coaching position if we asked you to do so at the end of the year. Which we did.

    The good news is, you still bring together about 20 players from that '89 team in ways that you cannot imagine. Even though none of us were really all that good, I know we all enjoyed those years together and still have some fond (off the pitch) memories. Thanks, pal.

  3. sl beck, July 15, 2010 at 10:11 p.m.

    It's a matter of respect for ones self as well as the coach. I agree that if a player has a question they should be allowed to talk with the coach individually or as a sub-unit of the team to share their thoughts. When asked during a game, it underminds the authority of the coach, therefore splitting the unity of the team and undermining the coach. The coach must set boundaries and the player need respect those and have self control. In waiting for the one on one, I think they will find it's a win win, and hopefully they will have a better understanding of why a coach wanted something done and the coach will be open to also seeing it as the player saw it and maybe make adjustments when needed.

  4. Kent James, July 16, 2010 at 10:05 a.m.

    If everyone is aware of the goals of the team, and on what basis the team will be operating (playing the best lineup all the time v. participation), and the coach treats the players with respect, that will usually be reciprocated. While there are always individuals who might not reciprocate, on a team where the respect is mutual, that player will be an outlier and have limited (though not insignificant) power to disrupt the team. If that player continues to attempt to disrupt the team, then it may be necessary for the coach to get that player off the team. If the coach has been reasonably patient, the rest of the team will see the wisdom of that decision.

  5. Candy Dawson, July 20, 2010 at 4:53 p.m.

    From my own experience with youth. Most challenges & questions to coaches come from players who are never at practice to know what`s going on, & then show up at games expecting to be on the starting lineup. When they aren`t, they discuss it with someone other than the coach. I try to keep an open mind & always have an opportunity for discussion at every practice.

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