Excerpts from CATCH THEM BEING GOOD by Tony Dicicco, Colleen Hacker and Charles Salzberg (Published by Penquin Books, NY) (Ed. Note: This book features coaching ideas from Tony Dicicco who coached the USA women's soccer team to the 1996 World Cup Championship. Though it is about coaching soccer and girls in particular, there is a wealth of information in the book that can be used by coaches at all levels).


I've always believed that when you reach a certain level in athletics, the difference between success or failure is determined by mental skill.

Being aware of your limitations allows you to enhance your performance by surrounding yourself with the best people, which is what I've always done. Frankly, I've seen a lot of people do the opposite. People who are afraid their abilities will be undermined are threatened by the talents of others. Surround yourself with talented people who understand their role in the larger scheme of things. (Ed.Note: This is an extremely important point about coaching. The Head Coach should have a strong enough ego that he/she can hire an assistant that may know more about the game than he/she does. When he/she does employ such a talented assistant, the Head Coach AND the team will benefit)

I've always tried to be the kind of leader who brings in other leaders. At the same time, I have to be sure they're loyal, that they keep the team as their number-one focus so that together we can achieve success.

All too often coaches and parents take the fun out of the game and when that happens you might as well have your team play with a weight on one foot.

There have been studies that show that exceptional swimmers are actually faster when they swim 100 meters as part of a relay team than when they are in an individual race. It seems that as part of a team an athlete gathers support from the other team members, which makes the individual better.

Whatever you do you must create challenge, especially if you want growth from your players and your team. And it's got to be a real challenge....stress importance of optimally challenging athletes in all aspects of the game. The demands placed on players must be carefully balanced between their actual skills and abilities.

* The first thing a manager or coach needs to learn is how to listen.

* Appropriate feedback is essential for peak performance. Communication is the art of making a difference.

* The most important lesson a coach needs to learn about feedback: What you think you're saying may not always coincide with what you players are hearing.

* While some people can give too much feedback, rambling on until your players just shut down and hear nothing, my experience has been that players look for more rather than less of it. For instance, Michelle Akers, one of the best players in the world, often asked me, "What do I have to do to get better?"

* One thing to be aware of is that often the personality of the coach is picked up by the team. If you start complaining above every call, accusing the referee of screwing your team, that attitude is going to become part of the team ethos.

* At halftime, zero in on one or two or three key points because that's the amount of information most players can process in such a short amount of time.

* When you set a goal, write it down and then it's like making a promise to yourself.

* Placing blame on others is easy. Taking responsibility for yourself is empowering.

* Although, obviously, one should not try to fail, it's not a disaster if one does. Instead, it's an opportunity to learn and then use the lessons to become stronger. Failure is essential for advancement, achievement and success.

When you produce a challenge that your players successfully meet, you're building self-esteem and self- confidence.

You can approximate perfection, but you can't achieve it in one session and you can't execute at that level all the time. Sure you can practice a skill, a technique or a play fifty times until you do it perfectly, but if you do that, you've lost your team mentally, and for the rest of the day you're going to have to battle to keep their heads focused on training. (Ed.Note: Don't overlook this coaching tip...most coaches are guilty of this from time to time and it usually results in bad coaching)

You can't coach to a stereotypical athlete. The goal is to try to get your team members to be somewhat similar without taking away their individuality, or their special skills...what is constant is that you build your team through the union of each individual's uniqueness.

No longer do athletes blindly accept fiats on how to do things. They often ask why. And coaches need to realize that not all people are the same. There are different ways to motivate different kinds of personalities. The whip might work for some, but a less strident, more nurturing approach might work for others. There was a time when we, as coaches, would not allow our players to ask why we wanted them to do something. The answer was always, "Just do it because I told you to." Now you must let your players ask why you're having them do something a certain way. If we're asking players to make decisions, they'd better know why we're asking them to make those decisions.

To me, the epitome of coaching is having the kind of rapport in which your players are comfortable enough to come in and say to you, "Coach, can I give you some feedback?" and then tell me, "You're yelling at us a lot. You're being very critical. It's not as much fun right now." When that happened, I knew that my coaching had matured. And at times, the personal interchanges with my players were better than wins and losses.

In the past, I had tried to lead with my own intensity instead of inspring my players with my humanity. At times I had been overly critical and although I found that being critical sometimes achieved results, being positive and finding the coaching moments was more effective.

Competition is a great way to have fun, to learn about yourself, to grow in self-esteem. But we can also turn competition into a negative thing, particularly if we overemphasize it. The key is to include opportunities for players to compete against their previous best performance, against some objective standard, as well as against others. I believe that by using competition I can make practices a lot more fun and engaging than I can without it.

Ask advice of your captains and other leaders. Don't be afraid to say, "I'm thinking of doing this tomorrow, and it's going to be a pretty tough training day. What do you think?" By using this method you will appropriately empower your team, and I guarantee their answer will be, "We can handle it." Or their response might be, "Can we do that the next day so we can let our legs recover?" When that "next" day comes up, they're going to really go after it.

By empowering your players, you get them to buy into your coaching plan. By giving your players what Michael Useem calls leadership moments, no matter how small, you develop leadership.

When a player asks your help with a problem, don't make judgments and don't make quick decisions or offer immediate suggestions. Instead, just listen. This can make all the difference in the world in your overall relationship with your player, and it will facilitate your ability to lead. Listening is important because it increases your ability to relate with your players.

There's no reason why coaching has to be rigid. If you simply say, "This is the way we're doing it," allowing no room for flexibility, then you'll only be successful coaching a certain type of athlete, and that's a big mistake

* But coaching doesn't mean finding constant fault, Simply pointing out errors isn't coaching. As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "any fool can criticize, any fool can condemn, any fool can complain--and most fools do....When you constantly find fault, you haven't constructively painted a picture of what to do, how to get it right. All you've done is create an atmosphere where people are living in a constant state of fear, apprehension and worry.

* We are not going to correct everything we see that's wrong, which is the classic coaching style. Typically, coaches see something that's a mistake and stop the practice to point it out. It's called a coachable moment. Instead of coaching the way we usually do, every time we see something that's wrong, we're going to store it for later; but when we see it done right, that's when we're going to coach it or celebrate it.

* It's simply bad coaching to belittle or overly criticize a player in public or in private. You have to be very careful about what and how you criticize because the last thing you want is for your players to fear failure.

* Once you start celebrating a good play, not only will you make the individual player feel confident, but you'll also find that a glow will surround every other player on the team. Other players will want to achieve that kind of positive attention and they'll be motivated to strive for it.

* The first thing a manager or coach needs to learn is how to listen.

* Appropriate feedback is essential for peak performance. Communication is the art of making a difference.

* The most important lesson a coach needs to learn about feedback: What you think you're saying may not always coincide with what you players are hearing.

* While some people can give too much feedback, rambling on until your players just shut down and hear nothing, my experience has been that players look for more rather than less of it. For instance, Michelle Akers, one of the best players in the world, often asked me, "What do I have to do to get better?"

* One thing to be aware of is that often the personality of the coach is picked up by the team. If you start complaining above every call, accusing the referee of screwing your team, that attitude is going to become part of the team ethos.

* At halftime, zero in on one or two or three key points because that's the amount of information most players can process in such a short amount of time.

* When you set a goal, write it down and then it's like making a promise to yourself.

* Placing blame on others is easy. Taking responsibility for yourself is empowering.

* Although, obviously, one should not try to fail, it's not a disaster if one does. Instead, it's an opportunity to learn and then use the lessons to become stronger. Failure is essential for advancement, achievement and success.

* Confidence is an important issue with all players. To help instill confidence in them, you need to pick and choose your coaching moments....you also need to make sure that the positive coaching greatly outweighs the negative coaching

* A physical mistake is more apt to result in a loss of confidence than a mental mistake. Of course some coaches are quick to yank a player out of the game after she makes an error. Generally speaking, I don't think this is a good idea because it re-creates the negative spiral I've talked about earlier. The only time I'd ever take a player out for making a mistake would be for a mental lapse, if I thought she wasn't concentrating, for instance....All sports are built on mistakes and failures and being able to overcome them. If you take someone out for a physical error, then you're negatively applying the dynamics of performance.

* Even how you respond to a mistake from the sidelines affects performance....For example, I could say to a player, "Shelly, Shelly, you've got to close that player quicker!" That's fine. But, if I say it sarcastically: "Oh, nice play, Shelly. That player just went around you again," then all I'm doing is diminishing Shelly's ability to play at peak performance....You can't win by sarcastically criticizing one of your players..and you can't win if your players respond to their teammates withk put-downs and negative comments...It's acceptable for teammates to push each other and expect5 more of each other, but putting each other down hurts team performance.

* Confident players focus on what they can do and don't worry about what they can't. Building confidence is about creating an environment in which a team truly believes it is a winner. It's about creating a safe environment where players can play on their cutting edge without fear of failure. As coaches, it's our job to help create that environment, to show the team that if they act as if, they can actually be as if.

* In preparation for the 1996 Olympic Games we never talked about pressure because we saw the tournament as an opportunity to prove that we were the best women's soccer team in the world....We spent a great deal of time talking about our opportunities and how they overshadowed the pressure.

* One fact we, as parents and coaches, must remember is that kids pick up cues from us. If we walk around with stern looks on our faces, if we seem tense and uptight, if we seem to be taking winning and losing as a matter of life and death, then naturally our players will adopt this attitude.