The title alludes to the concept embraced by Tony DiCicco and Dr. Colleen Hacker in their beloved book, the basic coaching lesson emphasizing the value of positive reinforcement and building positive feelings rather than finding fault, criticizing and leaving players with negative feelings. In that spirit, I hope you find the following examples of outstanding ethics and sportsmanship uplifting and motivating. I challenge all of us as teacher-coaches to create such positive moments and memories for our players, arguably the most meaningful coaching and best teachable moments to which we can aspire. As my alma mater University of Virginia is embracing, while we pursue being great, we must also be good.
The stories are real, but no specific names are mentioned due to lack of permission or confirmation. Thanks to the many coaches who responded to requests for stories through social media and email blasts this year.
In the 1970s, a perennial high school state power has a match against a first-year team. The veteran team scores four goals in short order. Liberal substituting ensues. With the score 5-0 at half, the coach instructs his team: we will not score again today, but they will. When the match finishes 5-2, the coach declares it a great day because both competing teams are able to leave the field feeling like winners.
In the 1980s, a heavily favored team is dominating play in the opening round of a high school state tournament, yet struggling to finish chances. In the last minute of regulation play, the team being dominated breaches the penalty box for the first time the entire match. The player in possession goes down and the referee awards a PK. The coach quickly motions for that player to approach. They exchange words. From the PK spot, the player proceeds to pass the ball softly to the GK. The coach, learning from the player that he had stumbled without being fouled, asked the player to honor the game. The favorite won the match in OT and went on to become State Champs.
In the 1990s, a U17 youth team is awarded a goal in the first half of the State Cup Final despite offside protests from the defense. Ahead 1-0 at half, the coaches inquire and learn from the players that the goal was well offside. To begin the second half, the team in the lead stands idle as the opponent scores a goal. The team conceding the goal in the spirit of fair play goes on to lose the match, but all these years later the coaches and players often celebrate the decision they made.
In the 2000s, a perennial NAIA women’s national tournament qualifier has a match against a first-year team struggling for numbers of healthy players. The new team is only able to field 9 players, so the opposing coach chooses likewise. When the new team drops to 8 and then 7 players, the opposing coach chooses likewise. The 5-0 afternoon enables the powerhouse to earn the W and the new team to compete well enough to grow from the match. Afterwards, mutual respect among coaches and players is obvious.
In the 2010s, during an early-season tournament, a GK dives for a shot and collides with the post. There is concern about a serious neck injury. The opposing team’s players and coaches focus on supporting their opponents during this time of great concern. After a lengthy delay, in recognition of the emotional toll of the incident, the opposing team chooses to forfeit the match and their progress in the tournament. Players and coaches from both teams remember well the compassion and empathy on display.
In the 2010s, a coach was troubled by the contentious rivalry with a fellow school that was marked by unsavory behavior between and among players and families on and off the field. Now their matches are contested on Saturdays and are followed by Cultural Understanding events with food, music and player exchanges of specially made jerseys. One school’s population is predominantly white, while the other school is comprised predominantly of Middle Eastern and Latino families. The match environment is now known for its positivity.
As my service to United Soccer Coaches as President winds down, I must express my sincere appreciation to the number of wonderful people with whom I have served with great pleasure over the years. From various committee volunteers, to convention staff, to national office staff, to the Board of Directors, you have my respect and gratitude.
United Soccer Coaches President
Member since 1981