Archive for the ‘players’ 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.
Advertisements

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.

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!

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!”

Soccer’s Magic Cube

March 1, 2010

A lot of young players today rely on only one foot to do all the work. Oftentimes, I will see young players run around a ball just so they can stop it with their dominant foot. I strongly believe that at a very young age coaches and parents should encourage and work with their players and children to get comfortable using both feet. Much like learning a second language or a musical instrument, it is much easier when a child is young. This can also apply to learning to use both feet.

To help in this endeavor, I have created the ‘Magic Cube’. It is soccer’s equivalent to the ‘Magic 8 Ball’. It helps teach and remind a player which foot to use to stop a ball.

The Magic Cube has three main colors (see below). They are:

  • Light brown represents the side of the body the ball is passed to (pass).
  • Red represents which foot should be used to stop the ball (stop).
  • Blue represents which surface of the foot should be used to stop the ball (side).

The cube also has four letters. They are:

  • L’ for left
  • R’ for right
  • I’ for inside-of-the-foot
  • O’ for outside-of-the-foot

With the help of the Magic Cube, remembering the proper technique for stopping a ball is simple.

  1. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the inside of the left foot to stop the ball (LIL).
  2. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the inside of the right foot to stop the ball (RIR).
  3. When the ball is passed to a player’s left side, he/she should use the outside of the right foot to stop the ball (LOR).
  4. When the ball is passed to a player’s right side, he/she should use the outside of the left foot to stop the ball (ROL).

Feel free to download and assemble your own Magic Cube. In other posts, I have mentioned fun practice alternatives. Assembling Magic Cubes would certainly qualify as a fun practice alternative. All you need to bring to practice are some 2-dimensional cubes and a few glue sticks (depending on the age of the kids, the cubes may need to be pre-cut and scored). Once the cubes have been assembled, demonstrate the proper stopping technique. Young players will remember the sage wisdom of the Magic Cube for a long time. During the year, coaches and parents can always refer to the ‘Magic Cube’ when the players need some assistance.

I added dots to each face of the cube so the Magic Cube can also be used as a die. If a player uses the Magic Cube more than once, its message will have a better chance of sinking in. To open and print out the Magic Cube shown above (complete with instructions), click here. To check out Magic Cubes in several color schemes, click here. Choose your favorite. I will also be happy to create a custom-colored Magic Cube. Just let me know.

The sooner a young player feels comfortable using both feet, the better.

Want to Play College Soccer? What is your GPA?

February 22, 2010

I recently caught up with Patrick Scheufler who was a player on the inaugural iSoccerStar.com reality soccer show (I met him through a good friend of mine). The show followed a team of hand-selected U.S. players who traveled to Montenegro and Albania to play local teams in hopes that some of them would attract the attention of some European clubs and sign those selected players to a professional contract.

This year, the program is back for a third year. This program’s primary goal is to showcase talented U.S. soccer players to Europeans clubs on European soil. Patrick is now a scout, talent locator, and partner with E.D. United which is the company behind the program. He told me that they are holding tryouts across the U.S. this spring to find the next group of players that will be part of this year’s team. For more information, visit One Shot One Dream.

This got me thinking about what it takes to play soccer after high school. Athletic ability is certainly important. The best U.S. soccer players will either sign with a European or other foreign club or accept a full ride scholarship to a top-rated college or university of their choice. For the many thousands of players who are one level below the first group, college will be their main option. For these college-bound players, however, there is something even more important than soccer ability. It is academic ability and achievement.

Most university and college football programs can offer upwards of 20 full-ride scholarships a year. As result, up to 80 football players on a team are playing with a full scholarship. College soccer is different. Oftentimes, these programs will only have a few full scholarships they can offer. What coaches will often do is break those scholarships in half, thirds, or quarters in order to attract as many players as possible.

In talking with some high school coaches, I’ve learned that university and college coaches would rather recruit and sign an above average player with a 3.5 – 4.0 grade-point-average (GPA) than a superstar with a 2.5 – 3.0 GPA. These coaches want to be guaranteed that the players they sign will be able to handle the rigors and obligations of being a student-athlete. The best barometric indicator to predict this success is good grades. In addition, if coaches can attract players with good grades (or other unique talents), it makes it much easier for them to go to the college recruiting administrators and seek partial academic (or other) scholarships to make up the difference.

My advice to players who wish to play competitive soccer past high school? Pay as much if not more attention on your grades as you do on soccer. Only a small percentage of high school players will play college soccer. Of those fortunate enough to player college soccer, only a handful will have a soccer-playing career. You will need something to fall back on and good grades and academic ability are a smart back-up plan.

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.

Player, Parents, and Coach Soccer Evaluations and Meetings

January 18, 2010

When my wife and I ask our kids how they are doing in school, the answer is always ‘great’. Fortunately, many of their teachers email us weekly progress reports which give us a clearer, more accurate picture of how they are really doing. However, nothing beats a parent/teacher conference, especially when our child is included.

One year, based on a parent’s suggestion, I decided to offer player/parent/coach meetings for the competitive U11 youth soccer team I was coaching. My only regret was that I did not do it earlier. It turned out to be very valuable for players and parents alike. To this day, I still get compliments from the parents who were part of that team.

First, I wrote individual evaluations for each player. This was followed up with a face-to-face meeting with each player and his parents. Below, I describe the process in more detail.

Evaluations

My recommendation is to do at least 2 evaluations each season, 3 if you are coaching a competitive team.

  • The first evaluation should take place 2-4 weeks after the first practice. By that time, a coach should have a fairly good idea of his/her players’ strengths and areas that need improving.
  • The second evaluation is optional for a house team but is very worthwhile for a competitive team. Mid-season is a great time to have this evaluation. The season is well under way and a coach should have a good idea of where his/her team stacks up against the competition and probably has a game plan in mind for the rest of the year. This is a great opportunity for parents to ask questions or bring up concerns that can still be addressed.
  • The final evaluation should take place just before the end of the season. A coach has seen how the players improved throughout the season and what needs to be worked on in the off-season. This is a great time for a coach to share his/her plans for the following year and to get a feel for what the players and parents have in mind as well.

Evaluation Format

The Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a non-profit organization founded at Stanford University that was created to transform the culture of youth sports to give all young athletes the opportunity for a positive, character-building experience. My home league requires that all coaches attend PCA’s “Double-Goal” session before the start of the season. This gives new and seasoned coaches tools to become more effective teachers and coaches.

One particular method that I really like and have incorporated into my evaluations and meetings is called the ‘Criticism Sandwich’. PCA recommends ‘sandwiching’ criticism (or corrections) with a compliment on both sides. The criticism is the meat, while the compliments are the bread.

My evaluations were an open-faced criticism sandwich. I first listed all the good qualities and traits a player possessed followed by a list of areas that needed improving. I always listed at least three good qualities and at least three areas needing improvement. I always had at least one assistant review my feedback not just to get his feedback but to make sure that nothing inappropriate was being said. Always make sure that the areas for improvement are attainable by that player.

Player/Parent/Coach Meeting

I prepared and conducted the meetings in the following manner:

  • I emailed my evaluation to each family before the meeting to give them time to review my feedback and come prepared with any questions.
  • I tried to have the meetings between tournament games. When that was not an option, I set aside a practice and had my assistant run a ‘fun’ practice while I was busy with the meetings (search my blog for fun alternative practice options).
    • Each meeting was no longer than 10 minutes.
    • I used the more traditional ‘criticism sandwich’ during these meeting. I went over the player’s strengths. That was followed by a discussion covering the areas that needed improving. This part was indeed a discussion (not a monologue) because I wanted the player and parents to agree, disagree, or ask questions. I always ended the meeting with lots of positive reinforcements and encouragement and I let the player know that I believed that he had what it took to become a better player.
    • If it was the second or third meeting, I always reviewed the previous improvement list to see how much progress he had made.
    • I always talked directly to the player and included the parents when I wanted to emphasize a particular point.

Yes, it will probably consume many, many hours of your time, especially writing the evaluations. If time is an issue, having only one round of meetings is better than none. This exercise turned out to be very worthwhile and rewarding for myself as well. I feel I became a much more positive coach as I started to use the criticism sandwich technique much more in practice and during games.

If you are not already doing player evaluations and having meetings with your players and parents, I hope you give it a try. I guarantee you that the parents will appreciate the effort.

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.

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.