25 August 2014

Fire the Coach!

Brazil is in the early days of a general election and everything has just been turned upside down by the tragic death of one of the presidential candidates. The neighboring states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais are in a Water War over the few drops left in the Paraíba do Sul River basin due to the worst drought in 70 years, and no authority has yet had the guts to mention rationing. An Ebola outbreak in several African countries threatens to explode into a world-wide epidemic, if it hasn’t already. There are wars brewing and/or ongoing in the Gaza Strip, the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — so believe me, I do know that there are many important issues to discuss these days. But I find myself bogged down in the last dregs of the World Cup, trying to understand why — even after the embarrassing display put on by the Brazilian soccer team — Brazil’s soccer commission thinks that the solution to the problem was to fire the coach.

I’ve seen this for all 12 of the years I’ve lived in Brazil. Doesn’t matter if it’s the national Seleção, as they’re called, or one of the state A teams, or even a state B team. If you’ve had a bad soccer season, what do you do? You fire the coach. And sometimes, you dump the whole technical team as well. I think what I find most astonishing is that nobody here questions the move. For Brazilians, it seems to be the obvious answer. But for me, coming from an upbringing of "it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game," firing the coach seems terribly knee-jerky. It’s like changing accessories on a dress that doesn’t fit — change the belt, change the buttons, change a scarf or change shoes — the dress is still not going to fit.

As far as I can remember, if one of the baseball leagues in the States had a bad season, they just had a bad season. Period. And it’s not that managers don’t move around from one team to another, they do. But constantly? Hardly. Lou Piniella was manager of the New York Yankees for three years, win or lose, and of the Seattle Mariners for 10 years before that, win or lose. Mike Scioscia managed the Los Angeles Angels for 14 years, win or lose. And that’s just to name two major league managers. How many coaches have I seen lead the Brazilian Seleção in 12 years? I’ve seen four coaches (Felipão, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Dunga and Mano Menezes) be moved around six times, as if they were peas in a shell game.

Look, as the entire world now knows, Brazil has a serious problem with its Seleção, one that goes far, far deeper than the coaching level. Even if they kept the same coach for more than two or three years they probably still wouldn’t have a coherent, winning team. But there may be a lesson to be learned from Brazil’s two screamingly successful volleyball teams. The male volleyball team has been led for the past 13 years by Bernardo Rocha de Rezende, or Bernardhino, and they have 26 international wins to their credit. The female volleyball team has been led for 11 years by José Roberto Lages Guimarães, or Zé Roberto, with 24 international wins. Given the number of years each team has played together under each coach, you can imagine the bonds they have forged, the closeness, the respect they all have for each other, win or lose. Would that the soccer powers-that-be could pay a little more attention to one of the criteria that makes a winning team.

Bernardhino, boy's coach
Zé Roberto, girl's coach

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