Boiling Point

Coach Jacobs' substitution of a player during a soccer game stirs up complaints from the player and his father.

Coach Al Jacobs worries that the bad attitude of one of his players may hurt the team’s performance.

Watching Devon score his second goal of the match on a beautiful strike from 20 yards, I wished I had three of that kid. He’s got all the tools: speed, size, strength, skill, and, most of all, the drive to win. Plus, he’s easy to coach…always early for practice, working on his turns or free kicks before we begin, constantly trying to improve his game. But there’s only one of him and finding another striker to pair with him up top hasn’t been easy. Up until now I’ve been rotating three other players at forward: Lucas, Evan, and John.

Coach Jacobs deals with a difficult player.

Lucas and Evan both have good vision and occasionally can be dangerous around the box. But Lucas is slow as molasses, while Evan is fast and athletic but technically weak. Then there’s John: potential coupled with a very poor attitude. If things don’t go his way, he tends to sulk. He doesn’t push himself at practice or demonstrate that he belongs on the field more than others. In matches, he holds the ball too long and misses opportunities to set up other players for good chances. It’s a shame; he could be a solid player if he was less selfish on the field and accepted the fact that he’s not Maradona.

Even before a great individual effort by Devon brought us back to even, I had seen enough to know that John was coming out of the game. He gave up the ball several times in the final third trying to take on too many players, then took an ill-advised shot from 25 yards, completely missing Devon’s great run into the box on the far side. I pulled him for Evan.

At first I didn’t notice John’s theatrics when he was leaving the field, but he made sure everyone saw him. He threw his arms up to the crowd and hurled his water bottle onto the ground under the bench. His father, of course, rewarded his behavior by leading a small chorus of boos protesting his substitution. My gut instinct was to go over and read him the riot act right then and there, but I let it go to focus on what was still a tight match. By the time the game was over I was wrapped up in the win (a header off of a corner in injury time!) and I forgot all about John.

But now it’s three o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. I keep seeing that kid aping to the crowd and making a fool out of his teammates and me. Maybe I missed an opportunity to get him under control.

See Coach Jacobs’ Player Stats below:

John meets with Coach Jacobs about not getting enough playing time.

John questions Coach Jacob’s decisions.

I have high expectations for my players, and I know talent when I see it. I don’t play favorites; I try to make the best calls for the team as a whole. Devon’s the real deal. He can lead us to States if our chemistry remains strong. I know individual players can’t always see the big picture, but they’ve got to trust my judgment. I’ve been coaching for seventeen years now (fourteen winning seasons, three times state champions). You’d think that would buy me some credibility.

John had one good game, and since then he thinks he’s Devon’s equal. But he doesn’t have Devon’s talent, and he sure doesn’t have Devon’s work ethic. I can’t get him to see that, though.

John talks to Coach Jacobs about being pulled from the game.

I can’t say I’m glad John came in to see me, even though it felt good to tell him what I thought of his behavior the other night. Maybe I would’ve given one of the other guys a little more of a break, but my other players aren’t having temper tantrums on the field. John’s not listening; I’ll be surprised if I see any changes in practice.

John’s father confronts Coach Jacobs about his handling of the team and treatment of his son.

John’s father thinks his son deserves more playing time.

Complicating everything is the fact that John’s dad is the team’s parent-manager. He organizes team pizza parties and has snacks and drinks ready for the players after games. He even manages our website, keeping parents and players informed about schedule changes and field locations. In many ways, he’s a huge benefit. But parents seem to have blinders where their own kids are concerned; it wasn’t totally unexpected when John’s dad called me up for a meeting.

John’s father and Coach Jacobs discuss playing time and other issues.

So John’s dad is threatening me? My AD is pretty good, though. She’s always supported her coaches, she understands there are unpopular calls, and she’s had her leadership questioned by parents, too. I head over to her office, which is just across the hall from my own. I don’t want this spoiling the season.

Read NSCAA’s article “A Good Coach and Manager”.