Thursday

Better People make Better ...

In James Kerr’s book “Legacy” there is a phrase used repeatedly that has stuck with me: “Better people make better All Blacks”.  The original context inferred this was about populating the All Blacks with the right kind of people.  Be it administration, coaches or players: better people makes better All Blacks.  Common sense, right? Weed out those who don’t buy-in and replace them with those who are all-in. As I finished reading the book I came to realize it’s so much more than that.

I have been working at a high school that has some truly outstanding educators on staff yet the school is not viewed favorably on state report cards. This has been on my mind for much of the last two years. Why doesn’t the school perform better on state tests than it does?  I can ask the same about the schools soccer program I have led. A common theme (in my mind) is that best and brightest students (/athletes) do not make those around them better. In a general sense, they tend to settle for and into the norm.

Why is that?

I do not profess to have all the answers, but that phrase from the book keeps rattling around my brain: Better people make better ...

A public school system pretty much takes any student and it can be very difficult to cull the student population.  I’m walking a slippery slope here and so I want to be clear that there are truly quality people in this school - adults and students alike.  But could they be better? And should a stronger focus be on improving the people? Not exchanging them for others, just improving on what is here. Invest in and take care of the people in your organization for better people make better ...

This, then, is what I believe James Kerr’s message is. At least in part. Invest in the people for better people make better ...  students, better athletes, et al. If students lack social graces and are rude, inconsiderate towards both peers and adults, can we not make an effort to help them improve in these areas.  For instance, as players report to practice there is an expectation, a standard, that they will greet each of their teammates and coaches with a handshake and small talk.  Could this not be carried over to each classroom each period? It would take but a couple of minutes ... time invested in the people. For better people make better ...

I have proposed starting a Gentlemen’s Club at the school modeled off successful programs at other schools. Basically a club that focuses on social graces, how to tie a tie and other things that can impact self-esteem and confidence ... improving the people.  Would this then positively impact state test scores?

Better people make better All Blacks
Better people make better Fairlawn Jets
Better people make better soccer players.

If we improve the people, raise their self-esteem and confidence they become better people and by extension better students, better soccer players and so on.  This seems a simple formula and one easily implemented.  Seems likely to be worth the effort, does it not?  What say you?

Saturday

Moving on.

I made the decision to move on from Fairlawn High School with some reluctance.  I had accepted the positions there because 1) my wife was changing careers and we needed the extra income and 2) because I wanted to continue coaching soccer. Fairlawn offered me both a position in the school and the head soccer coach position for which I remain extremely grateful. I have come to love the work and many of my co-workers.  The coaching has been interesting: perhaps my most disappointing year of coaching followed by the most rewarding year of coaching I have had in a long time.

I'm not going to dwell on the negatives here other than to say there were some: selfish players, helicopter parents - typical obstacles found anywhere and everywhere.

I want to focus on the positives. First the work aspects: Amber, Chris, Cory, Jodi, Jason ... truly outstanding educators. These folks go above and beyond in service to the young people entrusted to them. Each is willing to build teacher / pupil relationships that put students at ease and facilitate learning. I've learned so much from each of them.

The players.  I must admit that after the 2017 season I seriously considered hanging up the whistle and clipboard. That season had been so disastrous that the ability of the program to survive was in doubt.  The very real threat of the program folding is ultimately what kept me in the coaching game. I prayed on it and felt God had brought me to Fairlawn to navigate a terrible season and persevere through at least the next season to lay a foundation that could be built upon. We have succeeded in doing this. The program has grown from 4 players this time last year to an estimated 22 players for the 2019 season.

The credit is only partially mine. The majority of credit goes to the following players: Lucas and Leeann were our seniors and both did a remarkable job in stabilizing a floundering program. That will be their legacy to Fairlawn soccer. And quite a legacy it is. Grace, Seth, Katie and Payton were the underclassmen who stepped forward to provide leadership to the team. They were positive in the face of almost overwhelming adversity and understood our success was measured through continuous improvement in the process.  These six individuals demonstrated maturity, character, dedication and positivity well beyond their years. Their teammates followed their lead. They will each enjoy success in life because of these traits and collectively he four who return can lead the Fairlawn soccer program to the next level.

My wife is enjoying her new work as CFO of a non-profit and I have found new employment with Van Wert City Schools / the Western Buckeye Educational Services Center.  I will be coaching men's soccer at Van Wert and am looking forward to the challenge. When I took over the Lima Central Catholic girls program they had never had a winning season in its 11 years of existence. That was preperation for this next adventure as I'm not sure Van Wert has enjoyed a winning season in its 24(?) years of existence. I am really looking forward to the challenge.

I am going to remember the lessons learned from my time at Fairlawn. The successes and the failures alike. So very much learned that can be applied going forward. I am especially going to remember the people. Those mentioned previously and people like Miss Betty, Betsy, Shelly, Deb, Gail, Todd, JT, Yolanda, Erin, Thersa, Darren, Karen and so many more.

I have a stated goal of wanting to learn something new each and every day and they all helped fulfill this goal over the last two years. I am sure I have missed a few, my apologies. This is one of the hazards of trying to name so many.

Most importantly, I wish to thank Caleb Puckett, the young man I was primarily charged to work with at Fairlawn. Caleb has been a daily inspiration to me and in truth was the deciding factor in my returning to Fairlawn this year. He is Developmentally Disabled or so they tell me. What Caleb actually is, is unique. He processes information differently than you or I. He is most definitely not dumb, just slow in doing things conventionally. He is quite smart and has a strong desire to learn. The progress he made these two years has been amazing. Until he ran up against calculus and trigonometry he mastered every academic challenge presented to him. And in fact, he was doing okay in those subjects before the decision was made to focus on more practical math, or math Caleb will need to be able to perform routinely in daily life.  Such a rewarding experience for me. I thank God for having had this experience.

And now, I am moving on.  Moving on to the next adventure.

Monday

LEGACY by James Kerr

On the recommendation of a friend the book Legacy by James Kerr was among the books I bought myself for Christmas. I finally got around to reading it and discovered it was as “unputdownable” as Bloomberg reviewed it to be.   I think one reason I put off reading it was because I am a soccer coach and this is a book about the All Blacks rugby team. Only, it’s not about rugby at all.  It’s about culture and leadership. It’s about life.

A personal strength of mine lies in building soccer programs.  Not just a team, but the program.  And not a rebuild either.  I truly enjoy taking a program that maybe has not had on-the-field success and helping them find that elusive success. Another way to frame this is to say I have a knack for taking a program and team to the next level.  This invariably entails improving the programs / teams culture by infusing it with positivity and giving it my confidence. THIS is what Legacy is all about.

The book is not in a bullet pointed step by step format on how to do things the right way, but it is in a coherent format that touches on the basics, or the core, concepts, ideas and philosophies that lead to success.  The All Blacks are the vehicle used to relate the values that drive success. And, along this journey I discovered I’ve been doing a lot of things right in accordance with the book. There are also things, many things, I have learned through reading this book. These I will be sharing with the programs and teams I work with going forward.  Thank you Mr. James Kerr.  Much appreciated.

Sunday

A brief look inside our Pace of Play Camps


Combining the Keys to Pace of Play, Sequence of Touches and the Four Elements of the Game of Soccer are essential to playing fast soccer. This is a THINKING man’s game.

Keys to Pace of Play
·        Be in your teammate’s vision early

·        Know your next play before your first touch

·        Be a back footed player
Do not close your hips to the passer
Keep your hips open to as much of the field as possible.
Heels to touch when playing in wide channels

·        Play the way you face

Sequence of Touches – Two touch play with the inside of the foot. Toes up heel down only
·        Right / Right
·        Right / Left
·        Left / Left
·        Left / Right

The Four Elements of the Game of Soccer

·        Penetration

·        Depth

·        Width

·        Mobility



There's more, of course.  We build activities around these ideas.

Remember these things.

If you don't go after what you want,

you will never get what you want.

If you don't ask,

the answer is always no.

If you don't step forward, 

you never advance and improve.

Champion Behavior

The culture precedes positive results.

Champions behave like champions

before they’re champions;

they have a winning standard of performance

before they are winners.



– Bill Walsh

If all your teammates ...


If all your teammates …

… Communicated as you do
… Sacrificed as you do
… Encouraged as you do
… Cared as you do
… Worked as you do
… Had the same attitude as you do
… Treated others as you do,

Would your team be better or worse?

Tuesday

Thoughts on TEAM


                   11 Thoughts About Team               

1) Teams rise and fall on culture, leadership, relationships, attitude and effort.

Great teams have a culture driven by great leadership. Relationships are meaningful and teammates are connected. The collective attitude is very positive and everyone on the team works hard to accomplish their mission.


2) It's all about teamwork.  

Sometimes you are the star. Sometimes a teammate is the star. Share the spotlight.

3) If you want to be truly great, you must work as hard at being a great teammate as you do at being a great player. 

When you work hard at being a great teammate, you make everyone around you better.

4) Your teammates do not care if you are a superstar. 

They care if you are a super teammate.

5) You control your ATTITUDE, your EFFORTS and your ACTIONS toward being a great teammate.

Regardless of what is happening around you, everyday you can focus on being positive, working hard and making others around you better. If you do this, great things will happen.


6) One person cannot make a team, but one person can break a team.


Stay positive, always.  Do not allow Energy Vampires to sabotage YOUR teams efforts.


7) Great teammates hold one another accountable to the highest standards of excellence their culture demands and expects.


Without enforcement of standards all talk about culture is just that ... Talk.  


8) Team beats talent when talent isn't a team.


Culture can win you or lose you games AND it's YOUR CHOICE which it will do.


9) Great teams care more.


Great teams care about each other, their appearance, the quality of their work, their efforts ... everything positive.


10) Firm Belief and Understanding that WE > me.


What is best for the team supersedes what is best for the individual. A willingness to sacrifice for a common goal and the greater good.


11) Quality TEAM Decision Making.


Each and every day your team faces a decision.  


Settle for average and choose a path of mediocrity


OR


Take the road less traveled and chase GREATNESS.


I spend several hours of every week involved in soccer at various ability and age levels - club soccer, high school soccer, youth soccer, camps and clinics,  As would be expected, even amongst players of similar ages, the technical level of individual players varies quite a bit. I had long been of the opinion that individuals and teams with very good technical ability play attractive soccer.  Over time I came to reconsider my thoughts on this.

There can be no doubt individual technical ability is an important prerequisite to playing attractive soccer. However, it became apparent to me many individuals and teams with good technical foundations tend to play at the game of soccer instead of actually playing soccer.

Playing soccer occurs when technical ability is used in the context of helping make sense of the game.There are conscious decisions made by individuals and coordinated with teammates concerning where and how the ball is to be played and also about how players are to move and where players are to move on the pitch.

Players consciously think about what to do with the ball and make plans to execute their ideas about this.  Passes are played with some degree of thought, with intent and not just aimlessly struck forward. The ball is played backwards, diagonally or square with a fair degree of frequency as players and teams seek the path of least resistance to goal.  Possession is maintained through a combination of technical abilities - receiving the ball, dribbling, running with the ball, passing. Movement of players on the pitch is done with forethought and done with purpose. Although many times these skills are not executed perfectly by young players the important thing is players demonstrating they possess ideas about how to intentionally influence the game through their own decision making.

Playing at soccer occurs when individuals play the ball mainly with the intention of gaining better field positions.  The game is often marked by great hustle and energy, but rarely are these executed in a well coordinated manner.  The flow of the game is random and rarely influenced by intentional positive actions. Possessions are truncated and what rhythm there is to the game more closely resembles that of a ping pong match than a proper soccer match.

Possession soccer is not defined by any specific number of successful passes having been completed. A team might successfully maintain possession for 20 passes while never advancing the ball into scoring position. Similarly, a forward might win possession in his attacking third and immediately score the ball without ever attempting a pass. Which of these was a successful possession?

Possession with a Purpose does not even adequately grasp the concept. For example, a player races to a 50 / 50 ball and upon arriving first to the ball whacks it mightily up the pitch towards the opponents goal.  This player had a purpose behind his play. In fact, he might have had multiple purposes behind his play: Win the ball, Gain field position, "Passing" to a teammate.  This, in a snapshot, is how much of the United States views "direct" soccer. 

Direct Soccer is a strategy espousing the shortest distance between two points (the ball and the goal is a straight line. Follow the straight line as closely as possible to advance the ball as quickly as possible and when close enough attempt to score the ball. Sounds good ... until the obstacles opponents present are encountered.  Then, instead of a direct straight line toward goal, the course alters direction at each new obstacle encountered. Even if possession is successfully maintained the pace of play is slowed dramatically ... Unless ...

Intelligent Play is combining technical ability with tactical forethought in teamwork to possess and advance the ball at pace into scoring position resulting in an increase in the likelihood of a successful strike on goal. This seeks to eliminate or at least minimize the randomness that permeates the basic concept of direct soccer.

Many years ago while taking the National High School Diploma Course through the NSCAA now known as United Soccer Coaches I had the good fortune of learning from a gentleman by the name of Jeff Vennell who had penned a wonderful document titled The Cues for Combination Passing and shared with us various exercises to introduce these to players. When introducing the concept of Intelligent Attacking Play his thoughts on combination passing remain high on the priority list of topics to teach.  The Cues for Combination Passing are but one example of a collective philosophy I loosely refer to as Intentionally Manipulating the Opponent and the Game itself through Intelligent Possession.  Playing with a well defined and intelligent Purpose.







Coaches Play Favorites

Fact: Coaches play favorites:

They favor those who are accountable

They favor those who are responsible

They favor those who are good teammates

They favor those who work hard

They favor those who accept roles


Signs of Buy-In



Signs of Buy In

EYE CONTACT

GOOD BODY LANGUAGE

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

QUICK TO PRAISE

ENJOYING THE PROCESS

COACH-ABLE

ENGAGED

INQUISITIVE









No tactical system in the world 

can compensate for flaws in work ethic 

or inattention to the basics.

Each and every training session must

reinforce this to players.

Saturday

Who was the worst player you have ever coached?

I was recently asked to describe the worst player I have ever coached.

Context told me this had absolutely nothing to do with skill set or ability to play the game, per se. The questioner did not wish for me to divulge a name.  This was more a quest for anecdotal identification of what makes a poor teammate.  Two players immediately came to mind. One of each gender. I will be using initials to describe these individuals in this writing. They are not the individuals true initials and were indeed selected totally at random. In fact, I might even obfuscate gender or mix and max a bit to protect identies.

GM was an average talent on the pitch who had an alpha personality.  Not being”the” star was a problem resolved by attaching himself to the star player.  The star player was not a leader, but as is often the case with a star player was looked upon as a leader.  So GM led through the star player.  It was a selfish, self-promoting style of leadership that ultimately cost the team a chance to play for a championship. GM didn’t care about that or much of anything else that did not benefit or promote himself directly.  Not only was GM selfish, he was also a bully and capable of being quite mean to any who dared challenge his self-perceived authority or place on the team.

GD was the most narcissistic person, let alone player, I have ever encountered.  No sense of team except in the sense of what the team could provide him.  Did not care about winning as long as she got her stats. GD’s damage was not limited to a season or even seasons. No, GD almost completely destroyed an entire program. There was real question as to whether the program would survive to field future teams. Her selfishness rose to a level of running off potential players who could have served the team well, but conflicted with her personnel mission. I’ve never had a player more disliked by he own teammates than GD was.  And GD was completely and totally oblivious to this ... or just didn’t care.

Why is this important?

Why rehash bad memories?

I tried to cut both GM and GD from their respect teams and programs, but was not allowed to do so for different reasons.  One cost their team a chance to compete for a championship and the other almost destroyed a program. Both of these individuals were leaders on their teams. NEGATIVE leaders who proved destructive to their teams missions and goals.

That’s part of the reason I am sharing his with you.  Rarely does a team rise above the level of its leaders.  If, on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the best leader possible and one being the worst leader imaginable, your leader is a 6, then your team will never be anything more than slightly above average. If your leader is below average, say, a four, then that is also the ceiling, the cap, the lid for your team.

Another reason I am sharing this with you is my observations regarding GM and GD’s teammates. Most curiously from my perspective is how so many good players and potentially solid leaders on both teams allowed GM and GD to assume control of their teams culture and programs destiny. Good, truly good, people allowed something really awful to happen to themselves without putting up a strong enough fight to win the day.  I shouldn’t be surprised since history is littered with examples of good people led astray by dubious leadership. I suppose I am more disappointed than surprised.

Both teams underachieved for the simple reason their culture was dominated by negative leadership.

I am eternally grateful to both GM and GD for from failure we learn. They were such colossal
failures as leaders that they provided magnificent learning opportunities.  For one, I used to loathe cutting players, but now when I identify another potential GM or GD I do not hesitate in purging
them from the team and program. I have also learned to be far more aware and selective of the environment I coach in: if I cannot rid a team and or program of poor leaders and poor teammates,  then I now fully realize the limits this places on the team being competitive to the full measure of potential ... and the frustration that will inevitably be present in such an environment.





The 10 Commandments for Attacking Soccer


1) Thou shall not spectate when thou should be playing. It is impossible to support your teammates on attack or when defending if you are watching play instead of adjusting your positioning each and every time the ball moves. A coaching phrase I use to remind players to do this is “When the ball travels, we travel!” It can be called, ‘When the ball travels” by a coach or player and answered “We travel” by the remaining team members

2) Thou shall check to the ball when winning loose balls and receiving passes. Waiting for a ball to come to you is inviting an opponent to win the ball. Perhaps even worse is running away from a ball thinking you are played through and allowing an opponent to step in behind you to win the ball. Inexcusable. We should never lose a possession due to not checking to the ball. Never.

3) Thou shall position yourself so your hips are open to as much of the field as is possible. If your hips are closed to the direction the ball is coming from, your play is predictable. Open hips to as much of the field as possible is a secret to successful possession. In this manner thou shall receive the ball across your body whenever possible. We call this being a back footed player. Receiving in this manner allows the player to stay in compliance with Commandment #3. Failure to comply with this commandment makes you a predictable player and one easily defended and dispossessed of the ball.

4) Thou shall make a safe pass upon winning possession of the ball. It is senseless to win the ball and attempt to advance into pressure. Make a safe pass and allow that receiver to establish the rhythm of the attack.

5) Thou shall not stop the ball between thy feet when receiving it. The path of the ball must be changed away from pressure when receiving it. This forces any defender in pursuit of the ball to change course thus buying the receiver space and time to play the ball. Failure to do so changes the pressure to make the play away from the defender and onto the receiver.

6) Thou shall support your teammates at proper angles. It is extremely difficult to make a straight pass, especially if the teammate is running away. This type of “vertical” support can devastate an attack. It is just as critical not to support the 1st defender in a vertical line as you offer virtually no support in doing so. The rule of thumb is 45 degree angles when defending and 45 degree angles or bigger when on the attack.

7) Thou shall not pass square in your defensive third nor in the middle portion of the field. Square passes are the easiest passes to cleanly intercept and immediately transition to attack on. Square passes tend to happen when there is a lack of diagonal support for the passer.

8) Thou shall play the way you face. This is a rule of thumb so there are exceptions. It holds especially true when you are under pressure. Drop or back passes are okay to relieve that pressure. Maintaining possession is what we want to do.

9) Thou shall not shoot from impossible angles. Intelligent defenses seek to deny shots in general and especially those from in front of the goal. Many defenses seek to limit shots against them to coming from a line that extends from the goal post to the corner of the 6 to the corner of the 18 or wider. Shots from those angles leave the goalkeeper with a greatly reduced goal to defend. You must seek to cross the ball when in this deep or take the ball to and along the end line for a cut back cross. Thou shall go to goal each and every time you get your inside shoulder in front of the opponent defending you. When you are breaking free and have the opportunity to eliminate the closest opponent to you, do so. It is not an option. It is mandatory.

10) Thou shall shoot the ball whenever in position to take a quality shot. When in front of the goal and from 25 yards in there should be no hesitation. No extra touch to set the ball up just right. No extra passes. Just put the ball on net. Toe pokes are fine. Knees are fine. Love headers for goals. Strike at the midpoint or higher on the ball to keep it low. Whatever it takes to get the ball on net. Just do it and do it at the first available moment.

Friday

People over Players

A coach’s primary function 

should be not to make better players,

 but to make better people. 



– John Wooden

This is one of the quotes I keep close to heart at all times.  As coaches of youth teams we are entrusted with young men and women in their formative years. We are part of the community it takes to raise a child. In nearly 40 years of coaching I believe the majority of time spent with young people has been spent reinforcing solid values set in place in their homes.  I've been blessed in that regard.

There have been times when I have taken a more active role in the development of a young person. This usually, but not always, occurs in cooperation with the young person's parent(s).  Sometimes a child lacks a good home situation. Sometimes they have not even had a home situation. Thankfully those scenarios have been rare, but alas have been occurring with greater frequency in recent years. But for the most part I work as an enforcer for parents seeking help in teaching life lessons to their children.  Sometimes That parent has even been myself.  

For example, the most common thing I have done is have a player report to the game in uniform and then inform him or her they will be watching that days match from the sidelines. The reason? Either poor grades or discipline issues.  It's an attention getter.  I did this with my own child when he began to think video games and soccer were more important than school and homework.  I believe he was a 5th grader at the time. In that instance I did not tell his teammates why he wasn't playing that day. His teammates kept asking him why he wasn't playing. He eventually had to tell them himself.  Not only did this correct his behavior but it sent a powerful message to his teammates about the prioritizing.

I share that brief story to help illustrate my decision-making philosophy. I prioritize PROGRAM first followed by TEAM second and the INDIVIDUAL third. I have had a parent or two question me about this when I have forced a player to miss games for grade issues. This has usually occurred in the case of a club player and has often not been the parent of the player himself, but a teammates parent. The conversation goes something like this, "How can sitting 'Jonathon' be the best thing for the team? We need Jonathon if we are going to win the game."   My response is invariably that we need Jonathon to win life before we can worry about Jonathon helping us to win a game. We do not want to be a program known for "winning at all costs" especially if that cost is sacrificing what is good for an individual to promote the program.  

"But what about the team?  It's not fair to the other players!"  

EXACTLY!  Why should Jonathon be granted special privileges?  Just because he is a good soccer or basketball player?  Does athletic talent earn him a free pass in other areas of life?  

We know in some cultures athletic talent will gain you a free pass in many areas of life. It's not right, but it happens. All glory is found in the win ... until that player can no longer contribute to winning. Attrition of one kind or another takes place. What then?  That player is discarded in favor of a newer version. IF that former player is lucky and was a truly exceptional athlete (s)he might be remembered 20 years later for accomplishments on the court or field,. But for most, in less than a generations time they are all but forgotten. They become real life Al Bundy's spending their adult life reliving their past glory as a youth athlete.

When a player I work with is being recruited the single most important piece of advice I provide is for them to make a 40-year decision.  As a coach, I do my best to do the same.  It's easy to choose a school based on what you get from the recruiting process and promises of wins.  That is also fools gold. Short term gain. Live in this moment decision making. I counsel to select a school based on what an education from that school can do for you 40 years into the future. 

Deciding to not play a young person in a club or high school game is much the same thing. In the grand scheme of things that game sat out will soon be forgotten by almost everyone involved. With the exception of the individual who had to sit out, hopefully.  When I take this approach I literally pray that sitting out an in-the-moment significant but in the long-term inconsequential youth sporting contest will be a positive life altering event for that individual with a lasting impact of 40+ years. 

My goal as a coach is to help the young people entrusted to me in developing life skills and character that will serve then well for a lifetime.  The techniques, tactics, physical condition of the sport ... all that is a means to an end and that end is not necessarily winning games.  In fact, if truth be known, wins are a by-product of life skills, character and the type of decision making that when present  bring out he best in individuals, teams and life.