Mental Toughness

Teach them to work... intelligently.

Teach them to compete.

Teach them to win.

Sometimes that last step is the most difficult to achieve. No two situations are alike and there are so many different factors in play in the process. If I were to lump many of these factors together I would call the collective mental toughness. Factors that might be included in this group include the following:

Attitude: The quality of decisions we make directly reflects the quality of our play. In the case of attitude each player has a choice to make between having a positive attitude or a negative attitude. Whatever decision an athlete makes will directly impact his teammates as well.  Both positivity and negativity are contagious.

Concentration: Teams that can bring focus to bear on relevant game related factors have a much improved chance of performing well.  The details of the process are factors we can control because they involve decisions we must make.  These range from executing with proper technique to knowing, accepting and adhering to individual roles on the team. In short, taking care of our individual business so we may be trusted by our teammates.  Are we responsible in our technique, tactics, physical fitness and mental approach to both preparation for and playing of the game?

Preparation: I strongly recommend athletes develop a daily in-season routine with a focus on proper nutrition, proper sleep, proper physical preparation, proper mental preparation to play. Failing to prepare properly is preparing to fail. This is a basic truth, but one many athletes do not give full due consideration to.  Goal setting is also a part of preparation. This means constant monitoring of goals, possibly adjusting goals in-season. And constant discussion of the process to achieve our goals is necessary.

Resiliency:  The best teams I have been a part of have been resilient.  As I have considered this trait it occurred to me that in club soccer while at tournaments I was often times unsure of our opponents playing level. I would research teams on the Internet or by word of mouth through coaching colleagues.  I tell the cub teams we might be in over our heads even while encouraging them to play every minute of the game to the best of their ability and we'll see where we are at the final whistle.  In taking this approach I have allowed the team to think of the possibility they will encounter adversity but also that we will continue playing through it.  Visualization.  Encounter adversity and plan for it. What will be our response?  Develop a clear and strong concept of what we can control and focus on these areas while blocking out all things beyond our control.

Belief: It all comes down to believing in your abilities as well as those of teammates. Being trustworthy and being able to trust your teammates is the backbone of believing, Maintaining your role and positional responsibilities is essential in the face of adversity,  Resisting the temptation to play outside your abilities, role and responsibilities is being resilient, Panicking and attempting to do more than you are capable of is the enemy of resiliency , Being accountable to yourself, your role, your positional responsibilities and your team is key to earning trust.  Trusting each teammate to perform their responsibilities and helping them to put things right in the face of adversity instead of attempting to play hero ball by stepping outside of your own abilities and role is key. Instilling confidence and belief in one another is much preferred over trying to do someone else's job at the expense of your own responsibilities.

I believe each of these factors have a common trait - decision making.  When we make good decisions about factors within our control, good things will happen including learning to win through being resilient and overcoming adversity.


Our Soccer Sons

When I coach a team the players and their families become extended family. We refer to the players as our soccer sons. We break bread with them, celebrate birthdays, graduations and weddings with them. And we comfort them when a loved one dies.

This week a former Grand Lake United and current Shawnee high school player took his own life. Jonathon Andrews was a wonderful young man. Raised to be a gentleman by loving parents. A good student, a great athlete and an even better person. He was a loving individual and greatly loved.

It is a tragedy that Jonathon fell victim to suicide.

I am a better man for having known Jonathon. The days the Lord provided to share with Jonathon were a blessing whose proportions are only now becoming fully understood. What a joy to have known this young man,

The loss of this young man weighs heavily on me. I waited in line with members of both our Grand Lake United and Lima Senior high school teams for well over an hour to make our way to Jonathon's parents, Scot and Julie.  Scot and I cried as we hugged one another. We spoke of simpler times and fond memories. Much like Jonathon's life this time together ended much too soon.

I will miss the funeral tomorrow morning as our Lima Senior team will be playing crosstown rival Elida. The Bulldog's were also at the viewing this afternoon. We stood together to offer our sympathy to Jonathon's family this afternoon. We will stand together on the pitch as friendly rivals tomorrow as Jonathon is being laid to rest,  I think Jonathon would understand.

Rest in Peace Jonathon Andrews

November 4, 1997 - September 20, 2015

Mail Bag

Although I have shared questions posed to me by colleagues, friends and readers of this blog I have never done so in what is considered a mail bag format, I thought I would give this a try and see what you think.  For disclosure sake, none of this questions relate to teams I coach.

This first question actually came to me from a number of people and it pertains to Ohio High School soccer: If a referee issues a red card but does not report make out the report does the athlete have to serve the two game suspension?

I admittedly did not have a ready answer and had to ask referee friends of mine what the ruling would be.  The referee is supposed to file a report within 24 hours of the incident, The school administration is then notified so it can enforce the suspension. No report = no card = no suspension is what I was advised by a couple different referees. But wait a minute! OHSAA covers itself by including this disclaimer in the OHSAA General Sports Regulations; It is the responsibility of the local school authorities to ensure this regulation is enforced. This would seemingly absolve the referee from not filing a report while placing enforcement on the coach / athletic director / administration of the offending players school.  I later learned the referee did finally file a report 12 days after the match had been played. Knowing what the rule was, the coach had already sat the player for two games. Technically it might be the player would not have to sat two games until the report was filed but the spirit of the game was observed by the coach and school.

You have undoubtedly seen the video of two San Antonio, Texas, John Jay High School football players intentionally hitting a referee during a game. If not, click on the You Tube video provided here.

The first series of questions involved what type of punishment I felt the student athletes deserved. I am old school.  I say they should be banned from any further interscholastic participation. Period. Their high school careers should be over.

Now with news that the "hits" were ordered by their coach I still stand by that and would include banning the coach from ever coaching again.

Plus, it seems possible legal and or civil charges could be brought against the players and the coach.

I firmly believe the punishment must be severe to discourage this type of incident from ever being contemplated again.

This one comes from a coaching colleague in Arizona.  Robert writes,  "I have one player who refuses to get with the program. While everyone else is striving together he is marching to the beat of his own drummer. When he is challenged about his me first behavior he disengages by looking away, rolling his eyes and smirking. Then at first opportunity he talks about whoever challenged him behind their back."

Unfortunately this is not an uncommon occurrence, It tends to happen more in teams with weaker culture. Regular followers of this blog will recognize my favorite question when confronted with difficult situations is, why?

Why does this athlete do this?

Because he believes he can get away with it.

The student athlete in question here is apparently pretty talented and no one wants to offend him so they tolerate his selective effort and abrasive behavior. There are two basic levels of intervention that can be attempted with both being largely dependent on the programs culture for success.

Non-verbal prompt - Temporary benching or removal from an activity

Gentle verbal prompt - A reminder of expectations for the team and position

Assertive but non-confrontational request to change behavior - A one on one talk specifically identifying the problem and expected modification of behavior

Official warning - The behavior will be modified or specific consequences will be meted out. Loss of playing time for instance.

Removal from the environment - Benching for game or dismissal from training.

Public recognition of detrimental behavior and consequences - Player is suspended from or removed from team.

These are steps I follow and in most instances there is no need to progress from the informal to the formal. Generally speaking if unacceptable behavior is identified and consequences made clear people are not likely to violate the standards or norms for acceptable behavior.  However, human beings tend to be boundary pushers so incidents of inappropriate or unacceptable behavior will occur once in awhile. In over 35 years of coaching I have only had 3 individuals who pushed the boundaries to a point that dismissal from the program was necessary,

Gretchen from Kentucky wrote; "My daughter has been a forward since she began playing. She is a dominant player. We moved to a different club this year so she could play on a stronger team and against better competition. This new coach has her playing as a right defender. How can I approach him and make him understand that my daughter is a forward?"  With a little further research I learned the daughter is a U14 player participating on a good club team.  I'm pretty sure Gretchen did not like what I had to say about this situation.

It is the coach's role to decided positions and playing time. It is quite possible the team has better or more experienced players at the forward positions, in the coach's opinion. It is also possible there is a need on the team for a  right back. In many of today's systems of play the outside backs are expected to be main cogs in the offensive flow. They can be primary goal scorers or assist givers.

My response: Ask for a meeting with the coach. Ask what he sees your daughter's role on the team being and listen to what is being said instead of listening for what you want to hear. You just might find out the coach has an expanded role in mind for your daughter that will enhance her overall game.


Okay, I hope this was informative for you.  I know when people ask questions of me it is a learning opportunity for me as well.  If you have questions you would like answered and don't mind my sharing them as part of a mail bag article, please send them to
As always, thank you for reading!


Team Chemistry

I've not been writing as much as I am actively involved as an assistant coach / GK coach with a high school team. It's difficult to write in-season and not use the team I am coaching as material for the articles so I have refrained from writing at all. I'm breaking away from that line of thinking today because I believe there is something happening worth sharing with you. It involves team chemistry.

To be honest, our team chemistry is average at best which is to say we have good days and some not so good days. I've been doing a lot of thinking of ways to improve the team's chemistry and I'm not talking about the ever popular team bonding activities although those certainly have value. If you are a regular follower of this blog you will appreciate that my mind often takes the path less traveled and perhaps that is the case in this situation as well.

Not to say that our team has a problem, but I believe it important to properly identify any situation before attempting to address the situation.  What factors are involved and at play influencing the situation? This is what I have come up with for team chemistry in our situation.

As individual members we are drawn together as a group by a common interest. In this case that common interest is soccer.  We are a diverse group in more than a few ways. This diversity brings a complexity dynamic to the group that I believe is a key to our team chemistry. As we witness in the world about us, diversity can tear us apart or make us incredibly strong.  I am not sure we as a team have fully determined which it will be for us at this point in time. Diverse team members will have diverse points of views based on their experiences, knowledge and skill levels. The respect afforded to each diverse opinion might actually be more important than the opinion itself which brings us to,

How members of a group interact with one another directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of a groups performance. In a basic sense each player must have and accept a defined role. In a broader sense each player must embrace his role within the standards set by the team. There must also be appropriate enforcement of the standards set for the team.

The most prominent or noticeable role on a team is that of leadership.  When there is no formal leadership structure in a group setting different people will step in to fill the role of leadership at different times, If the group is blessed with a multitude of quality leaders this might be a good thing - I have been part of teams who operated under a leadership council rather than captains. It has been my experience teams operate best when there is a single unified direction for the team orchestrated by a single voice or perhaps two voices in harmony with one another.

Effective teams are not led by dictators.  Each individual of a team is equally important as any other individual. Therefore secondary leadership roles are important to acknowledge, foster and grow. In a high school setting, those filling secondary leadership roles are often next years leaders in waiting. It is important these secondary leaders accept their role as subordinate to the present team leaders,

A struggle for leadership of the team can be necessary at times, but be assured a team will not perform to its full potential during a time of struggle for leadership. There might be flashes or glimpses of what the team is capable of, but when the leadership voice is not unified peak performance will be difficult to sustain.

In a battle for leadership it is often an individual who feels slighted over not being a named leader who attempts to force his way into a leadership role by taking on responsibilities of leadership thereby intentionally intruding on the accepted and expected role of designated leadership. This is where established standards and accepted norms for the team must guide the process.

Standards are the written rules that every team member is expected to conform to while norms are the often unwritten or informal rules all team members are expected to conform to. The norms are a teams culture and whether the norms are functional or dysfunctional a team tends to sanction those who violate the norms. A sign of growth would be when a team member or members take a stand against a dysfunctional team norm and gets the team to change it, Such a person would be viewed as a team catalyst.

A team catalyst is usually someone in a leadership role on the team. It does not have to be a designated leader as a secondary leader can aptly fill this role as well, but it  is probably best if it is a leader - the teams coach or team captain. Leaders provide direction, structure activities, provide and share information, promote positive relationships, support and encouragement,

Motivation or Energy
Every team has an energy all its own.  It is defined by how the individual energy of its members interacts with that of other team members. When individuals are motivated by team goals energy tends to be very positive. When individual agendas permeate a team its energy is usually very negative.

I do believe there is a general misconception that good team chemistry is devoid of conflict. This goes back to our diversity as a team. We will have many different perspectives on any given situation and an honest open exchange of ideas and opinions should be encouraged. The difference between a healthy team chemistry and a toxic team chemistry is found in the level of acceptance to what is ultimately agreed upon by the team as a whole.

It might be individuals believe they should be designated leaders on a team, captains, but were passed over for others. How those individuals deal with this disappointment can be critical to identifying team chemistry.  If they actively seek to continue campaigning for a leadership role or attempt to sabotage the recognized leadership negative energy will be rampant on a divided team.

Negative energy clouds the vision of what a team aspires to be.

Therefore a primary responsibility of leadership is to promote positive energy. Goals to motivate both the individual team members and the collective team are necessary to focus our energy in a single direction much like a laser beam.  Goals are often specific and measurable, but a vision... a vision is a collective goal of what a team can aspire to be.  A vision is what a team draws its inspiration and passion from as a collective group. A vision can be what makes a team an attraction,

Attraction or Cohesiveness
Growth in team numbers occurs when the team is an attractive destination. Before this takes place team members must be appreciative of being a member of the team and feel an attraction and devotion to the team. This cohesiveness fosters and facilitates a spirit of collaboration, mutual support and an infectious spontaneity of positive energy while also reducing counter productive conflict rooted in personal agendas.

Collectively overcoming adversity is the surest way to develop cohesiveness. Trust is the single most important ingredient to collectively overcoming adversity.  It is easy to trust one another in an atmosphere of positivity but can a team sustain its trust in one another when adversity is encountered?  Will blame be cast or excuses made when things go against us? Or will we look into each others eyes to find a determination, respect and truthful trust that we draw collective strength from?

Honesty and Trust
Trust is the glue of life, the most essential ingredient in effective communication. Trust is the foundational principal that holds all relationships together. And relationships is what team chemistry is all about.  Without honesty their can be no trust and the resulting poor relationship will negatively impact the quality of performance ... and life.  Differing opinions and even constructive conflict are healthy parts of honest and productive relationships. It's only when individual agendas refuse to yield to the collective good that things turn negative and destructive.

Like so many things in life team chemistry is a very simple thing.  When the focus is on WE rather than ME good team chemistry exists.  When ME is the individuals primary motivation conflict exists with WE and team chemistry suffers.  It really is that simple,

In conclusion it seems to me our diversity is not the strength it might be. The commonality we share is soccer in a general sense.  It appears to me we must find a way to share soccer in a deeper way.  I sometimes refer to a difference between playing at soccer and actually playing soccer. That could also describe our current team chemistry situation.  We say a lot of the right things when in the collective but are not completely honest with one another. There is a reluctance to call someone out when they deviate from team standards or expected norms. Consequentially individualism is allowed to flourish over an attitude and atmosphere of the team.

I am not being negative in this assessment.

I am being honest.

In simple terms, we need more people putting WE ahead of ME,


Playing Soccer is very Simple

Playing soccer is very simple, 
but playing simple soccer is the hardest thing there is.
Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff is one of my favorite soccer people of all-time.  Today's youth players may well know "the Cruyff" but not many will know anything about him as a player or even as a manager.  And that is a shame for the man was a brilliant soccer player and possesses one of the truly brilliant minds ever in the game.

The quote at the top of this article has long been a favorite of mine. Soccer truly is a simple game complicated by ...  And this is something I have pondered for countless hours over the years.  How do we manage to so complicate such a simple game? Maybe more importantly, why do we insist on complicating such a simple game?

I have spent the last few years defining a vision for playing soccer in its simplest form.  To be honest, I have borrowed and stolen from others as I have formulated these ideas based around certain truths of the game.

For example, we know there are four phases of play:
1) attacking
2) transitioning from attacking to defending
3) defending
4) transitioning from defending to attacking

Each of these four phases of play must be acted upon in as simple a manner as possible.  The actions required to act within each phase of play are the techniques we will employ. The decisions of how to employ these techniques are our tactics. Technique and Tactics can be influenced through physical and psychological aspects of play.  There, we just defined the four pillars of play in soccer: Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological.

The game itself has four elements necessary for simple play. These are Penetration, Depth, Width and Mobility.  When any of these are not present or exist in unnecessary duplication clutter and chaos exist. Or we might say we have complicated the game.

Within each of these concepts for the game of soccer are opportunities to complicate the processes involved. And boy do we take full advantage of those opportunities!  

Attacking play is all about establishing rhythm.  

Allow that to sink in for a minute.

Utilization of proper technique helps to establish attacking rhythm.  

Toes up / heel down / strike with the ankle bone is a mantra soccer coaches repeat ad nauseam and one that many likely cry out in their sleep in-season. Why?  Because when improper technique unnecessarily self-inflicts pressure and breaks the teams attacking rhythm possession is commonly lost. 

A defender dives in or stabs instead of adhering to channel first, close down second, use of a bounce step and the cues for when to attempt a tackle unnecessarily complicating the process by self-inflicting pressure.  Why?

The truly good teams have common characteristics beginning with why they have come together to play the game.  The "why" in the case of good teams manifests in a desire and willingness to play for one another.  It is important to the members of such teams not to let teammates down through inattention to details of the process - things like having their toes up / heels down and striking through the ball with their ankle bone or not diving in on defense.  The good teammates hold themselves and their teammates accountable allowing for the collective team to develop, establish and maintain a simplicity to their play that weaker teams cannot begin to ascend to due to self-inflicted pressure.  


Trust in communication

My twitter profile includes the following quote:  

Trust is the glue of life, 
the most essential ingredient 
in effective communication. 
Trust is the foundational principle 
that holds all relationships together.

Have you ever participated in the ice breaker activity where the leader whispers something to the first person in line followed by that message being conveyed to everyone else by whisper one at a time?  The last person then speaks the message out loud followed by the leader sharing what the actual message was. Yes, the message invariably changes from the first person to the last.  The changes may (or may not) be significant in nature, but changes will almost certainly occur.

I was witness to such a phenomenon recently where I as the leader conveyed a message that was then changed significantly in the retelling of it. When in the retelling a message is changed it might occur quite honestly and simply. The message might be changed to embellish the actual truth - The movie Sergeant York contains a great example of this. And sometimes the message might be changed intentionally either in an attempt to protect one's self or bring harm to another.

All of these examples occur in team sports. The movie Remember the Titans contains an example of intentionally misconveyed information that sees "Rev" become injured. In baseball we see "missed"signs.  In soccer it might be something as simple as instruction over which way to force an attacker that brings confusion to the defense and results in a goal allowed.These are some of the reasons we teach players to be concise and precise in their communications. Short and sweet. Simple, on point and directly to the point.

Force right
Force left
Close down

All examples of concise and precise communication that is difficult to misconstrue or misunderstand. And because it is difficult to misunderstand the information being shared the requisite trust to make it effective is inherently present.  Like any other facet of the game, communication must be practiced and trained for. Be diligent in this pursuit to bring out the best in your team.