Saturday, December 29, 2012

Practice Planning and Reflection

One thing is for sure: if a practice doesn't go well, it's the coach's problem.  How do you fix it?

“Wisdom comes from reflection.”
― Deborah Day, BE HAPPY NOW! 

Regardless of how busy I am before training, I always find a way to have something written on paper for that session.  Most times it's a very formal plan, other times it's scribbling and doodles and lines.  But I always have something to refer to.

Can I run a session without a written plan?  Of course.  But that's not very smart.  In the chaos that sometimes develops from the presence of a group of youngsters, you can easily forget your sequence or to include coaching points along the way.  I always have my paper tucked into the waist of my shorts ready, if/when I need it.

My plans are simple.  At minimum:
  • Type of session (technical/small sided game/GAG/phase of play/11v11/etc)
  • theme
  • draw a quick sketch of the organization
  • equipment required (balls, cones, pinnies, etc)
  • list possible progressions
  • list key factors/coaching points
  • list possible detours if something is not available (players/equipment/space).  This is called "thinking on your feet", but it's easier if you have ideas already.
  • action points from the reflection of previous session
Coaches will have their personal preferences as to how they prepare for training, but something tangible, in writing, is a must.  And it has to be on the coach while they are on the field.  Leaving it in your bag is half a job.

Here are some links to sample practice plan templates:

After training you want to perform some form of personal reflection.  These are some questions to ask yourself:
  • How was your mood?
  • Did you look and sound like a coach?
  • What went wrong?
  • What went right?
  • Was the session enjoyable for you and the players?  Why?  Why not? 
  • Did the players improve?  Did the team improve?
  • What could/would you change?
  • How will your observations today affect your next session?
For me, I know how I feel after a good session and that's the feeling I want during the drive home.  When I don't feel right,  I look inward to find out why and work to fix it next session.   If I have a good session I work to build on it next time.

Reflection is not an option if you're looking to improve as a coach.   Honest reflection is your biggest tool in running a continuously improving program.  Create action points from your reflections to help plan your next session.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

U4 -Last "Active Start" session for this group

Nobody would ever guess that you prepare more as the age group gets younger.

Yesterday was the last U4 Active start session for this group.  It was my third with them, but they had 8 as a group.

What I learned:
  • I am not afraid of professionals, college players or youth travel teams.  U4 players keep me on my toes and nervous enough that I come to the field with nothing less than my very best.
  •  The LTPD recommendations for this age group are useful and very applicable.
  • Parents being involved on a 1v1 level is essential for success with U4.
  • Parents want to learn what you're showing the children.
  • Children do want their parents close by.
  • The level of participation is high when parents are involved.
  • Parents start to sweat quickly in their jeans and sweater  :)
  • One ball per player is the most basic and important requirement.
  • Spending time on physical literacy is a must.  Children that young do not total control over their bodies.  Some can barely run in a fluid motion.
  • Preparing for a U4 session requires time and effort as you have to make sure the session is busy enough that the players do not disappear on you.
  • These children are not ready for games.  Getting them to play 1v1 with parents and understand their direction of attack is a major undertaking.
This week, in addition to activities they were familiar with, we introduced tumbling (from a stand still and a short run) and dribbling with some direction.  The dribbling was a bit of a challenge but we got it on the table.  For those who return, they will see it more often and we will build on it every week.  There was still a lot of time to manipulate the ball and learn basic soccer movements. 
My goal for the next set of sessions after Christmas is to work with at least 8 of the parents and have them attend the Active Start course, so they can start delivering sessions when summer arrives.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What cultivates creativity and imagination?

Sometimes, to help shape our coaching philosophy, we need to access information that has nothing to do with soccer.

I was motivated to finally write about this after tweeting back and forth with @nlevett 

Who has imagination?  Who is creative?  Are you born with it?  Can you learn it? Does it run in your family?  Will Lionel Messi's newborn son be just as good as he is? 

I don't believe everything is "natural" or that you are "born with it".  Many stories you read about the great players have a similar theme ... lots of practice and exposure (formal and informal) in an environment that is crazy about the sport they excel in.  The problem with accepting that much of that may be learned is it puts more onus on coaches and teachers to ensure the environment around children is always positive and nurturing.  For some people, that responsibility is too much.

My opinions about imagination and creativity do not have their roots in soccer, but affect how I think players should be coached.  It's always been topic that has captured my interest.

"...imagination is based on your past experiences and perception of reality..."

We want our players to solve problems in game.  Be imaginative.  But how can they if they've not seen the same situation before, several times?
  1. Problem solving is about imagination.
  2. A positive environment makes you feel better about what you're doing.
  3. A solid fundamental base gives you the freedom to act in given situations.
  4. Playing small-sided-games (4v4, 5v5, etc) exposes you to more situations more often that relate to bigger field game situations.
  5. With solid fundamentals and previous exposure to a certain situation, a player is in a position to be more effective during a similar game situation.
The science and stats of small sided games varies from source to source.  But the long and short of it is: more touches, more situations, more combinations with teammates, more confrontations with opponents, more goals, more learning.

To learn more about why small sided games work, you need to learn more about imagination and creativity as it relates to anything.

I've read several good books and many articles on development and talent that have little to do with soccer.

The Outliers By Malcolm Gladwell  and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle were my favourites, but constitute only a small amount of what I've read over the years.

I would also refer you to two excellent podcasts on CBC Radio dealing with Imagination.  These are from the radio show "Ideas".   They are about an hour each but well worth the listen.

Imagination Part 1
Imagination Part 2

There is an old saying "Without fundamentals, there can be no creativity". 

Most of the literature I've read discussed development and technical proficiency as a way of freeing the person to be able to express themselves using the techniques learned.  Simply put, if you don't have to worry about whether or not you have the ball under control, you are free to put more thinking into what you want to do with the ball.

The podcasts were a little more cerebral, but said the same thing in a round about way.  They dealt with the theme that imagination was based on your past experiences and perception of reality.

Here is my imagination handbook in 5 points :)
  • Solid fundamentals give you greater confidence and a positive feeling about what you're doing.
  • A positive environment gives you a positive perception about what you're doing.
  • More exposure to what you're doing in a positive environment gives you access to more situations and problems that need to be solved, building on your past experiences.
  • Positive scenarios around failures builds your experiences even more.
  • You can imagine/foresee more options about how to solve a current problem because of your memories on how you resolved similar problems and your confidence in that you have the tools to solve the problem.
The environment and culture is HUGE in my opinion.  There is a reason that not many hockey players come from Mexico or baseball players come from Uganda.  It;s tough for a hockey player in Mexicoto build a love for the game if there is little hockey around him.

Your job as coach is to nurture as many aspects of a player's toolbox as you can and set them up to be in positions of having to solve problems, all in the proper environment.

You don't have to wonder why the player who rarely plays has little idea of what to do and even less confidence in whether or not he/she can do it at all. How can they succeed if they have had little to no exposure to a situation?  Then deal with it under pressure?

I'll leave the deep explanations to the books and podcasts.  I hope you find time to enjoy them

P.S.  The podcasts have a wonderful section on how imagination also shapes or kills hope.  It's really good.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Delivered a GAG session to coaches on Wednesday

On Wednesday, I delivered a Game-Activity-Game session to our coaches at the club.

I'll spare you the in-depth explanation of what GAG is.

Here is a good explanation by the CSA's Ray Clark in PDF format.

Here is a good video explanation conducted by the OSA and York Region's Bobby Lennox during our Learning Facilitator Workshop of 2011.  I am in this with the red track top at the beginning.

Last night, I was caught a bit off guard.  We usually get a varying amount of coaches out to these things, between 5 and 10.  Last night we had about 25 coaches out.  We've made a habit out of bringing in guest teams to ensure we have a session to demo.

The guest team were the 1998 girls.  I always enjoy working with this bunch and their coach, Erik Opala, is a great guy and a super coach.  Had I known this many coaches would have shown up, I would have run the session with the coaches on the field.  I think we would get more out of the session with coaches directly on the field.

We had good questions but, more important, we had good discussion on the side how to apply this to their specific teams.

Here is my take on the GAG model:  if you are a new coach, you can use the model to set conditions during the Activity part to bring out a facet of the game you want to improve and get a bit more out of your team.  If you are a very experienced coach, you can get a heck of a lot out of your team using GAG.

GAG allows you to get more game time in your sessions and instill some new ideas directly into the context of a game situation.  There is a time and place for a GAG session.  It doesn't replace all styles of training, but is a very effective addition to your catalog of sessions.

Another observation Rob Lalama and I shared was how many new faces we have coaching at our club.  A lot of nice people who are very interested in delivering a good program.  I would like to see more females involved so we'll have to keep pressing for that.

I look forward to our next coaching session at the club and I hope to use the coaches on the field.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sabrina D'Angelo is U20 Player of the Year!

Welland's Sabrina D'Angelo was named the Canadian Soccer's U20 Women's Player of the Year! Read the news here.

Sabrina is the benefactor of her own hard work and determination. As a graduate of the Welland Soccer Club, we are ecstatic to have her name associated with us.

Congratulations to Sabrina and her entire family for the great recognition.  Sabrina's father, Gerry, is our goalkeeping coach at Niagara College.

Welland is very proud of her.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Second U4 "Active Start" Session

On Saturday morning, with the continued help of the parents, we had a very productive session.

12 players and 12 parents for 50 minutes.

I think that last week parents thought I was a little crazy for having every player with an adult at a sports session.  They were supportive, co-operative and helpful, but I think they were still wondering what I was doing.  By the end, we were on the same page.  Today they were with the program from the first minute and the progressions went smoothly.

The Active Start stage of LTPD is one of the most important, in my opinion.  It sets the stage for a patient and nurturing training environment.  It also helps parents understand that they need to remember what age their children are and what's appropriate in terms of information and situations. 

The parents worked hard today.  :)  Some were sweating and they were whooping it up with their children and the other players.

Why not involve the parents?  So much good comes of it:
  • MOST IMPORTANT.  The children have the person who loves them most close by and are comfortable doing all of the activities.  So you get a full session from each child.
  • The session stays organized.  Easier to coach.
  • Parents are directly involved in their child's activities, learning the "why" and "what" about your program.
  • Parents are the lifeblood of grassroots sports.  Involving them may lead to expanded interest in the organization and their desire to serve in the future.
  • Some parents who thought of coaching but were unsure might develop the confidence to step up.
This week we added a few more physical literacy exercises and parent-child ball sequences.

One main thing I added today was a little more running.  A lot of young children are still learning how to run and stay balanced.

A major change from last week was the game portion.  I did not do a 3v3 or 4v4 game today.  Instead we had a marked off area with 2 goals on either side.  All of the children played 1v1 with their parent and had 2 goals to score in.  I felt a lot of the children were afraid to play but I knew they wouldn't be afraid to take the ball from their parent or try to keep it away from them.

The multiple 1v1 games seemed to be successful as every child was playing and attacking the right goal.  That's not always the case in 3v3 4v4 at this age.  I will go back to small sided games next week to see how we progressed

We added a few more drink breaks.  We also made sure we had more goal celebrations, cheering and high fives and the parents did a great job with that.  I didn't stress that enough last week and I saw how it really gets the players going.

I've learned that the success of Active Start is a combination between a coach who believes in the philosophy and parents who are ready and willing to help and keep the message consistent.  The parents hold the power in this one.  If they start pushing for games or adult style drills, it will be pre-2010 all over again.  If the coach does a good enough job then they will see the benefit of patience.

Parents always have to remember and support ... "the right information at the right time".

Although I've coached U4s before, I really enjoy employing the LTPD philosophy in the program.  I look forward to delivering more sessions and sharing this information with other coaches who attend.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Never say "it's only house league"

Why do people feel they need to slot the house league experience below "rep" or "travel" teams?

True success as a sports stakeholder is realizing the best place and situation for a child to develop and enjoy themselves.  It may be rep, it may be select or it may be house league.

Remember, the right level, the right coach at the right time.

House league and grassroots sports are the backbone of all sports in Canada.  Because a child may not be at the level to win a spot on a rep team, it does not make them any less a participant in that sport.  The level of play and execution may differ but that does not minimize the passion.

Whether you are the right defender on a rep team,  the striker on a select team or the centre midfielder on a house league team, you are as much a footballer as Lionel Messi.  The same applies to coaches and managers.
"At the end of it all, 99.99% of youth players, regardless of level, will be playing in the same beer league.  And that's OK."

House League/Grassroots soccer has just a big a portion of Ontario and Canada's Long Term Player Development as everything else.  The "Active for Life" stream of the philosophy is very important.
Don't fool yourself.  The sports world is driven by what happens on Saturday mornings in every sport across the country.

My personal opinions:
  1. A parent or player shouldn't feel house league is a lower level of sports experience than travel.
  2. It's wrong for a sports organization to treat house league as an after thought.
  3. It's wrong for sports organizations to not offer their house league coaches support.
  4. It's wrong for sports organization to not offer meaningful pathways for house league players who are looking to make the transition to travel.
  5. It's wrong for organizations to not have proportional representation from house league on their boards.
  6. It's wrong to let facilities assigned to house league fall into disrepair. 
  7. It's wrong to give house league what's left over in terms of time at facilities. 
  8. It's "bad business" for groups to discount the importance of their grassroots program.
I like how the Welland Soccer Club has handled house league and the indoor program has been almost exclusive to house league.  There is another club in Welland, Plymouth Park Soccer League, who do a good job as well.

People who know me will tell you that, in spite of my personal involvement with travel soccer, my favourite place is the Welland Soccer Club on Saturday mornings.

As a final note: At the end of it all, 99.99% of youth players, regardless of level, will be playing in the same beer league.  And that's OK.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

MLS and NASL ... are we there yet?

north american soccer league
In 2013, Major League Soccer officially outlives the defunct North American Soccer League.

There have been countless attempts to bring professional soccer to North America, but the NASL and MLS are the two biggest stories.

I have a personal attachment to the old NASL.  In 1981, my youth team from Port Colborne was selected as the ball boys for the Soccer Bowl held at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium.  The Chicago Sting played the New York Cosmos.  My friend Mossimo and I were placed behind the one goal and I got an up-close view of my favourite player, Giorgio Chinaglia.  The Sting won that game in a shootout after playing to a 0-0 draw.

The old North American Soccer League ran from 1968-1984 and, in my opinion, this league was an amazing story.  It managed to wiggle it's way on to ABC as a weekly national broadcast in between broadcasts of Major League Baseball and early season NFL.  The NASL sold soccer to North America, period.  Big name players came to North America to play out their final days.  Pele, George Best, Johan Cruyff, Giorgio Chinaglia, Roberto Betega, etc etc etc.

You can criticize the actions of certain owners, but you can't argue that soccer grew at a crazy rate during the NASL days and those people who put their money where their passion was are soccer heroes.  A lot of people had NASL jerseys and t-shirts and all of my soccer friends had favourite teams and players.  EVERY SPORTS FAN knew details about the New York Cosmos.
"the final nail in the coffin was the USA not getting the 1986 World Cup after Columbia had to withdraw"
Teams played in cavernous football stadiums and modified baseball parks.  You could see the football and baseball markings on the field along with the soccer lines and people did pay to watch.  The highest average attendance was 14,201 in 1980.  The league also has a high 24 teams that year.

In 4 short years the league went from 24 teams to 9 and average attendance dropped to 10,759.  In 1984, the league played its last game.

A lot of things led to its death, but the final nail in the coffin was the USA not getting the 1986 World Cup after Columbia had to withdraw in 1982 because of economics.  Mexico was named the new host.  Experts agree that awarding the USA the 1986 would cup would have been the boost needed for continued growth.

Different leagues have come and gone in both Canada and USA but the NASL was the first to take it up a level and have some kind of exposure and staying power.  All of those leagues before and after the NASL were instrumental in keeping the market active and laying the ground work for MLS.

MLS was founded in 1993 and played it's first season in 1996.  The announcement of the USA being awarded the 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals played a huge role in the league birth.  In fact, the league's formation and planning for the 1994 World Cup was all under the same umbrella with US Soccer.

Major League SoccerMajor League Soccer is entering it's 18th season in 2013, officially surpassing the life of the old NASL. MLS currently has 19 teams and the average attendance in 2012 was 18,807 over 323 games.  Most teams have soccer specific stadiums and that is a boost to credibility and a testament to the owners' collective commitment and confidence in soccer.  The occasional big name still makes the jump over and big name friendlies are always being played.

This league is for real and sustained interest in North American soccer and the USA's perennial qualification for the FIFA World Cup keeps adding fuel to the fire.  Each team is adding full academy systems to their organizations.  In Canada, the three MLS youth programs are constantly contributing talent to our younger Nation teams.

The caveat with MLS is the ownership structure and how youth academies fit into the system.  They don't.  Sooner or later MLS will have to be independently operating teams truly competing with each other and profiting from selling players to bigger clubs.  There is also a quality issue on the pitch (players and officials) that fans are wanting to see.  There is also international criticism of not taking days off for international matches and a true relegation/promotion system.
"It's like a smouldering fire that people kept trying to fan into a flame."
Does the MLS owe a debt of gratitude to the old NASL, the players and those who invested in soccer? Nobody can separate the two leagues in terms of a foundation being laid and a market being present.  Having the courage to invest in big names and bring PelĂ© over moved soccer into the mainstream.  You can also qualify the effect the 1986 World Cup would have had on the NASL by the fact that the 1994 World Cup was the catalyst for MLS.

The defense of the ownership structure is to protect the league from spending it's way out of business.

Locally, Toronto FC fans wait for success.  And wait. And wait.

A lot of people have emptied their pockets over the past 100 years in hopes of bringing professional soccer to Canada and North America. Every major city has somebody who tried to champion high level soccer. Former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Steve Stavro is an example of such a person in Ontario.  There are also countless people who have owned teams in the Canadian Soccer League, National Soccer League and CPSL.  There are countless stories of passionate fans, broken hearts and bad investments and they truly deserve a space of their own. 

It's like a smouldering fire that people kept trying to fan into a flame.  From a marketing point of view the story has been consistent : Who will be the first to find a way to convert all of those soccer players in North America into paying customers.

But TV coverage of soccer is awesome, brand names and globally recognized teams are seeing their jerseys in our classrooms and municipalities are investing in more pitches.

So are we there yet?  Is professional soccer here to stay?  I think it's safe to finally say "YES ... maybe", despite it currently being in an unorthodox, not truly 100% competitive structure. 

Now, go buy a ticket.  :)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

U4 - "Active Start" Session - Saturday morning

I finally had a U4 session where each player had an adult partner.  And it worked like a charm.

In keeping with LTPD, I ran the session framed by the development stage "Active Start".

Getting parents to realize they were actually helping was not difficult.  Everybody was ready to go and very co-operative.  I think some really enjoyed themselves.

When I show up to guest coach an outdoor U4 session, many parents are in sandals or have other children to tend to, so getting a 1:1 adult ratio is difficult unless the coach sets the standard for the season.

The Active Start session has 4 simple criteria:
  • General movements
  • Soccer Co-ordination
  • Soccer techniques
  • Small Sided Game
We started off with simple games of tags where the parents chased the kids and vice-versa. 

That was followed up by a series of activities to promote familiarity with the ball and forcing certain movements (dribbling, turning, running with the ball, etc).  Every activity involved the parent as a partner.

We ended it all with 2 small sided games.  I wouldn't exactly call them "games" but rather "slight chaos, with uniforms".  It's a good exercise because it starts to introduce the idea of teams, field shape, goals, etc.  But very few of the players understand the concept of a game. 

Why parents as partners?  Your goal for the session is that each player is comfortable and getting as many interactions with the ball as possible.  If you've ever run a U4 session you know that some kids wander away and go where?  Their parents.  With the player's parent there and active, your player is active and participating in every activity taking place.

After drink breaks, I informally explained to the parent partners what the goals were of most of the things we were doing,  but the general message was simple.  Any activity that allows the player to develop a relationship with the ball and learn to manipulate it with different parts of either foot is good.

The session lasted 50 minutes including water breaks.  The Active Start outline suggests 30-45 minutes.  Our game was no longer than 10 minutes and that was about enough.

I lost a few minutes getting parents into the role of 1v1 assistance during the practice and getting the players into a set area but I was happy with how it went for my first interaction with this groups.  I was pretty relaxed about parents going off on a tangent to see what they would do, and I was impressed.  Most parents of the children who strayed kept playing with their child, using their personal play time to get them back into the group.  All with the ball on their foot.

The most difficult part of LTPD, and Active Start, is for parents to forget their adult perceptions of sport.  The players have so much to learn, physically and technically, before presenting anything that  might resemble a game.  Most 4-year-olds do not understand "us against them" and "we score in that net and defend this one".  They all understand comfort, fear, love and fun and training should revolve around those points.

As players in the Active Start stage move towards 6 years old , you can introduce more activities that do not require parent partners.  But for U4 you should involve parents as much as possible.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Understanding and engaging the female athlete

How a 90 minute presentation unsettled my understanding of the female athlete.

I've coached women at the college level and enjoyed every minute of it.  I thought I was doing well then and still think I did well, but I realized after listening to a speaker this past weekend, I did not do enough homework in advance of taking that job (Thanks Linda Whitehead, OSA Master Learning Facilitator)

My confidence in coaching females is still there, but now I know more and feel I can offer more over a season(s).

I take this quote from an article"Much of our understanding about training programs and other strategies used to build an elite athlete have been taken from research studies using YOUNG ADULT WHITE MALES (18-25 years of age). The results of these studies have then been directly applied to female athletes, regardless of age."

Rather than share what I think is correct, I will just offer links to information from real experts.  If you coach females, you owe it to them to educate yourself.


Monday, November 26, 2012

OSA Learning Facilitator Weekend Workshop

This past weekend, fifty Learning Facilitators for the Ontario Soccer Association gathered for our yearly workshop.

As a group we deliver coaching education across the province.  We spent time on the field and in the classroom reviewing improved delivery methods, new material and sharing experiences.

There is one thing that always happens when we convene:  We have great chemistry as a group and our time together is very enjoyable.  This makes the weekend fly by and sets a great envinronment for learning.

We learn a lot from our workshop leaders and formal materials given to us, but the majority of the learning comes from the group during discussions and post-session debriefing.  This is holding with the spirit in which we are to facilitate our courses to learning coaches.

The old method used in coaching education was "I speak - you listen".  The new approach introduced last season has the course leader put the material and course in the hands of the learner.  Our very titles reflect the new methodology.  The position was called "Course Instructor" and is now known as "Learning Facilitator".

With the implementation of LTPD, a lot of the coaching education program was changed to match the philosophy.

From administration to curriculum to content delivery, the workshop kept moving forward and was busy the whole way through. 

The OSA is certainly not complacent when it comes to coaching education.  A lot of work goes into the development of the program and its delivery agents out in the field.

The LFs in the Ottawa Region gather for the same educational experience in January 2013.

I look forward to sharing information with new coaches during our courses.

Stay tuned to The Ontario Soccer Association for upcoming coaching courses.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My 5000th vistor

I didn't even notice that my visitor count rolled past 5000 on the weekend while I was away.

Thanks to the people who constitute the 5000.  Blogger is set to not track my own visits so I know it's not me.  The visits all came in just below a year and 75% of that has been over the last 6 months.

As a coach and educator, I am happy that somebody is enjoying what is being shared.   I just write about what I've been doing with soccer or whatever pops in my head with respect to coaching.  It's been fun and useful at the same time.

As a nosey coach with an IT background, I find the some of the stats interesting.

The top 10 countries from where visitor hail:
  1. Canada
  2. USA
  3. Russia
  4. Germany
  5. Ukraine
  6. United Kingdom
  7. Argentina
  8. France
  9. Latvia
  10. Switzerland 
The top sources for traffic :
  • Google
  • My Facebook Page
  • My Tweets on Twitter 
I didn't start to use Social Networking to advertise the Journal until June 2012.
The top search string on Google bringing my page up is my name.  There are numerous searches for items related to soccer coaching, LTPD, Welland, etc.

As an IT guy this is something I always keep track of.

Operating System Being Used by Visitors

Web Browser Being Used by Visitors

Thanks for your support.  We'll see where this project goes.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The importance of coaching education

When you are done learning, you are done as a coach.

It's that simple.  Good coaches are open to learn anything from anybody.  From other coaches (good or bad), players, parents, teachers ... you know where I'm going.  If you are competitive, then you will always have your ears and eyes open for as much information as you can gather.

This weekend, I am attending the annual workshop the Ontario Soccer Association holds for its Learning Facilitators.  We review new techniques for teaching, share ideas and get new information to pass on to coaches.

Why involve yourself in formal coaching education?
  • To learn how to convert your own soccer knowledge and experience into teaching situations for players to learn
  • To gain new ideas on how to organize practices
  • To improve your ability to coach by learning new methods of teaching
  • To share experiences with other coaches and collectively walk away with more information
  • To expand your personal network of coaches.  This will come in handy more than you can imagine
  • To deepen your level of being soccer literate, speaking the language
  • To realize that you do have a lot to learn, like all coaches.
Most courses also have a side emphasis on the ethics of coaching, knowledge of the working body and suggestions for general operation of a team.

It's simple.  If Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini can go listen to another coach speak and take notes ... so can you. 

I've had coaches tell me straight to my face "I don't need those courses, it's not that hard."  Oh, OK.

Any experienced coach will tell you that courses are informative, social and very enjoyable.  I've made lifelong friends and am part of a great support network as a direct result of my education.

Your education should not only involve formal courses.  You can also go observe demonstration sessions, sessions being run by an exemplary coach or even personal reading.  You also need to choose educational avenues that match the team you are currently coaching.

Coaching education has been a positive experience for me.  This is a list of the formal courses that I have taken:
  • NCCP Level 1 Theory - May 1988
  • OSA Level 1 Technical - April 1990
  • NCCP Level 2 Theory - April 1991
  • OSA Level 2 Technical - April 1991
  • OSA Level 3 Technical - May 1991
  • NCCP Level 3 Theory - February 2004
  • OSA Pre-B Assessment - September 2003
  • OSA Provincial B License - September 2004
  • CSA National B License - May 2006
  • CSA A-License - May 2009
  • Admission to Ontario College of Teachers - May 2011
  • NCCP Making Ethical Decisions - April 2011
This doesn't include the number of demonstration sessions and speakers I've seen as well as how much I've read on my own.

It's seems that the more you learn you realize you have more to learn.  That's a good thing.

Check out the education begin hosted by the soccer governing body in your area.  If you live in my area check out:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How important are the Laws of the Game during your session?

Never give up a chance to deepen your players' knowledge of the Laws of the Game.

First of all, as a coach, you should have a VERY strong understanding of the Laws of the Game.

When running a training session, you always have to remember that enforcing the Laws of the Game when possible, creates less game-time confusion for your players and puts everybody on the same page.

Very few players under 15 years old know the rules are called the Laws of the Game, or that there are 17 Laws.  How can we inject coaching points involving the Laws of the Game to help our players?  Let's go over the 17 laws, one at a time.

1.  The Field of Play

You can quickly educate your players on identifying safety hazards and situations that officials need to rectify (hole in the net, missing flag, etc).  Teach your players the language of soccer by helping them learn the names of the markings ie: penalty area, goal are, corner arc, touch line, goal line, etc.

2.  The Ball

Your players should know the size of ball they are playing with and a quick check to see if it is properly inflated.  They should also know how to identify a ball that has defects or if it is losing its integrity.

3.  Number of players

How many times have you seen a busy coach ready to start and a player yells "We need one more player on the field".  Enough said :)

4.  Players Equipment

During training encourage your players to be in full equipment with shirts tucked in according to the rules.  Make sure your GKs in small sided games are distinguished in their colour compared to the players.  Make sure they understand that they need to remember all equipment and uniforms because some leagues demand that all colours, including socks, match on a team.

5.  The Referee

Your players need to know what the referee will and will not call or govern.  For example, a player should know to tell the referee about a large hole in the goal, and not their coach.  Many young players begin their own training as a referee and begin to appreciate the referee's duties even more.

6.  Assistant Referees

Players should know what they can and should expect from the Assistant Referees.

7.  The Duration of the Match

During Small Sided Games you can help young players with the concept that their is no score clock and the referee is the official timekeeper.  Rather than play up to a score you play by time.  You can also use situations to help them gain an appreciation for what might cause added time, if it is applicable to their level of play.  Players should know how long their games are at their current age level or tournament.

8.  The Start and Restart of Play

This is where you can do the most integration of the Laws and your sessions.  Laws 8-17 are very easy to apply every session.  Adhering to the rules of each restart avoids unnecessary intervention by coaches and referees during a match.  Proper throw-ins, legal kick-offs, distance of defenders on restarts and knowing drop-balls are all examples.

You can start off small sided games with a coin toss and proper procedure.  And if your players know the Laws, they'll know to ask the referee to mark off 10 yards on a free kicks.  :)

9.  The Ball in and Out of Play

During training, enforce the law that dictates the ball is out of play when the whole of the ball crosses over the touch or goal lines (on the ground or in the air)  or when the referee has signaled a stop by way of their whistle.  They also need to know that a ball that hits a referee, assistant, corner flag, goal post or cross bar and stays on the field is still in play.

If you are at a game and notice a tree growing over a part of the field, or a goal that has extra components to it (football field goal poles), allow one of your players to inquire with the referee the ruling when that extra feature comes in contact with the ball and to explain it to teammates.

10.  Method of Scoring.

The rule is simple to understand.  But if your players start to argue during a small sided game regarding the validity of the goal, let them present their ideas and only interfere if they ask you for interpretation.

11.  Offside

During small sided games, you can adjust your field so it is big enough to bring off side into play.  Ensure you have an extra coach on each side to act as assistants and enforce the rule.  But you have to offer an explanation if required if you feel the player does not understand why they are offside.

Offside is a difficult rule to fully grasp.   Bringing the rule into effect at training is necessary as you cannot explain it during a game.

Before coaching offside, ensure your understanding of the law is clear.

12.  Fouls and Misconducts

Another easy Law to integrate into training.  During small sided games, ensure to call all fouls and insist that the free kicks are executed within the Laws.

13.  Free Kicks

During small sided games call direct and indirect free kicks and review their execution.  The players should also get a feel for which fouls result in an indirect and direct free kicks.

14.  Penalty Kicks

Ensure your players are aware of the rules and procedures of penalty kicks and the organization around them.  They should also know who can play the ball when it rebounds off the post, cross bar or goalkeeper.

You should also review the procedure of penalty kicks to settle a tie in a tournament or cup match.  You don not want to be teaching penalty kicks during a match.

15.  The Throw In

Save your players the embarrassment of a foul throw call and review this technique.  If you have players who are capable of longer throws you should review some strategies for taking advantage of their skills.

16.  The Goal Kick

Review the rule surrounding what results in a goal kick and the organization of taking one.  It also gives you the opportunity to coach your field players to organize themselves, whether attacking or defending goal kicks.

17.  The Corner Kick

Review the rule surrounding what results in a corner kick and the organization of taking one.  It also gives you the opportunity to coach your field players to organize themselves, whether attacking or defending corner kicks.

I have, on occasion, had quizzes on the laws of the Game involving fun "what if" type questions. ie: "What is the call if a throw-in goes directly into your own net without another player touching the ball", "What is the call if a mom got off her lawn chair and stopped a clear goal from crossing the goal line?"

Don't ignore the rules during practice.  It is your only chance to allow for proper review of the Laws.  Nothing looks worse than a referee having to help prganize young players during a restart or free kick.

As an ending note, please acknowledge referees who help young players understand the Laws of the Game by explaining news calls to them during a match. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Think about the player that will be ....

Working with the early bloomer and preparing the late bloomer.   Another justification for Long Term Player Development.

"Get the ball up to Joey ... go, get it UP!!!! .... go Joey  GO JOEY  SHOOT  SHOOT .... AHHHHHH Joey .... Ahhhhh ..... don't worry Joey , you'll score next time .... wait ... yes .... Get the ball back to Joey .... why didn't you give the ball to Joey??? "

Eight smaller players.  One big, fast striker.  Everybody's job is to get the ball up front to the big boy.  His job is to run and bury the ball in the goal.  He will score 1 of every 5 chances because he can't strike a ball while he's running.  He will run a lot because the passes are all over the place with no real purpose other than to go forward.   Nobody has learned a thing because the team is winning games and the coach, with his nice jacket and two trophies,  is feeling successful.  This will keep working .... until you play a team with TWO fast players.

Everybody needs to remember that everything changes at 13/14 years old, for boys and girls.  The growing player starts to become the adult they're going to be and speed and size start to even out.  So what will separate players at that point?  Technique, skill and smarts.

Ask yourself:
  • Have I seen a player who dominated at age 10 disappear at age 15?
  • Have I seen a player who struggled to make a team at age 10 dominate at 15?
Playing at the right level in the right situation at the right time with the right training helps the early and late bloomer compete once everybody catches us to each other.  Keep in mind that not every athlete is a late or early bloomer.  Some are average the whole way through.

Early bloomer
  • More confident, at the moment, because they are succeeding
  • Exposed to more competition because they are making the higher teams
  • Established reputation that might help them later if they start to fall behind
  • Never had to worry about skill development because they were faster and stronger ... true technical abilities may be lacking
  • Subject to unrealistic pressures too early in life
  • Sometimes subjected to jealousy of other parents
  • Occasionally benched because score is running out of control ... in a sense, being punished for being an early bloomer
  • May be exploited by coach to secure wins, forgetting about development
  • Parents may start to "dream" a little too early.
  • Child may have trouble dealing with competition when other players "catch up"
Late bloomer
  • May lack confidence from not making travel teams
  • Lack of success may result in trying multiple sports
  • Lack of confidence may carry on into other areas (ie school) or vice versa
  • Rarely hear their name being cheered for during games
  • Parents may not understand development and make poor decisions
  • May be subject to negative feedback
  • May lose interest in seeking a competitive spot later on
  • May develop an attitude of "what's the point of trying?"
Don't fool yourself.  Both the late and early bloomer are feeling pressures that are uncomfortable.
So the problem is simple.  How do we best prepare everybody to compete when our physical stature is no longer the main separator? When the defender is now as fast as your striker, how does your striker beat him 1v1?  How does the player who scored by putting the ball over the keeper's head score now the the keeper is taller?
  • Keep everything enjoyable and progressive.  Frustrations from games and crazy sideline talk needs to be wiped away by enjoyable environments.  We want those players to be training and playing while and after their bodies are going through changes.
  • Don't let the early bloomer rest on their early successes and insist they focus on mastering technique and playing "smarter".  Encourage the early bloomer to use their tools to bring teammates into the play.  If an early bloomer is smart and technically sound, your entire team will benefit.
  • Find occasional situations for the early bloomer to step in to that challenges their mind and body (playing higher levels or with older players).
  • Find occasional situations for the late bloomer where they can take a bit of a leadership role (training with a younger or lower level team)
  • Don't let the late bloomer feel like they are just a supporting player for the better players.  Give them roles that suit them today, building confidence in them for tomorrow.
  • Raise the level of physical literacy among all of your players.  During the periods of growth spurts, continue to train the muscle groups to keep co-ordination levels where they need to be for soccer.
  • Technique Technique Technique - Ensure all of your players are comfortable with the ball in as many situations as possible and at full pace.  Do this with and without opposition.
  • Problem Solving - continuously give your players problems to solve involving the technique they are using.  Mini competitions at training, small sided games with conditions, individual challenges, etc.
  • Promote and encourage ambidexterity.  This is necessary for the successful player and ties in with physical literacy, but is also a great confidence builder as a child.  Imagine how they would feel after a goal or assist with their weaker foot.
  • Revolve positions to give your players exposure to as many situations as possible.
  • At training, use small sided games to force players to find ways to compete without the convenience of their size or speed.
  • Devalue competition or decrease the number of pressure situations you put your team in.  Maybe skip a tournament and find festivals to play in.  This takes pressure off stronger and weaker players and makes it easier to have them feel comfortable in trying new positions.
  • Make sure you have treats afterwards.  This has nothing to do with anything in this article ... I just like treats.  :)
If you've amassed any kind of coaching experience, you will have stories about late and early bloomers quitting sports at around age 15. 

Learn about LTPD and you will see that what they emphasize at different stages of a child's development supports the information above.  And it doesn't apply only to soccer.

Your goal is that all of your players are socially, emotionally, mentally and physically prepared to compete and enjoy soccer in their teenage years.  If you get them to that point, you've succeeded. 

Some good articles about late bloomers:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Assessing and adjusting during your session

How do you know if your session plan is working?  What do you do if it's not working?

It's a scary moment for an inexperienced coach.  You feel so good about your plan and reality sets in.   Players are lost, not following the drill or bored.  NOW WHAT?

We've all seen it.  A coach is running a drill.  It's not going well, so he yells, as if to force it to succeed.  Oh, it's not working still?  OK, run 5 laps then we'll see.  Still? OK, no game at the end because the drill didn't work.  What one person feels is motivation another sees as losing control of their session.

Questions #1.  What is the main objective of your session?  Hopefully it's that every player improves and enjoys themselves.

The main thing in keeping yourself ready to adjust is to realize that if a training session falls apart, it's up to you to fix, and quickly.  Remember, if you are in North America, you see these players 1-3x per week in an environment where the players are not playing much on their own.  You need to get as much "soccer" in as possible during your time with them.

There is a chance that they are not understanding your message.  Consider these points:

  • Know your players.  Is your exercise appropriate for their age?
  • Know how people learn.  Children learn by (i) seeing (ii) hearing instructions (iii) doing
  • Do any of your children require differentiated instruction.  It's OK to ask parents at the beginning of the season "Does your child have an "Independant Education Plan" at school that might help me be a better coach for them?"
OK.  First, your session plan. 
  • Have your progressions listed.  Know what you're looking for before progressing.
  • Have your coaching points listed
  • Be organized!
  • Know what you are looking for to determine if you have success.  How will you know if it's working or failing if you don't know what you're looking for?
  • Plan ahead with respect to how you can take a step backwards if the players aren't successful
  • Understand where your players are coming from before training and make sure your session plan takes that into consideration.  Were they all at a teammate's birthday party?  Are they on a 5 game losing streak? Is it the last or first week of the school year?
  • Use LTPD as a guideline to see if what you're trying to achieve is relevant to their age.
Your clues that you need to make an adjustment
  • Most players aren't "getting it".
  • You are losing their attention - consider the possibility that you are talking too much, instruction is too vague (no demonstration?), too complicated or the topic is not relevant to their age group.
  • Avoidance of a drill or stepping to the back of a line, faking an injury or cramp, etc.  Some players will avoid doing something because they don't understand it.  Watch for that and figure out why.
  • They have a look on their face that is a respectful acknowledgement of what you are saying , but doesn't make you feel they really understand it. (Reading this look takes experience)

Adjustments you can make during a session
  • Change the area size, # players or distances in that part of the session
  • Change the conditions or challenge of that part of your session.  If they can't get 10 straight passes in 5v2, decrease it to get success then move back up.  If they can't do the hurdles, adjust the distance. 
  • Look inwards first before yelling.
  • Even if you are falling behind schedule and a drill is not yet succeeding, but the players are still working and interested, don't progress to the next one.  The session plan schedule is useful, but you have the final say.
  • Change your teaching method.  Know and understand different methods such as (i) Command method (ii) Question and Answer method or (iii) Guided Discovery.
  • Move on to the next drill if it's not directly progressing from the current drill.  Re-assess later, adjust and try it again another session
  • If things are falling apart in a big way, go to your small sided game and try to add some conditions in there to bring out the topic.
Adjusting a session in progress takes experience.  You have to think on your feet and have the confidence to make the change and carry on.

Some of these points sound very obvious, but some coaches get so stuck on what's planned that they feel pressure to follow it to the letter.  As you read this you might be thinking that I am touching on session planning, or body language, or reflection, or many other topics. The answer is yes yes and yes.  Everything comes together to bring about a great session and to progress to another great session.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The importance of body language

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.  It may be a clichĂ©, but it's very true. 

A definition of body language found on is:  a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.

When a person walks into a room, you watch them and before they say a word you've already formed an opinion of them.  You're not shallow or superficial.  They've already said "hello" with you via non-verbal  communication: body language.  That is your famous "first impression" that you never get a second chance to make :)

As a coach you have no choice but to learn as much about this as anything else.

It's a very powerful aspect of communication that very few people have complete control over.  It makes all the difference when starting conversations and gaining trust. It can also be used to manipulate.

Your body language can reveal the truth that your words are trying to hide.   Or it can distort the intention of the words you've chosen to relay.

It's estimated that 85-93% of what you say is conveyed through body language, while words only deliver 7-15% of the message.  Think about that if you are trying to rally your team back into a game or getting them to pick up the pace during a drill.  Think about HOW you deliver your message.

See it for yourself in front of a mirror.  Take a sentence that you would say during a training session or game and try to say it different ways with different body gestures.  "That was a nice try", "Are you playing today?".  Try slouching, standing up straight, hands in and out of your pockets, head up/down, frowning/smiling.  Now change which word you emphasize and even add a sarcastic flare to a word.  See how the message changes.

Picture this: you're at a party, walking up to the host, shuffling your feet, hands in your pockets, with a sad look and your head down, shoulders dropped, let out a *sigh* and say in a monotone voice  "Thanks for inviting me.  I'm having a great time."  See how convincing you are.

So what does this have to do with coaching?  Everything.  It's your #1 non-technical coaching tool.  Positive body language tells your players "trust me, I know what I'm talking about".  As a coach you are trying to get the players to buy into what you're teaching.  Who wants to learn something from somebody who's not excited to teach it? 

So, as a coach, control the factors that affect your non-verbal communication:
  • Look and sound like a coach
  • Be neat in your appearance (shave, clean clothes, shoes in good repair, etc)
  • Eat and stay hydrated so you are just as fresh at the end of training
  • Eliminate as many physical distractions as possible to avoid frustrations
  • Leave your problems at home
  • Mind your posture
  • Remember who you are dealing with
  • Make mental notes/reminders on your practice plan
Body language is very contagious. And minding it not only makes you a better coach.  It also makes you a better teacher, doctor, mechanic, WalMart employee, police officer, spouse, dog whisperer, etc, etc, etc
Some resources for body language

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How can we help our players to not be afraid?

Call it what you want: nerves, anxiety, pressure, butterflies or apprehension.  The truth is a lot of young players in a lot of sports are afraid to play.

Why is that?  What is it?  There are a lot of terms out there but they all mean the same thing. 

What are they afraid of and how can you combat it?  As you read this you can start to think of how this also applies in a classroom for students.

Some thoughts below.  All don't apply to all children.  Some don't apply to any children.  But all are easily visible if you hang around enough teams.

Fear of losing.

This would be a direct result of how much emphasis a coach, parents or situation puts on winning.   If you want to see this gone bad, go check out a Novice AAA hockey game in Ontario.  Parents are yelling, benches are shortened and goalies are pulled in the name of the scoreboard.  For soccer in Ontario, the threat of relegation and promise of promotion drive the win/loss mentality.  Top soccer countries?  No scores or tables at the young ages.  LTPD in Canada is bringing in the same thinking.  But it's not all the system's fault.  You, as the coach, have to temper importance on the score to your players.  Easier said than done if where you play does not follow that philosophy.

Fear of not being accepted.

Teams are groups of human beings and social acceptance is a part of the equation.  If you pay as much attention to your weakest player as you do your best player, you can cure this problem in one shot.  Cheering, encouragement, respect, patience and love make universal acceptance possible.  Don't embarrass one in front of the rest.  If somebody is struggling with something, set them up to succeed in front of their peers.

Fear of their coach not liking/wanting them.

The players on your roster are all different.  Get to know them and you will learn what makes them tick.  Do what you can to make them all feel like a million bucks and happy they came.  Let them know, publicly, that you cared enough to remember they ran a cross-country race that day, or a birthday, saw their picture in the paper or any good news you've heard.  A smile or kind word goes a long way with people.

Be careful how you criticize and watch your body language.

With younger players, a poorly chosen phrase, emphasizing the wrong word in a sentence or your body language can change the intended purpose of the message.  With the wrong player on the edge, it can ruin a season.   Try this.  Repeat the phrase "That was a nice play".  Each time change the word you emphasize, how you say it and play around with your body language.  You can go from praise to sarcasm to criticism to public humility by playing around with the same four words.

Body language includes where you look, your facial expression, your posture, where your hands are and how you're dressed. 

Expectations too much to handle.

There are times when an entire team (and parents) are depending on the efforts of one player.   And the kid knows it.  There have been times where I've seen that one kid, in the first five minutes, get sick, hurt, frustrated and/or emotionally breakdown.  I've seen parents cheer in weird ways pretty much letting that boy know he's letting them down.  Or opposing parents cheering against him, wanting him to fail.  Expectations are dangerous when laid on too heavily.  Even professionals can fall victim to heavy expectations.

For younger children, not having familiar faces nearby.

The Active Start stage of LTPD involves having family close to the player, even on the field.  Impressing and pleasing somebody you love is very high on a child's priority list.  Have you ever seen a child have a "career" game because their grandparents were at the field?  The people who make a child comfortable are a big part of the solution for getting them past any anxieties.  Old school types would say "Keep the parents away as they are a problem" but research supports the positive effect of parents being present.  As they get older, involve parents in team support roles such as organizing parties, game day duties, etc.

Fear of failing or not knowing what to do.

There is a difference between losing and failing.  Nobody wants to fail in front of their friends or family, even if the team won.  Walking into a game imagining how many things can go wrong is a terrible feeling.  Giving all players formal game experience makes them more comfortable with being on the field.  Rehearse and introduce as many situations as possible at training and small sided games so it's not a completely new experience in a game.  Provide useful and intelligent information if their decision doesn't work and encourage them to try it again, and point out what was good about their decision.  This takes time and patience on your part but will pay off.

Fear not not being able to execute after their decision.

The only cure for improved technique is effective coaching and repetition.  Competence at a variety of techniques removes one complete layer of worries from a player.  The more techniques they have in their tool-belt, the more options they can and will consider.   Every technique not mastered represents a set of ideas they will not consider in a game.  And not having good technique means they can't execute your tactics, possibly fueling your anxiety level and chipping away at the previous points.

Success breeds confidence

People are not successful because they are confident,  they are confident because they've had success.  Make sure your training sessions allow your players to succeed so they are not afraid to expand on what they've learned.  Have you ever seen a successful lower level team soundly beat a struggling higher level team at the same age group?  It happens all the time.  The lower level team walked on the field expecting to win.  The same translates down to the player level.

One last thought

Coach John Wooden was a legend at UCLA for US college basketball success.  Legendary UCLA and NBA centre Bill Walton often said the games were a breeze after practicing/competing with his fellow Bruins.  Making training more difficult than games is not a new idea.  If your approach is right and the group suitable, it could turn your game into a reward for hard work at training.

Work them hard, work them smart, work them all, and let them play.  If they are not wanting to express themselves in games, adjust your approach accordingly.  For their sake, not yours.

I've been told by parents that they appreciate my approach with their children, but I know myself that there were occasions where I was less than "OK" when it came to making them comfortable .  A few times I've gotten in my car with that terrible feeling in my stomach after soccer.  Most times I feel good, but I am human, and so are you.  Reflect on your sessions and catch yourself when you slip and come back better net time, for each player as well as the team.

The equation is simple, but the execution is not always easy.  Work hard to keep your players interested and confident and enjoy watching them enjoy themselves and succeeding on the field.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What is your off-season plan, as a coach?

In sports, the off-season has become a science all in itself.

As a coach, how will you spend your off-season?

When in-season, we are so busy and focused on our teams and competition, it's difficult to step back for review or find time to get involved in any kind of personal or professional development.  So when the off season arrives, how do you spend it?  There is no 100% right and wrong answer that is in line with any coaching manual.

For some coaches in certain situations, doing nothing, resting or going fishing is what's needed.  And that's OK.  But becoming a better coach will require you to invest some time.

At the very least, if you are in Canada, you should use the time to become extremely well versed in LTPD.

Some options for off-season development:
  • Attend coaching clinics and courses
  • Find a different group to work with for a short period
  • Be an assistant to a more experienced coach
  • Reading, research
  • Educate other coaches
  • Coaching other sports, but working on your coaching style
  • Enjoying other sports as a parent
Your age, level of coaching, in-season time and travel commitment, club situation and personal goals all affect your direction.  If your coaching is a 12-month arrangement, then you need to make the time for personal development.

There is another choice you need to make.  How much contact will you keep with your players? Will you give them time away from you to do what they want?  Did you give them a plan?  This is a whole different topic from their point of view, but very related from your point of view.

If your off-season plan delivers a rejuvinated coach to your team when you start your pre-season, then you made the right decision.

If I can offer a tip that helps me get more from my off-season activities: make sure you include activities or literature that is NOT directly soccer related.  There is a lot to learn out there, and it's not always taught by the so called "soccer people".

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting feedback on your session

We expect our players to accept our feedback for their own improvement.  Have you ever subjected yourself to somebody else's feedback when coaching?

This might sound crazy, but my favourite part of the coaching license process was being assessed and going through the feedback later.  The pressure of the assessor with clipboard forced you to organize the best session of your life.

I was fortunate as I've always had assessors who had constructive attitudes.  Most of my assessments went OK, but I did not pass them all and one was a complete train-wreck.  The feedback was so valuable that I always felt ready for the next progression.  To date, through all my courses I've been through 12 formal coaching assessments and several informal ones as preparation.  As a student in teachers college, I've also had many assessments in delivering classroom lessons. 

If you are at a club that has a licensed technical director or have a connection to one, ask for feedback at a level that you are comfortable with.  The more experience you have, the more confident you should be in having somebody observe one of your sessions and the more you will get out of it.

Here is a suggested process if you have a lot of experience and looking to get into the licensing process:
  • Pick a topic
  • Review it with your technical director/observer
  • Confirm your players' attendance, equipment and location
  • Deliver your session
  • Review the session with your technical director and record the feedback.  Have an open mind.
  • Arrange another time to be observed
  • Run a few sessions without an observer, keeping the feedback in mind
  • Depending on your experience level, for the next observed session, decide whether you will deliver the same session or a new one.  If you are less experienced, run the same one again.
  • Review your plan with your technical director and review what could be improved from last time
  • Confirm your players' attendance, equipment and location
  • Deliver your session
  • Receive second set of feedback.
Your technical director should be able to determine your experience level and set up a process that suits you best. Feedback could simply be asking somebody to review your plan for the night, week, month or season.  You and a peer can compare notes if that is a comfortable place to start.

Everybody can benefit from constructive feedback: player, employee, student.  Yes, even a coach.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The value of running a session as a guest coach

One of the best methods to refine your coaching technique to coach somebody else's team.

I had a good conversation with a coaching friend from Milton and it got me remembering how enjoyable it was to run sessions as a guest coach.  This past season I ran 10 sessions as a guest coach for boys and girls, over a wide age spectrum.

After being with the same group for multiple sessions/weeks/months,  you could start falling in a trap of less specific practice plans, looser themes, sloppier explanations or short cuts because the players know your methods and follow along quicker.   You always work to not get to that point, but you are human and familiarity can set in.

You want to visit a strange team, run a good practice, leave the coach with something to work with and exit the experience a little more refined than how you entered.

Running sessions for younger groups with beginner coaches really tunes you back in to reality and is a great thing for all coaches to do.  The basic of all grass roots soccer, 1 ball per player, demonstrating and teaching things again for the very first time.

Running a session for another group forces you to bring all of your coaching qualities back to square one:
  • Personal appearance
  • Organization/planning
  • Enjoyment for players
  • Explanations
  • Demonstrations
  • Adherence to theme of the session
  • Quickly adjusting and thinking on your feet for the unexpected
  • Age appropriate topics
  • Knowledge of topic
  • Establishing a rapport with players, quickly
If running a session makes you nervous, that is your first step in making sure you are ready to deliver the topic.  "Butterflies in your stomach" are good.

Tips to help you succeed as a guest coach:
  • Review the topic with the coach and ensure it meshes with what they are doing
  • Between you and the coach, confirm the suitability and availability of the field and the equipment
  • Find out how many players to expect, and be ready for less or more
  • Find out which 3 players can give you the best demos.  Use them first then use the others
  • Do not depend on the coach to be 100% ready for you.  In fact, this is rarely the case
  • No jargon, slang or inside jokes with the new group.
  • Introduce yourself, where you're from, thank them for the invitation, do equipment check, tell them the goal of the session and ensure you know any and all existing injuries 
  • Practice your ability to get instant feedback by reading their faces and listening to their questions, and be ready to adjust your session.
  • Make and effort to learn their names.
  • Have fun!
  • Debrief the session, ensure everybody is OK and thank them again for inviting you
Running a guest session takes practice, but it's good therapy.  I've been doing it for 10 years and I am still cautious about all the details in advance. 

How do you become a guest coach?  Do you just "ask" to run somebody's session?  The answer is yes.  I've been asked most of the times but if I am going to a coaching course I like to prepare by being a guest coach.  In those cases, I bluntly ask.

If you are new to coaching, I would not jump into guest coaching just yet.  You have to be comfortable in your skin and trained and experienced in the art of delivering a session.  The fact is that you want to be a better coach, but you have to bring quality to the practice or your reputation as a guest coach will not be good.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Are your relationships with your stakeholders healthy?

The political end of coaching should never be ignored.

Now that it's off season you have to think back and ensure all of the relationships around your program are in order.  Your players are your number one stakeholder and always your primary concern, but reality dictates that there are other people involved who need attention.

If you neglect any of the interested parties, you're asking for trouble.  If you take the attitude that your one and only job is to coach the on-field portion, you're mistaken again.  They can't be allowed to affect your tactical/player decisions, but your actions and conduct need to be at a level that they are comfortable in their continued support of your program, with you as the coach.  On the flip side, you also need to be comfortable with their demands and conduct.

This is not about kissing anybody else's rear end.   This is about everybody making sure they are comfortable with the other parties so the on-field coaching and positive systemic support can continue uninhibited.

Examples of stakeholders other than players:

At the college/university level
  • Administration
  • Athletic/Recreation manager and/or Director
  • Recreation Department staff 
  • Athletic Therapy Staff
  • Academic Success Advisors
  • Players' course instructors/professors
  • College academic recruiters
  • Student supporters
  • Alumni supporters
  • Supportive local club coaches
  • Media
At the High School level
  • School Board
  • Principle, Administration
  • Athletic director / Phys-Ed Chair
  • Financial supporters (parent councils, etc)
  • Parents
At the Club Level
  • Club Executive
  • Program and/or facilities director
  • League administration
  • Sponsors
  • Parents
I've watched good coaches, before my very eyes, implode because they chose to operate in a bubble instead of a community.  Technical and tactical knowledge is good, but it's definitely not enough to succeed.  There is a political side to coaching that is probably the most difficult part to master.