Tag Archives: Coaching

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.

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.

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.

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.

Spring Match Week 2 Recap

19 Mar

Our Friday night practices and Saturday matches were threatened by weather again this week.  We were able to have our full U6 practice but were cleared from the fields about five minutes into the U8 practice due to lightning in the vicinity.  Practice never resumed.

As the morning approached, a line of showers moved across our side of Atlanta.  I think most of the parents believed the matches for Saturday would be canceled in the interest of field preservation – but the weather started clearing by 11 AM and the sun came out in full.

By the time of our first match, it was in the seventies and approaching eighty by the start of the U8 match just before 1 PM.

U6 Match

Our side was again at full strength with all six boys available for the match.  Our team’s new member played his first full game and performed better in the game than he has in practice.

There’s a significant difference in a lot of the kids between how they perform at practice and in the game – and for the better.  Part of it is probably time of day and week – our practices being on Friday night after a full week of school versus Saturday morning when the kids are full of energy.  The games are also more structured and kids get more feedback about how they are performing.

Evan had more of a challenge in this week’s match.  There were a pair of boys on the opposite side of the ball who played aggressively and skillfully, and Evan faced off with them.

We need to revisit the skills from the skills training in the Fall in our front yard this week and bring them back into play.

U8 Match

We were one player short this week due to Boy Scout commitments.  This meant two of our players would play the full 48 minutes of the match and everyone else would play 36 minutes.  With the warm temperatures, I knew that these two players would probably be drained at the end of play – so they played one quarter in the goal and three quarters on the field.

During the first quarter, we had trouble getting the ball forward and maintaining possession in the front half.  True to form, our center defender (one of our stronger players) was afraid to venture out of the defensive half several times when there was clear field in front of him.  It’s a difficult teaching point regarding positional play – encouraging a player to go forward with the ball and abandon his position temporarily.  Even the three players responsible for playing offense sometimes randomly dished off the ball instead of dribbling deep.

The team continues to play fairly well on defense.  We gave up one goal in the first quarter but mostly kept the other side from taking shots.  Aidan pulled it back to even in the second quarter, dribbling by a defender and taking a shot from the right side of the goal.  It was 1-1 at the half.

In the third quarter, we allowed the other team more time and space with the ball, and it resulted in three more goals.  The boys scored one more goal in the fourth quarter, ending with a 4-2  loss.  Despite the score, we had a lot of shots on goal in the second half that could have picked up several more goals with the right luck.

So our training this week needs to continue to focus on maintaining possession of the ball and creating positive passing (or keeping a dribbling) versus playing the ball forward.

It also needs to apply to our throw-ins as too often there is no movement for the field players, and the player throwing in just tosses it to the crowd.  The receiving player has no room to dribble or turn, and usually loses the ball out of bounds.  One of my ideas pre-season was stressing playing the ball the direction they were facing – instead of trying to immediately turn if there’s no open space.

The season still feels really positive – we have been competitive every week of the season so far.

My U6 Quandary

11 Mar

Coaches in our club received a lecture at the start of the year about running up the score.

In U6.

Where we don’t keep score.

And there isn’t a referee.

In the year I coached U5 and through last fall, I never tried to restrain what our U6 players did on the field.  As long as they were not placing anyone in physical danger and were playing within the confines of the limited rules, I let them play.

So in the first five minutes after Evan had rung up half a dozen or so goals, I asked him to slow it down a little bit.  I suggested he try to set up his teammates or use a “trick move” before taking a shot.  This lasted for at least a few minutes.

When he was subbed out, the other team started moving the “score” the other direction.  And I heard their coaches trying to tell their players to pass the ball.

I feel some guilt in this situation.

I think we worry too much in our society about “hurt feelings” where there won’t be any.  The truth is that U6 games ebb and flow based on who’s playing and how interested they are.

And to some degree I have visions of this in my head, and what these kids can become if they have the space to and freedom to develop (watch #10 in red):

Who developed into this fine player who still wears number 10, but now in Red and Blue stripes.

I’ve challenged him – try to improve his ball skills and put them into use in the match, but I want to give him the freedom to use them in the game when he needs to.

Is this what’s stopping America from developing top talent in soccer? Over-sensitivity and over-thinking the rules?