Sunday, November 23, 2008

A commitment to finding solutions when confronted with problems

Juan Carlos Osorio has his team in the MLS championship game today after the NY Red Bulls finished the regular season below .500.

He was criticized throughout the season for focusing too much on defense ("negative football") and mishandling his lineups.

Despite the criticism, "Osorio never wavered from his season-long philosophy after the Red Bulls backed into the playoffs. He changed the lineup according to the form of players and individual matchups."

As for his emphasis on defense, Osorio says:

"I've lived in this country for almost 20 years, and I hear about other sports, American football, baseball, basketball. And I've heard the best coaches, the guys that won trophies are those that defensively are sound.

When people say about me that I'm a defensive coach, I take that as a compliment rather than as a criticism. In the well-rooted sports, defense means titles. It wins titles. And I'm very pleased with the way the guys are performing now.''

That consistently, and Coach Osorio's ability to stand up to the criticism, has paid off.

Said one Red Bulls player of his coach: "He always does the same thing, in the good times, in the bad times. And I’m glad it paid off. He has done the job. [Whenever] you think about his passion, his commitment to the team, whatever, he has taken us to a position nobody has taken us before. Full credit to him because he made some decisions that weren’t easy to make."

Coach Osorio, a native of Columbia who began coaching about 10 years ago, is known for his incredible appetite for learning. One former staff member recently described Coach Osorio's love for books:

"I am not talking about one or two books but enough that the equipment manager had to carry an extra bag. He was constantly reading and referencing what the best minds ... had to say about this or another aspect of the game. Constantly learning."

But Osorio does some writing of his own, most of it coming during the games when he can be seen scratching notes onto a notepad. Says Osorio:

"Writing notes allowed me to decide what was the most important thing to tell my players at halftime. It is 15 minutes. The way we break it down, the first five minutes the players can hydrate and have it as their own. The next five minutes I talk so it has to be down to the nitty-gritty and just the most important things. If you don't write things down, I think some of those things get confused, you misplace them or you don't time it well. It's just my way to be very objective."

According to one Red Bulls player, it's part of Osorio's attention to detail:

"He's very, very meticulous. That's evident. He goes over every detail. He tries to exploit every weakness of other teams and tries to improve a weakness our team may have. It's almost a military-type strategic approach to his daily training sessions, his game plans every week. He definitely puts a lot of thought into it.

He plans for every single situation, be it the run of play, deadball situations, they start of game, middle of the game, the end part of the game. he covers all bases. It's a good feeling coming into games knowing you are well prepared."

This level of preparation has been a key to his success, according to a former coach for whom Osorio worked:

"I believe therein lies his strength, when confronted with a problem, immediately looking for solutions, rather than wallowing in the crisis. There is no wonder to me that he overcame so much adversity and finally got it right. It was not by chance but rather his commitment to find solutions when confronted with problems."

The ability to overcame obstacles is the real lesson of the season, says Coach Osorio:

"The most important thing for me is to let the players know that in soccer, like any other sport, it is not about not failing. It’s not about falling. It’s about how many times can you get up and continue working and working hard and working the right way to get results.

And we have gone through very difficult games. We have been at the end of bad scores. But we have always recovered from those games. And that’s the most rewarding thing to me.

I just have to be responsible enough and intelligent enough to make the decisions that we need to do at any game. And if certain players are not performing, not fulfilling those responsibilities, then I have to go and give opportunities to other players."