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.


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