Kurt Vonnegut was one of the greatest fictional authors of the 20th century. He wrote such famous books as Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle. He was also an outstanding soccer coach. Well, actually, I’m making that last bit up. In fact, I don’t know whether he even liked soccer, let alone coached the sport. So, why would I tell such a blatant lie? One thing that Vonnegut did well was write; he authored numerous novels, short stories, and essays, winning many prestigious awards and accolades along the way. He was adept at composing a compelling narrative with clear, easy to understand writing, developing and shaping his fictional world to tell a meaningful story. And this is similar to what a soccer coach must do each season. Soccer coaches must create a style of play (compose a compelling narrative), develop and implement a training plan (clear, easy to understand writing), all with the aim of achieving the team goals and objectives (developing and shaping his fictional world to tell a meaningful story).
Vonnegut taught fiction writing and often shared his expertise with other budding writers. He offered simple, straight-forward advice. He was particularly interested in clear and efficient writing which told a story with style. Style is particularly important, according to Vonnegut, as it is the vehicle through which the author reveals him or herself to the readers, either accidentally or intentionally. Soccer coaches also reveal their style through their choice of strategy and tactics, and in how they prepare their team. Vonnegut felt that all fiction writers should “examine their writing style with the idea of improving it” as a “mark of respect for [the] readers.” Similarly, coaches must constantly review and revise their coaching methods and ideas so that they can continuously improve themselves and their players. He went on to say, “If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead…”
Below is Vonnegut’s tips on writing with style. I have taken each of his seven tips and re-directed it slightly towards coaching a soccer team.
How to Write (Coach) With Style, by Kurt Vonnegut
1. Find a subject you care about
Soccer is meant to be played with a certain style. Coaches should find a playing style that suits their character, their team’s character, and can lead to success in both the short and long-term. Coaches should avoid adopting a system simply because of the availability of ready-made training exercises and drills, or choosing a style of play that is not appropriate, developmentally or otherwise, for their team.
2. Do not ramble, though
Don’t waste time and energy with unnecessary training. Make sure that there is a direct correlation between the training exercises and the tactics and style of play you want the team to play. Don’t include training exercises that look cool but have no relation to how you want the team to play. The training should always be specific to the game of soccer. Keep training to 90 minutes (or less if tapering or it’s a recovery day). Value the energy of your players. Don’t waste it.
3. Keep it simple
Soccer is a simple game with simple, easy to understand rules. Soccer training should be about playing soccer using soccer-based rules. It should include the ball as much as possible, even conditioning. Devising over-elaborate games which confound your players and subvert their learning is counter-productive and a waste of time. The exercises and drills should be easy for the players to understand and relate directly to the game and how you want them to play it.
4. Have guts to cut
Coaches should be constantly reviewing and revising their training exercises. Even in the middle of a training session. If the drill doesn’t work as intended, fix it or move on. If the environment or situation does not allow for the exercise to be conducted with the intended outcome, find another, better exercise that suits the conditions. Coaches must be willing to prune, adjust, modify, replace revise and review their training exercises and drills. This is a mandatory for continuous improvement, both for yourself and your players.
5. Sound like yourself
Coach the way that suits your style and character. Develop your team’s style of play to match. Don’t go against your nature: cautious, and patient, or aggressive and daring. Be true to yourself. At the end of the day, win or loss, you’ll be happier.
6. Say what you mean
Train your team how you want them to play. Prune your training down to only the essential elements in order to achieve this end. Then repeat those training exercises until the team can play the way that you envision. There should be a direct correlation between how you want the team to play and how you train them.
7. Pity the readers
Finally, the last bit of advise that Vonnegut leaves for coaches is to remember that there is an audience and we owe it to them to play in a beautiful, attractive way. The game of soccer allows us to play with artistry and athleticism, bordering on beauty. So, always strive to play with a higher ideal in mind and remember that at any level below professional, we are also teaching our players the way the game should be played.