Character is a major topic of mine when I’m addressing my students. Dictionary.com defines character as “qualities of
honesty, courage, or the like; integrity.” In general, having character means being a good person and doing the right things. But what does character mean in terms of a soccer player? When assessing a player’s character, what are coaches looking for? I believe that a player has character if he is coachable, strives to do the right things both on and off the field, and is a good teammate by always putting his team’s interest first in front of his own.
As a coach, I often have the opportunity to recruit players and often get calls from other coaches that are looking for a reference on a player. Guess what the first questions we ask are. “How’s their character? How are they in the locker room? How do they deal with losing? How do they deal with sitting the bench? What’s their work ethic like?” All character questions. Once these questions are answered we move on to soccer skill questions.
So is character important for a soccer player? Absolutely! It’s the most important trait a player must have. We as coaches are looking for players who are willing to get along with their teammates, desire to dissect losses and take responsibility for the loss, are supportive if they sit the bench, are fully committed to continuously improve, and always put the team first.
Players that are poison in the locker room and have divisive personalities have short term careers. It’s only a matter of time before their bad reputation circulates and they are not wanted by their team or any other teams. However, players that go out of their way to maintain and build chemistry within the team are attractive to us coaches.
To me, there is nothing worse than having to deal with a player that searches for excuses after a loss. If the team lost and they were a part of the team, then they were part of the reason why the team lost. Often, I see players walk off the field and hear their excuses or blaming words. “Our strikers missed too many chances. Our defense was asleep on that play. The referee didn’t give us a penalty,” etc. Blaming people and making excuses do nothing but set back the team, and this lack of character infects the team with an excuse type attitude. On the other hand, players that walk off the field and have no excuses and look to put in a good week in training, and want to help their teammates and coach eliminate the mistakes that led to the loss, are players of quality character. Players with character take the positives out of the loss and don’t make excuses or blame anyone for the loss.
The hardest job of a coach is keeping his players happy. Players that sit the bench are not happy and that’s natural. But someone needs to sit the bench. If you have a squad of 18 you can only pick 11. This means 7 players will not be starting the game. Players usually think that the coach doesn’t like them or that they did something wrong and have been left out. This is simply not true. On many occasions, the coach has to go with the players that he thinks will match up against the opponent, or with the players he thinks are peaking at the time, or select the players that are just better in his opinion. It’s hard for a coach to look at his bench and see disappointed faces, but it’s refreshing to look at the bench and see players that are still supportive of the team even though they have been left on the bench.
Players with poor character project a negative mood, and often talk negative about the starting eleven and coach. They sulk and hurt the team environment on game day and at times the sulking leaks into training. Players with good character put a smile on their face and take the coach’s decision to bench them and turn it into a positive. They show the coach that they are ready to play if called upon and show up to training that week ready to prove the coach wrong and work harder then everyone on the field. Players that respond to sitting the bench gracefully are players that coaches end up admiring and want to give their time to.
Coaches want players that they can mold and that are always supportive; players that know they are in a team sport; players that have respect for the officials, their coach and one another; players that will play anywhere they are asked; players that help bond the team, and players that play for the jersey. Coaches steer away from players that lack character by displaying poor attitudes, not working hard, dividing the team, and disrespecting the people around them.
Finally, there is nothing like seeing a player that has the character to never quit and to be fully committed to his career and his success, a player that will “empty the tank at every session and every game”.
Players with character always persevere and always improve. Players with character do the right things when on the field and when off the field. They do the right things when no one is watching.
Director of Soccer Operations
Universal Soccer Academy