Those Who Can, Do…

As a public school teacher I bristle when I hear the tired expression “Those who can do, and those who can’t teach”, however in the case of the Union coaching staff I might just make an exception. A coach is a teacher, plain and simple. Whether you are working with a relative newcomer such as Keegan Rosenberry or a seasoned professional like Chris Pontius or Alejandro Bedoya it is a coach’s job to nurture and develop the talent you are given. So how come so many players on the Union roster seem to have moved backwards instead of forwards?

Rosenberry is the poster child for this condition, and I don’t want to hear anyone say the God-awful phrase ‘ sophomore slump’ anywhere near me or I’ll smack you faster than you can say ‘table don’t lie’. What the hell does sophomore slump even mean? Really? What possible sense does it make? Nobody in any line of work would accept something like that – let’s go to the Mega Global Hyper Corp Inc boardroom for a live look in…

HR Person: “Oh, Jerry in accounting? I know he got off to a flying start, but it’s his second year on the job now so he’s making mistakes in his spreadsheets and costing the company millions in lost revenue every quarter.”

Director (scratches chin and looks off into middle distance): Ahhh…. Must be that dreaded sophomore slump.”

HR Person: “Yeah. I feel really bad for him because I see the hard work he puts in every day on his TPS Sheets.”

Director: “Well we better not change anything, let’s just keep him going and maybe by year three he’ll have figured this whole thing out.”

It’s just not going to happen, is it? If poor old Jerry was making a dog’s dinner of his work his supervisors would show him what he is doing wrong and make sure he corrects his errors. His performance would be analysed and pored over by serious looking MBA types who would throw around business buzzwords like ‘disintermediate’, ‘drill down’, and ‘going granular’. They would then come up with a Performance Incentivized Personal Growth Performance Plan to map out the steps he needs to take to make sure he is punching the right numbers into the right boxes and maximising his personal effective matrix impactfulness potential index blah blah blah……..ugh!

That kind of crap is why I got out of Corporate America and into the noble profession of teaching. Which leads me to the heart of the problem.

Earnie Stewart and Mike Sorber were fantastically reliable players who were worthy of the dozens of international caps they earned and Jim Curtin was a fine MLS defender. However the ability to do something well does not necessarily mean that you can teach others how to do that voodoo that you do so well. At this point it would be remiss to not trot out the following names: Diego Maradona, Ruud Gullit, Lothar Matthaus, Marco Van Basten, Roy Keane, and the newest addition, Gianfranco Zola as a partial list of the game’s greatest ever players who were God-awful coaches.

A good teacher/coach develops talent and helps players to improve their skills and game situation awareness. There is no better ‘practice’ than actually playing games and I think we all know that Rosenberry didn’t miss a minute last year, so what have Jim and co. done to take his game to the next level? After establishing himself as a starter (and in the All Star Game, no less!) aren’t we all kidding ourselves if we don’t think that Blake has gotten worse instead of better? And what of Fabinho – shouldn’t he be building on his best year with the Union? Chris Pontius had a phoenix from the ashes kind of year so he should be rising even higher in 2017.

So why aren’t the laptop warriors analyzing, synthesizing, and distilling all the data they gather from those silly looking bra gizmos into a formula to ensure each player’s individual and collective success? Why? Because they obviously don’t know how to do it. If it were as easy and black and white as our old friend Jerry’s job in accounting then any idiot with a laptop could do it. You see, coaching/teaching is an art and not a science. It takes imagination and artistry, flair and empathy, a sense of humor and a sense of duty. Did I mention empathy? You won’t find that in a line of computer code. Laptops and analytics, Moneyball and biometrics just aren’t enough and the evidence is right before our eyes.

Sorry, Jim. You are the youngest coach in MLS and your lack of experience is showing. When the going gets tough in the classroom or on the pitch you go to your personal ‘funds of knowledge’ and trust the force. Leaning too heavily on a system at the expense of human interaction and relationship building has a short shelf life and engenders rigidity and blinkered myopism. Data and prometrics can only take you so far – Sam Allardyce is the high priest of that stuff and, doomed England call up notwithstanding, we can all see the limitations of reliance on a system – and so far for Earnie and company it just ain’t working.

In my world, those who can, do… and those who can do more, teach.

2 thoughts on “Those Who Can, Do…

  1. Only in closed league does sophomore slump even exist. Pretty sure no team abroad in almost another sport would say, he’s slumping cause he has more experience than last year. Agree with the thesis of this article.


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