In the weeks following Sigi Schmid’s departure from the Seattle Sounders, significant change has been pretty obvious. Not only is the team playing better than it has all season — and winning — there’s also a very clear shift in the attitudes of the players both on the pitch and the training ground.
Midfielder Cristian Roldan simply said that the “mentality” of the players has been the most palpable change, and that head coach Brian Schmetzer’s style of coaching was a big part of it.
Aside from his “smart soccer” style of coaching tactics and individual roles, what stands out about Schmetzer’s style is his unique brand of man management. Roldan referred to Schmetzer as a “players’ coach,” which is a pretty broad term that means different things to different players. But for Roldan, what makes Schmetzer so appealing to players is his availability: “He’s a guy that you can have a conversation with. If you want a meeting with him, you’ll have a meeting with him.”
When asked about why he thinks Roldan would refer to him as a players’ coach, Schmetzer revealed that, immediately after taking charge of the team, he told the players two things.
“My messaging from day one [to the players] has been ‘it’s your team, and you have to shoulder responsibility for things that go well and also things that don’t go so well,’” Schmetzer said. In doing so, Schmetzer said he believes he has imparted to the players that every one of them holds some ownership of the team as a whole.
It’s clearly working. Roldan also noted Schmetzer’s openness and accessibility as a coach helps make every player feel accountable for their own actions and how the team performs.
“Players’ coach can mean a lot of things,” Schmetzer said. “But it’s basically making them feel appreciated when they do the hard work, and making sure you hold them accountable.”
It’s also interesting that Schmetzer has been able to implement his ideas into the team so quickly. The rapport he already had with the team helps, but to shift the team away from the doldrums they were in when he took charge isn’t exactly easy. Roldan mentioned that “from day one, he explained himself. He said this is how it’s going to be, we’re going to do it this way, there’s no other way.”
This could have been a disaster; sometimes new managers come into a team and demand the world immediately when it’s nearly impossible to do so. But Roldan said the players quickly “bought into” Schmetzer’s new system of both on-field tactics and off-field management.
If nothing else, it seems that the connection between Schmetzer and his players is strong and unique—there’s a level of trust and comfort that most managers are dying to have. It obviously helps when the results reinforce the hard work done in training and in matches, but it’s clear that the team has finally come together as a group and are motivated to not come out of the 2016 season empty-handed.