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.

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.

Making Players More Vocal

March 26, 2010

As a child and teenager, I was painfully shy and quiet. That is except on the soccer field. While living in Norway, my sister said she could hear me from a half-mile away. One year in Salt Lake City I won the most-talkative award and received a set of chatter teeth. From a vocal standpoint, especially at a youth level, I was definitely the exception–not the rule.

I’ve been asked by a number of people how to get young soccer players to be more vocal. This can be tough because it usually comes down to personalities. Some kids are simply quieter than others. On the other hand, some players can be vocal in a negative or undesirable manner.

Below are some suggestions on how to get players to be more vocal.

  • Start slowly by promoting positive comments. Some examples are, “Great shot, nice pass, and good hustle”. Get players to compliment each other.
  • Stress that communication can be non-verbal. Gesturing with the hands that you want the ball is a great start. Making eye contact with teammates is also important. Stress that non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. What is great about non-verbal communication is that in order for it to work, players, especially those with the ball, need to play with their head up.
  • As a coach, play in scrimmages with your players and set a good example. Call for the ball and let players know if a defender is approaching. Make sure to communicate loud enough so everyone can hear. Use teaching moments to point out to the team when communication would have been helpful. Exaggerate your non-verbal communications. Run to the player with the ball when you want to receive a pass. Point to the spot where you want the ball passed. Wink to acknowledge a good play.
  • Pull the offending player aside when you hear poor or improper communication. Blaming or getting upset at others for mistakes should never be tolerated.
  • Reward players for good communication. At the beginning of the season, stock up on tiny chattering teeth. (If the entire league wants to promote good communication, each set costs $0.60 – $0.70. Stickers could be a cheaper alternative.) When a player exhibits good communication, recognize it with a set of teeth. You will see how quickly other players will follow suit so that they too can get some teeth. At the end of the season, recognize the best communicator with a large set teeth. They will remember it forever.

Cheating Referees

March 23, 2010

I doubt the following dialogue has ever happened. But if you hear the comments of many young players at the end of games which they have lost, they would tell you that it was possible. After all, it was the cheating referees who contributed to or resulted in the loss.

The dialogue protagonists:

  • Referee (Ref).
  • Assistant Referee 1 (AR1).
  • Assistant Referee 2 (AR2).

The referee meets the two ARs behind the goal.

Ref: Welcome gentlemen. I’m looking forward to refereeing with you guys again.

AR1: Same here. Which team is it going to be this time?

Ref: Well, see that player over there (referee points to #9 on the green team). He looked at me funny the last time I refereed his game.

AR2: I know his coach. I don’t like the coach’s daughter.

AR1: That’s Lisa’s Dad? Yeah, I don’t like her either. She won’t go out with me. She said I lacked character.

Ref: What does she know? Well then, it sounds like we have our team. You guys know the procedure.

AR2: Yes, I will ignore all offside calls for the other team. However, anything close to an offside against the green team, I will raise my flag.

AR1: Same here. I will also make favorable throw-in, corner, and goal kick calls every chance I get for the other team.

Ref: Perfect! Don’t worry about helping me with the fouls. As usual, I will make every possible call against the green that I can. Then if I hear one word from either a player or coach, you can bet I will pull out my yellow card. If I get a chance, I’ll see if I can pull out a few red cards as well.

AR1 and AR2 (in unison): Sounds like a plan.

Ref: Let’s go out and have a good game, fellows!

Sure referees make bad calls. And some referees make more bad calls than others. And as a player and coach, this can be really frustrating. When I was young, I was terrible to referees when a call did not go my way. I’m sure many of them wanted to pull a Homer Simpson and wring my neck. But mistakes are part of the game and part of being human.

Do referees cheat? This would imply that referees deliberately make bad calls. It would also imply that the above dialogue was indeed plausible. The answer is highly unlikely. As a coach, it is important to let your players know that their accusations and beliefs are incorrect, no matter how frustrated or upset you may be. After all, it is just a game.

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.

Spring Forward and Prosper

March 18, 2010

I hope everyone made it to school or work on time this past Monday. The start of Daylight Savings is my most anticipated weekend of the year. Losing that extra hour of sleep in exchange for the seven or eight months of additional evening sunlight is more than a fair trade-off. For me, it has always marked the time during soccer season when practices become more enjoyable. The extra hour of sunlight makes scheduling and attending practices much easier. Plus, Spring is just around the corner.

I was at my son’s practice the other day and was asked to play in goal during a small-sided game with large goals. One thing I noticed when I tried distributing the ball to my teammates was that many of them were not ‘springing forward’ to receiving the ball. In soccer, it is critical to constantly move without (or off) the ball. If it is the player’s desire to receive the ball, he/she must always look for and move into open space.

Oftentimes, the open space can be where the player is currently standing. When this is the case, standing there is not enough. In this instance, a player should also move toward the player with the ball. In honor of daylight savings, a player should ‘spring forward’ to that player.

Springing forward serves two main purposes:

  1. Moving toward the player with the ball indicates to the passer that you are making yourself available for the ball and that you are open. This visual cue will catch the passer’s attention and will result in a greater chance of receiving a pass.
  2. Springing forward will significantly reduce the chance of a defender stepping in front of the pass and taking the ball away. In American football, it is the equivalent of a receiver needing to step towards the quarterback’s throw. When this is not done, a cornerback can easily step in front of the pass for an interception.

As the goalie during practice, there were a few things I did to get the players to move toward me.

  1. I made eye contact with my teammates and gestured with my hands to have them spring forward into the open space.
  2. I verbally asked them to “check in”.
  3. I rewarded good behavior by passing the ball to the players checking in.
  4. I held onto the ball as long as possible giving players ample opportunity to check in. Only when an attacker was about to take the ball away from me did I make a pass to the outlet player.

I really like descriptive expressions and clever mnemonic devices. ‘Spring Forward’ certainly qualifies as one. There is no mistaking in which direction to move the clocks in March. In soccer, this expression also paints a pretty descriptive picture is terms of how players should move when the open space is directly in from of them. ‘Spring Forward’ and prosper!

Team Websites: WePlay.com

March 16, 2010

How did coaches and team parents manage 20 or 30 years ago without email and the Internet? How did they communicate directions, schedules, games, and rain outs? Either there was less communication or there were many more phone calls being made. Somehow my parents’ generation got it done. Kudos!

Email and the Internet have certainly made team administration much easier. Today, there are a host of options available to coaches, team parents, and leagues to make management and administration almost effortless. Given the huge percentage of the population now online, it no longer makes sense not to use these services.

I will start reviewing team websites. WePlay is up first.

At first glance, WePlay is your standard team site. However, upon closer examination, it is much more.

  • WePlay offers the standard modules such as teams, rosters, schedules/calendars, photo and video uploads, email notifications, and document uploads.
  • A nice feature gives parents the ability to set up and manage children’s accounts.
  • The calendar module needs some work: there is no export feature to personal calendars and the dates and times have to be typed in since there is no calendar or time graphical interface.

However, WePlay distinguishes itself from other services in three main areas:  cost, partnerships, and community.

  • Cost–WePlay is 100% free.
  • Partnerships–WePlay has an impressive list of professional athletes and partner organizations on their team. A partial list includes Brandi Chastain, Payton Manning, LeBron James, and the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA).
  • Community–According to Drew Shamrock, a member of the WePlay marketing team, WePlay, “is more interested in building a thriving youth sports community, not just another place for a team to upload their schedule and roster.” Some of the community features include:
    • The ability to connect with favorite professional athletes.
    • Access to soccer drills.
    • A soccer hub which includes a ‘coach-of-the-week’ feature and other soccer-related information.
    • Giving and receiving ‘props’ for a job well done.
    • An answer page where visitors can get answers to youth sports questions from other parents, coaches, and players.
    • Online games.

Coaches and parents, let me know which sites and services you use. If there is a company offering such services, let me know if you would like a review.

Players: Be Vocal at Tryouts

March 13, 2010

I was at a U12 tryout the other day and thought for a moment I was in a movie theater watching a 2-star movie. Other than hearing the coach’s instructions, it was very, very quiet. Granted most U12 boys and girls are relatively quiet on the soccer field and they don’t like bringing attention upon themselves. Also when kids are nervous, they tend to clam up. However, the best thing a player can do to improve his/her chances of making a team is to be vocal and communicative.

What players and coaches at all levels need to understand is that soccer is as much about communication as other traditional aspects of the game, if not more. Refer to my other posts entitled, “2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Communication” and “Four Eyes Are Better than Two” that describe terms, benefits, and the importance of communication.

When I evaluate players, as soon as I hear a player who is consistently communicating effectively with his/her teammates, I will rank that player higher even if he/she is not one of the top players. That is how important I believe communication is in soccer.

There are other reasons why I like to have vocal players on my team.

  • More often than not, vocal players understand a lot about the game of soccer. They are usually students of the game. I believe it is easier to teach technical skills to knowledgeable players than it is to teach great athletes the finer points of the game.
  • During the game, the more talking and communicating that takes place on the field between players, the less talking coaches (and parents) will feel compelled to do.
  • Vocal players tend to be more congratulatory which will foster good sportsmanship and more team cohesiveness.

On the other hand, the wrong type of communication can have negative consequences.

  • Don’t voice or show displeasure if you did not receive a pass when you were wide open. The coaches will know that you were open and will see your displeasure.
  • Don’t yell or scream for the ball. An assertive, “I’m open” should be enough to get a player’s and coach’s attention.
  • Just don’t “talk-the-talk”. Make sure to “walk-the-walk”. No one likes a verbose player (talk-the-talk) and that does not back up his/her words with actions (walk-the-walk).

Players! At your next tryout make yourself heard, even if it is only to say, “Good job!” to a teammate. If you do, your vocals will be noticed and appreciated and you will most likely hear Simon Cowell say, “Welcome to Hollywood!”

Pre- and Post-Game Sportsmanship Rituals

March 11, 2010

When I played in West Germany as a first, second, and third grader, I was chosen to be a captain one year. At the time, there was a tradition that both teams followed before and after each game. Before the game:

  1. The home and away captains, followed by the respective starting goalies and then the rest of the players (no coaches) walked to the center of the field separated by the half-way line.
  2. When the team captains reached the center of the field, the teams stopped and faced each other.
  3. Then the home captain said the following cheer, “Wir begrüßen unsere Gegner mit einem dreifachen Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra”. Translated, the captain declared, “We welcome our opponents with three cheers.” Then the whole team got involved. The captain said, “Hip-hip” and the rest of the team responded with, “Hoo-rah” in unison. This was done three times.
  4. Then the opposing captain and team repeated the same cheer.

After the game, the teams again lined up across from each other. The captains and teams took turns declaring, “Wir bedanken uns bei unseren Gegnern mit einem dreifachen Hip Hip …. Hurra,  Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra”. Translated: “We thank our opponents with three cheers … hip-hip, hoo-rah … hip-hip, hoo-rah … hip-hip … hoo-rah”.

I think it is fantastic that many teams engage in a ceremonial handshake at the end of games. It teaches players good sportsmanship. It also allows players and teams to put aside disagreements or hard feelings that may have percolated during the game. It is important to learn to leave these feelings on the field.

I also love what professional teams do before a game. Players walk onto the field hand-in-hand with youth soccer players. Both teams face and salute the crowd. Then one team moves down the line, first shaking the hands of the referees followed by the hands of the opponents. Once the first team is done, the opponents shake the hands of the referees.

I strongly encourage leagues to formally adopt some sort of pre- and post-game ritual.

  • It should be done for all games, regardless if it is a scrimmage or a state championship game.
  • It sets the right tone for the game as well as after the game.
  • It gives the players an opportunity to acknowledge parents and fans (and vice versa).
  • It teaches players good sportsmanship.
  • The ‘pomp and circumstance’ makes the games more meaningful and memorable.

Are there other pre- and post-game rituals that leagues engage in? Readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear about them.


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