Beyond the X's and O's - by George Kiefer, Head Coach NC State Men's Soccer
I’ve done a lot of coaching courses throughout my career that have sharpened my saw in terms of how to do things better on the field and they have been very beneficial, however no course in my opinion has been more beneficial than “Coaching the Whole Athlete”. This course has opened up many new ideas in terms of building stronger relationships with my athletes and expanding my skills on how to do things better off the field as well as on the field.
It reinforced the message behind one of my favorite quotes:
“What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a [soccer] player” - John Wooden
As we all know coaching today's athletes compared to coaching athletes even ten years ago has drastically changed. The course elaborates effectively and deeply on how to coach in a more holistic and collaborative way. The course challenged me to really spend a good amount of time digging into my coaching philosophy. It encouraged me to take a look at my values and see how they are interwoven into our everyday life here at NC State and see the blind spots in my approach, or awareness, in regards to incorporating the athletes more often. From this course, I was able to create a new and improved Coach/Athlete handbook which provides everyone involved in the program a clear vision into our day to day processes that feeds into the bigger picture and vision of our program. And for us, my staff and I, to get a clearer, more complete picture of the WHOLE athlete that we have on our team. That athlete, that person is extremely valuable and I have hoped that all of the people that I have coached over the years have understood that. After this course I am more aware that I need to intentionally implement ways to connect to that person more often.
Some of the tools I was able to create directly due to this program include:
Post Session Reflections for staff
Post Session Reflections for players
Training Templates to make training expectations more specific and detailed.
Positionality Statements to gain deeper understanding of who each player is and understand what experiences each player has had throughout life to make them who they are today.
A motivational series, that will be contributed to by staff and players, that we will use throughout the semester to motivate and bring the values to life for greater depth of understanding
Goals of every player with detailed processes to help them reach their goals
More frequent player meetings for connection
Player collaboration in terms of how we do things that help us compete better
Self-care and wellness which I find post covid is even more important.
I would say that I found that I was doing a lot of the things mentioned above but the course was able to spark methods to better analyze and track everything so our approach can be more methodical and clear. Everything now ties back to our values and finds ways to connect with the players more often.
Implementing all of these things helps to bring continuity to the program. It helps bring a clear and aligned message to them. A message that shows them that we see them and hear them and that we are listening. Helping that athlete feel heard, seen and accepted for who they are is the biggest shift in how I feel coaching has changed over the years and I want to be a part of the change. And be effective. That is one of the reasons why I participated in this course. I know that connecting with the athletes is what builds the camaraderie and a healthy culture and that then builds the foundation for everything else that our program can achieve. So it’s a win-win situation from all angles.
When we connect with them then we can get an idea or a sense of where they are at and vice versa. From that connection, we get more communication. More communication then leads to more education and understanding. Understanding is the key. Me understanding a player, a player willing to understand their teammates, the team understanding the vision of the program/school. Because at the end of the day they don't know what they don't know and we don’t either. The more situations that we can create to facilitate moments of considerate and intentional connection the better.
As a coach I have the unique opportunity to educate them in more than just the sport they are playing. So learning about emotional intelligence, reinforcing the importance of self-care, learning more ways to include the players in sessions (all topics in the course) really helped me remember how important it is to ask questions, and model behaviors when possible. For example they may not be great at sharing their emotions or how to channel emotions when frustrated. Maybe I can share ways on how I learned to do that? Or show them where they could reach out and get help with that.
All of these “little” things are being implemented to enhance the part of the culture that cannot be quantified but can only be built over time. With presence. With communication. With the day in and day out discipline. With being present. With being aware of how we all show up. With daring to be curious about the people, the whole athletes we have in front of us.
The intangibles. The difference makers.
It doesn’t just happen. It's curated. And this course has helped me to put the pieces (the assignments, reflections, individual meetings, defining values, motivational series, etc.) in place to see and be there for, encourage, connect with the whole athlete in front of me.
I coach to help these athletes compete to become the best versions of themselves and to help the program be the best version of itself and I believe with the “Coaching the Whole Athlete” program, especially with the connection with the other ACC coaches at different universities during breakout sessions, was invaluable in helping me to truly be able to see a much clearer path to do and achieve that vision as a coach.
George Kiefer was announced as the head coach for the NC State men's soccer program in November 2016. He brought with him a new foundation for the Wolfpack and an extensive background in the sport, which included serving as an assistant on two national championship squads and winning two national titles as a player.
In his first season (2017) at the helm of the NC State program, Kiefer led the Wolfpack to an 8-6-4 mark, two wins over top-five opponents and the program's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009. It marked the first of three-straight postseason appearances for NC State as the team returned to the NCAA Tournament field in 2018 and 2019. The last time the program put together such a streak was the 1985-87 seasons.
In 2018, the Pack advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994. In 2019, the team finished fifth in the ACC for its best league finish since 2005. NC State has upset four top-five opponents in Kiefer's tenure.
Kiefer has recruited multiple top-15 classes to NC State in the last six years and has also coached multiple MLS draftees. In his time with the Wolfpack, he has helped his players earn one ACC Rookie of the Year honor and four All-ACC citations
Prior to coming to Raleigh, Kiefer spent 15 seasons at the helm of the University of South Florida (USF) men's soccer program. During that time, he earned 10 NCAA Tournament berths and most recently led the Bulls to the American Athletic Conference league crown in 2016. USF qualified for the postseason in nine of his final 10 seasons.
The Bay Shore, N.Y., native posted a 162-86-51 record while in charge of the Bulls and earned NSCAA Regional Coach of the Year honors in 2015 and 2005. Kiefer helped lead USF past the first round of the NCAA Tournament on six occasions, twice making it to the competition's quarterfinal (Elite Eight) round.
During his 15 seasons in Tampa, Kiefer led the Bulls to an impressive 104-27-23 record in home matches and at one point guided his squad to the nation's longest home unbeaten streak, a stretch of 30 matches. Under Kiefer, USF faced 66 ranked opponents, registering a 29-26-11 record against some of the nation's top teams.
Helping USF become one of the top programs in the nation, Kiefer led his teams to a pair of BIG EAST division titles in 2005 and 2011, a BIG EAST Tournament title in 2008, and an American Athletic Conference Tournament championship in 2013.
Under Kiefer's leadership, multiple former USF players moved on to the professional ranks. The Bulls had 20 players selected in the MLS Draft, including recent first-round picks Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC – 2011) and Ben Sweat (Columbus Crew – 2014).
Prior to his time in Tampa, Kiefer was an assistant coach at the University of Connecticut (1997-2002) and Southern Connecticut State University (1995-96). During his time at UConn, the Huskies qualified for four NCAA Tournaments, two College Cups, and were national champions during the 2000 season.
Kiefer played professionally for the Connecticut Wolves (USISL) from 1994-95 and played collegiate soccer for SCSU from 1990-93, helping lead the Owls to two NCAA national championships and four straight New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) championships. He earned his bachelor's degree in Corporate Communications in 1994 and his master's in Physical Education in 1997, both from SCSU.