Good Soccer

17 Mar

As a former coach, I have been fascinated watching both Aidan (U9) and Evan (U8) play their matches this spring.

Evan’s Future Academy group has transitioned from playing 3v3 soccer last fall into 4v4 (including a goalkeeper) this spring. The coaches have placed a heavy emphasis on shape, playing out from the back and using back passes to help open space.

When I coached Aidan in U8 last spring, we spent a lot of time trying to get a basic shape established and get the players to see that straight ahead wasn’t the only direction to play the ball. With Evan still two months shy of seven years old, he has learned to maintain shape, play the direction he’s facing, and work with teammates in a pressure and coverage defensive scheme.

Game days are also a dramatic change from recreation soccer experience. Parents aren’t screaming the whole game to shoot and pass. The kids talk on the field. Far less time is spent out of the game waiting to substitute. Even probably spent 60 minutes playing yesterday and 10 minutes waiting to play. Most recreation soccer was a 50/50 playing and sitting mix.

Aidan and his team have really shown improvement as well, both since the start of play last summer and the tournament a month ago.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in Aidan is also related to shape, timing and placement of runs. Adan has become stronger at knowing where space is open and looking to be open for the pass.

He’s also taken up a leadership role on the field – looking to ensure that opponents are covered on throw-ins and other dead ball situations. It’s all been really great to see in him.

His level of confidence with the ball has increased versus fall as well.

Academy soccer has been a great experience so far. Both our sons have developed a lot of skill, and become smarter in play. Consistency in training groups and teammates also has allowed them to extend friendships with teammates. More often when they return home from school, they are outside with a ball playing instead of inside on electronics.

At 36

15 Mar

I turned 36 this week. I’m now closer to 40 than 30 and closer to 50 than 20.

I feel like I’m healthy at 36 – certainly more than I was half a life ago at 18. At 18, I was close to 30 pounds heavier than I am now. My diet consisted of a lot of snack foods and fast food (that’s what the typical American high school or college student eats).

At 36, I’m more than a year and a half following the Paleo diet, to the point I don’t really think about it anymore. I’m able to subsist on longer fasts when I need to because my blood sugar is really stable through the whole day.

But it’s not without mental and physical challenges.

My last physical showed increased total and LDL-C blood cholesterol. It has lead me to make additional dietary adjustments – a little more awareness of fat intake, and increasing my carbohydrate intake away from what was frequently very low carb dieting (although I’m still in what would be low carb compared to my old diet).

My biggest plan for the next 4 years until I turn 40 is to be aware and to continue making small changes for performance and longevity.

And…We’re Off!

13 Aug

Our “Summer” was a blur.  Quick on the heels of Academy tryouts, we left for several summer trips.  When the last week of July hit, we had traveled 6000+ miles on three separate trips.

Aidan had team camp the week of July 30th.  He met his Academy teammates for the first time – and experienced three hours a day of soccer every morning for the week.

I think initially it was a shock to his system.  While some of our summer trips had significant outdoor periods, the majority of it was not in the heat that you typically have in Atlanta in late July and early August.  He also has never had a practice longer than 60 minutes in Rec – so the duration also was a challenge.

Last week added two 90 minute practices, followed by a 60 minute practice Friday night – which means in the span of two weeks he has nearly equaled his practice time from the 2011-2012 Recreation season.  He’s already shown improvements in his game play in terms of working with teammates.

Saturday was the opening tournament for the season – the SSA Summer Classic.  He had two matches Saturday and a third on Sunday morning.
Aidan started the first match in goal, despite his own feelings about the position.  His coach asked for volunteers and he stepped up.  He wasn’t happy about his own performance, but was glad to get to play rather than start the game on the bench.  He managed to score his first goal in the second half, en route to a 9-5 win for his team.  He also had a good cross (that failed to find a teammate) so it was a good match for him.

The second match found our squad playing Palmetto United – who had defeated their first opponent 19-3.  We quickly found out why – the team had a great set of players who maximized their use of ball skills to hold off defenders combined with some sharp passing and team play.  Our boys didn’t manage a goal and lost 8-0.

Game 3 found us again on top by a margin of 7-3.  Aidan had a couple of shots and several good looks on offense, and playing tougher defense (especially in our offensive half).  However, as we had lost to Palmetto already – we had no chance of advancing to the finals.

Aidan seems happy with his team.  He seems to enjoy his teammates so far and is getting along well with the kids.  This week it’s back to practice until the regular season opens on September 9th.

 

Being Unremarkable

6 Jul

Wednesday, July 4th marked my second anniversary as a runner.

I ran in the 2010 Peachtree Road Race on a borrowed number.  Following that race, I started running regularly and have since completed multiple 5k and 10k races as well as two half marathons.

This year was the first year I failed to improve on my times from the prior year.  I ran thirty seconds slower (46:13 finishing time) and finished nearly 200 people later in this year’s edition than last year.

Since being young, I think I’ve chased the need to be remarkable.  I think nearly everyone does.  In high school, we are told we need to stand out to attract the college admission we want.  In college, we need to differentiate to gain access to the best job.  After college, we do the same to try and gain promotions at work.

Outside of work, we compete for possessions and friends.  My dedication to running the past two years probably was another attempt to find some aspect of my life to be exceptional.

However, not everyone can be extraordinary.

In truth, I’m probably an average runner (despite my finishing times).  More than ever though, I’m accepting being less than exceptional in the view of the world.

What I do at work will never cure the problems of our country, or the world.  But for the people I work with, I can create contributions that help them be more successful and help our company find new success.

What I did as a soccer coach didn’t stand out.  My teams weren’t anymore successful than any team we played against and they lost more than they won.  But perhaps in the several seasons I coached I showed parents and children a great youth soccer experience.

With my own sons, I can’t claim to have created two great athletes.  I have fostered a love of sport that for their ages is fairly deep and hopefully will endure (or will transfer to other arenas).

Success is relative to the goals you set.  I’ve felt directionless lately in my health and fitness quest.  While I’ve maintained my Paleo diet, I’ve cut back on running and missed a lot of weightlifting sessions since April 1st.  In hindsight I know my goals have been foggy and without good definition.

I don’t know where I want my weightlifting and training to take me – but I need to figure it out to get back on track.

A Trying Week

31 May

This week is Georgia Soccer’s designated week for Academy tryouts.  Thus, our early evening has been filled with Soccer again this week for one last time before the summer.

Aidan was enthusiastic about starting tryouts Tuesday evening.  After a couple of week layoff from organized soccer, and being out of school since last week, it was a structured activity to look forward to.

The downside is that it’s the end of May in Atlanta – and temperatures yesterday were close to ninety degrees when the kids took the field at 5 PM.

Our club has between fifty and sixty boys trying out for U9 Academy.  Based on 6v6 play, I would expect that they would have 4 teams of 12 players each.  There’s also talk of expanding the pool size for U9 to add two more teams, but nothing concrete has been announced.  From a numerical standpoint then, you would assume that the majority of the players will make the cut and play in Academy.

But that depends as much on the player’s readiness as the numbers.  If the coaches don’t feel players are ready to train at the pace and frequency that Academy entails, then they won’t be selected.

It’s a tough week for the kids – three straight nights of training in the heat for ninety minutes per night.  But it’s been mentally taxing for the parents as well.

We don’t have many Pass/Fail tests anymore for eight year-old children in the United States anymore.  It’s been systemically removed from schools for this age group.  Without causing Aidan added stress for this situation, it’s hard to convey a sense of urgency to him about how he should perform. As parents, we always encourage our kids to do their best or try their hardest – but in reality we know that maximum effort doesn’t always come out.

I’ve also tried to remain as detached as possible from this entire event – apart from driving Aidan to and from the tryout and waiting while he plays.  Some of the parents stand up and help their kids during each water break, as well as signing them in each night.  I want Aidan to be independent in this event – because he will be independent in many aspects of soccer if he makes the team.

One more night, and then a nervous couple of days until the results.

The Optimism of A Eight Year Old

14 May

“Dad, they can still win.”

Aidan said those words to me as we watched the Manchester City – Queens Park Rangers match this morning.  It was about eighty-eight minutes into the match and City was trailing 2-1.  League rivals Manchester United were at the same point winning 1-0.

A City loss and United win would mean United would win the Premier League again.

I had my doubts.  City had failed to capitalize for the entire second half against a short-handed Queens Park Rangers.

As the clocked ticked past ninety minutes into stoppage time, it started to happen.

First Edin Džeko scored on a corner to place City even in the match – but still trailing Manchester United in the league.

We screamed in amazement.

Just moments later, Sergio Aguero finds his way through the defense on a ball from Mario Balotelli to score the winning goal.

Again, we screamed and cheered.

Our reaction wasn’t unique – check out Sky Sports reaction to the turn of events.

This is why we watch sports.  There is no fictional story, movie or show that can compare to a team moving from certain defeat to league champion while at the same time defeating their arch rivals for the title.

Size 4 Soccer Balls: The Winner Is…

11 May

Several weeks ago, I asked my readers for recommendations on Size 4 Soccer balls.  One of the points made by a reader was keeping cost down – because kids do lose balls!  There’s been an epidemic of balls picked up by other players at our club.

I settled on the Select “Club” ball for my two sons and ordered a pair of them.  They arrived earlier this week and the kids have both been using them since.

Several positives for this ball:

  • Fairly unique on our fields.  I haven’t seen any balls in this color combination at our training or practice sessions.  This makes a difference when it’s time to find your ball at the end of practice.
  • Really solid touch when it’s fully inflated.  It doesn’t have much padding under the cover, which I prefer in a ball.
  • Has a good weight to it.  It doesn’t bounce like a rubber playground ball.
  • $15.99 price point for this colorway.  That was cheaper than a lot of the balls I also considered.

We will see over time how well the ball holds up and keeps inflation.

Coincidentally, I found a Size 5 version of the ball locally in the all White colorway at a going-out-of-business sale at a local store and picked it up for myself!  It has the same attributes as the Size 4 balls.  We used it for part of my match on Sunday and it was positively received by the players.  It allowed for properly weighted passes, but wasn’t overtly lively on first touch.

Select seems to produce good balls at a good price point.  They are harder to find locally – they are not commonly carried by the Big Box stores – but specialty stores may carry them as well as Soccer.com.

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