You can only be GREAT
at what you are willing to SACRIFICE for!


Columbus Crew Stadium experience doesn't measure up.

I have been attending matches at Columbus Crew Stadium since it opened in 1999.  It is a great venue for high school soccer and I have enjoyed many a reserve match there. I have watched my son referee there and truly enjoyed the experience. Watching an MLS match is not an enjoyable experience for me. In fact, I have never had a "great" MLS experience at Columbus Crew Stadium.

Three experiences will serve to highlight what I perceive to be short-comings in marketing and presentation.

1) The first time I took my young family to Columbus Crew Stadium I purchased tickets in advance from the Crew Ticket office. I explained I was bringing my family including 2 young sons ages 11 & 7 and wanted to purchase good seats in a "family oriented area".  They sold me seats in the north end zone right in the middle of what today is known as The Cult of the Crew rowdy fan section.  The vulgar chants, cussing and swearing were so bad, we left rather than subject our young children to such behavior and language.

Note: I am not against rowdy fans / behavior, but I have a real issue with the Columbus Crew if this is what they believe is a family atmosphere.

2) On a subsequent trip to Columbus Crew Stadium we took our 3 young sons to see the Crew play. I purchased lower level tickets along the west touchline for the family so as to avoid the "rowdy adult section".  This worked out pretty well in that regard. Friends of ours had purchased $10 tickets in the upper level for the match.  Imagine my surprise when less than 10 minutes into the match a Columbus Crew Stadium usher seated our friends who had purchased the cheap tickets in the row in front of us.  I paid more than double per ticket from the Columbus Crew ticket office and here they were getting the same experience I was.  I couldn't very well complain openly at the time but I did contact the Columbus Crew offices the following Monday. They explained to me it was a televised game and they wanted to fill the lower bowl so as to present the image of a large crowd.  Yes sir, they admitted to purposefully upgrading customers for no other reason than to present a better image for those watching on television.

I proposed submitting my ticket stubs for a refund of the money I had spent in excess of those who purchased $10 upper level seats.  Yeah, the Crew didn't go for that either.

3) At every Columbus Crew home match I have attended my ears have been assaulted as if I were at a rock concert or in a crowded bar.  It's so ridiculously loud as to be difficult to carry on a conversation with those around you. Piped in music blaring from pregame through post game. Even the announcements, often made over the top of the music, are obnoxiously loud.  When I go into a restaurant or bar where the music / atmosphere is that loud I always become suspicious - What are they attempting to distract my attention from?  What are they attempting to cover up?  In the Columbus Crew's case it might be the vulgar chants and general potty mouthed language coming from a very vocal minority of crazy fans.  Can their product, the Columbus Crew soccer team, not stand on its own?  (It most certainly can!)

For high school and reserve matches the Columbus Crew Stadium is a great venue. Take your family and enjoy quality time. You can actually converse with one another, discuss your favorite players as you watch them warm up / play, discuss strategy, play and highlights/ One can generally have a great time with family and friends. It can be an intimate setting to see a sporting event, unless the Columbus Crew are playing when it is like watching a soccer match while attending a rock concert. I like soccer and I like rock concerts just not at the same time. It's a shame because Major League Soccer has improved over the years. It still isn't Champions League or Bundesliga quality but it has improved tremendously over the years.

***** Frankie Hejduk (pictured above) is a wonderful ambassador for the Columbus Crew and MLS. My sons were walking the upper concourse during half time of last nights match when Treg recognized Mr. Hejduk exiting a suite. The never shy Lance introduced himself to Mr. Hejduk and I understand a conversation about ODP and Academy soccer ensued. Mr Hejduk was wearing his 2008 MLS Championship ring and that made almost as big an impression on the kids as he himself did. Kudos to Frankie Hejduk! 


Coach self-evaluation

I am blessed to have coaching peers and mentors to dialogue with and thankful that each willingly shares their thoughts, opinions and suggestions with me. In the end, I take their  input and use it as part of my self-evaluation process.  This process is a source of growth for me as a coach and as a person.  I'm still learning about the game and the people who participate in it, be they players, referees, parents, opposing coaches, administrators.

I have a vision of what the game should look like when played properly. In a nutshell, tight secure team defending and a varied attack that seeks the path of least resistance to goal. A significant part of my post self-evaluation is devoted to analyzing how well I adapted my vision to the personnel on hand. Success is often subjectively judged based on how well we maximized our potential to play to that vision as opposed to the final won/loss record.

It's always nice to have a dependable goal scorer but I have found my "best" teams have had multiple scoring threats and can score in a variety of ways - patient build ups, quick counter-attacks, off set pieces and more. I find it fairly easy to put in a good defense. Solid and steady back line with a midfield that understands the necessity of pressuring service and demonstrates the ability to do so combined with forward play that cuts the field in half are the basic ingredients.

Generating a varied attack that consciously seeks and recognizes the path of least resistant to goal is a more complicated and difficult undertaking.

I believe in versatility. I'm not so concerned with Forwards or Midfielders or even Backs as I am with having versatile soccer players capable of playing multiple positions and interchanging on-the-fly as the flow of the game dictates. This can present quite a challenge from a coaching perspective. Quite honestly, many players struggle when asked to change how they have always played, to step out of established comfort zones.

My pet peeve is to see a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation morph into a 4-1-5 or even a 4-6 with front runners all looking to be played through. I cringe when I see a ball carrier advancing the ball with 4 or 5 of his teammates ahead of him moving in the same direction as he is and at the same pace as the ball is being advanced. Those front runners are forcing the opponents defenders back and by doing so are closing the very space we wish to have open to play in. The odds for success can decrease with each successive step toward goal the front runners take.

It can be exceedingly difficult to convince forwards to play as target players with their backs to goal in front of the opposing backs when they have been trained to do nothing but run onto through balls. That's not to say a player should never look to run onto through balls. No, the point is running onto through balls should be a small part of a players overall repertoire or arsenal.

I realize the problem with one-dimensional forwards is symptomatic of a youth soccer culture that caters to the early physically blessed in search of wins. This is at the crux of the development vs win now issue, imo. It is the damage done by this philosophy that I battle in establishing a broader and more realistic vision of the game. I often refer this as the process of unlocking the possibilities within the game.

It is a battle between "If all you you ever do, is all you have ever done all you will ever be is what you have always been" and the false confidence born of "what I have always done has worked to this point, so why should I change?"

This spring I was blessed with a talented roster of 18 players. Fifteen of the players were quite capable of starting . The remaining 3 were for the most part realistic and embraced their roles on the team. Even blessed with this much individual talent transitioning from a team that won on talent alone into a team capable of dictating the rhythm and tempo of a match was a season long process.

By the last game of the season this springs U17 team encapsulated my vision for how the game should be played as well as any team I have ever coached. We (player and coach) were able to break down some old habits and establish new foundations for play.  We were solid on defense and very versatile on offense. We won games in a variety of ways - some days our defense carried us by shutting out the opponents and other days our attack overwhelmed opponents. It was a very satisfying and rewarding season from a team perspective.

On an individual player basis there were success stories and some disappointments as well  I feel 14 of the 18 players made significant strides in their games this season.  To back track a bit, during the preseason I outlined seasonal plans for each of the 18 players detailing 2 or 3 areas that I hoped to help each  improve in.  I feel we were successful with 14 of 18 players. A 78% success rate.  Not bad, but it is the 4 that I let down that remain on my mind the most.

Two of the players displayed an immaturity that hindered their development. The inability to concentrate for the duration of a practice ... or game... was marked and at times unsettling insofar as it was so distinctly out of character with the rest of the team.  They played as they practiced and they were not good practice players. Both individuals spent a lot of time "horsing around" and being disruptive in their actions and words.

The remaining two players could have been termed stubborn, but I believe it more a reflection of my inability to figure out how they best learn.  Both are very much products of having enjoyed early success coming up through the youth ranks due to being physically gifted. Now they face the prospect of seeing the game pass them by, but instead of searching for and embracing new solutions they fall back upon what was successful for them in the past not being able or willing to recognize the problems they posed to opponents as young players are no longer as troublesome as they once were. Opponents, their peers, have learned new technical and tactical skills to render the problems they once posed far less effective. These two players remain steadfast in attempting to solve new problems the game is presenting to them with old solutions whose effectiveness has been diminished.

The success stories?  Most of these center on instilling confidence in players. Sometimes this involves teaching new technique and tactics to elevate confidence. Other times it is simply being consistently encouraging and providing ever expanding opportunities for players.  Letting someone else know that you believe in them, that you trust them, can lift them to new heights.  There were a lot of success stories from this spring and I am anxious to see how this translates to their play in high school this fall.

So overall I think this was one of my best coaching performances ever but it still comes up short of my own expectations. Even in coaching the team to a perfect league record I was far from perfect myself. Just as I am spending time evaluating individual players to formulate seasonal plans for next spring I am putting together a list of things for me to work on as a coach. The underlying theme is improvement and not only as a coach (or player) but as a person. We can never lose sight of the fact soccer's most important lessons are those they teach us about life, that we are not only coaches of soccer. but also life coaches as well.


"It is very difficult to change a culture
without changing some of the people."

Dave Brandon
University of Michigan, Athletic Director
Former Chairman of  the Board and CEO, Domino's Pizza



One year from today!

Before you can play like a Champion,
You must Prepare to Play like a Champion.

The United States 2 Panama 0

First and foremost, Congratulations to the USMNT on their 2-0 victory over Panama in World Cup qualifying!

Solid overall performance in a highly competitive game. The unsung heroes, in my opinion, were Besler, Gonzales and Howard-the core of the defense. Others garnered more acclaim in-game and post-game, but I came away impressed with the center backs and goalkeeper. They were solid, steady and went largely unnoticed due to lack of significant error on their part. The importance of that type of presence in the back line allows teammates to play aggressively in front of the them allowing for confident, creative attacking play which is exactly what we saw last night.

To be perfectly honest, I have been concerned about the USMNT ability to qualify for the next World Cup. They have not exactly been a juggernaut since Juren Klinsmann took over the program.  Change can be difficult and the type of change Kilnsmann has brought particularly so.  He has upset the status quo by bringing in new players and attempting to change the style of play.  While I recognized the process he was undertaken, I admittedly doubted his ability to implement enough of his system in time to bear fruit during this qualifying round.

As I watched last nights match I found myself reviewing this past spring season with our U17 team in my mind. The similarities are striking. From the beginning there was promise, but we stumbled and struggled to find our stride. Even though we won, I often felt we played incomplete games. This is the same type of feeling I have had about the Kilnsmann led USMNT.

Over the last two weeks of the spring season there was a distinct change in our U17's play.  "Something clicked" and it was almost magical watching it all come together.  Solid defending, good distributions from the midfield, outstanding target play, getting the ball wide and backs into the attack. Varying the attack resulting in scoring through strong build ups, off quick counters and on set pieces. We were a dangerous team.  Last night the USMNT seemed to have found that same magic.

The back to goal target play was exceptional last night. Off that action they hit runners coming forward out of the midfield and on the flanks. Off-the-ball player movement was outstanding  and led to some spectacular combination play creating wonderful chances. They stretched the Panamanian defense to the breaking point and had they finished a bit better the result might have been a rout.

I am not ready to proclaim the USMNT has arrived with nothing but calm seas and following winds from this point forward. No, they need to build upon last nights accomplishments and demonstrate consistency in performance. The signs are present that something really good could be about to blossom with this group.  I feel better about qualifying and the future of US men's soccer than I have... ever.

As strange as it seems, this new found confidence admittedly stems in part from the journey our U17 team just completed. The parallels and similarities of the processes are striking. From positional changes to building depth to formational tweaks it's all eerily familiar. I am cautiously optimistic the USMNT is on the verge of playing the best soccer in the history of the program. I am perhaps even more excited at the prospect of the style of play we saw last night filtering down to the youth ranks.  I sense a significant change for the better of the soccer culture in the United States emerging with the USMNT leading the way.


Sky above me.
Earth below me.
Fire within me.


REACT & RID for November 13, 2012

As we continue with the REACT and RID series, if you have suggestions on topics to cover please feel free to use the comment section to contact us. 

REACT moment for November 13, 2012

Headers lack power and accuracy

Real Time:
Did I have my weight back and explode through the ball?
Were my eyes openso I could "see through" the strike?
Did I strike at the hairline or with the forehead?
Did I row the boat?

At the next deadball practice rowing the boat. Place the weight on the back foot and extend your arms forward. Pull the arms back as you shift your weight and thrust your head forward.
Remind yourself to be the hammer, not the nail.

Practice proper "row the boat" heading technique
Toss the ball in the air and practice heading the ball against a kickback board or "up and out"
With a partner, take turns serving and heading the ball. Make it competitive by marking out small goals and keeping score as one serves and the other heads the ball down and to the goaline with the server playing keeper. Alternate turns. First to score 5 wins the game!


2013 Grand Lake United U17 TEAM

The 2013 U17 Grand Lake United Boys TEAM.
Undefeated MVYSA League Champions
Creek Classic Champions
Pacesetters Division Champions

Championship Cultures expect and demand Excellence.
 Everyone holds each other Accountable
for their Actions and Results.


Perfection is not attainable,
but if we chase Perfection
we can catch Excellence.

Decompressing in order to change gears.

I will be taking a few days off from posting as I decompress from the spring soccer season. Our U17 Boys team had an extremely successful campaign and this was one of the most enjoyable seasons I have had in some time. Great group of young men who happen to be pretty good soccer players as well. The bonds they formed with one another off the field were instrumental to their success on the field. This spring season was quite simply a wonderful experience for me.

That's not to say we had fair seas and following winds the entire season. No, there were a few issues that arose over the course of the season, but the focus remained good throughout. I made mistakes as a coach / manager and will learn from them. It can be difficult to know what approach to take with individual players as some require and respond to tough love, others require a lot of positive attention to boost self-esteem and confidence, some are seemingly low maintenance, but actually require the most work.

Carrying a roster of 18 players can be a difficult task.  Even with unlimited substitutions playing time issues can arise. Positions played can be a source of controversy and even conflict. We strove hard to establish a TEAM first attitude. Sacrificing for the greater good is a huge part of building a such a culture and we did very well in this regard.

Club soccer in the context of developing players for their high school team presents another interesting set of dynamics to juggle. The idea of purposefully playing "out of position" to strengthen a players overall game and enhance play at their favored positon can be a difficult sell. Yet there can be no doubt of a players need to understand the positions that link to his preferred position. Yes, even at U17 I intentionally and purposefully rotated players through a variety of field positions. Even goalkeepers played the field to develop a better understanding of what their teammates need from them as goalkeepers. Goalkeepers also must have the ability to play the ball with their feet and what better way to gain that experience than by actually playing the field?  By the end of the season we had established an extremely versatile group of players each of whom will be able to fill a variety of roles for their high school teams should they be asked to do so. Their experience this spring in positions that link to their preferred position will be immeasurably valuable this fall. It is important to know not only your role, but that of the positions that surround and link to your position in order to maximize your own play.

I am really looking forward to seeing these young men play for their high school teams this fall.  I firmly believe many will establish themselves as the best players on their respective teams. More importantly I expect them to provide a winning mentality and positive leadership based on their struggles and successes of both a personal and team nature this spring. I firmly believe each is taking a solid foundation for success back to their school team and am anxious to see their progress as players next fall.

Just to be clear, I am not taking a vacation from soccer related activities these next few days. The opposite is actually true as I will use this week to work on daily training sessions for the team camps and goalkeeper / striker camps I will be conducting the rest of the summer. Changing gears from coaching a team to training  a variety of teams and individuals is a more appropriate depiction.  The variety this offers me - team skills camp, to installing zonal defending, to working with goalkeepers and strikers - is a welcome change of pace from the season long process of installing a specific system and developing a consistent and continuous path of improvement on both team and individual levels based upon play within that system.

I am considering posting a weeks worth of camp training sessions this summer to provide an idea of what our camp experiences are like.  I think it might be helpful to see the depth of planning that goes into a successful training session. It might also be helpful to "witness" the flexibility a coach needs when their best laid plans go awry for any number of reasons. And as always, I know I will be learning as much from the players and coaches I work with as they hopefully learn from me.  I look forward to sharing these experiences with you beginning in about a weeks time.  Until then I will re-post some of the most viewed articles from the past.

Thanks for reading the Conceive Believe Achieve Soccer blog. I appreciate your support, kind words and suggestions.

A Tale of Two Teams

I have been struggling for some hours with how to write this post.  As usual, a straight forward approach seems best. So, here we go.

Approximately a month ago our U17 team played against a league rival. During the course of action the opponent’s goalkeeper suffered a shoulder injury as a result of contact with one of our players. The play was clean as our player was clearly first to the ball. The contact that caused inury was made by the ball and most unfortunate. I have taught my team that when an injury occurs to an opponent our player involved will shake hands with the injured player, apologize, inquire that they are okay and wish them luck.  This is exactly what happened on this occasion. I also met the injured opponent as he came off the field and offered words of regret over his injury and of encouragement that he would be okay.
Yesterday afternoon we faced this same league rival in the championship match of a tournament. On a clear goal scoring opportunity an opposing player took down our player going in on goal.  A foul was called but no card yellow or red issued by the Center Referee despite protestations from his Assistant Referee and me, of course.

Shortly after the first incident the same opposing player again took down one of our players as he was in behind the defense. This time the foul was violent, reckless and resulted in a serious injury to our player.  Once again, over the protestations, request and demand of the Assistant Referee the Center Referee declined to issue either a yellow or red card to the player.
Just to be absolutely clear, there were two obvious straight red card infractions by the same player without any penalty to the offending player.  The referee did not so much as verbally address the offending player. The second foul resulted in serious injury to our player.

Aside from horrible officiating what has bothered me most is the opposing coach, someone whom I respected, did not address the situation by removing the player from the match. Furthermore, there was no remorse shown for the blatant actions resulting in serious injury to our player. The offending player never approached to apologize or check on our players’ condition. The opposing coach did not ask of his condition or really even acknowledge the incident in any manner.
Shortly thereafter we lost another player to injury when he was undercut while in the air. Once again, no remorse, no apology, no inquiry as to the condition of the player. I would hate to think the opponents were intentionally targeting our players, but the lack of remorse and concern for their well being certainly leaves the situation open to interpretation.
"Sports do not build character. They reveal it."
John Wooden (1910-2010
There are 6 pillars of character; Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, Citizenship.  While our team is certainly not perfect I feel these pillars were largely absent from our opponents during this championship match.  Perhaps it was because we went up 3-0 early and won the match handily. Maybe it was the adversity of losing that revealed our opponents character or lack thereof. The incidents all occurred in the second half of the match when our lead had been established. I cannot be sure.  The (in)actions of the opposing coach certainly exasperated the situation as his intimidation of the referee went above and beyond simple gamesmanship to seemingly condone and encourage the thuggery being committed by members of his team. 
At the end of the day, amidst the jubilation of winning a championship mingled the sad realization that a once friendly rivalry based on mutual respect had taken a very serious turn for the worse.