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Sprint to set our defense Execute our defense with multiple efforts to completion Be strong to and strong on the ball Play unselfishly with SPACE and PACE to create great chances Dominate with our EFFORT plays
The foreigners on my son's college team say the single greatest obstacle to the USA developing into a world power in soccer is the lack of quality refereeing in the country.
I know we could all share "referee stories" to help illustrate their point. Our recently concluded high school soccer season saw blown calls, phantom calls, missed calls ,,, and the film doesn't lie. I believe our visitors from other countries were talking about more than a referee having an off day - we're all human after all. Rather, they were referring to how anyone with a whistle seems to be able to referee a game here in the States.
I know we had one gentlemen who was in his first year of refereeing who had to be 60 if he were a day. Decided he needed something to do or wanted to give back to the game. He was not physically capable of refereeing a high school soccer match. It really was disrespectful to the game.
On the other end of the spectrum are the young kids who take a referee course are given a badge and are then sent off to referee. No experience required. Just get out there with your whistle and have at it. Is it any wonder the retention rate for officials is so low? We set them up for failure.
I understand in other countries the route to becoming an official is much more difficult.
Now, I know several referees who I consider to be very good. A few of these gentlemen have refereed my son and his mates from other countries. This gave me cause to reflect on what our standards for referees are. If some of the best we have are thought to be inadequate by our foreign guests ...
I get their point. The officials are part of the soccer match. We expect a certain standard from the players and a higher standard from those who coach them. Should the standard for those who officiate be a high one as well? All three groups (plus spectators, grounds crew and so on) are vital components to the contest. When any one area is lacking, the whole is lacking,
Player Development gets a lot of attention in this country. It's a billion dollar cottage industry what with clubs, camps, clinics, individual instruction, videos, books, etc.
Coaching Development gets a lot of attention. NSCAA and USSF coaching courses are mandatory for most competitive youth leagues and certainly for college and professional coaching jobs.
Referee Development? There are avenues to rise through the ranks in USSF. Weekend academies at youth tournaments and promotion to regional or national youth soccer events such as Presidents Cup, State Cup and ODP events. Grade Levels for referees. Yet, I keep coming back to the basic level referee courses. Part of the course is now on-line and the rest is conducted in a few hours in a classroom and perhaps on a soccer pitch, You take a test that everyone passes and are awarded your badge. You are now a USSF referee! If you are 18, you can also be a OHSAA referee!
No actual in-game on the field training or experience required.
So, yeah, our mates from other states may have a valid point?
I have not written much these past few months as I have returned to coaching high school. I find it difficult to write in-season for a couple of reasons. One, I just don't have a lot of free time. Coaching high school soccer is a full time job in and of itself. Secondly, most of what I would write about would be about the team I am coaching and because there would exist a need to be critical I do not believe it would be productive to do so. Today I am going to tackle the broad subject of culture. And, yes, I will be using my current team to illustrate some of the points made. I will also be using former teams to tell this story.
Some years ago I became a member of an email group of coaches from around the country. This group has been a wonderful resource for me. They have been mentors to me and perhaps I to them as well. Upon joining the group one of the first things that struck me was how much of the discussion was devoted to team culture. I will admit I found this a bit of a turnoff at first as I was looking for tidbits on technical and tactical issues. As I read through the discussions on culture I began to understand the importance of team culture and the reason this group of successful coaches devoted so much time to it. I have since become a student of team culture and advocate of working to develop a strong positive one in the teams I coach.
It doesn't happen overnight.
I took over a club team a few years ago. They had not had much success in terms of won / loss record and were looked upon as a team whose players could not make the team of the best club in the area. That first season we went .500 and most were ecstatic with having achieved that. The parents attributed it to my coaching. While grateful of their acknowledgement of my contributions I knew I had made some difference but not enough. And so the transformation of that teams culture begun.
I knew from past experiences in college, club and even high school that when a coach recruits players to the team it can be difficult to find the right mix for team chemistry. Most coaches select team members on talent alone and give little consideration to how team members interact with one another, with coaches, with referees and others in general. This is the lesson I was learning through interaction with the email group of coaches.
The second year with that club team saw about a 30% turnover in players. We held "tryouts" and found a few players who were both more talented than the ones they replaced and were better fits to the team culture I was striving to develop. The team improved their on-field results that year actually winning a league title. It was a lower level league, but a title nonetheless.
This is where things began to get very interesting.
It was apparent to me our culture needed strengthening. We would need to lose some players who did not fit with what we were building. I put it to the team to recruit teammates they thought could raise the team to another level. A very interesting thing happened. The players recruited some of the very best players from the region. They also refused to recruit some of the very best players from the region. They were very discerning about who they wanted to join the team. Even beyond that, they recruited players to certain and specific positions with the intent of replacing soon to be former teammates who were not interested in buying in to the rapidly developing team culture.
The result of their efforts was a group of 40 players trying out for one team. We quickly made a decision to form two teams - an "A" team and a "B" team. After some realized they would no longer be a member of "the" team they had been playing on, they sought greener pastures elsewhere. Not surprisingly these were the players who were disruptive to the team culture being established. They were offered spots on the second team but declined because they viewed themselves as better than that. Within a years time most either sought to rejoin our program or had given up the sport of soccer,
This brings us to present day.
I am now coaching a high school team that has experienced some modicum of success in past high school season. One of the things that has blunted or perhaps even stagnated the changing of culture is the fact the seniors of this group won a recreational state championship when in middle school. To call it a state championship is even a bit of a misnomer as only a portion of the state was represented at these championships. Nonetheless, this is what they have hung their hat on and have stubbornly refused to embrace advancement of culture that could take them to the next level. As a high school team they are as physically gifted and technically talented as any I have been associated with. Tactically they still have proclivity to play as they did in 8th grade which consisted to being bigger faster stronger than other teams their age. I know because I watched them play when they were in middle school.
While we have made some advancements in play this season their old comfort zone beckons frequently. Against a weaker team they will goal hunt reverting to playing dump and run with little to no regard to actually doing so in a constructive and productive manner. Our center midfielders become forward as do our outside backs. Players almost completely and totally abandon positional responsibilities in search of goal scoring opportunities. As a result, we have struggled in games we should have dominated and had some unexpected, even unpleasant results.
One the other hand, we did find out early in the season that this team was capable of playing with some of the very best in the state. Although excited about this at the time I am now not sure this was such a good thing. After playing with the eventual league champions for the entire game early in the season we took a huge step backwards against the other two perennial league powers getting blown out by both. All the brilliant play from early in the season completely disappeared in those two matches as players reverted to a previous comfort zone.
Team culture can win games for you.
Team culture can lose games for you.
Both of the above statements are abundantly true. It was a three to four year process with club team to develop a strong culture of like-minded athletes capable to facing adversity, sticking together with one heartbeat and overcoming that adversity as a united team. My current high school team is not remotely close to having this type of string positive team culture. Seeing this senior class graduate will be a good thing overall for our program. That's not to say I dislike this class or any of its members. They are good kids by and large. I like each of them. They have just been resistant to change. I consider them stuck in their ways with little interest in changing even if it were of benefit to them to do so. I understand this. This team's culture has cost them results this season. I'm not sure they realize this and if they do realize it, they don't seem to mind. They are comfortable with who they are and what their culture is.
The challenge from a program standpoint is to make incremental improvements in the programs culture moving forward. Can we develop a stronger positive team culture with next years team? This is the key to making progress in the process. Some refer to it as getting a program over the hump or taking a team to the next level. I am confident that with the right attitude, the right team culture, next seasons team will be better than this seasons team has been. The 2017 team can achieve to greater heights than this years team dared to dream of provided the team culture makes advances, If the team members are devoted to making team culture work for us instead of against us great things await.