"Why?" remains the greatest question to ask and answer.

I watched a lot of soccer this weekend. Some at a college showcase event and other at a training session for club athletes.  One particular match at the college showcase event featured two excellent U15 girls teams in a 1-1 draw. The talent level was way above average as were the collective soccer IQ on these two teams. Such a joy to watch really good soccer in a club setting. This was most definitely not direct kick & run soccer. The ball was rarely in the air. Lots of possession and lots of team defending. In my opinion, a beautiful game!  It was quite evident these girls understood the "why?" behind their actions.

Later in the weekend I observed a training session with a group of U14 - U16 boys.  The exercises they were put through were very good to excellent insofar as they went.  The drills were explained and demonstrated so all participants could perform what was being asked of them, but it was never put in context as to "why" they were being asked to learn these skills.  About half way through the session things moved from a focus primarily on individual skills to a focus on combination passing.  One led smoothly into the other with individual skills just practiced being incorporated into the combination passing exercise.

The more astute players, I am sure, recognized the progressions of exercises all tied together. Others, I am equally as sure, were quite clueless about this aspect of the training.  That was part of the issue I had with the guys conducting the session. The other part I took exception to was the instructors allowing for improper touches on the ball throughout the combination passing exercises with no attempt to correct or teach the proper way to execute those drills.  Because a clear picture was not painted of how the exercise applied to in-game situations the players just went through the pattern of the exercise without emphasis on the proper techniques required to execute the pattern successfully.

The net result of an activity allowed to go on in this manner is the reinforcement of a lot of bad habits the can effectively negate any successful completion of the individual skill performed in the warm up portion of the session sans any form of pressure.  And to be clear, there was no active pressure in the combination passing sequences being worked on. Only passive pressure was applied through being asked to successfully coordinate movements with a teammate. The technique of the movements required were never fully explained resulting in the freedom to move very inefficiently thereby allowing the effectiveness of the drill being performed to be compromised.  As I commented to the another coach observing with me, "they are practicing poor habits which someone else (me as the U16 coach) is going to have to break down and correct.

I have wrote of the dangers of coaching courses and clinics before. Too many coaches go to these events and come away enamored of the drills or exercises they witness there. They return to their teams and immediately introduce these new drills to their own teams.  Kind of.  They can get their teams to perform the correct patterns but the exercise never runs as smoothly as it should. The reason for this is found in a lack of understanding of the purpose of the drill in the first place. The details. Why are we asking players to perform this drill? How does it apply to the game. As coaches, we must paint a complete picture for our athletes. This has to include an understanding of why we ask them to do something and an insistence that what we are asking them to do is done a specific way.


What separates the good from the best?

Conducting  team camps throughout the summer months gives me exposure to a great many athletes. Each week a different location with a different team. I love the variety but at the same time each week can be much the same as the last.  Each team has a hierarchy within the player ranks. Over the years I have come to appreciate what separates the good players from the best players on any team can be summed up in one word - preparation.

There is, of course, a minimum level of ability within any team that sets a standard. For many teams this standard is remarkably similar. The difference in both individuals and teams is found in the intangibles  It is the intangibles that separate good from great and are the difference between a win and a loss.

Every team works on the same sets of fundamentals. Every player knows the basics. Not every team brings the same dedication to preparation.  Not every player will exhibit the same level of dedication to preparation.  Not every team or individual will define preparation in the same manner. We are talking about STANDARDS.

An individual player may spend countless hours on his own  preparing himself as a player but devote very little time towards being a teammate. He might shine on the ball but provide very little to his team off the ball. A talented group of individuals might never achieve to its collective potential because they lack team oriented intangibles. It is the intangibles that make the difference and this is especially true when teams are closely matched or when a coach must decide between which players make varsity or start games.

So it is that coaches should work to develop and accentuate the intangibles of both individual players and the collective team. When talent level is comparable it is the intangibles that make the difference.  And it's often not about the quantity of preparation or the quantity of effort given, but rather about the quality of the work being put in.

Every week I see players arrive early to camp sessions. It is  always the same individual or small group of players that arrive early for each session. In fact, as a rule of thumb, individuals of a team tend to arrive in a regular and specific order.  Early arrival itself does not make a difference. What one does upon arriving early can make a difference. 

Some arrive early to put in extra preparatory time before practice. This might be working on their individual game. It might be to work with a teammate or group of teammates on improving a specific facet of the team's game. It might be to help set up for practice so actual practice time is devoted to practicing.  

In the end, the players that stand out each week are those who  best combine talent and intangibles. These are the players who tend to win starting assignments and play the most. They are the ones who separate themselves from the pack largely through an intelligent dedicated approach to preparation. 


Your expectations?

Anyone who coaches knows the off season can be even more hectic and stressful than the regular season. Amid scheduling scrimmages and matches, planning for camps, summer tournaments, fundraisers and the like I have also been considering the current state of our program and how to take the next step forward. The evolution of our culture must continue and to be perfectly honest this is the one facet of our program that concerns me the most. I keep coming back to one word -


In the context of sports we often see expectations framed in the idea of a team being able to handle high expectations for a coming season.  Will they rise to the occasion or crumble under the pressure? But expectations come in many forms. For me, the most disconcerting moment of last season was hearing core players express their belief an opponent would kick our asses while they were still in the locker room before a match. Their sentiment about that day's match was in stark contrast to my own expectations which were to come out, compete and just maybe get the win!

This has been very much on my mind as I plan for the 2017 season. Some of these players might be back with us next fall. If they are, will their defeatist attitudes be back with them?  Will their expectations have changed? Or will they continue to be a drag on the program?

What do they expect of themselves?                                 What do I expect of them?

What will their teammates expect of them?                      What will they expect of their

Is there common ground to be found?

If not, is progress in the process of establishing a winning culture even possible?

This is a very serious question to consider for it has been my experience both individuals and teams usually get exactly what they expect.

I desire a team of individuals who expect to win every time they step onto the pitch. It might be the single most important characteristic I look for in an individual. This must be our expectation from the Head Coach through the coaching staff to the Captain(s) and extending throughout the team to the very last player on the bench.

For these reasons, the selection of Captains carries more importance this coming season than usual. Sometimes a strong culture can prop up a weak captain.  This coming season my expectation is for a strong captain to advance the culture of the program.

Another consideration is, if I do not get what I expect from returning players, do I look to new players with the same expectations I have for the program? That would be a drastic short-term step, but one that might be necessary to advance the program in the long-term.

Let me be clear, my expectations are to be competitive in every match. I expect to win every time we step onto the pitch.  I expect greatness. I expect championships.



Professional wrestling legend Ric Flair is a larger than life personality. One of his many well known catchphrases is "to be the man, who have to beat the man!" For reasons I will never understand I awoke with this on my mind today. I chalk such occurrences up to God's will for me and leave it at that.

I have set the course of the progra I am currently working with to be the TEAM!  In order to be the TEAM, we will need to beat the team(s) currently at the top of our conference.  This will be no easy task. In fact, I have been told by a parent, it will never come to pass. Challenge made ... and ACCEPTED!!

The first step is to get everyone in the program working together toward that common goal. Obviously we are not there yet.  We will reach that goal. It's simply a matter of time until the excellence I am striving to establish in our program becomes tradition and when that happens our greatness will know no boundaries.  

The Native American tale about the battle raging inside each of us between two wolves also came to mind. It is a very short tale and it;s simplicity is exquisite. 

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.”

Both negativity and positivity are contagious. Both are naturally occurring within us. The one we feed the most will win.  Our negative energy manifests itself in the form of anger, anxiety, complaining, excuses, jealousy, panic, resentment, selfishness, whining - all of which are energy drains to ourselves, our team and our program. These negative emotions drain us of confidence and leave us angry, belligerent and unsatisfied.

Our thoughts truly can be our worst enemy.  We hear this expressed in athletics as our greatest adversary being the one we see in the mirror each morning. Or it is sometimes expressed as our own worst enemy being the one that resides between our own two ears.  

Coaches also like to talk about controlables. I suggest the type of negativity being discussed here is most definitely controlable.  I spoke at length with last years team about positive self-talk.  This is a skill that can be developed. And if we look to those who are most successful in our sport we do indeed find these individuals to be extremely positive people. They will themselves and their teammates to greatness through their positive thinking.

The old Cherokee understood a simple truth. What goes into our thinking comes out in our actions. 


Goes In Goes Out is as simple as it gets.

So, the most important question our program must ask and answer this off season is, which energy source are we going to feed, nurture and grow?  The negativity that has in one form or another permeated the program for far too long OR the positive energy flow that will propel the program to the heights its potential says it can reach?

When we feed ourselves a steady diet of hope, joy, humility, enthusiasm and love we will find ourselves competing with and defeating the team on our way to becoming the TEAM!


Keep learning.

It is winter here in Ohio and although we do not have snow on the ground it is generally to cold and wet to do much soccer related activity outside. Basketball and wrestling dominate the gyms and where I am located we have one turfed indoor facility and field time / leagues are outrageously overpriced. Factor in the sun rises late and sets early... well, this is definitely the off-season for us. We do futsal in a gym on Wednesdays after basketball and on Sunday afternoons when basketball generally does not play or practice.

I also do a lot of review work from our past season.  I make notes in journal form on every practice, game and team gathering when in season.  Now is the time to review these to glean every bit of information that might be applied going forward. I also watch last seasons practice and game tapes for the same purpose. It can be amazing what a distance of 3 or 4 months allows one to see,

This is also the time of the year when I search out new books and articles to read. I spend too much time on YouTube watching soccer videos. Games, instructional and motivational videos. Anything I can find to learn, to enhance my skills as a coach, to make myself better at what I do.

I also take the time to attend practises conducted by other coaches.  I have watched tryouts for club teams this winter.  I have watched basketball and wrestling teams practice. I attend as many sporting events as possible to observe how other coaches ply their trade. I am intensely curious to see how other coaches interact with their players, their assistants, the referees and others.

I am now contemplating attending a coaching clinic or two.  Weighing the price of doing so against who will be the presenting clinicians. So much is available on the Internet these days, but it is refreshing to attend in person. Being able to ask questions of the presenter and other attendees.

On Saturday we ( my high school and program) are hosting a beginners referee and re-certification class. I will be in attendance all day, From 7:30 am until after 4:00 pm. It is important to build relationships with referees and to understand what they are looking for in-game.

These things will all factor into plans for next season. Our off season preparation will be based on what I am learning and in some cases re-learning now, in the dark of winter.  The success of our 2017 fall season will depend largely on my success in learning over these cold winter months.