Dear Coach, Forge relationships before results

“Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing.”

This Red Sanders quote popularly attributed to Vince Lombardi has misguided so many youth coaches and I was one of them. It is so clear, so powerful and so macho that it resonates with every fiber of testosterone in my competitive body. I hate losing, as my friends can attest, and my early success as a coach only fueled an “it’s all about results” approach.

But a funny thing happened over the seasons as time passed. I forgot about scorelines and I remembered the frivolity and the locker room banter far more than I could remember the scores.

I remember Jeremy as a wonderful young student athlete and Rob as a tenor who filled the school chapel with his amazing voice. I remember Joe and Mark who as my assistants guided the lads with intelligence and passion.

I remember road trips. I remember Mike, Scouse, Paddy and I laughing so hard during our days as aging professionals. I remember Chuck, a loving father, waking up early to meet the team bus with pancakes and maple syrup. OK, that was before we looked into game time nutrition, but boy were those flapjacks delicious.

In short, I remember relationships.

Somehow in between those moments when I was lost about winning, I managed to be an advocate of my players. (I was not so patient with referees at times, but that is an error for another article.) I enjoyed winning. But I enjoyed more the lifelong relationships that were forged from the toil of training and the magic of matches.

You will age a bit, and that will happen when you are not paying attention. The next thing you know you are old enough to give advice, even if nobody is listening. You will begin to believe that sharing your best and worst traits may actually change the world.

Also in time, you will tend to value positive people a lot more. You will learn to choose with whom you associate and why.

I would choose to learn from a wonderful mentor like Bobby Clark all over again. I would choose to lead my amazing players all over again. I would choose to be with those parents who supported holistic development of their children all over again.

I still choose pancakes.

I would choose to win as well; it is competition after all. But, I would choose any coach who puts positive relationships before results.

And when I speak to you 20 years from now, you will remember relationships  before you remember results.

(This article was republished courtesy of Todd Beane, who can be followed on Twitter at @_ToddBeane. He is Founder of TOVO Training and TOVO Academy Barcelona. TOVO Training combines pedagogical practices of experts in the field of education with the visionary principles of a total soccer legend Johan Cruyff. TOVO Academy Barcelona offers soccer immersion programs for youth players and development courses for coaches.)

3 comments about "Dear Coach, Forge relationships before results".
  1. Ray Lindenberg , December 10, 2017 at 2 a.m.

    Amen, Todd! You could not be more bang-on with your take on the true value of sports, in general, and soccer, in particular … plus with your right philosophical approach of de-emphasizing winning in favor of all the other riches and joys that the experience of playing, seeing and coaching the most beautiful game on the 3rd Rock From The Sun brings.

    First, a historical note: the - “Winning isn’t everything … it’s the only thing” axiom attributed to the great Vince Lombardi has been debunked in some corners as a misquote – and in fact, there are people in the know who not only contend that he was dismayed, and privately disavowed the quote as some motivational coaching comments revised and taken out of context – but that his views were practically the opposite. It was only after they took on a life of their own and caught-on as a catchphrase and rallying call synonymous with uncompromising excellence -- and after he was offered some good money in his later years to do a TV commercial promoting the popular, inferred message … one that apparently resonated with coaches far and wide as a prophet’s gospel … that he reluctantly went with the flow and allowed himself to be portrayed as the ex post facto champion of this mischaracterized maxim.

    But Lombardi, albeit a hard driving perfectionist, was first and foremost a gentleman who professed personal excellence of his players, both as athletes AND as sportsmen … and that that commitment to excellence was the secret to success that would propel his teams to achieve incomparable, superior results. His coaching intentions were subtle: to him, winning wasn’t everything nor the North Star … demanding, sacrificing and giving of yourself as an individual and as a teammate was.

    To him, focusing on a winning-at-all-costs mantra clashed with his primary philosophy and values which were built on respect and honor. Yes, play hard and with passion to win; but never lose respect for the game, the spectators, your employer, yourself, your teammates, and even your opponents. The nuance lost in translation of his true messaging was one steeped in resolute integrity: that winning wasn’t the goal … excellence was – and that it was entirely possible to be excellent and lose, or to be mediocre and win; so don’t be fooled by a scoreboard result. Some say governance and politics today could use a good Lombardi inspirational coaching lesson.

    A philosophy driven by respect, honor and values drove Lombardi more than anything else – not the catchy phrase that winning the game was ‘the only’ thing that counts … and it’s these quality values  that appear to be at the heart of what Todd is generously sharing in his article. Good stuff!

  2. Ray Lindenberg , December 10, 2017 at 2:02 a.m.

    Philosophies are subjective and personal. Vince Lombardi, and most coaches at most levels in all sports have them, and there’s not a singular, one-size fits all formula or framework to be had and held up as the best. Tom Landry and John Wooden were magnificent through their generally reserved and mannerly approach. On the other hand, Bobby Knight and Woody Hayes were fiery and, at times, accused of being abusive to their players. All four legendary coaches enjoyed spectacular success, while applying their methods of skinning the cat.

    While there certainly is not a single, absolute, perfect philosophy, or group of interconnected philosophies to coaching, the absence of having one is almost surely a one-way ticket to failed leadership and results. Along the spirit of what I believe Todd was aiming for, here is a set of a few of my own axioms that come to mind that may match or work for others, or better yet, provoke healthy debate:

    I’ll start with my own interpretation of the ultimate Lombardi-ism: Winning isn’t everything … improving and giving your absolute best, and in support of your team and teammates is good enough, and will win you plenty of unbridled victories in the long-run.

    How ‘bout: An error isn’t doing something wrong … an error is the follow-up of not learning from doing something wayward and not yet learned -- and then repeating that original event without improvement.

    I love this one: Playing and learning soccer and improving is great and fun … but what you learn about yourself as a team-player -- and about how to deal with challenges and adversity far outweighs anything you’ll ever do with a soccer ball.

    How about this one: Soccer parents can be the greatest resource that a coach can have in enriching the training and development experience of a player – and it’s up to the coach to manage and integrate that invaluable resource and dynamic of parental assistance.

    One last familiar one: never teach or encourage any activity that can be misinterpreted as demeaning, disrespecting or showing up an opponent. Running up a score comes to mind, as does promoting nutmegging as a planned dribbling move, instead of the improvised, spontaneous maneuver that is perfectly acceptable. Good sportsmanship and applying good behaviors learned in soccer to everyday life is infinitely more important than winning a game or becoming a better soccer player.

    What we see today, with the NFL allowing and encouraging scoring end zone celebrations, is the epitome of bad taste, disrespect, bad sportsmanship, and a sport making a terrible decision. I’d love to hear and learn from some other shared philosophies.

  3. mario ochoa, December 21, 2017 at 1:18 a.m.

    when i am coaching we need a lot of patients to deal with all of the kids and also depends of the age group that u are coaching so when we win we celebrate with dignity, and when we lose we just dont celebrate at all.

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