Tuesday

Thoughts on TEAM


                   11 Thoughts About Team               

1) Teams rise and fall on culture, leadership, relationships, attitude and effort.

Great teams have a culture driven by great leadership. Relationships are meaningful and teammates are connected. The collective attitude is very positive and everyone on the team works hard to accomplish their mission.


2) It's all about teamwork.  

Sometimes you are the star. Sometimes a teammate is the star. Share the spotlight.

3) If you want to be truly great, you must work as hard at being a great teammate as you do at being a great player. 

When you work hard at being a great teammate, you make everyone around you better.

4) Your teammates do not care if you are a superstar. 

They care if you are a super teammate.

5) You control your ATTITUDE, your EFFORTS and your ACTIONS toward being a great teammate.

Regardless of what is happening around you, everyday you can focus on being positive, working hard and making others around you better. If you do this, great things will happen.


6) One person cannot make a team, but one person can break a team.


Stay positive, always.  Do not allow Energy Vampires to sabotage YOUR teams efforts.


7) Great teammates hold one another accountable to the highest standards of excellence their culture demands and expects.


Without enforcement of standards all talk about culture is just that ... Talk.  


8) Team beats talent when talent isn't a team.


Culture can win you or lose you games AND it's YOUR CHOICE which it will do.


9) Great teams care more.


Great teams care about each other, their appearance, the quality of their work, their efforts ... everything positive.


10) Firm Belief and Understanding that WE > me.


What is best for the team supersedes what is best for the individual. A willingness to sacrifice for a common goal and the greater good.


11) Quality TEAM Decision Making.


Each and every day your team faces a decision.  


Settle for average and choose a path of mediocrity


OR


Take the road less traveled and chase GREATNESS.


I spend several hours of every week involved in soccer at various ability and age levels - club soccer, high school soccer, youth soccer, camps and clinics,  As would be expected, even amongst players of similar ages, the technical level of individual players varies quite a bit. I had long been of the opinion that individuals and teams with very good technical ability play attractive soccer.  Over time I came to reconsider my thoughts on this.

There can be no doubt individual technical ability is an important prerequisite to playing attractive soccer. However, it became apparent to me many individuals and teams with good technical foundations tend to play at the game of soccer instead of actually playing soccer.

Playing soccer occurs when technical ability is used in the context of helping make sense of the game.There are conscious decisions made by individuals and coordinated with teammates concerning where and how the ball is to be played and also about how players are to move and where players are to move on the pitch.

Players consciously think about what to do with the ball and make plans to execute their ideas about this.  Passes are played with some degree of thought, with intent and not just aimlessly struck forward. The ball is played backwards, diagonally or square with a fair degree of frequency as players and teams seek the path of least resistance to goal.  Possession is maintained through a combination of technical abilities - receiving the ball, dribbling, running with the ball, passing. Movement of players on the pitch is done with forethought and done with purpose. Although many times these skills are not executed perfectly by young players the important thing is players demonstrating they possess ideas about how to intentionally influence the game through their own decision making.

Playing at soccer occurs when individuals play the ball mainly with the intention of gaining better field positions.  The game is often marked by great hustle and energy, but rarely are these executed in a well coordinated manner.  The flow of the game is random and rarely influenced by intentional positive actions. Possessions are truncated and what rhythm there is to the game more closely resembles that of a ping pong match than a proper soccer match.

Possession soccer is not defined by any specific number of successful passes having been completed. A team might successfully maintain possession for 20 passes while never advancing the ball into scoring position. Similarly, a forward might win possession in his attacking third and immediately score the ball without ever attempting a pass. Which of these was a successful possession?

Possession with a Purpose does not even adequately grasp the concept. For example, a player races to a 50 / 50 ball and upon arriving first to the ball whacks it mightily up the pitch towards the opponents goal.  This player had a purpose behind his play. In fact, he might have had multiple purposes behind his play: Win the ball, Gain field position, "Passing" to a teammate.  This, in a snapshot, is how much of the United States views "direct" soccer. 

Direct Soccer is a strategy espousing the shortest distance between two points (the ball and the goal is a straight line. Follow the straight line as closely as possible to advance the ball as quickly as possible and when close enough attempt to score the ball. Sounds good ... until the obstacles opponents present are encountered.  Then, instead of a direct straight line toward goal, the course alters direction at each new obstacle encountered. Even if possession is successfully maintained the pace of play is slowed dramatically ... Unless ...

Intelligent Play is combining technical ability with tactical forethought in teamwork to possess and advance the ball at pace into scoring position resulting in an increase in the likelihood of a successful strike on goal. This seeks to eliminate or at least minimize the randomness that permeates the basic concept of direct soccer.

Many years ago while taking the National High School Diploma Course through the NSCAA now known as United Soccer Coaches I had the good fortune of learning from a gentleman by the name of Jeff Vennell who had penned a wonderful document titled The Cues for Combination Passing and shared with us various exercises to introduce these to players. When introducing the concept of Intelligent Attacking Play his thoughts on combination passing remain high on the priority list of topics to teach.  The Cues for Combination Passing are but one example of a collective philosophy I loosely refer to as Intentionally Manipulating the Opponent and the Game itself through Intelligent Possession.  Playing with a well defined and intelligent Purpose.







Coaches Play Favorites

Fact: Coaches play favorites:

They favor those who are accountable

They favor those who are responsible

They favor those who are good teammates

They favor those who work hard

They favor those who accept roles


Signs of Buy-In



Signs of Buy In

EYE CONTACT

GOOD BODY LANGUAGE

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION

QUICK TO PRAISE

ENJOYING THE PROCESS

COACH-ABLE

ENGAGED

INQUISITIVE









No tactical system in the world 

can compensate for flaws in work ethic 

or inattention to the basics.

Each and every training session must

reinforce this to players.

Saturday

Who was the worst player you have ever coached?

I was recently asked to describe the worst player I have ever coached.

Context told me this had absolutely nothing to do with skill set or ability to play the game, per se. The questioner did not wish for me to divulge a name.  This was more a quest for anecdotal identification of what makes a poor teammate.  Two players immediately came to mind. One of each gender. I will be using initials to describe these individuals in this writing. They are not the individuals true initials and were indeed selected totally at random. In fact, I might even obfuscate gender or mix and max a bit to protect identies.

GM was an average talent on the pitch who had an alpha personality.  Not being”the” star was a problem resolved by attaching himself to the star player.  The star player was not a leader, but as is often the case with a star player was looked upon as a leader.  So GM led through the star player.  It was a selfish, self-promoting style of leadership that ultimately cost the team a chance to play for a championship. GM didn’t care about that or much of anything else that did not benefit or promote himself directly.  Not only was GM selfish, he was also a bully and capable of being quite mean to any who dared challenge his self-perceived authority or place on the team.

GD was the most narcissistic person, let alone player, I have ever encountered.  No sense of team except in the sense of what the team could provide him.  Did not care about winning as long as she got her stats. GD’s damage was not limited to a season or even seasons. No, GD almost completely destroyed an entire program. There was real question as to whether the program would survive to field future teams. Her selfishness rose to a level of running off potential players who could have served the team well, but conflicted with her personnel mission. I’ve never had a player more disliked by he own teammates than GD was.  And GD was completely and totally oblivious to this ... or just didn’t care.

Why is this important?

Why rehash bad memories?

I tried to cut both GM and GD from their respect teams and programs, but was not allowed to do so for different reasons.  One cost their team a chance to compete for a championship and the other almost destroyed a program. Both of these individuals were leaders on their teams. NEGATIVE leaders who proved destructive to their teams missions and goals.

That’s part of the reason I am sharing his with you.  Rarely does a team rise above the level of its leaders.  If, on a scale of 1 to 10, ten being the best leader possible and one being the worst leader imaginable, your leader is a 6, then your team will never be anything more than slightly above average. If your leader is below average, say, a four, then that is also the ceiling, the cap, the lid for your team.

Another reason I am sharing this with you is my observations regarding GM and GD’s teammates. Most curiously from my perspective is how so many good players and potentially solid leaders on both teams allowed GM and GD to assume control of their teams culture and programs destiny. Good, truly good, people allowed something really awful to happen to themselves without putting up a strong enough fight to win the day.  I shouldn’t be surprised since history is littered with examples of good people led astray by dubious leadership. I suppose I am more disappointed than surprised.

Both teams underachieved for the simple reason their culture was dominated by negative leadership.

I am eternally grateful to both GM and GD for from failure we learn. They were such colossal
failures as leaders that they provided magnificent learning opportunities.  For one, I used to loathe cutting players, but now when I identify another potential GM or GD I do not hesitate in purging
them from the team and program. I have also learned to be far more aware and selective of the environment I coach in: if I cannot rid a team and or program of poor leaders and poor teammates,  then I now fully realize the limits this places on the team being competitive to the full measure of potential ... and the frustration that will inevitably be present in such an environment.





The 10 Commandments for Attacking Soccer


1) Thou shall not spectate when thou should be playing. It is impossible to support your teammates on attack or when defending if you are watching play instead of adjusting your positioning each and every time the ball moves. A coaching phrase I use to remind players to do this is “When the ball travels, we travel!” It can be called, ‘When the ball travels” by a coach or player and answered “We travel” by the remaining team members

2) Thou shall check to the ball when winning loose balls and receiving passes. Waiting for a ball to come to you is inviting an opponent to win the ball. Perhaps even worse is running away from a ball thinking you are played through and allowing an opponent to step in behind you to win the ball. Inexcusable. We should never lose a possession due to not checking to the ball. Never.

3) Thou shall position yourself so your hips are open to as much of the field as is possible. If your hips are closed to the direction the ball is coming from, your play is predictable. Open hips to as much of the field as possible is a secret to successful possession. In this manner thou shall receive the ball across your body whenever possible. We call this being a back footed player. Receiving in this manner allows the player to stay in compliance with Commandment #3. Failure to comply with this commandment makes you a predictable player and one easily defended and dispossessed of the ball.

4) Thou shall make a safe pass upon winning possession of the ball. It is senseless to win the ball and attempt to advance into pressure. Make a safe pass and allow that receiver to establish the rhythm of the attack.

5) Thou shall not stop the ball between thy feet when receiving it. The path of the ball must be changed away from pressure when receiving it. This forces any defender in pursuit of the ball to change course thus buying the receiver space and time to play the ball. Failure to do so changes the pressure to make the play away from the defender and onto the receiver.

6) Thou shall support your teammates at proper angles. It is extremely difficult to make a straight pass, especially if the teammate is running away. This type of “vertical” support can devastate an attack. It is just as critical not to support the 1st defender in a vertical line as you offer virtually no support in doing so. The rule of thumb is 45 degree angles when defending and 45 degree angles or bigger when on the attack.

7) Thou shall not pass square in your defensive third nor in the middle portion of the field. Square passes are the easiest passes to cleanly intercept and immediately transition to attack on. Square passes tend to happen when there is a lack of diagonal support for the passer.

8) Thou shall play the way you face. This is a rule of thumb so there are exceptions. It holds especially true when you are under pressure. Drop or back passes are okay to relieve that pressure. Maintaining possession is what we want to do.

9) Thou shall not shoot from impossible angles. Intelligent defenses seek to deny shots in general and especially those from in front of the goal. Many defenses seek to limit shots against them to coming from a line that extends from the goal post to the corner of the 6 to the corner of the 18 or wider. Shots from those angles leave the goalkeeper with a greatly reduced goal to defend. You must seek to cross the ball when in this deep or take the ball to and along the end line for a cut back cross. Thou shall go to goal each and every time you get your inside shoulder in front of the opponent defending you. When you are breaking free and have the opportunity to eliminate the closest opponent to you, do so. It is not an option. It is mandatory.

10) Thou shall shoot the ball whenever in position to take a quality shot. When in front of the goal and from 25 yards in there should be no hesitation. No extra touch to set the ball up just right. No extra passes. Just put the ball on net. Toe pokes are fine. Knees are fine. Love headers for goals. Strike at the midpoint or higher on the ball to keep it low. Whatever it takes to get the ball on net. Just do it and do it at the first available moment.

Friday

People over Players

A coach’s primary function 

should be not to make better players,

 but to make better people. 



– John Wooden

This is one of the quotes I keep close to heart at all times.  As coaches of youth teams we are entrusted with young men and women in their formative years. We are part of the community it takes to raise a child. In nearly 40 years of coaching I believe the majority of time spent with young people has been spent reinforcing solid values set in place in their homes.  I've been blessed in that regard.

There have been times when I have taken a more active role in the development of a young person. This usually, but not always, occurs in cooperation with the young person's parent(s).  Sometimes a child lacks a good home situation. Sometimes they have not even had a home situation. Thankfully those scenarios have been rare, but alas have been occurring with greater frequency in recent years. But for the most part I work as an enforcer for parents seeking help in teaching life lessons to their children.  Sometimes That parent has even been myself.  

For example, the most common thing I have done is have a player report to the game in uniform and then inform him or her they will be watching that days match from the sidelines. The reason? Either poor grades or discipline issues.  It's an attention getter.  I did this with my own child when he began to think video games and soccer were more important than school and homework.  I believe he was a 5th grader at the time. In that instance I did not tell his teammates why he wasn't playing that day. His teammates kept asking him why he wasn't playing. He eventually had to tell them himself.  Not only did this correct his behavior but it sent a powerful message to his teammates about the prioritizing.

I share that brief story to help illustrate my decision-making philosophy. I prioritize PROGRAM first followed by TEAM second and the INDIVIDUAL third. I have had a parent or two question me about this when I have forced a player to miss games for grade issues. This has usually occurred in the case of a club player and has often not been the parent of the player himself, but a teammates parent. The conversation goes something like this, "How can sitting 'Jonathon' be the best thing for the team? We need Jonathon if we are going to win the game."   My response is invariably that we need Jonathon to win life before we can worry about Jonathon helping us to win a game. We do not want to be a program known for "winning at all costs" especially if that cost is sacrificing what is good for an individual to promote the program.  

"But what about the team?  It's not fair to the other players!"  

EXACTLY!  Why should Jonathon be granted special privileges?  Just because he is a good soccer or basketball player?  Does athletic talent earn him a free pass in other areas of life?  

We know in some cultures athletic talent will gain you a free pass in many areas of life. It's not right, but it happens. All glory is found in the win ... until that player can no longer contribute to winning. Attrition of one kind or another takes place. What then?  That player is discarded in favor of a newer version. IF that former player is lucky and was a truly exceptional athlete (s)he might be remembered 20 years later for accomplishments on the court or field,. But for most, in less than a generations time they are all but forgotten. They become real life Al Bundy's spending their adult life reliving their past glory as a youth athlete.

When a player I work with is being recruited the single most important piece of advice I provide is for them to make a 40-year decision.  As a coach, I do my best to do the same.  It's easy to choose a school based on what you get from the recruiting process and promises of wins.  That is also fools gold. Short term gain. Live in this moment decision making. I counsel to select a school based on what an education from that school can do for you 40 years into the future. 

Deciding to not play a young person in a club or high school game is much the same thing. In the grand scheme of things that game sat out will soon be forgotten by almost everyone involved. With the exception of the individual who had to sit out, hopefully.  When I take this approach I literally pray that sitting out an in-the-moment significant but in the long-term inconsequential youth sporting contest will be a positive life altering event for that individual with a lasting impact of 40+ years. 

My goal as a coach is to help the young people entrusted to me in developing life skills and character that will serve then well for a lifetime.  The techniques, tactics, physical condition of the sport ... all that is a means to an end and that end is not necessarily winning games.  In fact, if truth be known, wins are a by-product of life skills, character and the type of decision making that when present  bring out he best in individuals, teams and life.

Thursday

A different take on warm ups.

This fall finds me once again coaching high school soccer. The team I am working with is young, inexperienced and coed playing against boys teams.  The odds are definitely stacked against us.  I m having a blast!

I have pretty much a blank canvas to work with.

If focused on results, this could definitely be considered a negative. If we take an approach of this being an opportunity, then the challenges we face are a blessing. I choose to see this season as a blessing of amazing proportions.

My assistant and I have no choice but to teach. What we teach is every single aspect of game and team. Why we teach it is not solely based in pursuit of better on-the-field results. No, both what we teach and why we teach are grounded in helping the young men and women we work with to learn the value of confronting adversity, learning from mistakes and working cooperatively together to solve problems encountered in the process of becoming a better team and through the experience, better people.

 A favorite saying of mine is "Failing to prepare properly is preparing to fail."  This quote is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin who was by all accounts a pretty accomplished man. When applying this quote to soccer most will think of practicing well and warming up properly in front of playing a game. This, especially the warming up part, is usually equated to physical preparation.  In practice players perform repetitions of technique and tactics to develop muscle memory that allows them to play instinctively. Warm ups are often about perfection or striving to be as perfect as possible in preparing for the game.  This is where I find fault with standard warm ups that involve stretching followed by performing well rehearsed routines. It reduces warming up to finding a rhythm and getting comfortable before playing the game. The problem here is not in what you do, but is found in what you do not do.

A soccer match is a exercise in problem solving ability - that of individual players and the collective team. If we accept this to be true, then should we not include adversity and problem solving in our preparation to play the game?

A wise old coach once told me he could spot an American soccer player in the first few seconds of watching them step on the field.  American players step on the field and immediately begin whacking the ball at the goal.  Players from other countries step on the pitch and immediately have a ball at their feet working on individual ball handling skills.

I love watching professional athletes warm up, especially the stars.  Invariably they begin small and work their way up to the act required to put points on the scoreboard.  Watch Tom Brady warm up.  He gets his body warmed up and then begins with simple ball handling tasks like taking snaps from his center. He progresses to handing the ball off to running backs and moves on to throwing the football to receivers. Kyrie Irving comes out early and does ball handling exercises. These include the now famous two ball drill, dribbling and passing with either hand.  The last thing he does is practice his shooting. He takes care of all the things that will get him to taking a shot before actually working on taking the shot.

I firmly believe failing to warm up properly is one reason the United States has yet to produce a world class striker.  We warm up to get comfortable instead of warming up to problem solve in the game. We need to address our problem solving skills as much or more than establishing our comfort.  Game environments are rarely comfortable so I'm a bit mystified by the emphasis on establishing comfort in our warm ups. We need challenges in warm ups to prepare our problem solving skills.

Light intensity and conserving energy for the actual game is another aspect of traditional warm ups that leave me scratching my head. When one is about to play a contest should one not prepare for the intensity of the contest?  Rest and restoring energy can take place in the moments before kickoff - during the captains meeting, last minute instructions, playing of the national anthem and player introductions.  Pre-creating game-like intensity cannot.  This must be done as a gradual build up from the first step onto the pitch until active warm ups conclude prior to the pre-game festivities outlined above. Ramping up intensity should be a designed component of warm ups.

Warm ups, especially the individual components of warming up should be fraught with challenges. Working on simple ball handling to attempting more complex combinations and moves. Failures in warm ups are okay for the simple reason that failures are part of every game. A critical component of every game is learning from in-game failure and overcoming in-game adversity. Should not  preparing to do this be a part of our warm up?

By now a new vision of warming up should be emerging. At least it should be if I have written well.  Warm ups are an opportunity not just to prepare for playing, but to learn and improve.  It's not just about "perfecting" things worked on in practices leading up to the match. No, warm ups should be a continued exploration of your capability's and evolution of your abilities.







Wednesday

Spatial Awareness

High school soccer presents a vast array of problem solving opportunities for coaches.  In the best of programs there will exist multiple teams on a developmental scale - Varsity, JV A, JV B, Freshman and Middle School teams.  I've been there.  At the other end of the spectrum are high school teams with varsity only.  Sometimes these varsity only teams are even co-ed.  I've been there too.

As a new parent-coach back in the mid 1990's I inquired of the local high school coach what he believed most freshmen were lacking when they came out for the high school teams. His reply was"the ability to execute a push pass". As this man would become a mentor to me, I took him at his word. The youth players I worked with could all successfully execute the push pass when they entered 9th grade. When my son was being recruited to play in college I often asked coaches what they believed was the biggest weakness in most recruits games.  The answer was a near unanimous - "spatial awareness". If you have ever worked with a team of wide ranging abilities, you will surely appreciate this response.

My most recent club team and most recent high school team both suffered from a lack of cohesive and uniform understanding of spatial awareness. It's often said a team is only as strong as its weakest player on the field. There is a measure of truth to this especially as it concerns spatial awareness.

I often inform my teams the game is a living breathing thing and they must work on developing a relationship with it through listening and observing how it changes in response to ball and player movement. The boundaries and various lines affect this as well as the distances required on restarts.  Even the referee crew impacts responses to spatial awareness. So too do the technical ability, tactical understanding and physical ability of individual players.

In essence, spatial awareness is about the relationship between Space and Pace. In this context spatial awareness becomes about learning to manipulate the game to your and your teams benefit.  Using spatial awareness in conjunction with the principles of play is what formations and tactics are all about.  When a player is able to consciously recognize how to create space for a teammate and use space created for himself by a teammate, intentionally manipulating the game becomes a real possibility.  

These relationships are simple and yet very complex all at once.  Bringing someone new to the game up to speed with a player who has several years experience can be a daunting task. The difference in understanding of spatial awareness between a seasoned player of club soccer and a recreational player can also be significant. When players of widely varying abilities are all on a single team it can prove difficult to find common ground. This where ideas about a team only being as strong as its weakest player take root.

This is the problem I am seeking to solve going forward. Spatial awareness in soccer is something that begins developing at the youngest of ages.  Simple ideas like boundaries and which half of the field is to be defended and which half has the goal to be scored in are spatial awareness.  When a player comes to the game later in their youth the theory of these simply spatial awareness concepts might be known yet the practicality of them never experienced.  Extend that train of thought to the differences in understanding of spatial awareness between a recreational player and a club player or even an entry level club player and an elite level club player. This s a recipe for frustration all around for both players and coaches alike.

In past seasons I have relied on older more experienced players to mentor younger or inexperienced players in practical settings. I've come to question this approach as results have been found to be wanting.  I have also used a classroom and written homework approach using soccer journals.  The two approaches in combination have been effective.  The issue has been in players being steadfast in their commitment to recording what they are learning in their journals.  I must assume responsibility for this as in the interest of players being able to write down their thoughts honestly about any and all things soccer I have deemed a measure of privacy to be important to the process. I am being forced to make daily writing assignments mandatory and checked by the coaches.

I am also going to include more handouts and more opportunities for visual learning experiences. This will include instructional videos and analysis of videos of practice and games.  A multi pronged approach to the situation.  This is not an ideal scenario, of course. It is however a necessary one.  I would rather spend time on the field than in the classroom but must also face the reality of the situation and adapt what I do accordingly to be as effective as possible in coaching my teams.  

Tuesday

Who was that?

My wife and I were at a pancake breakfast this weekend when one of the volunteers approached us and "How are you Mr. and Mrs. Brown.  We made some small talk before she moved on to another table. I looked at my wife and asked "who was that?" My wife shrugged her shoulders and replied "I don't know." 

My wife was an attorney for many years and now works for The United Way. She did and still does come into contact with a LOT of people and she is generally very good about remembering them. So, we figured it was someone we knew from soccer. Well, I have coached for many a year and conduct summer camps, coaching clinics and have been a director of coaching and or goalkeeping to boot. I'm not always so good about remembering names of parents. So, we figured it was likely someone we knew from soccer?

We ended up asking one of the volunteers co-workers whom we did know for her name. Turns out she was the mother of two (now) young men who I coached a few years ago. And our eldest son had even dated her daughter once or twice. Oh my!  And to top it all off, the last time I remember "talking" with her was after a high school game about a decade ago.  Well, she was actually yelling at me most of that time.  And that is what really prompted this writing today.

It was the summer before Jordan's senior season of high school soccer. He was in-line to be the goalkeeper and was being looked upon to be a senior leader for what would be a fairly young team. As I look back now, I realize this is one of the first times I used the word "entitled" in relation to an athlete. Jordan rarely showed for off-season summer activities. When practice officially started he was woefully out of shape.  Yet, he fully expected to be the starting goalkeeper and acted that way. His effort level left something to be desired those first few days of practice.

Meanwhile, there was a sophomore and a freshman also interested in the position.  The sophomore, Alex, was in excellent shape and a natural athlete. He was also our best field player.  Brad, the freshman carried a lot of baby fat but it was evident once he grew into his body he was going to be a good athlete.

We played both Jordan and Alex in the first couple of scrimmages and it quickly became evident to everyone Alex was far and away the best goalkeeping candidate on the team. Eventually the decision was made to start Alex and the team went on to a very good season.

Throughout the season both Brad and Jordan worked as goalkeepers. Every team needs a back up goalkeeper, right?  Well, Brad lost quiet a bit of baby fat throughout the season and began to become a chiseled athlete. He was motivated in part by the looming basketball season. At 6'3"ish and now a svelte 210 pounds Brad was pretty imposing for a freshman.  Jordan, to his credit worked hard, lost weight and improved his conditioning throughout the season as well. It's just that he was so far behind when practices officially begun that he couldn't catch up to Alex, or even Brad. He was the third string goalkeeper in the coaches eyes.

The confrontation addressed in the beginning of this article occurred late in the season. It was a last gasp attempt by a parent on behalf of her son. It was difficult for her to understand that her son had squandered away his opportunity during the off-season. Like her son, her focus was on the fact that once the season officially began Jordan was in attendance and did everything asked of him. There was little appreciation that this was too little too late. He had been outworked during the off-season and began the start of official practices already behind.

Jordan devoted a lot of time to church, work and playing in a newly formed band. There might have been 4H and county fair in there as well. All of these are admirable and worthy endeavors. I find no fault with any of them.  Jordan had choices to make and he did. He prioritized these other activities over soccer and that is also perfectly fine. On the other hand he couldn't find 2 - 4 hours a week to attend open fields. He missed camp time.  All the while Alex and Brad were present at off-season soccer activities and working hard in his absence. They both received opportunities that had Jordan been present they likely would not have received.  Maybe, Jordan thought as a senior he had a big enough lead on the underclassmen that he couldn't or at least wouldn't be caught from behind in the race to be the teams goalkeeper?

The days before and after the confrontation with his mother Jordan was visibly upset. His senior soccer season not at all what he had expected it to be. I remember having a famous quote running through my mind during that time. I did not share it with Jordan because emotions were too raw. I sincerely hope he learned this through the experience.

If you don't fight for what you want, 

you forfeit your right to cry over what you have lost.

Tough words, those. You, as the reader, may even think they are a bit harsh.  What they are is true.  And sometimes the truth hurts.  We can rarely have everything we want. Choices must be made. And what we ultimately end up with is what we devote our energy towards getting. Quality matters as well. Spread yourself thin and you might get a little of many things but be unsatisfied with the lot of it.. Devote yourself to a select few things and you might just get what you most wanted but miss out on some other things. Either way you will get a quality of experience equitable with the amount of effort put into obtaining it.

For me, I often tell a story about how Alex ascended as a soccer player and a person.  He really blossomed. I saw Brad on a fairly regular basis for a few years and enjoyed a good relationship there. Jordan I have not seen since that soccer season. And obviously his mother had faded from memory as well. I am very grateful our brief meeting this weekend was cordial and even friendly.  It prompted this writing and came at a time when I have been contemplating how to make some of these points to my current team. Thank God. He always seems to deliver moments like these when needed. I am Blessed. Who was that?  I believe it was God speaking through Luann.  Thank you God.

Monday

Work. Harder or Smarter?

I have often said it is difficult to find fault with the quantity of effort a player gives. On any given day, players tend to give you the best effort they have that day.  The quality of that effort can be another matter.  As a coach, one of my primary responsibilities is to teach athletes how to give smarter or more efficient effort.

Work smarter not harder.

You will get out of something what you put into it.  Too many people equate this to quantity of work and believe the problem can be resolved by "doubling down" and working harder.  The truth of the matter might well be they need to work smarter.

"I love your effort!"

"What do you have to show for it?"

This is an exchange I will sometimes use to get a player to think about the quality of the effort they are giving.  We have all seen players who pursue the ball relentlessly. I have overheard coaches implore players to "be first to the ball!".  The objective is to beat opposing players to the ball.

The objective should be to win possession of the ball.

There is a difference between being first to the ball and winning (possession) of the ball.  This is where working smarter becomes more important than working harder. We do not want to lessen the effort given.  We want to improve the quality of the work being performed.

Think of it in terms of using a system of pull-ups and or levers to move a heavy object.  The work amount of work to be done doesn't change, but we can make the work being done easier or be more efficient in performing the work.

Matthew was a player who gave tremendous effort on the pitch. No one would dispute that, absolutely no one. One type play epitomized Matthew's style of play.  A ball rolling towards the touch line with Matthew and an opponent in hot pursuit.  Mathew arrived first to the ball!  His first touch played the ball out of bounds.  "Great effort, Matthew!  What do you have to show for it?"

I reviewed such plays with Matthew. We watched them on tape.  It took a few tries before Matthew began to understand that he had far too little to show for the amount of energy he was expending. Yes, he was first to the ball but his efforts resulted in the opposing team gaining possession of the
ball. Essentially a lot of effort given towards a lost cause.  Prompting Matthew towards a better, more efficient use of his effort / energy proved an exercise in patience as well. Eventually Matthew caught on to the idea that allowing the opposing player to "win" the ball if the likely result was the opponent was going to lose the ball out of bounds. This was a very foreign concept to a 17 year old who had been praised for many years for simply being first to the ball.  Once the objective changed to gaining possession of the ball Matthew became an even more productive player.