Archive for October, 2009

Four Eyes Are Better than Two

October 31, 2009

Whether they believe it or not, all soccer players have four eyes or two sets of eyes. Everyone knows about the front set. The other set happens to be in the back of the head. Coaches, I have found the following demonstration to be the best and most memorable way to illustrate this new set of eyes.

  1. Gather all players, assistants, and some parents and ask them all to sit in front of you.
  2. Select a volunteer player to stand behind you and with only one hand, have him/her hold up anywhere between one and five fingers. Make sure that everyone but you can see them. The one rule the volunteer must follow is once the fingers are held up, the player is not allowed to change the number. Make sure to exaggerate to all the players that you can’t see the fingers being held up (i.e., cup you hands to the sides of your eyes, make sure there is no shadow, etc). Put on a convincing show.
  3. Open up the set of eyes in the back of your head and tell everyone the correct number of fingers that are being held up. Enjoy the surprised and amazed looks on your players’ faces.
  4. Choose another player and follow the same steps. As you do this, start asking the players how you are doing this. Eventually they will catch on. How often you have to repeat this trick will most likely depend on the age of the players.

So how am I always guessing the correct number? It’s simple. Someone is gesturing the number to me. I have found that if my informant is either a parent or another player, the players will not catch on as quickly. Before the demonstration, pull aside a parent or player and come up with a set of inconspicuous hand signals that will give you the answers you need. Look at him/her when you are ready for the number. Since the first thing players will look for is someone displaying fingers, I usually designate a scratch of the head as #1 and an itch of the foot as #5. Choose other in-between body parts to represent numbers 2-4.

Once the players figure out or you tell them what is happening, ask the following questions:

  • Q: Why is it important to develop eyes in the back the head?
  • A: It is just as important to know what is happening behind you as it is to know what is happening in front of you
  • Q: How do you develop this set of eyes?
  • A: Peek over your shoulder (the player takes responsibility for developing his/her second set of eyes).
  • A: Have teammates communicate what is happening behind the player (the entire team becomes responsible for developing each others’ second set of eyes. As was written in another post entitled, “2-3 Goal Difference-per Game: Communication“, “man on” is a great way for teammates to let a player know that she must take the necessary precautions because a player is coming up from behind her.

There will be much more about communication in subsequent posts. I would love to hear if this demonstration works for you. Share it with the rest of us.


2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Smart Pass-Backs to the Goalie

October 25, 2009

I am all for involving the goalie as much as possible. In fact based on my previous post (Role of the Goalie) many say I involve the goalie too much. Given the extremes a goalie has to endure, from utter boredom to continuous onslaughts, and the unique pressure they face, goalies do a team a great service so they should be rewarded with more involvement.

I also believe that passing the ball back to the goalie is an important strategy. It is a great way to ‘switch the field’ and sometimes a defender has no other choice but to pass it back to the goalie or risk losing the ball. What I’m not a fan of is passing the ball back only to have the goalie kick the ball up-field with no purpose or plan. Yet many coaches promote this exact strategy.

However, since there are occasions when a passback is advisable and coaches are going to continue to employ this strategy, at least it should be done correctly. When passing the ball back to the goalie, direction and speed are critical.


Unless it is absolutely necessary, a ball should never be passed back that could potentially go into the goal. You never know what can happen. The goalie may slip, the goalie may not be expecting the pass, or the ball may take an awkward bounce. If any of these 3 scenarios should occur a passback will result in a goal (see red-shared area below).

The ideal passback should always be passed away from the goal (see the green, dashed lines below). In these cases, a pass will never directly result in a goal for the opposing team.


A goalie can help her own cause by pointing and commanding where the ball should be passed. Besides receiving the ball in a good location, this communication confirms that everyone is on the same page. If the goalie does not initiate this communication, the defender making the passback definitely should.


Speed is also important. A ball that is passed too hard, especially on goal, is more likely to be misplayed and result in a goal. At the very least, it will result in a corner. However, a ball that is passed too softly is likely to be just as disastrous. An attacking player could reach the ball first leaving only an out-of-position goalie to beat.

By all means, involve the goalie as much as possible. Just make sure it is done correctly.

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!

Coin Toss Alternatives

October 19, 2009

I came across an interesting newspaper article entitled, “Heads or Tails? It Depends on How You Flip It,” in the October 18, 2009 Sunday edition of the Contra Costa Times. The authors Jon Wilner and Mark Emmons reference a study conducted by Stanford and UC Santa Cruz researchers that claim that a coin toss may not be a 50-50 proposition if you know which side is facing up when the coin is tossed. The study claims that the probability of guessing correctly could be as high as 60%.

I can definitely see this hypothesis being correct but I’m guessing it would be more in the 52% – 54% range. That is assuming, of course, that the referee does not catch the coin and flips it over before revealing heads or tails.

This got me thinking about alternatives to coin tosses. Once I could not find a coin so I took a blade of grass and hid it in one of my hands behind my back. The player had to guess which hand the grass was in. And the other day, my son did not have a coin so he had the captains ‘row-sham-bow’ (rock-paper-scissor). The nine-year old boys seemed to enjoy that interaction.

The best alternative I’ve come across and have used on several occasions is the odd-even guess. This is how it works:

  • I put my watch on stop-watch mode and start the timer. The time displays to the nearest hundredths.
  • I show the captains what I’ve done and tell the captains who would normally call the coin toss to pick ‘odd’ or ‘even’.
  • After he/she chooses, I stop the watch and whatever the last digit is determines which team ‘won the toss.’

I know this goes against what FIFA would like the referees to do, but at least it is a 50-50 proposition … I think.

Penalty Kicks Decide U20 World Cup

October 16, 2009

Congratulations Ghana! To beat powerhouse Brazil playing a majority of the game down 1 man … well deserved. With Ghana having qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, July 2010 can’t come soon enough for the entire African continent.

The game came down to penalties. Brazil had an opportunity to win but could not convert when it counted. The result of this game reinforces an earlier post about penalties. They have to be kicked on the ground, with decent force, and hit the side netting. Otherwise, a player and team is asking for trouble.

I have embedded a video clip below and below it, I have added my commentary along with the time the kicks appear in the video and a score for each kick. There is no video with all the kicks but the video I have shows all the misses.

Alan Kardec (Brazil)
Best Brazilian penalty in the shootout … hard, on the ground, and hit the side netting. The goalie guessed correctly but never could have saved the kick (Score–10).

Ayew (Ghana)
The kick was high. The Brazilian goalie guessed correctly and actually got his fingers on the ball. Because kicking the ball high into the net has the danger of going over, the score is lower (7).

Guiliano (Brazil)
Same comments as the previous kick (7).

Inkoom (Ghana)
The kick was once again high but had the goalie guessed correctly, the kick could not have been saved. (8).

D. Costa (Brazil)
Same comments as the previous kick (8).

4:40–Mensah (Ghana)
Terrible kick. It was 1 foot off the ground and worse, only 4 feet in from the center of the goal. My 94-year old grandmother would have saved that kick (1).

5:00–Souza (Brazil)
Just an average kick that was saved. Once again, it was 1 foot off the ground but not close enough to the side netting. The Ghanaian keeper started to employ a clever tactic because his team was down and he needed to make a save. Just before the kick, he took a big step to his right. By guessing correctly, he was able to make the easy save (4).

5:16–Addae (Ghana)
Another poor kick. It was slightly better than the previous Ghanaian kick because it was on the ground and a little further toward the corner. But there was not much force behind the kick. My 94-year old grandmother would have had trouble with this kick but my 10-year old would have saved it (3).

5:45–Maicon (Brazil)
This one was for the Championship but the Brazilian kicked it over the goal.  As I have posted before, you can’t kick the ball over the goal if the ball is kicked on the ground. I’m willing to bet that Maicon was worried that the goalkeeper was going to take that same big step before the kick and therefore felt it necessary to kick the ball higher. Once a player changes how he/she is going to take the penalty, the odds of a miss increase dramatically. In this case, had the penalty been a kick on the ground and into the side netting, Brazil would have been the Champs (3).

6:03–Adiyiah (Ghana)
With all the pressure on Adiyiah, he scores. The penalty was similar to Ghana’s first kick but because of the pressure, I’m giving it an extra point (8).

6:35–Teixeira (Brazil)
Brazil’s third miss in a row. The kick was about 2 feet off the ground and halfway between the center of the goal and the post. Once again the goalie took 1 big step in the correct direction and saved the penalty easily (3).

6:57–A. Badu (Ghana)
Badu saved the best Ghanaian penalty kick for last … low, hard, and in the corner. Even if the Brazilian keeper had guessed correctly, he never would have saved the kick (10).

Congratulations Ghana and Brazil for making it to the finals. See you in about 9 months.

Good Captain Examples

October 15, 2009

I always like to see or hear about good soccer captains in action, especially at the youth level. This past Sunday, I was fortunate to witness 2 such captains.

The first example involved a U15 game I center refereed. The captain for the away team was a phenomenal athlete, scored a hat-trick which included an incredible diving header and a dummy that he dummied to himself similar to Pele’s attempt the 1970 World Cup (see below). Yet he was extremely humble, very well-mannered, and did everything in his power to always avoid making contact with the opposing goalie.

The other example involved my daughter’s U18 team.

My daughter was having words with some of the opposing players during the game. After her team won 1-0 and the teams met to shake hands, one of the opposing players deliberately retracted her hand from my daughter. When this happened, my daughter looked back said some not-too-choice words. Then she was intentionally showered with water.

My daughter was already in a bad mood. She was lectured to by the referee during the game and she did not get as much playing time as she thought she deserved. Then she was showered by her own captain. That was the last straw. She collected her bag and went to sit in the car. Who could blame her?

To the captain’s credit, she sought out my daughter. She first found my wife and shared with her what had happened.  The captain witnessed the whole incident … the retracting of the hand and the words that followed. Knowing my daughter, she was concerned that the situation could potentially escalate and turn ugly. With little time to react, the she decided to literally and figuratively cool things down.

My wife directed the captain to our car where my daughter and she talked it out and put the incident behind them.

Though her method was unconventional, I want to give the captain her ‘props’. During the traditional handshake, she was doing what all captains should do … reading the situation and looking out for their teammates. She did not let the situation get out of control because of a disrespectful act. And most importantly, she sought out my daughter to explain her actions and make sure my daughter was OK. Had that final conversation not taken place, my daughter would have carried that resentment with her for a long time. As it turns out, my daughter now respects the captain even more, as do my wife and I.

Good job captains. Keep up the good work.

If you have good examples, it would be great if you shared them with us.

Are You Right or Left Footed?

October 12, 2009

The instructor for my E/D coaching license was Hans de Graef. Great guy. Must have been in his 60s at the time. He was recovering from knee surgery caused by a parachute accident. But he was still out there. I guess very little kept him from the soccer field. But I digress.

One of the questions he asked each coach during the course was whether he/she was right or left footed? I, along with most of the other coaches answered right footed and like most of the other coaches, I was wrong. The correct answer was, “both”. To this day I still remember that question and pose it to every player I coach.

Whenever I ask the question, a lot of kids will argue that ‘both’ was not an option. Had it been, they naturally would have chosen ‘both’. This may be true but on the soccer field, when young players are given the option of controlling or shooting the ball, they will often choose to play the ball with their dominant foot.

It is critical for youth soccer players to develop proficiency and a high degree of comfort with both feet. This means:

  • Practice juggling with both feet
  • Not running around a ball to play it with the dominant foot
  • Shooting the ball with the weaker foot
  • Playing on the left side of the field when the preference is the right side

Players will always have a dominant foot and that is OK. But good players will easily be able to play any ball with either foot (or leg). If you want to be a good player, always remember the preferred answer to the question, “Are you right or left footed?”

“Coach, I am BOTH.”

Improve Practice and Game Play: Get Flip-Flops

October 8, 2009

Shortly after a practice or game ends, all players should participate in the collective ritual that I simply call the ‘aaaaahhhh’. Typically, ‘aaaaahhhh’ is the sound that players make when they take off their cleats, socks, and shin guards and slip on a cool pair of flip-flops. In Northern California, we can usually get away with flip-flops. But in other parts of the country and depending on the time of year, other footwear may be more appropriate.

The ‘aaaaahhhh’ ritual benefits players as well as parents and coaches. For players:

  • After a long, hard practice in which you have given 100% effort, you want to wind down and put soccer behind you and reward yourself for a job well done. There is no better feeling than freeing your wet and smelly feet from your cleats, stretching your toes out, and then having them touch the nice, cool grass. There is only word that can describe this feeling … ‘aaaaahhhh’.
  • Conversely, when you put on your cleats before a game or practice, this is the players’ signal to start focusing on soccer and the job at hand. All goofing off and messing around should cease. You are now at work and ready to give 100% effort and attention. Putting on the cleats is the equivalent of a parent sitting in front of the computer at work, a fireman answering an alarm, or a teacher calling the class to order when the first-period bell rings. It is time to go to work to learn and improve.
  • The same is true of games. When those cleats are put on, it is time to focus on the game. When the game is done, reward yourself for your effort. Getting out of your cleats is extremely important when you have multiple games in one day. After the first game, slip on your flip-flops and relax. Soccer is done for a while. Take a break.

For parents:

  • Your kids will learn that there is a time and place for everything. At practice, they should be there to learn and improve–just like at school. When the cleats come off, soccer is done.
  • Flip-flops will save money. There is nothing that I hate worse than seeing my kids walking around the parking lot or mall in their cleats. Plus, it can’t be comfortable.

For coaches, try incorporating the collective ‘aaaaahhhh’ ritual. Make sure they have your undivided attention when their cleats are on. When they are off, that is their time. Your practice should run smoother and hopefully your players will be more focused and ready for the start of a game.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Follow-up the Shot

October 8, 2009

When a ball is shot on goal, 5 things could happen:

  1. A goal is scored
  2. The goal is missed, resulting in a goal kick
  3. The goalie makes a save and retains possession of the ball
  4. The goalie makes a save by deflecting the ball out for a corner
  5. The goalie makes a save and the ball rebounds back into play.

#5 happens a number of times during a game. As a coach, whether your team took the shot or your team was shot on, you always want the appropriate players to follow-up the shot. On the offensive end, following-up shots will result in easy goals. On the defensive end, following-up an opponent’s shot by clearing it out of danger will result in fewer goals being scored against your team.

Yet rarely, especially on the offensive end, does this happen. There are several reasons why players don’t follow-up the shot.

  • The ‘Spectator Factor’. Once a shot is taken, many players become spectators. They wait to see the result of the shot and then will react accordingly. This is a very natural reaction and happens at all levels of the game and in all sports, even at the professional level. In baseball, players assume that pop-ups will always be caught and simply wait for it to happen. In basketball, rebounds often go uncontested. In football, once the quarterback throws the ball down field, many players assume the play is over for them.
  • The extra work/effort is rarely rewarded. When a shot is taken, the attacking player does not know the outcome in advance. Therefore, on every single shot attempt, the player needs to ‘crash the goal’. If after several games there has not been a rebound for the attacker, that player will be less inclined to look for the rebound.
  • Since the follow-up needs to be done at full-speed in order to be effective, players need to expend extra energy. After several efforts a player may get tired.
  • Shots are often taken from a long distance (refer back to the ‘dribble-on-goal‘ post). When a shot is taken from a great distance, rarely will an attacker be able to get to a rebound.

In theory, the solutions are easy. But because the ‘spectator factor’ is a natural human reaction or simply a bad habit, it will take a long time to recondition and reprogram the players to follow-up. Here are some tips.

  • As a player, assume that every shot will be saved. Start your follow-up as soon as the shot it taken or even better, when you anticipate the shot will be taken. That extra step or two, as long as you are not called for offside, can make all the difference in the world.
  • As a coach, incorporate a follow-up drill into all shooting exercises. The one I recommend which will reward and condition the attacker yet not compromise the goalie training is that every time the goalie makes a simple save, have him/her drop the ball in front of the goal that the shooter must follow-up and score. This follow-up can go uncontested by the goalie.

For players who follow-up shots, the rewards can be tremendous:

  • Attackers will score more goals; defenders will save many goals
  • Players will be in better shape
  • Coaches love effort. When a coach sees extra effort being put forth by a player, I guarantee you that the player will get more playing time. If you are not a starter or are not happy with your playing time, start following-up the shots and see what happens.
  • Effort is contagious. If you are a captain or aspire to be a captain, effort (and leading by example) is the quickest way to earn the respect of your teammates.

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.