Competitive Soccer

Competitive soccer is known by many names:

Travel Soccer
Club Soccer
Elite Soccer
Premier Soccer

These are but a few of the aliases given to what has become known as Competitive Soccer. A multi-million (billion?) dollar industry has sprung up to organize and manage competitive soccer in this country.  A primary consideration seems to be wringing every available dollar of disposable income from parents of players ranging in age from 4 - 18 years of age.

Just who is competing in competitive soccer?

Walk along the parents sidelines at a typical "competitive" match and listen to the what is being yelled at players, referees and coaches.  Sometimes tensions even boil over amongst spectators.  If we really stop and consider things, a strong case could be made the most competitive people in competitive soccer are the adults involved as organizers, managers and spectators. In fact, I feel it safe to say it was adults who came up with the all various names given to the genre of competitive soccer.

For many parents and adults competitive soccer seems to be all about winning, prestige, scholarships and money.  It seems to me something is missing here.


Adults seem to be intent on organizing the fun right out of youth sports. Parental self-worth is often times tied to their child's success on the playing field.  A loss is blamed on the referees, the coach and even teammates. Wins are all about how well their child played often times in spite of the referees, the coach or teammates.

What we should see in youth soccer is a lot of laughing and the joy found in playing with friends. Mistakes galore without verbal abuse for having made them. A relaxing environment of exercise, learning and friendly competition where the outcome is secondary to the fun and fellowship enjoyed.

We need to give the game back to our children.

Adults competing against adults through their children is ... dare I say, childish?  This is essentially what competitive soccer has become.  If we were to observe our children behaving in the manner adults behave in during youth soccer activities we would be swift with punishment for them.  I think maybe it's time for the children to place their parents in time out.

And the S.A.Y. organization's Silent Saturday program is essentially a time out for adults.  When I first heard of this I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, "what now?"  After experiencing Silent Saturday a few times I have become a fan.  Namely because the silence of the adults allowed for the sounds of the game to be heard.  I could hear the kids being kids playing the game.

I am strongly considering starting an after school soccer program. There is a block of time between the end of school and when most adults get home from work. It is a time when youth travel from school to home or daycare.  My thought is to have a small group of volunteers set up the fields just prior to school letting out and then allowing the participants to organize and play games. No fees.  No attendance requirements. No rules governing how many on a side. Call your own fouls.  Settle your own disagreements.  No scoreboards. No coaches.  Limited adult supervision.   I have a notion this would be an extremely popular program.  I believe it would be perceived as fun and the fun would stem from the kids receiving the game back from adults. 

What do you think?

Every sport has great players who have never won a title.

Every sport has great players who have never won a title.

Sometimes it is a matter of timing or circumstance.  Teammates are aging or inexperienced. An untimely injury.  Just bad luck in terms of an opponent making a great play.  Other times it is because the player was unwilling to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. These are the ones that frustrate teammates, coaches, fans and once in awhile, even themselves.

The interesting thing is, when all is said and done, their unwillingness to sacrifice also diminishes their personal legacy.  There is always a "but" attached to their name.  He was player of the year, all-league, all-district, all-state, but his team never won a title.  She set the school record for goals scored, but never played on a winning team. 

One thing I firmly believe in is the team.  If the team is at the forefront of your thoughts, words and deeds, the individual accolades tend to take care of themselves and seldom come with a "but" attached to them.  This is true because the truly great players understand the importance of teammates to their own success.  Great players make those around them better and in doing so shine all the brighter themselves.

Great individual talent can wins games or set records, but it takes intelligence and teamwork to win championships.  Some of the so-called great players, in their pursuit of individual glory, never come to appreciate this. 


The Financial Costs of Youth Soccer

I suppose it has something to do with club soccer being underway or perhaps it is preparation for high school season? Maybe it is neither or both?  I get inundated with questions about soccer camps this time of year. I understand people ask me because I have worked college camps and conduct camps myself.  I do tire of repeating myself so I am just going to post some general thoughts on it all here.

And, yes, I do realize what I am about to say is akin to shooting myself in the foot.   LOL.

To go to a college skills camp you can expect to spend $500 - $750.00   What you get in exchange is room & board Sunday - Thursday and 7-8 field sessions and maybe 4 "games" played.  LOTs of dirty laundry and very tired kids. They often demonstrate noticeable improvement, especially if this is one of their first camp experiences. Commuting can lessen the cost while still providing the soccer experience.

To go to a college team camp you can expect to pay $200-$250 a player for approximately 3 days of room & board and the right to play 2-3 games a day against other teams. There is usually minimal instruction. 

To have someone come to your school / club or rec program to conduct camps you might be charged anywhere from $20 - $100 per player for 10-15 sessions of instruction. The type of instruction you receive is up to the local organization contracting with the coaches conducting the camp.

Personal Soccer Trainers or small group training can range from $20 / hour to over $100 / hour per individual player. This usually involves technical training and is often specialized - GK training, Striker training, Foot skills, shooting technique and so on.

What are my recommendations?

I struggle with this.  I have worked those college camps. They are the reason I have begun offering camps myself.  We can do it far cheaper and the players stay in their own beds & eat their own food.

Ditto for team camps.

It's the same with which club to play for.  I know people who dish out $1000 - $2500 per season so their child can play for a "prestigious" club.  That often involves a fall, winter and spring season - as much as $7500.00 per year spent of soccer.  And that fee often does not include uniforms, tournament fees, referee fees and other hidden costs.  They like to think it will lead to a college scholarship for their child. Invest the money in a savings account and you will have college paid for - a much sounder and stronger investment in your child than throwing all that money at college coaches, club coaches or personal soccer trainers.

Our local club charges $150.00 for returning players and $220.00 for new players. The $70.00 difference being the purchase of a uniform you get to keep. This is all inclusive. No hidden costs unless a team seeks more than 2 tournaments to play in.

Tournaments fees run between $450 - $750 for a team and you get a minimum of 3 games. 
Think about that for a minute... That is $25-45.00 per player on a club team.  Basically $7.50 - $15 per game or even less if your team gets a 4th game. 

Refer back to those college team camps that charge $200.00 + per player for the right to play games.  That's an entry fee of $3000 - $5000.00 per team for the right to play games at a college facility with minimal actual instruction. That equates to approximately $50.00 per player per game.  Yikes!

"I want the best possible coaching / instruction for my child."  Money is not an obstacle. "My child is going to get a college scholarship."   Um... probably not and almost certainly not a full ride to a D I school.

Read here:

So, it comes down to spending your money wisely AND the type of experience you wish your child to have. I cannot make that decision for you.

What we do as a family is seek to get the most bang for our buck.  Our youngest son played for a local club. We paid $350 instead of standard $150.00 because his team played in two leagues and more than the allotted two tournaments.  Over 30 games total.  A little more than $10 / game and that is not including all the practices and "friendlies" or scrimmages.  Great value for the money spent. And Lance has received a partial college scholarship to supplement his academic scholarships

We sent Lance to a  high school team camp at a college last summer and felt like we were being financially raped. Over $200.00 for 3 days of playing games.  We felt compelled to do it because this is what the high school coach has dictated. I would much rather bring a camp to the high school fields, pay considerably less money and have the kids receive 20 - 30 hours of instruction than pay for the "privilege" of playing games on a college campus.

In fact, the high school team conducted a soccer camp of its own for youth in the area. I can almost guarantee you the high school kids benefitted more from instructing the youth players in proper technique than they will from playing multiple games a day on a college campus.  They were fresher, more alert and had much more fun. The middle school campers who attended the high school camp received instruction at a reasonable cost.  The camp generated some excitement within the local soccer community for the high school team. It exposed the middle school youth to the proud tradition of the high school program.


Lost among the dollar signs and fatigue from playing too much soccer in a short period of time is the most basic and best reason for playing soccer in the first place = to have fun.

I am constantly reminded of the great Johan Cruyff's quote: "Soccer is simple, but nothing is more difficult than playing simple soccer."   We as adults, as parents, complicate what is a simple game by over spending on it.  Keep it as simple as possible and your pocketbook now and at the time your child goes off to college will appreciate it.  When it comes to soccer camps, instructions and club experiences, more (money) is does not necessarily mean better and is in fact quite often counter productive if the long term goal is paying for college.
Learn from the past.
Prepare for the future.
Perform in the moment.

If you don’t fight for what you want,
don’t cry for what you lost.

Defending to Attack

The ideas represented here are from an article originally presented to me by Graham Ramsay that I later edited and adapted for presentation to one of my teams. We played zonal defense so the approach to defending and regaining possession is with that in mind.



There are two reasons to defend; 1) To prevent the opponent from scoring and 2) to win the ball and begin an attack so that we can score. Making positive decisions when defending is the key to winning R.P.’s that can be a deciding factor in winning a game. What is an R.P.? An R.P. is a REGAINED POSSESSION – or winning the ball back when it has been lost.

How do we win R.P.’s?

Discipline is the foundation upon which all

Success is built.
Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure.


Bigotry and Racism in Soccer

There seems to be a constant stream of news items from the world of soccer concerning prejudices directed at players, coaches, referees and fans of the game.  I have seen players under my guidance discriminated against and unfortunately on one occasion had a player act discriminatory against a referee crew.  Sadly, we have not yet learned our lessons from slavery, the Nazi's or religious inquisitions. In good faith I cannot begin to list all the groups who are labeled and discriminated against.  It is a sad commentary on both our society and the global state of affairs. Unfortunately I am fairly confident each and every one of us has been a victim of bigotry and prejudice.

I am going to share two personal instances with you. One in a broad sense and the other quite intimate. With this being Holy week I find the timing to be appropriate.

Being of Native American heritage I can claim some expertise on what it is to be a target of prejudice. No group of people have been discriminated against like The People have been since the white man set foot in the Americas.  Not the African-American slaves, the Chinese and Irish who built the railroads ... no one. I myself have not had direct experience with this as I am not a full blooded Native American.  The sub group I would be in was often discriminated against by both the white man and Native Americans. 

On a much more personal level I experienced hatred and isolation on a scale I find embarrassing considering that we supposedly live in an enlightened and tolerant society.  Try being a Lutheran coaching at a Catholic High School.  The hate filled vitriol I was subjected to both in private and in public shames the supposedly Christian environment of a Catholic school setting.  I have never felt so alone, so isolated, so excluded as I did in the midst of the players, families and administration of that school.

Here's the truly strange aspect of my experience as a Lutheran coaching in a Catholic school - one of the primary reasons I accepted the position was because I had been contemplating converting to Catholicism.  I prayed on a regular basis for guidance in making a decision on this.  I asked God to provide me His answer and I believe He did.  Never once did anyone - player, assistant coach, administrator, parents, priest  - anyone speak with me about their beliefs.  I had to seek out and ask about rituals, traditions, creeds and prayers unfamiliar to me and the responses, when they did come, came excruciatingly slow if they came at all.  It was as if their minds were made up about me before they ever got to know me. Truth be told, with very few exceptions, no one there did ever get to know the real me.  I was labeled.  The label was negative. No one cared if it was accurate or not. 

The prejudice and hatred I endured at the hands of the Catholics I interacted with through my role as a soccer coach is God's answer to my prayers about possibly converting to Catholicism.  Now, in no way shape or form do I lump all Catholics in with those who treated me so hurtfully and disrespectfully.  I have many friends who are Catholic and I know them to be outstanding people - friends and neighbors, loved ones.  I believe, I have to believe, my experiences as a Lutheran coach at a Catholic high school were isolated incidents.

As a coach, I preach to our team members about being inclusive. Every member of our team is an equal. We cherish and value each members contributions to the team. No one individual more important than the next.  When we step on the pitch, race, creed, sexual preference, and all other exclusionary labels are left behind in favor of an inclusive label of player or team member. 

In recent days I read of a middle school basketball game that was stopped as team members went into the stands to confront a bully who was picking on a cheerleader with Downs Syndrome.  What heroes these young men are!  In another incident AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng recently left the field in protest after being the victim of what his club described as racist abuse. In a show of unity and support his teammates and officials followed Boateng off the pitch!   And I wondered where my hero was during my time as a Lutheran soccer coach at a Catholic high school?  Bigotry and prejudice will not be stopped until the bullies perpetrating it are stood up to.  And bigots can be found in every race, creed and label known to man.

You must make a stand against prejudice and bigotry. 

Until we each do our part the exclusiveness of bigotry and prejudice will remain. 

Possess to Rest

Timeless wisdom from one of the United States first soccer stars,
If you’re attacking,

 you don’t get as tired
 as when you’re chasing.

 Kyle Rote, Jr.
(*1950: retired American soccer striker)
Possess to Rest

Yellow Cards

Here's a little secret for all you players: the referee fraternity is a tight knit group. They talk and share information with one another.  If you are argumentative on the pitch, if you give a lot of fouls, if you are awarded a yellow card caution or a red card send off, word gets around.

You need to work on your player / referee relationships gracefully and with tact or you will see yourself accumulating cards based on your reputation in the referee community.

Honor and respect the game.

Honor and respect your team.

Honor and respect the officials.

Honor and respect yourself.

Sometimes a player's greatest challenge

is coming to grips with his role on the team.


Have you ever purposefully played a game with 7 players?

One of our readers messaged me last night with this question; Have you ever purposefully played 22 minutes of a game with 7 players on the field and 8 subs on the bench?

I have in fact done this a couple of times. In each instance it was because the opponents could not field enough players. After establishing a two goal lead we withdrew players to play even sided. There have also been a couple of times when I intentionally played down a man because we were lacking subs and an individual player believed I would not. When the player abandoned our team's system to do his own thing he found himself seated on the bench next to me while his teammates played a man (or two ) down.  This is where today's story begins.

When I intentionally removed a player from the pitch with no sub available you can be assured I was plenty upset.  It is a drastic move and a decision to be made with all due and proper consideration. In sending a message to the offending player in this manner the coach is also in effect punishing the innocent remainder of the team by making them unnecessarily play down a man. That is a slippery slope to walk. In the best case scenario the offending player receives the message with peer pressure being a part of the delivery method.  At worst, team morale and chemistry is weakened to the point of impacting not only the game at hand, but future play as well.

As it pertains to the question posed to me last night the issue is apparently attendance at practice sessions. 

Here in west central Ohio we do not have a large pool of athletes who specialize in soccer as their only sport.  Many of our club soccer players are multi-sport athletes at their high schools.  This is both by choice and in some cases by necessity. My philosophy has always been that school sports come first. Practice and even match attendance sometimes suffers because of this, but with careful planning it can be effectively managed.

The team in question is a U16 team so there are plenty of other factors that can impact attendance.  Driver's Education courses is a primary one at this age.  School choir and band rehearsals and performances are another.  Church holidays and festivals should always come before soccer. Family gatherings for weddings, funerals, baptism, confirmation, first communion, spring vacations all take precedent over attending a soccer practice. Players of this age may be working to help pay for a car or to save for college. What of the player who misses training because of illness or doctors appointment?

I understand from a coaching standpoint wanting everyone in attendance at every team function, but it simply is not realistic in our environment ... and quite frankly, it is not necessary for success.  I offer my own spring teams of the last several years as examples.  We have been ultra successful while abiding by the mantra that family / church / school come before soccer. 

Forcing seven players to play against eleven opponents while eight healthy teammates watch from the bench because they missed training is punishing the seven, is it not?  And if the coach is asking players to chose soccer training over family, church or school obligations it is really problematic.  Let's face it, there is not a single player on this team likely to play professionally and therefore soccer should not be the main priority for any of them. 

And place yourself in the boots of those who will be forced to sit out a portion of todays match while their teammates play down.  If I chose church, school, family over soccer and then was punished by the soccer coach for doing so?  Soccer would move down on my priority list.  If I knew I had to miss soccer practice in the future, I might not even bother showing for the next match just to sit the bench and spectate.  How many players can the team afford to lose before it becomes completely dysfunctional?

This subject matter ties in nicely with the recent articles on playing time and where elite kids shouldn't meet and rules  While our family is undoubtedly and without dispute soccer fanatics our mantra is "soccer is something we do, but it does not define who we are."  We live a balanced life placing God first.  Family, school, work, and other aspects of our lives are prioritized somewhere after God ... and before sports.  Not only are these kids not going to play professionally, but none are going to earn a full ride to play soccer in college either.

So, perhaps the coach is attempting to teach a lesson on honoring commitment?  If so, I wonder if the coach has considered the conundrum he is placing kids and families in who have committed to family, church and school activities and events ... often times prior to the spring soccer commitment and almost certainly before spring soccer schedules have been released?  

When it comes right down to it, this is all about the coach who is butt hurt that he is not at the top of the priority list for these kids and their families. He is attempting to exert control that he might not be embarrassed by the product he puts on the field.  Yes, playing down to seven men is a temporary matter and short term solution for getting his way for the (relative) long run. In a word, selfish.  He wants and is taking ownership of the team. This is foolish for the team belongs to the players. The players are the only ones who can truly take ownership of themselves. 

So, shouldn't it be the players who decide the standards for participation in today's match? 

After all, it is the players who must play for one another on the pitch in order to be successful and so it is the players who should decided the standards by which they do so.

In conclusion what we have been addressing is where on the commitment continuum various members of this team fall.  Obviously the coach is compelled whereas at least 8 players in his judgment are not. The coach might view these 8 as resistant and is attempting to force them to be reluctant, maybe in a best case scenario, compliant.  This is not the way to achieve buy-in to the team's culture. In fact, it is a dangerous way of defining team culture in a negative sense.  Here's  a secret all successful coaches must appreciate - while a coach can present a vision for a program's or team's culture it is the players who will actually define that culture. It is only through the coach's sales tactics that he can bring to bear any influence their culture. 


Where the elite kids SHOULDN't meet.

This article by Tim Keown is from August of 2011.  It is a tremendous read on a subject we have devoted some time to here on this blog.  Keown does a tremendous job. While the focus is on baseball and basketball, soccer is certainly applicable as well.  It is a tad long, but well worth the time.

Click on this link for the full original story: Where the Elite Kids Shouldn't Meet.

Your kid is good, right? Really good? You don't want to brag, but he can do some things on the field that other kids his age won't even try. You played a little ball yourself, and you know the difference.

Make no mistake: There's someone out there for you. He's putting together a team, and he's got a pipeline to the best tournaments. He knows people. He'll have tryouts and he'll tell you what you want to hear. It's expensive, sure, but who can put a price on your kid's future? If he's got a chance to be the best, he needs to play with and against the best, right?

Judging by the direction we're taking preteen youth sports, it appears we have completely lost our minds. Gone crazy -- collectively and individually. It's become something of a hobby for me to read the local sports coverage of the three or four sub-20,000 circulation papers in my area, and I am here to report that the center cannot hold.

Give your best effort.

You will play as you train
If you only ever give 90% in training
Then you will never be able to give 100% in the game.

Value the Ball

Matches are not won quickly.

 Matches are not lost quickly.

Matches are 90 minutes long.

Matches are played one possession at a time.

Matches are won one possession at a time. 
Matches are lost one possession at a time. 
Value the ball.


The Book of Luke

The following story was shared on facebook.  It is a tremendous read. I have copied it here in part because I was unable to link solely to the article on facebook, but please click on the link to the author's page and give props to both Luke and Jeff Kirby.

“The Book Of Luke…” He has always accommodated the numerous requests from TV and print reporters to speak to him, and patiently complied with the frequent invitations from an adoring public for a picture or an autograph or a handshake.

He is an extraordinarily gifted athlete and student, which is why he is in the National Honor Society and will play basketball next year for Coach K at Duke. It is also why he has been named to every all-star team across this land and is, as was announced Wednesday night, Ohio’s Mr. Basketball for the second year in a row.

But let me tell you what Luke Kennard, the Franklin H.S. two-sport all-star athlete, appreciates the most, whether it’s in sports or in life.

It may not be what you are thinking.

It’s not the adulation and the attention that can feed his ego (since that’s the American way, right?). No, what he enjoys the most – thrives on, actually -- is the warmth that comes from being part of something bigger than himself.

He is the poster child for humility. He is a model for extending praise to those around him. When the Franklin basketball program came up with a T shirt motto about unselfishness a few years ago, Luke wore it proudly: “We, Not Me.”

It’s so much easier to pat someone on the back when their own hand isn’t in the way.

When he passed LeBron James on Ohio’s all-time scoring list a month or so ago, Luke was asked to draw comparisons between him and the NBA legend. But Luke preferred instead to talk about the energy the Wildcats felt from the Franklin community, and how blessed he felt just to be part of it.
When he was named a McDonald’s All-American, putting him in exclusive company with only 23 other high school basketball players in the nation, he was asked to speculate on where such an honor put him in relation to all the others. But all Luke preferred instead to talk about was the love and support the team could feel from their fellow classmates, and how blessed he felt just to be among them.

Then last Saturday afternoon, when the ‘Cats narrowly missed going to the state tournament with a crushing one-point loss in overtime (oh, that still hurts), Luke was asked to talk about his career and his achievements and all that he has meant to Franklin. But Luke preferred instead to talk about his teammates and the love he will always have for them.

Luke is smart and well-versed on a number of subjects. But he loves talking about his teammates way more than he likes talking about himself.

Jake Riddell: “I’m so glad he played basketball with us this year.” Matt Thompson: “He plays at 150% all the time, and I love that about him.” Austin Daliboa: “He fit in with us right from the very beginning, and I’m so glad he’s with us.” And Evan Crowe: “He’s been my best friend since either one of us can remember.”

He also thanks his coaches, head coach Brian Bales (a Division II state coach of the year), and his assistants, Brent Rambo and Josh Taylor. He especially thanks his parents, Mark and Jennifer, his sister Lauren, his girlfriend Anna Castro, and all of his extended family. He feels blessed to have all of them in his life.

He loves being part of a family.

If there is one word that dominates Luke’s vocabulary, it’s “blessed.”

AMID THE RELATIVE CALM during the playing of the national anthem, Luke has always put his right hand over his heart, bowed his head and shut his eyes. Because I’ve known all season I would be writing this story (but never told Luke about it), I’ve captured this moment about 10 times, hoping to get a good one. I’m no photographer, but I love this image.

I love it that Luke does not worship at the feet of his own success.

I love it that he leads by example, not by command.

I agree with him that although faith presents a thousand scientific, moral and theological questions, there is comfort in the belief that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. Luke and his family renew that faith each Sunday at Horizon Pointe Church in Springboro.

With his head bowed and eyes closed, there is no request for Franklin to win the game, because God doesn’t care who wins ball games. Likewise, there is no request for personal gain, because personal character is far more important than individual success.

Instead, the moment says one simple word: “Thanks.”

It says: Thanks for the world around me, and the people in my life. Thanks for giving me certain athletic gifts, and the dedication to refine them to the best of my ability. Thanks for giving me this opportunity. Now, I will repay the gift by performing in a way that benefits others, not just me.
So basic, and yet still so powerful.

When Luke was named Mr. Basketball the other night, it created another moment when all of Wildcat Nation came alive to publicly offer another standing ovation, and express appreciation. “Thank you, Luke. We’ve been blessed with all you’ve done,” the sentiment goes.

But Luke would offer a quick response.

No, no, he would say. “When it comes to feeling blessed, I'm the one.”

-- by Jeff Kirby
"Once A Wildcat, Always A Wildcat"
"The Heart of the Panthers"

Playing Time.

I have met a lot of people through soccer and over the years have become a resource person or sounding board for many of these. There are two main concerns people raise with me;  lack of playing time and the position being played.  In today's writing I will share my philosophy on playing time and how I arrived at it.

I remember being an assistant coach for my eldest son Grant's U10 club team.  The head coach was a local high school coach by the name of Dan.  At 11 years of age, Grant was pudgy and did not look the part of a soccer player. Even back then though Grant had a high soccer IQ.  Dan didn't play Grant much and at one point even suggested Grant should maybe think about playing football. Well, okay then.  To say that Grant did not get a lot of playing time would be an understatement.  I never made a big deal over the lack of playing time. I did observe closely how Grant and others who received a disproportionately low amount of playing time responded. 

One example remains in my mind to this day for two specific reasons.  In a tightly contested match that a lot of importance was placed upon Dan reluctantly sent Grant in to play as the left back.  Grant was admonished to "just stay in position and don't let them score against you."  Conversely, Grant and I had been discussing the importance of making the most out of every opportunity he did receive.  As the attack traveled up the right flank I noticed (and Grant did too) there was a lot of open space on the weak side.  Grant began inching forward and "out of position." It was okay though, because Dan was focused solely on the ball.  As the action played itself out there was Grant running full tilt toward the back post and when the shot / cross came he was there to make a play.  No goal. That would have been too perfect an ending.  But the run itself and the subsequent recovery run were brilliant.

Flash forward a few years and Dan is now coaching a different team.  I received a call literally the night before his team was to play in a tournament. Dan needed players.  He accepted my then U12 son Treg to play for his U14 team.  Treg acquitted himself well on a team that played with 9 men.  How does one enter a tournament and be so undermanned when it comes time to play?  

These two stories are related as we will discover. 

My philosophy on playing time is simple; if you attend and participate in training, I will play you in the match.  No guarantee of how many minutes, but you will have a defined role in terms of expectations for your play while in the game.

I have seen a lot of coaches get caught up in a singular expectation for winning the match.  They will use pursuit of a win as a reason to avoid playing those considered to be weaker players. High school coaches can be especially bad in this regard but so too can club coaches.  With unlimited substitutions allowed in both high school and club soccer I find this approach to be reprehensible.  If a player is good enough to make your roster, he is good enough to play in matches for you.

Dan and I later crossed paths when I was the head coach for a U12 team and he served as my assistant. We each had a son on this club team. If you know anything about prepubescent boys you appreciate how they can run like a deer one day and stumble around like a new born foal the next as their bodies undergo the change.  I was observant of the players and when they looked like deer they got a lot of playing time. When they looked like a new born foal they received less. But everyone played.  I spoke with both players and parents alike about the fluctuations in playing time and counseled patience as these prepubescent growth spurts were temporary and in no way indicative of what type of an athlete the player would be when he emerged on the other end of puberty. Most bought into this reality in the moment. Some it took a couple of years to appreciate and understand. 

I limited the roles of the foals but not the significance of their contributions.  My guiding light is a firm belief that it is the responsibility of the coach to place players in positions and situations from which they enjoy a reasonable expectation for success. If a player was struggling to run due to "growing pains", it simply made no sense to play him on the flank where a lot of running would be necessary, right?  Why frustrate the player by placing him in a position where he was likely to struggle?

These lessons I carried with me when I took on the head coaching job at Lima Central Catholic.  This program was moribund having never had a winning season and really struggling for enough players to field a team.  That first year we had 17 players total. In all honesty, about 6 were of varsity caliber with another handful of junior varsity caliber. It would have been difficult to justify keeping the rest on a high school roster were the numbers in the program better.

I played everyone who was healthy in every game that season.

The next season our numbers in the program jumped to 29 girls and we fielded a junior varsity team for a limited schedule. That set a record for number of players in a season. Playing every girl in every match and placing them in positions / situations from which they had a reasonable expectation to experience success built a chemistry in the program that others wanted to be a part of.  That we had the best season in school history while doing so was even more incentive for others to come out for the team.

The curious case of Adam.

The head coach at our local high school was something of a legend having accumulated 330 wins over the course of his career.  I got my start in high school soccer as a goalkeeper coach under him and am eternally grateful for having had the opportunity.  Dick topped out as a coach the year the team made it to the state semi-finals.  It was viewed as a deep and talented roster with as many as 20 players receiving playing time regularly.  From that point on getting back to state consumed him and players suffered for it.

The season after having gone to state we had 53 athletes come out for soccer.  There were 36 spots available between the varsity and junior varsity teams.  Dick told me he lobbied to some extent for a third team, but was denied. He eventually kept 40 players in the program.  Fast forward a few years and we find his last season saw 32 players in the entire program and many of those would have been cut in previous years.

Why?  What changed?  It's more a matter of who changed; Dick had.

Adam played on an elite club team. He started every game and played dang near every minute as a center back on a team that won nearly 90% of its games. Adam rode the bench and often did not play for Dick as a high school senior that final season.  Why?   Only Dick can answer that but the impact of allowing players to sit the bench with no chance of playing continued to drive numbers down in the program. 

There is a direct correlation between playing time and numbers in the program. It extends to the quality of the program as well.  By the time Dick finally walked away the high school program was in a shambles having been decimated both of talent and of numbers participating.

By the way, Adam went on to play in college.   Yep, he couldn't buy playing time on a mediocre high school team yet found a spot on a college team.  That's just difficult to explain.

Now, I am sure both Dan and Dick in defense of their decision making would suggest players need to earn playing time.  This is likely a ruse to deflect away from an issue of trust, or lack thereof.  Did Dick trust Adam to play for him?  Obviously not.

And I think playing time as well as the path of the various programs mentioned here comes down to that one word, trust as was written about in Truth. Trust. Belief.  A coach can give these things to players and teams or he can deny them to players and teams.

When players or parents come to me with issues about playing time my response is to work on the player / coach relationship. Come early and stay late. Work hard. If a role is not defined for you, attempt to identify what your team needs and strive to provide that. Talk with the coach about what you need to do to improve and earn their trust to gain more playing time.  It's a shame the onus for developing a trusting relationship sometimes falls upon the player, but it is also a reality of sports.  In some instances, nothing can be done to change a coaches perception of a player. That's when it is time to change clubs, refrain from playing high school soccer or transfer to a different school if playing high school soccer means that much to you. 


Pop in soccer? Yes, POP in soccer!

POP is an acronym for Principles of Passing.

It is also an acronym for Pace of Play which happens to be our most popular camp theme.

The two are directly related to one another.  I have used POP for Pace of Play for quite some time, but only recently have begun using it for Principles of Passing. This came about as I evaluated our Pace of Play template for camps.

One of the things I like to do is watch young teams train and play the game. This often stimulates my thinking and planning for camp season.  I was recently watching a U12 team practice passing.  It was the typical or standard fare of drill work.  The results were about what one would expect and that's when my mind really started churning. 

I wondered to myself how many of the players could name the Principles of Passing.  I even wondered were I to ask the coaches, if they could name the Principles of Passing.  The glimmer of an idea came to mind that when teaching how to pass the ball we often demonstrate technique, but seldom explain or teach the principles behind the execution of the technique.

Before I go any further, I want to give a shout out to Blast the Ball.  I am not associated with the website / videos or company in any way. Simply an admirer in their approach to breaking down technique into the minutest of details.  The video came to mind while think through the process outlined here.

What are the Principles of Passing?

In attempting to keep this simple so as to be easily taught / learned and practically applied I have identified five Principles of Passing for your consideration.  I am sure I have not discovered these or re-invented the wheel as they say.  I am just putting them down "on paper" that we might use them when teaching players how to pass.

1) Have a plan:  I demand our players know their next play before their first touch on the ball.  This allows them to prepare to play the ball properly.

2) Angles:  Soccer is all about geometry.  Selecting the proper angle and positioning yourself to play that angle are key considerations to successfully passing the ball.

3) Timing:  Not too soon. Not too early.  Whether the pass is to feet or to space the timing of the pass is crucial to its success and maintaining the attacking rhythm.

4) Accuracy:  If you cannot pass successfully, you cannot play.  Again, whether passing to feet or passing to space (or to goal) passing accurately is a must. 

5) Proper weighting of the pass:  Not too soft, but not too hard.  Firm and with pace. 

In our Pace of Play camps we work to achieve successful one-touch play when ever appropriate and possible.  All five Principles of Passing must be combined in one movement or action in order for one touch play to be successful.  When this does occur, the ball can really zip about the pitch with astonishing speed. 

I believe players learning to pass the ball would benefit greatly if their technical instruction was expanded to include being taught the Principles of Passing.  What do you think?
If you want something you have never had,
then you must do something you have never done
Changing the culture of a program or team can be among the most difficult tasks a coaching staff takes on.  It can also be the most important task to take on.
"It's amazing what you can get used to." 
We all know of programs / teams who endure loss after loss after loss.  We think it must be humiliating to everyone in those programs. The sad truth is there is a certain comfort in knowing what to expect from day to day even if those expectations are for continued losing.  
I love rebuilding programs / teams and turning them into winners. It is a difficult task but also so very rewarding.  Breaking individual players and teams from their established comfort zones is not a smooth process for everyone.  Some will embrace change. Some will resist change.  Eventually all who remain will accept change.
"You have to want it
more than you are afraid of it."

Jennie Finch
What one gives ATTENTION to
determines his DIRECTION in Life!
One's DIRECTION in Life
determines his DESTINATION in Life!
Your Thoughts determine your PATH!
Therefore it behooves you to gather

as much information as possible
and choose wisely those Details

you give the most ATTENTION to.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


Do we want Robinhos or Robots?

I think this is a good companion article to 11 Captains.  It is probably not a coincidence that I found both articles in the same file. The credit for this one I think goes to Mike Woitalla via Soccer America magazine from several years ago. Great reading and I know I have shared the thoughts if not the actual article with teams (and their parents) in the past.  Enjoy!

Do we want Robinhos or Robots?

How over-coaching and the emphasis on winning stifle young American talent.

The little boy dribbled and kept dribbling. He had taken the ball away from the midfield pack and zoomed toward his own goal. This surprised the other children and allowed him to keep the ball to himself for much longer than any player had managed during this U-8 game.

Having put some 15 yards between himself and the other players, he slowed down and seemed to marvel at all the territory he now had to himself. He started making a wide U-turn and flashed a big smile.

All great teams play for one another.

Each new season starts anew the process of becoming a team.  A group of individuals gathers, some familiar and others new, to share a path for awhile.  Will they travel that path as individuals, in small groups or cliques, or will they learn to travel the path together as a band of brothers?

Some of my earliest memories of participating in sports revolve around the idea of "team".   In fact my first two experiences in sports were defining moments for me.  One was a basketball team and the other a baseball team. The basketball team was ultra successful.  I suppose we had the best talent, but what I remember most about that group was how we all got along.  It showed in how we played the game.  In contrast, that baseball team was not very good and to be quite truthful although we were in elementary school, we just didn't like one another. Teamwork was always secondary to personal agenda.  In elementary school?


Now, the personal agendas on that baseball team were fostered by the coaches who were fathers of players on the team. Their kids played the "key positions" and batted lead off or cleanup whether deserving of doing so or not. And trust me, even at a young age players detect favoritism.

The basketball team was coached by a former major college player who enjoyed working with kids. He did not have a son on the team. Everyone earned their spot and had to work to keep it.  Certainly a pecking order was established in terms of best to worst players, but also a recognition that each player was important to the team in their own right.

I grew to love basketball and became largely disinterested in baseball. 

As a 10 year old I did not appreciate these things even though I did recognize on a certain level what was happening. It really wasn't until my family moved to a new location that some of these lessons began to be driven home to me.  At the new school I had a terrible experience with basketball. Despite being a talented group, wins were few and far between. This became the norm for my experiences with team sports throughout my school years.  Talented individuals, but poor teams.

Two different other teams from my teenage years really standout in my memories.  One was a basketball team that to this day was as talented a group of individuals as I have ever seen at the high school level. They had good skill sets and the physical attributes required for success, yet they struggled to reach a .500 record. Height, size, speed, athleticism... they had it all in abundance. Ball handling, shooting, passing, game intelligence... it was all present.  They could never move past their disdain for and jealousy of one another. Instead of competing against other teams that were constantly in competition with one another. To say they underachieved would be an understatement and I really struggled with this.

The other team was a men's softball team.  Now, softball was huge in the area during those years. I began playing with a church team in an church league. We won and won a lot. We moved on from church competition to playing any and all comers... and still we won, a lot.  We did not even have all the best softball players from the congregation playing on this team. Some played for their work based teams or on teams with friends they socialized with.  What was the key to our success?  We liked playing the game together. 

That is far different from liking one another.

In all honesty, there were some people on that team that forced me to struggle upholding my Christian beliefs at times. I just did not care for them as individuals, but I certainly appreciated their abilities as ball players.  As individual players some of us were quite talented and others not so much, but everyone was valued as equals for what they brought to the team. Appreciation of and for one another was our most valuable trait.

Now some 30+ years later as I coach teams I find myself putting a lot of effort into recreating the team atmosphere of those successful teams from my youth.  There is an understanding of  team building being a process and team bonding a critical part of that process. 

It's been a few years now that I have participated in email groups with other coaches.  A couple of these groups have had profound impact on how I approach team bonding. I found that some coaches have made a science of team bonding. They have studied it, defined it and developed methodology to develop and nurture it.  I have learned from them.

I am not about to tell you that I can take any group and mold them into a successful team. No, that remains largely dependent on the players that comprise the team. What a coach can do is make the individual players and collective group aware of the necessity of sacrificing individual agendas for the common good of the collective team. 

"Buy in" is the term I hear used often these days.  Coaches speak to the importance of players buying into the philosophy or system.  Just another way of stating the need to put personal agendas aside for the good of the team.  I refer to this as the need to play for one another. In soccer, we ask players to make a run for a teammate.  I implore ball carriers to pass the ball to the second runner - the first runner manipulates defenders away from an area allowing a teammate to run into the space just vacated to receive the pass.  That's an example of playing for one another.

It goes beyond simply making runs for one another. Another aspect of becoming a team is the defining and accepting of roles on a team.  Coaches often speak of starting the 11 best instead of the best 11.  This is an acknowledgement that the 11 most talented are not always the 11 who work best together.  Sometimes a more talented player is passed over for a player who recognizes, accepts and fills a role on the team. This might be a player who sacrifices his favored position to play where needed.  Sometimes the motivation to do so may well be selfish in the sense the individual just wants to play, but the sacrifice is still very real and tangible to and appreciated by teammates.

It's the attitude of gratitude.

Whether consciously recognized or not players on great teams consistently ask of themselves "what can I do for my team?" instead of approaching things with an attitude of "what can this team do for me?"

In this sense, the decision to be a great team is a choice made by each of its individual players. Buy in or team chemistry is a product of those choices, those decisions. In you are not for your team, for your teammates, then you are surely against them. Even one dissenter can hold a team back from achieving to its full potential.  So, what is your decision?  Are you for yourself or are you for your team?



People set rules to keep from making decisions.
There are several directions we could take a conversation on this idea.  Over-coaching or too narrowly defining roles to alleviate or limit player decision-making.  Stringent team rules that paint a coach into a corner when infractions occur. The exceptions to rules that always seem to arise.
The bottom line with rules is they are only necessary when an absence of truth and trust are present.
This of course goes directly to the culture of one's program, the essence of one's team and the character of its members.  If the coach / player relationship is not built on TRUTH there can be no true trust. In the absence of TRUST there must be rules to hold one another accountable. 
It then stands to reason, the more rules needed to govern the teams conduct the less trust there is within the program. 
Think about that for a minute as we consider there are only 17 Laws of the Game and only 4 of those deal with misconduct and penalty.  There is a truthful spirit of the game present in soccer. Participants trust the spirit of the game will be adhered to.  This is why soccer purists become so upset when an athlete "flops" on the pitch.
I put to you when the culture of a team is built on truth and trust it becomes much the same as the spirit of the game.  No one wants to break the sacred bond of truth and trust because to do so one dishonors their teammates and coaches.  
It's only when team standards are built on less than full truth and trust that rules for conduct become necessary.  The reason for this can be found in a single word - Respect.  Truth and Trust mandate respect for one another.  Honor, in all its definitions is prized. 
I recall as a young coach setting rules to address the comportment and deportment of a teams behavior.  It quickly got out of hand as each new transgression required addressing.  Caught up in the moment I failed to recognize the truth of what was happening - an assistant was openly sabotaging the culture of the team with designs on overthrowing me as head coach.  The truth eventual came out. The core of the team survived and eventually went on to great success. 
If a third word should be added to Truth and Trust it would have to be Forgiveness. When participating in a match we often hear a player claim his mistake by saying "my bad."  We do not do this on my teams.  We give a call of "next play!"  Embedded in Next Play! is forgiveness of the mistake just made. It communicates to the transgressor to put the mistake in the past and continue playing in the present. Addressing the reason for the mistake can take place in the future. It's a very honorable means of communicating truth, trust and forgiveness.
Team rules and role identifications must be built on the same foundations.  Actions and deed must be truth based for trust to be established.  Ownership of individual decision making must be granted and accepted.  Recognition that mistakes will be made is imperative.  The consequences for mistakes must be understood - in a match a mistake might result in lost possession or even a poor result.  This is okay within the culture of Truth, Trust and Forgiveness.  The same should hold true in the larger environment of the team and program.  Mistakes will be made. This is not open to debate.  What is open to debate is how mistakes will be dealt with.  This is where a culture based on Trust, Truth and Forgiveness is far superior to one based on rules and narrowly defined roles. 

Diagram of a soccer pitch

Do not tolerate poor performance.

Tolerating poor performance by yourself
lowers the bar for everyone.
Hold yourself accountable.


Change the Channel

This is a repost from 2013.  When a reader recently asked about "changing channels" I thought to write an article about this and realized I already had.  Changing channels fits with the theme of other recent articles advocating unpredictability in the attack. 

As we have progressed through the spring season we have installed more and more of our system of play. The past couple of weeks we have focused on flank play utilizing wing midfielders and wing defenders. These players typically man the outside channels.

A channel extends the length of the field from end line to end line although typical channel play takes place between the 18's.  Dependent on who you ask there are either 3 or 4 channels on the pitch.  The two outside channels and either one or two channels through the middle of the pitch. I prefer to think of the pitch divided into 4 channels as this matches well with zonal back 4 so prevalent in today's game.

Anyone who has played basketball knows a key to defeating a zone defense is to overload one side of the court creating numbers up situations that forces the defense to lose the shape it prefers.  The same holds true in soccer.

Our focus has been on overloading the wide channels by playing to flank players and running two other players toward the wings - some combination of forwards and center midfielders.   I like to run both forwards toward the flanks when possession is in the midfield area as this draws additional defenders wide and opens the center and weak side of the field. Early crosses into the center channels or even better, to the opposite wide channel can open seams to attack through when they catch defenses shifting.

Why play wide first?  Because it draws defenders from the space we ultimately wish to utilize - the center channels or the area in front of the face of the goal.

Sometimes it is advantageous to attack "straight" down the outside channels utilizing an outside back to engage defenders before dumping the ball in behind the defense for the wing or a forward to run onto. These "through" balls need to be played in a manner that affords your teammate the best opportunity to win the ball. Too often we see balls played too direct and with too much pace that opposing goalkeepers easily pick up. What about playing a flighted ball with backspin just beyond the defenders?  This will keep the ball away from the goalkeeper and the backspin will also serve to settle the ball back towards the teammate running onto it. Defenders often over run this type of serve and then are caught attempting to turn back to the ball allowing the forward and the ball to run by them.

Sometimes a defense will seek to press and put numbers up in the outside channel and nearest central channel. When this occurs we need to change the channel either via a drop and switch of fields or by a long diagonal cross. These long diagonal crosses should be played just over the head of the defender being isolated.  If the cross is going to the opposite wide channel it must be a flat diagonal cross over the outside defender on the weak side. 

Think of sitting in your family room with a group of people and the person in control of the remote keeps flipping channels every few minutes.  Each time you become interested in a show, he flips to something else.  Such behavior can really get on a persons nerves can't it?  Is the picture beginning to come in clearer?  Switching channels can serve to drive an opposing defense nuts just as flipping TV channels can drive people nuts!

One Touch Soccer


Why 4 v 4 should be a staple of training.

If I could change one thing about youth soccer in our area it would be to teach the four basic elements of the game – penetration, depth, width and mobility.  
Some years ago I introduced 4 v 4 spring soccer league in our local school district. Four field players with no goalkeepers. We utilized 4’ x 6’ goals with a 5 yard restraining arc around the goal for safety purposes and to prevent “guarding” the goal. 
4 v 4 is the fewest number of players that can represent penetration, depth and width around the ball carrier without duplication.  Every season I ran this league, each and every team eventually settled on a diamond or 1-2-1 alignment on the field.  It can be helpful to think of playing in 3 lines with a forward, two midfielders and a back. Or simply as having penetration, width and depth present.

Discipline and Commitment = Bridges.

Discipline and Commitment
are the bridge between

goals and accomplishment.

Versatility and Unpredictability.

Our style of play is entrenched around responsibility. We want you to experience and enjoy freedom in your play. In order to achieve this, an understanding must be developed that with freedom comes incredible responsibility. You simply cannot have one without accepting the other.

I believe in complete interchangeability throughout our lineup. A player may begin at right back and through the course of play move to a midfield position, a forward position or a different spot in the back line.  It takes time to develop this type of flexibility, but it is time well spent in my opinion.

Of course, most players have a preference for playing a certain position, but with this group almost everyone has bought into playing a variety of positions.  I have made season long plans for their learning and development. With some we are simply using "their" position as a starting point and working with them on "branching out" to surrounding positions.

It is this versatility that makes our team very difficult to mark in a man marking system. When we are fluid with our movements we can destroy an opponents shape with our interchangeability.  Our player movement does not significantly impact our own shape as long as we communicate and / or are observant of the game about us. We must be game watchers. It is only when we are ball watchers that our player movement or lack thereof can lead us into trouble.

This versatility also serves us well against zonal defending as it keeps opposing backs from getting comfortable defending against certain and specific forwards. They cannot just keep an eye on one or two primary threats because the personnel is constantly changing as dictated by the run of play.  As each player has a different style, different strengths and weaknesses it is keeps us unpredictable and defenders guessing.

Confusing or manipulating a defense is a king consideration in opening seams to attack through. The idea behind this is actually quite simple - Movement of the ball is predicated on player movement off the ball.  With nearly unrestricted player movement, ball movement becomes very dynamic... and unpredictable. A second key consideration is the ability of our players to fill out our defensive shape without the need to scramble back into "their" position. We fill the position we are closest to and the versatility we have established allows each player to know the role of the position in our defensive system.

I am likely making us sound a lot better than we actually are.  We are not consistent enough in our movement for my liking . A couple of our players "abuse" the freedom of movement we allow them by roving mindlessly at times instead of moving purposefully .  They lose sight of positional responsibility in equating freedom of movement with positionless soccer.  We do not play positionless soccer, we just are not overly concerned with which player mans a specific position through the run of play. At dead ball situations we sort positions out and begin again. 

We do grant our players a LOT of freedom, but in return demand they accept a LOT of responsibility.


Over-Coaching is the Biggest Challenge facing Soccer in the US.

I am going to use the former coach of our local high school team as an example of how over-coaching in soccer is retarding the development of the game in the United States. I use this example because it is one I am familiar with.  The coach concluded his career with 330 victories and was recently inducted into the schools athletic hall of fame. I seek not to diminish these accomplishments in any way, shape or form. I do believe the context in which they were achieved is important to understanding why the United States as a country is still lagging behind the top teams in the world.

I learned a lot from the former high school coach. His preparation for a looming season, camps, training sessions and individual games was meticulous. He always had a plan. If there was a negative to this it would be an inflexibility to alter or change the plan. He was extremely rigid in his thinking once the plan had been formulated.  Change could quite literally take years to come about.  He began his coaching career as a 1-4-3-3 advocate. At some point he switched to 1-4-4-2 and it took several years of discussions and weighing the pro's and con's before he eventually switched back to a 1-4-3-3 for his last few years of coaching.  I think he loved the defense of the 1-4-4-2 but loathed the lack of offense it generated for his teams. 

This is where our story begins.  Coach so narrowly defined the positional responsibilities within the 1-4-4-2 as to render the players robotic within the system of play.  I first began to realize this when, despite executing brilliant early crosses a young right back was chastised, benched, and bounced back and forth between varsity and junior varsity before starting in the tournament and becoming a driving force to the teams success.  That an outside back would come forward into the attack was anathema to the old coach.  It was not part of the designated role and responsibility for the position regardless of how effective a strategy it was.

This was occurring about the time the USWNT were dominating the World Cup and Olympic scene. A big part of those teams was a young defender by the name of Brandi Chastain who came into the attack regularly.  I studied her game and that of other outside backs. Players like Carla Overbeck, Cafu and Gary Neville, Roberto Carlos and Frank De Boer.  What made these players effective were well-timed forays into the attack.  Something the rigid and stringent system of the high school coach frowned upon. He basically over-coached the effectiveness of defenders entering the attack right out of his system.

Now, it is true that during the mid 2000's the coach began to allow a center back to come forward. This was more due to the irrepressible nature of an individual than by design, imo.  At 6'3" and 210 pounds of agile mobility he wasn't going to take this force of nature off the field so he learned to work with it by having the defensive midfielder drop back into the center back role to cover for the player.  This evolved to a revolving defensive triangle between the two center backs and a the defensive mid in later years.  I always thought this defeated the purpose in most regards as it did not bring more players into the attack.  Rather it rotated players into the attack. By this time,  I was admittedly interested in how to add more players to the attack than in switching around the players that would attack.

I was coaching U14 Boys in club soccer in those days and made up my mind to "sell out" with the outside backs and encourage them to join in the attack at every available opportunity.  The result was a surge in goal production, especially against man-marking teams which were still prevalent in those days.  Outside backs making well-timed runs forward were seldom accounted for by opposing defenses. Allowed to roam free into the attack, they wreaked havoc on the opponents.  Back in that day the only guideline I provided was "if you don't have an opponent you are responsible for marking, GO!"

Fast forward to this past spring season and my philosophy is now 1) defense wins championships. 

That's it. 

We have a shape we wish to defend in. When transitioning from defending to attacking and when in full attack there are no restrictions on player movement.  We stress spacing and maintaining balance within the principles of penetration, depth and width, but do not assign responsibility for any of these to specific players or positions.  When we lose the ball, we fill our defensive shape 1) nearest three to the ball press and 2) everyone else fill the defensive shape from back to front regardless of "your position."   The result was the closest thing to total football as any of my teams has ever achieved.  We were a dominant team in league, tournament and showcase play.

The contrast between teams, and I suppose between coaches, was the freedom or lack thereof the players had to work with.  The old coach so narrowly defined roles and responsibilities that his teams were very predictable in their play. He basically over-coached creativity and versatility out of the players.  On the other hand, I gave the players near total attacking freedom on the pitch allowing for creativity to blossom and unpredictability to flourish.

The best compliment I have ever received from an opposing coach was this:  "We played you 3 times this season and watched you several more. Your team is impossible to scout.  It's a different player having a big game every time we watch. You generate goals differently every time we watch.  How do you coach that?"    

I don't. 

And that's the secret to our success.

Numerical Formations / Shape / Support

I have been involved in a rather lively debate about the 1-4-3-3 formation and its many variations.  To be honest, I instigated the debate by proclaiming the 1-4-3-3, the 1-4-2-3-1, the 1-4-1-4, and the 4-5-1 are all the same basic formation.

The 4-3-3 most often employs a triangle midfield with 1 defensive mid and two attacking mids or the inverse with 2 defensive mids and a lone attacking mid.  There is then a center forward and two wings.

The same is true in the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-1-4-1 and the 4-5-1.   The differences in these formations is mainly in how the wingers are deployed.

Our spring team ran all of the above.  Not always intentionally, lol.  We played to the strength of our players.

In my opinion, many people get too caught up in the numerical designations of a formation. 

As in the above example a 1-4-4-2 can easily morph into a 1-3-4-3, a 1-4-1-4 or even a 1-2-4-4 among other variations.

So, what's the big deal about numerical designations of formations? 

The numerical designation of a teams formation defines its defending shape. All the other variations can define a teams attacking shape. When defending a team needs to be disciplined. When attacking a team needs to be creative.  Two entirely different philosophies that require two very different attitudes about formations.

I recently watched a U17 youth match that saw both teams maintain their formational shape whether defending or attacking.  Two "blocks" of players "moving" up and down the pitch in sync with one another.  Most of the match was played in the middle third of the field.  It was a boringly ugly game of ping pong on grass with neither team threatening goal, let alone actually scoring.  From the coach's sideline calls of "keep your shape" and "hold your positions" could be heard. It was not unlike 1770's formational battles or WW I trench warfare.

These two teams obviously confused the term shape with the term support.  Support is a necessity for both defending and attacking.  Support on defense is defined by discipline whereas support in the attack is defined by creative based mobility.  They are entirely different from one another as is a teams shape when defending or attacking.