Chapter 15: GOOD COP, BAD COP – ROOKIE: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer
On most coaching staffs there is a good cop, bad cop dynamic. As the players see it, the head coach is the bad cop. The assistant coach is the good cop. Or Santa Claus. And everyone likes Santa Claus more than they like the bad cop.
At many programs, the assistant is the coach the players feel comfortable approaching with their issues. He serves as a sounding board to the players and an intermediary to the head coach. His role as a go-between is vital in ensuring that the players have a voice in the program. The players understand this and they like him for it. Plus, he’s younger, cooler and better looking.
The big reason that the assistant coach always wins the popularity contest is that he doesn’t have to make any of the truly difficult and impactful decisions. The assistant has the luxury of being closer to the players, because his objectivity isn’t tested nearly as much as his boss’. The head coach needs to keep players at arm’s length because he can’t have his personal feelings interfering with his ability to make the difficult decisions that best serve his program. And ultimately, all of the tough calls fall to the guy at the top.
When I say that the head coach is the bad cop, I’m not implying that he is inherently mean, impolite, unlikeable, humorless or incapable of compassion. I’m just saying that a college soccer program is a business, and he’s the CEO. He’s got to make decisions that are in the company’s best interest and those decisions aren’t always easy and they aren’t always popular.
It is the head coach who determines playing time, and that, in and of itself, will send some players campaigning for the assistant. The head coach also decides who gets scholarship money and who doesn’t and what player gets more scholarship money than her roommate. The head coach decides who gets cut and just as importantly, whose best friend gets cut. If a punishment is doled out, it’s the head coach doing the doling. This is no way to win a popularity contest.
These unpleasant tasks are all good and necessary to build a strong program, which is why the good cop, bad cop dynamic isn’t such a horrible thing. Having a head coach that keeps a safe distance is good for you because it helps ensure that his decisions will be objective and fair and in the team’s best inter- est. My point is this: Just because your head coach keeps you at a safe distance, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you or care about you. And believe me, if the assistant coach became the head coach, his days as the popularity contest winner would be numbered.