It's a process.

We took our team to a college showcase tournament recently.  I admit to trepidation in taking a new team to such an event for their first games. I believe we have the makings of a very good team, but one just never knows how a new team will respond until they step onto the pitch against good opposition.  The weekend brought a package of mixed results - some good, some bad, some ugly. The bottom line is, the event was a learning experience as much for me as it was for the players. Probably more so for me.

In assembling the team I evaluated individual members and attempted to place them in formational positions and a system of play that seemed likely to fit skill sets and personalities. As coaches, sometimes we get it right and sometimes we need to take a step back, re-evaluate and reformulate plans. A review of the teams performance is in essence a review of my own performance. Did I have the pieces assembled properly? Had I chosen formation and systems of play wisely?

Observing and analyzing in-the-game play is essential to improving individual and team performance. I give players tremendous on-field freedom emphasizing maintaining team shape over strict holding of positions and using formational guidelines to determine what shape we will have when attacking or defending. I not only allow but rely on the athletes to make in-game adjustments based on the problems they encounter when playing. Our success is predicated largely on the players ability to solve the problems they encounter. Training provides us with the necessary tools to solve problems, aka pressure, on both an individual and collective basis.

There was a moment during our second match that encapsulates the current status of our team and has me pondering the course to chart from this point forward. We came out strong against a good opponent leading 2-1 at halftime. I knew from watching the opponents in an earlier match their coach was very good at making halftime adjustments. The opponent made a single tactical adjustment that changed the flow of the game. An adjustment on our part should not have been necessary. All that was required was a recommitment to positional integrity and team shape within our systems of play when defending.  Unfortunately those are the biggest areas of concern with this group. As a group, they do not possess a broad range of soccer experience and some have played one position for their entire soccer career. In short, our soccer IQ appears to be too limited to play as I have asked them to play.

From a coaching standpoint I must decide if more time will lead to the improvements we need to make in these areas or if a change in formation and system of play will better suit the personnel of this team. It is important to listen to the players when making this decision. I had discussions initiated by five different players concerning their roles. I initiated discussions with a few more.  Some sought clarification, some offered suggestions, others expressed concerns. Through these discussions a picture began to emerge.

For our third match we made a subtle change to formation and team shape.  These changes addressed defensive concerns but might have hampered our ability to attack. Nonetheless, as I have continued to analyze our individual and collective play I find my initial thoughts on formation for this group requires additional consideration and thought. The system of play less so, but with formational change there will be tweaks required here as well. I believe we may be able to better utilize existing skill as we strive to broaden their soccer perspective and raise their overall game intelligence.

And so the process for this team is now better defined. We will regroup, make a few adjustments and prepare for the opening of league play in a couple of weeks. I really like the potential of this group and feel better about how to fit the individual pieces together to form a cohesive picture.  Time will tell, but I think really good things are ahead for this team.

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