Change the Channel
Cross the Lines

Intelligent Effort

I've watched a lot of soccer this month. I always marvel at how hard high school athletes compete.  Rare are the occasions when I witness a lack of effort from individual players or a team. That said, I don't always see intelligent effort and that is often the difference between winning and losing a match.

I recently caught up with a couple of our camp teams each of which demonstrated they were in different places of the process.  The first team came out and played a very solid opening 10 minutes of intelligent team soccer. As the opponents began to settle into their own game our camp team began to unravel. It wasn't long before intelligent team effort gave way to strong individual effort or what we call "hero ball."  The result was predictable and it did not end well for our camp team.

A second camp team entered a match in which they were likely considered underdogs if only because they lacked the same quality depth as their opponents.  This camp team came out and gave great intelligent effort for 80 minutes against a quality side and came away with a good result. They did not dominate the match but they held their own in a battle of styles and wills.

The difference between the two camp teams at this stage of the respective processes? 

I've been giving that a lot of thought these past few days. One obvious factor is the 2nd team referenced has been camping with us for a number of years whereas this was the first year we have camped with the first team referenced. I don't think that fully explains the differences though. Both teams started out well but while one team continued their strong intelligent play the other faltered mightily. I suspect the difference is trust.

Trust in the process. Some will call this buy-in. And buy-in itself can be a process. There has to be a taste of success to whet the appetite. Once the hunger is there the process can thrive and confidence grows.

Trust in each other.  The second team played with a spirit of camaraderie that carried them through the rough patches in the match. They bent but never broke. They were resilient in the face of adversity. The first team panicked in the face of adversity. They were good until the opponents counter-punched at which time they retreated from intelligent team effort to a previous comfort zone of great individual effort. They did not trust the process nor did they trust one another as teammates. They went from possessing the ball to whacking the ball and the rout was on.

I really believe in both of these teams. The talent is present on both squads to have very good seasons. Each team is at its own point in similar processes.  Where each goes from here will be extremely interesting to observe. I am expecting good, possibly great things from the second team.  If they build upon their recent performance good things will follow.

In regards to the first team, I believe good is an obtainable goal this season if, and only if, they can build upon and sustain the level of intelligent play I witnessed them give in those first 10 minutes of of a recent match. It's a start. Can they build 10 minutes into 15 minutes and progress from there?

Next week I am off to check on another of our camp teams.  This particular team just completed their third year of summer camp with us. I was amazed by the improvement witnessed last month and early results are indicating something good may be happening with them.  Where once technique was a weakness they have developed a strong understanding not only of how to execute skills but are now able to apply these skills in a cohesive intelligent manner. They are not a finished product, but from what they demonstrated in camp I am excited for them.


When WE replaces ME.

I recently purchased an e-book titled When "WE" replaces "Me" by Denise Schilte-Brown. I'm not entirely sure why I did and admittedly fretted over having the luxury of spending $10 necessary to do so given our current work status.  I suppose it was the title that captured my attention. This is a short book of 120 pages written in novel form. I cannot say it is especially well written yet it delivers its message in a powerful and meaningful way. It is the best $10.00 I have spent in a very long time.

Throughout reading this wonderful book I was reminded of my son Lance's spring soccer team.  We achieved extraordinarily on the pitch and I think everyone would be in agreement it was in no small part to our team culture we carried with us on and off the field.  Many of the concepts and ideas addressed in When "WE" replaces "Me" we had amazingly stumbled upon. From shaking one another's hands in greeting and departure to caring enough for one another to help each other out on on the training pitch and in life.  WE definitely replaced ME over the course of those 3 extraordinary years and especially culminating in that last year together.  The comparisons and similarities drawn to our own team is not why I am in love with this book though,

It is the message delivered by a women's soccer coach to a men's football coach and his team that makes this book worth the investment. It is a message pertinent to athletics and even more so to life, There are four simple yet effective principles put into play:

1) Positive Self-talk
2) Make Time for Fun
3) A Servant's Heart
4) Breathe and Be Here

I like very much that I have come to incorporate some of the ideas presented in When "WE" replaces "Me" into my coaching philosophy and life. I am in awe over what I have learned in the two short days it took to read this book.  I am motivated with enthusiasm previously unknown to explore more thoroughly the concepts, ideas and philosophies that have obviously touched me deeply.  I highly recommend purchasing a copy and giving When "WE" replaces "Me" a read. You will not regret it.


We are Family! Maybe not so much.

We are Family was the Sister Sledge disco hit the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates adopted as their theme song on the way to a World Series title. Since then referring to a team as a family has been the popular thing to do, I'm sure the ideal is The Walton's, or the Cunningham family from Happy Days. If only all families could be like those TV families.  Stark reality tells us it just isn't so.

For example, I have an older brother who abused and perhaps still abuses drugs. He's mean surly and genuinely not a nice person to be around. I love him, but do I want him on my team?  No way!  He's family but he's not getting anywhere near my team.

When we hear the term "family" most of us will think of the fictional families portrayed on television. The warm fuzzy people who love and are loved unconditionally.  The championship teams, the championship cultures I have been a part of are not unconditional.  In fact, the championship teams I have been a part of have been highly conditional cultures.

Every team practices technique, tactics, physical conditioning and to some degree in one fashion or another psychology.  This last term, psychology seems to be a catch-all phrase for many. A big part of it to me is the culture of the team. Culture must be practiced and adhered to just as technical and tactical principles of the game must be practiced and adhered to.

It is important to build a strong team culture and just as important to protect the team culture. Just as we fight battles between good and evil in every aspect of our life on a daily basis, we must fight for and protect our team culture on a daily basis,

Winning is important. Success even more so. We must measure ourselves individually and collectively by our performance. Did we improve today? Am I a better player as I step off the pitch than when I stepped onto the pitch a couple of hours ago?  Did we improve as a team?


Accountability to the process must be a primary focus.  The great players hold themselves accountable to improving on a daily basis. They continuously hone their skill sets - technical, tactical, physical and psychological.  The members of special teams hold one another accountable.

Blame is unacceptable. Instead the great players and great teams look for the origin of the "problem" and then put their problem solving skills to work to make that problem go away.

There is no complaining. Instead ways to improve the situation are actively sought, researched and implemented.

There is no procrastination. There exists an urgency to get things done and get it done correctly as soon as possible

A spirit of determination exists that enables individuals and the team to give more than they are asked to give to the cause.

In conditional cultures the individuals seek as much responsibility as they can handle.  Eleven Captains on the field each leading in his own way. And yet they are smart enough and confident enough to share the load with teammates.

Continuous Improvement is a way of life. In the conditional culture there is a constant striving to improve both the individual and the team.

Trust is the glue of conditional cultures. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. Trust is the foundational principle that holds all relationships together. Relationships are what define culture and bind individuals together therefore honesty is the cornerstone relationships are built on.

In someways, and most regretfully so, a strong team culture can transcend a family culture. The truly great teams have this type of culture.  ... so too does a truly great family.



The training all young boys underwent in ancient Sparta was called agoge. It was all-inclusive and took place 24/7/365.  Young boys growing to be Spartan warriors were dedicated to this training to such an extent only the strong survived. The Spartan was one of the best warriors in the ancient world as depicted in the movie 300 where a small band held off thousands for days.

The school I am now coaching at has a Spartan for their mascot. Recently an athlete asked of me, "What do you think I need to do to become a better player just from what we have done the past two weeks?"

First of all, asking this question is a great start. My actual response to him follows.

I believe you must discover the WILL to prepare properly. Agoge was 24/7/365. Failing to prepare properly is preparing to fail. Once the mindset is correct, improvement will come at a more rapid pace. Until then explanations and excuses will continue to rule. The ability to be coached, to be receptive to coaching is improved when the body, mind and spirit are well rested and eager for the opportunity. Most everyone is enthusiastic for game day, but the truly great ones bring the same enthusiasm to training / preparation.  (Last night) you stated you began preparing for today's match "now", but the correct answer should have been "the moment last season ended." What will the bus ride be like today? Will you / we be focused on playing or will there be a lot of messing around and talking about anything other than the game? AGOGE was complete training - physical, technical, tactical, psychological / mental and spiritual.  The bus ride will conclude approximately one hour before match time. Is one hour sufficient to prepare for a match?  Buy a composition notebook at the Dollar Store and begin keeping notes on your preparation -what you drink and eat and when you do so. When you rest and for how long. Detail every practice - mistakes and successes, what you learned. LISTEN to the game, your teammates, opponents, referees, our athletic trainer, your coaches - they all provide information / feedback. Note the information shared. Write it down. Become a student of the game. The moment you move on from playing AT soccer and begin to learn to truly play soccer is when you will really begin seeing improvement,  You have the tools to build a stronger game. We have been and will continue to supply them to you and your team. But the decision to care for the tools and actually use them is YOURS alone to make. No one else can make that decision for you. Anyone can fill their tool belt with shiny new tools, but the carpenter I want is the one whose tools show wear and tear from having been used.  Bet you were expecting a litany of technical and tactical work? That's not what is missing from your game.  See you this afternoon.  AGOGE!

The response received back from the athlete was, "Yes, I was actually like in practice you always say back foot to me. I was expecting that but thank you. I will copy and paste these into a big paragraph and read it every day."

Will this athlete follow through?  I have no idea. More importantly I know I have no control over whether he does or does not.  I do care, but as life teaches us sometimes caring is not enough.  The decision rests solely with this athlete himself.  I am encouraged by the fact he sought help of his own accord. That's a positive first step. He's talking the talk, but will he be dedicated to walking the walk?