Len Oliver has been playing and teaching the basics of soccer coaching approximately forever, I suspect. He’s a fixture in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic region and is a USSF ‘A’ licensed coach and referee. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1996.
Of course I didn’t know any of this when I, then a wide-eyed, know-nothing, budding young soccer coach, took my seat in the E-license course he was teaching. We chatted amiably among ourselves and with him, waiting for late arrivals before we began the learning in earnest.
Except he had already begun. He called us to order, and asked if any of us had been “players” – in college or professionally. My college career was short-lived and unoffical so I kept my hand down. But several men in the room proudly raised their hands. Oliver called on each one in turn, asked a couple questions about their playing days and then told each one which position he had played. 100% correctly.
Recently, I saw Len at the VYSA conference in Richmond and I told him about the lasting impression he had left on me when he correctly guessed those player-positions. He said, “Oh, I still do that.” He meant, he does that to begin every single coaching class he teaches. Probably with nearly 100% accuracy.
“Whoa! How do you do that?” I had to ask.
“It’s easy,” he told me.
“Defenders do this.” He folded his arms tightly across his chest. “Bring it on. Bring the game to me, they say.”
“Midfielders are always organizing everyone,” he said, waving his arms and pointing here and there, gesturing direction and intention and position.
“And forwards, they’re all over the place,” he told me. “They’re everywhere.” He waved his arms randomly in all directions at once with no apparent pattern.
Aha! So apparently, players come in three flavors. They arrive with personalities. (We know this about goal keepers, don’t we? Len and I didn’t even go there.) Does personality determine playing style? Or is it the other way around? If I see them in a position or need them to fill a whole in my line-up, do they adopt the personality needed to play well there?
Len Oliver really has me wondering. Because when I share this insight with experienced coaches and players they concur with Len’s conclusions.
Perhaps the best footballers are born and not made. Here I thought I was teaching them and shaping them. Maybe I should be administering the Myers-Briggs before they take the field so I could find a better fit for them. (or the 8 Colors of Fitness quiz )
Or maybe I should just take time to get to know my players. It’s likely they’ll show me where they would be best suited to play.