Keep Your Standard

Hi. Did you miss me? Okay. I am going to write a blog now. I currently have some of my club players playing high school soccer (I won't get into this, but in Connecticut players are not allowed to play club and high school at the same time) and they are frustrated that the level isn't where they want it to be, but more than that, the commitment and desire to improve is different from their own.

Similarly, I've had recent conversations with friends about playing against weaker teams and whether it's helpful for development or not.

What these two things have in common is the idea that sometimes we find ourselves in an environment of lesser quality than we're used to being in. The standard is lower and so expectations are lower.

Despite what you may think, I haven't always been so wise. I have had to go through quite a bit to figure out all of my life philosophies as I evolve as a person. It was just  seven years ago I heard a story that changed my thoughts about what environment you're in.

There are sayings like you're a big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond, but regardless of the size of the pond, you're still you and you're still there. Unless you're a Megalodon, then you can have any body of water you'd like.  Like I'm not getting involved there.

One of my former coaches, who also happened to be quite a professional player himself, Chris Bart-Williams, told me a story that I'll never forget and repeat to people all the time.

He said he was playing in a game where his team was crushing the other team, like 8-0 or something. Scouts on the sideline were interested in him from that game because they felt he kept his level high throughout the game regardless of the score or the level of the other team.

I love that story for a lot of reasons. One, you are always in control of yourself, no matter what situation arises. Two, you never know who is watching. Three, just because other people let their level slide, doesn't mean you can't raise them up by keeping your level. And four, it applies to so many things, not just soccer.

This made me rethink everything I had ever done. As a result, I've changed my opinion about how to train and who to train with, how I evaluate other people/players and the resources I need to be successful.

For me, now, a professional environment is in my head and something I can control. I'll always be the best I can be and try to raise the level of others around me, whether it's pushing in chairs when I leave a restaurant (it's amazing how people follow that lead), or saying thank you to a teammate for grabbing the bag of balls, small things that we do make an impact on people around us.

We have a rule at the club I work for that no one is to stand with their hands on their hips or their arms folded. I think that posture sends a poor message. When in conversation with someone, it looks closed off or that you're not interested, and on the field it looks like you're tired. I used to do it all the time not thinking about it, but once I saw the difference it makes when I speak to someone, I thought it was a simple thing that could be changed. No one holds me to that standard anywhere else except when the club is all together. But I've found myself full aware of my behavior when I'm playing for a team or when I'm casually talking to someone, and I hold myself to that standard.

It's hard when you want people to be a certain way and you can't understand why they're not. I have found it unproductive to convince people "this is the way to be", especially in terms of being professional and keeping a high standard when it's easy not to. Most people are quick to get away with things if they can. The best way to help others around you reach a higher standard is to be that standard every chance you get, and be consistent.

It's not always fun to play in games when the scoreline is 8-0. It's not fun when you want to take high school soccer seriously and players around don't. We will all be in these situations at some point in our lives, so we have to make something of them. We can't let something pass without gaining from it.

Over the past two years, I've had the luxury of creating an environment I've always wanted in a youth soccer club. Players and coaches are passionate about what they do and our set of core values is something we stick to no matter what the circumstances are. We're still learning so much and have a ways to go, but it's easy to do these things when you're in charge. The big challenge is to do them when you're not.