I gathered my materials for class for another day of teaching.
Instead of driving to the Cruyff Institute I headed to the training grounds to conduct a seminar for the FC Barcelona B Team players. This was a good group of guys much more accustomed to attending training on the pitch than in a classroom.
Handshake after handshake after handshake.
One at a time each player extended their palm to me in greeting as they passed.
“Bon día,” uttered the Catalans.
“Buenos días,” said the rest.
I crafted an interactive session of group work and individual reflection on the skills, knowledge and values required to maximize their full potential. Each athlete had the same goal. Each wanted to play on the first team, making Camp Nou their weekend workplace.
In the row to my right sat Pep Guardiola.
It was not the first time we had met and it would not be the last, but I share with you why this day resonates with me still years later.
I had done this workshop in several countries and for several professional teams. The beginning almost always went like this…
The head coach would show up to start the workshop, speak to the importance of intellectual development, and then promptly leave. All were invited to stay and almost all coaches left the first chance they got. A hollow obligatory message of introduction and then an escape.
On this day, there was no preamble. The session began as Pep and his assistants participated as students. After class we spoke for a while about the players and the challenges of promoting intellectual curiosity. Pep spoke of his mentor, Johan Cruyff, and how much he had learned from him.
Pep went on to become the head coach of FC Barcelona and to win countless trophies and I went home to read to my kids.
I share this to highlight the importance of strategy and tactics.
Not the 4-3-3 system of play. Not how to press high up the pitch. Not how to build out of the back.
I want to talk about the strategy to maximize our potential and the tactics that lead to sustained success. That day reminded me that a coach’s results come from a commitment tolearning. That learning provides us a sense of perspective. That our accomplishments are directly related to our commitment. Good things come to those who respect what others have afforded them. Great things come to those that forge an identity of their own.
If you are reading this you are probably a coach in some form or another. If so, let me ask you four questions.
1. On Learning
Are you football myopic or do you learn from the world of art, music, literature, and philosophy?
There are amazing people on this planet who for some bizarre reason do not fancy the round ball as much as we do. But they are remarkably insightful nonetheless and have much to offer us when we listen.
2. On Perspective
Are you so worried about the result this weekend that you lose sight of why you are coaching in the first place?
I bet when you are not in the heat of battle you would answer that you coach to guide others to become capable, confident and responsible young men and women. I have never met a coach who would sacrifice a young person’s future for a weekend win. But that does not mean that I have not met a coach (or been one) that lost sight of the big picture on Saturday.
3. On Commitment
Do you make speeches about the importance of something and then escape?
Or do you live by what you preach. Believe me, this one is not easy. There have been so many times when I have not been my best self. With the help of friends, I have learned to apologize and to commit to being better the next outing. Nobody expects perfection I have come to find out, but they do expect our sincerity.
4. On Respect
Do you seek out mentors and respect those who have graced this game before you?Showing respect for another’s contribution is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of intelligence. We are not in battle with those from the past nor those against whom we compete today. They share more in common with us than they differ. We honor the game and ourselves by invoking the lessons of our mentors and by adding our own seasoning to the spice of coaching.
Learning, perspective, commitment and respect: How wonderfully constant these four words can be in a world of change.
Sometimes the simple habit of giving a hand can turn boys into men.
As class concluded, each Barca player again extended his hand in gratitude. They were off to enjoy what they do best – knock the ball about. I was off to a cup of tea and to reflect upon my performance as a professor.
There would be many classes to come and many adventures to enjoy. This was just one day in Barcelona. The day the coach showed up for class.