Monday, February 20, 2012

U13 - We picked our team. Now what?

Success breeds confidence.  Not the other way around.  The theme is consistent in our approach.

So we picked our team and now it's time to move forward.  Over the course of the season players will end up in various positions as we continue to discover new things about them.

My goal has always been to find a place(s) where players can have personal success and feel they are contributing to the team.  Parents don't always like where their children play, but they are not the ones feeling down if they are not having success.  A player feeling important to the group and contributing to any successes the group has is MISSION 1A.  I will not put a player in a position to appease a parent if I know the player will have more success somewhere else.

Success creates confidence.  Confidence builds a willingness to try another position and see if they can succeed there.

We don't run tryouts looking for positions.  Especially not at U13.  We are looking for players who are potentially good at a few spots, then see how we can work with them to expand their personal soccer portfolio.  I listen to coaches at U9 and U10 saying "we need to find 2 midfielders and a defender".  Really? 

Players should not assume they are the same position as last year.  I don't etch positions in stone as their bodies have changed, meaning their prominent qualities change.

At U13, while bodies are changing we have to show patience for our young footballers.  There is too much going on with these creatures, mentally, emotionally, socially and physically.  They will all go through a few jerky weeks adjusting to their growing bodies.  Friends and GIRLS will start showing up to our games.  Some will discover speed and strength they didn't have before.  Early bloomers will deal with the reality that others are catching up to them.  Patience in finding success for each player is important.  One wrong sentence at the wrong time in the wrong tone of voice can end their season and they do not want to be embarrassed in front of their peers or parents and they don't want to disappoint their coach.

My demanding and dictatorial voice leading up to U12 has to give way to a more respectful 2-way conversation.  They have been learning about soccer since U4 and now they are invited to speak at half time and make observations and suggestions.  They will know that they can tell the coaches what they are thinking about the team/game/situation and we will listen.

At this point we will continue working on improving everybody's decision making, small group situations in attacking and defending, developing a passion for possession and starting to understand more about the game itself.

On a team level, we need to identify:
  • Players who can run box-to-box for 70 minutes and show a knack for winning balls in open field
  • Players who can show a keen eye for anticipating plays and intercept balls
  • Players who receive a ball, open up and on second touch move a ball 40 yards
  • Players who show the traits of a physically and mentally strong central defender type
  • Our fastest 5-6 players
  • Our fittest 5-6 players
  • Players willing to compete for a ball in the air 
  • Players proficient at striking a ball with their left foot.  (we have no natural lefties)
  • Players who can effectively strike dead balls for set pieces
Some players will satisfy more than one of these items.   We chose players that we thought were smart enough to play, have good technical abilities and physical/mental characteristics.  By identifying further what else our players are capable of, we can then find places for them to succeed on the field. 

If players are in positions to succeed, then the team can play with more confidence giving more players a chance to succeed.  If players can succeed in more than one position,  that increases their chances for success with other programs and gives use more flexibility to accommodate other players looking for similar success.

Success is contagious.  Confidence is contagious and loves company.  A lack of personal success for one player brings others down.  If one player is not having success, you have failed as a coach.  Harsh, but true.  There has to be something a player can be successful at.  Delivery on dead ball set pieces?  Breaking up plays in front of central defenders?  An extra target on attacking set pieces?  Playing high and laying balls off to midfielders?  Create a successful situation, let some confidence build and introduce something else.  It may take time, but it has to be done.  It's your job!

Technical aspects aside, I always have a character profile of different places in our formation.

On my teams, the defenders are the stars.  Players know within 2 weeks that if I ask you to start there, I trust you and I feel you are an all-round strong player.  Parents cheer for good defensive plays and that is always helpful.  Unless something needs to be changed, my central defenders usually don't come off, so the team has some stability as players come on and off the pitch.

My central defenders are fast, tough, strong, committed players who defend the goal with passion.  They can see opportunities to intercept balls, break up attacks and effectively start a counter attack.  Strength in the air and legal, hard tackles on the ground are understood requirements.  They are vocal and demanding of teammates. I was never a defender on a regular basis but I have always been effective at developing defenders.

My wide defenders are players who are tough defending 1v1, always in a position to support and offer wide options to spread the defending team out and fast/fit/daring enough to make overlapping runs on the attack.  They understand and are happy to be an integral part of the attack.  They want the ball.

I look for midfielders who aren't afraid to sweat, understand the concept of being a 2 way player and have the ability to stop things for the other team and start things for us.  They don't let balls bounce on the field and can play a ball in all 4 directions with confidence.  They have to be very industrious (make something out of nothing) and draw teammates into the game.  They are the engine room both on attacking and defending, and they love the job.

I look for wingers who have the discipline to stay wide, the nerve to take defenders on 1v1 and the timing/speed to be good targets for penetrating passes.  They can see players running towards the net (near and far post), find targets and serve the right ball at the right time.  They also show a hunger for winning balls back in the attacking third.

I want a striker(s) who has sense to know when to shoot, when to lay a ball off for a midfielder who can shoot, when to slip balls wide and make dangerous runs and have that unknown "X-factor" to turn a half-chance into a goal.  He loves to score and works to be in the right place at the right time to make that happen.  He is willing to score with all parts of both feet and his head.  He plays so hard that he occasionally draws a penalty kick or fouls at the top of the penalty area.  He also makes it clear to the other team that he loves to win balls back and doesn't mind committing the occasional foul in that pursuit.

I will not get some of these traits in younger players, but that is my general vision of those players.  Younger players can show some of these traits and demonstrate their ability to excel at some positions more than others.  If we feel we can introduce more of the facets of a position to a player who is succeeding, we will.  But we need to be careful of not introducing adult values at the wrong time.  Example: Asking a player to be verbally demanding is difficult if his lack of maturity might cause him to embarrass a teammate in front of peers.

People have asked me "if you are so worried about player success, when do you worry about team success?".  Hmmm..... read the post again.

Coach Paul and I look forward to seeing where the next few weeks leads us.