English soccer legend and D.C. United head coach Wayne Rooney took in a different kind of "football" practice session than he is used to at OrthoVirginia Training Center at Commanders Park on Thursday. Though the fundamentals of his sport and American football vary significantly, Rooney identified valuable insights in watching the Burgundy & Gold in action.
"I think it's always great when you look at different sports because even though it's different, the message normally is the same in terms of the players mentality and character," Rooney said. "It's been really interesting to see how it works, and I've really enjoyed it."
After practice finished, Rooney joined up with head coach Ron Rivera for a chat with Julie Donaldson. Despite the different accents, ages and expertise, the two share a good amount in common. For one, both played at the highest level of their sport and won elusive championships. That first-hand experience, Rooney suggested, can be uniquely impactful when leading a team as a coach.
"I always look back and think, 'What would I want as a player?'" Rooney said. "Obviously you can't always give the players exactly what they want, but…I always feel that if you treat the players right and trust them, you normally get a lot of trust and respect back."
And though Rooney and Rivera are over 30 years apart, they both share the challenge that comes with guiding and managing pro athletes in the age of social media.
"We were really able to focus on what we needed to do as athletes for the most part," Rivera said. "Now these guys, not only do they need to worry about what's going on the field, but what's going on off it."
Whether it be fielding external noise or making decisions about their personal accounts, elite athletes must reckon with the force of social media, and because it impacts players, it impacts coaches.
"There's a lot of different things that can affect players," Rooney said of social media. "So, you have to make sure you manage them in the right way in order for them to perform at their best."
And finally, though they are at different points in the project, both Rivera and Rooney are on coaching missions with key similarities at each of their DMV-based clubs. Both are historic franchises in their respective leagues eager to re-establish a championship culture. Speaking about his D.C. United situation, Rooney acknowledges that the turnaround will require honesty, hard work and significant adjustments.
"It's what I always say to the players: The mentality has to change," Rooney said. "It's easy for a team to be stuck sometimes in their own ways but sometimes you need that change in order to move forward. I'll challenge the club to allow me to be able to do that. It's a lot of work to be able to do that, but I think in order to be successful, it's necessary."