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For the coach observation Project I observed Ben Page, JV boy’s soccer coach at Myers Park High School. A little background about Coach Page, he’s been playing the sport of soccer ever since he could walk. He grew up in Georgia and ended up attending and starring on the soccer team at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. He continues to play soccer professionally for the Charlotte Eagles, a United Soccer League team that makes up the third division in the American soccer pyramid. Outside of Soccer Coach Page works with underprivileged Hispanic youth groups in the Charlotte community. The Eagles conclude their season in August which coincides with the beginning of the boy’s soccer season for high schools. Coach Page or simply Ben as his players call him coaches Myers Park from the middle of August until the end of October when the JV slate of games is finished. After he is done with his JV duties, during the month of November he assists the varsity coach with state playoff games. The age range of the boys that Ben coaches are 14-16, typically freshman and sophomores. There were no juniors or seniors on the roster; however Ben told me there were some in the past; however it is very rare as by the time the players reach their second or third year they should have progressed to the level to be able to compete in varsity. Ben is a coach that has many interesting approaches that he takes in his coaching that seem to work very well with creating good team chemistry which in turn produces winning results on the pitch. I will break off into different categories and share with you the approaches that Ben takes with each category. USE OF VERBAL AND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION: I like to look at Ben as if he has two different personalities; the one where he is constantly talking to his players and the other side where he is not saying a single drop of words and you can only wonder what is going through his mind at that given moment. There are certain

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situations at practices and games where Ben is very talkative to his players and other situations when he is just staring at them. A typical day of practice consists of warming up (stretching, running, calisthenics, and light dribbling), followed by specific drills, then a scrimmage, and finished off with a warm down/stretch. During warm-ups and drills not a minute goes by where Ben doesn’t say anything. Ben is making all kinds of comments to his players. A reason for his vast amount of verbal communication during these times is that he actively participates with his players during warmups and drills. During warm-ups Ben will make sure all of his players are doing the stretches correctly and not taking shortcuts during their runs. Ben uses the time during the warm-up to talk with his players and ask them how they are feeling, or if there was a game the previous night to ask them what they thought about a specific play, etc. Then the players transition to the drills. Here Ben uses games where points can be scored for doing certain things right (such as passing the ball five times without turning it over, takeaways, and of course scoring goals). Ben breaks the players off into two teams and he joins one. Here Ben is constantly shouting to his players to reposition themselves the right way on the field and to pay attention to their footwork. Ben also does not shy away from criticizing his players during this time, especially if they can’t steal the ball from him. For example one time Ben said to his players: “Come on now, I’m only going half effort here but you are going even less than that. Come on you are a player, I want to see you give me 100% effort here right now”! His verbal cues during drills work well because after he pointed out the particular player for not giving enough effort in front of the entire team, the player felt motivated to prove him wrong and during the following sequence he charged at Ben and took the ball away from him. Drills are a time when Ben doesn’t shy away from showing his emotion; happy and elated when his team

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wins a given game to angry and criticizing his players when they lose. However it is a two-way street, Ben lets his players criticize him too if he made a mistake and all of it is in laughs, Ben never yells at his players. When the team has a scrimmage or actual game, it seems as if you are meeting an entirely different person. During scrimmages, the only thing that Ben does is just divide his players into two teams. He lets them do the rest on their own such as the formation they use and calling their own plays. During a scrimmage or game hardly anything comes out of Ben’s mouth. He just stands on the sidelines with his fingers rubbing his chin and just observes. If a player is visibly doing something wrong he lets them play on and doesn’t show any emotion. During scrimmages and games if you can imagine a tree on the sideline, that is what Ben is, occasionally he will move his hands like a tree’s branches do when the wind blows. That’s the most action that you will see out of him. Ben’s strategy is to stop the scrimmage when things are going very wrong and have the team huddle up. Ben then asks what the players think they are doing wrong having them talk mostly among one another and then he will give them some advice. For instance one time the defense was only sticking to one side of the field, so Ben told them that they need to cover the other side too because that’s where the goals are coming from. After Ben says what he needs to say he lets the scrimmage resume and he returns to being a tree. I watched them play against Charlotte Independence. Talk about pure domination by Myers Park, the game was over before it even started. The entire game was played in Independence’s defensive end. Independence only got the ball past midfield three or four times the entire game and they didn’t have a shot on goal. The Myers Park goalie could have gone to

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socialize with his friends because his teammates were doing a terrific job of shutting down Independence’s offense. Myers Park was putting on a clinic scoring four goals for the game while allowing none. Yet there was no emotion or words from Ben when his team was doing a great job. Occasionally when his team did score a goal, instead of going to congratulate the players, he pointed out the negative things that they were doing. Ben doesn’t even address the team that much after a game has been played. After the Independence game he simply told his players to eat well and sleep because they have a lot more work to do in the upcoming days. Ben waits until the following day at practice to share his thoughts on the game as mentioned earlier, during warm-ups he does that. Going back to at practice, after the scrimmage the team warms down by doing a light jog and stretching. During this time Ben takes time to give an update on upcoming dates as well as telling funny stories and having his players join in as well. Work is done and now it is time to have fun, “You can’t always be serious” says Ben. When I asked Ben about his switch from using a lot of verbal communication during drills, to virtually being entirely nonverbal during scrimmages and games he shared his reasons as to why he does this. Ben says that drills focus on breaking up the game and building on one particular skill. That is the time for them to learn from him and have the majority of his input while they are doing it. Scrimmages and more so games are their tests. He wants to see what the players have learned from the drills and if they can apply those skills from the drills into the game. He went on to tell me that those guys are smart enough to manage themselves during games and that if he was constantly yelling at them during games they would get distracted and play a different kind of game that’s not their own. “I don’t think those guys really want to listen

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to me when they are out there playing, I know I sure don’t like listening to my coaches”! Said Ben. COACHING STYLE: Ben is a cooperative coach. By no means is he a submissive coach and absolutely not a command coach. The definition of a cooperative coach in a nutshell is one who shares decision making with his/her athletes and finding the right balance between when to direct the athletes and when to have them direct themselves. Halfway through the first practice that I observed Ben I realized that he was cooperative because all of the things he does point to that direction. He has the right balance of when he controls his players and when they are on their own. He doesn’t go to one extreme where he only barks out orders like a command coach, nor does he go in the direction of absolutely not guiding his players at all like a submissive coach. As I pointed out in the verbal/nonverbal section, Ben transforms into two different people at different phases of practice and games. During warm-ups and drills it’s Ben’s way or the highway. He tells his players exactly how many pushups, sit ups, laps around the field, stretches, etc. that he wants to see. He pays special attention to make sure that they all do it right, and if they don’t he gets upset and makes those who don’t follow his orders do extra pushups or laps around the field. During drills, Ben tells the players exactly the part of the field that they need to be at and what their role is, if your job is to solely defend, then he doesn’t want to see you attack, otherwise you are doing pushups. Ben strives for perfection during drills and if you don’t follow his orders, you will have to pay for it. Losers and those who do not follow instructions during

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warm-ups and drills are punished while those who are perfect and obedient are awarded praise from Ben. Then comes that balance that I was talking about. Scrimmages and more so games are the test to see what was learned. Other than who is the starting 11, the players themselves make their own decisions on formations and plays that they conduct. During the game Ben closely observes his players and he takes mental notes of what they need more work on. During the next practice he will design a drill that will specifically make the players work on improving what they did wrong. For example at one practice, the team had trouble making clear passes, so the drill for that day solely focused on passing the ball. According to Ben he is wasting his time by barking orders to his players during a game. They will not learn anything at that given moment. Yes, there are small adjustments that you can make during halftime, but if your team is constantly doing something wrong and they can’t figure it out on their own, then they are just going to get beat on that given day. There is a time to learn and that time is at practice, not at games. Trying to learn everything that you should have learned over the past month for an exam an hour before will not help much. The same can be applied to soccer. Ben says that the game of soccer is built for a cooperative coach. Soccer you play for 90 minutes straight, no stoppage in gameplay with the exception of halftime. “It’s a free flowing game that is meant for players to make their own decisions” said Ben “It’s not like I can call a timeout”. He’s right, in a sport like football there is constant stoppage in between plays and that gives the coach multiple opportunities to speak with players and take away their freedoms from them. In football most coaches call the plays, not the players. In Ben’s opinion a football type coach dictating his team’s every move on the pitch just won’t cut it in soccer. With the success of Myers Park’s team it would be hard to disagree.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF WINNING With the success that Myers Park’s JV team has enjoyed this season winning or tying all of their games but one, I was very intrigued to see what Ben had to say about how important winning was to his team. Winning ranks in at about number three or four on his agenda. Ben went on to tell me that this is a JV team and none of their games count in the standings, there are no state playoffs for JV. The main goal for the JV team is player development and preparing their skills to be able to play on the varsity team. At the JV level player development ranks first on Ben’s list followed by the development of good sportsmanship and respect for their teammates, opponents, and the game, followed by making them better individuals, and lastly winning. If his team improves those things that he ranks above winning and they lose every game of the season, then according to Ben he will be satisfied. DEALING WITH PARENTS AND ATHLETES’ CONCERNS: Even with the successes that the JV and varsity boy’s soccer programs have been able to achieve at Myers Park, there are still those parents who have issues with the way that Ben handles his coaching. The biggest things that parents have complained to Ben about are their kids not playing or being benched, and the positions that he has assigned them to play. Myers Park High and Ben have a very effective way of dealing with upset players and parents. The team holds a meeting at the beginning of the season for both parents and athletes to attend. At this meeting, Ben outlines the expectations that he has from the players and the goals that he has set for the team to achieve. Ben tells them that it is a privilege to be able to play for a prestigious and highly successful program at Myers Park and that when they are at practices and games “It is coach’s time”. The team’s previous track record shows that whatever Ben’s been doing has

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helped them win, so he asks parents to trust him with the decisions that he makes. Now if for some reason parents are upset at Ben after a game, the team has a 24 hour policy, which means that parents and athletes cannot go and complain to the coach before 24 hours have passed from the time of the game. This gives time for both sides to cool off and have some time to think things over and have a more meaningful conversation as opposed to if they met right after the game with emotions being high both ways. While Ben rarely changes the way he coaches, he is always open to having parents share their concerns with him. Ben elects team captains who are spokespersons for the rest of the team. When there is a concern, a player needs to approach a captain, and then the captain will go talk with Ben. For example earlier in the season the captains voiced their concern to Ben that at practice they were only focusing on possession and not focusing enough on finishing plays and scoring goals. Ben took his players’ consideration in mind and had his players do drills that focused on finishing. Ben is definitely a coach that you should feel open to voice your concerns with. HAZING: When it comes to hazing, Ben wants none of that on his team. During the interview, he mentioned how teams all over the country make freshman “do the grunt work” such as getting all of the balls after practice, setting up the goal posts, filling up the water buckets, etc. while the upperclassmen sit and watch. Ben makes all of his players put in their fair share of work, so everyone is out there gathering the balls after practice. “This is a team and the role of a team is to split the work amongst each other, if some people are not putting in their fair share, then they are not part of the team” said Ben. Ben went to relate how in a real life work environment, everyone on the team puts in their fair share of work.

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In terms of changing physical appearance or making athletes do something physically uncomfortable, Ben doesn’t believe in that and there is none of that on his team. For first time varsity players there is the option of having the seniors cut their hair into a funky design. Players can opt of doing that, however most get their haircut to show team unity. Furthermore CharlotteMecklenburg Schools (CMS) bans any type of hazing that can cause physical harm. DEALING WITH UNDERPERFORMING ATHLETES AND MOTIVATING THE ATHLETES IN GENERAL: Every team out there has had games where certain athletes have performed well below their potential. That has occurred many times this season for Myers Park. The minute that Ben sees that a player, even the star of the team is underperforming and he knows that he has legs on the bench that can play at a higher standard; he will take the struggling player(s) off of the field. Being benched is a very demoralizing thing to a player and Ben realizes that. Ben believes in second chances. The benching is more of a reality check than punishing you for your bad play. He has the players benched sit for five or so minutes so they can realize why they were benched. Ben then puts them back in for another shot to prove themselves. If they don’t perform well their second time around, then they will be permanently benched. This is a fair system that has been working well for the team. Myers Park’s JV team can beat some varsity teams in the state. Making the starting 11 is a difficult task, even if you are a good player because there is so much competition. It can be difficult to keep those players who see very little playing time be as motivated as the starters. Ben’s strategy is to tell his players that they are part of a very elite program and that very few people are good enough to make the team. So making the team is an accomplishment in itself.

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It’s not about themselves, all 22 players that make up the JV roster make up something bigger than themselves. Every player has a role on the team, a player less talented, but with a good work ethic can motivate the more talented players to work harder for example. On most other teams, those who are benched are very unenthusiastic, however not on this one. Ben makes them all feel equally important and those players sitting on the bench are equally as excited as those on the field. Even if they only get 5-10 minutes at the end of the game, they play with the same enthusiasm as the starting 11. That type of team motivation is a big reason as to why I think they are so successful. OFF THE FIELD CONDUCT AND ACTIVITIES Ben wants his players to be “Men of character”. Whenever they are outside of practice or games, he wants the players to respect each other the same way off the field as they do on it. Whenever you see a teammate or a coach, you should always shake their hand or acknowledge them in some way. The team has to have a positive image. Cursing is not allowed, if players curse at practice or outside, they have to do five pushups. The players are role models to their community; they are active citizens who stay out of trouble. As a result of this positive image that the players evoke outside of practice, they have been able to draw a large part of the community to support and watch their matches. As close as this team is they do a lot of off the field activities together such as going out to dinner after every game and going to the movies. While Ben says that it is great that his athletes are seeing each other a lot outside of practice, he doesn’t directly enforce them to do so. Ben believes that you don’t have to see your teammates outside of practice in order to have good cohesion on the field. A team can be highly successful without seeing each other after business

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has been attended to. Having good relationships off the field is what makes Ben the happiest because they are on this team together for only a small part of their lives; however the bonds that they make here will last for the rest of their lives. FINAL THOUGHTS: Ben Page’s perceptions of his coaching were identical to mine. He is a very good coach. His players love him and want to play hard for him and the results on the field show. This is one of the highest cohesive teams that I have ever seen. Throughout my entire sports career I have never had a coach like Ben Page who cares as much and is able to motivate his players to play their hearts out for him. I can tell you that if I could have a coach like Ben Page, I would take him in a heartbeat. You really can’t find many better coaches. Ben is not far behind from the Coach K’s and Phil Jackson’s of the coaching world.

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