The "P" Words

Prayer is an important first step in any endeavor. Give thanks for the opportunity. Ask for guidance and allow God to provide you strength to see you through.
Proper preparation is the key to an endeavor. It is important to study for the test you are about to undertake. Prayer is a form of preparation, but don't assume God will do it all. You need to put in work to be ready for your opportunity.
Get started. Sometimes this seems easier said than done. Lot's of people prepare only to get cold feet. They lack Faith to see it through. Remember your prayers and preparations. Take the first step.
Two rules here.  1) Always take one more step.  2) Refer to Rule #1.  The most difficult opponent is the one who never gives up. Make sure whomever you are going against gets your best effort.
We all want to win. The first four "P" words are about getting you to the point of winning.  The cold hard fact is, no one wins every time. Sooner or later the scoreboard will show you came up short. The satisfaction found in winning can also be found in having done your best.  Prevailing is not always about where you finish, although that is important. Sometimes it about how you played the game. The improvement made. The sportsmanship shown.  The honor and respect on display in your play.


The Relationship of Space and Time to Positions, Formations and Systems of Play

In attempting to make the relationship between space and time more easily understood by young players I have at times used the phrase space = time and in a sense that is true. Space to play in is created by movement of players with and without the ball. Time is a product of individual players technical abilities with the ball. The two are interrelated but are not necessarily "equals", per se.

For many coaches, positions and formations are also an integral part of creating space and time in soccer. In a sense, a players positioning within a formation, even his role within a system of play, are important elements in his ability to create, recognize and utilize space. Formations and positions are also analytical tools in evaluating a players ability to see space, his ability to recognize how to move to create space. How much space is required is determined by the players technical abilities on the ball.

Dennis Mueller's Daily Footwork Exercies.

Dennis Mueller had an Internet link to his Daily Footwork Exercises at one time.  The link I had is no longer working. If I find an active one I will post it here.

Daily Footwork Drill


  1. Inside Roll -- Roll the ball across your body from outside to inside with the inside and sole of the foot and stop the ball with the inside of the other foot.
  2. Outside Roll -- Roll the ball across your body from inside to outside with the outside and sole of the foot and stop the ball with the inside of the same foot.
  3. Side to Side Push-Pull -- Tap ball back and forth with inside of feet, push ball forward with one foot and pull it back the sole of the opposite foot.
  4. Side to Side Step-On -- Roll ball to outside with the sole by stepping lightly on the ball, then tap ball back to the inside with the inside of the foot.
  5. Side to Side Front Roll --Tap ball back and forth with inside of feet, push ball slightly forward then pull the ball across your body with the front part of the sole.
  6. Pull Instep Push -- Push ball forward and pull it back with the sole, then tap ball forward with the instep of the same foot.
  7. Pull a Vee -- Push the ball forward and pull it back the sole of the foot while turning and then take the ball with the inside of the same foot.
  8. Pull & Take with Outside of Foot -- Push the ball forward and pull the ball back with the sole then push the ball diagonally forward with the outside of the foot.
  9. Pull & Roll Behind -- Push the ball forward and pull the ball back with the sole of the foot then pass the ball behind the standing leg with the inside of the foot. Control the ball with the sole of the other foot. feet.
  10. Pull turn --Push ball forward with one foot and pull it back with the other while turning toward ball and take the ball in the opposite direction with the inside of the first foot.
  11. Inside of foot turn -- Push ball forward, move past ball and turn toward ball and take it with the inside of the foot in the opposite direction.
  12. Outside of foot turn -- Push ball forward, move past ball and turn toward ball while taking it with the outside of the foot in the opposite direction.
  13. Cruyff -- Push the ball forward, fake kick with inside of foot, but instead pull ball behind the standing leg and change directions.
  14. Stepover Turn -- Push ball forward, step over ball with one foot, turn toward ball and take it in the opposite direction.
  15. Full Sole Roll -- Roll the sole of one foot forward over the ball and to the outside so the ball stops against your heel. Turn and take the ball with the sole of the other foot with a Step-On.
  16. Scissors -- Starting with the ball to one side, step over or in front of ball so that the ball ends up on the other side of you. Take theball in the opposite direction with the outside of the other foot and then stop ball with the sole of the first foot.
  17. 360 -- Push ball forward, stop it with the sole of one foot while stepping past it, turn and drag ball back with sole of other foot, continue turning all the way around and take the ball with the inside of the first foot.
  18. Kick Over ball -- Kick over ball with inside of foot then pull it back with the sole of the same foot.

Test or Teach - A Word about Practice Activities.

One of the traps we coaches fall into is the pursuit of "new" practice or training activities.  One particular website I subscribe to publishes several practice or training activities a week.  To be perfectly honest, I don't know why I am still subscribed to this site as rarely do I find anything of real value on it. Then again, value can be a relative thing.

For example, today's offering is on reaction speed and finishing. As I looked it over there was immediate recognition that the exercise, as designed and explained,  tests the reaction speed and finishing ability of the players participating in it.

The author proclaims the exercise is designed to improve the time needed to accelerate, change direction and win a 1 v 1 duel, but there are no coaching points or instructions included for how to do this.  What are some of the keys to look for and address to help the athlete improve his acceleration, ability to change directions and finishing?

The emphasis here is on repetitions... muscle memory, I suppose.  That performing a task repeatedly will bring speed to the performance of the task.

On another level, there is some value to be found in the athlete recognizing certain cues - when the ball will be played in to begin the active portion of play in the exercise, for example. But even here there is limited value for the emphasis is on the active participant being a ball watcher - that is, watching a very small portion of the game.  The truly great players are game watchers - they see as much of the game as possible.

Coach:  When you are selecting practice activities give consideration to whether the activity tests ability already present in the athlete or is designed to teach and improve the athletes ability in the designated technique and or tactic.

There is a difference, an important difference.  Make sure the training activities you select meet the need you wish to address. 

When I tell people it often takes me 1.5 hours to plan a 1.5 hour practice session many roll their eyes at me.  The simple truth of the matter is, there is a critical need to select (or design) proper activities to achieve the goal or purpose of the session.  If your session is preparatory for a game the following day, sure, go ahead and use exercises that test a player's ability or readiness to play.  But if your session is not pre-game in nature, that is, it is a session for teaching / improving, then make sure your activities are designed for that purpose. They should include points of emphasis, coaching points and an idea of what coaching points can be made AND an idea of when those coachable moments will occur in the activity. 

Do your homework coach! 

One of my favorite quotes is, "Failing to prepare properly is preparing to fail."   When I speak of this the players all think it directed towards them.  It might have been, but only first after having been directed to myself.  Coaches must properly prepare to coach.  And we cannot expect players to properly prepare, if we are not properly prepared.


Where to from here?

When I reflect back on the last four years and evaluate my performance as a coach and the won/loss/tie records of the teams I have coached I am appreciative of the success we have achieved.  In some ways, last springs Grand Lake United U19 Men's "A" team was the culmination of a four year experiment that saw me establish my own coaching methodology / system / philosophy.  To be completely honest, where I am now is a result of 21 years coaching soccer.  I do not in any way shape or form resemble the coach I was then.

I have changed.

I have become a better coach.

I am still improving.

In 2010 I became the head coach of the Lima Central Catholic girls program.  There was a fair amount of trepidation on part in accepting that position.  It would be my first experience as a head coach on the high school level. I am not Catholic. The then athletic director, Pat Murphy told me point blank "our parents are out of control and the players walked all over the last coach.  And the program had never had a winning season.  I accepted the position anyways based in no small part in the believing Mr. Murphy had my back concerning parents and players.

That's the back drop to the beginning of my grand experiment.  The experiment itself had been percolating for a number of years.  It began to heat up while I was an assistant at Shawnee high school and began to bubble while an assistant at Botkins high school.  While both of those programs were very successful the idea they could be so much better kept nagging at me.  Mr. Graham Ramsay who conducted summer camps at all three schools mentioned and whom I consider to be one of my soccer mentors was a driving force behind this restlessness and undoubtedly a source for many of the ideas I was formulating.  Mr. Ken White, formerly of the University of Louisville and at the time a coach at BGSU was also responsible for stirring the coaching pot of knowledge coming to a boil in my mind.

Those teams at LCC were the first full trial run of my ideas.  They produced the first ever winning season in the programs history, school records for fewest goals allowed and most goals scored. We also produced the schools first All-Ohio soccer player along with numerous all-district players. On the field of play the girls of those teams began to bring my vision of ho the game should be played into clearer focus. It was a start, but nowhere near what I was looking for in a finished product.

In the spring of 2012 I began the second full trial run of my system of play and its associated methodology and philosophy.  The Grand Lake United U!6 boys team was a good group of young men eager to learn about the game.  To be honest, there were a few head cases on the team who likely were with us because they wore out their welcome elsewhere.  It's always been my philosophy to take whomever wants to play. 

I began implementing the same system of play I had used at LCC with the girls.  The results were mixed. We won games and a tournament, if I recall correctly, but I was largely unsatisfied in our performance.  Let me be clear, I was unsatisfied with my performance.  The team had not played to my expectations and that is no one's fault but my own.  It was during the summer and fall of 2012 that I really went back to work studying the game of soccer.  Techniques, Tactics, Physical and Psychological components all came under close scrutiny.  I dissected every aspect of the game I could imagine looking not only at what worked and why, but also studying what did not work and why it didn't. 

The thing that distinguished good play from bad play was the brain. How the brain interprets the information fed to it by the senses and then directs the body to apply the tools the player has available to solve problems is the difference between poor play and good play, the difference between good play and great play.  I had long been a fan of a couple Johan Cruyff quotes and at some point during this time in my life they really came into bright clear focus for me.

"Soccer is a game that is played with the brain."

"Soccer a is a simple game,
but nothing is more difficult than playing simple soccer."
Both of these quotes address the fact soccer is a game of problem solving.  It is also a player driven game. Therefore it is the problem solving ability of the players that determines the quality of play and directly influences results. 
I knew all this to be true, but I still needed to work through the process of putting the pieces together in a manner that was coherent in my own mind before I could ever hope to communicate my knowledge to the players I coached. 
As we moved into the 2013 club season things were coming together in my mind and on our roster of players. We won a league title and a tournament or two that spring.  We were a much better team than we had been the previous spring. I had tweaked how I taught the game and also tweaked the roster.  Still, I was not satisfied.  Our on-field decision making left a lot to be desired at times. We still allowed both the ball and the opponent to dictate the game to us far too often for my liking.  
It was while watching my son, Lance, play for Shawnee in the fall of 2013 that he final discoveries for this step of the process came brilliantly into focus. The coaching staff at Shawnee was the same as when I left it. I am unclear to this day on whether the quality of coaching had devolved or simply grown stale, but it was painfully obvious the coaches controlled the game.  Ingenuity, cleverness, deviousness were all discouraged when players encountered problems to be solved on the pitch.  The team was dreadfully predictable and therefore relatively easy to play against.
I had sought out unpredictability and creativity in both individual and collective play from every crack and corner I could find to little or no avail. Well, at least to an unsatisfactory extent.  This is when I fully realized the importance of just letting the players play. 
I had encouraged interchangeability of positions of the field for years.  This had never come to full fruition or at least not to the degree held in my vision for the game.  Why?  If you are a regular reader of this blog you will appreciated "why" being my favorite question. Somewhere in this journey the idea of re-training the brain or how we think about soccer had taken root and began to flourish. First in my own mind, then in the minds of the players I coached. 
Once again, I tweaked our roster and then subtly tweaked how we went about preparing to play.  Previous success and the roster tweaks I mentioned resulted in us fielding both an "A" and a "B" team for play in spring of 2014.  Both teams proved to be very successful in their own rights.  
The "A" team came as close to playing total soccer - complete interchangeability amongst field players - as any team I have ever coached.  They were dynamic on both sides of the ball. They call soccer The Beautiful Game and these men played it beautifully.   
The "B" team had the talent of an average high school team which normally spells trouble when playing club soccer.  These men got their collective heads handed to then the first couple of times out and then begin to gel into what would become a good club team.  They finished with a .500 record and defeated some good teams along the way.
Both of these teams discovered who they were as individual players and collectively as a team through the experience and confidence gained by being allowed to make their own decisions on the pitch.  I provided a defensive shape and basic cues or keys for utilizing the tools (skills & tactics) they possessed. The attack was free flowing with the resonating premise of space and pace being the only guideline.   The players took it from there. Did they ever!
So, as I watched my son, Lance, play his final season for Shawnee this fall I was disheartened to witness their struggles. However, not only did their struggles serve to reinforce the soundness of my approach to coaching it also highlighted the weaknesses of what I have done over the last 5 years leaving me to wonder, where to from here?
I often watch a training exercise or a warm up activity and wonder the purpose of it.  I believe everything we do should be functional - preparation to train or play the game.  What I have realized is in concentrating on the mental aspects of play I have not brought proper functional emphasis to other components of play. 
I always have a pad and pencil with me. I also use the notes and camera / video functions on my phone. Some people I know like to comment on this. A couple of them ridicule me for it.  But if you attend class or a business meeting you ... take notes, do you not?  Well, my journals, pictures, videos are providing the data for where we go from here.  Lot's of ideas.  The excitement is building within me.  I want to take our proven formula and all these ideas for improving it back to the high school ranks next fall.  That's where from here.


Creating Numbers Up Situations.

We devote a lot of time on this site to creating situations that are advantageous to the team. A colleague refers to this as accumulating assets.  I told him I like that nomenclature and was stealing it to use with my programs. Hey, it's what we coaches do - borrow / steal from one another!  lol

The ball carrier engaging a defender to create a 2 v 1 situation against that defender with a teammate. The Cues for Combination Passing are based on this action. When defending we look to establish pressure on the ball and cover in the diagonally forward passing lanes as soon as possible, especially when the Cues for Pressing are present.

It is said, the best pass in soccer is one that successfully defeats multiple opponents - the more opposition players eliminated, the better.  It was with these ideas in mind that a former player asked if there was a type of pass I would consider to be the worst pass to make. 

Hmm... I had not thought about passing from this perspective, but one type of pass came immediately to mind.  The square pass, especially in our own half of the field and executed by backs.  A square pass that is intercepted immediately eliminates two of our players from the action.  The intercepted square pass is instant quick counter to goal.  In this context, a poorly executed square pass puts the opposition numbers up in our defending third.  Yikes!


I am writing a book.

Those who have played for me or whose children have played for me in recent years appreciate I do not coach the game in a conventional manner. Is that unconventionality the key to our success?  I believe it is and know for a fact it will work with players from U12 and up.  I do not know if it will work on the collegiate, national team or professional level as I have no experience coaching on those levels, but strongly suspect it will. I see elements of what I advocate in evidence in games on higher levels of play. I would be shocked to learn I have actually invented a new coaching methodology or philosophy.  In fact, much of what I now do has been learned from other coaches and my own analysis of soccer matches on all levels of competition.

It has been suggested more than once that I write a book to share my ideas on or vision for the game.

I've decided to do just that. 

May the Good Lord help us all!

The working title is, Soccer: A Game Played with the Brain.

Stay tuned....



Soccer Memories - Bob, the referee perspective.

This is the second installment of Bob's Soccer Memories.  This one focuses on Bob's memories from refereeing soccer.  Enjoy!

I also can offer my perspective as a soccer official.  I have had the pleasure of being an official for 7 years now, and it has been a rewarding experience.  I started officiating with Olivia when she was 11, which was a great way to bond with her.  I was able to run a line for her in her last game this past spring, a state cup game at Pacesetter.  Yes, I cried. 
I think the most rewarding aspect of officiating is working with the kids.  I try to make each game an enjoyable experience for the kids, and myself.  I enjoy the open communication the players.  I love to crack a joke or 2 at lighter moments in a game.  I’m human too, sometimes the kids forget that!  I’m there for them, not me or anyone else.  When I stop enjoying the kids, I’ll be done.
I have learned much from fellow referees about soccer over the years, as well as learning from coaches and players.  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work many higher level games, including a state final in 2013 with Doug Billerman.  This year I worked a State-semi final with Andy Martin.  I could not have done that without working with and learning from all the great officials in West Central Ohio.  It was a great experience that I hope some of the other officials in our association get to have someday as well.   
I’ve had my share of tough games, but I’ve had more than my share of truly enjoyable moments as an official.  It is great to show up at a game and see friends.  I love that!  Of course, some of the friends may groan when I show up too, lol.  At least they know what to expect!!   As much as I loved watching my kids play, and as much as I enjoy being an official, in the end, I am grateful for all the friendships I have been able to make through soccer over the years.  I am also grateful for the time I was able to spend with Nicole and Olivia along the way these past 17 years.  Without Nicole and Olivia, none of this would have been possible!!

Small Victories Precede Big Wins

"When you are rebuilding a program
be sure to notice and build
upon the small victories."
~ John Beilein ~
These are words of pure wisdom from one of America's greatest coaches.  I love building and rebuilding programs. Teaching a team how to work, how to compete and how to win is satisfying for sure, but also a great deal of fun for me. And Beilein is absolutely 100% spot on in that the foundation of success is found in the details - the small victories that take place each day in training that are acknowledged and built upon lead to the big victories in games on the field.

Dreams do come True

Love never fails;
Character never quits;
And with patience & persistence;
Dreams do come true.
"Pistol" Pete Maravich


Successful Programs have Goals

The goal for your program should be to have
both a tradition and a future and
to be able to look with pride and confidence
in both directions.

Great things have never come from comfort zones

I have a vision of "total football" that includes complete interchangeability amongst the 10 field players on the pitch while they are supported by a sweeper/keeper. I have yet to coach a team who has achieved this.  Followers of this blog will appreciate I am a bit like a 4 year old whose favorite question is, "why?"

This spring I am coaching as talented a group of individuals as I have ever assembled.  By and large they are physically gifted soccer players with solid skill sets and above average game intelligence. I was sure this was the spring I would see a team I coach achieve total football.  It has not come to fruition as of yet.


Comfort zones.

I think it is a bit like having a well trained pet.  They know the established boundaries of where they are allowed to roam. The existence of an "invisible fence" prevents them from straying.  Giving that animal its freedom back is no small thing.  So it is with soccer players.

As I watch this group of young men play I have noticed two very important things; they have well established comfort zones from having played a single position for years and when they reach the end of their comfort zone they lack the courage and imagination to break through in order to explore the game to its fullest. In short, they are predictable or robotic players reluctant to step away from what they have always done.

I touched on the idea that individual players, when stressed, will revert back to a previous comfort zone in another recent article. That's what I see time and again with this group. When I was coaching the Lima Central Catholic girls team the biggest obstacle to overcome was what I termed a fear of success.  Those girls had never experienced a winning season and as strange as it may sound, they were comfortable with losing. I fell back to my old mantra for building a successful program:

First learn to give intelligent effort
Next learn to compete
Then learn to win.

Those girls liked the idea of intelligent effort for they almost immediately recognized the rewards for the effort they gave increased. They were absolutely thrilled with "moral victories" where they lost a match 1-2 instead of being pummeled 0-5.  Learning to win was a real struggle for them simply because it took them completely out of their comfort zone. Even in our second year in that program when success on the pitch came to be expected, they knew not how to handle success.  They suddenly knew it all, wanted to abandon what was working well in order to incorporate elements of their past comfort zones into the success they had begun to enjoy.  Such is the pull of past comfort zones... even when said comfort zone is littered with bad habits that had previously hindered the pursuit of success.

I had pictured a young colt who found the gate to the pasture open. The colt would race out of the gate and frolic in its new found freedom. Running here and there to explore the world outside his previous restrictions.  Instead what I got was more a picture of the grounds of an asylum whose security doors had been left open while the outer gates remained secured.  Patients wandering about aimlessly enjoying their freedom while not actually being free at all. So, maybe freedom is a relative thing?

In an attempt to artificially break down the barriers that are established comfort zones I have moved players around on the pitch. That is, I have changed the positions I have asked them to play. This is something I had hoped they would explore on their own in embracing the total football concept but it has not happened with any noticeable consistency.

Our outside backs have taken advantage of their freedom by moving aggressively into the attack notching assists, goals and generally creating problems opponents have been unprepared to solve.  There is a recognition their positional responsibilities must be fulfilled should their aggressive play not result in a goal - a midfielder usually drops back in to "cover" the backs position.  That's fine... except when I see the back running back to his position in the midst of an opponents counter to exchange positions with the mid who has been filling in for him.  What I want to see is the midfielder to become the back and the back who has advanced assume whatever unmanned position is closest to him - be that a midfielders role or a forwards role.  Sort out "their" positions at the next dead ball or as the run of play allows.

In a recent match our left back made a run forward. He first looked for our wing to play him behind a defender via an overlap.  His teammate chose to switch fields through the holding mid.  The outside back did not simply break off his run and return to "his" position. No, he bent his run towards the middle of the field and as the ball was played out to the opposite flank made a diagonal run to towards the flag.  Great play!  He had just went from left outside back, to wing midfielder, to forward on the opposite flank in a span of a few seconds.  The opponents, who were man marking, had no answer. Perfect!

At least until we lost possession and had to regain our defensive shape.

There was the left back making the long diagonal run across the pitch to reassume "his" position.

This is not total football. I would have greatly preferred to see the left back assume the responsibilities of the forward position.  This might have entailed a midfielder becoming the left back and a forward becoming a midfielder and that would have been perfectly okay by me. That would have been closer to my vision for total football.

I watched my son's high school team this past fall (2013) with a general restlessness.  A coaching mantra for their wings was to have their "heels to the touch line".  Wing forwards were chastised, benched and lost their positions if they dared to read the game on their own and make an inside run.  It was unfathomable to me that a coaching staff would seek to reduce or limit players effectiveness by making them predictable. In turn, the teams attack was ponderously slow and predictable. 

This spring as I coach some of those same players I am frustrated that when given their freedom to explore the entirety of the game these players tend to stand and watch.  They are slow in recognizing and making runs. They are slow to recover and help on defense. They are so disengaged from the concept of total football they remind me of those asylum patients referred to earlier - wandering around the pitch with no real purpose other than enjoying not having to have their "heels to the touch line."

With freedom comes great responsibility.

With this springs players I should perhaps amend that famous quote of Eleanor Roosevelt to "With freedom comes greater responsibility."  This springs players seem to have the idea total football means freedom from responsibility. This is especially true of players new to our team, but even some of those who have been with us for 3+ years still struggle some in this regard.

I do not think there is anything strange or unique to what we are experiencing. Just take a look at our American culture and society - we want our freedoms, but are wandering aimlessly about even as they are being taken away from us.  A recent study showed over 51% of the people in the United States receive "government" money.  That means 49% of the people - and it is actually a lot less when we factor in those among the 49% who are children and do not work - provide for the majority of people in this country.  Benjamin Franklin warned, "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."  This warning has been turned around and become the current strength of the Democrat party in the United States. It is a recipe for disaster.

Put that into the context of a soccer team; five players doing the work for and supporting the other six players.  Those other six players contribute only when it is convenient for them to do so. The "team" might have some success when placed in certain situations but will never achieve to its fullest potential. 

The great teams have unity and operate with one heartbeat in pursuit of a common goal.

I'm still searching for players willing to embrace the freedoms and responsibilities of total football.  I recognize the need to refine my coaching / teaching approaches and techniques in order to achieve the vision I have.  In some ways this spring season has been among the most disappointing I have ever had, but that is only because this is the closest I have been to achieving my vision.

This is where perseverance comes in.

There are only two rules for perseverance. 

1) Always take one more step. 

2) When you don't think you can take one more step, refer to rule #1.

And so my pursuit of a team realizing it's full potential through the concept of total football will continue.  I have a deeper appreciation for the role freedom and responsibility must play in this process. My next challenge is to communicate this to the players.

Epilogue:  We made it!   This spring team became a truly dynamic force in the attack while remaining a virtual wall on defense. Versatile players capable of momentarily playing any field position  Total soccer!  Or at least as close as I have ever helped guide a team to it.  We were close at times with the LCC girls squad, but never achieved it the degree this group of young men did towards the end of their season. Opponents were left confused, dazed and dumbfounded. Those who tried to man mark us were left with no recognizable team shape worth mentioning. 

This fall (2014) I again watched my son's high school team struggle.  The new coach switched to our spring team's formation, a 4-2-3-1 and gave the players freedom ... or did not clearly define roles for them... I'm not entirely sure which?  Whatever the system of play was intended to be, it looked nothing like what I have described my team striving for here.  The high school team looked much like the patients of the asylum referenced above.  Lots of pseudo freedom but little thoughtful purpose behind what they were doing. No one, including the coaching staff accepted the responsibility that comes with full freedom.  The result was a complete disaster of a season. They never did get it figured out.  I'm not sure I have ever seen a team so completely underachieve as this high school team did.  So this becomes a cautionary tale - if players are going to abuse their freedom, the coach must rigidly define roles and demand players keep their "heels to the touch line" so to speak.  The new coach did this albeit very late in the season and the team began to play better, but it was far too late to salvage what should have been a 10+ win season.


I Love Mistakes.

Regular followers of the blog know I struggled to frame my writings of Lance's senior season in a manner satisfactory to my own standards. A fair amount of you have expressed your disappointment in not being able to read those accounts.  No, I have not reconsidered and decided to publish them.  That does not mean they are far from my mind though.

My off season begins in August. Club season concludes in May and camp season concluded the second week of August this year. I spend my off season studying the game. I read a lot of books on the game and watch soccer every opportunity I get.  While I am not actively coaching during the fall it is the season of learning for me.  I love to learn and therefore LOVE mistakes.

I suppose a better description would be that I love to solve problems.  Mistakes occur when a problem encountered is inadequately addressed. The search for a better solution begins here. And this idea of making mistakes or inadequately solving the problems the game presents is at the heart of my struggles to write about Lance's senior season.

Mistakes are learning opportunities. 

Learning opportunities means there exists teaching opportunities and my love of mistakes is grounded in the teaching opportunities mistakes give rise to. Yes, I absolutely LOVE to teach.  This is probably why I like training better than the actually matches.  I enjoy the match. The match is the test of my teaching, my training of the team.  If we pass the test, good. I will identify areas of our play we can improve on.  If we fail the test, I must analyze where I erred in training the team and put things right.

Lance's senior season provided an unusually large number of opportunities to teach.  My frustration in writing of Lance's senior season stems for a lack of ready students to teach.  I started my 12th soccer book of the off season this evening and it has provided the catalyst to frame or channel my frustration in a positive direction outside the usual teaching of a team that I would normally share my knowledge with. The book, thus far, encapsulates the last 3-4 years of high school and club soccer for me. It has served to bring everything into proper perspective or at least a perspective I am comfortable in reviewing these soccer seasons from.  That in and of itself seems a bit oxymoronic because mistakes make us uncomfortable. So, I think what I am attempting to communicate is that I have learned and now have an audience, you, to share with. Perhaps even to teach although I suspect the simple act of sharing will suffice for me.

This story begins in the summer of 2010. Preseason of my first year as Head Coach of the Lima Central Catholic Women's Soccer program.  I had long been an advocate of the 1-4-4-2 formation. That was the formation of choice while I was an assistant coach at Shawnee and was also the formation we ran during my one year as an assistant at Botkins. Just as we had at those stops I based our system of play at LCC on the flat back four or zonal defense. As a head coach, I brought my own twists and tweaks to the system of play.

To uncover and fully understand the points I wish to make we will need to go back a few more years as it involves a then young man named Brian Boulter. That year there was debate over who would get the last varsity spot.  Brain was in the mix with two others.  In my mind Brian was the clear choice, but the head coach thought otherwise and Brian began the year on the JV team.  As was typical in those days, Shawnee struggled to score. The Indians won a lot of games, but they tended to be 1-0 affairs. Two goals were a surplus and three or more a luxury not often in evidence.  How to generate more offense was a constant theme of discussion among the coaching staff.  It was Brian Boulter who proved to be the answer.

Brian had good size, speed and a big leg.  His skill set was adequate. His knowledge of the game from the right back position was above average. He played his way onto the varsity by the end of the season and it was that big right leg that jump started the attack.  A standard play for Brian was to cross the ball from near the center line. Those crosses went against the grain of the defense and led to a lot of scoring opportunities.  This had been on my mind for several years and was about to come into play on both our boys club team and the LCC girls team.

I had begun emphasizing outside back play the previous spring, but with only a vague idea of what I wanted to see. As I recall, I tried a few different players at those positions with only a modicum of satisfaction from a coaching standpoint.  That August with LCC I played a young lady by the name of Ashley Hunt at the right back spot.  In many ways, she was a female version of Brian Boulter including have a big powerful leg. In fact, Ashley scored off the right flank from the center line!  I knew the outside back positions in the 1-4-4-2 were being under utilized in the attack. I just had not fully formulated in my own mind what their role needed to be.

Lucky for me, the 2010 World Cup was taking place that summer and I was glued to the TV every chance I got.  This was an important World Cup as it gave witness to the regeneration of the triangle midfield.  Now, the triangle midfield has been around in various forms and formations since the mid 1960's at least.  The great Johan Cruyff led Dutch teams built their Total Football 1-4-3-3 system of play around a triangle midfield.  What we began seeing in the qualifying rounds for the 2010 World Cup was a modification to the 1-4-3-3 formation and a true blossoming of total football.  Everyone had gotten caught up in Tiki Taka which is itself a modification of Total Football.

I would like to say I was ahead of the curve and on a local level I think that is true. In truth, I was stumbling and bumbling along as I sorted out my vision for the outside back positions in the 1-4-4-2.  I found the answer in watching our USWNT and USMNT play.  It seemed players like Brandi Chastain and Frankie Hedjuk, outside backs, were always making runs into the attacking third. The high school coaches I had worked with acknowledged this but thought the risk was too great. They feared not having enough players back to properly and securely contest an opponents counter attack were the outside backs to be allowed to "go up."

Not me.  I saw outside backs pushing forward and taking opposing forwards with them. When this occurred we would remain numbers up in our back line against the opponent.  Play early retreat keeping the ball in front of us and to deny negative space while we regained defensive shape and we should be fine.  And we were.  I had taken courses and symposiums from US National Team staff members and understood this to be true.  I was told it wouldn't work in high school soccer, but I felt it would... and it did!   Remarkably well as a matter of fact.

This is when I seriously begin developing roles and responsibilities for the outside backs to bring them fully into the attack. I began teaching cues for when to make a run and how to recognize which run to be made from the outside back positions. My son Lance was one of the guinea pigs and to his credit took to it immediately. 

There was just one slight problem... we were beginning to struggle to control center midfield in both club and at LCC with the girls team. The 2010 World Cup had seen the return of the 1-3-5-2 formation and variations of the1-4-3-3 formations - both utilize a midfield triangle.  I began to make the move to 3 center midfielders in the 2011 club season and continued with it during the fall LCC campaign.  With the club team we played more of a 1-4-5-1 referring to what we did as withdrawing a forward.  With LCC we played a 4-3-3 formation.  Neither formation or system was entirely satisfactory although both teams enjoyed unprecedented success.

Spring of 2012 saw us change the club formation to 1-4-1-4-1 with an inverted midfield triangle.  Well, sort of.  The players would tell you I give them  lot of freedom on the pitch.  I look at a formation as being the teams defensive shape. I don't care what the numerical arrangement is on offense as long as we cover the 4 elements of the game - penetration, depth, width and mobility.  Of, course, this means we really have to emphasize the transitional phases of play, especially going from attack to defending. Our solution was to press with the 3 closest to the ball while everyone else got behind the ball and into our team shape filling back to front regardless of a players designated position.  Total football.

I wasn't seeing the level of involvement in our attack from the outside backs that I wanted so we kept tinkering with formations until we settled on modifying the  1-4-5-1  into a 1-4-2-3-1 that morphed into a ... 1-2-3-4-1 when attacking.  Yes, we routinely threw 8 players into the attack. Goals galore! And we were not surrendering goals on defense either. It was beautiful to watch and if the players are to be believed an absolute thrill to play in. The significance in terms of outside back play was the center midfield triangle opened up the flanks for the outside midfielders and be extension the outside backs.

Granted, that club team was loaded with future college players, ODP, all-state, all-district, all-league players. To call them talented would be an understatement.  One day when I was discussing the 1-4-2-3-1 formation with my son's high school coach he stated to me the success I had with the club team could not be duplicated in high school soccer.  Hmm... we did it with an LCC team that reached the regional round of the OHSAA tournament.  And... what about our club "B" team from last spring whose talent level was that of an average high school team at best?  That "B" team beat the top two teams from the previous spring playing "my" system. 

Lance's high school coach was a doubter. He was wrong. He made mistakes. Many of them of the needless variety from my perspective. I so wanted to share with him the benefit of my experience. I was eager to teach, but there must be a receptive audience and that I did not have.  This was frustrating to me and that frustration seeped into my writings.  It was difficult to report objectively without editorializing ... or teaching... through those writings. 

Soccer Memories - Bob, the father's perspective.

I decided to break Bob's contribution in two as he provides insight from the perspective of a father and that of a referee.  First up are memories of his daughters playing.  Enjoy!

Like Tim, my time as a soccer dad ended recently with the last spring season that my youngest daughter played.  After 17 years, I no longer have someone to take to practice, a game, or a weekend tournament!  I can’t say that I AM entirely broken hearted by that fact, ha ha, but I have had my share of good memories over that time to last me the rest of my life. 
Nicole, now 23, was the trailblazer for Olivia, my youngest who is now 18.  Nicole started playing U6 at Shawnee, and hung up her boots after 1 year at D3 Virginia Wesleyan.  Olivia started out the same, finishing her soccer career at Findlay HS and GTFC Impact this past spring before heading off to USNA.  In between all that time, wow, so much has happened!
Unlike Tim’s memories, mine are not quite as specific.  I remember certain plays still to this day, but my memories are more of places we traveled, and getting the chance to spend time with my girls.  I can remember Nicole making the best tackle I ever saw her make at PSI in Toledo, her GTFC team won the tournament that year.  I remember when Nicole was 11 or 12 at the Elida Fall Classic, making a game winning goal against Elida.  Scott Laman kept telling me to put Nicole up front, he was a much better soccer coach than me!      
I can remember Nicole playing in her first tournament in Elida in the fall of 2000.  I think she still has the shirt!  That was our first weekend soccer experience, and the only time her Grandpa got to see her play, at least in person.  The next fall, we sewed flags on the girl’s uniforms after 9/11.  I know Nicole and Olivia still have those shirts somewhere!  After 9/11, I remember fighter jets flying over us at practices, and yes, we stopped to watch.
After a few years, Nicole started playing at West Central United where she met girls from other schools for the first time.  Many of those girls are still her friends today, which is great.  The West Central years were learning years for sure.  Not a lot of winning, but the girls were learning.
When Nicole was 14, a group of Lima area girls headed north and tried out at GTFC.  That’s when my eyes were opened!  Nicole managed to make the team, and played for some great coaches at GTFC.  We traveled all over the Midwest, Toronto (twice), Orlando, and Phoenix for tournaments.  It was our first trip to Toronto where I introduced Nicole to sushi, a food that she now enjoys immensely. 
Olivia was introduced to GTFC at about age 10 when she attended an indoor practice with Nicole and I on a wintry Sunday afternoon.  Nicole’s coach at the time saw Olivia and asked her to join in a scrimmage.  Olivia, being the competitor she was and is to this day, joined in and played her hardest.  She was invited to join the U-10’s that spring at GTFC.  I remember after Olivia wanting to play keeper her first year at GTFC, but she was stuck on defense, and not happy.  Her Shawnee friends asked her for come play in Elida that year, she said only if she could play keeper, lol.  She did, and she had a great weekend, loved it all!  She did eventually get to play keeper full time at Findlay and in club, a result of her ward work and eagerness to learn.  She did pretty well, making NWO District first team her Junior and senior years!  I’ll miss seeing Olivia come off her line, sacrifice her body, diving to snuff out a shot from a hopeful attacker.  
Some of Olivia best plays were coming off her line, and snuffing out a strike right at the attacker’s foot.  These were always exciting plays, and the crowd loved watching her do it as much as I did!  Then the foot save against Northview in her last game.  That was a great play and an even better reaction from Olivia.  Anyone who knows Olivia likely knows her as having a great poker face, and rarely would she show any emotion on the pitch.  But after that save, she let it out. 
I will always remember the miles traveled as a soccer dad.  Too many to count, but worth every minute and mile.  For you parents with kids still playing, just realize that one day it will all end, and then you will wonder where the time went!  I hope that my girls have fond memories of the travels as well, and someday when they are parents, they do the same with their kids, as my mom and dad did with me.    

You really can't scout our team.

"You can't really scout our team
because everyone's getting shots."
~ Rajon Rondo ~
Boston Celtics Point Guard
This is the philosophy behind our system of play, our offense or attack.  I firmly believe in spreading the scoring around as much as possible. Last spring 17 of 18 players scored goals as did 5 guest players.  Make no mistake, it's great to have a prolific goal scorer... and we have one or two of those on our team. It;s just if we become reliant on those players scoring all our goals for us we become predictable and they become more easily defended.  The way we play, opponents just never know who is going to score... or from what position the scoring will come.  This unpredictability is the key to our attacking success. This has been confirmed by opposing coaches.
"We scouted you and thought we were prepared. You had the same players in the same positions, but the attack was completely different. Different people taking shots. Different people scoring.  It made our scouting report worthless."
The sentiments expressed above were shared with me by more than one coach.  Music to my ears!  Sometimes I think the game of soccer becomes stale. Some teams so narrowly define roles for the positions / players that their play becomes predictable to an extent the game is stodgy. Is it any wonder why we lament the lack of creativity in the American game? 
Maybe it's my basketball roots, but on our team everyone plays both sides of the ball.  That is, everyone defends and everyone attacks - including shooting and scoring!


Soccer Memories - Lexi

The contributions to Soccer Memories have come presented in a variety of styles.  Today, Lexi shares her favorite soccer memories with us in a "remember when" form.  Enjoy!

Remember when Courtney Taylor kicked the ball at my butt twice in a row trying to lead me.

Remeber when Libby ran all the way back to the goal and slide tackled the ball to keep the girl from shooting on Courtney when she was in goal for fun.

Remember when mine and Hunter Carnahans tweets got up on the big board at the crew game.

Remember when Candace completley fell for no reason while running an just a few days later tripped on her own feet trying to trap a punt and fell HARD!

What is Possession Style Soccer?

The idea of one team controlling the ball better and more than their opponents is likely what came to mind when you read the title for this article. At the most basic level this is a fair assessment of possession style soccer. It is difficult to score if you do not have possession of the ball, correct?  By controlling the ball, a team controls the game.

I am not entirely comfortable with the notion that a successful possession style of soccer is tied to winning the time of possession battle. I in no way wish to diminish the importance or value of possessing the ball. I am simply saying there must exist a purpose for possessing the ball - to score the ball or to prevent the opponent from scoring the ball.

As soccer is a game about problem solving we can look at possession in those terms as well.  When in possession a team has a singular problem to solve - how to score the ball.  When not in possession a team has a two-fold problem to solve - how to gain possession and then how to score the ball. In my mind I would much prefer solving one problem well than having to devote resources to solving two problems.

Possession can also be viewed in terms of energy expended in playing the game.  Possessing the ball, especially when done with intelligent thought and intent, conserves energy for the team in possession while making the opponent expend large amounts of physical, mental and possibly emotional energy in pursuit of possession of the ball. When ball movement is predicated on player movement a team in possession can force the defending team to chase the ball.  That would be one description of effective possession of the soccer ball.

Obviously the most effective use of possession is to score the soccer ball.  Forcing a team to expend energy chasing the ball while you progress toward scoring the ball might be alternatively described as a by-product of a possession style of soccer. The same could be said of possessing the ball to prevent the opponent from being able to score.

Because we live in a world of opposites, if there exists effective uses of possession it stands to reason there must exist ineffective uses of possession. Teams and maybe more appropriately players who  are constantly creating 50 / 50 balls could certainly be accused of ineffective use of possession. A direct style of play predicated solely on kicking the ball forward for someone to run onto might be ineffective use of possession. That is not a knock on direct play, only a knock on thoughtlessly whacking the ball forward. I like direct play as a versatile part of our teams attack.

To look at direct play as part of possession play requires looking at one simple question, How many passes does it take to score a goal?

If your forward steals the ball from a defender along the top of the opponents penalty area, shoots and scores the answer could be as low as "zero" passes required to score. So, a directly played ball out of the middle third of the field to a teammate who shoots and scores is effective use of possession, is it not? In fact, there have been several studies conducted that suggest a preponderance of goals scored come from 3 or less passes made. The pressing defense system of play so talked about and utilized today has been built around this very idea.  Regained possession immediately in the attacking third to catch the opponents shape in a transitional moment allowing for your team to strike quickly on goal. Makes perfect sense.

In coaching possession soccer with my team this spring I will return to my basketball roots and concentrate on Space and Pace.  If we look at the previous example of a ball won in the midfield leading to one pass from which a goal is scored there was obviously space, negative space to be exact, available in behind the opponents defense to be utilized. One pass was sufficient.

When the opposition presses upon losing possession the attacking team may be required to execute a Safe Pass to secure possession before moving personnel and the ball forward on the attack. Pressing has a two-fold purpose for most teams, 1) Regain possession and / or 2) Allow teammates to get organized behind the ball.  If the attackers are able to successfully execute a safe pass out of the press, then they will likely have to begin a "delayed" attack in the sense the opportunity to quick counter may have been lost.  When this occurs the conventional ideas of possessing the ball come into play.  The attack (forward movement of the ball) will be based around probing the defense, recycling the ball backwards and switching the point of attack in search of a seam to move forward through.

In this sense, possession first becomes about moving the ball to move the opposition.  In moving the opposition - what we call manipulating the defense - the attacking team seeks to create the space they wish to exploit.  Remember in the direct play scenario, the (negative) space to play into already existed. When a defense is set behind the ball, space will likely need to be created by moving the opponents, by manipulating the defense to change from its preferred shape.   Probe, recycle backwards, switch the point of attack all with a watchful eye on developing seams to attack forward through. 

It is critically important to remember the sequence for manipulating a defense is to:

1)  Probe - forward movement of the ball to a target player to get defenders behind him to step forward.

2) Recycle  - drop passes for the purpose of getting defenders to step forward again

3) Switch  - to force a defense to move laterally/

Once a defense is moving backwards and forwards as well as side to side it's preferred shape is in peril and seams to attack the goal through will develop and become exposed for exploitation. There is no set number of passes for when this well occur.  There is no set number of passes that defines "possessing the ball".  A successful possession might require as few as one pass or as many passes as it takes.

Good Luck Ottawa-Glandorf Lady Titans!

The Ottawa-Glandorf Lady Titans will be playing for the Division III State Championship at 7:00 pm on Friday in Columbus Crew Stadium.  We wish them nothing but the best of luck!  I encourage all in Western Buckeye League land to make the trip and have their backs with your support!

When your dreams start to seem so impossible and road blocks are all you see,

look beyond all the problems you face and focus on the possibilities.

Don’t limit your thoughts to the present or to solutions you have learned from the past.

Remember to keep looking forward. You may find the answer at last.

It is you whom determines your future, how your journey through tomorrow will be.

To fill all your days with adventure, dare to see what no one else dares to see.

So never let obstacles stop you or keep you from doing your part.

Have Faith that your dreams are all possible, if you truly believe in your heart.
Good Luck Lady Titans!


Soccer Memories - Treg

When I was first asked to share soccer memories I had no Idea where to start. I mean this list would never stop for me. I have been apart of the game through almost every spectrum that I can think of. The sport is more then a game it is a Love.  It's not a casual thing like watching the USMNT or other professional team but wanting to pick up a ball just to be on your foot. On a few nice days as I have crossed campus this year I have had a ball at my foot literally just playing a little game defeating defenders as they walk to their next class or seeing if I can hit friends as they pass by to literally running into people or playing a game with a pig (yes we have pigs on campus)

From a player perspective it is not necessary any one certain goal that I remember as awesome (even though scoring the game winning goal against rival Warriors as time was expiring was pretty great or scoring against Elida High School on my birthday both years of High School Soccer I played). More
it is a collection of ones that had dramatic impacts upon the game like the Warrior one my dad talked about in sharing his memories or events and friendships that I can never lose.

I remember playing against a team who literally stacked a 1-1-9 formation against us and we got our heads handed to us. Next time down at their place they were mocking us and being cocky during the warm ups and what not and we went out and with in a first few minutes I was running through them like they were Swiss cheese. I remember the first one in that game which was just like us sticking our tongues out saying well two can play this game. No we didn't actually. I never played on a team like that and never plan to coach a team like that either but just one of those "take that" moments.

I got a long pass played by our wing defender Kevin Esser and I took off. Kevin probably played the longest ball I have ever seen from him. Kevin and I related pretty well because we both have speech impediments and just know about all the name calling and what not. We played on the same club teams and while he didn't have the strongest leg or the best foot skills he LOVED the game as much as I did.

As played continued I received it making a flat run to the left side and bent it in since I was literally alone having blown right past the defender marking me. I took the ball from the top of the 18 at about the width of the six to the corner of the six and played the ball to the back post just like the famous Graham Ramsay would yell back in the day to the members of the high school team that I just idolized as a little kid while being a ball boy and helping my dad in practice. As the ball trickled over towards the back post someone came into my peripheral vision. Guess who it was... Kevin himself. one of the slowest kids on the team made the 95 yard run to have my back net option right with me.  It was the start of a beautiful friendship that lasts still today.

Another great memory was playing for Lima Central Catholic. There is an ancient rivalry between them and my school Shawnee. well it was just a blast to play my 8th grade year and a fall rec tournament after my freshmen year with them. At Shawnee they would go to practice with no heart, goofing off and being happy with where they were at - winning lots of games by being
quicker then the opponent.  The gentlemen over at LCC had the Love of the game they talked about it daily. They warmed up with the idea of no bad passes and trying to get better. It was an honor playing with those guys as they were goofy off the  field like any teenage boys, but on the field it was all about the game and sportsmanship and nothing else.

The best moment playing with these guys came from Nolan Burkholder. We both
played club soccer and our skill level was higher than our teammates who did not. I remember doing so many wall passes a round a guy from St. Marys that he finally stopped. Just up and quit on us. Literally one time he just threw up his hands and said go because if it wasn't a wall pass it was an overlap, dribbling on to the next line or playing the ball to a target forward. Nolan and I played combination passes to get around the defenders.

Or the year after when Nolan and I were going at it in high school or later that fall playing on their middle school team where I played the sweeper position and saved a goal when the ball was on the goal line.

Through all these ramblings the thoughts just go on and on.

Moving from the field to refereeing to coaching to a spectator and all the
other spectrums are endless as well.

Probably the most memorable one as a referee came when refereeing Lance as he served as
a guest player. He dribbled right in front of me on a very short and narrow field and took a shot as a defending mid from about 40 yards out and just started laughing. I take off down the field towards the ball and the little stinker had put the ball in the net. That goal, if my memory serves me correctly, might of been the only goal in the game.

From the perspective of a spectator my favorite memory is probably sitting right behind the Jon Busch, Chad Marshall and Jeff Chuningham as they played for the crew. Kevin and I were
ball boys for his birthday behind the goal on the home side. It was a blast to be that up and personal and actually got to hold a conversation with Busch for about 5 minutes.

Or meeting Frankie Hedjuk and talking to him on numerous occasions.  Or the day I  nutmeged Frankie on Ohio State University Oval. (GO BLUE!) I mean just all the fun from playing the standard team game has been a blast.

As a player the last game doesn't end at the whistle of the last full side organized game but when you decide to step away. This list could go on and on and I have told my dad that I am more then willing to share more in-depth memories of this wonderful game.


When you achieve at a high level every day,
you don't see it as high achievement,
you view it as the accepted norm.


Soccer Memories - Ashleigh

Having played soccer from the age of 5 to my senior year of high school, there are plenty of memories that were made.

My favorite memory would have to be when we made it to State Final Four my sophomore year of high school. The support we got from other WBL schools and the community was an awesome feeling! I really enjoyed when we took our charter bus around to the elementary schools and the little kids held up signs and cheered! It was also an amazing feeling every time we won a tournament game getting lead into town by a fire truck.

Coming from a bench player my freshman year, it was much to my surprise when I got my name on the record board my senior year. Breaking 2 records was an awesome feeling and it’s always great to look and see my name there. I might not be on the field anymore but the times I had playing as a Roughrider were the best.

Girls State Semi-Finals. Good Luck to Ottawa-Glandorf and Bath!

The #7 Bath Wildkittens will play Akron Archbishop Hoban (15-4-2) on Tuesday at 7:00 pm at Ashland High School. They will have their work cut out for them as coaching colleagues in the Akron area tell me Hoban is a very good side. I think Bath will be up to the task... and certainly hope so.  I have long thought it would be a girls side that eventually breaks through and gets to a OHSAA State Finals match. 

Good Luck Bath Wildkittens!
The #4 ranked Ottawa-Glandorf Titans (19-1-1) will square off against #6  Elyria Catholic (15-1-4) on Tuesday at 7:00 pm at Clyde High School. This should be a tremendous match and I am greatly looking forward to watching it. In my opinion, Western Buckeye League Champions have an excellent chance to advance but it definitely will not be easy.
Good Luck Ottawa-Glandorf Titans!

Functionality in Goalkeeper (and all) Training

I remember being asked to become the goalkeeping coach at Shawnee High School.  I knew very little about goalkeeping and was hesitant to say the least. I was honored to be considered, but couldn't help wonder, why me?   This much I knew, it was January and I had about 6 months to prepare for the role of goalkeeping coach.

One of the first things I did was to contact Graham Ramsay and ask him to recommend books and video tapes on the subject. This is where my library of now over 300 DVDs and 200 books on soccer got its humble beginnings. 

Shawnee's then head coach, Dick Hagen, recommended taking a coaching goalkeeping course and that was my next stop. I was one of the last to register for the NSCAA State Level Goalkeeping course to be held in Columbus, Ohio in about two weeks time.  This course would forever change the way I coached, regardless of the sport.

The instructors for the course were Tony Waiters, Tony DiCicco and John Murphy. Waiters and DiCicco were world renown household names.  Waiters was widely recognized as England's star goalkeeper much as Tim Howard is recognized as the US goalkeeper these days.  DiCicco was in his heyday as the USWNT team coach.  John Murphy?  Only true die hard soccer fans probably knew who he was.  I certainly knew nothing of him at that point in time, but it was Murphy who stole the show that weekend.  To this day, he is still the best clinician I have ever had the privilege of learning from.

Among the many lasting lessons learned that weekend was the importance of functionality being a part of everything we do in teaching the game. I'm not sure why, but that concept really struck a chord and still resonates with me to this day. Graham Ramsay seconded the importance of functionality in his camps and the many discussions we have had over the years. One of the reasons I have so many DVDs and books is that I am constantly searching for quality DVDs and books that stress functionality in training. A lot of the DVDs and books I have are mostly rubbish. A few are absolute gems.

So, there I was that July in the team's coaches led mini-camp getting my feet wet as a goalkeeping coach. My biggest concern was simply to not mess up the already established goalkeeping ability of the players being entrusted to me.  I had worked tirelessly to prepare and knew one of the first things I had to do was to convince the athletes to trust me.  I was about to change the way they had previously trained to be goalkeepers and had absolutely no experience or credibility to base my approach on. 

I want to focus on one simple exercise still common in goalkeeper training today.  This exercise is supposed to train a goalkeeper to "collapse dive" and pin the ball to the ground.  The active goalkeeper will be sitting on his butt as a coach or teammate hand serves balls to first the left then the right. The goalkeeper reaches out to field the ball and then collapses to the ground. When this occurs the goalkeepers body is falling away from the server. The goalkeeper is actually falling backwards... towards the goal.  It is a terrible drill in terms of functionality.  This is where my assault on poor goalkeeper training began.

In every goalkeeper camp and clinic I have ever conducted the question of cutting down angles has been raised by athletes and coaches alike. Heck, it was one of the few things I "knew" about goalkeeping before starting this journey as a goalkeeping coach.  When faced with a breakaway the goalkeeper comes out or comes off his line to cut down the shooting angles of the approaching attacker.  I had a basic understanding of this. I "knew" what it was all about. Sound tactical strategy generally accepted by everyone.

Somewhere in my mind all these bits and pieces were beginning to coalesce into what would become my curriculum for goalkeeping.  Tony Waiters' gorilla stance and Tony DiCicco's step to the ready position combined with John Murphy's demand for functionality in everything we do. 

I asked myself, how many times in a match would a goalkeeper be found sitting on his ass making a backwards moving collapse dive save?  My answer was, if it ever happened it would be as a result of the goalkeeper having made a mistake leading up to the necessity of performing such a maneuver.  It was that day the decision to never train a goalkeeper to recover from a mistake was made.

Can you imagine the reaction of young men who had played the position of goalkeeper for years to a rookie goalkeeping coach banning one of the most widely known goalkeeping exercises in the known soccer world?  Yeah, it was about what you would expect it to be.  I had to convince the players that my approach was better.  I taught them why it was indeed better and functionality was the main selling point.

When teaching the collapse dive to goalkeepers I have them begin with their knees on a painted line - goal line, touch line, any line will do.  I then place a soccer ball diagonally out in front of them to one side.  From this position we learn to dive diagonally forward on our collapse dives. Once I am satisfied with their technique for collapsing to the ground we put their feet on the line and progress to collapse dives from a standing position.

Let's back track for just a moment.  From their knees I have them collapse dive diagonally forward.  When defending a break away the goalkeeper comes out to take away shooting angles. By performing the collapse dive diagonally forward as opposed to falling backwards toward their own goal the goalkeeper is in effect cutting down the angles of the balls path to goal. 

So, on your feet the goalkeeper takes the step into the ready position as the attacker prepares to strike the ball. From the ready or gorilla position the goalkeeper takes a diagonally forward step towards the path of the ball and then collapse dives diagonally forward to make the save of the shot on goal.  This is functional training. 

What I discovered was when performing a collapse dive while falling backwards the effective range for saving a shot was generally 4 to perhaps 4.5 yards for an averaged size goalkeeper.  When the goalkeeper dives laterally the effective range for saving a shot stretches to approximately 6 yards for an average sized goalkeeper.  But when the goalkeeper attacks the ball by collapse diving diagonally forward the effective range for saving a shot can be stretched to cover 8+ yards.  With a goal being 8 yards wide we can cover its entirety provided we are positioned properly on the ball line angle arc. 

That first year as Shawnee's goalkeeper coach,  once proper collapse dive technique was established we never once practiced performing this technique from any position other than on our feet. Three times in each direction every day, including in pre-match warm ups.  No more. No less.  Our training was completely functional in nature. And if I recall correctly our GAA (goals against average) was a minuscule .48 / game that season. 

Since that time, I have strove to make every exercise utilized in training - for goalkeepers and field players alike - functional as it pertains to games.  Whether it is a technique, tactic, physical or psychology consideration I strive to make it game-like and functionally applicable in training. After all, training is preparation to play the game.  Failing to prepare properly is preparing to fail. So why ask athletes to train / prepare in a manner that is not functionally applicable to playing the game? 


October a record setting month at CBA Soccer Blog!

Thank you once again for your continued support of the CBA Soccer Blog and Conceive Believe Achieve Soccer Camps and clinics.  The growth of both has been steady over the years and we are very appreciative of our loyal fan base. 

I will be updating the most popular posts of the month a bit later.  Usually there are fairly clear cut winners, but for the month of October there are several contenders.

We are now accepting reservations for camps next summer.  Get your week reserved now!  As always, we give preference to returning teams, but we also have room to grow!

After much deliberation and some minor flirtation with a couple of college coaching positions I have decided to seriously explore returning to coaching high school soccer if the right situation presents itself. If you hear of an opening, please advise. West-central Ohio as a preferred location.

As always, if you wish to contribute articles to the CBA Blog, all you have to do is contact me at

Thanks once again for your tremendous and continued support!

More Soccer (and a basketball) Memories - Tim II

A few more of my favorite memories from coaching

These first two revolve around young players with disabilities.   Both were such neat kids from loving homes wanting to play sports like their siblings, friends and classmates. I was blessed to be able to coach Eric and John.

Eric played soccer for me one season. If I recall correctly the team was a group of U12 boys. Eric might have been slightly older. I don't know the correct term for Eric's disability. Suffice it to say he was mentally challenged in some ways. Eric was also very bright in some ways and could be a bit of a prankster. One of the challenges I faced were complaints from a couple of players / parents of how Eric's presence on the team and especially in the game put our team at a competitive disadvantage. My approach with those people was to cheerfully reply "Of course, it does!  But it also makes us a make stronger team!"  It was enough to defuse potentially ugly situations if only because it stunned them into silence.

I made no exceptions for Eric, expecting him to attempt everything his teammates did. I worked with Eric the same I would with any other players.  I acknowledged and cheered his successes and when necessary corrected his mistakes. I did notify opposing coaches and referees that we had a special needs kid on our team, but asked no favors on his behalf.  If Eric were offside, call it. If Eric committed a foul, call it.  If Eric handled the ball, call it.  I even played Eric in goal a bit.  I, and his teammates, strove to treat Eric as we would any other member of the team.

Eric, for his part seemed to have a great time. The kid was always smiling and often times I spotted a twinkle in his eye that belied a mischievous streak.  For instance, we sometimes finished practice with an exercise known as butts up! This usually involved the coaches or a birthday boy standing in the goal with hands on knees and their back to the field. Players would each have a turn to "shoot the ball" at the coaches butt.  If they hit the coach, no running. If they missed the coach, they ran half a lap.  Eric didn't have much luck hitting the coaches butt until late in the season. I had seen that twinkle in his eye before we started butts up that evening but was unprepared to actually be hit by the ball when it was Eric's turn!   He had picked up the ball, snuck up behind me, threw the ball and hit me in the butt!  Much laughter ensued!   I pretended to be upset that he had "cheated" but Eric didn't care, he had hit coach in the butt!  Secretly I beamed at his ingenuity.

And there's the lesson to be learned.  Soccer is a game about solving problems encountered on the pitch.  That's exactly what Eric had done!  In his own unique way and to the best of his ability he solved the problem.  Love, Love, LOVE that kid.  Such an inspiration to the rest of us.  I cannot begin to remember what our record was that season, but I will always remember Eric was on our team.

John was a sports aficionado.  His special needs were both physical and mental in nature.  Great kid who smiled a lot. I was privileged and honored to coach John in 7th grade basketball. Anyone that has been around 7th grade boys knows their competitive nature really begins to emerge in middle school. Having a special needs kid on your team can be a difficult situation.

I made no exceptions for John. I expected him to attempt everything his teammates were asked to do. To John's credit he dribbled and shot fairly well all things considered. Certainly not at a competitive in-game level but competently nonetheless.  He wasn't much of a defender and playing man to man defense with John on the court was never  a consideration .  Of course, there were one or two players / parents upset about the competitive disadvantage John placed the team in when he was on the court.

My solution with John was to play him in the middle of a 2-1-2 zone whenever he was on the court.  On offense he played "high post".  As I recall we actually had one player / family become very frustrated and leave the team over John's presence. We were struggling through the season, losing games we "should have" or at least "could have" won except for John.  An amazing thing happened as the post season tournament began - the team went on a winning streak that carried them to the championship game!  And yes, John was involved in each of those games.

We didn't win the championship, but I'm not sure anyone aside from John really cared. As I said, John is a sports aficionado.  He recognizes his limitations but that makes him no less competitive. I remember overhearing him talking with his father about if he had only done "this or that" a little bit better. Never blaming his disabilities, only lamenting that perhaps he had not played as well as he was capable of playing.

My own son said something to the effect, "If it weren't for John we could have won, but I think we got a better prize than a trophy by having John play on our team."  And he was absolutely correct.  The lesson here is about making the most of what God has blessed us with.  John certainly did this on a daily basis. His positive attitude was contagious to the point that he was inspirational to his teammates.  I myself don't know if we would have won that championship or not, but I do believe firmly that we would not have played for one without John leading the way.

When I took over the Lima Central Catholic girls program I knew we had to change a culture of losing.  What I did not realize was how deeply ingrained the culture of losing was. That first summer with the girls I remember getting incredibly frustrated with teaching the girls to give intelligent effort.  The idea of less physical exertion in favor of more mental exertion was struggling to find a foothold. It seemed at some point in the past a coach had told them they were not as talented as opponents and the only way they could compete was to outwork the other team.  I took the team off the pitch and we sat in the shade along the St. Gerard's school building. I told the girls they were a good team and it was time to start playing like it.  ...  there was a collective look on the players faces ... I'm not quite sure how to describe it.  I recall looking over my shoulder because I thought something might be seriously wrong. I thought back over what I just said to ascertain if I had somehow been out of line in my speech. I finally asked what was wrong and Sarah spoke up. Of course, it would be Sarah.  She is one of my all-time favorite players. A royal pain in the butt and her own worst enemy, but nonetheless one of my all-time favorites and likely in part because of her response that day.  "No one has ever told us we are a good team."   I was incredulous.  I know my mouth gaped open and I asked "What?!"  Sarah responded with "You're the first coach to ever tell us we are a good team." As I looked around at the girls I saw heads nodding in agreement, but there was something else visible as well.  There was a physical transformation and a changing of attitude happening right before my eyes.  In 60 seconds we changed the culture of the program.  I gave them my belief, my confidence in them and they knew I was sincere. One of the truly unforgettable moments in my coaching career.

The last memory I will share today is actually a product of the saddest experience I have ever had in sports.  A good friend and volunteer assistant to me committed suicide in mid-season. It happened on a Friday night.  I spent much of that night with Justin's family and especially his son, Kaleb who was on our team. The next day Lance and I took Kaleb with us to a tournament in Glandorf.  Kaleb wanted to be with us and it seemed like the thing to do.  Scott Bentz was the coach for the team Lance was guest playing for and when he learned of the circumstances he graciously allowed Kaleb to come along and play that day as well.  The next day our own team was scheduled to play the ISC Storm in Botkins, Ohio and I just didn't know if Kaleb and his family would be up for it. I called to warn the ISC Storm coach, Terry Paulus, of what we were dealing with and he graciously said he would go along with whatever we thought would be best.  We decided to go ahead and play that Sunday.  The sun shone through cloudy skies but there was a bitterly cold wind blowing.  We scored first and I began to think of how good it would be to win that day. The Storm tied the game late and, oh, I don't know ... the result just didn't seem to matter much at all.  Unbeknownst to me, Terry and the parents from the ISC Storm team had taken up a collection for Kaleb and his family.  Now, the first time I ever spoke with Terry Paulus was the day before when I informed him of the tragedy that had struck our team.  I didn't know the guy from Adam. It wasn't just a few bucks they collected either. It was a sizeable amount given to complete strangers. ... now good friends. Both Kaleb and Lance have guest played for Terry and the ISC Storm on numerous occasions.  This is of course a bitter sweet memory, but Terry Paulus and the ISC Storm made a lasting impression on us that day and provided a memory that will last a lifetime. The money, while a wonderful gesture, is not the memory though.  The memory is of others in the family of soccer stepping in to do what they could when it was most needed..  Scott, Terry, all the kids who played in those games that weekend let Kaleb know they had his back and were there to help as they could.  Can you imagine having over a hundred people, many whom you never knew before that weekend embracing you with their love?  That's a pretty special memory, in my book