Watch the Ball into Your Hands

For this week’s blog, we have a guest post written by Coach Jess.

Here it is in its entirety. Enjoy:

He was tall, decently built, and very outspoken. He had something that I had no choice but to respect from the very first day I met him. He had played professional soccer at the highest level for 22 years across Europe and the United States, getting an international call up in 1993 for the US Men’s National Team, and coached numerous professional and collegiate teams to success.

Vojislav Stanisic, or “Scoop” as we called him became the head coach of Indiana Inter, a soccer club I played for in Northwest Indiana when I was 13. His standards of play were incredibly high across the board but his approach was the simplest I have seen and helped my soccer career get to its pinnacle. He did not care if we won or lost but only cared if we played well. If we played well, we usually won our games by 2–3 goals or more. If we played poorly we usually tied or lost (which usually resulted in a nightmare punishment by fitness, sometimes during the half time of a game).

Scoop’s attention to detail on being able to play soccer at its simplest was insane. He could care less if you were the best player in the nation if you couldn’t pass, dribble, and receive the ball well. Every training session would start with a thorough warm-up with attention to detail in each and every stretch followed by the most basic passing and receiving drills you could imagine. Every time one of my unlucky teammates or I made an errant pass or took a poor touch you could expect the words “Watch the ball into your feet” or “Look at the player you’re passing to” to be bellowed out loud enough for the whole park we practiced at to hear. These passing and receiving drills on some occasions could last the entire training session with an increasing volume and more aggressive tone from Scoop every time there was a mistake.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, I was a goalkeeper, just like Scoop. This meant that I had a lot of 1-on-1 training sessions with him throughout the week and his attention to detail was just as intense if not more when it came to goalkeeper specific training. He expected all his goalkeepers to be soccer players first, then goalkeepers. That meant we needed to be proficient with the ball in our hands and making saves as we were with the ball at our feet. Goalkeepers are the last line of defense and the first line of offense. With that being said, being able to catch and hold onto shots and crosses were important. You could not risk fumbling a cross or a shot in a crowded area since that could lead to a goal or a delay in what could be a counter attack. “Watch the ball into your hands” was the version the goalkeepers got if we dropped or fumbled shots and crosses.

As I look back to over my soccer career which spanned 15 years, I believe there is a lot we can take from this. Not only from the words but from the increasing volume and aggression as the same mistakes were made over and over. My summary comes in 3 points:

  1. Do the basics insanely well. In soccer, passing, dribbling, and receiving are the basis of the game which are often overlooked by many young aspiring players these days. Bill Walton speaks about John Wooden making the UCLA Men’s Basketball team learn how to put their socks and shoes on properly with attention to the smallest details to avoid blisters and shoes coming untied which could all affect playing time. Last time I checked John Wooden is considered the best coach of all time. Many CEOs and companies look to coaches like Wooden and other successful coaches whose success is rooted in doing the basics extremely well. What are the basics of your life? Are you doing them well? Do you practice them often or are you taking them for granted? Without mastering the basics in anything we do in life, how can we expect to win or be successful?
  2. Have high standards. Being 70% efficient at the basics is never good enough. Scoop wanted 100%, he wanted very high standards. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven gave a commencement speech at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014 talking about how making your bed every morning is the first task of the day. When completed it will give you a sense of pride and encourage you to do another task and so on. By the end of the day that one task will have been turned into many task completed. It reinforces the little things in life matter and to do them insanely well. And, if by chance you have a bad day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. How often do you demand the very highest standards in your actions? Please do not settle for second best. Becoming a perfectionist on the basics will set yourself up for so much more success.
  3. Be ready for abuse. Scoop was not shy to add absolute venom to his phrase. “Watch the ball into your hands!” He would make you feel small, inadequate, like we didn’t deserve to be there. And this approach was right. How, if we were unable to do something so simple, could we expect to win matches? So if someone calls you out for not keeping high standards then accept it. Do not fight back claiming the 70% is okay, because it is not. Scoop wanted the very best for us, he wanted to be the best. The coaches here at Lift Lab genuinely want the very best for every single person and that’s why we went into coaching; at times we are going to be super hard on you. Keep high standards or be ready for the consequences.

Do not think this is just something that is applicable to sports, the carry over to life and every single part of it is huge. So go out, become freakishly good at the simple, minuet, basics, have incredibly high standards, and be ready for the abuse if you are falling short…and always watch the ball into your hands no matter what is your playing field.

Jess Clark