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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.

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.

 

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.

Approaching the Finale

10 May

Saturday marks the final matches of our U6 and U8 team schedules.

Last Saturday showed some big improvements in our team versus prior performances. The team is continuing to play calmly and many of the players have progressed in their skills.

Most of all, everyone has acquired a new level of confidence.

One more player scored his first goal of the season. Another player who was on my teams going back to U7 last spring had his best game and came within a post’s width of scoring his first goal.

It’s shaping up to be a good season in retrospect.

We have one training session and 48 minutes of game before my coaching career comes to an end with the U8 team.

I’d really like to sit down Saturday and let the game happen. I want to give the players more freedom than usual Saturday to play the game.

I’m excited and sad for the end of the season and coaching. It’s time to move to the other sideline and enjoy watching my kids play.

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.