Archive | April, 2012

When Players Can Stay Calm, They Can Succeed

30 Apr

Two weeks ago we played a match and got caught up in the other side’s game of booting the ball as hard and far as possible.

Saturday morning was the opposite – while our opponent often sent the ball far down field, we managed to keep composure and play the soccer that we wanted to play.

Post spring break, our lead scorer had seen a change in his playing behavior.  While earlier in the season he had been a great dribbler and used skills to beat defenders, after the break he had a tendency to pull the trigger much earlier and was shooting from just inside of midfield (albeit with power).  The result was the ball going high over the goal or wide of the goal.

Saturday I focused my pre-game preparation with them on playing possession (keep-away) and then gave them some specific roles on the field.

Our Goalkeepers and Defenders need to make a smart pass to a player in open space.

Receiving players need to carry the ball up the pitch until they encounter resistance.  When they meet resistance they need to work on finding a teammate or beating the opponent with a good turn or move.

Shots should be taken closer to the box and then followed to pick up rebounds.

Our forward needs to pressure the ball in our offensive half when we lose possession.

But more than anything, I tried to emphasize staying calm and taking your time on the ball.

One of our parents this week brought a portable bench – and I took a seat as the game started and talked with our substitute player during the first quarter of the game.  I’ve always tried to say less specific instruction during the game – but perhaps being seated with a player took this a step further and relieved some pressure from the players on the field.

We put two goals in the net in the first quarter through using skills and persistence on defense.  The second quarter went by scoreless and then we scored three more in the second half.

We kept a clean sheet for the first time this season (and the first of any team I’ve coached).  There was good luck involved in that – one of their shots bounced off of the post – but we also kept them out of the box and our goalkeeper was rarely hung out solo in the back with the defender beat by a move.

We had two players score their first goals of the season!  That brings a total of five different players on our team that have scored this season.  This is a better ratio than I’ve seen on any of the U7 or U8 teams I’ve coached over the past fourteen months.

We have two matches left this season – I’m hoping we can continue what we did Saturday into the last two weeks of the season.

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Opening the Running Season

27 Apr

Yesterday I started my Spring and Summer running season.

It had been a month since I last attempted to run.  While on business travel to Asheville, I tried to get a run in but failed due to a combination of lack of daylight, familiarity with the area, and lack of sidewalks or shoulders to use.

Previously I had run one run more than five miles this calendar year, and that was just after the first of the year.

Yesterday marked sixty-nine days until the Peachtree Road Race – one of the largest 10k races nationally and the biggest event in the Atlanta running community.  I won my lottery place into the race back in March – and with my qualifying time from the Atlanta Half Marathon last Thanksgiving, I’ll start from the “A” group.  That places me just behind the Elite seeded and sub-seeded runners.

I’m looking to improve my 10k Personal best (45:07), my Peachtree record (45:43).

I found last fall that despite reducing my mileage, I still maintained and actually improved my times in the Half Marathon.  Based on my run Thursday, I can expect similar results this summer.

Thursday’s run took me through the hilly Virginia-Highlands area of Atlanta’s Midtown during the mid-morning – normal traffic levels and traffic lights included.  I finished 6.42 miles in 51:29 (just over 8 minutes per mile).  That puts me on a similar or better pace to my runs late last summer – after running the Peachtree and several weeks of training.

I’ll probably stay with a lot of weight training for another few weeks – and then start switching in a couple days of running at differing volume and pace to prepare for the race.  I’m trying to stay relaxed about accumulating specific distances or anything measurable with running right now.

Consumers No Longer

24 Apr

In the Fall, I noted that my sons were living on the edge of being consumers and participants on their soccer team and with soccer in general.

Both were in a place with soccer that they didn’t pick up the ball between practices and didn’t work on their skills for their Fast Track training regularly enough to improve.  They enjoyed practice, and they enjoyed their match – but they were not investing time in playing away from the confines of the team.

With three weeks of practices and matches left in our Spring season, I can stay that both have moved themselves solidly into participants and often are creators.

Evan (soon to be six years old) has been really well engaged with improving himself in Soccer – or just playing more, even if it’s by himself.  He will go outside with a ball and work on dribbling and juggling, or find me to play 1v1, passing or any other skills he can think of.

Aidan has also improved himself.  We worked on Saturday afternoon after his game – he wanted to help me prepare for my match on Sunday.  He came up with some drills for us to run.

When they get together, they’ve started playing more 1v1 against each other.  I sometimes join them as a neutral player that they can pass and receive from.

It’s a really positive step to see both of them take.

I think there’s a wide range of contributing factors that have helped move to this step.

Pickup Soccer through the winter months and during Spring break was a big step for both of them.  It removed each of them from the “spectacle” of youth sports and placed them into an environment where neither was a dominant player but that both could learn from older players.

The interest that the Premier League and Champions League matches in recent weeks have brought to our home has also been a factor.  While both have been watching at least parts of matching, it gives a lot of inspiration to dreams and conversation.  Just like my brother and I would play the World Series when we would play baseball as a child, my kids are playing Chelsea versus Barcelona (Drogba versus Messi) in the front yard.

Finally, I think both see themselves in some shape as a leader on their soccer teams.  In both cases, they are among the leading scorers on their teams.  Evan has taken to helping some of his newer teammates on his U6 team with skills work.  Both have a firm understanding of the sport’s rules and during practice take on a leading role in scrimmages for restarts and disputes.

As a Dad, and a Coach – it’s rewarding to see.  It gives me a lot of confidence that they can move on to be coached by others and even participate in our club’s Academy to higher success.  While I don’t claim that either will be the most talented player on their team – they are already taking steps to convert work ethic into on-field performance.

April Football from Europe is the Next Great Sports Event

23 Apr

The last few weeks of football from Europe have been a fantastic run-up to finale.

I started casually following the English Premier League, UEFA Champions’ League and Spain’s La Liga two years ago. This season it has been a weekly habit with multiple matches per week.

With these seasons all coinciding from late summer and rising to finales in May, April has been a fantastic month of matches four or five days a week.

I elected last year to start supporting the underdog club of Manchester, Manchester City, in the English Premier League. City led the league for much of the season before giving the lead away to their rivals Manchester United. Now the race has pulled within a one win/one loss margin that could be evened when the two teams meet April 30.

It’s a date circled for our household.

Last weekend had a fantastic set of matches, starting with a 2-1 classic between Spanish rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid and continuing Sunday with a 4-4 battle between Manchester United and Everton.

Finally, the finals for the best club in Europe will be set this week following the second leg of two matches with four of Europe’s biggest clubs.

There’s a lot of DVR content out there!

These season finales are likely to continue to help build viewership of the European game in the United States with almost every match finishing in a highly competitive style.

Have you been watching?

We Played Ugly Soccer

14 Apr

We played a team that played ugly soccer, and we reflected their style after the first twelve minutes.

Both of our teams were back in action today after a two Saturday hiatus for spring break.  Going into the break, we had played both days of a weekend and then took two Fridays (practices) and two Saturdays off.  Friday night we practiced and this afternoon was our game.

I wouldn’t say our U8 team is great by any definition.  We have a mix of players – but in the last couple games before the break, we started to show signs of playing intelligent football.  Our goalkeeper and defender distributed the ball to the rest of the field players well, and we generally did a good job of defending and closing down the opponent’s space.  My goals with our team though have been to emphasize playing under control, maximizing dribbling times and making controlled passes as a decision versus instinctive deep kicks.

Within the first twelve minutes, I could see that our opponent didn’t have these goals in mind.  The defender’s first touch sent the ball deep, and the other team regularly knocked the ball out of bounds when trying to close down an attacker.

In U8, it’s not necessarily a bad style of play if you consider the outcomes.  By sending the ball deep downfield, you get instant penetration and you might be able to regularly achieve a 1v1 situation with a defender plus the goalkeeper or even 1v1 against the keeper.

Our team was easily influenced by watching our opponents play this way – and I think our parents as well.  We came off the field after the first twelve minutes for subsitutions tied at one – their goal the result of a throw-in that the other team moved past our cluster of players to open space on the opposite side and our one goal the result of intercepting the ball in the midfield, a good dribble and shot.

But the opposition moved a bigger-legged kid to defender in the second quarter – and he regularly blasted the ball downfield on first touch (there were a few that bounced once before going out of bounds on the opposite end.)  The crowd cheered every time the kid blasted it away.

And soon our kids were seduced to the dark side.

We talked at half time about it.

I asked our team, “How many goals did they score in the second quarter from all of those big kicks?”

“None.”

“Do you think they work to help score goals?”

“Maybe.”

“How?”

Silence.

I encouraged the team to return to playing with our eyes, ears and heads in the second half.

When the third quarter hit, our defender’s first touch had the same crushing impact – the ball rocketing downfield before going out of bounds.  After a few minutes, ping-pong set in and I knew we were done for the day.

I sat down for several minutes rather than say anything more.  My words were lost versus the cheers from the parents sideline.

Our opponents scored one more in the third quarter, and then we pulled even in the fourth.  Another member of our team scored his first goal of the season.

We did have some positives this week – most notably on throw-ins.  While we still had problems with making legal throw-ins (as usual in any U8 match) we found a lot more open space this week on throws and regularly chose not to throw the ball into a cluster of the other team.  Progress!

Next week I’m hoping to address the ugly play in practice though – I just need a plan of how to get there.

Optimism

9 Apr

My son Evan, all of five years old tonight asked me how Barcelona FC found Lionel Messi.  I explained to him in a short way about scouts and the youth academy system in Europe.

He thinks for a minute.

He then says to me, “Dad, I think I need to go to Manchester City instead.  I don’t know many Spanish words.”

It is fabulous how the mind of a five year old dreams, isn’t it?

Fitness Metrics as of April 1, 2012

1 Apr

Diet: Paleo Plus Dairy

Seven months of Paleo eating are done.  At this point, it’s become easier to maintain the current path than to switch back to a Standard American Diet.
One of my best finds during the month was taking advantage of a American Express Sync With Twitter deal to help stock up on Grass-fed meats at Whole Foods.
Weight Lifting

I lifted weights 11 days during March, down from 13 in February.  I had several days of travel during the month, but the bigger factor was taking the last week of the month off from weightlifting and attempting to get some additional rest.

My maximum squat has increased ten pounds to 260 pounds (a little better than 1.8 times body weight).  My maximum deadlift has increased by twenty-five pounds to 250 pounds.  .

No change on bench press – still holding at 160 pounds (1.1 times body weight).

Running

One run, totaling about 3 miles in February.  I tried to run while in Asheville on business but between the time change and the area around the hotel I couldn’t find a safe route.  I’m in the Pacific Northwest this month and plan to run while there – adding to my “States I’ve run in” total.
I did register for the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th in Atlanta – so I’ll be building some mileage as well as speed workouts leading up to then.
Soccer
League start is just around the corner.  I’ve had a couple of kick-arounds with my new team, but also spent a lot of time in the yard with my sons working on all of our skills.  Evan has shown a lot of determination on his juggling (Keepy ups) so we’ve both been working on those.  I can hit 10 or more consecutively consistently.

Sleep

On weightlifting days, I’m still up at 4:40 AM.  But when traveling or on weekends I’m trying to sleep later.

Weight: 144 Pounds

I’m up two pounds from my weight in March.