Over the last 6 weeks we’ve been training a lot of youth soccer teams. As a general rule, the kids are great, which in part stems from the fact that the organization is very well run and therefore draws in great athletes with comparable attitudes.
Last Wednesday, as it always does, our night ended with two (one U-14 and one U-15) girls soccer teams that both started at 8:30pm. For our facility, accommodating 35+ athletes at once is a challenge, and as you can imagine, getting that many adolescence athletes at that hour leads to a wide range of blood sugar, fatigue, and interest levels.
For what was probably only the 2nd or 3rd time in my career, I heard what could very well be the most deflating statement an athlete could make, and it came from one of the girls ~10 seconds after getting everyone lined up for the warm-up, standing in the front of one of the lines, at concert level volume for the whole room to hear.
Here’s the thing…I completely understood where she was coming from. And while I didn’t agree with her timing, I didn’t resent the feeling.
Over the past couple weeks I started asking a lot of the girls what time they wake up in the morning. Most are around 5:30am. They spend some variable amount of time getting ready for and bussed to school, then sit in school for ~6 hours, come home to do homework, then go off to practice for an hour, then in to train with us.
The “My head is up, but I’m actually sleeping” pose. I don’t think you’ll find a single science or history teacher at Henderson High School in West Chester, PA that couldn’t vouche for my mastery of this. Sneaking in a quality 30 minute nap each day is what allowed me to train hard at practice that night.
Pretty easy schedule no?
As an aside, it’s funny to watch the parents that stick around in our waiting area while their kid(s) train. Most parents are up at a comparable hour (although most of the kids I asked said their parents were up after them), go work an 8-hour work day, then come home to take care of the kids (dinner, transportation, etc). When they get to our facility, many will sit with their heads against the wall and either stare blankly across the turf for about an hour or they’ll actually nod off.
In other words, they check out, mentally and physically, while the kids are expected to be fully engaged with us.
This is only marginally related to this article, but I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to tie in a Big Lebowski reference.
Simply, no one can be on their “A Game” every day, and it’s easy to understand how the schedules of most youth athletes would lead to the occasional feeling of “I’d much rather be napping”.
What would you do?
You might be wondering how I handled the comment.
What would you do? Reprimand her? Kick her out? Suggest she suck it up?
In the past, I may have done any of these things. In this case, I just laughed and said “I hear you. Do the best you can.”
I believe very strongly that, as a coach, it’s more beneficial to highlight positive things than negative ones. If I would have made a big deal of the comment, the group likely would have gotten off to a collectively awkward start and I suspect more girls would be thinking about how much they also didn’t want to be there.
Instead, we all moved on and quickly forgot about it.
Then I said this…
At the end of the session, I pulled her aside and said 4 of the most powerful words in coaching:
And here’s why…
After she made the comment, she absolutely crushed the training session. It may have been out of rebellious rage, but she did her best and actually set a great tempo for the rest of the group.
She was also one of the first ones to start encouraging the rest of the group when the conditioning started to get tough.
Athletes in that mood can be HUGE detriments to the group. They can sloth around and spread their negativity. In these cases, they aren’t only hurting themselves, they’re actually hurting the whole team.
Not only did this athlete not do that, but she actually raised the bar for everyone.
If on your WORST day, you still make your team better, you’ll find success in everything you do. That, to me, is something to be proud of.
To your success,
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“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team
“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University
Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He spent the last 7 years as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ, the last 3 of which he was also the Strength and Conditioning Coach and Manual Therapist for the Philadelphia Flyers Junior Team. Kevin is in his 5th year as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s National Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey .