Coaching sport (especially soccer) can be one of the most fulfilling yet stressful professions or hobbies to do. It can be time consuming, it can be exhausting and the mental strain and wear and tear can deflate you. In this article Westside United senior team coach Josh Brown talks about the importance of taking a well earned coaching break.
Soccer is a game where, at times, a period of rest is hard to come by. Over time, players learn when they can recover for a few valuable seconds to get ready for the run of play. Soccer also has a few built in times for these valuable recovery periods that players can use to their benefit.
A Soccer Life
Life can mimic a soccer game in this way. Some days we need to find a minute to catch our breaths, yet we can also build in some natural stoppages to help us recover. We as humans need breaks in life to help us recover and refresh, to come back to our duties stronger and rejuvenated. Players and coaches of the beautiful game are not exempt from this “rule”, and a mental and physical break from the game is necessary for players and coaches.
In the U.S. this period of the year (December) is a natural, built-in break from soccer in my life. My high school team finished up their season in October, and my club team began practice a few weeks later preparing for our fall tournaments. We just ended our last tournament the first week of December, and we won’t pick up training again until the beginning of January. I have told many people that soccer is my drug, and I’m completely addicted to it, but this three to four week break is necessary not only for myself as a coach, but for my players as well.
A Draining Timetable
Last year, my club team and I were not afforded this break. My club DOC wanted all the senior teams to attend a showcase December 26-30 at Walt Disney World in Florida. Due to the competition at this showcase, we had to train for two months. My club players went straight from high school soccer into their club training, some only receiving a day or two off from playing.
With our high school and club seasons together, the boys played and I coached for 16 straight months with only a week or so break sprinkled in over that time. The club season was the most discouraging of my career, and we had more players with serious injuries in one season than I have had in almost 15 years of coaching.
We were all beat down – physically, mentally, and emotionally. The beautiful game had become an ugly, controlling wrench that ceaselessly berated and abused us. The game that was once my Helen of Troy had transformed into Medusa. After that season, I begged my DOC for some time off during our next campaign, not only for my players, but for myself as well.
A time to Relax
Thankfully, this season we all have time to get away from the game and relax. I encouraged my players to stay away from the game for a while, not the casual watching as a fan, but the grind of playing and training. This time away is necessary not only for their bodies to recover, but also for their minds to be rejuvenated and refreshed. As a coach, I can’t say how much I cherish this time. I do love this game, but I need time away from it to be a better coach when I come back to it.
Learning from the Greats
I recently read Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, and in one part he explained how he deals with the stresses of the game. He has a few hobbies that have nothing to do with soccer: horse breeding, wine collecting, and reading to name a few. He does these things year round to keep himself sane, but he also gets heavily involved with them during his off-season.
He encourages coaches to have hobbies or interests that have nothing to with soccer, lest the game truly drive them mad. While the overwhelming vast majority of us can’t buy horses or become wine connoisseurs, we can find a hobby or interest that takes our mind of the game for awhile.
Mental rejuvenation is just as important, maybe more so, than physical recovery. I encourage you to take a mental break from the game, enjoy it just as a fan of the game or a supporter of a team without trying to dissect it as all us coaches do. I’m willing to bet, if we take some time away, the game that once lost its luster may appear beautiful once again.
Josh Brown is an English teacher and soccer coach at Southport High School and a senior team coach at Westside United FC in Indiana.