Brian’s Story: Soccer-Specific Training & Building a Champion!

by CoachZ on February 12, 2009

Brian Begins, Quits, and Begins Again: Soccer Strength and Fitness Training Begins!

The first thing I do, I’ve always done, with all of my clients, and Brian was no exception, is to sit down for an hour or so and just talk about soccer, his team, his coach, about school, about life, his goals, and about his family. There are a number of issues I wish to get clear during my initial conversation with a prospective client. And yes, at this point Brian was still a prospective client. First and foremost, I need to find out, one-on-one and without parents present, if the athlete really wants to be there, I mean in that situation and facing a training program that will be both demanding and time consuming. I can’t stress this point this enough during the first visit because it sets the template and establishes the tempo for everything that follows. The soccer-specific strength training and soccer fitness training I’ve developed is different from any other kind of progressive resistance exercise that I know of and, for that reason, the athlete, and his or her parents, must be on-board 110%! If any one person in that dynamic is not totally committed, the enterprise is almost certainly doomed to fail, regardless of how much I know or how hard the athlete trains.

I want to be clear about this, I am not a sports psychologist, although I have been able to get athletes to do things most coaches, teammates, and even parents just shake their heads in amazement over. I’ll tell you why that is in tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow! I am certainly not a priest, a reverend or a minister, although everything, and I mean everything, a client says to me stays with me! No exceptions, ever!

I did have one borderline incident, not with Brian. A young lady I was training, a swimmer, had just lost her mother and there was a sense that her life might be in jeopardy. I had to step forward. Thank goodness nothing happened and she never knew I had spoken up to protect her! Even in such a situation, it is tough to regain a child’s trust after “telling on them.”


Brian and I spoke for almost two hours! We talked about almost everything. I say almost everything because every athlete I’ve ever trained has held something back, initially. The final barriers come down but they come down slowly with time, trust, and mutual respect. Kids, in particular, while easy to win over if you show you respect them and their space (literally and figuratively), are absolutely unforgiving if you violate that trust, ever!

So, after two hours Brian and I decided to give it a shot, there was something about this kid, I didn’t know what it was, but he seemed to have a fire inside, just out of sight and well guarded…but there. My challenge? Get Brian to believe in me, so I could help him to believe in himself! Once that seemingly simple task is accomplished, everything else falls into place. Strength and fitness training is the easy part, it’s the head game that takes time and effort.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy with Brian, not at all. Frankly, it never is!

After the initial consultation, I sat down with the family…even his sister who giggled and rolled her eyes a lot, she was all of 8 (and a future client!). The purpose of the final meeting was to clear up any last minute questions or concerns and to lay the groundwork for the first stage in the process of developing, what I always hope will be, a champion. Soccer, football (American), basketball, track and field, triathletes, marathon runners, male, female, young, not-so-young, amateur, semi-professional, and/or professional, they all begin the same way…with a written statement describing, in detail, their immediate (day, week, month, season), intermediate (1 to 3 year goals), and long-term (3 to 5 years) goals. I realize 5 years isn’t long-term in terms of life-events…but in terms of an athlete’s career, it’s definitely up there.

In the personal statement, I try to get the athlete to be as specific as possible and to really spell it all out, nothing is out of bounds and nothing is discouraged. I want them to think, to dream, and eventually to focus! The written statement was our first step, after getting to know each other during the interview phase, in building a plan that would take shape over the first 90 days and carry us for as long as Brian, or anyone else for that matter, stayed with me. Soccer training had always been about the ball and running for Brian. Over the next few months Brian was going to find out that in order to be a true champion he had to gain control of his body as well.

Brian’s personal statement was a real piece of work. I still have it around the house, all ten pages of it, somewhere. I don’t need it, though, I can see it in my head. Brian wanted to make his Bayview’s travel squad, he said he was tired of playing with a bunch of kids that really didn’t care about the game, he knew he wanted to be a great soccer player and the first step was to get off of that “little kids’ team.” “Then,” Brian continued, “I want to make my high school’s varsity team as a freshman!” This was quite a goal because up until that time, no player had ever played soccer on the Bayview varsity squad as a freshman…there was even an unwritten rule to that affect! Those were his short-term and intermediate goals, along with wanting to play with his friend Paul’s premier club team. Paul was two years older and played Under-11 for the Westside Cobras Premier Soccer Club. Brian wanted to be just like Paul, wear that cool black and red uniform with the cobra, and all! That’s how he described it, too. “I want to have a uniform just like Paul’s…cool.”

Finally, Brian stated for his long-term soccer goal, and it was a doozy! Brian wanted to play college soccer and go to school on a “full-ride,” so “my parents won’t have to spend their money to send me to college.” The final goal told me what kind of a young man Brian was, and, as I remember, it brought a tear to my eye at the time! Brian, it seemed, was a very thoughtful young man.

Well, we had Brian’s goals pretty much mapped out, and now it was time to get down to business. Soccer-specific strength and fitness testing…into the whirlwind! It was the night before the test and I was asleep, tomorrow would be the day. Out of a dead sleep I heard the phone ring, at first I thought I was dreaming. I remember it like it was yesterday. Heck, I remember most things about my experience with Brian that way. You’ll understand why as time goes on.

Soccer Strength and Fitness Training Begins…except….

Anyway, I thought, “Who the heck is calling me here at this hour!”

I was actually more than a bit aggravated and it must have come across in the tone of my voice because whoever it was hung up as soon as I said hello…more like yelled hello! Well, I hung up the receiver, tuned over, and put my head back on the pillow. No sooner had I gotten comfortable, and halfway back to sleep, the phone rang again! This time it was Brian, he sounded upset. I looked at the clock radio next to the bed, I was living at the training facility at the time, trying to put everything I could back into the business, and sleeping on a fold-out couch in the office.

It was 1982 and it was 1:00am! Of at least those two things I was sure. Oh yeah, I remembered my name, too!

After my mind cleared, I asked Brian what was up. He said he was sorry for calling so late, and I said not to worry about it. Then, and I’ll never forget this, he said “Coach Z, I found out how much money my parents are spending for this program and I can’t let them do it. I’m going to have to quit.” Then, he hung up before I could say a word.

While I was still trying to figure out what had just happened, trying to clear my head so I could think about what just happened, the phone rang again. Yup! It was Brian. The phone went dead for a moment and I thought he had hung up again. Then, faintly, I thought I could make out what sounded like sobs and sniffles. Yes, I could hear him clearly now, he was crying. I waited until he was ready and we started to talk. It took a while but he finally settled down a bit. I could tell he was holding something back but didn’t want to push it. Besides, this was a discussion beyond his years, one that should have been between his parents and me. But Brian wasn’t going to let this drop and I could tell he had more on his mind, that money wasn’t the whole story, so I pushed a bit.

I said, “Brian, your Mom and Dad only want the best for you and this is the best program available in this area right now. Besides Brian, they’ve already paid me.” He didn’t say anything for a moment, then a moment turned into a minute; and, finally, after what seemed like an eternity he said, “Well, you’ll have to refund their money because I am not going to do it! I can’t!” The receiver went dead again and this time Brian had hung up on me. He was finished talking..or at least I thought so.

By this time it was close to 3:00am and it was clear that sleep was out of the question, my mind was racing, going in a thousand different directions at once. So I got up, put the sofa bed back together, and headed for the showers. Oh well, we’d be opening in a couple of hours and I could get my work out in beforehand. I was just drying off after working out and showering, it was almost 5:00am, when the phone rang again. I knew who it was, so I wrapped a towel around me and ran for the office, getting there just as he was about to hang up (I found out later). I must have picked it up on ring fifteen or twenty! Clearly, Brian wanted to talk.

Once again, I waited for Brian to begin speaking. After what seemed an eternity, Brian told me he was afraid his father would be laid off and they wouldn’t be able to live there any more, the only home Brian had ever known. You see, Brian had listened in on his parent’s conversation about how they were going to make ends meet, put him through my program, and still keep the house if there were any more lay-offs at the steel mill. You see, between 1980 and 1984 almost everyone was laid off at one time or another at US Steel or the Ford plant where a lot of his soccer teammates’ dads worked. The same was true across the rust-belt but Bayview had been hit particularly hard.

A Child’s Solution.

Brian, hearing this and wise beyond his years, took it all in and decided, entirely on his own, that he would step in and fix things for his Mom and Dad. Brian was going to give up his soccer strength and fitness program and, to his way of thinking, his dream of playing soccer beyond his community recreation league team.

Of course Brian’s thinking wasn’t informed and it wasn’t based in fact, at least not all of them. It was, however, based on Brian’s love for his family and his tremendous sense of obligation, unless I could make him understand that things would be OK, he was lost to the program. Trying to think and open the business up for the early birds, I knew what I had to do. I told Brian things would be fine. After a moment to work things out in my head, sell a Gatorade and a PowerBar, and give someone a spot, I promised Brian I would work things out with his Mom and Dad so that if his Dad was ever laid off, and couldn’t afford the program for Brian, I would indeed refund all of his fees and continue to train him, as well.

At first, nothing. I mean not a sound! And then, he started to whoop and holler and cheer and yell! Now, keep in mind that it’s 5:00am on a Saturday morning and his parents have been asleep through this whole thing! I can only imagine, I now know, what Brian’s Mom and Dad thought as they jumped out of bed to see who or what was attacking their son.

Me? I couldn’t stop laughing! Out of joy? A sense of doing the right thing? Relief? Lack of sleep? All of the above? People all over the gym are looked at me like I had a screw loose or something. In the span of about 60 seconds, the tension broke, the problem evaporated, and I convinced a champion, because in every sense of the word he was one, that people do care for each other and he could achieve his goals, if he worked for them. It was all up to him.

Brian had, through his sense of responsibility and duty to his family, shown me, his coach for the next few years, what a true champion is made of long before his next match was ever played. The soccer specific strength and fitness training would contribute to his play, even to his confidence, but Brian’s championship character was cast in granite and formed long before we ever met. What happened next was amazing and….

Next: Brian’s Soccer-Specific Strength and Fitness Physical Test…and a new rule. No more eating before work outs!

See you on the pitch!


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