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I’m the age Athletes Are when their careers are done.

12 Mar

I’m 35 years old today.

I’m the age many athletes are when their careers are finished, or at least into the downward spiral that leads to being done.

My childhood sporting idol, Cal Ripken Jr. completed his milestone 2,131 consecutive game played at age 35.  After that season – he played two more seasons appearing in more than 160 games but never hit 20 home runs in a season again.

Since starting to watch the Premier League, I’ve taken a liking to Manchester United’s Paul Scholes – who retired after last season at the age of 36.  Little did anyone know at that point that Scholes would reappear for this season and play again for Manchester United.

Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s leading all-time scorer and of the New York Red Bulls the last two seasons, has proven that he has aged well – a return to Arsenal allowed him to add to his legend with the club.

So maybe there’s hope for me after all.

I’m in the best shape of my life, without doubt.  My strength numbers don’t lie – I can lift more than I ever had before.  I can run faster and further than I ever have before.  I’ve been successful in rooting out more of the bad food choices from my diet and have created the foundation for years of wellness.

Time for another record setting year.

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Teaching a Soccer Culture

9 Mar

Typically, as my U8 team leaves the training session I start with a couple of questions to the team:

“How was everyone’s week at school?”

Usually everyone responds with a “Good!”

“Did anyone play any soccer since last week’s practice or match?”

Here I get three hands up in in a good week (out of seven players).

This week, my third question will be, “What’s everyone’s favorite soccer team?”

I can predict my son will answer with either Manchester City or a club he has embraced from the FIFA franchise.

But I’ll wager that at most, one other player on the team will identify a soccer club either domestically in the United States or overseas.   

Why does any of this matter?  The sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s part of a bigger culture that the kids need to learn exists – fans who love their clubs and wear the colors, great rivalries and watching the game.

Watching the game is perhaps one of the best ways to learn the game.  In American culture, soccer is much harder to find.  While World Cup matches were broadcast on over-the-air television, first division US Soccer rarely sees an over the air broadcast.  Last year’s final for the MLS didn’t start on the East coast until after 9 PM.

Beginning to identify with a club, a team, a player – it’s what makes kids dream about continuing in sport and becoming the best.  

When I was a young Baseball player in the early 80’s, I collected Baseball cards, read books about Baseball and studied Baseball statistics.  I watched my favorite team on television, listened to games on the radio, and attended games every season.

But for young American soccer players – the game at it’s best is more out of reach.  TV coverage can be at odd hours or hard to find channels.  The best opportunity might be Monday Premier League matches or Champions League that start at 3 PM Eastern – just in time for many kids arriving home from school.  

But the teams have foreign names and play in far away cities – without the “touchable” quality of going to see a game in person.

I’d like to think the video game console is helping build the sport in the United States.  EA Sports FIFA franchise is a great way to embrace the game’s best clubs and players.  In many ways, I liken it what it could do to what Sony’s Gran Turismo franchise did in the 90’s for exotic cars and especially for the Subaru brand.  Subaru went from being a brand embraced by people living in the Mountains to being a brand desired by twenty year-old car enthusiasts.  Demand from the game helped bring the WRX to the United States.

Playing the game in the vacuum is going to leave the players short on the knowledge and the passion they will need to stay in the game past U10.  

What else can we do as coaches to help build a soccer culture with our players?

 

Review: Brooks Pure Connect

21 Nov

I’ve been going down the road of “Minimalist” running shoes for almost a year and a half now.

My first pair were Nike’s Free Run+. They had a lot I loved about them – a really flexible sole, lightweight, and an upper that was essentially a one-piece sock that wrapped around your foot. I ran most of my training leading up to my first half marathon as well as the race in this shoe, as well as a 5k and 10k after that. As it stands now, my personal records for the 10k and Half Marathon are in this shoe.

In March I acquired a pair of Brooks Green Silence. A little bit lighter, with an upper that has good ventilation and wraps around your foot well. It has a little bit less of a heel-to-toe drop than the Nike Free Run+. This shoe was my shoe for most of this year – with a Peachtree Road Race run in it and then my 5k Personal Record last month.

Along the way I threw a pair of Vibram Five Fingers into the mix to work on form training. These have become my favored shoe for weight lifting as well.

So with my overall win at the Lily’s Run last month, I was awarded a free pair of shoes of my choice from Fleet Feet Sports Johns Creek. My short list of shoes was the Brooks Pure Connect, Nike’s Free Run v3.0, and any Cross Country flats they might have in stock.

The winner after some runs around the shopping mall? The Brooks Pure Connect.
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U6 End of Fall Season Evaluation

18 Nov

The U6 season ended on Saturday.  With the season in the past, it was time to put some thought to the player performances and how we can progress in the spring.

Skills

The majority of the technical skills were taught by the club trainer.  While the training started off a little slow – and losing a few players in the early weeks – I felt like the training improved over time and all of the players improved their technical skills in training.

The difficult part for a lot of the kids was translating the skills from training to game.  Kids have a hard time with heads-up dribbling, and thus have a hard time avoiding opponents.  They probably need more direct instruction and practice on turning and changing direction with the ball.

Game Knowledge

One of my objectives with all of my teams is to raise the level of independence and autonomy that the kids can operate with.  Since my first coaching course last winter, I’ve stopped giving any instruction to the kids on the field while they play.  I’ll give some praise (Good dribble, good tackle) but I avoid giving direct instructions, including “Pass” or “Shoot.”

The kids have progressed well on game knowledge.  There’s a solid core on the team who understand the flow of the game – kick-offs after goals especially.  In the spring, I hope to firmly establish kick-ins after ball out-of-bounds so they are well prepared for U7 next year.

Teamwork

The difficult part of team recreation sports is the uneven playing levels of kids within the same team.  Thus, you might have a player or two with above average skills and a start at good tactical knowledge but doesn’t have anyone to play with to help them progress.

I’m hoping some winter pick up will be a good stand-in for helping them learn some additional team skills, but I’ll also pick out a couple of kids to work with in the spring in our extra minutes before practice starts to help them learn some team skills.  Again, it feels like we have a good opportunity to introduce some topics in the spring before they get to U7 that will be more needed there.

Chemistry

Just like last year, I feel like the players match up with each other well in terms of personality.  All of the kids knew at least one other player before the season, and now seem to all enjoy playing with each other.  Definitely a successful season there.

 

Are Sports Top of Mind?

7 Sep

Quick quiz: if you asked your child 10 things they can do with their free time outside of school, would their current sport even make the list?

While my own two sons seem to really enjoy playing soccer in the context of games, practices and when I engage them at home, it’s rare that either will spontaneously decide to grab a ball and practice skills or play 1v1.

As parents and coaches, this is a mindset that needs to be altered. It’s a need beyond producing an athlete for competition at older ages – it’s about producing active people in good health.

So why are our children choosing other activities? As middle class Americans it’s easy to do so.

There’s plentiful games and toys in our house.

The Internet is always on and offers a deep selection of free and apparently addictive Flash based video games.

Ditto for the iPad – games everywhere!

And the Wii – always new levels to explore in Lego Star Wars, Harry Potter or other favorites.

And on the DVR there’s a deep catalog of favorite shows like Phineas and Ferb.

All of these are options that weren’t available to me as a child.

So as parents, what do we do to encourage our children to be active in any sport?

Are You a Master of What You Teach?

6 Sep

My son Aidan recently decided he wanted to skateboard.

Aidan at the Forsyth County Skate Park

Aidan at the Forsyth County Skate Park

As a result, we visited the local skateshop and we bought a top of the line deck, trucks, wheels and safety gear.

I’ve been taking him daily to the new skate park at Fowler Park and coaching him through learning the ins and outs.

Of course, I’ve never skated a day in m life. But why wouldn’t I take this opportunity to teach him?

Well, none of that is true (except for Aidan deciding he wanted to learn to skate.)

But I’ve seen parents not on boards hovering over their kids and seeming to coach them.

He bought his own board with his own money and making his own choice. Reality is it is probably too small for him, but he paid for it.

I do take him to the skate park to practice. Reality is that he goes off on his own and does his own thing. He watches older kids and adults skate and does his best to mimic their stance and basic movements.

He makes mistakes – falls off, comes to a standstill trying to go up the slopes and otherwise is a less than perfect skater (again my knowledge of skating is limited to what I’ve seen on the X-Games.)

But all of this is similar to what I think is the method needed to learn soccer and many other sports.

The Need to Fail
Everyone needs to occasionally fail to understand what success is! It brings humility and makes real success be tangible and different than the median.

Improvisation
Skateboarding is built on improvisation. With too much structure, the creativity is never developed. In soccer, confining players to lines and drills eliminates the possibility of practices breeding creative athletes.

Self-Learning and Peer Education
With skateboarding being just a few decades old, it is still in a relative infancy as a sport. I believe most skaters still learn through solo learning and peer-to-peer education.

In soccer, these influences are being suppressed by lack of playing time outside of practices and highly competitive games. There’s no low risk chance to fail in the education process.

No Short Cuts to Success
On a skateboard, there’s no replacement for time spent on the board when trying to master the skills. Outside of practicing and repetitively failing, the skill or trick will never be achieved.

Yet on a soccer field, we expect first time mastery of skills and quick roads to winning games at young ages.

A Lifetime to Learn
I see skateboarders well into their 20’s and 30’s regularly on the course at Fowler Park. And I see them trying (what I perceive as) tricks that are new to them and failing, or failing on the old tricks.

At my U7 games last spring, players were expected to make great on field decisions to pass and shoot and goalkeepers were expected to block shots on goal.

Soccer also takes a lifetime to learn, but young players often aren’t given that time. Why not? Are the outcomes of matches in U7 that important?

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I Hated Running

6 Sep

Honestly, I hated running when I was young.

The part of gym class where we had to run the mile – it was never a favorite part. And one mile seemed such a long way. The best I could muster was in the eight to nine minute range.

My lack of running chops in high school no doubt helped eliminate me from consideration for the ROTC scholarships I coveted.

So when a neighbor offered me a number for Atlanta’s famous Peachtree Road Race 10k – I thought for
A few days and then accepted it.

I was in good shape, but running was like a last ditch athletic activity for me that I took when I didn’t have access to a gym.

My first race out I ran a 54:06 10k. Not record setting but I beat the one hour goal I had set.

And everything I had believed before flipped. The crowd, the energy, the other runners and the competition had inspired me.

Thoughts of other races entered my head – and before long I was training. A month later I ran a total of seventy miles.

Sometimes your perceptions and beliefs change exercise change. You just have to be open to the experience and ride the wave.