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  • Writer's picturePaul Neville

Me Transactional?


At this point I have spent a lot of years as a youth soccer coach (as hard as that would have been to imagine - before it actually happened). In my mind soccer through NorthStar generally and my coaching specifically has always been a tool. A way to reach and impact kids. NorthStar Soccer is located in the City of Birmingham. We have a range of kids involved with us (and we welcome all) but we particularly want to be about providing opportunities for kids who might not otherwise have them. I can tell you about kids I have worked with for years who started with some developmental or emotional strike against them but through patience and commitment they are thriving as soccer players - which hopefully is an experience that will help them thrive as adults in life.

So, obviously there is no way that I could be considered a 'transactional coach'? Right? Recently I have been reading Every Moment Matters by John O'Sullivan. In that book (and others listed at the bottom) I have gained a lot of thoughts on what Transformational Coaching looks like and leads to. It is exciting. My experience in striving to be a Transformational Coach is intended to be the primary focus of this blog. So - I will have a lot more to say about that in the future. For now let's say that Transformational Coaching means being focused on the athlete and developing her or him as a person while Transactional coaching is focused on the team winning games. One thing I have learned is that just because I am not at the most extreme end of being a Transactional Coach (most extreme - treating kids/players only as a means to building a team that wins games) doesn't mean that I am fully arrived on the other end. As I read through the book I had a mix of thoughts - some affirming (you have been on to something Paul, keep it up), some building (new ways of understanding that will be helpful in improving), and some challenging (are there situations in which I had less of a Transformational approach than I would like to admit?).

That last thought cause me to reflect on my team last fall (Fall 2019 - U12 girls team). We started the season with a range of ages and a range of skill levels. I was trying my best to develop the individual skills of the girls and the team play for success.

We could have/should have won some of our games but key players didn't show, this or that. We finished the season 0-8. I put us in a recreational level post season tournament and we work hard to get ready. It was a group of four teams (one of which was a combined team we had played during the season - combined as in they had two teams during the season but combined to form one team for this tournament). In spite of how that sounded, I didn't think they were beyond our reach. They were our first game and we tied them 1-1. They looked rather shocked afterwards and it felt like a win to my girls. The second game was against the strongest team in the group (and they ended up taking first place). We lost to them 4-1 but on the field it was actually closer than the score showed. We had two early flops defensively allowing them easy goals. Otherwise, we played them close. We lost but I felt good about it. Game #3. We took the lead late in the first half. Everyone was on edge to see if we could hold it. About 10 minutes to go and the other team score to tie it up. I knew the standings. That would have been a respectable finish, but it would have knocked us out of 2nd place in the group - meaning no medals for the girls. Then #8 (see her walking off in this picture) got mad - as she does - and that frequently is a good thing for the team. They rallied and she scored in the final minute or so. We won the game and got our second place medals. The little girl hugging me after the game was a story by itself since earlier in the season she had been mad at me. I worked hard to encourage her and it worked - big time. She is the

youngest and smallest but was a huge impact all weekend. Here she is proudly displaying her medal. And below is the whole team. Great story, right? Yes. It is one of my favorite stories and it makes me very happy for this group of girls. But, it's not all of

the story. There was one girl on the team who dropped out at the end of the regular season. Officially participation in the tournament was optional for parents. Maybe it didn't fit their schedule, for example. In the end all but one girl who had been with us during the season participated. The one who didn't? When I was told she wouldn't play I felt a tinge of relief. All season I had a struggle that when everyone was present there were too many players (we were playing 9v9) and this girl was not the strongest player. Truthfully there were 2 or 3 girls that the team might perform better if I didn't have to play. But I couldn't do that. All who were there had to play. My rule had been to give as close to half the game as I could to every girl present but less in the tournament. We were doing our best to win. Wanted every girl to have a good experience and to feel a part of it, but if we could win something, we wanted to play the players who would get that for us. The girl who didn't come? I asked why not. Parents wouldn't really say but generally commented that she hadn't enjoyed the season. Reflecting back on that now I know that I failed that girl. Upon further reflection and with help from John O'Sullivan (and others), I am pleased for the experience for the girls in the picture but I never again want to be thinking about a child who left feeling discouraged and didn't make the picture. I cannot be responsible for that ever again.

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