Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Want to Get Noticed at a Tryout? Try a Bicycle Kick

May 13, 2010

I’ve written several articles on tryouts: one for coaches entitled, “The Worst Part of Coaching” and one for players entitled, “Be More Vocal at Tryouts”. The most important thing a player has to do at a tryout is to get noticed, preferably for a positive action. Being a good player certainly helps and being vocal will draw attention to yourself. The other way to get noticed is to attempt a bicycle kick.

I say bicycle kick because it is one of the most recognizable, beautiful and yet most difficult moves in soccer. Any time I see a player attempt a bicycle kick, it tells me the players is:

  • Knowledgeable about the game of soccer
  • Creative
  • Confident

In addition to a bicycle kick, these actions will also get a player the attention he/she needs to stand out from other players:

  • Communication
  • An excellent and unselfish assist
  • A beautiful goal
  • Great dribbling moves
  • Crisp, well-positioned passes on the ground.
  • Comfortable with both feet
  • Long throw-ins

Conversely, attempting a bicycle kick or any other move when it is not necessary (for example, a defender performs a bicycle kick in his/her defensive third just to be cute) can have the opposite effect. It can get a player noticed for the wrong reason.

Before a tryout, ask yourself (and ask the advice of other coaches and parents) and write down your strengths (initiative should be a strength since you are taking the time to think about your strengths). With your list in hand, try to apply and demonstrate these strengths at every opportunity you have during the tryout. But don’t force these strengths–strengths should come naturally.

Actually, I lied. The most important thing a player has to do at a tryout is to enjoy the experience and have fun! Good luck!

Simple Tips that will Significantly Impact Games

May 3, 2010

As I approach my one-hundredth post, I have learned the following:

  • Gore sells. Besides the home page, my most popular post was the one about Aaron Ramsey’s broken leg.
  • Initially, I thought I only had ideas for 25 or 30 posts. I now know I have what seems like an endless supply of material to write about.
  • My content must be OK as Soccer America has reprinted five articles to date and Potomac Soccer Wire reprints one of my posts weekly.
  • I have learned that most soccer blogs cover professional games, leagues, and players. Very few blogs are dedicated to improving youth soccer for an audience of youth coaches, players, and parents.

The other day I was looking at the page hits and noticed that a set of very valuable articles I wrote early on has not gotten the love or attention I feel they deserve. I have written 20 articles that start with the title, “2-3 Goal Difference per Game”. These were written primarily for coaches who tend to over-coach, place too much importance on the X’s and O’s, and don’t let their players go out and have fun and make mistakes.

Soccer, especially at the youth level, should be about free play and only a few coaches’ instructions during games. These articles include simple coaching tips that should be easy for players to understand and learn quickly. These tips will dramatically affect the outcome of a game. While player development, and not winning, should be a youth coach’s ultimate goal, increasing a team’s chances of winning without compromising development and fun is not a bad thing either.

You will find the subject matter and respective links to the 20 articles below. Enjoy!

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.

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!”

Improving Throw-ins: Putting it All Together (part 4 of 4)

January 8, 2010

In this (potentially) final posting on improving throw-ins I write about putting all the pieces of the earlier posts together into a game plan and philosophy so that teams that have adopted the ‘let’s-throw-the-ball-down-the-wing’ strategy can be more imaginative and use the throw-in more to their advantage.

First a quick recap.

  • Checking-in: Instead of a field player running down the wing or simply standing still, field players should check-in to the thrower in order to improve the throw-in retention rate.
  • 180 Choices: Too often, throw-ins are simply thrown down the wings. On most areas of the field, the thrower should exercise his/her options and also look to throw the ball backwards and into the middle of the field. The 180 choices refers the number of degrees in a semi-circle and thus, the number of throw-in options a thrower should exercise.
  • Hit the Feet: The easiest way to control a soccer ball is with the feet. Therefore, it is imperative that the thrower aim for and hit a field player’s feet. This becomes more difficult when the player is moving and checking-in.

The final ingredient that binds these aspects of the throw-in together is ‘movement’. For most throw-ins, especially those between the penalty areas, a minimum of three players should make themselves available to receive the ball from the thrower. Let’s look at the examples below:

  • An attacker (A1) should check-in to the thrower (Thr). When an attacker checks-in, a defender (D1) will usually follow. If the defender follows, A1 can pass the ball back to the thrower, pass it to another player, or make an instant move and beat the defender. If the defender does not follow, A1 should control the ball and turn up field. It is a good idea for the thrower to get into the habit of communicating with the player(s) checking-in. For instance, ‘man on!’ can be called out by the thrower if the defender is following his/her teammate or ‘turn!’ if the defender does not follow.
  • A midfielder should also check-in (M2). It is important that the player checking-in does it abruptly so that he/she can separate him/herself from the defender (D2). Equally important, M2 should either make eye contact with the thrower before checking-in or call for the ball to get the thrower’s attention. ‘Here!’, ‘ball!’, or calling the thrower by his/her name are acceptable commands.
  • The thrower’s defensive teammate (D3) should also be available to receive a throw-in. However, instead of checking-in, D3 should move away from the thrower while keeping constant eye contact with the thrower. The reason you don’t want a defender to check-in is because if the ball is misplayed, it could lead to a scoring opportunity for the other team. Usually there won’t be an opponent on the defender so having a greater distance between the thrower and the defensive teammate should not cause a problem. There is no need for this teammate to draw attention to him/herself. The thrower should always know that a defensive teammate is available for a throw.

A fantastic by-product of checking-in is that it creates open spaces and, therefore, more throw-in options.

  • When M2 and D2 check-in, they create open space where they once stood (denoted by the orange circle). When M4 moves into the vacated space, he/she becomes a fourth option available to the thrower.
  • The same thing happens when A1 and D1 check-in. The wing area (blue circle) is now open space that A5 can fill and give the thrower yet another throw-in option.

With seemingly little effort by the field players and recognition on the part of the thrower, any team can turn the throw-in into a more advantageous play. However, this is easier said than done; otherwise all teams would be doing this. I have found that movement off or without the ball is one of the toughest things to teach and instill in young players. Many kids simply focus on the ball and many times get so captivated by its movement that they become spectators on the field. Conditioning, or the lack thereof, also can play a role. So what is the solution?

As I wrote in my other throw-in posts, the best way to instill the concept of movement for throw-ins is to instill this concept with non-throw-in drills and small-sides games. Checking-in, seeing the field, accurate passes, good ball control, communication, and movement takes place every second during a game. If these skills are developed on the field, improved throw-ins will be a by-product of these new and improved skills.

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.

Fun Practice Alternative: Ultimate Soccer

November 29, 2009

There is a game that I see both youth and adult soccer coaches use as a warm-up exercise that I don’t think is very good or effective. I called it ‘Throw-in Keepaway’ but I believe there are other names for it. The game is played as follows:

  • Players are divided into two teams.
  • Using the proper throw-in technique (with the ball behind the head with 2 hands and the feet on the ground), the ball is passed to an open player on the same team.
  • The open player needs to catch the ball to earn a point. A point is earned with each successful catch. Points accumulate as the ball is successfully passed and caught by a teammate. If the passing team drops the ball but retains possession, the point total goes back to zero.
  • If the ball is caught or recovered by the other team, the other team starts passing the ball around and accumulating points in the same fashion.
  • The team with the highest point value wins.

This game does get players loose and it is fun in its uniqueness. But I don’t like some of the negative aspects that are associated with the game:

  • It promotes bunch ball because most players can’t throw-in very far.
  • In the haste of finding and passing the ball to an open player, poor and improper throw-in techniques are often used.
  • Because of the close confines, there is a greater chance of players running into each other and getting hurt.

Instead, I recommend playing a game called ‘Ultimate Soccer’. Ultimate Soccer (US) is very similar to ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ (UF). Like UF, US is played with a Frisbee on a field that looks like a football field, with end zones at either end. A point is earned each time the Frisbee is caught in the opposing team’s end zone. A player who catches the Frisbee outside of the end zone must advance the Frisbee by throwing it to a teammate; the player is not allowed to advance the Frisbee by running with it.

US could be played using UF rules, but I prefer a slightly modified set of rules that make US more soccer friendly.

  • US should be played on an age-appropriate soccer field with the end zones starting on the goal line and extending out to the top of the penalty box (see image).
  • Similar to soccer, US kick-offs (or throw-offs) start at midfield with the Frisbee being tossed backwards (this is different than UF where the Frisbee is thrown downfield by the team that scored a point).
  • Unlike UF which requires the defense to play a man-to-man defense, in US teams are allowed to play a defensive zone if they wish.

Benefits

Sure many players may struggle throwing the Frisbee. To help, make sure that each game begins with a warm-up throwing and tutorial session. Then let the fun and benefits begin.

  • Movement off the ball
    In ‘Ultimate’ if a player stands around, he/she will never receive a pass and if they do, it will be intercepted. In soccer, I have found a lot of players just stand around waiting for the ball to be passed to them. ‘Ultimate’ will help players move.
  • Finding the open space
    Now that there is movement, where should a player move? Simply put, ‘open space’ is any place there is no other offensive or defensive player. Finding and moving to the open space requires looking at the entire field and not just at the Frisbee.
  • Playing with the head up
    To find the open space, a player must play with his/her head up in order to see the entire field. In soccer, players often focus only on the player with the ball and seldom on their surroundings. Ultimate will force players to play with the head up.
  • Passing to the open space
    One of the best parts of ‘Ultimate’ is it teaches the thrower to throw the Frisbee not at the player but rather to the spot where the player will be when he/she has completed a move. I have found that passing to the open space is one of the hardest concepts to learn in soccer. US will reinforce this skill.
  • Discourages kickball and one-touch soccer
    At the youth level, many players simply kick the ball away as soon as it comes to them without ever controlling it first. With ‘Ultimate’, this is not possible. A player has to first catch the Frisbee before a pass can be made. At the youth level, it is critical for a player to learn the importance and skill of ball control.
  • Running toward the Frisbee
    ‘Ultimate’ players will learn very quickly that unless they run toward the Frisbee once it is thrown to them instead of waiting for the Frisbee to come to them, a defender will always step in front of them and intercept the pass. The same thing happens on the soccer field if a player does move toward the ball when it is passed to him/her.
  • Verbal and body-language communication
    The US field is large. The player in possession of the Frisbee can’t see the entire field at once. He/she needs help from teammates. Body language, such as pointing to the spot you want the Frisbee thrown, as well as verbal communication, is an important key to any team’s success. I don’t think there can ever be enough communication on the soccer field, especially between players.
  • Conditioning
    US is a fantastic way for soccer players to get in game shape. It simulates game-like conditions. If US is played at the end of practice, the players are guaranteed to be exhausted by the end. Yet they’ll have had lots of fun!

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.

2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Communication

September 21, 2009
There is no prettier sound on the soccer field that 22 players communicating with one another. Communication is a critical component to soccer success. A player can see only so much in terms of what is going on around him at any given time. He needs help from his teammates. In addition, a player needs to know what his teammates are thinking. This can only take happen if everyone is communicating with everyone else.

Communication can happen many different ways. The three main forms of communication are verbal, gesturing, and eye contact. For now, I’m only focusing on verbal communication and only two examples. But if you incorporate just these two examples, you will see instant improvement in your team’s performance and communication.

“Keep”

Goalkeepers have a distinct advantage over field players. Not only can they handle the ball inside the penalty box but 99.9% of the time, the play is in front of them. As a result, goalies have the best picture of what is happening on the field. As such, a goalkeeper will know best if she will be able to get to a ball before her teammates or opponents. When she makes the decision to attack the ball, she needs to yell “Keep” so the whole field can hear her.

Yelling ‘keep’ serves two purposes:
  • It lets the goalie’s teammates know that she wants the ball and therefore not to touch or play it.
  • It warns the opponents that the goalkeeper has every intention of going after the ball.
It always helps to have a vocal goalie. However, if you have a quiet goalie, as long as she says ‘keep’ loud enough for her teammates to hear her, that is fine. Another term that a goalie can use in this situation is ‘keeper’.

“Man On”

How often have you seen a player waiting for a ball only to have an opponent step in front of him and steal the ball? Much too often, I bet. But what happens when a player or coach yells “Man On”? Instantly that same player will react and go toward the ball. ‘Man On’ means, “watch out, someone is coming up on you from behind or from the side.” This expression is the best expression new or young players can learn. It will:
  • Help them start to become more vocal and communicative
  • Get players to go toward the ball more frequently and naturally
  • Reduce the number of times the ball gets stolen
  • Keep coaches from having to yell or scream the warning. And given decibel levels I’ve heard recently, everyone will appreciate this.