It’s Been A While…

It has been a while since I last posted. I’ve been very busy with my coaching duties and my dad duties. But, I just wanted you all to know that I’m still around, still alive.

I’ve been very pleased with the progress of my new team. They are really starting to come together and play as a team. They have all come so far since I first formed this team last fall season. We still have a way to go but they are really improving. We just need to keep up the good work and keep moving forward.

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May 14, 2008 at 5:24 am Leave a comment

My Team

I am continually amazed at the progress of my team of little ones. Although, I suppose I can’t call them my “little” ones any more. Last night’s game reminded me of just how far they have come both as individual players, as a team, and as people in general.

They played short one player last night. So, not only did they have no substitutions, they actually had one less player on the field than the other team. I saw passing. I saw teamwork. I saw them give up the ball to another teammate who had a better angle for shot on goal. I saw things and have seen things in them that I could not have taught them as a coach. They learned this stuff on their own. Trust, teamwork, unselfishness…all the things that we try and try to drill into them during practice and training both on and off the field. And, in the end, they learn it on their own.

And now, sadly, after my third year with these boys, I must send them on their way without me. Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, I have to bid my team farewell after this Spring season. They have come so far. When I put this team together, they were a motley bunch of scrappers. Spirited and determined to win, I taught them as best I could. I’ve loved them all like my own son. I hope that even after we part ways, I will always be “Coach” to them because they will always be “my Hooligans”. 🙂

One of the reasons I coach is not to try to raise up the next generation of professional soccer players (even though I think most of them could if they really wanted to) but to raise up a generation of the next soccer coaches. I want my guys to have a great experience in The Game so that, when they have kids of their own, they will want to raise up the next generation of soccer players. So, if I can teach them one more thing, it will be in the spirit of a very good Irish friend of mine. He once told me “At this [young] age, TEACH THEM TO PLAY. Then, when they get older, TEACH THEM TO WIN.” Too often kids and parents expect teams to win and they get so focused on winning that they forget to teach The Game. There is plenty of time to learn how to win. But we need to teach them to play when they are young and not focus so much on the winning part. That will come with time. Be patient. Focus on the things that my young team has learned on their own: teamwork, fair play, composure, passing, Heart/Desire/Passion. Well…maybe I helped them a little bit. 😉 We are, after all, a team.

By the way…we won our game last night 5 to 3. Nice job guys!

April 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

The Great Ones

What is it that sets apart some players as, what I like to call, The Great Ones? Players like Eric Cantona, George Best, Pele, and, now Christiano Ronaldo have a huge amount of talent to be sure. But, is that all there is to it? I’ve coached kids with little talent and watched them blossom into very skilled players. There must be more than skill involved with this game.

I suggest that the foundations of this game are Passion, Desire, and Heart. Without these, skills are nothing. With these foundations, Great Ones are developed – not born.

I recently had the opportunity to watch two very good teams play each other. The skills of the players on the field were fairly equal. But, in the end, the match went to the team that did not quit when they made mistakes. In this case, the winning team showed heart. They never gave up. Even when they were ahead, they always played their best game possible.

What are we as coaches and players if we do not have a passion for what we do? Why are you coaching/playing if it is not your passion? If you are coaching without passion, you may want to consider realigning your priorities. Maybe it’s time you took a hiatus. I see players all the time at practice and during training going slow, walking, not giving it 100% on the training field. When I ask them why, most of the time their response is that this is just practice. I encourage all the players I coach to practice like they play. If they are not practicing like they should play, they are wasting your time and theirs. Play with passion.

What about desire? It would almost seem like desire and passion are the same thing. In fact, they go hand in hand. But, while passion is the quality of a person to constantly strive to perform to the utmost of their ability, it is desire that will carry them the furthest. Desire is the quality to want to constantly improve. To constantly outperform yourself. Daily personal training, getting up from the sofa to make it to a training session on time, getting up at 6 AM to take the early morning run to improve your stamina, these are all driven by desire.

I see this all the time: a highly skilled player who is missing one or more of these qualities who consistently rely solely on their skills to carry them through. But, I have said it before and I stand behind what I say now, that I would rather have a team full of low or mediocre skilled players with Passion, Heart, and Desire than I would have a team full of highly skilled, unmotivated players. Think about it this way, the motivated player will push themselves to greatness and eventually surpass the gifted player in skill due to their constant practice. The gifted player who is unmotivated will stagnate and eventually lose interest in The Game altogether.

What are the 4 components of The Game? Physical, Psychological, Technical, and Tactical. Without the foundations of Passion, Desire, and Heart for these components to stand on, no player will ever truly excel. You could have the most gifted player in the world. Strong, fast, great skills, smart….but if they break down after a mistake, they are not an asset but a liability on the field and on the team. Nothing breaks the spirit of a team like negativity.

So, as parents and coaches, how can we encourage Passion, Desire, and Heart?

Well, Passion comes when our players are having fun. Make sure you make some time in their busy schedule so that they can have some fun playing soccer. Encourage pick-up games in the back yard with their friends. Think up small games that are fun that they can play anytime, anywhere.

You can build Desire in them by playing with them. Challenge them to a juggling contest. See how far they can accomplish a legal throw-in. See how many times it takes to chip a ball into a garbage can. Doing this will spark them to challenge themselves.

Heart is maybe the most important one. When they get discouraged, don’t let them take themselves too seriously. It’s too easy to give up after a lousy game. Coaches, before/during/after a match, make sure we aren’t taking things too seriously. Put things into perspective for them. Parents, don’t let them get down after making mistakes! Highlight the good things they did. They’ll remember the mistakes all on their own and coaches will help them to improve at practices. Coaches, remind them that we are all doing our best and that we all have a lot to improve on. If we didn’t, we’d be playing/coaching in the English Premiere League. 🙂

That’s all for now. Keep it real. Keep it fun.

April 2, 2008 at 4:35 am Leave a comment

Sandlot Soccer

I’ve been saying this since I started coaching almost 5 years ago.

The main difference between our players and players in other countries is that we have too much organized soccer and not enough street soccer (pick up games, etc.). I try to encourage all my players to play whenever possible and to even just goof off with a ball on their own time. But I think other sports are so culturally ingrained into our kids that when they think about playing with their friends they automatically assume “not soccer”. Why? Because, as Americans, we are too organized in this sport. Our kids don’t spend enough time on their own in The Game. They think that playing soccer is training, team practice, and games with referees.

Now, I’m not knocking organized soccer by any means. But I do think we need to do more as coaches and parents to encourage our kids that the unorganized soccer matches at school and in the park (the ones where you use someone’s jacket and backpack for goal markers) are just as important as the soccer practices, training, and games that we seem to be so focused on.

If we are ever to have success in this great sport as Americans, we need to encourage the pick-up games, the juggling, and small-sided games in the backyard as much as we encourage the training, practices, summer camps, games, and tournaments that we love to participate in.

March 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

Lacking Subtlety

LACKING SUBTLETY

Brazilian U-17s showed an understanding absent in U.S. playersBy Jay Martin

 

It was a tournament that featured the best U-17’s from the United States against four teams from Brazil. Each ODP Region sent its best. Yes, there were a few players missing, and the U.S. players had not had much of a chance to play or practice together, but the results still were a problem. The young American players struggled against Brazilians of the same age. Three of the four Brazilian teams were from professional clubs (Guarani, Corinthians, Mogi Mirim and the amateur ALEC, the host team). The host team was beaten by all four American teams and Region IV even won three of four games, but there was a huge difference in the way the Brazilians played and the way the Americans played.

After a great year in 2002 for U.S. soccer, our soccer community felt very good. We felt good about where we were internationally, how far we have come in the last few years and how well we fared in the World Cup. We began to look forward to bigger and better results on the international stage. The Torneio Aguas de Lindoi de Futebol Internacional showed all who attended that in spite of these lofty accomplishments and expectations, we are not there yet.

Coaches in most other soccer-playing countries admit that American players can compete very well internationally until the ages of 15-17. Why? Why do our players from 15-17 begin to fall behind international players in other soccer-playing countries? It appears that significant changes must be made in our soccer culture in order for Americans to compete at the highest level.

 

Jay Vidovich (Wake Forest), Doug Allison (Furman) and Paul McGinlay (Trinity of Texas) led the Region III delegation. When asked about the differences between the Brazilians and Americans, these coaches concluded:

The Brazilians were comfortable with the ball. Their technique and first touch were superior. That allowed the players to focus on the tactics of the game.

The Brazilians demonstrated a superior tactical understanding of group play (i.e. defenders, attackers), possession play, playing without the ball and an overall better understanding of the game. For example, the Brazilians continually attacked with five or six players. The American teams attacked with two or three players.

The Brazilians had a better understanding of and were able to read the critical moments in a game. They understood when a risk was worth taking at both ends of the field. And their overall gamesmanship was far superior to the U.S. boys.

The speed of play of the Brazilians with the ball and without the ball was vastly superior to the efforts of the Americans. The Americans simply could not play at speed.

The Brazilians demonstrated a high work rate. In spite of the perceptions of many, the Brazilians work very hard. They work hard individually and together. They know when the game demands a high work rate and play with great effort.

The Brazilians demonstrated sophistication in the attacking third that the American players did not. The Brazilian teams never settled for dumping the ball into the box. They would try to combine with teammates to get into the box. They demonstrated a “patient urgency” that allowed many more dangerous opportunities in the final third.

Every thing about the Brazilian teams was more intense,” Vidovich said, “from game preparation (warm-up), to individual defending to an urgency to attack the goal.”

Allison added, “Their knowledge of the game and gamesmanship was much better than that of our kids. But it was their passion to play, their desire to become a professional that really separated the Brazilians from the Americans.”

 

We all know that social and culture factors influence how different countries play soccer. It is clear that Americans cannot play like the Germans, the English or Brazilians and we should not try. We don’t want to replicate the Brazilian societal situation to make our players better. But, the disparity was huge. The challenge for the American coach and club is to improve the play of our youth players within the parameters of the American society.

We can do it. We must have a better understanding of the final product. What do our players need to compete at the highest level? How can we create an environment that will allow the players to reach a proficiency at the international level?

The biggest difference between the Brazilian players and the American players was that the Americans did not demonstrate any understanding of the subtleties of the game. And that affects what coaches do during every training session.

Subtleties of any game usually are developed “in the sandlot” when the players are young. We all learned how to play sports as we grew up by playing with other kids in the neighborhood. We learned what we had to do to win. If you lost, your team was off the court or field.

These are the same subtleties American basketball players learn on the street and that is what separates our basketball players from players from other countries. These are the same subtleties that allowed Germany to defeat the U.S. at the World Cup.

 

Subtle is defined in the dictionary as “mentally keen, crafty, not obvious, delicately skillful.” A subtle event during a soccer game is something the player should just do. These skills are developed over time and from many different types of playing experiences. These skills are not teachable. They must be learned by the player.

Since players today do not play “in the street” any longer, the coach must create an environment in training to allow the learning process to happen. For example, any activity that is competitive in training will help the player learn how to win or to survive. Therefore, almost all training activities can be made competitive.

Even a shooting drill where the losing team does extra running or push-ups will add urgency where subtleties can be learned. Or, a continuous game with three teams in which two teams play and the third team runs around the field. The first team to score one goal wins and stays on the field. The losing team changes places with the third team and runs around the field while the other two play.

There are many subtleties that are necessary for a player to be successful in a soccer game. In Brazil, the American players did not show to the ball properly, did not receive the ball properly, did not make the runs that the situation demanded and in the final third were content to dump the ball into the box.

 

The Brazilian players did not make a mistake. The increased time this gave the Brazilians and the time lost by the Americans caused a huge disparity in play. The Brazilians had time to play the game, the Americans did not. American players cannot compete internationally when they play this way.

So, we know where we are. Now we must begin to understand where we must be. This applies to coaches at all levels. Certainly all of our players will not play at the highest level, but it is the responsibility of all coaches to provide an environment in which all players will get better. It is the responsibility of all coaches to ensure that their players begin to learn and understand the subtleties of the game.

March 18, 2008 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment

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