Archive for the ‘parents’ Category

Coaches: Limit Joystick Coaching

April 13, 2010

I first heard the term ‘Joystick Coaching’ a few years back. What a wonderfully descriptive term. As with video games, joystick coaches want to dictate and control the movement of all players on the field. Hence the term ‘joystick’. However, there is very little joy to be had by players when they are coached in this manner.

Joystick coaching has reaches epidemic proportions (and parents are just as guilty). Why is this happening?

  • Look at other popular youth sports such as football, baseball, and basketball. Football and baseball coaches are joystick experts. Even in basketball where the game is more fluid (like soccer) and, therefore, more difficult to control and manipulate, coaches still try their best to dictate the action. Since many soccer coaches come from these backgrounds, it is only natural that joystick coaching carries over into soccer.
  • We are a sports nation hung up on X’s and O’s. Joysticking is a natural by-product of this fascination. How many times do you see defenders standing in one spot because that is where the defenders were positioned on the dry-erase board?
  • Soccer is not an easy sport to learn. No matter how many times coaches tell young players to spread out and not play bunch-ball, they still do. As such, coaches feel compelled to ‘help’ position and move their players about.

Besides early player retirements, there are other consequences of this ‘helping’ behavior.

  • In a sport that is very fluid where the action happens so quickly, players must be able to think on their feet and solve or address problems immediately. However, the more players are told what to do, the less they will be able to think for themselves.
  • Players lose their sense of purpose. They are out there to play a game and try their best yet are constantly being told how to play.
  • Once one adult starts maneuvering players on the field, other adults feel empowered to do the same. Soon, players are being told how to play and where to stand by coaches, parents, and complete strangers. And often, the three groups are giving three completely different instructions. What is a player to do?

These are some simple tips that will help coaches curb the joystick epidemic and truly help players.

  • Lead by example. Limited joystick coaching during games as much as possible.
  • Set ground rules for your assistant coaches and parents. Explain the drawback of joystick coaching and having multiple adults ‘help’ players with conflicting instructions.
  • Rather than telling players what to do and where to play, ask them how and where they should be playing. Let them think of the answer and assist only if they don’t know the answer.

Coaches (and parents), leave your joysticks hooked up to your game consoles at home for use with FIFA ’10. If you don’t, you’ll be using the actual joystick much more since Saturday mornings will soon be free.

Coaches and Parents and Rhetorical Questions

April 2, 2010

If you are like me, you are guilty of having asked rhetorical questions such as these:

  • What were you thinking?
  • What kind of shot was that?
  • Don’t you know how to stop the ball?

Though these statements were posed in the form of a question, I never expected an answer. Although keeping my mouth shut would have been better, I justified that my rhetorical questions were slightly better than stating:

  • “That was a dumb move!”
  • “That was a terrible shot!”
  • “That was a lousy first-touch!”

Plus, how would I have responded if a player answered one of my questions with a sincere or snide remark?

For one such question, the kids usually had an answer. But the answer was usually a lie. The question was, “Who was that to?” I would ask that question when a player made a poor pass or when he/she simply kicked the ball up-field without looking up first to find a teammate. Typical answers were:

  • “Ryan!” who happened to be the teammate who somehow received the ball by pure chance.
  • “Adam!” who happened to be the nearest teammate in line with the pass even though in order for Adam to receive the ball, it would have had to pass through three defenders.

Rarely if ever were the answers truthful.

Solution

During practice, anytime a ball is passed, the player making the pass needs to call out the name of the teammate he/she is passing the ball to (loud enough so the receiver can hear his/her name). This tactic will address and solve a number of issues and problems:

  • First and foremost, it will eliminate the need to ask the question, “Who was that to?” The player will have answered the question before it was ever asked.
  • If the ball does not go to the intended receiver, the passer will know it without a coach or parent having to bring it to his/her attention. When older players make poor passes, ask them to state why it was a poor pass. For example, “I did not use the inside-of-the-foot” or “I did not look up” are good answers.
  • Speaking of looking up, in order to call out a player’s name, the passer has to look up. Too often, players play with their heads down, don’t see the whole field, and make poor passes.
  • Kickball, which is the act of teams kicking the ball up and down the field with no purpose, will diminish. Long balls will still be kicked, but they will be kicked to a teammate.

Over time, the rhetorical questions will lessen and play will improve dramatically.

MLS Strike Averted: Now Watch and Learn

March 21, 2010

Now that the Major League Soccer (MLS) season will start March 26, the U.S. men’s chances of doing well in the upcoming 2010 World Cup have dramatically improved. A number of U.S. national players play in the MLS. Any work stoppage and subsequent lack of playing time would have negatively impacted these players and the U.S. national team. Now I really can’t wait for the June 12 game against England.

Along with the women’s professional league (WPS) getting underway April 10, it is important for youth soccer players to watch and see professional players in action. Youth players who happen to live near a professional soccer team should be encouraged to attend a live match. If there is no professional team close by, players should watch a game on TV. A lot can be learned by watching professional players. In fact, watching any older team play, from high school on up, is an excellent learning opportunity for youth players. If youth players are only exposed to soccer at a peer level and coaches (no offense) who themselves have never played soccer, they will never know or see how soccer can and should be played.

One of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time was the, “I Want to be Like Mike” Gatorade campaign. Which child doesn’t want to be someone famous or someone they see as larger-than-life? Who doesn’t want to be a princess, a Marine, Julia Roberts, or Michael Jordan? By exposing youth players to professional soccer, they will soon start learning from and emulating Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan. In turn, they will improve as soccer players.

Besides encouraging and exposing youth players to professional soccer matches, the following activities will also get players more excited about soccer.

  • During practice, have the small-sides games between the FC Gold Pride and Atlanta Beat.
  • Give each player a nickname based on a name of a professional player who plays his/her position(s).
  • Name the team after an MLS or WPS team (Sky Blue is pretty cool).
  • Have a team party on June 12 when the U.S. men’s national team takes on and (fingers crossed) beats England. Should that happen, the win will become this generation’s do-you-remember-where-you-were sporting moment just like the ‘Miracle-On-Ice’ was my generation’s moment.

All Adults are Teachers

February 24, 2010

I recently attended a diversity program sponsored by the Oakland Teaching Fellows Program which is part of the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, CA. One of the speakers was a principal who stated that at his school, every adult was considered a teacher. Besides the paid teachers, he saw himself as a teacher. He also saw and expected the lunch and custodial staff to be teachers as well. As he stated, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

On the way home, I started thinking if this same philosophy is being followed by soccer teams and leagues across the U.S.? My answer was, “Yes, but …”

I think soccer has made great strides in the past 30 years.

  • The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) has taken huge strides in teaching coaches to be more positive in their dealings with young players.
  • Parents are more involved in their children’s activity than ever before. Players feel supported and loved by their soccer moms (and dads).
  • Despite the questionable calls that are directed toward referees by coaches and fans alike, referees are supported and respected much more than any at time in the past.

But there is certainly room for improvement.

I always found it amusing when my kids blamed the referee for their losses or accused the referee of cheating. After a while though, their comments soon became old and habitual. But where and from whom did they learn these excuses? When I coached and my team lost, was I blaming the referees for the loss? I don’t think I was. But I know I am like many coaches I see today. While most coaches will say at the end of a game that the referee had nothing to do with a loss, during the game, coaches will constantly question calls and voice their displeasure. So I guess my kids did learn this behavior from me.

Most parents are great. But I still see parents do inappropriate things.

  • Some parents coach their kids from the sidelines. These parents are usually saying one thing and the coach something else. This conflicts the player because who should the child listen to, the parent or the coach? This action also undermines the credibility and authority of a coach.
  • Some parents openly question the calls and competencies of referees, regardless of the referee’s age. Oftentimes, these actions exacerbate and validate frustrations that players may already have on the field.
  • Some parents engage in conversations with opposing players. Rarely are those conversations complimentary. Many times it is with players too young to know how to deal or cope with criticisms from adult strangers. This last action is inexcusable. I know most parents would not like it if their child was being criticized and questioned by the other team’s parents.

Soccer has definitely made great strides in teaching our children about sportsmanship, respecting the other team’s players, coaches, and fans, and even respecting the referees. But we certainly still have a long way to go, including yours truly. If all parents can assume a teaching role this season and accept the responsibilities that go with it, we will be teaching our children to be better players and people.

Player, Parents, and Coach Soccer Evaluations and Meetings

January 18, 2010

When my wife and I ask our kids how they are doing in school, the answer is always ‘great’. Fortunately, many of their teachers email us weekly progress reports which give us a clearer, more accurate picture of how they are really doing. However, nothing beats a parent/teacher conference, especially when our child is included.

One year, based on a parent’s suggestion, I decided to offer player/parent/coach meetings for the competitive U11 youth soccer team I was coaching. My only regret was that I did not do it earlier. It turned out to be very valuable for players and parents alike. To this day, I still get compliments from the parents who were part of that team.

First, I wrote individual evaluations for each player. This was followed up with a face-to-face meeting with each player and his parents. Below, I describe the process in more detail.

Evaluations

My recommendation is to do at least 2 evaluations each season, 3 if you are coaching a competitive team.

  • The first evaluation should take place 2-4 weeks after the first practice. By that time, a coach should have a fairly good idea of his/her players’ strengths and areas that need improving.
  • The second evaluation is optional for a house team but is very worthwhile for a competitive team. Mid-season is a great time to have this evaluation. The season is well under way and a coach should have a good idea of where his/her team stacks up against the competition and probably has a game plan in mind for the rest of the year. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions or bring up concerns that can still be addressed.
  • The final evaluation should take place just before the end of the season. A coach has seen how the players improved throughout the season and what needs to be worked on in the off-season. This is a great time for a coach to share his/her plans for the following year and to get a feel for what the players and parents have in mind as well.

Evaluation Format

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a non-profit organization founded at Stanford University that was created to transform the culture of youth sports to give all young athletes the opportunity for a positive, character-building experience. My home league requires that all coaches attend PCA’s “Double-Goal” session before the start of the season. This gives new and seasoned coaches tools to become more effective teachers and coaches.

One particular method that I really like and have incorporated into my evaluations and meetings is called the ‘Criticism Sandwich’. PCA recommends ‘sandwiching’ criticism (or corrections) with a compliment on both sides. The criticism is the meat, while the compliments are the bread.

My evaluations were an open-faced criticism sandwich. I first listed all the good qualities and traits a player possessed followed by a list of areas that needed improving. I always listed at least three good qualities and at least three areas needing improvement. I always had at least one assistant review my feedback not just to get his feedback but to make sure that nothing inappropriate was being said. Always make sure that the areas for improvement are attainable by that player.

Player/Parent/Coach Meeting

I prepared and conducted the meetings in the following manner:

  • I emailed my evaluation to each family before the meeting to give them time to review my feedback and come prepared with any questions.
  • I tried to have the meetings between tournament games. When that was not an option, I set aside a practice and had my assistant run a ‘fun’ practice while I was busy with the meetings (search my blog for fun alternative practice options).
    • Each meeting was no longer than 10 minutes.
    • I used the more traditional ‘criticism sandwich’ during these meeting. I went over the player’s strengths. That was followed by a discussion covering the areas that needed improving. This part was indeed a discussion (not a monologue) because I wanted the player and parents to agree, disagree, or ask questions. I always ended the meeting with lots of positive reinforcements and encouragement and I let the player know that I believed that he had what it took to become a better player.
    • If it was the second or third meeting, I always reviewed the previous improvement list to see how much progress he had made.
    • I always talked directly to the player and included the parents when I wanted to emphasize a particular point.

Yes, it will probably consume many, many hours of your time, especially writing the evaluations. If time is an issue, having only one round of meetings is better than none. This exercise turned out to be very worthwhile and rewarding for myself as well. I feel I became a much more positive coach as I started to use the criticism sandwich technique much more in practice and during games.

If you are not already doing player evaluations and having meetings with your players and parents, I hope you give it a try. I guarantee you that the parents will appreciate the effort.

Parents: Don’t Over-Promote your Child

October 21, 2009

Coaches, has this ever happened to you? An adult you’ve never seen before approaches you at practice, engages in small talk and then asks if you are looking for players. This adult then proceeds to tell you how good his son or daughter is, how they can play any position, etc.

When I coached, I had this happen to me several times. The first time it happened, I got really excited. I already started thinking where I was going to place this superstar. It turns out the place was not as good as advertised. In fact, the opposite was true. He was not very good and did not make the team. The second time this happened, I tempered my enthusiasm quite a bit. Good thing I did as the player’s abilities did not live up to the parents’ billing.

One definition of the word ‘bunk’ is: n. empty talk; nonsense. A new definition I have for the word ‘bunk’ is: v. over-promote and exaggerate one’s personal or another person’s true abilities.

For several reasons, I strongly recommend that parents don’t engage in this type of conversation with a coach.

  • Most parents are unable to objectively evaluate their child’s athletic ability. In all likelihood, your son is not going to be the next David Beckham.
  • An inexperienced coach is expecting the next David Beckham. When David Beckham does not show up, the let-down will be greater given the unfulfilled high expectations. You always want the coach to be pleasantly surprised, not disappointed.
  • As a coach, I may now be concerned that I will have to deal with a parent who may not be satisfied unless his son is seen as the superstar and plays a big part on the team. Do I really want to deal with this potential headache?

My advice is to always let your child’s playing ability do the talking. Don’t set any unrealistic expectations or unattainable benchmarks for your child. Simply tell a coach you have a child who you would like him or her to evaluate. That should be it.

Don’t bunk!

Parents: Do Not Reinforce Poor Play

October 5, 2009

As a coach, referee, and fan, I am always surprised to hear some of the things that can come out of parents’ mouths during games. So much so, that there will multiple posts devoted to soccer parents. Don’t get me wrong. A vast majority of parents are very encouraging and well-behaved during games. In addition, I recognize that I am no saint. I have not always been the ideal coach or fan. And if you ask my youngest, he would say that I’m a bad soccer parent because I will tell him to hustle and on occasion ‘coach’ him just a bit. However, I know I am getting better so I do feel like a can share my thoughts with you without being considered too big of a hypocrite.

As a coach and as someone who wants to improve soccer in the United States, there is nothing that drives me crazier than parents reinforcing poor play. The biggest example of this is the long ball.

U.S. parents are obsessed with the long ball. When a player kicks the ball 40-50 yards down field, you will hear a chorus of ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaaahs’ coming from the sidelines. It does not matter where the ball goes. The player will still get lauded for his/her ‘tremendous’ kick. Naturally, players hear and like this reaction. So any opportunity they get …. BOOM! … there goes the ball accompanied by the parents’ approval.

What parents are reinforcing is a type of soccer called ‘kick ball’. In kick ball, players just kick the ball as hard as they can. It may go in the right direction–towards the opponent’s goal–but rarely will it go to one of the player’s teammates. If you get both teams playing like this, it by no means ‘a beautiful game’.

Soccer is all about the first-touch and ball control. The better first-touch (on the ball) a player has and the more control he/she has over the ball, the better the player, the better the team, and the more beautiful the game becomes.

So what can parents do? A lot. But for the purpose of this post, reinforce a good first touch and good ball control. Ooh and aah when a player makes a good stop. Do the same when a player makes a good pass to a teammate. When a team starts to string together several nice passes in a row, start an ‘ole!’ cheer after each pass, as bullfighting spectators do when the matador eludes a bull’s charge. This will get the players’ attention.

Remember, the first-touch and ball control are skills that take a long time to develop and can never be mastered. David Beckham and Cristiano Renaldo will be the first to tell you that their first-touch and ball control can be better. Anything that parents can do to encourage this behavior, the better.

It is still OK to ooh and aah the long ball if it is done with purpose and precision. A 30-yard shot on goal is worthy of such recognition. So, too, are long punts that result in a scoring opportunity.


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