What’s your story?

Story

I wrote this blog post almost 1 year ago but never published it. I am sure my ego was in charge so here goes…..

My earliest memories of kicking a ball was well before we got into the competitive world of organised football around 8 years old. In these early days I just loved kicking a ball endlessly. Most of the time it was on the street directly outside our front door. There were two concrete posts which we used as goals. Grass on one side and a multi-purpose surface on the other side (concrete slabs and tarmac). On the good days we used the grass but on the majority of days when it was raining then it was the ‘multi’ court. Cars were never an issue as they took their chance if it was left too near our ‘goals’ Other times we used garage doors as goals. The game was generally the same (repetition, repetition, repetition) with usually 1 keeper and 2 or 3 outfield players knocking in crosses from both sides. Volleys, half-volleys, headers. If you scored then you went one up and if it went past then a goal to the goalkeeper. We would lose ourselves for hours in this simple game of ‘crossy’ During this time maybe a big game would evolve either down the local school grass pitch or next to the adjacent garages where we had effectively an enclosed pitch of garages on one side and a fence surrounding the rest of the perimeter . This meant the ball never left the pitch. The ages ranged from us being the youngest but we played with boys maybe 4 or 5 years older. Yes, we were easily pushed off the ball but we kept coming back for more. Most nights and weekends were spent in this fantastic learning environment.

So we moved on to organised football with East Mains Thistle. First year of full 11-a-side at under 9’s. I played a year above myself as my friends were in this age group. Memories of gravel pitches at Brancumhall with blowing gales. Standing at the back trying to be a centre back. Although this was our first taste of wearing a proper strip, the street games continued and we even had a ‘street team’ I did ok and won a few medals during these early years. You seemed to get a medal for everything back then and had a board full of them. I couldn’t tell you what most of them were for.

At around 12, I trialled for Celtic Boys Club. They were the premier club in Scotland at the time and pretty much regarded  as such. In my trial I played directly against Peter Grant, who went on to play for Celtic and Scotland. I must’ve done alright as I got in. This led to me being part of a team who won every game they played for the first two years including two Scottish Cups. My third season was the last one as we lost our 3rd Scottish Cup final appearance. During this time I signed an ‘S’ for Hamilton Accies which meant I was also training with them. Subsequently, I left Celtic BC and joined Aberdeen BC who were based in East Kilbride. A couple of good seasons there but the team finished at under 16’s. At the end of the season I was also released by Hamilton Accies. I then joined East Kilbride YC for two great seasons at under 18. This was rounded off by winning the Scottish under 18 League Cup (I think). This was a brilliant time playing with a bunch of mates from EK. Not only a brilliant time but a great set of boys who just had a great laugh.

In effect my youth football was now over. I was working and joined EKYM who played in the Scottish Amateur league. A good team and again great bunch of local lads. During this time I also turned out and played a few reserve games for Partick Thistle and Airdrie. It was during my third game for Partick that they said they liked me but (being gently let down) asked me to go to Ashfield and play junior football. As a young boy, this was a steep learning curve playing against a lot of ex-pros and experienced junior players. It certainly toughened me up. My problem was I always lacked pace but junior football was perfect for me. Over the next ten years included two spells at Ashfield, a brief season at EK Thistle and was finished off at Neilston Juniors where I probably enjoyed my best spell of football. However at 29, I tore my ankle ligaments and was out for a year. I then made my comeback after the next pre-season and was really fit and ready to go. In a friendly against St. Mirren I stretched for a ball and managed to tear my knee ligaments. So there it is at 30 years old and career over. A failed footballer.

Everyone reminisces fondly on their career and we remember the good times. I notice in Facebook and Twitter how good we all were!! This is where the ego has created an image of ourselves that has been created in our mind. I know I was ok to a certain level but never good enough to make it to the top. That realism still hurts today and that is, I believe, why I coach the way I do. Being a ‘failed footballer’ allows me to see the mistakes I made and try and help the kids I coach.

As a player, I felt too much stress in trying to win. It was drummed into me that winning was everything and I remember the tears when games were lost. I am pretty sure this was the effect of 3 years at Celtic BC but is still stayed with me in later years. My play was too fearful. As a coach, I now try to go the opposite way and get across that winning is only an outcome and not always within our control. Developing players to be the best they can be and playing the right way is key to my coaching.

Consequently, I have learned all the ways not to create a ‘failed footballer’ Instead I hope to build people who have a love of the game and doesn’t matter where they play and at what level. My story is not complete and I am the ‘director’ of it. Like all good stories, we face a challenge to overcome. I am woking to overcome this baggage and enlighten the players that there is a ‘way’ for all of them, no matter their ability.

So what is your story? Is it the ego driven narrative of how good you were or can you learn and apply it to your current situation? This is what I am trying to do but only my players will be a judge of its success.

What’s your story?

Egoic Dream Killers

dth

Having enjoyed a little blogging break to recharge the batteries and prepare for the new season ahead, It’s time to get back in the saddle. My last blog ‘Field of Dreams’ created a lot of positive feedback with many actually asking where this club was from and how could they visit!! Unfortunately this was my vision and dream for how it could be. Don’t get me wrong, my own club is very much following this path but we still have some distance to travel.

As my footnote in the previous blog suggested I would cover what would get in the way of fulfilling this dream. So, after only four matches into the new season there has been plenty to reinforce the Egoic Dream Killers who abound our clubs.

The feeling of losing a game/cup final/goal is just the ego telling you that it is in charge. Does that ‘oh so important win’ really matter? Is your meaning and purpose tied to an external event that you have no influence over? The ego is constantly running your life by telling you that you need MORE. More wins, more plastic cups, more success. So what happens when all this winning and success stops (and it will) and you are still tied to that same ego? Depression/feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. Unless you have a bigger purpose and meaning in your life then you are wide open to these egoic influences.

If you really identify yourself with wins and losses then you are always at the behest of your ego. Only when you start to quieten that egoic voice and reduce the impact of your ego by having a higher purpose will you start to enter a new plane of wisdom and understanding. Only then will you start to understand how many problems that the ego is causing you. This will start a transition from having a selfish outer purpose (wins/trophies etc) to an inner purpose where you begin to understand that the most important thing is to realise what that purpose is.

So how do we tell if the ego is in charge and driving the bus? Easy, just test it out. Watch a game and just observe the actions from the coaches and parents at the side of the park. If you are witnessing lots of stress, anger, complaining, fear, blame or other negative reactions then you are seeing the manifestations of all these ego’s together. This is self-fulfilling as you will see the ‘enemies’ being created in the opposition players/coaches and/or the referee. As all ego’s battle it out, they continually reinforce each other to make the ego’s stronger. They reach a crescendo and the problems have now become massive as all the ego’s involved fight for superiority (This is what the ego does!). The ego causes separateness in people as we move apart. This is now the opposite direction in which we should be moving if we want to work together to get better. We need to be inclusive rather than this exclusive behaviour.

The bottom line (and I know this is extremely difficult) is we have to move away from “my team” (exclusive) to “our game” (inclusive). We (individually and collectively), need to call out the ego and replace it with an inner purpose where we are still and calm and can then work together for the betterment of our game as a whole. Yes, of course I am called an idealist but only when we move from independence to inter-dependence will see progress, and ultimately results.

So all you Egoic Dream Killers who try to bring us down, remember we are in this for the long haul and not the short term plastic trophies you so crave. I will work collaboratively with this constant message that the ego does us no favours but achieving a higher purpose does. My larger purpose is to keep this dream alive for the good of the game.

 

 

Egoic Dream Killers

Field of Dreams

It was 3pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon. This was not just any Saturday afternoon as our captain and vice-captain, JC and Bill led the boys out in their first game of the opening of our new stadium, Murray Field. Not only was it our first match at the purpose built ground but it was our first game in the senior ranks. The 5 year project was coming to fruition. A dream to get a town of just over 10,000 people, into the professional game with a structure and philosophy which was like no other. Early on we had adopted our strapline of Mes Que Un Club (MQUC) and we were determined to do it differently.

The team who took to the pitch that day were mostly players who had come through the player pathway which took 5 year old boys and girls and gave them exceptional individual coaching from day 1. Indeed JC and Bill had both joined the club as 5 year olds and were now the rock solid central defence the team was built on. They were at their peak and the rest of the team had the energy, skills and bond that allowed them to progress through the amateur ranks to get to the professional game. 80% of the squad had followed a similar route. The other players who came in had to match these values or they wouldn’t last long here.

The stadium had been built by a community partnership involving all the local businesses, the local people and our main sponsor the Murray family. Indeed they had taken an active interest in the whole project as it aligned with their values of a strong work ethic, developing talent and a community with sport at the heart of it. Today, the stadium was full with over 5,000 people coming out to add support. The town had effectively shut down as we moved to the outskirts where the stadium had been built. The catering facilities were run by the local butcher and baker. The club shop was staffed by our younger players and the pre-match entertainment was provided by DMC, our local cheer champions. Not only was it a fantastic stadium but it was also built in line with our goal based on 100% renewable energy. The solar panels on the roof and the wind turbines and the mini CHP plant meant not only was this benefitting the stadium but provided free electricity for the local residents.

As the players did their warm-up, it was noticeable that it was exactly the same as I had observed earlier in the day when a few of the players on the field were coaching some of the younger teams in the morning. No lines, no boring drills but a ball for each person and working on technique as part of the warm-up. Individual development has always been our goal, even at the expense of winning. This is part of our DNA, this is how we do it here. From 5-18 we couldn’t care less if we never won anything. The plastic cups that are so revered by many are inconsequential. We aim to make better people and better players by giving them a lifelong love of the game. We aim to have as many local people playing as we possibly can so whether you are 5 or 55 or even 85 then there is an option to play. Our local health record is the best in the country because we believe wholeheartedly in this ‘system view’ where everything is connected.

Our crowd and environment at the side of the park is very different from what you would expect. The spectators which are all local people understand our culture so there are no shouts of abuse at players or refs. Supporters are mixed together and we hope our approach will rub off on others. You will never hear a spectator telling a player what to do. Only encouraging shouts of ‘well done’ or lots of clapping are heard. Indeed the communication from the coaches is very similar. No berating players or telling them. No joystick coaches but a nurturing and calm environment where players are allowed to make mistakes and learn. We have no separate dugouts but an area where our coaches and our opposition coaches stand together and compare notes, providing feedback to each other in a constructive manner. A rising tide raises all ships is the aim.

The match starts on the beautiful hybrid astro/grass pitch. The football is a joy to watch. The ball is always played on the ground. No big hoofs up the park and hoping. The players are comfortable on the ball. The movement is great and the supporters who have learned over the years to appreciate this is how football should be played. We know this doesn’t always result in winning the match but we have never bothered with the scoreboard and we won’t start now we are in the professional game. Indeed, our aim is still to be part of the process where we can produce players with the correct values and behaviours that would allow them to get to the top. Better people generally make better players. We work on this religiously and follow some All Blacks principles like ‘Sweeping the Sheds’ and ‘Play with purpose – Ask Why’ plus ‘Follow the Geese’ to create a ‘One Club’ feel.

As the match progressed, we continued to try to apply our game. It was so pleasing to see this team progress from a group of amateurs 5 years ago to a well oiled machine, led to by our two stalwarts at the back and our 16 year old creative playmaker in midfield. The boys did great but unfortunately the more experienced team got the better of us in a 5-4 defeat which had everything that is good about the game. Generally people equate sports success with winning but why does it need to be? We came off the park having witnessed a great game. Loads of good football with entertainment in a friendly environment. Most clubs will be disappointed in a defeat but not us. We rejected that notion years ago. There is a deeper meaning to sport. This meaning and purpose is developing our players as better people first. This took time and many players and coaches left the club to chase trophies elsewhere. We set out to convince players, coaches and parents there was a different way of doing things and to adopt a developmental and healthier outlook within our club. We are now seeing the results of this ‘road less travelled’

After completing our warm down, we were joined by our opponents players, coaches and supporters in our adjacent sports cafe. The place was buzzing as we spent a good few hours recollecting the great moments from the match as the area became the focal point for the whole town. At around 7pm, the local band set up which comprised a few faces who were part of our football programme and indeed some were still playing at the club. This kicked off the second part of the day as we enjoyed a night of community spirit, chat and dance. A brilliant day was ended around midnight as we bid fairwell to our guests and got tidied up to prepare for Sunday’s match where our Woman’s team are hosting local rivals Stirling University in their first game at Murray Field.

As I wandered home and fell into bed, I reminisced about today and thought this is more than a club (MQUC), we are the community. I drifted off to sleep with a big smile on my face.

As I woke up from my Field of Dreams. There was only one reaction. ‘Build it and they will come’

Footnote: My next blog will cover what would kill this dream.

Field of Dreams

Kill Your EGO

Ego 1

I have decided it is time to go to war with the EGO. Both mines and yours. The ego has, without doubt, a detrimental effect on performance and wellbeing. So let’s start to diminish its influence on each and every one of us. Remember the ego is not you but rather a self-image you have created to seek approval from other people. It feeds on power and lives in a state of fear.

If we are to perform at our optimum level then we need to remove all thoughts, doubts and that little voice in our head that says “you’re not good enough” We need to be in the present to have any chance of reaching a state of ‘flow’ If you can be present and be in ‘flow’ then you have effectively silenced the egoic voice in your head. You are in the moment and your complete attention is on the task at hand. Flow and ego cannot exist in the same space.

I have achieved the ‘flow’ state state a few times while playing but nowhere near enough. In the vast majority of games I played with ‘fear’ and my egoic voice kept telling me ‘I wasn’t fast enough’ or ‘I wasn’t skillful enough’ or ‘that centre forward is way better than you’  There is no doubt in my mind that this thinking had a deleterious effect on my performance. The fear was never far away and that voice stoked the fire. I know this fear based thinking must have been the vast majority of the time as I can remember only a handful of games where I seemed to silence the voice and achieve the ‘flow’ state. I can still remember the games when it all came very easy. I read the game with ease. I seemed to have a 6th sense of where the ball was going before everyone else did. My passes never missed a team-mate. Tackles were made and headers won with no real effort.

Even 30 years later, I can remember particular games where I achieved this state. A midweek game against Maryhill when I wasn’t meant to be playing. I had arrived late and was looking forward to a ‘night off’ However at the last minute I had to step in as we had some last minute injuries. There was virtually no time to think and my expectations were extremely low (I had even eaten a pizza about 30 mins before KO!) So it was a quick change and on to the park. Whatever happened that night, it was magical. Everything worked and it was so easy. I even capped it off with a goal. Another time was away to Larkhall. I was loaded with cold and shouldn’t have really been there but thought I would ‘sweat’ it out. I knew I wasn’t fit to play but something kicked in again and I seemed to know where every ball was going before it left. I cruised it again and had a very satisfying win. The last one was a game against Arthurlie at home in Brig O’Lea. This was our local derby and I was playing against their ‘star’ centre forward who went on to have a great senior career. I just had one of those games where I won everything and hardly gave him a kick at the ball. On reflecting over these games, there seems to be common themes at play. Firstly, my expectations were low before I started the game. Subsequently, I felt no pressure going out to play. Lastly, I was operating in the present. Consequently, the combination of low expectations and letting my game go with the flow produced some of the best performances I can remember.

I can only conclude that by removing the ego in these games and thus reducing any expectations that performance is enhanced. This raises the question on how we can achieve the flow state in every situation? If we start with my own hypothesis that the ego raises expectations, thus creating a self-image that you are then trying to live up to. Unfortunately in striving to live up to it, you are having an adverse effect on performance.

My answer is to try and kill the ego or at least try and silence it for a period. Lower your expectations (watch out as your egoic voice will attempt to hijack you!) and just go out and enjoy playing. Be present. Take it all in. Don’t think of past performances or future events, they are just another egoic distraction. Be in the ‘NOW’

I spoke to a player last week who struggled in a game despite a great performance the previous week. After chatting, I asked him what he thought the difference was. He said ” last week you told me not to care and just to go out and express myself. I felt really free and it felt good. This week I had loads of problems at school and home and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. My mind was elsewhere I just couldn’t concentrate on the game.” The results were clear:

Free mind + No Fear = Great performance

Cluttered mind + Fear = Poor performance

Our ego really does work against us. That damn constant voice questioning our every move. Until we realise that ego is a problem we will never reach our optimum. There are many ways to address that incessant voice. The first step is living in the present. If you solely focus on what you are doing then the voice doesn’t get a chance to influence your actions. You will silence it and your performance will improve.

Ignore the past, it is done. The future has a myriad of options which are too many to think about. The only solution is to live in the present. The present moment is all we have.

At the end of the day, does it really matter? We are but a spec of dust on this planet spinning uncontrollably through the cosmos. Will getting 3 points in a game  really make a dent in the universe? The ego will tell you it does!

Be Here Now!

Kill Your EGO

I am Grateful

Gratitude

I am grateful for every single player in my team. I wouldn’t change one of them. They are all different and that is why I am so thankful for them. Every session is a joy and every player contributes in so many different ways. It is a pleasure to be their coach and I am truly grateful.

I am grateful to every coach at our club. Every single one of them gives up their precious time to coach, develop, mentor, guide and care for all the players within their teams. Is every coach a tactical genius? No. Is every coach deeply knowledgeable in football? No. Does every coach do their best with what they have? Absolutely YES and I am grateful to every single coach, helper and committee member that make our club such a great place to be.

I am grateful for every parent (and grand-parent) that brings their kids to our club. My gratitude goes out to both the ones who turn up to every game but also the ones who don’t but by just you encouraging your son or daughter to come and get involved is good enough for me.

I am grateful to the clubs we play against. Without them, our players couldn’t test their progress. They make us better. They raise our bar. Think of the next game and if the opposition didn’t turn up, then who would we be playing against? Would it be as much fun? Stop seeing them as rivals and let’s work together for the better of the game.

I am grateful for the referees. This is when people think I have now lost it!! I hear some of the abuse the refs get in our leagues and it really is shameful. Is 3 points so important that you need to ‘abuse’ a fellow human being? I have watched senior people do this at the side of the park and just been bewildered by it. I would love to see the reaction if the shoe was on the other foot and people at work carried on like this. The workplace would be very different! I am grateful to every individual in black that has the courage to go out in testing circumstances allowing yourselves to be verbally abused. You have my utmost admiration and I am truly grateful you facilitate our teams playing week in, week out.

I am grateful to all my ex-team-mates, coaches, managers and officials. You have shaped me into being what I am today.  You have developed my great love of the beautiful game. which has lasted 50 years. There is a bit of you in everything I do. I am grateful that I have taken your good points and learned from your not so good points and put it all together to create my own beliefs and vision of our game.

Finally, I am grateful for my wife, family and close friends. Without your support and understanding, I would not be able to pursue my constant fascination with this crazy sport. Thanks for putting up with me!

Hopefully, I have included everyone that I am grateful for! The reason for this is that I don’t always say thank you when I should. I don’t express my gratitude as I should and this is my attempt to fill this void.

Gratefulness gives the opportunity to be happy. I pondered the question: ‘Are happy people grateful or are grateful people happy?’ I am pretty sure it is the latter as I believe, gratefulness gives you an opportunity to be happy.

If you are grateful then you are not fearful. You have a sense of enough. You have everything you need. It removes the ego. The ego is based on scarcity and greed. It is driven by fear and worry. Who wants to be in this state? By practicing  gratitude, you are not in a state of worry or fear. You are living in the present. The ego has been put in its box. Now that is something I am grateful for.

So the next time you are feeling worry and fear. Practice gratitude. It really works.

I am grateful to you for reading this. Give it a try! It only works in any situation!!

 

 

I am Grateful

Eureka – This Is Groundbreaking

Last week both my son and I returned from the astro pitch where we took off our football boots and managed to leave a few piles of little black pellets. A common occurrence for both of us and a source of frustration for my wife. Forty years ago, I am sure my own mother used similar words when I came home with muddy boots and managed to trample it through the hall carpet. This got me thinking on what are all the differences in our beautiful game from the muddy boots days. Here are a few to get us started:

Ash parks v Astro parks

Streetlights v Floodlights

‘S’ Forms v Academies

Street Teams v SSG

Woolworth (3 Stripes) v Adidas (3 Stripes)

Any strip at training v Full training and playing kit provided

3 matches at weekend v 1 match at weekend

Dragged in from playing v Dragged out to play

30 hours+ v 10 hours

Subbuteo v FIFA

Belle Stars v Doncaster Belles

10-21er v Conditioned game

1 sub v Rolling subs

Mitre Mouldmaster v Any modern football

Dad Coach v Dad Coach with coaching badges

No Goalie Gloves v Goalie gloves designed by NASA

Sock Flashes (remember Leeds Utd) v Nothing to compare!

Crab Football v Futsal

Qualifying for European and World Cup finals v The Widerness

I am not saying it was all great back in the day. I can assure you that cold showers following a freezing day being hit by a Mitre Mouldmaster on an ash park was not the greatest of fun!! However, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

Big strides have been made in many aspects of our games but why are we worse off?

There are of course a myriad of problems and solutions and I have discussed many on previous blogs. However, I think just one of the above would revolutionise our gane and turn us into World Cup winners. My vote to bring back sock flashes will propel us back into the world’s elite. Think about it, who else is wearing this groundbreaking technology. The Leeds United team of the 70’s started the trend and look how successful they became. Bring them back and let’s get back to where we belong in world football!!

socks

PS Please feel free to add to the above list. I would be interested to hear your thoughts from the past v the present.

Enjoy!!

Eureka – This Is Groundbreaking

A Football Parable

coach5.jpg

This is the story of an old coach who had been with the same club for a very long time.

One day his best player left the team to join a so called ‘elite’ team. Many parents consoled the coach saying that was such bad luck.

The coach responded ” Maybe”

The following month the player returned as he was unable to settle in his new team. Not only did he return but he brought with him another three very strong players which would make the team much better and would now be a certainty for winning the league. The majority of parents were delighted and said to the coach ‘We’ll win every game with these new players’

The coach responded “Maybe”

The following month all four players were signed by professional clubs leaving a depleted and weakened squad. Again the parents lamented at this unfortunate turn.

The coach responded “Maybe”

Losing all four players meant that some fringe players had to take a leading role and develop quickly as games were coming thick and fast. With so much more game time one of them developed so quickly that he was called up to the national squad. A great achievement for a small club like ours said one of the parents.

The coach responded “Maybe”

The following month after being ‘capped’ by his country, it was clear that the fame had got to this player as he treated his existing team-mates with contempt. The parents raised this with the coach, saying how it was having a poor effect on team morale and the team performances.

The coach, in his usual manner, responded “Maybe”

As team spirit deteriorated and the team slipped down the league, the parents were in uproar and attempted to blame the coach for their current position.

The coach looked at them hard and said “Maybe”

Following weeks of turmoil and in-fighting the coach decided that it was time for him to leave. Consequently the team folded.

When the coach was asked if he could have done anything to stop this happening then I am sure, by now, you know what his response was!!

This story was based on an old Taoist parable involving a farmer and shows us how to look at events without judging or interpreting them. We never know how events will unravel when they are occuring. We don’t know what is good or bad in the moment.

As a coach, we are never fully in control. We may influence but cannot control. An event is never ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it just ‘is’

It is our own thinking that it gives it meaning.  To finish on Shakespeare “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

Maybe!

A Football Parable