A player is not fatigued by playing.

It is the motivation for the game 

that either wears him out or pushes him on.

So your team is under-performing?

You have a talented team that shows glimpses of real potential, but is unable to sustain that level of play on a consistent basis. They are quality athletes in proper physical condition for soccer. Their skills vary from average to good to very good. It is a team that should win, yet they struggle to achieve to potential. Something is missing, but you cannot quite put your finger on what it is. You try everything you can think of in training to spark the team. You change lineups looking for a spark to ignite the team and your season. Sometimes you see a flicker, a glimmer of what you know they should be. but it quickly disappears. Seasons like the one being described here can be extremely frustrating for all involved.

What can be done to "fix" such a team?

The truth be told, there probably is not a miraculous cure to be had. I have often heard in posited that such a team "needs something to bring them together." In the movie Major League the Cleveland Indians baseball team is brought together by their dislike of the owner and a common goal of ruining her plans to sell and relocate the team.  This is their motivation and becomes the common goal that unites the team propelling them to success. That's what most people will take from the movie. There's something else that takes place to make this all happen and that is the key to the process.

Quite obviously the leadership on display from ownership is about as toxic as possibly can be. She doesn't want the team to succeed. It's a huge problem for the assemblage of misfits who are not supposed to win. Then two characters do the near impossible when they step forward with positive leadership to counteract the owners toxicity. The manager brings in a poster board of the owner with removable pieces of clothing. For each win a piece of clothing will be removed until a nude picture of the owner is revealed.  The catcher, begins holding every player accountable for their performance and his teammates respond.

The fictional portrayal of a team uniting to overcome toxic owner leadership makes for a good story and a cult classic of a movie.  The Longest Yard (both original and remake) is a similar movie about a prison pointy football team.  In both movies, overcoming adversity to achieve and perhaps overachieve is the theme. Can this happen in real life?

Identifying the problem is the first step in the process and is one of the focal point of my writing today. Too often when faced with an under-performing team coaches will look to shore up fundamentals, change lineups or artificially try to prop up a teams culture, its team chemistry.  I would suggest the real target of attention should be the teams leadership. Coaches and players alike might well benefit from leadership training. Make no mistake that while a coach and certain players exert more influence than other members, every member of a team contributes to the culture of the program, the team's chemistry.  Of course, if the key players are the source of toxicity the problem is exponentially compounded,

How do we know if leadership is being ineffective and holding a team back?

I believe there are ... symptoms ... that manifest themselves in the absence of strong positive leadership. These we will take a look at today.

1) Poor Body Language: Non-verbal communication is of extreme importance in leaders.  I preach this to my goalkeepers all the time. I use the term salesmanship to describe how I want goalkeepers to perform in their position. Every action must be strong and forceful giving the impression of being in complete control of the penalty area. I teach and coach this until the goalkeeper's authority goes unquestioned amongst his teammates knowing full well that if his teammates respond with belief and confidence in their goalkeeper's performance they opponents will take notice and respond accordingly as well.

Think of examples of poor body language when a player makes a mistake or the opponents present adversity. Open demonstrations expressing annoyance, disgust or frustration with others is non-verbal communication of a lack of confidence in the person that has committed the mistake. We might extend that train of thought to include similar displays of frustration directed at one's self when committing mistakes.  This type of communication coming from a teams key leaders following a mistake can result in making the offending teammate feel insecure about his role and unsure of themselves on the pitch leading to hesitancy which begets more mistakes.  It can be a vicious cycle of negativity and perpetuate poor team chemistry.

I teach and coach a philosophy of Next Play! which is simply to put the mistake behind you immediately. No "my bad" or any other recognition of the mistake having been made including non-verbal communication. The mistake cannot be changed and the game continues on. We need to stay in the present moment, not dwell in the past.

2) Gossip and Negative Talk: If poor body language is allowed to go unchecked gossip and negative talk will surely follow.  These things destroy confidence and undermine any efforts being made to build cohesiveness, togetherness and unity. Players gossiping about teammates play or talking negatively about the inevitable up's and down's that occur in any season are signs of toxic leadership. The same is true when the negative talk is directed towards the quality of coaching decisions. Those who talk divisively cannot be part of the solution for they are to busy being the problem.

When a problem exists strong positive and inclusive leadership is required to work through it to a positive solution. Coaches and captains must be involved. When it is a coach or a captain that is a source of drama there needs to be strong secondary leadership to call attention to this concern so it can be address appropriately. Difficult situations cannot be allowed to divide the team, destroy trust or erode team chemistry.

3) Negative Reaction to Adversity:  Every team will encounter adversity throughout a season. Every team will have a comfort zone for the level of adversity they are prepared to overcome. The measure of leadership is how a team responds when the adversity they face is more than they have overcome before.  How will the team respond? Let's be clear there is a decision to be made here.

Three common situations teams with toxic leadership encounter may help shed some light on what is being discussed here.

Your team may find itself losing to a clearly weaker opponent. The conscious decision to be made is whether to assign blame to someone (player / coach / referee) or accept responsibility and work cooperatively to improve the situation.

When your team faces an opponent whom they have a history of poor performances against. The first time something goes against your team the response is poor body language and negative talk. The choice to surrender to a familiar problem has already been made and a resignation to not finding a solution to this problem accepted.

A player who is subbed out reacts adversely to this coaching decision. He might verbally complain or non-verbally display his displeasure. The player has a choice to either sulk to the bench and project his selfish feelings to those around him or he can choose to redirect his frustration by staying involved in the game cheering on the efforts of his teammates and watching his particular position in preparation for returning to the game.

The point being made is simply this; whatever the reaction is, it will communicate a specific message to coaches, teammates, opponents and referees alike. Toxic people tend to be consumed with their own small situation within the greater whole of the team's predicament and are thus prone to negative reactions to adversity.  Positive people are more likely to ask a teammate to "pick me up," share information with a teammate that will aid the teammate's efforts in the match or find another way to contribute to the teams efforts in a positive manner. It is a choice, a conscious choice, to be made.

4) Pouting: At first glance pouting may seem to fall under poor body language or negative reaction to adversity, but I believe it to be a more selfish negativity than either of those.  When a player is unable to enjoy team success due to his own lack of accomplishment in the contest this becomes an anchor to the team's enjoyment dragging it down when it should be soaring in celebration, The message being sent is of "MY" performance being more important than the "TEAM" performance.

The ability to celebrate others individual success is a sign of positive leadership. When the attitude is one of genuinely sharing in success ... and failure ... a bond of cohesiveness, together and unity is fostered that helps strength a teams spirit and steel its spine.

5) Martyr Syndrome: Advanced stages of toxicity in leadership sees the manifestation of what I refer to as the Martyr Syndrome. When poor body language, gossip, negative reactions to adversity and pouting are left to run amok and unchecked, martyr syndrome is sure to follow, When a perceived leader of the team begins to communicate their belief their (lack of) performance is due to any reason except their own accountability and responsibility real trouble has taken hold of the team's culture and chemistry. Everyone is to blame except the person most responsible for his own play, actions and reactions.  Coaches and the decisions they make are blamed. Or referees are blamed for bad calls. Incompetent teammates are blamed for hindering his own performance. Injury is used as an excuse for not performing to potential.  Anyone and everything is blamed, except the player himself.

When a leader / player begins to believe other people are the primary source of problems an environment of entitlement and laziness takes root. The surrender of control of their own destiny to the power they feel someone else exerts over their performance is an admittance of lacking self confidence. Rather than looking inwardly and fighting to find a solution martyrs look outwardly for someone else to blame. And a martyr is weak. They will not fight through adversity. They seek the path of least resistance and submit when confronted by obstacles posed by the game.

In conclusion, the training of proper leaders might well be one of the most overlooked aspects of coaching.  Leadership is contagious whether positive or negative. The quality of your team is dependent on the quality of leadership provided. Therefore, training of leadership should of at least equal importance to the training of technique, tactics, and physical fitness.


Urbana University Blue Knights in the NCAA Divison II Sweet 16

That's Lance front and center!  The Blue Knights take on Charleston today at 7:00 pm  Charleston is a power house. They return their entire team from last years successful run.  The Blue Knights will bring their "A" game to today's match. Should be a good one!


US Soccer bans headers.

And so it begins.

Just over five years ago I predicted this day would come. At the time, many of my colleagues proclaimed me to be crazy, but this was a no-brainer, in my opinion. It was simply a matter of time before someone filed a lawsuit alleging heading a soccer ball contributed to brain damage.  The class action lawsuit that was the catalyst for these changes did not seek monetary awards. It only sought to change the rules, maybe even the Laws of the Game.

The New York Times "broke" the story early today. You can read that article here.

This is soccer's version of Pandora's Box. Addressing heading the ball at the U11 and below levels seems like a small and smart action, but it will likely lead to severe changes in the Laws of the Game at some point in the not too distant future. 

Let us begin by examining the impact of the changes as we know them to be at this time.

1) No heading of the ball at the U11 and younger ages groups.  Presumably if a player heads the soccer ball in game action the opposing team will be award an indirect free kick from the spot of the infraction.

2) There is a restriction prohibiting heading the soccer ball in practice for U11 - U13 age groups.  This will be nearly impossible to enforce and will be reliant on an honor system. Offending coaches / clubs will likely face some sort of sanction if caught teaching players in this age group to head the ball - monetary fines and / or suspension of coaching privileges.

Now, ask yourself how many 10 year olds head the soccer ball intentionally and on a regular basis? Not very many. However, by the time players reach age 12 heading the ball begins surfacing in the game on a more regular basis.  I'm not at all sure why 13 years of age will become the age for beginning to teach the proper technique for heading soccer ball.  Is there a scientific reason that indicates something magical occurs when players reach the U14 age group to make heading the ball of less concern?

I believe the ban as currently constructed is nothing more than an initial step towards a move to ban heading altogether. This movement will be from the bottom up. Where will it end?  FIFA will have to eventually weigh in on this issue to a far greater extent than they have to this point.

Zonal defenses rely heavily on their backs being able to clear flighted through balls by heading the ball up and out.  There will surely be an emphasis on kicking the ball high and long until or unless defenders can adapt to not being able to head the soccer ball.

Wait a minute ,,,

Will this new ruling make kick and run soccer even more popular?  Isn't kick and run soccer actually a primary reason defenders head the soccer ball to begin with?  So, reliance on big, fast and strong players will be emphasized even more to the detriment of possessing the ball to build an attack, correct?  Just maybe we are addressing the issue of heading the ball (concussions) bass ackward, so to speak.  What might happen if a mandate that the flight of any played ball could not rise above shoulder height? Then the emphasis would be placed on skill sets and tactics of possessing the ball, yes?

Once the ban on heading reaches older age groups what will happen with free kicks, corner kicks, punts and goal kicks?  Talk about changes in strategies! Taking away heading for a goal and heading to defend goal will change the game dramatically. It will bring about a near complete over haul of tactics as we know them today.

Where's the game headed?

Share your thoughts here in the comments section or send me a message / email.

The game is about to undergo a change not seen since the last time the offside law was tinkered with.


When excellence becomes tradition greatness has no limits.

Aristotle: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

In 1954 legendary football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was in his first year as coach at Texas A & M when he decided the team needed to get away from every day distractions on campus in order to concentrate on football. Off they went to what we would today refer to as a branch campus located in Junction, Texas. The area was in the midst of the worst draught in recorded history. On each of the 10 days of camp temperatures climbed to over 100 degrees. The conditions were brutal. Each day Coach Bryant demanded perfection and continued practicing those young men until it was achieved to his satisfaction. A group of over 75 young men began the camp. Only half of them completed the entire 10 days.

A Tale of Two Teams

I was reminded of an old tale this morning and decided to adapt it for this blog.  It is a simple tale involving perspective and many lessons. I hope you enjoy it.

There was to be a soccer match between two teams. One team represented Heaven and the other team represented Hell.  Perhaps we should call them the Angels and the Demons.  Both teams prepared  for the match by practicing regularly. Both teams were at full health. These teams were evenly matched in nearly every regard, but one.

The evening before the big match the teams were both treated to lavish dinners prepared by top nutritionist and chefs. There was present on their respective tables every manner of fuel that would be needed to put forth their best performance the next day,

As might be expected the Angels took a moment to give thanks for their meal. They were appreciative of the bounty set before them. The expressed their gratitude for the work put into preparing and serving the meal to them.  They asked Blessings for the meal and for participants in the match the next day.

Meanwhile, Demons went straight for the food before them only they encountered a problem - the utensils set before them to eat their meal with were extra-sized.  The forks and spoons were so long it was impossible for anyone to feed himself.  Some complained about this while others began using their fingers to feed themselves. Soon the Demon's table was utter chaos and quite the mess.

The Angles team were given the same type of silverware with which to feed themselves yet there was no complaining at their table. Instead there was a lot of relaxed conversation and a general jovial spirit throughout the team as they served one another their meals.  The Angels used the over sized utensils to feed the teammate across from them their food.  Working together with servant hearts each of the Angels enjoyed a balanced meal, good times and several hearty laughs as they went through the process of preparing for the next days match.

Of course, this is a story about life even more so than a story about soccer.  It's a story of WE being a much better option than ME.  In life we must work diligently on our relationship with God and in so doing find our servant heart towards all of mankind. A soccer team is not so very different as each player must work diligently on his relationship with the ball, but it is not until we learn to play the game for one another that it truly becomes a beautiful game.  We must take care of ourselves / our game first in order that we might be of service to others, but make no mistake about this - it is only when we are / play in service to others that we become all we should be as a person ... and as a player. When a group of individuals share and live out this philosophy they no know limits as to what they can achieve, together.


Coach, do you remember when ...

As age continues to grow on me I have become aware the issues I deal with on a daily basis are shared by many others. In some remarkable fashion others I know seem to be going through similar struggles at the same time. We somehow reconnect and commiserate with while also drawing strength from one another. I am about to paraphrase a conversation I had with a former player last night about lessons taught, lessons learned and lessons carried over into the future. First a little background.

It was late spring of 2012. One of those blistering hot days in mid June where temperatures soared over 100 degrees and the winds were still.  Not ideal conditions to be playing soccer in, especially with only 11 healthy bodies for an 80 minute match. Two players were on the sidelines injured during previous matches that weekend.  We had no chance of winning the tournament and were closing out a less than satisfying season. Our team was good, but we just hadn't discovered how to play to peak potential.

"Coach, do you remember when you sat Jarod out and made us play with 10 and it was like 110 degrees out?"

Me:  Yes, I do. That became a turning point for our team.

"Coach, I was so mad at you that day.  The other team had like 5 subs and we didn't have any. Then you intentionally made us play a man down when Jarod was healthy and good to go. I didn't understand what you were doing back then.  I think I do now."

Me: Oh?  

"Yeah, our professor assigned us in groups for a project,  It was a big project to be presented in 3 different phases, There were six of us in our group and everyone worked hard together on it except this one girl. She was always doing her own thing and when it came time for our first presentation she insisted on being one of the presenters. It was a disaster. What she presented wasn't bad but she went rogue and it didn't fit with the rest. We got a C- overall and everyone kinda knew it was because of her."

Me: Yes, that type of thing happens in sports, in school, in life.  Do you remember those corny signs they used to have hung all over the schools?  Together Everyone Achieves More?  There is a very strong message contained therein. One that resonates with me daily.

"That's what I mean!  I mean, I was seriously ticked at you not allowing Jarod to play that day. I thought you hurt the team's effort that day. I got it. I mean, I understood why you did what you did, but still you punished the team because of Jarod not being a team player. I didn't understand that. It didn't make sense"

Me: And now?

"We were playing a man down with Jarod on the field because he wouldn't conform to the role and take care of his responsibilities, but our expectations remained that he should. We were frustrated with Jarod. We became frustrated with you, but when I think back now I realize we actually played better after you benched Jarod. We were down something like 0-3 when you benched Jarod and ended up losing 4-2 or something like that."

Me: That was quite the day wasn't it? (I chuckled out loud at this point)

"It really was. I'm still learning lessons from that day. "

Me: Oh, really?

"Yep, we decided to kick Lisa out of our project group."

Me: Oh?

Yeah, she will get the same grade as the rest of the group, but we aren't going to allow her to participate, especially as a presenter. She brought the rest of us down and we feel we're better off without her than we are with her. There was just so much drama and frustration whenever she was around."

Me: And what does your professor have to say about this development?

"We thought we would get in trouble, but he was actually cool with it. Surprised the hell out of me."

Me: Hmm.

"So, anyway, I wanted to let you know that I finally get it.  I understand why Jarod had to be benched that day.  I understand you were not only teaching him a lesson but there were important things for all of us to learn. You used to tell us all the time that it wasn't the 11 best players that mattered but the 11 who worked best together. Sometimes 10 is even greater than 11 when the 10 are working strong together towards a common goal.  That's what we are doing with the project group. We are stronger without her because she wasn't a team first player. We got an "A" on the second part of the project and I'm really confident about our third portion that we present tomorrow.  I just wanted to say thank you coach, for this and all the lessons you taught us over the years."

Me:  You're very welcome. May I ask a question?

"Yes, of course."

Me; Well, you know that Jarod eventually came around. He became a very good team player and teammate, what about this young lady your team dismissed from the group. How is she taking things?

"Well, she's kinda doing her own version of the project which is what she was doing anyway.  She's not getting graded on it but I think she feels like she should do the work?  I don't know."

Me: Does she seem grateful for the "A" grade she received for being part of the group?

"I don't know. She hasn't said anything. None of us has really talked to her since we told her she couldn't participate with the group."

Me: Then perhaps you still have lessons to learn from that day I benched Jarod?  Did we stop talking to him? Did we exclude him from activities? Or did Jarod remain a member of our group. We didn't give up on Jarod, did we?


Me: Maybe your group shouldn't be so quick to give up on this girl either?  Jarod became a respected and valued member of our team.  Think about this, would we have beaten the Croation Eagles if Jarod had not made the spectacular bangoo play just before half of that game?

" Yeah ... I see what you mean.  You're saying we should involve her.  Maybe not eliminate her activity but just censor it for the good of the group.  Maybe she will come around. If not now, then sometime in the future.  We might actually need her to contribute at some point."

Me: Just like Jarod contributed to our efforts in the years following "the incident."

"Ok, I see what you are saying. I've got more work to do. Thanks again, coach!"


As it so happens I have two or three situations currently happening in my own life where the lessons of the  now fondly remembered "Jarod incident"  continue to bear fruit,  Coaches are sometimes tasked with making difficult decisions in difficult environments. I've made a lot of mistakes as a coach, I second guessed myself over the decision to sit Jarod that day. I didn't know if it was the "right" thing to do. I did not know for sure if it would work. To be honest, I wasn't even sure of the desired results.  I just knew we could not maintain the status quo if we wanted to perform to our peak ability. I took action. Perhaps drastic action. We were all fortunate that it worked out,  This is a success story, but there were many missteps that led to this success.  We don't get it right all the time and we need to be mindful of this when coaching / mentoring / teaching student athletes.  They don't get it right all the time either. We are the examples they will learn from.  When we err, acknowledge it for that is what we wish our players to do. When we are correct, be gracious and share the credit. We are all in this together and Together Everyone Achieves More.



How to Increase Your Value to Your Team.

A very self-aware player recently asked of me, what do I need to do in order to increase my value to the team? This question came about in the context of what the athlete could do during the off season to improve for next fall. Now, I am not the athlete's coach so I cannot speak directly to what areas his coach feels should be the focus of off season work. However, I can address the general concept of increasing one's value to the team.

First and foremost is the players approach to the team, his attitude. As positivity and negativity are both contagious a player with a positive attitude is something all coaches prize.  The conscious recognition that one's attitude is a choice is a starting point. One can decide to have a positive attitude, or not as the case may be. So how we approach the decision making progress in regards to attitude is very important.

Sometimes we have athletes who are very good at talking the talk but struggle when it comes to walking the walk. That is, their words and actions are not always in one accord. So, we might ask if the player is mature enough to take things seriously. Can they adhere to the details of the process even when they would rather not do so?

Another way to phrase this is to ask. what are you personally willing to sacrifice towards the success of the team? Is there present in the student / athlete a recognition that sacrificing for the betterment of the team also promotes an athletes personal agenda? The trendy phrase today is When We Replaces Me. Is the athlete willing to place We before Me?

Respecting authority is another prime example of attitude.  If the athlete disrespects authority this is a manifestation of bad attitude. And when talking about authority the list includes parents, teachers, referees, coaches, captains and those placed in charge of organizing and directing play on the field - goalkeepers for instance. Differing opinions can be a strength to a team, but only when they are expressed at the appropriate time and in a respectful manner. Arguing with referees, coaches, captains, teammates during a match or even during active training is not appropriate.

Much of what has been discussed to this point  might be classified as a players maturity level.  Is the student / athlete mature enough to handle constructive criticism in the spirit it is offered or does the student athlete take such efforts personally as a condemnation of his play?  Can the player give constructive criticism to teammates in the spirit and tone of helping as opposed to placing blame or condemning their play?

How does the athlete deal with adversity? Is there self-discipline and mental toughness present that manifests itself in determination and resiliency to overcome?  These are traits prized by coaches and teammates alike.  They go to the issue of trust.  Is the player worthy of being trusted? Is he honest in his dealings with others - his teammates, his coaches, the referees ... himself?

Attitude is so very important, but has been so overused in the context of team sports it has lost some of its effectiveness in identifying what it is to be a good teammate.  And being a good teammate is at the core of increasing one's value to his team. At the root of being a good teammate is the ability to build productive relationships with all other members of the team.

When an athlete is a good teammate bringing positive energy and enthusiasm to the team and its pursuit of common goals, good things will follow.  Sure, working on technical skill sets and tactical understanding are important and improving in these areas will enhance a players value to his team, but we must not forget the difference attitude makes - be it good attitude or bad attitude.  Be of service to your team and its members and good things will follow.


Yelling Parents

I saw this on Facebook recently. Overt the years I have tried to make this point in numerous ways to numerous people with varying degrees of success. This is short and sweet while driving the point home with precision and power.