Friday, July 23, 2010

PWCD: Guest-TB's Day With A Knight

Note - TigerBlog has a standing offer to all Princeton coaches to have the forum for a day on any subject they'd like. Men's soccer coach Jim Barlow is the first to take TB up on it:

If you are like me, you’ve noticed many people in the Princeton area have contracted the terrible affliction known as PWCD (post-World Cup depression) over the past couple of weeks. After a month of non-stop matches, lots of drama, and several clinics in skill and possession from the Spanish, it all ended so abruptly. For Princeton University soccer people the empty feeling is even greater, as we began the summer by hosting the US Men’s National Team on Myslik Field in Roberts Stadium. We had the best players in the country here for a week. We had great soccer at our fingertips. We were spoiled.

Now, with over a month left before college soccer begins, what is a soccer fan to do? Watch baseball? That’s also become difficult if you are a Mets or Phillies fan. Fortunately, several options remain. To the north, the NY Red Bulls are having a good season, opened up a beautiful new stadium, and this week signed and introduced the legendary French international Thierry Henry into their line-up. To the south, the expansion Philadelphia Union are playing their inaugural season in MLS and also opened an incredible new stadium (PPL Park) in Chester.

Both franchises have scheduled friendly matches in July against some of the best European professional teams who travel to the US for preseason. Good soccer, yes, but the World Cup? No.

So what to do to cure PWCD while waiting for preseason to arrive? Guest-TB feels like he did when he was a kid and the family decided to drive somewhere (like Florida) for vacation. It just seemed like we had so far to go until we got there, and we just wanted the fun part to arrive already. To pass the time on these long journeys, we’ve all posed hypothetical questions to each other, like, If you could invite a famous person to lunch, who would it be?

Would it be an actor, a politician, an expert in your favorite field, a musician, a religious leader? An athlete or coach? Would it be TigerBlog (Or, maybe the better question is, who would TB choose –I sense that blog in the near future)?

One person any soccer fan would want to invite to lunch is Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of the most successful franchise in professional sports, Manchester United. A native of Scotland, Sir Alex took over a struggling Man United in 1986, and over the past 25 years he has won, among other trophies, 11 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two UEFA Champions League titles, and a FIFA Club World Cup. In 1998/1999 the club became the only English team to ever win the elusive “treble” as the Reds captured the Premiership title, the FA Cup, and the Champions League trophy. The success led to Ferguson being “knighted” and thus the “Sir” before his name. What an honor it would be to have lunch with Sir Alex and to hear his thoughts on the game, coaching, and some of his experience working with athletes like Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, and Christiano Ronaldo.

But who would Sir Alex invite to lunch?

Well, how about Civil War historian and Princeton Emeritus Professor James McPherson, who arrived on campus in 1962 and, after his Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era won the Pulitzer Prize, became one of the nation’s most famous historians?

On Wednesday, Guest-TB had the privilege of sitting in on a lunch at Prospect House that included, among other distinguished guests, both Sir Alex Ferguson and Professor James McPherson. Sir Alex is in the States for preseason with Manchester United, and the team set up camp in Philadelphia prior to Wednesday night’s friendly against the Union (Manchester won the match, 1-0). An avid reader of Civil War history, Sir Alex used some time off to visit Gettysburg and was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Professor McPherson at Prospect House and hear more about it.

There I was, sitting across the table from arguably the greatest Civil War historian in the world and the greatest soccer coach in the world. Both men are well past 65 but have more energy than most of the players I coach. They spoke of turning points in the war, naval blockades, Union and Confederate strategies, and lessons from Gettysburg. It was fascinating. The most striking similarities between Sir Alex and Professor McPherson are their passion, their desire to learn, and their ability to be fully engaged in the moment. For such enormously successful living legends, they have no ego, no arrogance. Their energy is contagious and you can’t help but feel fueled by their passion for what they do.

Having lunch with Sir Alex and Professor McPherson reminded me of a book I recently read (and highly recommend) called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, who visits centers of excellence around the world and tries to explain how greatness is “grown.” Part of the process, according to Coyle, involves “master coaching.” He explains what he observed about master coaches:

…They were mostly older; many had been teaching thirty or forty years. They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking. They listened far more than they talked. They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches…They had an extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality. After meeting a dozen of these people, I started to suspect that they were all secretly related (p. 162).

Master coaches aren’t like heads of state. They aren’t like captains who steer us across the unmarked sea, or preachers on a pulpit, ringing out the good news…They possess vast, deep frameworks of knowledge, which they apply to the steady, incremental work of growing skill circuits, which they ultimately don’t control (pp. 165-166)

I was able to witness first hand what Coyle was describing. How fortunate was I to spend a couple of hours with two masters of master coaching.

And what better way to get over PWCD.


Brian McD said...

Great guest column by Jim - hope other coaches follow his lead!

jdd91 said...

I'll bet Professor McPherson and Sir Alex are still talking about their lunch with Coach Barlow!!!