Archive for the ‘players’ Category

When a Goal is not a Good Goal

May 16, 2010

There is something special and exciting about kicking the ball into the back of the net. A goal feels more meaningful. It is just not the same when a goal is scored with no net or when cones are used instead of goals. A goal without a net is the same as draining a three-pointer without a basketball net or hitting a home run without the ball flying over a fence. It is simply not the same.

However, players should realize that hitting the back of the net is often not good enough. What is more important is what part of the net the ball hits. In real estate, the three most important words are, “location, location, location”. The same is true of goals.

Take a look at the diagram below. If a goalkeeper knows how to dive properly, the yellow area represents the goal area that he/she can easily save. A goalkeeper’s height and how far a goalkeeper plays off the goal line will also impact how much area a goalkeeper can cover.

There are four areas off the goal that are difficult for a goalkeeper to reach: the two top triangles (red) and the bottom two triangles (green). As I wrote in the article entitled, “2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Penalty Kicks“, a player should always attempt to shoot the ball in the two lower corners. The reasons are:

  • It is very hard for a goalkeeper to get to the ground quickly to save the kick.
  • If a player shoots low, the ball will never go over the goal. When shooting for the upper corners, there is a good chance the ball will go over the goal.

To help emphasize the bottom corners and reinforce effective shots, a coach should augment a regular goal with either small pop-up goals or cones/discs. My suggestion is to use discs since a series of well-placed, hard shots will quickly destroy the pop-up goals. With the cones in place (see same diagram), instruct the players to aim their shots between the cone and the post. Even the best goalkeepers in the world will have a tough time reaching these well-placed shots.

I have several tips for coaches to help give their players an incentive to shoot for the lower corners:

  • Award points for well-placed shots (and deduct points for poor shots):
    • 5 points for a goal shot between the cone and post with the weaker foot (4 points with the dominant foot).
    • 2 points for a goal not between the cone and post with the weaker foot (1 point with the dominant foot).
    • 1 point for a missed goal shot lower than the goalkeeper’s hips with the weaker foot (0 points with the dominant foot).
    • 0 points for a missed goal shot higher than a goalkeeper’s hips but lower than the crossbar with the weaker foot (-1 points with the dominant foot).
    • -2 points for a missed goal is shot higher than the crossbar with the weaker foot (-3 points with the dominant foot).
  • Shagging
    • When a shot misses a goal, players should always shag (or retrieve) their ball. When the player returns, he/she should go to the back of the line and not the earlier position in line.
    • If a player has kicked the ball over the crossbar twice, you now have a player to help clean up after practice.

I strongly suggest that coaches add cones to shooting exercises. The better the shots are placed in practice, the more goals your players will score in games.

Want to Get Noticed at a Tryout? Try a Bicycle Kick

May 13, 2010

I’ve written several articles on tryouts: one for coaches entitled, “The Worst Part of Coaching” and one for players entitled, “Be More Vocal at Tryouts”. The most important thing a player has to do at a tryout is to get noticed, preferably for a positive action. Being a good player certainly helps and being vocal will draw attention to yourself. The other way to get noticed is to attempt a bicycle kick.

I say bicycle kick because it is one of the most recognizable, beautiful and yet most difficult moves in soccer. Any time I see a player attempt a bicycle kick, it tells me the players is:

  • Knowledgeable about the game of soccer
  • Creative
  • Confident

In addition to a bicycle kick, these actions will also get a player the attention he/she needs to stand out from other players:

  • Communication
  • An excellent and unselfish assist
  • A beautiful goal
  • Great dribbling moves
  • Crisp, well-positioned passes on the ground.
  • Comfortable with both feet
  • Long throw-ins

Conversely, attempting a bicycle kick or any other move when it is not necessary (for example, a defender performs a bicycle kick in his/her defensive third just to be cute) can have the opposite effect. It can get a player noticed for the wrong reason.

Before a tryout, ask yourself (and ask the advice of other coaches and parents) and write down your strengths (initiative should be a strength since you are taking the time to think about your strengths). With your list in hand, try to apply and demonstrate these strengths at every opportunity you have during the tryout. But don’t force these strengths–strengths should come naturally.

Actually, I lied. The most important thing a player has to do at a tryout is to enjoy the experience and have fun! Good luck!

Responding to an Embarrassing Loss: Learn from the San Jose Sharks

May 9, 2010

The San Jose Sharks are half way towards winning their first Stanley Cup title. They just disposed of their long-time rival, the Detroit Red Wings, 4 games to 1. I have to pat myself on the back just a bit. I predicted the Sharks would win the title in an earlier article entitled, “Responding to an Own Goal: Learn from Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks“. After scoring the strangest and flukiest own goals I have ever seen to lose a game in OT, the Sharks won the next three games to eliminate the Colorado Avalanche from the playoffs.

The Sharks’ latest feat was how they responded after losing the fourth game of the Red Wing series by the lopsided score of 7 – 1. They did exactly what all good teams should do. They forgot about that game and moved on.

If you are a player playing on a good time, you will undoubtedly play in a game in which the opposition is on fire and your team simply is not playing well. It will happen and the final score will be embarrassing. So what? You and your teammates should simply move on. You must know and believe that you are better than that final score.

Naturally, this is easier said than done. In my younger days, I hated losing, especially when I felt we were the better team. But losing a game by the score of 2 – 1 was always harder to deal with than getting blown out. In close losses, I would often dwell on one or two plays that I had I performed my job better, I felt the outcome of the game would have been different (i.e., a missed penalty or missed field goal). I still remember those close losses to this day.

On the other hand, when my team was blown out, those losses were much easier to deal with. You realize that no matter what you or your teammates did in that game, nothing was going to help change the outcome. Therefore, there was no point dwelling on the game. All you can really do is come out next time and prove that the last game was a fluke.

Sharks, keep up the good work. Along with millions of Sharks’ fans, I’m looking forward to that Stanley Cup parade in June. However, make sure to win the Cup before the start of the World Cup. Thanks.

Simple Tips that will Significantly Impact Games

May 3, 2010

As I approach my one-hundredth post, I have learned the following:

  • Gore sells. Besides the home page, my most popular post was the one about Aaron Ramsey’s broken leg.
  • Initially, I thought I only had ideas for 25 or 30 posts. I now know I have what seems like an endless supply of material to write about.
  • My content must be OK as Soccer America has reprinted five articles to date and Potomac Soccer Wire reprints one of my posts weekly.
  • I have learned that most soccer blogs cover professional games, leagues, and players. Very few blogs are dedicated to improving youth soccer for an audience of youth coaches, players, and parents.

The other day I was looking at the page hits and noticed that a set of very valuable articles I wrote early on has not gotten the love or attention I feel they deserve. I have written 20 articles that start with the title, “2-3 Goal Difference per Game”. These were written primarily for coaches who tend to over-coach, place too much importance on the X’s and O’s, and don’t let their players go out and have fun and make mistakes.

Soccer, especially at the youth level, should be about free play and only a few coaches’ instructions during games. These articles include simple coaching tips that should be easy for players to understand and learn quickly. These tips will dramatically affect the outcome of a game. While player development, and not winning, should be a youth coach’s ultimate goal, increasing a team’s chances of winning without compromising development and fun is not a bad thing either.

You will find the subject matter and respective links to the 20 articles below. Enjoy!

Don’t Retaliate

April 28, 2010

A funny incident happened to my daughter this year during her high school season that illustrates retaliation perfectly. My daughter entered a game early in the second half and before her teammate had a chance to restart the game with a throw-in, my daughter:

  • Received a yellow card,
  • Was almost shown a red card, and
  • Found herself back on the bench.

The incident unfolded as follows:

  1. As she entered the game and positioned herself for the throw-in, an opponent pinched her on her hip.
  2. Not one to take kindly to this sort of action, my daughter reciprocated with an elbow to the pincher’s mid-section.
  3. Seeing only the elbow, the referee showed my daughter a yellow card and pointed to the bench (in our high school league, all yellow card recipients require to be substituted).
  4. As she neared the bench, her coach asked her why she did what she did. She answered by showing him the pinch mark and made sure that everyone in the stands knew that she had been pinched.
  5. Upon seeing the mark, the coach had her return to the field to show the referee the evidence.
  6. As she neared him, the referee asked, “If she would like a red card as well?”
  7. Without responding, my daughter returned to the bench to accept her punishment. Fortunately, she went back in after the next dead ball. There were no further retributions or flare-ups.

I feel the referee was perfectly justified in giving my daughter the yellow card because a referee can only call and punish actions or infractions that he/she sees. Even though he probably guessed something had happened to my daughter to cause her to react like she did, he should not have shown the other girl a yellow card since he did not see the pinch occur. All he could do was keep a closer eye on the pincher and be quick to call a foul if he witnessed anything.

I gave my daughter the following advice should she be involved in another similar incident in the future:

  • Raise your voice to get the referee’s attention. Something like, “Ouch! You can’t pinch me like that!” would have done the trick.
  • Display the evidence to the player and make sure the referee sees it as well. If possible, go to the referee and show him/her the evidence up close.
  • Be polite when showing the referee any evidence. If he/she does not want to see it, that’s fine. The purpose, which was to let the referee know that a particular player caused you pain, was achieved.
  • Don’t retaliate. Opponents, especially older ones, play mind games. Their intention is to get the opponent off his/her game. This type of gamesmanship is part of soccer as well as most other sports. It is something that players need to understand and expect.

Retaliation is never the answer. While it is not fair, the referee will always see the retaliator’s reaction and not the perpetrator’s action. React and you will almost certainly be carded and possibly end up back on the bench without ever playing a minute of a game.

Responding to an Own Goal: Learn from Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks

April 21, 2010

I’ve been a San Jose Sharks hockey fan ever since the franchise was first established in 1991. For the last several years I have had to endure early-round exits from the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Sharks were often the better team. It looked like the same fate would befall the Sharks this season as well when in Game 3 against the Colorado Avalanche, Dan Boyle inadvertently shot the puck into his own net in OT after having outshot Colorado 51 – 16 in three scoreless regulation periods. Have a look for yourself.

Granted replays showed that a Colorado player did actually tip the puck when it was played by Boyle. But still, how were the Sharks, and in particular Boyle, going to respond after such a devastating goal and loss?

Before answering that question, own goals are a fact of life in soccer as well. I have been tracking goal scoring at the professional level for over three months and estimate that about 2% of all goals are own goals.

If you are a soccer player, I can guarantee you that you will score at least one own goal, and if you are a defender, many own goals in your career. If it has not happened yet, it will. When it happens, these are some ways I recommend players should react and not react:

  • Laugh about it. You know your teammates are going to tease you about it after the game anyway. You might as well get it started.
  • Forget about it. An own goal is simply a mistake. In any game, 100s of mistakes are made and rarely does anyone dwell on them during a game. Move on.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. What’s done is done. The milk has already been spilled. Pick yourself up, laugh about it, and then forget about it.
  • Don’t become a player you are not. The tendency after an own goal is to try too hard to make up for the miscue. Don’t! Usually when you try too hard, you will make more mistakes. Just continue to play your game.

Back to the Sharks. It turns out that Boyle and the Sharks responded very well to the own goal. Boyle scored 1:12 into the first period and the Sharks won 2-1 in OT and evened the series 2-2.

My prediction is that the Sharks go on to win the series, win the Western Conference, and win their first Stanley Cup. If they do, they will have Boyle’s own goal to thank.

Reputations: Easy to Gain, Difficult to Change

April 18, 2010

“Well, your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation.
Aww, she never cared for me,
But did she ever say a prayer for me?

– Billy Joel, “Only the Good Die Young”

If Virginia’s mom (Virginia is the main protagonist in Billy Joel’s song) was talking about Virginia’s soccer reputation, she would have been wrong. Whether it is Virginia’s soccer reputation or yours, only you are responsible for the reputation you have earned on the field. No one else is responsible; and certainly not the young man whose words are being sung.

The same is true for coaches, teams, parents, fans, and leagues. Reputations are earned. They also precede you. Once a reputation has been established, it is difficult to change.

One area where reputations play a part, rightfully or not, is with referees. When I referee, I try to go into a game with as clear and unbiased a mind as possible. But I also like to go into each game prepared. I’ll ask fellow referees for background information on the two teams and particular players. I’ll try to find out the scores of the previous games played between the two teams. I’ll access the play and the behavior of the players before the game.

In addition, the more I referee, the more personal information I have gathered and use for upcoming games. I know who the better players are and which players are physical and sometimes overly-physical. I know whether a coach is going to question all my calls and I know if the parents and fans are knowledgeable or not. I try not to let these reputations affect my calls, but I am only human.

The beginning of a new season is a great time to work on one’s reputation. With each new season, there is usually enough turnover and enough time has lapsed, making it possible for everyone to start with a relatively clean slate. So, Virginia, if you feel like you or your soccer team has an unwarranted or unjust reputation, now is the perfect time to change it.

Size Does Not Matter

April 6, 2010
What do Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona and Brazil’s Pele have in common besides being international superstars and most likely in the Top 10 list of all-time soccer greats? They are all short.
  • Messi is 5′ 6.5″
  • Maradona is 5′ 5″
  • Pele is 5′ 8″

I hate it when I hear coaches place so much emphasis on size and height. Emphasis on speed I can understand. I also think height is important for a goalie. But to dismiss or overlook a player because of his/her physical stature is a huge mistake. Size does not matter!

Over the years, I have found many reasons why size is not important:

  • Shorter players have a lower center of gravity, making it much easier to dribble, make fakes and feints, and change direction.
  • Never underestimate the toughness of a short player. These players are usually tougher and more physical than taller players.
  • Before the age of 14 or 15, headers play a very insignificant part in a soccer game. Being able to out-jump someone for a header is of little value.

Regarding headers; height does help; no doubt about it. But so, too, do timing and jumping ability. Check out these amazing headers by the aforementioned superstars.

  • Messi’s 2009 UEFA Championship goal against Manchester City. Look how Messi reached back to head the ball.
  • Maradona’s ‘Hand-of-God’ goal in the 1986 World Cup against England. Though Maradona used his hand to score the goal (see images below), I’m still amazed when I look at the video. In real-time, it still looks like a legitimate header. Though it should not have counted, Maradona still had to get off the ground a good distance (the second picture shows how short Maradona is).

  • Pele’s goal in the 1970 World Cup Final against Italy. Look how high he got.

Remember coaches, just because soccer is called football throughout the world except in the United States, don’t place the same importance on size and height that American football coaches do. Otherwise, you may be overlooking the next Messi, or in my case, the next me.

Photo of the 1975 or 1976  Odd Grenland Ballklubb youth team. I was 9 or 10 at the time. Would I (red arrow) have been overlooked by many coaches today?

2010 Soccer MVP: Inside-of-the-Foot … Ease of Learning

March 31, 2010

Author’s Note: This post is the final in a series of posts that breaks down the 2010 Soccer MVP Tournament competition. Be sure to look at the final results to review how ‘Inside’ was crowned champion. What do you call this part of the foot? Please vote.

Of the six disciplines tested so far in the MVP (most valuable part) tournament–structure, receiving, dribbling, passing, shooting, popularity among professionals–‘Inside’ won five of them. The only discipline it did not win was the ‘Structure’ competition, although it did come in a close second.

One discipline remains–Easy of Learning. Given its importance, it would be nice if it was easy to learn to use the inside-of-the-foot. Unfortunately, that is not the case. For this discipline, ‘Inside’ tied for last. The winners were the bottom- and top-of-the-foot.

The main reason why ‘Bottom’ and ‘Top’ won this discipline has to do with the way humans walk. Most of us walk with our toes pointing (relatively) straight ahead. Thus, when a ball is passed to a player, it is very natural to simply lift the bottom-of-the-foot off the ground in order to receive it. Equally natural is to use the top-of-the-foot to pass and shoot the ball (although a young player will often use his/her toe when first starting to play soccer).

The story is very different for the insides- or outsides-of-the-feet. The reason once again has to do with the way humans walk. Receiving the ball with the inside-of-the-foot is not natural. To control the ball properly, the receiving foot needs to have the hip turned out slightly, the knee even more, and the ankle turned a full 90-degrees in relation to the ball. To pass or shoot the ball with the inside-of-the-foot is even more uncomfortable and unnatural. I’m guessing a ballerina would have an easy time learning and feeling comfortable using her ‘Inside’ but not a young player. Just like the inter-locking golf grip takes a while to get used to, so too does using the inside-of-the-foot. The same difficulty and uncomfortable feeling exists when using the outside-of-the-foot.

I hope you enjoyed the MVP series. All eight posts are meant to highlight the importance of the inside-of-the-foot in an unusual and hopefully memorable way. The more youth players I see with poor ball control and a weak first-touch, the more convinced I am that …

  • The inability to properly use the inside-of-the-foot, and
  • The lack of attention this part of the foot gets from coaches

… are the two biggest problems in youth soccer today. These issues are preventing players from reaching their full-playing potential.

I’ll conclude the series with one final thought. There is an old Chinese proverb that states, “Easy to Learn, Difficult to Master”. When I first started coaching, I thought I could apply this proverb to describe the process of learning to use the inside-of-the-foot. However, after having coached youth soccer for many years and seeing the difficulty many kids have with the inside-of-the-foot, the following expression is much more appropriate: “Difficult to Learn, Easy to Forget, Impossible to Master.”

2-4-6-8 Who Do We Appreciate?

March 29, 2010

Everyone knows the ‘2-4-6-8-Who-Do-We-Appreciate’ cheer that is performed at the end of most youth games. It is a great display of sportsmanship, especially when the cheering team has lost or is upset with the other team. It is important to let things go after a game. This cheer along with the shaking of hands or high-5’s is a good way of achieving this.

When I coached my kids’ teams, I always used this cheer at the end of games. I also used it at the end-of-the-year parties. However, at these parties, I had the players ‘appreciate’ the people who truly needed to be thanked–the parents.

As the last item on the agenda,

  • I gathered all the players around me.
  • I explained to them that they were going to do the cheer once last time. But this time, they were going to thank their parents or their guardians who took them to all the practices and games and who washed their dirty and smelly uniforms.
  • I told them that this had to be the best and most passionate cheer of the year.
  • Finally, I asked the players that at the end of the cheer, they go to the adults they thanked and give them a big hug and kiss.

If you are like me, I will take all the hugs and kisses I can get from my kids.


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