Archive for December, 2009

Gol TV’s Top 100 Goals for 2009

December 31, 2009

I just finished watching Gol TV’s top 100 goals for 2009. Here are my thoughts:

  • 10-12 were chip shots over the goalie. I love it when players play with their heads up and are aware of their surroundings.
  • 6-8 where beautiful bicycle kicks. I never get tired of seeing these beautiful goals.
  • I never remember seeing goals scored like this when I was younger. The long-distance shots are just incredible.
  • 10-12 of the goals were from free kicks. While these goals are a thing of beauty, they are all pretty much the same.
  • I did not see any goals from the Premier League … I guess Gol TV does not carry the rights to show or telecast those games.
  • What about headers? Though I am not a big fan of headers at the youth level, there is nothing prettier than seeing goals scored off of headers that are low and in the corners. I guess Gol TV does not agree.
  • I do agree with the #1 for 2009. The nerve, audacity, and boldness Grafite displayed in attempting his back-heel shot is phenomenal. The lead-up to the shot is pretty good as well. It is a well-deserved honor.

Improving Throw-ins: Check-In (part 1 of 4)

December 29, 2009

I’m not a big fan of throw-ins. When I coached, I spent very little time on thrown-ins. I never had throw-in warm-ups. I never designed throw-in plays. My preference was to spend more time on soccer fundamentals, such as the first-touch, and playing small-sided games. I surprise myself that I am even writing about throw-ins. But year-after-year I see too many teams doing the wrong thing on throw-ins, so I feel I need to write about it. This is the first in a series of throw-in posts.

A peculiar tactic I see many coaches employ on throw-ins at all age levels is what I call, “the check-in, check-out” move. This is where a field player runs toward the thrower (checks-in) and then turns and runs down the wing (checks-out). While this is a good tactic to use a few times during a game and catch the opponents off guard, using it ALL the time simply does not work. A team that employs this tactic is literally and figuratively ‘throwing in the towel’ or ‘throwing away an opportunity’ on a play that can and should be much more advantageous to the team in possession of the ball.

A much better approach is for a team to simply have its players check-in to the thrower. There are many advantages to checking in.

  • A team will increase its possession percentage by retaining the ball much more often. A ball thrown to a player facing the approaching ball will receive and possess the ball much easier.
  • It creates movement on the field.
  • A field player is able to separate him/herself from a defender.
  • Open space is created when a player checking-in vacates or moves away from the area.

A field player should follow these steps when checking-in on a throw in;

  • If a defender is on the field player, play it cool. Referencing ‘Box 1’ below, when it is time to check in, the player (A1b) quickly breaks away from the defender (D1) in a quick burst. It a player is cool and appears nonchalant, the burst will leave the defender flat-footed and create greater distance between the two players (A1a). Now reference Box 2. If the defender (D3b) is marking a player (A3b) tight, the field player may need to first move away from the thrower (check-out) before turning and breaking to the thrower (A3a). This will leave the defender (D3a) further away from the play.

  • Before checking in, the field player should make eye contact with the thrower. If the thrower is unaware of the field player’s intentions, he/she may not be prepared to throw-in the ball to the approaching player.
  • If the thrower is not aware of or does not see the player checking in, communicate with a command such as ‘Ball!’ or call the thrower’s name to get his/her attention.
  • If the ball is not thrown to the player checking in, that player should cycle-through the check-in. The worst thing for a player to do is just stand still waiting for the ball to be thrown to him/her. Not only is that player in all likelihood covered but when a player receives a ball flat-footed, the next moves are limited. Veer away from the thrower and let another check in.

By far and away the biggest advantage to having players check-in on throw-ins is the carryover effect it has on all aspects of the game. During the course of a game, players should always be ‘checking in’ with the players who have the ball. Checking-in does not always mean running directly at the player. Checking-in also means checking in to the open space to give the player with the ball many options to pass the ball. Teach and reinforce the skill of checking-in with field play. Then when it comes to throw-ins, the players will check-in naturally.

Loopball™: Soccer Training Device that Works

December 26, 2009

As a youth soccer coach, my biggest surprise and a source of continuous frustration was the poor ball control (and poor first-touch) exhibited not just by my players but by nearly all players who I saw play. I remember thinking that this must just be a youth problem. As these player got older, they would certainly develop this skill, right? Much to my surprise, this was not the case. I found that a majority of high school varsity soccer players did not possess this critical and basic fundamental skill.

So I did something about it. I invented and patented a soccer training device called Loopball™. Loopball teaches and reinforces positively the art of stopping (and receiving) a soccer with the inside-of-the-foot. Most importantly,

  • Loopball works!
  • Loopball is FUN to use!

Visit the Loopball website to learn more about it.

There are many ways to improve soccer in the United States and a number of problems that need to be addressed. I am convinced that poor ball and a poor first-touch is the #1 problem in youth soccer today. What needs to happen is:

  • Players need to learn and understand the importance of ball control and the incredible power of the inside-of-the-foot.
  • Coaches and parents need to emphasize and reinforce the importance of ball control.
  • Proper form, mechanics, and technique need to be used and taught to control the ball with the inside-of-the-foot.

The Loopball training device and the companion Loopball curriculum will do this.

Stay tuned for many, many more posts on the subjects of Loopball, ball control, the first-touch, and inside-of-the-foot. Enjoy Loopball!

The De-Cursing Ritual is for Real

December 23, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my U11 son’s soccer team had started a de-cursing ritual in which the Team Dad would de-curse the boys’ shoes and the goalie’s gloves before or during each game. And it worked. The boys had not lost a game since the ritual began. In fact, they made it all the way to the NorCal championship game.

The championship game was held this weekend and (cue of the up the Twilight Zone music) the de-cursing ritual seems to be legitimate. Unfortunately, Team Dad, Gene, did not perform his ritual and after a hard-fought game, my son’s team lost 3-1. Congratulations boys on a great and memorable season.

In the meantime, buoyed by his newfound ability and backed by this latest scientific proof, Gene is now offering his de-cursing services and can be reached at 1-800-De-Curse.

All High School Freshman and Junior Varsity Players Should Play

December 19, 2009

I recently refereed a boy’s Junior Varsity high school game. As a referee, you are encouraged to look toward the benches during every dead ball should the teams want to substitute a player or players. During the entire game, I don’t recall the coaches making more than two substitutions each. During warm-ups and on the game cards, each team had over 20 players. I could not help but wonder why so few players played?

I talked to the other referee about this after the game. He was not surprised. He has refereed high school soccer for many years and he assured me that this is not a rare occurrence. He believes that this is due to the short soccer season in which games start to count immediately and the simple fact that greater emphasis is placed on winning, even at the non-varsity level. To corroborate the other referee’s statement, it was a close game so perhaps both coaches were going for the win (the game ended in a tie).

In addition, I don’t know if there were extenuating circumstances that precluded the other players from playing. There could have been issues with grades, injuries, illness, or red card suspensions. Or perhaps each team was dealing with some disciplinary measures that were being meted out. I’m not sure and I did not inquire.

In the other Freshman (Frosh) and Junior Varsity (JV) games I refereed, I saw much more substituting. So perhaps it may just be a few coaches who place winning ahead of development.

Regardless of the possible reasons, I strongly believe that all Frosh and JV players, unless for any of the reasons listed above, should get playing time in each match. There are many reasons for this some of which are listed below:

  • The Frosh and JV teams should be viewed as feeder teams to the varsity program. These teams will not fulfill their purpose if talent is not being developed.
  • High school is all about learning, growing, developing, and maturing not just in the classrooms but on the soccer field as well. Playing in games plays an integral part.
  • Working hard at practice and being a good team player who is not rewarded with playing time certainly can’t help build a player’s self-esteem. If a player is not playing, he/she should either be moved down to a younger team or not have been selected in the first place.
  • Frosh and JV final scores simply do not and should not matter. Even if there is a post-season tournament for these teams (there is not one in my area), I would still question the importance of the final score over having everyone play.
  • You never know how a player will respond in a game situation. Perhaps a player may surprise the coaching staff if given an opportunity.

If every player gets playing time and the Frosh and JV teams go 0-12 or 0-16, so what. As long as they have improved individually and collectively, the coach has done his/her job. Unless they are unable to, each Frosh and JV player should play in each game, PERIOD!

Enrich and Retain your Soccer Knowledge with Spaced Education

December 17, 2009

As a youth soccer coach for a competitive (traveling) team, I never wanted soccer to be the most important or even the second-most important part of a player’s life. I made it perfectly clear at the beginning of each season that family and school always took precedence over soccer. If a family had planned a vacation, I wished them bon voyage. If a player was inundated with homework or had an important test to study for, I did not want them at practice.

What I learned early on was that very few if any of the players I coached would play soccer after high school. And if they got the opportunity, it was going to be their playing ability and not my coaching that got them there. However, good study habits, good grades, and reinforcing the importance of school were all attributes that I could negatively impact if I insisted that soccer was more important than school.

Speaking of learning, I recently came across a fantastic new educational website which promotes spaced education (http://www.spaceded.com). Spaced education is based on two core psychology concepts: the spacing effect and the testing effect.

  • The spacing effect refers to the concept that information which is presented and repeated over spaced intervals is learned and retained more effectively.
  • The testing effect refers to the concept that the long-term retention of information is significantly improved by testing learners on this information. Testing causes knowledge to be stored more effectively in long-term memory.

At SpacedEd, spaced education works as follows:

  • A person enrolls in a course.
  • Each day a person receives at least one question to answer.
  • If the person answers the question incorrectly, a full explanation is presented to the tester. The question is placed back into the question pool and is presented to the user again after a short interval (let’s say 7 days).
  • If the person answers the question correctly, a full explanation is still presented and the question is still placed back into the question pool. The question is still presented to the user but this time after a longer interval (let’s say 21 days).
  • Once the same question is answered correctly twice, the question is retired.
  • The course is completed once all questions are retired.

So can spaced education help youth soccer players on the field? I don’t know yet. I do know that in order to improve fundamental technical skills, a player must repeat the same action thousands of times before body and mind start to react instinctively. This training is known as developing muscle memory. But soccer is much than just technical skills. So perhaps spaced education can play a role in improving soccer in the United States.

To find out, I have taken several courses and on December 13, I published a soccer course entitled, “Soccer 101“.  I invite you to enroll in my class. It is free and I promise it will be educational and fun. The course covers topics such as: Laws of the Game, soccer terminology, and soccer skills. My answers contain coaching tips, current and historical soccer facts, and plenty of pictures, diagrams, and YouTube videos.

Let me and others know what you think.

Memorable, Fun, and Age-Appropriate Rituals

December 10, 2009

My son’s U11 team is notorious for its inconsistencies, not just from game-to-game but from half-to-half. Granted they are mostly 10-year-olds and this pattern is by no means unusual. Tired of this inconsistent play and losses against much weaker teams, the team dad, Gene, decided to take an unusual approach to solving this problem. Before each game or after a poorly played half, he would ‘de-curse’ the boys’ shoes.

The ritual goes as follows:

  • The boys collectively stick out their shoes.
  • Gene visits each player and performs an elaborate exorcism by ‘ptooing’ and then commanding the demons or ills that are possessing the boys’ shoes to disappear (see photo below).
  • Just recently, the goalie started asking that his gloves be de-cursed as well.

Since this ritual began, the team has not lost a game and they will be playing in the NorCal State Cup finals at the end of December.

I am sharing this story  for two reasons:

  • I think de-cursing the shoes is a very clever and age-appropriate solution to a problem that many coaches face.
  • It is fun to see the kick, joy, and amusement the boys get out of this ritual.

At this age and this point in the season does it matter if they believe that the ‘de-cursing’ is the cause for their improved player rather than the culmination of all the hard work they put in this year? I don’t think so. Also what I’m almost 100% sure of is that six years from now when the boys are reminiscing about their youth playing days, they will have no idea if they won this year’s NorCal tournament but they will definitely remember the ‘de-cursing’ ritual.

Soccer is not just about playing the game, learning technical fundamentals, socializing, understanding the concept of ‘team’, and good sportsmanship. It is also about creating lasting memories that 10-year-olds find important and enjoy. If you have a similar story, I know the readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear it.

What Do You Call this Part of the Foot: Instep or Inside-of-the-Foot?

December 6, 2009

One of my favorite questions I ask youth players and coaches is, “What is the most important part of the foot in soccer?” While the answer should really be ‘all parts of the foot’ (refer to the ‘Are You Right or Left Footed?‘ post), you can tell by this post what my answer is. Based on the answers I get, young players typically split their votes equally between the bottom, top, outside, and inside of the foot. Older, more experienced players along with coaches tend to agree with me.

However, herein lies a problem. What do you call this part of the foot? For as long as I can remember, I always referred to it as the instep. I hear people refer to it as the inside-of-the-foot but referring to it as the ‘instep’ is so much simpler. However, a few years back I was told that the instep actually refers to the top the foot. I don’t know about you but I now find myself in a shoe and foot-naming quandary.

IOTF_or_Instep

So what do you call this part of the foot (highlighted in red)? Please share the name you use by answering the poll question. Below the poll are some videos that show that part of the foot in action. Be sure to ‘Share This’ poll with other soccer enthusiasts.

This following clip show Zlatan “Ibra” Ibrahimovic scoring a beautiful goal against Real Madrid with that part of the foot. The goal is scored at 2:00 of the video.

Suggestions for Tournament-Downtime Activities

December 4, 2009

I’m not a big fan of youth soccer tournaments. I think they are expensive, time-consuming, and when a team participates in too many of them, the players don’t appreciate them as much. But more on this in future posts.

One thing that really irked me in the past was having a huge gap of time between games. What are a team, parents, and players to do when they are far from home, it is 105 degrees, and you have 6 hours to kill? It is great if many of the families are staying at a hotel with a pool but by the time the kids are through swimming, how much energy will they have for the next game? A movie theater is a good alternative but you can see a movie anywhere. A mall is OK but for 10-year-old boys?

However, with some planning and forethought, an extended gap can present a team with unique and fun opportunities. At a recent tournament in Sacramento this past summer, my son and I had such an experience. Along with another father and son, we drove around Mather Air Force base hoping to see some take-offs and landings or get a glimpse of some vintage planes. We did better. We found the main terminal and after asking, we were allowed to eat our lunches in an air-conditioned lunch room that just so happened to have cable TV. While the boys were entertaining themselves, the dads got their fill of Gol TV. Another inquiry resulted in an employee taking the four of us on a 20-minute chauffeured tour of the tarmac where we got to see our vintage airplanes, a DC-9 up close and personal, and much more.

I asked my son the other day if he remembered the tournament. The only thing he remembered was Mather Air Force base. He had no clue how his team did in that tournament.

As a veteran of what seems like hundreds of tournaments, these events are and should be much more than just about the soccer games and the final results. After all, there will only be one winner in each age group. Make the most of these tournaments. Organize events between games that are not physically taxing, preferably non-soccer and non-sports related, memorable, fun, and unique to the area that you are visiting. The club hosting the tournament should be able to provide several suggestions. Interactive museums are always fun. Visiting a local landmark can be exciting. Older players may enjoy a private campus tour of a nearby college or university.

Don’t forget the importance of eating. Make sure the players eat appropriately between games. If it turns out the gap between games is not too long, a team barbeque or picnic featuring board and card games can be a lot of fun and a very memorable experience, especially if the food is good.

Fun Practice Alternative: Chess

December 3, 2009

Chess at soccer practice? Sure, why not!

During practice, many youth soccer coaches focus on the physical component of the sport. While this is certainly important, soccer and all other sports have a huge mental component to them as well. This mental piece often gets overlooked.

So why chess?

  • To be a good chess player, you need to have a game plan, you need to have a strategy, and you need to think ahead. Many good chess players have their next 4 to 8 moves planned out. While planning that far ahead in soccer is impossible given the fluid nature of the game, knowing what you will do when you receive a ball is critical. Too many players simply focus on stopping the ball but have no idea what they will do once they receive the ball.
  • Besides developing your own strategy, chess players need to know what strategy their opponent is using. Are they defensive oriented? Do they like to attack? What is their favorite piece? Knowing what strategy the opponent is employing will undoubtedly affect how you play. Same is true in soccer. How fast is the other team? What kind of defensive formation do they play? What are the goalie’s strengths and, more importantly, his/her weaknesses? Who is their most dangerous player? It is important for soccer players to know and understand their opponents.
  • With a bird’s-eye perspective, chess players can see the entire board. While soccer players don’t have the luxury of this perspective, players must be aware of the entire field. They need to know where their teammates are at all times as well as the whereabouts of the opposing players. The only way this can be achieved is to play with the head up. Don’t just focus on the ball.
  • Not all players on a team will know how to play chess. This is a perfect opportunity for players who do play chess to teach and communicate with one another. If you are lucky, some of the quieter more reserved soccer players will be the top chess players. This will give them an opportunity to teach, coach, and be more communicative with their teammates. In soccer, all players need to constantly talk to one another.
  • Chess is definitely different. After weeks and weeks of soccer practice, getting off the field may be in everyone’s best interest. What is great about chess is that it teaches many important lessons that can be applied to soccer.

If chess is not a big hit, checkers, connect-four, backgammon, any combination of these games, or any other games that require thinking and a strategy to win will work. If you don’t want to play these games at the field, either host or have a parent host this ‘practice’. And for good measure, have a barbeque or pasta feed as well. It will certainly make for a fun and memorable practice.