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From the Rev: Keep Coaching

The typical coaching contract for coaches in Major League Soccer is three years, though the average length of stay is somewhere closer to 2 years (2.3 according to one source). If those statistics are comparative (there is some question to how scientific) to other leagues, then MLS coaches are among the lowest in terms of average length of stay among professional sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) as suggested by this New York Times article written in 2008. So what has to happen in that 2.3 years that an MLS coach takes the reins? There are several things that a new head coach must undertake, but before looking at a few important tasks, let’s look at a few reasons for changes in the management of a club.

1. Rebuilding – a typical reason for replacing a head coach in professional sport is because of an under-performing team. Here, ownership and fans alike, often give new coaches leniency in the demands for the teams improvement. The coach works to rebuild (sometimes with a few remaining pieces or from the “ground-up”) by bringing in new staff (loyal or familiar to the coach) and making a lot of personnel decisions (players, strategy, tactics, etc.). Rebuilding situations can often garner a coach more than the average length of stay provided that team executives see marked improvement and progress.

2. Replacing – the truth is, in the world of business and sport, people fall out of favor. Relationships sour, opinions and philosophies differ, and people sometimes just plainly do not get along. Other reasons for replacing may not be for the typical, negative situations that occur in sport – for example, a head coach leaving for a better or higher position or retiring. Replacing can present challenges for a new head coach depending on the type of legacy and success that a previous coach may have had. Sometimes this can create tremendous pressure – the new head coach being called on to live up to certain high expectations (from the past or for the future).

But, whatever the reason(s) for making a change at the helm, there are certain tasks for a new head coach to accomplish that are critical within that short time frame. I suggest a few below:

1. Cast a vision – the biblical adage “Without vision the people will perish” (Exodus 32:35) holds true for teams in sport as well as people in nations. If a team (and all the components that comprise a team) does not know where it is going and have someone to lead them there, there will be a tremendous amount of struggle and discontent.

2. Build unity – not everyone will agree with the philosophy or practice of the top man. And many will show their true colors within a short amount of time – a coach has to deal with those who are not unified in the vision and direction of the team because those who are not on board will in the least slow down the progress of a team or at the worst, disrupt and thwart the teams direction.

3. Achieve success – regardless of words and promises of ownership and executive management, a modicum of success is desired. Sometimes those results are tangibly laid out before coaches as targets to reach. Subjectivity comes to play with each organization on the realistic nature of those particular goals.

While not an exhaustive list of coaching tasks, the above is fairly representative of some basic demands on a head coach in any sport (and many of these can translate into the work force as well). The question remains though, can a head coach accomplish these things in 2.3 years (MLS)? There are other influencing factors for consideration (for example, how supportive a team owner may be – whether in resourcing or financing or how much power or control is given to a head coach, etc.) that may make one coaching situation easier or more difficult than another, but hopefully it is clear to see how difficult it is to keep coaching.

Friends reading this, you might wonder why this musing and contemplation – but it is a consideration that weighs heavily on the team chaplain. If the average length of stay in MLS is 2.3 years, that is not long for building trust, relationship, and investing into someone’s life – especially, when this work is often limited to the time and resource constraints of one or two individuals. I would ask that your prayers be two-fold: first, for the chaplains of CrossTraining as we minister to people in this volatile work environment. Second, for the coaches and individuals themselves, as many have families and others dependent upon them. It can be a traumatic and difficult task to “keep coaching” as it means likely and frequent upheavals and moves, immense pressure and burdens to succeed, and difficulty in opening up and trusting others (like the chaplain) who serve for many years under many different coaches or leaders.

If my words of encouragement to a coach are “keep coaching,” then perhaps the word to us chaplains in sport might be “keep chaplaining.” And God willing, we will do so.


Rev. Brad Kenney

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