The Real Giants of Soccer Coaching - Josh Faga - ebook

The Real Giants of Soccer Coaching ebook

Josh Faga



The Real Giants of Soccer Coaching is a collection of the curated thoughts of nearly 30 top soccer coaches from around the globe. In this book, you will gain access to the depth and breadth of experience from some of the best coaches across all areas of the beautiful game: from grassroots to premier leagues and everything in between. You will learn theoretical details about tactical periodization, positional play, and the science of motor learning. You will also learn from Youth National Team coaches, NCAA National Championship winning coaches, and First Division coaches from top European clubs. This book is a resource that can direct your coaching education over and around the perilous pitfalls that often consume most coaches. After reading this book, you will have gained the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of some of the best coaches across all areas of the game. You don't have to go your coaching path alone. Take this book and bring the wisdom of these top coaches with you to help navigate every corner, turn, and hazard along your way to becoming a great coach.

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“I have approximate answers, possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and many things I don’t know anything about.”

—Richard Feynman

To all the coaches that are reluctant in their proclamations and doubtful in their certainty. Stay curious.

The contents of this book were carefully researched. However, all information is supplied without liability. Neither the author nor the publisher will be liable for possible disadvantages or damages resulting from this book.




British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

The Real Giants of Soccer Coaching

Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78255-449-3

All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including translation rights. No part of this work may be produced–including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means–processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.

© 2018 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.

Aachen, Auckland, Beirut, Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai, Hägendorf, Hong Kong, Indianapolis, Manila, New Delhi, Singapore, Sydney, Tehran, Vienna

Member of the World Sports Publishers’ Association (WSPA)

ISBN: 978-1-78255-449-3

Email: [email protected]





1 Process-Oriented Coaching

Jay Martin

Why process beats outcome — Why individual accolades are unimportant — Working hard on you — Never ignore the importance of training the brain — How to be a better coach — What your values tell you about your coaching personality

2 Player-Centered Coaching

Rene Meulensteen

You’re not a real coach until you get fired — The player jigsaw puzzle as the key to youth development — Letting the players make the decisions — Why you should always add something to your players’ game, but never change it — Success doesn’t come for free

3 Transitioning From Player to Coach

Neil Jones

You might make a better coach than a player — The Canvas Strategy — Why getting to know your players makes it easier to coach them — Soccer always has a winner and a loser — How a clock can influence the realism of your training

4 From Assistant to Head Coach and Back Again

Mario Sanchez

The coach that knows why will beat the coach that knows how — Player-centered coaching versus athlete-centered coaching — What comedians can teach us about honing our craft — What Bill Belichick can teach you about being a good assistant coach — Slowly, slowly — The devil is in the details

5 Mentor–Coach Relationships

Anthony Pulis

Like father, like son — How a red-team can help you become a better coach — Giving the players what they need, not what they want — Why the best are obsessed with getting better — Earning your UEFA A by knowing how to defend half-spaces

6 Coaching Different Ages, Sexes, and Levels

Omid Namazi

The importance of grit — On the other side of fear — Everyone is a son of a gun until they prove to you otherwise — Having your players decide on the strategy — Two different ways to high press out of a 1-4-3-3

7 Successful Coaching Education

Ian Barker

Decentralized command — Going from an assistant to the man in charge — When one teaches, two learn — Why 3v1 is harder than 3v2 — Don’t just take a job because of a nicer Nike track suit

8 Creating a Culture

Allistair McCaw

It all starts with standards — Practicing what you preach — Criticizing privately, but praising publicly — How to choose your team captain — Why the quietest people may have the most important things to say — Blinker coaches — The Finland Phenomenon

9 Recruiting

Erica Dambach

Elite people are elite all the time, not just some of the time — Giving 1% more — Identity versus culture — Changing systems — You hired them, now let them work

10 Coach Development

Terry Michler

The Clockwork Orange — Mistaking theatrics for competence — The coach is a master of observation — What a microwave and a slow cooker can teach you about youth development — How Brazilians organize tryouts — But coach, we already did this — Dennis Bergkamp coaching 10-year-olds — The spotlight is for the players

11 Coaching the Individual in a Team

Michael Beale

Coach someone the way you would like to be coached — Are you a brick wall or a sponge — There are 11 “I”s in a team — Changing the hat of a team — Forward thinking, forward passing, forward running — How to organize a defense — You can go over, around, or through, but you have to choose — Positional small-sided games — Why my best coach was a schoolteacher that knew nothing about soccer

12 Producing Professional Players

Darren Sawatzky

You don’t get to say “We lost, but we played pretty” — We climb ladders one rung at a time — Get rid of the 9-day coaching courses, coach educators need to have their feet on the ground, in the trenches, helping coaches every day — French training methodology

13 Developing Youth Players

Marc Nicholls

The importance of brutally honest feedback — Bio-banding — Playing players down an age group — Where do you prioritize winning — There is more than one way to skin a cat

14 Sports Science and Physical Training

Jon Goodman

Why your hardest moments can reveal your true self — The darker side of professional soccer — Soccer psychology — The birth and death of the Nike SPARQ program — The Gold Mine Effect and how the Nike Academy disrupted academy soccer

15 Grassroots Coaching

Sam Snow

Coaching coaches how to coach — Where do you want your youth players to be at 15, at 25, at 35 — What’s the rush in youth development — Why you shouldn’t mistake advanced motor control, due to puberty, for advanced technical ability — Have your kids play a lot of sports if you want them to be better at their sport of choice

16 Assistant Coaching

Erwin van Bennekom

Coaching 50 hours a week on the field — Thinking like one on game day — It’s okay to have a bit of fun — It’s all about the next opponent — Keeping the ball for the sake of keeping the ball

17 Positional Play

Kieran Smith

I was scared out of my mind — Playing a goal kick to your center back is suicide — I just want to talk to anyone smarter than me — The esoteric nature of positional play — Your team is just keeping possession, stop calling it positional play — A formation doesn’t dictate how you play, but how you play dictates the formation

18 The Philosophy of Soccer

Jed Davies

In streetlights and shadows — The philosophy of soccer — Objectivity — Penetration over possession — Freedom versus structure and the importance of action scripts — How to scout your opponent most effectively

19 The Philosophy of Defending

Jed Davies, Part 2

20 Tactical Periodization

Nick Cowell

Are you willing to learn a language to hear the truth about tactical periodization — How to create a game model — Principles, sub-principles, and sub-sub-principles — The morphocycle — How to handle multiple game weeks — A team that thinks with one brain

21 Applying Characteristics of a Playground to Youth Soccer

Jonathan Henderson

A performance playground — What a skate park can teach us about how kids learn — Random practice versus blocked practice — How to get your kids to play more street soccer — What would kids do if a coach wasn’t there — We are doing our kids a disservice

22 Soccer Tactics and Training Methodology

Albert Rude

The nine soccer structures — The importance of culture in building a game model — To understand the future, we must understand the past — Win one game, get two more — If you want big rewards, they come with big risks

23 Improving Player Communication in Soccer

Gerard Jones

Game calls — The biggest communication mistakes that coaches make — We want the knowledge on the field, not the sideline — How to get your players to talk more than you

24 Possession and Scoring Tactics

Robin Russell

How data can change the way you train finishing — Why national teams are always worse than club teams — Why scoring the first goal gives your team a 95% chance of not losing — In-swingers, out-swingers, and the reasons why set plays may be more important than you think

25 Youth Development in Soccer

Tab Ramos

Stop giving yourself so much credit — You’re not a good coach just because you won — Stop talking so much — What your player’s faces can tell you about your coaching ability — How to be critical of your own training sessions — Learning every single day — Why you should be optimistic about youth development in the United States

26 Game-Based Decision-Making and Player Development

Mike Muñoz

It is non-negotiable to outwork the opponent — Technical training that actually transfers — How to create an environment built on feedback from your peers to improve your coaching — Always have your windows and your doors open

27 The Science of Developing Better Players

John Kessel

Why facts don’t change people’s minds — You don’t coach soccer, you coach people — How did you learn to ride a bike — Stop doing drills — Why your players should coach other players — What free-throw shooting can teach you about practicing set pieces more effectively — At the earliest ages of youth soccer, the worst teams win — What Stephen Curry can teach you about producing professional players

28 Game-Like Practice and How Kids Learn

Todd Beane

Doing a start-up with Steve Jobs — How to think like Johan Cruyff — If it’s not fun, then why are we doing it — Most of the training in the US is crap — Messi doesn’t have 50 moves — It wasn’t a move, but a solution — Quizas — How a bushel of apples can make you a better coach — What soccer coaches and doctors that used bloodletting have in common — A Montessori school for soccer — The consortium of coaches — How to coach a rondo — Cognition versus competence: missing the boat in youth development

29 Positional Play Training

Adin Osmanbasic

The essence of positional play — Finding the free man — Why do teams play a 1-4-3-3 — What happens after we find the free man — How to defend a Pep Guardiola team — The six areas of defensive organization — Why training with goals may be unnecessary — What Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte have in common, and how they are different from Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp

30 Coaching Authentically

Anson Dorrance

Coaching is a thankless profession — Most people think they are competitive, but I am here to tell them that they aren’t — The misapplication of the competitive cauldron — Rules were meant to be broken — Why we are all wrong about substitution

Epilogue: You


So, why a book? Over 100 podcasts means over 100 hours of recorded insights, practicums, and stories from over 100 coaches. Unfortunately, although our technologically advanced world is quick to pay attention, it is even quicker to forget. The trends of today become the stories of tomorrow. Our world, especially the coaching world, is becoming more and more enthralled with the novel. Our first podcast episode was recorded in 2015 and what Bobby talked about is just as true now as it was then. So, this book will put all of the insights and ideas I have learned in the last three years into one easy-to-access text.

This book is going to draw from the many threads discussed in the 100+ episodes we have done at the Just Kickin’ It podcast. I am going to serve as the co-author of this book. The other co-authors are the many guests referenced and mentioned in this book. They are the true authors. They are the giants that were courteous enough to allow me to stand atop their shoulders to see just a little bit farther above the clouds. They are the true artists. I am simply supplying them with a canvas.

My hope is that the reader has in his or her hands a tome that is full of practical knowledge from some of the world’s best soccer coaches. The tips, insights, stories, and ideas from each of these coaches will equip you, as the reader and a coach, with many “change the environment” moments. No longer will you have to guess or react emotionally to situations because in your hand you have access to the experience and knowledge of coaches like Rene Meulensteen, Anson Dorrance, and Jay Martin. They say that people are more likely to be persuaded by what they hear themselves say; my hope is that, as you read this book, these thoughts, experiences, and ideas become your own.

I should also mention that I didn’t write 100 chapters. To do so, would be to write a book that is over 1,000 pages. I don’t think coaches are interested in reading the War and Peace of soccer, no matter how insightful and interesting it is. I will continue to write behind the scenes and reveal the insights from the many recorded, and non-recorded, conversations that I have. For now, we start with this elite group of coaches that I have compiled after many listens, and re-listens, of every single episode that we have done.


Why you should always value ability over success — What Stephen King can teach us about expectations

—How to read this book

In the mid-2000s, a London newspaper conducted a fabulous study to test the role of celebrity in sustaining success. Using plagiarism for the sake of science, the editors of the Sunday Times submitted potential manuscripts to book publishers that copied the opening chapters of two books that had recently won the Booker Prize, the most prestigious award an author could hope to achieve, which solidifies a book’s place in literary history. Logic would assume that the publishers would have either received the submitted manuscripts with overwhelming enthusiasm and praise, or with extreme skepticism. In other words, the publishing companies would either be thanking their lucky stars for the bestseller that just came across their desk, or they would be calling the authorities and citing the submitted manuscripts for plagiarism. But something else happened entirely. The publishing agents treated the submissions as they would any other submission by an aspiring author—they passed.

One of the books was In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul, which—I will reiterate—literally won the Booker Prize. One of the publishing agent’s response to the submission read, “It was quite original. In the end though I’m afraid we just weren’t quite enthusiastic enough to be able to offer to take things further.” This would be akin to professional clubs turning down Lionel Messi on a trial saying, “There is definitely some potential there, but we don’t feel that you can impact our club at this specific time.” Ludicrous! Why did these publishing agents turn down one of the best-selling books of all time? For the same reason that Stephen King couldn’t sell a book under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

In the 1970s, Stephen King became worried that the public wouldn’t accept his books at the same pace that he wanted to write them. He figured that a book a year would be a good enough pace for his fans, but not for his brain. King’s solution was to write books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. This would allow King to continue writing at his preferred frequency, but without bombarding the public with multiple Stephen King books every year. What happened? Well, Stephen King doesn’t sell as well when he isn’t Stephen King. Obviously, once word got out that Stephen King was writing under a pseudonym, the books became best sellers, but under the name Richard Bachman they were total busts. How could that be? How could the same book meet two entirely different outcomes simply because of the name of the author? The reason is because success and ability are not correlated.

Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard’s Walk, explored the role randomness plays in those who become successful and those who don’t, allowing him to sum up the relationship between success and ability as a mysterious one.

“The cord that tethers ability to success is both loose and elastic. It is easy to see fine qualities in successful books and to see unpublished manuscripts as somehow lacking. It is easy to believe that ideas that worked were great ideas, the plans that succeeded were well designed, and that ideas and plans that did not were ill conceived. It is easy to make heroes out of the most successful and to glance with disdain at the least. But, ability does not guarantee achievement, nor is achievement proportional to ability. And so, it is important to always keep in mind the other term in the equation—the role of chance.”

Ability does not guarantee achievement, nor is achievement proportional to ability. Of course we should all know this to be true. Are we really going to assume that Justin Beiber is the most talented musician of his generation? In the 1960s, social psychologist Melvin Lerner studied the view society takes toward the poor in hopes of better understanding the negative attitude the downtrodden receive in modern society. One of Lerner’s greatest findings was that people drastically overestimate the degree to which they can accurately determine someone’s ability based on success. Mlodinow interpreted Lerner’s research to mean that “we are inclined, that is, to see movie stars as more talented than aspiring movie stars and to think that the richest people in the world must also be the smartest.” I am here to inform you that this is nothing more than a fallacy.

It is a common incorrect signaling of the brain that connects somebody’s results with their abilities even when it is overwhelmingly incorrect. It is to no fault of our own, however. We cannot see a person’s potential, or ability, only their results (e.g., wins and losses, total sales, salary). This leads us down a path of misjudgment where we believe that the results must reflect the ability of the person. Mlodinow again puts it into perspective, saying that “a lot of what happens to us—success in our careers, in our investments, and in our life decisions, both major and minor—is as much the result of random factors as it is from skill, preparedness, and hard work.” The harsh truth is that we continuously fall victim to the power of expectations. When Stephen King writes a book, we expect it to be good. When Pep Guardiola runs a session, we expect it to be good. These expectations; however, delude our critical-thinking skills and keep us from identifying glaring flaws. In fact, an academic study looked at the influence a student’s previous grades have on future grades. It turned out that teachers give higher grades to students deemed “excellent” than to students thought of as “weak,” even when the homework submissions were identical. We must refrain from correlating success with ability. Just because a coach manages the best club in the country doesn’t mean he has some god-like ability. In fact, the truth is that his ability is probably closer to yours and mine than any type of god.

Why did I spend the first few pages of this book talking about manuscripts, Stephen King, and randomness? Because it is important for you to understand that ability and success don’t appear in a linear fashion. How many athletes have burst onto the scene as the next Michael Jordan or Leo Messi one season, only to plummet and fall off the face of the planet the very next season? Coaches, general managers, and fitness coaches are all vulnerable to randomness. The truth is that it is very difficult to know if someone is truly talented, or merely the lucky benefactor of being in the right place at the right time. This is important to understand because I have not profiled Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho in this book. I have profiled people that have worked with them, talked to them, and competed against them, but it is important that we don’t allow the results to paint the pictures in our head about them as coaches. The truth is that we simply don’t know if they are truly genius, merely lucky, or a combination of the two. We can venture to guess—and I would lean towards the opinion that they are truly gifted and talented managers—but in this book I have profiled people that I have met, worked with, had conversations with, and learned from. These are people that have ability. But, they are far from perfect. In other words, they are just like you and me. Unfortunately, the only way to know if someone has ability is to look away from the scoreboard. A lot of managers have won big games and trophies due more to the ability of their players, front office, fixture schedule, and other contributing circumstances than their own skill. Therefore, to truly identify someone’s ability you have to spend time watching them hone their craft. To know how good a coach is you have to see them and evaluate them in their element Monday through Friday, not just on Saturdays. I have profiled coaches in this book that have won World Cups, Champions Leagues, U20 Championships, and NCAA National Titles, but that is the last reason they are in this book. They are in this book because I have seen them in their element. I have seen them get the most out of their players. I have seen them run a session. These coaches are deserving of the name giants because they have true ability. And just as authors should be judged by their writing and not their book sales, so too should coaches be judged more by their abilities than by their success.

I shared a laugh earlier today with a friend of mine over the word peruse. Apparently, we had been using the word incorrectly our entire lives. I was under the impression that to peruse was to lightly skim, or gloss over. In actuallity, to peruse is to read carefully, closely, and under extreme inspection. And for the next 300 pages that is exactly what I want you to do—peruse. Please don’t read something a coach says in this book and immediately agree with it, adopt it, or sing it as gospel. To read this book correctly would be to read something a coach says and think about it, evaluate it, reflect on it, and then decide if it is useful or not. My hope is that you can peruse this text and determine what is objective and what is subjective. What is fact and what is opinion. This book includes insights from coaches that have won FIFA World Cups, NCAA National Championships, and even the Champions League, but if we know that success and ability are antagonistic toward one another, then we shouldn’t let those facts influence our perception of the information included in this book.

Mark Haddon, the English novelist, once said that, “reading is a conversation. All books talk, but a good book listens as well.” If you read this book correctly, and if I wrote it properly, that is how it should feel. This isn’t a book filled with coaches telling you right from wrong. This is a book filled with coaches that have had some success, probably even more failure, and along the way learned something unique about this great game we all love. This is my attempt to share those unique somethings.


“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It all started in the spring of 2015 when Brian Shrum, the women’s soccer associate head coach at Duquesne University (where I am the men’s soccer assistant coach) said, “Hey, is it hard to start a podcast?” At the time, I thought that was a fairly novel idea, not realizing that a couple years later having a podcast would be as commonplace as having a driver’s license. Fortunately for Brian, I had tried to start a podcast a few months earlier, with no success, but at least I had some experience with the matter. Fast forward about a week and we were stumbling, mumbling, and stuttering our way through our first episode with a close friend of ours, Bobby Sepesy, the head strength and conditioning coach at California University in Pennsylvania. And just like that the Just Kickin’ It podcast was born.

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement, and when you are as bad as we were at interviewing people you have no choice but to live by it. Little by little we started to improve and one episode turned into two, which turned into four, and here I am writing this book as we approach 100 episodes. It never really dawned on me that this podcast would result in a book until I was listening to our very first episode with Bobby again. We asked Bobby how he deals with a troublesome athlete; you know, an athlete that talks back or doesn’t work as hard as he should—all the things coaches deal with eventually if you coach long enough. Bobby’s response was so enlightening that I hit pause and walked around the office until I found someone that I could share what I just heard with. I appreciate our janitor, Roger, lending an ear so that I could share the moment with someone else, although I don’t think he found it as enthralling as I did. Here was Bobby’s response:

“I was eating dinner the other night and a fly kept flying by my plate. So, I started violently slapping and swinging at the fly hoping to get it to stop. And then I had this epiphany. The more I swung, the more the fly bothered me. And just then, I did the funniest thing. I simply grabbed my plate, sat up, and walked inside the house. And just like that, the fly wasn’t a problem anymore. So, I guess, Josh, my answer is that sometimes we just need to change the environment for something—or someone—that was a problem to no longer continue to be one.”

I hope that you can grasp how profound that story is. I can’t tell you how many coaches I hear every day that complain about their athletes not doing this or not doing that. And every single time I hear Bobby in the back of my mind saying, “Change the environment.”

Why did I tell you this story? Because I learned more from that one comment from Bobby than I had from reading the top 15 books on creating a culture, or the latest blog about motivating your athletes. The moment I heard that message from Bobby, I realized the power of conversation. I realized the purpose and mission of our podcast. There is a reason why the book begins with one of my favorite quotes and the mission statement of the podcast.

“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.”

It is unfortunate that the coaching world is often characterized by isolation and reticence. Many coaches allow the competitiveness of our sport to keep them from sharing their ideas, experiences, and fears with other coaches. How much more advanced would we be as a coaching community if, instead of hiding our fears and concerns about our processes, we celebrated them and shared them with others? That is what the podcast is about. It is about getting other coaches to sit down with us so that we can tell them our fears and ask them our questions and they can tell us theirs. It is a mini-Thanksgiving—absent the turkey and stuffing—full of insights and learning. Every podcast gives us a chance to learn how to be just a little bit better today than we were yesterday.

In a 1676 letter to his rival Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton wrote:

“What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much in several ways, and especially in taking the colors of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

I love that phrase. A common mistake that people make is assuming that people like Albert Einstein or Galileo were born brilliant and came to their famous findings by themselves. That’s just not how it works. Pep Guardiola learned from Johan Cruyff, who learned from Rinus Michels, who learned from Jack Reynolds, ad infinitum. That eureka moment that we have all been told precedes the most famous findings, like electricity or television, doesn’t really exist. There is no sudden moment of realization, or inspiration that breeds these massive discoveries. They come from years upon years of study, mentoring, and reading the great works of those that have come before us. And that is what I hope this book can be. I hope that it is an influential step in your pursuit of the eureka moment. Pep Guardiola is not a genius. He wasn’t born with some innate ability and he didn’t drink some omnipotent soccer coaching alchemy. He is someone that studied the work of Johan Cruyff, Rinus Michels, and those that came before them. Many describe him as a genius, but I would say that he is more of an innovator. He is someone that acknowledged the giants that came before him and, through hard work and arduous study, stands today atop their shoulders as one of soccer’s greatest coaches.

My hope, my goal, is to have this book help you stand on the shoulders of over 30 of the best coaches I have had the pleasure of talking to. I have interviewed some of the best youth coaches, college coaches, professional coaches, educators, theorists, and analysts that this game has to offer. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can only learn from someone wearing a Manchester City or Bayern Munich logo on their shirt. This book is a collection of some of the brightest minds this game has to offer working everywhere from grassroots to national teams. No matter where you coach or what you aspire to, I know that by the time you finish reading this book, you will be able to see just a little bit farther than you did before.




Jay Martin is the winningest coach in men’s college soccer history with a total of 673 wins over 40 seasons at Ohio Wesleyan University. Jay also boasts a career winning percentage of 81%. In addition to being a college soccer coach, Jay is also a professor in Ohio Wesleyan’s physical education department and writes for the NSCAA Journal. He has a PhD from The Ohio State University.

Why process beats outcome — Why individual accolades are unimportant — Working hard on you — Never ignore the importance of training the brain — How to be a better coach — What your values tell you about your coaching personality

Jay Martin is arguably the most successful and influential college soccer coach in the United States. However, you would never know it by talking to him. Jay is just as curious, just as driven, and just as humble as he was the day he won his first National Championship. Jay is also living proof that a great jockey doesn’t always make a great horse. Jay played three sports growing up and oddly enough chose basketball as his main sport. In fact, Jay was able to turn his college basketball career at Springfield College into a professional career in Germany.

It was in Germany that Jay found his passion for the beautiful game, living in northern Munich where he was able to watch Bayern Munich training every single day. Jay certainly lived in Germany at the right time as I am sure a similar situation would not lend itself to anyone living in northern Munich today. A Bayern Munich session today would have a similar security presence to the Pope at the Vatican. If I tried to sneak into a Bayern Munich session today, Carlo Ancelotti would probably have me thrown out of Europe, let alone Germany. Nevertheless, a young basketball player from northeast Ohio suddenly found himself watching Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Sepp Maier, and Georg Schwarzenbeck on a daily basis. Jay attended so many Bayern sessions that he was nearly considered part of the staff.

They say opportunity begets opportunity and Jay eventually met and established a relationship with Helmut Schon, the head coach of the German National Team that won the World Cup in 1974. Jay had completely forgotten about shooting hoops and was fully immersed in the German soccer culture. He transitioned smoothly from a professional basketball player to a student of the game, moving to Dusseldorf shortly after his time in Munich which allowed him to attend Bundesliga games on Saturdays and then make the short drive to Holland to watch Dutch Premier League games on Sundays. Today we can obviously do that with a mere adjustment of our position on the couch, but in the 1970s Jay was a grinder—a true student of the beautiful game in soccer-mad Europe.

Eventually, Jay returned to America where he was eager to put his newfound soccer knowledge to work. Jay began a PhD program at Ohio Wesleyan and soon after was asked to take over as the head coach of the men’s soccer team. Forty years later, Jay Martin is still the head men’s soccer coach at Ohio Wesleyan.


Now that you are well aware of what Jay Martin has done, let me tell you about who Jay Martin is. When we first met, Jay said, “Josh, I am a dinosaur, my friend.” I didn’t expect anything less from such a humble man, but let me tell you that Jay is anything but a dinosaur. Jay understands that the game of soccer, much like life, is about relationships. In today’s world, we are fascinated by winning and losing. In 2017, for example, we saw FC Barcelona lose to Paris St. Germain 4-0 and everyone in the world was calling for the sacking of Luis Enrique. Well, two weeks later a 6-1 win in the return leg cemented Luis Enrique as one of the Barcelona coaching legends next to Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola. Winning and losing are important, but if you measure your self-worth by them then your coaching future is bleak.

In the fall of 1996, Jay Martin found himself at a crossroad. Up to that point Ohio Wesleyan had been to the NCAA tournament 18 straight years. In 1996, Ohio Wesleyan went an impressive 13-2-2, but failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly two decades. “At the time, I was obsessed with winning, I felt that if I didn’t win a National Championship, my peers wouldn’t accept me, but in 1996 it hit me like a ton of bricks and I said to myself, ‘Why am I obsessed with winning?’ So, I called my two captains together and I said ‘Guys, we are changing everything in the program, we are going to focus on the process and we’re going to see what happens.’”

What Jay realized was that you cannot control the result or other people’s opinions of you. I have noticed that a lot of people in the coaching community are very insecure. Constantly afraid of being found out as a fraud or only hoping to win to avoid the backlash of losing. I see coaches that post 15 times a day on Twitter in the hopes that others will see them as a good coach or someone worth paying attention to.

My favorite author of all time is David Foster Wallace and in his now infamous “This is Water” speech, he says:

“If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.”

Take out money and things and insert winning and championships and the message doesn’t change. This is why I said that Jay couldn’t be further from a dinosaur. Jay realized early on in his coaching career that if you define your success as a coach by how many games you win, then you will never, ever win enough. Jay continued by saying, “In those early days, I would put the result and the outcome on myself. If we lost a game, I wouldn’t sleep for like three days, no kidding. And when we won a game, it was right on to the next game, I didn’t even take the time to celebrate the small successes and I fell into a very negative rut—a depression of sorts. It took us not getting into the NCAA tournament to really change this program.”

Two years later, in 1998, Jay Martin and the Ohio Wesleyan men’s soccer team won a National Championship.

Again, Jay is not saying that winning and losing don’t matter. It is important not to throw the baby out with the bath water. But if you place your entire self-worth on how many championship trophies you have in your office, then prepare yourself for a very unfulfilling career in coaching.

If we aren’t going to focus on the outcomes and only on the process, then how do we do that? Well, it is important to understand that a lot of coaches and teams claim they are process-oriented. However, any time a coach mentions the rankings, standings, the score the last time we played this team, or an accolade for an individual player, these are all just subtle ways of communicating to your players that the outcomes are much more important than the means of achieving them.

A true process-oriented coach is also aware of how they behave on the sidelines. If your team concedes an early goal, how do you react? Arms flailing, clipboard broken over the knee, warming up the first person you see on the bench? Outcome, outcome, outcome. If your team scores to equalize, how do you react? Fist pump, high fives, arms raised like Rocky after he mounts the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Sorry, but that’s outcome. Being process oriented is like being a stoic philosopher. Stoic philosophy is beyond the scope of this text, but its central tenet is that you can only control what you can control (i.e., your actions and your perceptions). That is why Jay advocates against focusing on the outcome, because it is entirely outside the sphere of your control.

Let’s say one of your players makes it his goal to become an All-American next season. That’s ambitious and lofty, but it is an outcome. Basically, this player has just put the entire success of his season—and the emotions that come with that—on the decisions of other people. That player cannot control whether the coaches on the voting board—the ones that have probably never seen him play—decide in a boardroom meeting one day. He cannot control if they deem him worthy of being an All-American. Obviously, allowing this player to measure his success on such a subjective award outside of his control is careless on our part. So, what should a coach do? What does being process oriented look like? Let’s say that same player focuses on getting better each and every day. Perhaps he makes it his goal to give as much effort as he can every single day. That is within his control. That is being process oriented.

During our conversation, Jay opened up a drawer with about 100 NSCAA All-Region, All-America, and All-Ohio certificates from the last five or six seasons. Jay’s players never came to pick them up because they simply don’t care. When you are process oriented, public perception and laud is out of your control, so you don’t put any focus on it. “I don’t know who the leading scorer on our team was this past year; we don’t talk about it. If one of our players wins the conference player of the week award, we don’t talk about it. We have eliminated all discussions and accolades that deal with the outcome.”

For Jay, being process oriented is an all-the-time thing. In 2016, Ohio Wesleyan was winning 1-0 against a conference rival, Denison, with 30 seconds left to play. One of Ohio Wesleyan’s forwards was taking a throw-in deep in the opponent’s half. Game over, right? Well, one poor decision and two passes later Denison had tied the game up. “Of course, I was upset, but I didn’t show it. When we score a goal, I don’t jump up and down and scream, when the opponent scores, I don’t jump up and down and scream. It’s hard work, it takes time, but in the end it pays off.”

Jay also mentioned how he rarely, if ever, says anything to the referee or reacts to a poor decision. This is truly stoic. The only person that can control the referee is the referee himself. However, coaches around the globe lose their minds over bad calls, and scream and yell hoping that the referee stops the game and reverses his decision which has happened zero times in the history of soccer. Jay’s overall message is control what you can control. Focus on your actions and control your perceptions or they will eat you alive.


Jay works extremely hard to maintain his process-oriented nature. During our podcast, he mentioned a few times that he works hard on himself. That is why you are reading this book. You are currently working hard on you. The best coaches are lifelong learners. However, Jay goes beyond books and courses to continually challenge himself. Jay has made mindfulness and gratitude a huge part of his life. The infamous Tony Robbins said, “You cannot be angry and grateful at the same time.” Jay cited a study out of the University of Chicago which interviewed 10,000 of the most successful people in the world. Although success is quite arbitrary, the study determined that the most successful people in the world all had three things in common. First, they all had some sort of daily meditation practice. Second, they all engaged in various forms of positive self-talk. Last, they all had curated some sort of daily journaling practice.

Jay Martin started journaling in 1980 and hasn’t missed a day since. “Journaling is very therapeutic; it helps my efficiency, focus, and effectiveness. I journal every day and I write down the three things I am most thankful for. Today, it was my wife, my children, and the opportunity to make an impact on young men and women.” Jay also has a daily meditation practice of 10-12 minutes per day. I asked Jay why he meditates and he responded, “I remember at one point my dad said to me, ‘Jay, you are wishing your life away. You are always obsessed with the future, what’s going to happen, what the outcome is going to be.’ That was the first sign to me that I needed to focus on the now.”

If you are reading this, my question to you is: what is wrong with things as they currently are? It is so easy in the coaching profession to worry about the next game, the next season, the next big job, and very easy to forget that coaching is a privilege and a craft. Adding gratitude for the things you have will help you stop worrying about the things you are without. What you will find is that the things you have are actually pretty great. That is not to say that ambition to be a professional coach or a national team coach is bad, but if you are constantly worried about the future, you will certainly miss out on the present.


It is no coincidence that Jay’s interest in mindfulness has led him to study and teach psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University. He believes that mental toughness is the missing ingredient in the development of athletes in the United States. Instead of the mental toughness that is often thrown around by coaches who make their players do sprints at the end of training and claim that they are training mental toughness, Jay defines mental toughness as “playing at the same level, all the time, both in practice and in competition.”

I like this quote and it pairs nicely with a quote that I love by the University of Houston cross country coach, Steve Magness: “People have a misconception on what toughness is. It isn’t about gritting your teeth and powering through an obstacle. It’s not about mud runs and silly things that look difficult, but aren’t. Toughness is about making the right decisions under stress and fatigue. It’s about having the ability and wherewithal to slow the world down, make the right decisions, or choose the correct coping strategy.”

If you are one of these coaches that thinks wall sits for 20 minutes or walking lunges until your players puke is building mental toughness, then I highly suggest you take a step back and think more about what you want your athletes to do in crucial moments. Do you really want them to grit their teeth and tighten up? Or do you want them to be clear in their thinking, narrow their focus, and execute the game plan?


Jay doesn’t believe we practice well in the United States because of the spotlight media puts on coaches. In fact, professional sports have spoiled youth sports in a lot of ways. Youth coaches see guys like Pep Guardiola screaming from the sidelines and being praised for their tactical adjustments and that becomes their model of success. “What you see is a very coach-centered sporting culture. The players show up and they stand around passing a ball and they wait for the coach to come out and tell them what to do.” You won’t see that at Ohio Wesleyan.

At the beginning of each week, Jay meets with each player and asks them what they would like to improve in the coming week. Now, during training Jay might go around to each player and ask them what their goals are for the upcoming session and he expects them to have one. Jay gets responses like “improve my passing with my weaker foot,” but he will push those players to make their goals even more specific. How many passes will you complete with your weaker foot? How many will you attempt? Jay has created true deliberate practice in this sense. His players are working on a specific weakness of theirs and by making the goal tangible, he has created a self-evaluating feedback loop. The players don’t need to go to Jay to ask him how they did, they are tasked with coming up with the skill (improve passing with weaker foot), the objective (attempt 10 passes and complete 8), and the evaluation (did I meet my objective and how can I improve for next time?).

Jay’s player-centered approach to practice has resulted in the opposite of the coach-centered approach to practice described earlier. “If you were to come to one of our practices, we usually train at 4:00 pm and you would see every single player on the field by 3:15 pm doing something to make themselves better. The guys have goals, they want to become better players, and while most teams start practice by having their players pass the ball in a circle talking about the NFL game last night, our players are working on themselves.”

Jay truly lives and breathes his philosophy on a daily basis. In fact, Jay Martin has never, in 40 years, seen an Ohio Wesleyan soccer player lift weights. “The reason is because when they are in the weight room they are doing it so they become fitter, stronger, and better players. As soon as I walk in the door, it becomes extrinsic motivation and I don’t want them lifting weights because of me.” Jay has created an environment that promotes intrinsic motivation. I know I have been guilty as a coach of trying to motivate my players with extrinsic methods. For example, I have said things like, “Okay, guys, last sprint and if everyone makes it in 20 seconds, we are done for the day.” Well, now they are only going to work hard so that they can go home. Is that what I want? Is that what any coach wants? What coaches want is for their players to be intrinsically motivated, meaning that they are working hard for internal rewards like becoming a better player. “I never want to hear one of my former players tell me that they played for me. I hate that. They played for themselves and their teammates and hopefully there is some sort of intrinsic joy or motivation for playing soccer.”


By now you are well aware that Jay Martin does not measure himself by wins and losses. However, that doesn’t mean he treats games as if they do not exist. You can still win a lot of games and be focused on the process, in fact, I think you will win more games by being focused on the process because you are more concerned with what actually matters. Jay mentioned how important it is for coaches to know the difference between attributions and excuses. Excuses live in the outcome-oriented world. They are the reasons we use to explain a loss—blaming the referee, the pitch conditions, or the wind. On the other hand, Jay, as a process-oriented coach, is concerned with attributions. “Attributions are the reasons for your success or failure, not excuses. To what do you attribute success? To what do you attribute failure? Any good coach or business man needs to understand attributions because you need to learn and understand why certain things happened. Not the referee or the rainy conditions, but the legitimate reasons for success and failure. A good coach figures out what those are and gets better.” An example of an attribution may be a tactical reason why your team lost the game. For example, if your team plays a 1-4-3-3 formation and the opponent played with a diamond-shaped midfield, perhaps their 4v3 advantage in the center of the field was why your team struggled to defend and maintain possession. That would be an attribution. That is process-oriented because it is something you can control. Now you can go back to the office and improve the way you watch film, plan training, and prepare your team for the next opponent.

Jay Martin is a living, breathing example of a coach that decides on his philosophy and lives it on a daily basis. Jay has an exercise he does with his team every year where he gives them a list of 400 values. He gives the team about an hour to narrow that down to a top 10. Then the team needs to present to him their top 5 values ranked 5 through 1. This is also an exercise that Jay recommends to coaches as well. For example, let’s say your top 5 values are honesty, loyalty, accountability, kindness, and responsibility. You would then build your coaching philosophy with those words as your foundation.

I will be the first to admit that, until I talked with Jay, I never clearly defined the values that guide me as a coach. Following the 2016 season, I found myself reflecting over the winter break on how I acted during the season. Let me just say that I was far from living and coaching by the values I want to represent. The question for you now is how have you been acting as a coach? Does that align with the values you hold to be important? Would your players describe you by your values? If you said no to these last two questions, then you need to stop reading and go through Jay’s exercise. Come up with a list of values and narrow that list to a top 10 or 15. Take the time to narrow that list to a top 3 or 5. Now, what is your coaching philosophy?

Last, Jay recommends that coaches be true to themselves. “In the end, you have to go to sleep with yourself and you have to be content with the decisions you made and why you made those decisions. I’ve seen so many coaches try to be Pep Guardiola or somebody else. You can’t do that. Only Pep can be Pep. So, if you just stay true to your values and your philosophy, it goes so far in terms of making you a quality coach.”

Out of 100 podcast episodes, only one episode has come with tweets praising the guest for the impact they had on their lives. That guest was Jay Martin. Former players, former assistants, and current players all commented on our episode about how Jay had changed their lives and impacted them in such a positive way. From sneaking into Bayern Munich sessions in the 1970s to winning a National Championship in the 1990s to continuing to improve in 2017, Jay has proven that in the end it is the relationships that really matter. Winning can be fun. Losing can be hard. “But in the end, it is the relationships with the players that will get you through the tough times.”




Rene Meulensteen is a Dutch professional soccer manager that last worked for Maccabai Haifa FC. He is probably best known for his work with Manchester United as the first team coach under Sir Alex Ferguson from 2007-2013. He also served as the reserve team manager in 2005 and worked in the youth academy from 2001 to 2006 where he worked with players like Gerard Pique and Danny Welbeck. Rene also managed Fulham F.C. in the English Premier League for a spell during the 2013 season. Rene mentored coach Wiel Coerver and has a company called the Meulensteed Method dedicated to educating coaches on youth development.

You’re not a real coach until you get fired — The player jigsaw puzzle as the key to youth development — Letting the players make the decisions — Why you should always add something to your players’ game, but never change it — Success doesn’t come for free

Rene Meulensteen was fired from Maccabai Haifa FC during the writing of this book. That is the nature of this business. That is the beauty of this book and these giants that we learn from. Everyone in this book has failed many times in their life. Each time they picked themselves back up, learned from their mistakes, and tried again.

The infamous trader and author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, is currently writing a book called Skin in the Game. The basic idea is that if someone doesn’t have skin in the game, then you shouldn’t listen to them. Why would you invest your money in a stock that your financial advisor wouldn’t invest his own in? Every day the soccer world hears from pundits on major television networks who have never coached a day in their life but enjoy criticizing a manager’s tactics or training methods. Our world should be celebrating failed managers, not castigating them. They should be celebrated like heroes returning from war and we should all relish in their stories and experiences. Rene Meulensteen failed at Fulham and Maccabai Haifa FC, which means that his chapter and his experiences may be the most useful of them all.


Claudio Ranieri won the Barclays Premier League with Leicester City one season after they finished one place above relegation. In August 2015, Leicester City was predicted as 5000 to 1 underdogs to win the premier league. In May 2016, a $100 bet on Leicester to win the Premier League would have resulted in a pay day of $500,000. In February of 2017, Claudio Ranieri was sacked as the manager at Leicester City.

Bob Bradley was hired as the first American coach to ever manage in the Premier League when he took over Swansea City in October of 2016. Less than 3 months later Bradley was fired.

Rene Meulensteen was hired as the manager at Fulham FC in December of 2013. In February of 2014, Rene Meulensteen was fired as the manager of Fulham FC. Rene was hired in August of 2016 to take over Maccabai Haifa FC before being let go in February of 2017.

I could write a 2,000-page novel with more examples of managers that were hired and fired in the most unceremonious of circumstances. The reason I mention these circumstances is to paint a picture of what it is like to manage at the highest level. It is cut-throat. However, even Rene wouldn’t want you to feel sorry for him. “Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the game. The Premier League has become an uncontrollable monster with the money and TV rights. Every club has their own expectations, but the pressure is the same. The top six are fighting for Champions League places, the middle of the table are fighting for Europe, and there are others just trying to stay in the league and avoid relegation, so there is a constant level of pressure.”

Often it seems that coaching at the highest level is a near-impossible situation. Rene said, “For players to buy in and understand the coach’s philosophy and to execute it properly, it takes a season to a season and a half, but the harsh truth is that 9 out of 10 coaches don’t get that kind of time.” However, there are countless examples of the 1 out of 10 clubs that do give their manager time. Tottenham, under Mauricio Pochettino, climbed into the title race in 2017 after finishing outside of Champions League soccer following his first season in charge. “I think clubs that provide time to managers are rewarded if they can stick to their guns during tough times.”

It is difficult for Meulensteen not to look back at his time at Fulham and wonder what if. Rene thrived for six seasons as first team coach at Manchester United, helping lead the club to three League Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup, a Champions League title, and four Premier League titles. However, his first spell on his own was a massive failure. The thing that probably most hindered Rene was his time at Manchester United. “I came from Man United, where we did what we wanted with the ball, we played dominating soccer, but I realized that was almost impossible at Fulham.” Rene also said, “The harsh reality of topflight soccer is that there is only one medicine and that is winning.”

Premier League coaches like Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce have made careers out of saving teams from relegation with very pragmatic, defensive soccer that gets results through the use of via negativa. Nassim Taleb explains that via negativa is the philosophy of winning by not losing. Meulensteen admits that his biggest fault at Fulham was prioritizing how