Thursday

 
"The point of training,
 
is to increase the speed at which one can be precise."
 
- C├ęsar Luis Menotti

Saturday

 
 
Happy Memorial Day weekend!
 
I will not be posting much the next couple of days as my family and I enjoy some time together. So, I wanted to say Thank you! to the men and women who have fought, were injured and those who paid the ultimate price that I might live in a land of Liberty and Freedom.  It is important to remember, despite revisionist history, that our Founding Fathers believed they were creating a Christian nation when they established these United States of America. That Freedom OF Religion was established in order that every man could worship God as he saw fit and not as a government dictated. Inclusive in this is the Freedom to worship the god of your choice or to forego worshiping a god altogether. The Constitution of these United States and it's Bill of Rights is based soundly in Biblical principles, right down to the separation of Church from State.
 
I thank those who won and preserved and continue the battle to maintain our Freedom and Liberty from all threats foreign and domestic. And extend the same gratitude to all those around the world who have fought to to win, preserve and extend the march of Liberty, Justice and Freedom for all around the globe.  May God Bless each and every one of you and
 
May God Continue to Bless America
 
and
 
May America Bless God.

Friday


The gem cannot be polished without friction,
 
nor man perfected without trials.
 
 

Wednesday

Seven things to do away from organized soccer to improve your game.

What can my son do after club season ends and before high school season begins to improve his game?

One of the best questions a parent has ever asked me!

I was tempted to include soccer camps in my answer, but knowing the family's financial situation I didn't think this the most appropriate answer. The thought they were looking for me to work with the player through the summer also occurred to me, but I would need to charge a bit to cover gas money if nothing else.  In those few frantic seconds of silence as I contemplated my response a second question was asked, What does Lance do to prepare for high school?

Ahhhh, truly great questions.  Here was my response.

1) Always have a ball at your feet. Lance always has a ball at his feet - walking through the house maneuvering around furniture and people, bouncing it off the basement walls, doing foot skills in front of the TV.  Outside a ball is at his feet in the yard, walking to the mailbox, taking the dog for a walk. He stands around juggling the ball. Everywhere he goes, a soccer ball goes with him.

2) Eat, Drink, Sleep Soccer.  Proper diet is not an option.  Eliminate refined sugars and caffeine. Lot's of carbs and proteins. Steady diet of fruits and vegetables.  Lots of water.  Sports drinks after workouts.  Sleep / rest is a weapon so don't cheat yourself on sleep.

3) Watch soccer on TV. I am amazed by Lance's knowledge of the professional game, the teams, its players and coaches. When he sees a great individual move, he's out the door to practice it.  He's observant of tactics as well. Watch players in the position you play - what are their roles, their responsibilities?  What runs / movements do they make in support of teammates?

4) Physical training.  Soccer players need to be incredibly fit. You can hire a physical trainer or simply go for a jog, do wind sprints, do plyometrics, lift weights, sit ups/ crunches and push ups.  Search the Internet for "work at home" workouts.

5) Utilize the Internet.  There are quite literally hundreds of thousands of videos, ebooks, emagazines, articles and the like dealing with soccer on the Internet. Read, and watch then practice and apply what you have learned.

6) Play soccer video games.   Yep, I just said that.  Today's video games are amazingly life-like. They incorporate actual techniques and tactics used by the world's greatest players and coaches. Use video games as a learning tool. Be observant of how players move without the ball to support / help one another.

7) Learn to coach yourself.  This is an extremely valuable tool and a wonderful gift to give yourself. Watch TV, video and read books, then practice what you have seen and read about. Learn to distinguish between when you have done it exactly right and when something is amiss. Seek technical perfection. In fact, demand it of yourself.

One other thing to remember: Despite the appearance of advocating a life built around soccer 24 / 7 / 365 it is vitally important to step away from soccer once in awhile. Soccer should not define you, it is not who you are. Soccer is something you do.  Take time to enjoy other things in life. Go a couple of days without touching a ball. Do physical exercise not related to soccer - swim, play basketball, tennis. Pursue other interests so you return to soccer refreshed and invigorated to go at it anew.

Tuesday

 
"I am a member of a team,
 
and I rely on the team,
 
I defer to it and sacrifice for it,
 
because the team, not the individual,
 
is the ultimate champion."
 

-- Mia Hamm

Monday

The worst. Bet they would like to change that, eh?

 
 
 
 
The lowest rate of success on passes by a central midfielder is 72%. 
 
On my current U17 Boys spring team I would venture to say I have no more than 4 of 18 players who have a success rate at 70% of higher.  A majority might be on the wrong side of 50%. 
 
If you have followed along with the posts covering our season you will appreciate we have worked consistently and constantly on preparing to play which I believe is the king consideration both in playing quickly and in playing accurately. 
 
Breaking down old habits to establish new, better habits is a challenging task. Slow and steady must be the course.  Those players that have been with the team for more than one season are generally, but certainly not always, further along in the process.  I believe all are improve albeit each at his own pace in accordance with his own acceptance of the need to change, You know what they say about change,  It is constant in he world. You either modify your dreams and magnify your skills or you will find yourself reminiscing about the past as the world passes you by.

Planning Challenging Practice Sessions.

In a recent conversation a young coach "Marc" expressed concern about training his team. It seems there exists a fairly wide disparity in the range of talent amongst team members and Marc was struggling to find activities that challenged all while not overwhelming some. He was searching for activites that all could participate in with a reasonable expectation of success. It was a struggle to watch the same couple of players constantly breakdown exercises challenging to the more advanced players and also to watch the more advanced players lose interest in activities "beneath them" that others found challenging.  He was looking for a magic activity challenging on a variety of levels while overwhleming  no one.

There's another way to look at this situation.

A team can only be as strong as its weakest player so it is in the best interests of the best player(s) to work with weaker players to help them improve their games. The challenge for better players need not exist on a technical or tactical level, but can exist on a leadership level.  Asking an individual to assume a leadership role can serve to move someone out of their own comfort zone providing an opportunity for success... or failure.

If not handled appropriately a situation with a wide disparity of talent can also see a degeneration of satisfaction spread throughout the team. There will be some that feel the talent gap should be closed by cutting weaker players and adding stronger players in their place.  Others will become disgruntled that certain players are ball hogs refusing to share the ball with (weaker) teammates. Relationships on the team and especially along the parent sidelines can become strained and quickly spiral downward.

I admired Marc for not giving up and fighting to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for all involved on his team. It was clear he himself was being overwhelmed by the situation he found himself in.  The good news is, he recognized the developing problems stemming from disparity in talent levels on the team and the seeds of discontent along the parent sidelines. The bad news is, Marc himself was struggling to find the right answers. And if truth be told, I'm not sure a great answer is always available in situations such as this, but I did have a couple of suggestions with the future in mind that I encouraged Marc to consider taking a look at.

Instead of separating the team in terms of advanced players and weaker players, separate them by placing a couple of the better players with weaker players in one group (A) and leaving the "middle" group (B) intact to work together.  Then have them run the same exercise.  I love watching the advanced players problem solve when working with weaker players. How long until they recognize the biggest challenge they have been presented with is one of psychology and leadership instead of one involving technique or tactics? 

The players in group "B" will almost always progress through the exercise more rapidly than the those in group "A" who will struggle on technical and tactical levels, but both groups will eventually get it. In group "B" the challenge is received on a technical and tactical level with a component of leadership involved. The physchological aspect is focused more on being disciplined in their thought process and execution of technical and tactical aspects of the exercise.

The weaker players in group "A" also have these challenges present albeit on slightly different levels. The advanced players have a stronger psychological component involved from the perspective of how they receive being placed in this group.  Will they view it as punishment? Will they feel they are too good to be in this group, that the weaker players are beneath them?  Will they rise to occasion and embrace the opportunity to be a mentor, a facilitator, a leader in their assigned group?  Sometimes an "advanced" player will become angry and pout resulting in poor mental performance that sees them actually become the ones to break down the exercise time after time.  It is discouraging when this happens, but it is also revealing.

What we hope to see is the advanced players recognize and embrace the different and all so important challenges they have been blessed with. Can they set good technical and tactical examples for their teammates?  Can they grab the reins of leadership and facilitate play within their group?  Do they encourage their teammates?  Do they inspire their teammates to raise the level of their play?

Marc raised a good and valid question - Should he address the advanced players in group "A" prior to beginning the exercise so they have an understanding of why they have been placed there and what the expectations for them are?  My reply was that would be like giving them the answers before the test.  Personally I think it much more practical and certainly more revealing to allow the players to identify the problem / challenge they face and to observe their thought process / problem solving skills on the fly. This is after all what they are tasked with in playing the game. It might be necessary to "debrief" someone who struggled to rise to the challenge, but allowing them to fail can lead them to change and change can lead them to improvement and success.

Challenges, whether naturally occurring or contrived are always revealing, but they are never an end point. How we respond to challenges encountered, what challenges reveal about us, define a new starting point. Sometimes we need to step back and take on the same challenge again... and again, until we successfully negotiate it.  Even then a challenge met and conquered merely leads to future failure and the opportunity to grow again through new challenges.

In conclusion, my advice to Marc was to design practice sessions with a variety of challenges on several different levels instead of attempting to come up with an exercise that challenged all players in the same manner. Different challenges for different players.
 
 
 

Sometimes I feel like I am beating a dead horse.

Here is another good article about youth sports. It's a short read and well worth the time.

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/mdmama/2013/05/parents_lets_keep_some_perspective_about_youth_sports.html



At my son's soccer game the other day, a parent kept yelling very loudly at one of the players on the other team, giving various directions as to what the player should and shouldn't do. When I say "very loudly", I mean so loud--and harsh--that it startled me each time.

The kids were first graders.
 
The mother of one of my son's teammates (who was wincing along with me) told me how at her daughter's soccer game earlier that day, the coach of the other team was berating the players, telling them what a terrible job they were doing and calling them names.
 
Those kids were sixth graders.
 
Really?
 
Now, I get that these are extremes. But with five kids, I've been to a lot of sporting events, and have listened to a lot of parents and coaches pushing--in good ways and bad ways--kids to achieve. And while achievement is generally a worthy goal, I'm not sure it's the best goal for youth sports.
 
Often, when I talk to other parents, I hear stuff about hoping for athletic scholarships. I've got two kids in college now, and so know first-hand how outrageously expensive it is and how every little bit helps. But only about 2 percent of high school athletes get athletic scholarships to college--and very few of them are full rides. The chances of "going pro" are even smaller: about 0.03 percent for basketball, 0.08 percent for football, for example. Basically, unless your kid is extremely gifted and extremely lucky, he's not getting any money out of sports.
 
Here's what your kid can get out of youth sports:
  • Exercise. With a third of US kids overweight or obese, we need to get more kids moving. Not only does exercise help kids now, it builds healthy habits for a lifetime.
  • Friendships. Sports can be a great way to build relationships and social skills.
  • Positive self-image. Feeling strong and learning skills can make a kid feel really good about herself.
  • Involvement in positive activities. Sports are a way better way to spend your time than video games or hanging out on the streets; for many kids, sports are what keep them on a good life path.
  • Time management skills. Athletes, especially high school athletes, need to learn to get homework and other things done around practice.
  • Fun! With the right approach and attitude from the athlete and the coach, sports can be a lot of fun.
They are, however, not fun when you are being yelled at--or pushed all the time to achieve. Which is probably why the majority of kids drop out of sports before high school--and miss out on all the benefits entirely.
 
So, parents, let's keep some perspective. When you are at the sidelines, let the coach do the coaching--if you are going to yell anything, make it encouragement. If you see coaches treating kids badly, speak up--and find a different team if it continues. Don't push your kids to achieve--we should always try to do our best, but it's not always the point of everything. It's certainly not the point of youth sports.
 
Sometimes it's good enough--better, even--to show up, play the game and have fun.

The view from the parents sideline.

Had the all too rare honor and privilege to watch my son Lance play from the parents sideline. I'm usually watching him play as a coach and trust me when I say the two perspectives are vastly different. Lance guest played for league rival ISC Storm in the Mayfest tournament and I thoroughly enjoyed myself watching him play as a parent / fan instead of as a coach.

For his high school team Lance plays right back and center mid. For our club team he has played almost exclusively as a right back. It was good to see him play almost exclusively as a center midfielder this weekend and despite being a bit rusty in the role, he played very well. His distributions from the center midfield position resulted in 10 assists on the teams 13 goals for the weekend. The calculated and well-timed runs he made from his center midfield position resulted in his scoring a game-winning goal! An astounding statistic.  Yeah, I'm proud of what he accomplished. ;)

I learned quite a bit watching Terry Paulus, the ISC Storm coach manage my son.  Lance played a lot of minutes until results of game were secured. I'm not entirely sure how much instruction Lance received about how to play center midfield within their system, but he settled in as the defensive center mid / pivot player from where he could change the point of attack, distribute to forwards / wings and make runs into the box.  It is a very dynamic role and within our own team system what I consider to be the most important position to be effectively manned.  Providing a protective presence in front of the backs while also being the key facilitator on offense is not an easy task. Great job Lance!

The ISC Storm play a far more direct game than our own team likes to play. I loathe straightline kick and run soccer but must admit Lance's service to the forwards this weekend reminded me of how effective a tactic it can be when the "kick" part is accurate effective service rather than just "whacking the ball forward."  In the finals Lance had 3 assists in the first 12 minutes and the game was pretty much over at that point. Our club team lacks that type of dynamic distributor and this may lead to Lance playng more in the center midfield as we close out the season.

I actually thought our team had someone who could fill that role for us, but his heart is in a different position. One thing I know and appreciate as a goalkeeper coach is the neccessity of having a passion for the position. If a player does not embrace the position, you might as well not play him there. Last spring our team had a number of players asked to play out of position and most did not embrace the roles they were asked to play. This neccessitated changes in the roster for this spring to match roles with players that embraced playing them.  We still have a couple of players "playing out of position", but most of the players have embraced the positions they have been asked to play and the  roles they have been asked to fill. They have made personal sacrifices for the good of the team.  As a coach, I value this dearly. It is, in part, what differentiates decent teams to elevate their collective games and become great teams.

New friend Cathy Rau also introduced a new-to-me phrase describing the parents sidelines - she calls it the "expert side."  This was applied mostly in reference to the referees but is also applicable to coaching I would think.  It's is actually a very apt description as every parent seems to believe they know more than the trained and licensed officials... and often times more than the coaches as well. We were quite fortunate to have one of the best officials around in Mr. Greg Reynolds for two of the matches this weekend. Mr. Reynolds does an outstanding job of communicating to players on the pitch often using his voice to control the game when others would resort to excessive whistles and cards.  I have always apprciated  Mr. Reynolds officiating from the coaching sideline, but do so even more having watched him facilitate the game from the perspective of the parents sidelines.

Perhaps the most interesting thing this weekend was watching a team grow together and mature right before our eyes.  Their first game they played well. The guest players assimulated well and the team as a whole not only accepted them but embraced them. The second game saw the relationship between team and guest players struggle a little bit as everyone let their guard down, so to speak. Passes just missed and timing was not nearly as efficient as it had been in the first game. Growing pains in the relationship.  The third game was a really solid showing and the champonship game was a dominating performance.  Everything was clicking early and often. I know this, ISC Storm this Monday morning is not the same ISC Storm team we defeated twice in the last two weeks. They have improved significantly. The guest players were a part of that for sure, but even when they were not in the game the improved team play was obvious.

So, Congratulations to the ISC Storm U16B 2013 Mayfest Champions!  We will see you in a couple of weeks at the Creek Classic. I sincerely hope our own team continues to improve at a similar rate. Should be a great matchup. Thanks for a great weekend!

Thursday

Coaches need to pay attention to the details of the process too.

I am constantly reading, watching and learning about the game of soccer. Over and over again I am struck by the smallest of details in the process of coaching and playing the game. Today I want to look at the technical aspect of this by taking a well known exercise and tweaking it just a bit to enhance it.

I do not recall exactly when I first saw this exercise although it seems to me it was at a licencsure or diploma course from my early days in coaching soccer.  The exercise is typically called the Dutch Diamond and is employed as a warmup. It's the simple type of exercise that offers repetitive touches and serves to develop muscle memory.  Like any exercise worth the time to use it comes with coaching points. In this case, preparing to play, quality of first touch and the correct execution of a push pass.  There is also movement after the pass although it is not necessarily game related in the simplest version of this exercise.

Using four cones set up a 20 yd x 20 yd grid and divide the players between the four cones.
Begin with one ball being passed around the outside of the grid. 
The touch sequences are all 2 touch and begin coutner clockwise with right / right,  then right / left. Change directions to clockwise utilizing left / left and left / right touches on the ball.
Pass and follow.

Simple and useful exercise when executed properly.  The coaching points listed above can help improve upon it. The video linked below illustrates a very simple means to drive those coaching points home even more effectively.  It's a quite simple tweak of the exercise.

Breaking Lines  (Thanks to Randy at soundsoccerdotcom)

I add 2 cones to each corner forming a "L" or "V" shape dependent on abilities. In this manner we can perform all 4 sequences without resetting. By adding two cones to each corner a greater emphasis is placed on preparing to play (receiving across the body) and quailty of first touch (pushing the ball across and break the line to lead into the second touch)

The after pass movement portion is still not as game related as I would like it to be so I continued tinkering with possible progressions.  What I came up with was to have the passer make a diagonal run through the center of the grid instead of following their pass (a sometimes useful play in-game, but one we over-emphasize in skill exercises, imo).  For the purposes of this warmp exercise that the players will be merely exchanging positions between two diagonal corners as opposed to circling the grid matters little as the touches are the same at all four corners.

Victory isn't a result of spontaneous combustion.
 
You must set yourself on fire.


I am not entirely comfortable with the picture this paints, but the message rings true. Success does not just happen. Success is earned. It is earned every minute of every day through devotion, dedication and discipline. There is no one who can give you success nor is there anyone who can keep you from success. It is belief in yourself that propels you to success.

Tuesday

Resiliency.

Every season, every team has its ups and downs, its peaks and valleys.  Our U17s have been down for a couple of weeks. As I probably mentioned in previous writings it can be frustrating as a coach to see the start of a slide come on and not be able to do anything about it.  Sometimes it just takes a good ol' fashion whupping to enable everyone to refocus. Ours came this past Sunday in the Elite 8 of President's Cup. I had hoped it bottomed us out... and it did.

We returned to league play this evening against a very good side.  I made a couple of lineup changes based in part on observations of play the last two weeks. We emphasized flank play tonight. After a bit of a slow start the lads developed a rhythm and the flow of play really began to go our way.  At times we played beautiful soccer.  Attacking down the flanks opened up the middle of the field and backside.  For the first time all season we were dynamic and versatile on attack.  Our wing defenders became much more involved on the attack with one getting a goal!

As a parent I know children have an incredible resiliency.  I marveled at how our own sons bounced back from adversity as if that was what one was supposed to do.  A child never seems to have a thought of doing anything else. That is not always the case with older youths and adults. Our team might have hung their collective heads and went through the motions for the rest of the season, but instead they came out determined to regain focus and momentum.... and they did.

Coming off our worst defeat of the season, the boys played their best game of the season.  Defense and attack were both quite good this evening.  Miminium of breakdowns on either side of the ball. Best team play and teamwork we have had all season.  Team shape and team support were the best we have had all season.  It was wonderful, as it always is, to see a team pick itself up, dust itself off and regroup.  I am so proud of the lads response to the whupping they received.  It's a good feeling knowing they will take this lesson in resiliency and carry it over to their lives as well.  Good job gentlemen!

And Congratulations on an outright League Championship!

Sunday

I need to work harder... and smarter.

Our U17 team got thumped 1-6 on Sunday.  The match was both closer than the score indicates and worse than the score indicates. How can that be?  Well, there were periods where we passed the ball well, built attacks and were dangerous. There were also times our defensive alignment was the best its been all year.  So, consistency was obviously a problem.

With a talented and deep roster "buy in" becomes a critical consideration and unfortunately not everyone has bought into the team style of play we are attempting to implement.  As a coach, little is as frustrating as having to correct the same mistake repeatedly. This is unfortunately the position I find myself in these past two weeks. Old habits can be difficult to break, but I expect effort in attempting to establish new, better habits.  That "buy in" to improve individual play for the benefit of the team has been lacking. It's my job to do a better job of selling sacrificing self for team.

As an experienced coach I know that sometimes team chemistry never does develop to an extent that allows collective achievement to rise to potential.  Some of the most talented teams I have ever been associated with have under achieved because some key players never came to appreciate and understand what it means to play for their teammates.  I'm not sure we are that point with this team, but we have a need for greater buy-in to a team first approach.

To date, I have started the best individual players with the belief that as they learned to play together they would develop a team approach to the game. Our practices are team oriented to re-inforce this. We don't do a lot of individual work. Almost everything we do is based in playing together as a team.  Support on offense and defense.  Sharing the ball ... or allowing the ball to do the work for us. 

Johan Cruyff once stated that "the most difficult thing is to play simply" and this is a message we need to heed. Too many lost possessions caused by taking on multiple defenders or by attempting fancy passes instead of a simple push pass.  Trying to be spectacular rarely works. The "Play of the Day" plays arise from making the simple play on a routine basis, then when extraordinary is called for it is based in simple fundamental play.

For the next match I will start the 11 that play best together instead of the 11 best players. A subtle difference at times, but success is found in the smallest details of the process.  The small details is where our process has faltered in recent days.  As a coach I must encourage paying attention to the details of the process. I must help this group of players develop individual and collective discipline where it concerns the details of the process. Once we re-establish that base I am confident we will regain momentum and finish the season strong.

Lots of work to do. 

Time to get started on it.

Thursday

Truths about parents and youth sports.

After 3 decades of coaching youth sports I have learned a few basic truths about parents.

1) Parents over value the talent of their child, sometimes ridiculously so.

2) Parents live vicariously through their children.

3) Parents believe if they pay for their childs playing experience they are also purchasing the right to interject their opinions and suggestions into the process.

4) Parents seriously restrict, hinder and otherwise impede their childs passion and progress for the sport they play.

In short, well intentioned parents can turn youth sporting experiences into nightmares for their children ...and by extension for everyone they come in  contact with as well. I remember one particular mother whom we shall call "Mary".  She cheered wildy for her son. The team? Not so much and especially not for any teammate perceived to be competition for her son's playing time or accolades. Her son was one of the unhappiest players I have ever encountered. He practiced angry. He played angry. Horrible teammate. Refused to help with equipment or take any other responsibility for himself or his play. Mommy had his back. In her eyes he could do no wrong. He played because his mother expected him to. He played to make mommy happy. Everyone else was an obstacle to the success Mary wanted for her son.

Your child will only go as far as his love for the game carries him.

Make sure your child is playing soccer because it is what he or she wants to do.  Make sure they have a passion for the game and are not playing because of your passion for the game.  There are better ways to seek your approval than by allowing you to live vicariously through their youth sport experience. Support your son's or daughter's interests and passions and accept that their's might not be yours.

Unless you played professionally, you really weren't all that good when you played either.  Don't build your own youth sports exploits into larger than life tall tales. Your child doesn't need the pressure of living up to the blown out of proportion mythical memories of your youth

Our local youth soccer league has what they call "Silent Saturday" that calls for complete silence while their child competes that day. I love it!   Don't insert yourself into your child's game.  It is your child out there competing, not you. You don't have a joystick to control your child's action on the pitch. Screaming instructions at your child only serves to add pressure to the situation. Your child wants to please you so imagine how he feels when he fails to execute as you are telling him to. Don't complicate his on-field decision making process by inserting what you want him to do into the equation. Your perspective is not his in the first place. Your "helpful insights" will be recieved as confrontational emotionally driven intrusions and you know how kids respond to those, don't you?

If you want to coach, sign up to coach otherwise keep your mouth shut and allow the coaches to do their job. Most youth sport coaches donate their time - planning time, practice time, game time and the time spent away from other activities.  You don't and therefore you do not have a say in coaching decisions and particularly not as it concerns lineup, playing time or general direction of the team. You don't have to remain with the team, but you better ask for your child's opinion before yanking him off the team.  If you want input on coaching decisions, sign up to coach otherwise keep your thoughts to yourself.

Remember always that this is about the child, allow him to enjoy the experience.  Youth sports are a learning experience for children and not just about fundamental techniques and tactics of the sport, but socially as well. The skills, be they athletic or social skills are his to learn, practice and develop. Be supportive. Provide a guiding influence but not an overly intrusive one. Just allow your child to enjoy the process.

My personal story of involvement with my son's sporting adventures?  Yes, I made some of the mistakes discussed above. Others I was witness to from the coaching sidelines.  My love was basketball. None of my sons have developed the same level of passion for basketball that I possess. I have supported their passion for soccer.  They play soccer. They referee soccer. They coach soccer.  Athletically speaking soccer is their passion. Through my support of them I have developed a passion for the game as well. I think that is how it should be. 

Our family has been fortunate to have many wonderful experiences centered around soccer. We have made countless new and lasting friendships through our participation. Occasionally we have rubbed shoulders with truly "great" athletes, coaches, referees and administrators of the game. Our lives have been blessed and enriched through our soccer experiences mainly because we have understood that soccer is something we do and enjoy doing together, but it does not define who we are.  The friendships I speak of having made? Those were made possible through our children's participation in soccer. That's the value of the game to us as parents.  The championships?  The trophies? The individual awards and accolades?  All fleeting at best.  The friendships are lasting.  The memories and bonds built with our children are lasting.  Allow your child to enjoy his youth sport experience and you will all benefit from it.
 


Sometimes the Process Falters

On Monday our U17 team had its worst practice ever. As a coach, I saw the process breaking down in the days leading up to Monday's practice. The team was becoming over confident due to their successful run through the league. Standing at 5-0-0 and within a victory of clinching the league title their focus was wavering. The truth of this can be found in a simple quote from one of the players "This is too easy. We should have played (in a tougher league)." 

I cautioned repeatedly of how our next opponent would play well against us despite their lacklustre record to date. Excellent coach and they had nearly two weeks to prepare for us. I could tell the players were not heeding these warnings. They were riding high and basking in their success while largely ignoring the very things that brought them to that point in the first place  - the details of the process.

The process of reaching our goals takes place every day.

The process is taking place when working on your own, in every practice and during every game.

The process is taking place at every meal and in the amount of rest we get each night.
We cannot allow ourselves to become bored with the process.

Ultimately the quality of our performance, our ability to achieve the goals we have set, will be determined by the attention paid to the details within the process.



I have traveled this path with teams before. I often allow them to fail and have at times aided in their failure in interests of long-term goals.  Failure can lead to change and from change success can arise. With a home and home against a quality side looming sandwiched around a Presidents Cup match winning our match on Tuesday was imperative, in my opinion.

Upon arriving at our opponents pitch it was obvious our team believed all they had to do was show up and the game was ours. Pre-match warmups were lethargic and punctuated by off-topic discussions. The opposing team was far more focused going through their pre-game rituals. They had a crispness and business-like approach.  

We began the match strong with good teamwork and excellent passing to get in behind their defenders 4 times in the first 3 minutes of the game.  We failed to finish on any of those chances. At the 7 minute mark our goal keeper played a soft ball up the middle of the pitch off a pass back that was promptly deposited in the net behind him. It was a horrible passive mistake by an experienced goalkeeper. A play born from a lack of focus and lack of attention to the details of the process. The tone was set for the rest of the match.

To further complicate matters the referee crew was subpar by the weakest of standards. I would hate to think it was intentional bias but we were whistled for 21 fouls as opposed to 6 for the opponents and were issued 3 yellow cards while the opponents recieved one.  My team rarely receives yellow cards and in my opinion none of the issued were warranted last night.

We fought through it all to tie the score 1 - 1 at halftime.  I was extremely frustrated with many aspects of our play. In particular the team having completely ignored the pre-game instructions regarding limiting touches in the defending and middle thirds of the field. We continuously attempted to dribble through multiple defenders. Selfish play rooted in not having a plan for what to do with the ball before recieving it.... the very thing that has been our point of emphasis all season long.

I attempted to re-establish some of these points of emphasis at half time, but it was clear the team was still tuning me out. They offered excuses for why they had abandoned the things we worked on. They were quite clearly not yet ready to admit the path they had chosen was one of false steps that would lead to the undermining of their goals, of their team mission.

We went down 1-2 shortly into the second half and my usually positive team began to get chippy with one another. Once again, I seriously considered alowing them to fail.  In the end I felt circumstances dictated we find a way to win this match.  I went with a line up of our most rugged kids and sought to simply overwhelm the opponents with our physical presence on the pitch. Yes, this did contribute to the discrepancy in foul calls. Yes, all 3 of the yellow cards issued against us came in the second half.  Yes, we did end up intimidating the opponents and setting them back on their heels. Almost the entire final 30 minutes of the match was played on their end of the pitch.

We evened the score at 2-2 and then saw a player coming from the midfield called offside on a bangoo - a pass back toward the 12 from along the endline. Bizarre call at best. We got the go-aead goal with 14 minutes left and hung on for the victory that clinched the league title.  I suppose we should have celebrated but I was nearly sick to my stomache over the way we played. We abandoned everything we worked on and reverted to playing American high school soccer. U-G-L-Y straight line soccer with no forethought of play beyond individually winning the ball and taking it to goal.  A style that will surely get our heads handed to us this weekend in Presidents Cup play.

We have our work cut out for us as we attempt to regain focus and re-establish positives from our play leading up to this last match. This match was a step back, but we will re-group and move forward again. I am just hoping it can be a quick turnaround.