How you maintain morale will have a big impact on your team’s future. Here’s some important tips to keep in mind.
The old adage hasn’t changed. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It’s as true now as it was when Teddy Roosevelt first uttered those words over a century ago. And arguably, it’s more important than ever.
Long after their playing days are over, athletes don’t remember every box score. But they do remember who was there for them at the most vulnerable times of their lives, and who provided the compass when they were lost.
Here are some steps you can take to keep morale high:
Remind Them Why They’re So Important
Whatever your preferred form of communication is, now is the time to individually tailor that message.
Your players have heard all the platitudes by now. They know when you’re not being authentic. That’s why when you talk to them one-on-one, your conversation will resonate more if you can personalize it.
That’s the theory behind what Georgia Gwinnett College head women’s soccer coach Mike Giuliano does with his messages to players. Twice a week, Giuliano will send a message to a different player reminding them why he is grateful for them, and how he sees them as a leader in the program.
“I try to be really specific. If you say things like, ‘You’re a hard worker’ or ‘You’re a great asset’, they realize that that’s just language you could say to anybody,” he says.
Connect the ‘why’ to what you do
During the fall season, Marshall County (Ky.) girls soccer coach Andy Pagel would often tell his players coming out of halftime to really focus during the first 10 minutes.
There was a very deliberate reason for that. His research from Hudl Assist showed him that they surrendered a goal around the 60-minute mark nearly once every two games.
Everybody interprets the importance of possession in soccer a bit differently. But when Pagel can look to his reports and tell the players if they hold the ball for at least 29 minutes their chances of winning greatly improve, that is a huge morale boost.
“We try to use the math, and it’s easy to sell that way,” Pagel says. “We can say, look at their time of possession and look at ours, that’s why we need to make this extra pass to the right-back, versus dumping the ball into our forward.”
Showing players games from college or pros that reinforce your game strategy can send a powerful message. But when you put scientific weight behind it, you make the message even stronger.
Remember, data tied to video bridges your toughest conversations. So as you’re reviewing the past season’s performance and devising a plan for when you return to the pitch, take this opportunity to remove the gray area.
Break up the monotony and try something new (and fun)
In some ways, the world is ironically your oyster. By now, you’ve probably seen a slew of “backyard challenges” across platforms like YouTube. As NWSL Players Association Executive Director Yael Averbuch mentioned in our chat, these challenges are a great tool for stoking creativity.
Disadvantages become advantages if you play them right. At OKC Energy FC, for instance, players can’t access the training facilities. So assistant coach Leigh Veidman had them run around a nearby lake (social distancing, of course), and it turned out to be a welcome break from the routine.
Go ahead, see who can come up with the best trick shot. Give out a reward to whoever can make the most creative home gym setup. It’s proven that how well a team gets along socially has an impact on how well they play together on the pitch.
Inspire them through required reading
We often hear about the importance of a second sport in a player’s physical development. But just as critical is to be balanced in mind, too.
Major League Soccer has some great recommendations for soccer books to share with your team.
The best coaches across any sport often take inspiration outside of sports. So should you. Here are some great books that respected minds across sports dig into:
- David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell
- Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull
- The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz
- The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
- Chop Wood Carry Water, by Joshua Medcalf
Don’t have time for a book club? Consider holding watch parties of something interesting you found on Netflix. Or even have guest speakers join your next Zoom call to give them food for thought.