Archive for the ‘coaches’ Category

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.
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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!

What Every Team Needs: A Reporter

March 6, 2010

Joining a soccer team should be more than just learning to trap a ball, scoring a goal, or making nice passes. It should also be more than learning about sportsmanship, leadership, teamwork, and discipline. It should also be about giving players unique opportunities that they otherwise would not have.

I’m a big fan of youth soccer players becoming referees. I can’t think of a better way for young soccer players to learn more about the sport of soccer, learn to appreciate and understand that refereeing is not as simple as it looks, give back to the sport that has given them so much, and also earn some extra money.

In today’s Communication and Internet Era, more and more teams have websites. On these sites, rosters, schedules, scores, photos, and videos are shared with friends and family. Yet rarely have I seen written game summaries. I usually only see them when they appear in our local newspaper. I think each team needs a correspondent or reporter who writes game previews and summaries or special features about each player. Who better to have or play this role than an actual player (or players)?

There are a number of benefits associated with having a player be the team reporter.

  • The perspective of a game is vastly different coming from a player than from a coach or parent. The player’s perspective is much more interesting and refreshing.
  • Many teams seek donations from friends, family members, and businesses to support their soccer endeavors. As a show of appreciation, these donors should be given regular updates throughout the season.
  • At the end of the season, players, families, and donors will be able to look back at the memorable season.
  • It gives a player an opportunity to learn a new skill. An injured player would make a great correspondent because he/she would be making a very important contribution to the team.
  • Local newspapers can be given permission to use these updates and articles. Which kid would not like to see his/her work appear in a newspaper?
  • Perhaps an arrangement can be made with the player’s English teacher to get extra credit.
  • A player is never too young to benefit from having ‘reporter’ on his/her resume.

In order for the reporter to be successful and for the content to be embraced and appreciated, certain guidelines need to be followed and a support structure needs to be in place.

  • Each team member needs equal ‘print time’. While each team will have a few outstanding players, a team is made up of all players.
  • Assign a parent to review all content before it is published. Check for good grammar, typos, and inappropriate language. This parent should mentor the reporter and give suggestions on how the player can improve his/her writing skills.

All Adults are Teachers

February 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

But there is certainly room for improvement.

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

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

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

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

Playing Out-of-Position is Good

February 1, 2010

A friend reminded me the other day of an old soccer saying. It goes something like, “Good forwards make the best defenders and good defenders make the best forwards”. There is a lot of truth to this saying.

Any good forward is always trying to figure out how to get the upper-hand on the defense. Over time, forwards have learned plenty of tricks to help them beat defenders. Now imagine that same forward playing defense. He/she, knowing many of the offensive strategies and tricks, will instinctively know how to deal with them. For example, he/she is unlikely to get caught directly behind a forward where an accidental bump or a dreaded phantom touch will send the forward crashing to the ground, resulting in a free kick, penalty, and possible expulsion.

The same is true of defenders. Deficiencies a defensive player may have are most likely shared by other defenders. In addition, a good defender should know how certain defensive formations can be exploited. Equipped with this knowledge will give a defender playing forward a tremendous advantage over the other team. Who is best equipped to beat an offside trap than a player who has been employing the trap for years?

Players, you should view ‘playing out-of-position’ as a great opportunity. First of all, you will surprise yourself at how well you do, I promise. Secondly, by playing other positions, you will become a better, more well-rounded soccer player. Also, you will develop an appreciation for other positions, especially when you have to play keeper. If your coach has not offered you this opportunity, ask. At some point in your career, perhaps during a tryout with another team, you are going to be asked to play other positions. That I can also promise.

Coaches, how often have you surprised yourself when a player exceeds all expectations at a position you knew he/she would not and could not play? It happens all the time. As a youth coach, I strongly encourage you to play your kids in all positions. The worst thing a coach can do to a young player is pigeon-hole him/her to one position. With older players who may be labeled as a good forward, defender, or goalkeeper, or who have stated that they only play one position, switch them around. Although you are likely to hear plenty of complaints and even receive a few parent phone calls, give it a shot. It will make those players and your team better.

The Worst Part of Coaching—the Tryout

January 27, 2010

For many young players, there is nothing more nerve-racking than trying out for a team. The reasons are plentiful. A player is:

  • Competing against players that may be much better than them.
  • Being evaluated by a brand new coach and is being ranked and rated.
  • Dealing with the internal pressure of possibly not making the team.

The tryout is not much easier for the coach. Sure it is fun to see and evaluate new talent, especially when a player you have never seen before or heard anything about makes a favorable impression. But there is usually nothing harder a coach will have to do the whole season than having to tell a young player that he did not make the team.

As a coach for a number of competitive teams, I have learned over the years some very good practices that make these difficult decisions easier for the coaches as well as for the players and parents.

  • Before the final roster is announced or posted, the players who did not make the team need to be called.
    • If a parent answers, tell the parent why you are calling and when you are done with him or her that you would like to speak to Billy personally. As I wrote in a previous post entitled, ‘Player, Parents, and Coach Meetings and Evaluations‘, tell the parent the good aspects of Billy’s game and character and then a few things that he needs to work on. Also tell the parent that you want to send a thank you letter to Billy that will include an overview of the positives and what he should work on. An email could work, but a letter is more meaningful.
    • If the player answers, take a deep breath and proceed with the unwanted news in a caring and nurturing manner. When you are done, make sure you get an opportunity to talk with a parent.
    • If there is no answer, leave a message asking them to call you back. Don’t leave a message saying Billy did not make the team. If they don’t call back and the next day there is still no answer, send them an email.
  • After the tryouts and throughout the season, make yourself available to the players who did not make the team as well as to the parents. Provide them with your email address and tell them they can contact you any time.
  • Remember the names and faces of the players who did not make your team. When you run into them, call them by name and ask how they are doing. (I am terrible with names so when I don’t remember a name, I ask them to remind me).
  • Try getting the names of the teams that these players end up playing for. Keep this information in a paper notebook you carry with you in a PDA or phone. When you happen across a game that features one of these teams, watch the game. If time permits, talk with the player and parents after the game. If you see improvement in Billy’s game, especially in the areas you mentioned that needed work, mention it. If you don’t have time, send them an email.
  • At some point during the season, send an email to the players that did not make the team and their parents inquiring how things are going.
  • Make sure that during the tryouts the players and parents know how you intend to contact everyone with the results so there are no surprises.

Yes, taking the time to call 10, 20, or 30+ players is time consuming and composing notes about the positives and areas for improvement for each player requires a great deal of effort. But I believe, especially with young players, tryouts must not be a bad experience. Taking the extra time and effort and showing care and compassion will mean a lot to the players and his/her parents who did not make the team. Don’t expect everyone to thank you for your efforts but in the long run, these players and parents will appreciate you.

2-3 Goal per Game Difference: Home-Field Advantage

January 22, 2010

Rarely, if ever, do you hear the term ‘home-field disadvantage’. The simple fact is that teams do better when they play at home. This is true at the youth level as well as at the professional level. Less travel time and familiarity with the home field always helps. Home games also draw friendlier spectators.

Besides these reasons, there are additional steps a coach (or League) can take to make the home field even more advantageous.

Scheduling

  • If your team is a morning team, schedule your games in the morning.
  • If stamina is a problem, schedule games on a smaller field. If conditioning is a strength, play on a larger field.
  • If your team has good ball control or plays well on a wet field, schedule games in the morning when there may be dew or frost on the field. Strong-footed players and a good goalie would be another reason to play on a wet field.

Know the ‘Elements’

  • Know if your locale has variable winds. Do you get afternoons wind when the land warms up? If so, know when the winds kick in. It is always preferable to play or go with the wind.
  • Know the position of the sun relative to the field. It is easier to play when the sun is not in your players’ eyes.
  • Know the area’s moisture tendencies. For example, if there is dew, how quickly does the field dry? Tailor the line-up in order to take many shots when the grass is wet.
  • Know the weather forecast. Is it going to rain? Will the field be wet? Is it going to be cold in which case it may take the players a while to warm up? Is it going to be hot in which case by the second half, one team is going to be tired?

While scheduling the times for games can be controlled to a large degree, taking advantage of the elements is much less predictable. After all, it comes down to which team wins the coin toss. If you win, great! If the other team wins, hope the other coach has not done his/her homework.

Don’t forget to tell the captains which side to defend in the first half should your team win the coin toss.

There are few tricks you can try as a coach to help increase your chances of getting the preferred side even if your team loses the coin toss:

  • Arrive early.
  • Warm up the team on the half you want to defend in the first half.
  • Set up your bench on the half you want to defend in the first half.

What tends to happen is that if the other team wins the coin toss, they will elect to defend the side they are already on.

Countering the Opponent’s Home-Field Advantage

Make sure you do your ‘element’ research. Also use the tricks listed above. You may also be interested in reading my post entitled, ‘Coin Toss Alternatives‘. Since the away team traditionally calls the coin toss, some experts hypothesize that this action is not a 50-50 proposition. Knowing the position of the coin prior to the toss could increase your team’s chance of calling the toss correctly.

‘Adopt-a-College-Soccer-Player’ Program

January 20, 2010

A few months ago I noticed a signed photo in my daughter’s room of a local soccer player who at the time was playing soccer at a local university on a full-ride scholarship. I was surprised to see it given that it was over seven years old. This player had been invited to my daughter’s U10 competition team to run practice and talk to the girls about the importance of school and hard work. Her university was nice enough to supply her with action shots that she signed for the girls. Later that year, the players were ball girls at one of the University’s home age. At least for my daughter, this player had made a favorable and lasting impression on her.

In an earlier post I wrote about a ‘Adopt-a-High-Soccer-Player‘ program and how such a program would benefit youth soccer players, the high school soccer players, the school/club/soccer organization, and adult coaches. These same groups will stand to benefit from this program as well. However, because the college/university player is more mature and a better soccer player than a high school player and there are simply fewer college players available, there are different types of ‘wins’ that such a program can produce.

Winner #1: Youth Soccer Player

Youth players will still relate better to a college player than a 40-year-old parent figure. The more youth players who get to hear, see, and interact with the college player, the better. The celebrity factor should make young players more interested in and attentive to a college player than a high school player.

Winner #2: College Student-Athletes

Given the college player’s playing ability and maturity, there are many more roles this player can assume within a Club/League. This player could:

  • Meet, speak, and run a practice for each team in the Club/League.
  • Be a regular trainer for a competitive team. Given the college player’s knowledge of the game, a competitive team with better and more focused players would be a better fit.
  • Become a board member for the Club/League. As a person who is living and experiencing soccer at an advanced level but is not too far removed from being a youth player, he/she could play an integral role in helping develop and shape the future of the Club.

Either one or a combination of these activities or responsibilities would look terrific on a resume or post-graduate application.

Winner #3: College/University Soccer Program

If a college program is able to partner with a local soccer Club/League, attendance should rise as interest in the team increases. The college will have an endless supply of ball boys and ball girls. And who knows, maybe five or 10 years down the road, a few of the youth soccer players who were a part of the ‘Adopt-a-College-Soccer Player’ program will be stars at the same university.

Winner #4: Adult Coaches

Once again, many soccer coaches have little or no soccer experience themselves. Any help or instructions, especially from someone with extensive knowledge of the game can only be beneficial.

Winner #5: Youth Soccer Club or League

If a Club or League develops a reputation for bringing on board local college players to help train its youth players, membership will grow. Having young, knowledgeable, and good soccer players train the Club’s youth players should result in better teams and players. With a good relationship with the local College, perhaps its coach(es) will contribute their knowledge and expertise to the Club/League as well.

Any player who is fortunate enough to play at the college level must be good. Only the ‘cream-of-the-crop’ play college soccer. If there is any way to get such a player to volunteer his or her time to your Club/League, go for it. Only a select number of college players will play and earn a living as a professional soccer player. By giving these players an opportunity to train, teach, and help build and grow a Club/League, they, too, will be part of a unique and valuable experience. It will be a win-win-win-win-win situation for all.