Tag Archives: coachingfamily

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.

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?”


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




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.

Two Days, Four Matches

26 Mar

This weekend was our make-up date from our rained out matches from the first week of March.  It also happened to fall on the last weekend of practice and play we would have before our school system, and our club go on Spring break.

I held an evening of pick-up soccer on Thursday evening, working against the assumption that we would be unable to practice Friday night due to storms expected to pass through metro Atlanta on Friday.  While some parts of the metro area had the weather, it stayed South of our practice and game fields.  Thus for the four players from the U8 team who came out Thursday night, we had four straight days of play.  It showed for three of them in a very good way.

Thursday Pick-Up

We had four players from the U8 team, plus Evan and another U6 player for pick up on Thursday night.   I joined the group and we played 4v3 – initially in a straightforward style and later with a “Real Madrid” game that I had seen online where the goals are placed in the center of the playing area, back to back.  The idea is to force the players to work on switching the point of attack and taking up a better shape to move the ball.  I’m not sure they entirely did that, but I saw progression in several of the players in taking up a better shape to support the ball carrier.

Friday Practices

Evan was ill Friday afternoon and missed Friday’s practice.  His team worked on dribbling – specifically inside and outside turns in the technical training.  We worked on 1v1 play again in our part of the practice and then played 3v2.  Instead of running the game with kick-offs or any restarts, I blew the whistle after each goal (or out of play ball) and played in a new ball to keep the players moving.  A lot of goals, but also progression from some players on defending 1v1.

The U8 team worked on dribbling as well in their technical session – with the same turns, as well as pullbacks and a simple reverse.  With the U8’s, it frustrates me to see some of the better players (on match day) loafing through the technical training instead of trying to do things faster and sharper.

Our part of the session was spent playing as much 4v3 as we could.  I stopped the group several times to work on some shape and strategy on restarts.  During matches, I’ve seen too many instances of players putting a throw-in into a crowd of the other team (even though there was no one on our team in the group) or into a crowd of both teams because they happened to be in the direction of the goal.  In many instances, there is a teammate straight in front of them not being marked at all and a wealth of open space.

I modified the rules in the second part of practice for both teams to use me as a wall pass or neutral player.  It was a great innovation and some of the players really did well with the idea and took advantage of it when they got in trouble.  I had the full run of one sideline.  Players looked up, found me, made a pass and then made a run to open space.

Our end of practice review had the phrase “open space” repeated multiple times – I was hopeful it would sink in.

U6 Matches

Evan missed his U6 match on Saturday morning.  This gave his five teammates some extra time to play but also seemed to motivate the team to try harder.  In fact, everyone on the team scored at least one goal.  That’s probably the best match a U6 coach can ask for – everyone on the team to score!  It makes it easy for everyone to go away happy.

There were players heading in opposite directions through the weekend.  One of my players who’s stayed with us through U5 and U6 really excelled this weekend.  He did a great job with dribbling and control and seemed really dialed in to where play was going. One of my players from the Fall has gotten noticeably more timid since the Fall.  I’m hoping more playing time will bring him back out of his shell – but it seems like he’s afraid to touch the ball more than briefly or dribble the ball.

Our Sunday match was different.  While Evan was back, he was noticeably weaker on field from being sick and low on energy for two days.  But there were several times when the ball was between two of our players and neither seemed to want to touch the ball.

I’m not sure what to do next in practice – but it might be a full night of dribbling and dropping a scrimmage or small-sided game.  My U5’s last spring just seemed to be in a different point than the U6’s this spring.

U8 Matches

Our Saturday match for the U8 team was our side’s first win this Fall.  We took a 7-5 victory against a similarly skilled team.  I don’t think it was close to our best overall performance though (which was week 1) although we had a pair of outstanding quarters.

Our first half was well played.  I was most impressed by how the ball was distributed from the back forward.  One of our returning players from the Fall anchored our defense.  I’ve been working on him from the fall, and through this spring to stop kicking the ball deep on first touch.  And Saturday he followed through with it!  He made good decisions with the ball to teammates on the wings of the field and we were able to consistently attack the goal in the first quarter.  At the same time, our front line moved back with the ball and helped make plays on defense.

That fell down later in the game as we had several instances of players not helping out enough on defense and the opponent getting enough time and space to take repeated shots on goal. I also encouraged them to try to hold the ball up longer in the fourth quarter but they still played the same tempo of attack as earlier in the game.

Our offense also came from one player’s foot (entirely!) so it was disappointing to see the other players on the team not participating in the offense.

Our Sunday match was a better effort from the full team.  We were one player short of full, so everyone picked up at least three quarters of our 48 minute match.  We conceded two early goals on the same mistakes that allowed five goals Saturday – players not falling back on defense and playing throw-ins too tight to the line.  There was more than one instance where the opponent put a throw-in over the heads of our entire team to an open man on the other team, and one time it was right in front of our goal.  Maybe the team will start noticing.

Our performance on our throw-ins was better today – more often getting the ball to that open man, even if it was the defender.  When the defender received it, he had time and space to have a good first touch and then make a good decision about how to handle the ball.

The fourth quarter was our best quarter of the match.  We had a similar team in place to our first quarter from the prior day – and they worked in the same smart manner.  We missed on several shots, including one over the crossbar at the final whistle and wen home with a 2-1 loss.

It’s been a great season so far – we’ve been competitive in every match so far.

And the Bonuses

With two matches each day, and downtime in between- Aidan and I stayed at our club’s fields and just spent time watching other teams play and playing together.  This varied between working on volleys, goalkeeping, jockeying for the ball and passing – but it was time well spent.  He expressed interest Sunday in playing Academy in the fall – which I had talked to him before but received a measured, cool response about participation.  I think he’s seeing friends moving in that direction and is feeling it’s the way to go.  I also think playing four days in a row has helped build his interests in playing more often.

I also managed to get twenty-five minutes of time kicking the ball around with my new team in Sunday before the kids’ matches.  I’m really looking forward to our season starting in a few weeks.

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?


Today Would Have Been the Season Opener

3 Mar

Today was to be our season opening games for the U6 and U8 teams. About two hours after the end of our sessions, severe storms passed through Atlanta and dropped a lot of rain.

Fields closed this morning. A seven day respite until our first match.

We’ve had two weeks of practice – two hours per team. Our club believes in the philosophy at this age of not a long lead-in of practice before the first match – so that’s all we get!

It’s been a good two weeks though.

Our U8 team had a thin turnout in week one. We lost two boys to Boy Scout activities, one to vacation and one to illness. This week, we were at full strength.

U8 Session

Our trainer led us through a progression of basic dribbling in a rectangular area. He tried to emphasize the importance of keeping the ball close and under control.

After we complete technical training, we jumped immediately into our team session. I started a 4v4 game (Evan, my U6 son was our 8th player) and they played for eight minutes.

As I expected, a lot of clustering happened on the ball – both for the team on offense and defense. There were also several instances of the big downfield kick with no intended target.

At eight minutes, we paused the game and worked at slower speed on several dimensions of the game that I thought would help their play.

Shape: I introduced the diamond concept to them starting from the goal kick. Defender in the back taking the kick, wings on the sides to receive and striker forward ready to receive. On the opposite side, players acting as mirrors – with the striker providing immediate pressure when the ball is played in.

We repeated when the ball went out of bounds on the side for a throw and on the other end for a goal kick.

I assisted the players in positioning to be “Open” when their teammate was trying to play in a ball.

One thing I’ve noticed in this age group is the kids get too consumed with jockeying with the other team – and kids on offense forget that they don’t want to be too close to the other team or where the ball is coming from.

On throws I tried to emphasize sending the ball to open space, even if it means playing it backwards or laterally across the field.

I’m really trying to emphasize we want to keep the ball and not just get the ball to our offensive half.

My favorite moment of the night was when I asked one of our players, “How many times in basketball did you chuck the ball as far down court as you can?”

Answer: “None.”. He reflected on it for a second – maybe he’ll remember that in a match.

U6 Session

I won’t spend long on the U6’s – at this point in the season they are getting reacquainted with the ball and run of play after not spending time with soccer for three months.

We have one new-to-the-sport player who is a little lost right now. I’ve noticed some U6 and U8 kids have trouble figuring out what to do with their feet while dribbling. They either end up with their toes pointing in pointing out, or a mix. It takes a few weeks to straighten out.

Evan is definitely a dominant player in this age group. When we play 1v1 there’s no one in the group who can regularly beat him. When we play as a team, he’s looking for link up play but I haven’t been able to get any of his teammates there. It’s a reason why I’m considering having him play up in the fall to the Pre-Academy if he’s emotionally prepared. I’ll have more thoughts on that this spring.

Coaching U6 Soccer Might Be One of the Best Parts of Parenthood

6 Feb

This is a part of the year where a lot of Soccer clubs, and other youth sports organizations, are grappling with more kids and teams than volunteers.  The direction most clubs and organizations have gone in the past few years is sign up as many kids as field space or other limitations permit, and then find coaches to take all of the teams created.

This year can be the year you step up into the role, especially for the youngest age groups.

I volunteered to coach Evan’s U5 soccer team a year and a half ago.  The club was short on coaches and I had thought about volunteering to coach again in the future – but probably more at the U7/U8 level when the kids were more experienced and mature.  At that point, I figured, it would be less about managing the kids and more about teaching soccer.

Going into the season, I wasn’t sure how he would like soccer – if he would enjoy it, of if he would quit easily.  In the past, he hadn’t shown the greatest resolve or attention span to activities.  I figured soccer could go the same way.

After the first match week, he proved to be hooked.  And I was hooked quickly after that.

A lot of the experience was the extra time Evan and I spent together. Every Friday night before practice, we tried to get to the field at least 15 minutes early.  It was time that we spent together (sometimes with a teammate and another Dad) just playing one against one with each other.  After practice, we didn’t hurry home – but spent a few extra minutes on the field working and playing together.

That turned into time in the front yard playing soccer and spending time together, and that turned into watching soccer together on television and playing FIFA ’11 together.  Soccer was probably the one thing that has caused me to understand and connect with Evan than anything before that time.

So…are you ready?