Heaps learning from rookie mistakes

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It’s a question that Jay Heaps has never stopped asking himself. A question that, as a second-year head coach, he’s found especially difficult to dismiss.

"Can I do more?"

For Heaps, who 16 months ago was handed the task of returning the Revolution to its former glory, it's more than just a question. It’s a challenge.

“Whether it’s my first year or my 10th year,” Heaps said, “I want to be someone who self-analyzes and can adapt.”

It should come as no surprise that the Longmeadow, Mass., native looked within and adapted as his first season at the helm unfolded. After all, adapting and analyzing have always been trademarks of Jay Heaps -- whether as a player, a broadcaster or in his current role as head coach.

So it wasn’t all that surprising that Heaps went into his first season as a coach anxious to learn and make adjustments on the fly, and doing whatever it took to shorten the learning curve.

But one thing he quickly learned is that there simply is no substitute for actual experience. His first year on the bench was an education. And to his credit, Heaps embraced the lessons and amended his coaching style accordingly.

“One of things I certainly want to get better at and make sure of is to give (the players) a little more trust,” Heaps said. “I think (during) my first year, I really wanted to control a lot of what was happening on the field at all times.”

Letting go of some control isn't easy for Heaps, who’s never tried to hide his classic take-charge personality. During his playing days, the fiery defender grabbed any opportunity to put his team in the driver’s seat, often with one of his trademark forward runs down the flank.

An example of his attempt to concede some control came during the second half of the 2012 season. In the first half, Heaps made it a habit of yelling at the referee or assistants whenever a call went against his club.

“I think I was hoarse the whole first half of the year,” Heaps quipped.

Eventually, he learned that the hostile approach probably wasn’t helping his cause with the league’s officiating. So he took a step back and made adjustments. He realized that he had to manage his emotions better -- and it didn’t end with his interactions with the referees.

Shortly after his mother, Jane, passed away last May, Heaps could see that his team wanted to rally for him. While he appreciated the sentiment, Heaps stepped back and saw it for what it was: a teaching moment.

“There’s a time when you need to use that emotion,” Heaps said. “I think at that time it was so heavy, it may have hurt them a little bit.”

Although Heaps has used the lessons from last season to tweak and refine his coaching style as he enters his second season at the helm, one thing he won’t change is his fundamental belief in the principle of preparation. With the first game of the 2013 season set for Saturday against the Chicago Fire, Heaps is focused on having his team ready.

“I want to release all of the (collective) anxiety of our team on Friday at 5 p.m. so they know our game plan, they know who we’re playing, they know how we’re going to play, so they can go to bed that night and know that they have to step on the field and deliver,” said Heaps. “And hey, if we get beat here or there, that's fine. But we’re not going to get beat for not knowing the other team.”

Can Jay Heaps do any more than what he’s doing now? That’s hard to say. But one thing’s for sure: He isn’t about to take it easy any time soon.