Boots to Roots: The importance of grassroots coaches

We all have different things that stick out in our footballing careers. Beneath it all, a grassroots coach has been there to help each of us become the players and people we are today.

One of the most memorable moments in my football career was what I learned from my first club coach.

At the age of ten, I was asked to join one of our area’s club teams. I instantly begged my parents — I wanted to be a top competitor and would’ve done anything to achieve that goal.

I promised my parents I would give 110% because I knew this commitment would be costly and time-consuming. My first coach, Diana Lennox, could see my eagerness to learn and improve my skillset.

First club medal at Blount United Lady Hammers.

In my first year, our team won the state championships which became the norm for the next couple of years.

The heart of this article isn’t to say how great my club was but to proclaim the importance of grassroots coaches.

Attitude determines direction

There are four key elements that Coach D taught me that would soon become building blocks for my current position: a grassroots coach.

Attitude determines direction. Coach D emphasised the importance of this in our team huddles and our one-to-one sessions.

A young player’s attitude determines the direction they go but also how the team interacts as a whole. If someone is having a bad day, it reflects within the team without even knowing. It’s contagious!

Coach D was very passionate about us learning to keep a positive attitude through all circumstances. Top teams achieve the highest level because they put in the time — mentally and physically — to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead.

In action for Blount United Lady Hammers, age 15/16.

Mindset and attitude determine the course on how someone will react when adversity comes. This is one of the things we implement on the football team I help coach.

The attitude you bring to the pitch will determine how well your performance is. Through the losses and victories, we ask the players what they took away from the match and what could have been done better.

It’s important for players to realign themselves with their personal and team goals. This ensures no one carries additional baggage to the pitch that could affect their performance.

Smart goals score goals

I was a striker throughout my football career and I craved helping the team score. I found out that the best way to score a goal was to create a list of drills to help me accomplish that.

Our football team has found that making S.M.A.R.T. goals has given the program better success in the long run. This type of goal-setting strengthens credibility and sets particular standards that enhance the culture that is created.

Coach D would extend invitations for the whole team to do additional practices. I was one of the players who wanted to attain the goals I had for my football dreams.

I created four goals that could be measurable throughout the season and two goals for me to achieve throughout the course of the year. Each session we would discuss these and if I had done anything to get me any closer to accomplishing a goal.

For a young player, this is huge. But from the coach’s perspective, it gives
them a sense of pride when the player is working hard to reach their targets.

Practice over games

I heard this from Coach D, but I never understood what it meant until one of my sessions with her. I thought that the games you play against top competitors meant you get better regardless of the scoreline. This is not the case.

Heritage High School football team.

In practice, you find that you learn more about yourself. Games are easier than practice because you have prepared and planned out what is needed to secure the win. This was one thing that stuck with me. No matter how you do, it all comes back to what you did in training.

In practice, you experience what your breaking point is. You see where tensions and attitudes can fly. How the team can prevail when obstacles
come. Good is the enemy of greatness.

In practice, you are able to separate yourself and the team from being good or being great. As a coach, this is one thing we stress the most. If you desire a particular result, do your part in helping the team achieve that goal. It all starts with your attitude when you step onto the training ground.

Culture of the game

One thing I really appreciated about Coach D was that the players knew what was expected. We were to show up strictly no later than 15 minutes before practice and one hour before a match.

We learned quickly what was expected because that was the culture Coach D created. If someone didn’t play their part, we all had to participate in the punishment — which was always a fitness test.

We never scowled if there was a bad call from the referee, and we always upheld sportsmanship no matter what happened.

Half-time coach talks with the Heritage High School team.

The culture you set creates the tone for your program. At the time, it
sounded harsh, but I began to see the purpose the older I got. Now as a coach myself, our team’s culture is very similar.

The best players stay late and show up early. They put in the work both on and off the pitch. No matter where they are, they represent the team and the school district.

Culture defines your program and helps maintain the structure and standards set by the coaching staff.

Back to your roots

Sports give us a common avenue to help the growth of players on and off the pitch. It fosters discipline, competition, sportsmanship and overcoming adversity.

The most important aspect is that the players get to connect with others and learn more about themselves. Players perform at their best when they are in their sweet spot.

I hear stories from professional footballers about how they play at their best when all pressure is off. It allows them to play football like they are a kid again.

Watching the action at a Heritage High School football match.

As a coach and as parents, we should encourage them to pursue this mindset instead of adding additional pressure. Fostering growth for our players is the best way to help the sport grow.

As a coach, the most rewarding feeling is seeing a player who loves the game — regardless of the score — step out onto the pitch and have the time of their life.

We all have moments in our football career that stick out in our minds. But we can all recall at least one grassroots coach who has helped us experience those moments.