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. 

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