Saturday, February 25, 2012

What is a "good" player?

I had a discussion with some students the other day talking about this guy who is "good ... but" or that guy who is "good ... but...".  Then I was thinking of some former players who went on to successful playing days in college, university, men's competitive, semi-pro and professional.

Here is my opinion: if there is a "but" after the "good" then you're not "good".  You might be decent, or very effective, but "good" might be a strong word.  "Good" meaning a player who would be scouted for a professional youth academy or NCAA D1 school. 

A good player has many dimensions to the package they deliver.
  • Playing for the right reasons and because they want to
  • Strong work ethic, in training and competition
  • Internally motivated
  • Proper training/coaching
  • Technical proficiency is a must.
  • Mental toughness is a must.
  • Athletic over and above their sport
  • Intelligent enough to process what's going on around them and make decisions (understand the game)
  • Physical dimensions that lend themselves to success (in some cases certain aspects are way above average to compensate for lacking in other aspects)
  • Lifestyle choices lend themselves to success.
  • Strong emotional support system and environment for success
  • Hidden X-Factor --- Can make things happen or "that little something extra"
Finding an athlete who is truly "good" is rare.  A lot of athletes have talent and potential but are not driven.  We find kids who are driven and tough, but not particularly gifted or technically strong.

I use the word "good" very rarely.  I find myself saying "decent" and "suitable" often.  Sometimes I would say "incomplete".  I will say if you find a co-ordinated athlete at the right age who wants to play and learn, you can eliminate items on their deficiency list with the proper exposure and training.

I think highly of players who play for life and give back to the game and register their children.  But the conversation was about being good.

Players who are on their way to becoming good need the right guidance and incentive to finish their journey.  This is where soccer falls apart in Canada.  Players at 13/14/15 who show real potential for getting to the next level have little incentive to continue.  Scholarships and professional opportunities are not readily available, but that is slowly changing. 

We do have young Canadians playing professionally in MLS and overseas.  But the stage is set for developing a greater number of quality players.

Community clubs are taking a different approach to player development at young ages.  The soccer powers are seriously rethinking and changing their approach at the younger age groups (See Ontario and Canada Soccer's LTPD).  In Canada we now have 3 MLS teams with youth academies and 10 provincial programs offering elite opportunities for young players.  Private academies are also connecting ambitious players with potential trials over seas. 

Hopefully we will see a stronger and bigger crop of U12-U14 players in the next 3-4 years.

There will also be long term benefits to a larger group of players who continue to play into U15 and into adulthood.  These people will become the coaches and decision makers of tomorrow.

We need better training in a more appropriate environment for younger players.  Then we need to  develop more destination programs for our young players who show promise and continue the process of turning them into good players at the right time in their life.

MLS - Congratulations Simon Gatti

Simon Gatti was a player on the first team I ever coached and we coached him during his U9-U10-U11 years.  He moved on to a career at the University of Rhode Island then the Montreal Impact.  He announced his retirement and has joined the Impact as the u14 Academy Coach.  He was a good boy who grew into a good man, and a very good player.  He will be a great coach.

Photo from

Thursday, February 23, 2012

U13 - Passing, Passing and more passing

It was our first practice after selecting our team.

Tonight we set up a passing sequence through grids that involved a lot of passing, receiving and running.  We ran it for 40 minutes, the length of one half this season.  Their only breaks were for resetting the drills or to explain the next progression.

We basically passed on angles, received the ball opening up and passing the ball again.  2 touches.  Every player who passed into the next grid on an angle ran to the unoccupied corner so the balls were always going through each grid alternating  at opposite angles.  By the time you made your way through the grid you did 6 passes and had about 15 seconds before you went through again.  Again, it's a drill where you have to pay attention and have very little time between playing balls.

Our small game at the end was based on 2 touch.  The sessions started at 8:30pm and the boys had just run a ton, so the quality game quickly tapered off.  I know you end up with a lack luster game but the passing and running is what I wanted to accomplish tonight.  They still had some good ideas while they were playing.

We only had 12 players tonight.  One was sick and the other has a broken toe.  Smaller rosters make games easier but hurt training sessions.  We will have to re-examine that.

Overall I was happy with the boys tonight.  They all worked hard and we had our foot on the ball for quite a while.  I was impatient a few times but had my coaching points written down and touched on them all. 

Tuesday we train with our second team.  We are going to work on turns and more passing.  We'll get 6 different turns done and a large-group, field-size passing drill.

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.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

1994 boys - Holland 2009

In August 2009 we took our 1994 boys team to Holland for 12 days.  It was an amazing trip that was made possible through a supportive club, the co-operation and teamwork of a great group of parents and the organization skills of Costa, Bobby and Peter from Sigma Sports in Toronto.

I am recalling this trip because I finally put all their photos together on a DVD and gave everybody a copy.  I said I would do it, but I didn't say when!  :-)

Over 12 days we saw 2 professional games, played 7 games, had 5 training sessions and toured 3 stadiums.  I am not sure how, but we also had time to enjoy Holland as tourists.  There was a field at the hotel and the boys were playing during their spare time.

Everything was top shelf ... the hotel, food, transportation, facilities for each team, hospitality and the quality of play on the field.  My two older sons were on the trip and I hear their friends and parents talk about it all the time.  It was really was a great trip. 

I coached the 1999 Boys from U9 to U16.  They were a great bunch of young men and it's always a pleasure to run into them.  Most of them still play and this is their U18 year coming up.  It will be interesting to see how many try out for their respective college or university teams this upcoming fall.

I hope to make this same voyage with the 1999 Boys at some point, as well as with my nephew's teams in the future.
The team in front of The Arena in Amsterdam, just before an Ajax match.

My brother is coaching!!!

I found out this weekend my brother Anthony is helping to coach the U9 boys for nearby Pelham Soccer Club.  His youngest son was on that team last year.  His oldest son will be U10.

Anthony is a very intelligent and personable man.  He has a lot of experience dealing with people and being organized.  His playing days are over after a knee injury during one of our adult games last summer and he required a bit of minor surgery for that.

Anthony has played youth travel, high school and adult league soccer.  He was also a respected basketball player in Welland and played hoops well into adulthood as well.

He was a little slow growing and his presence on the field was hit and miss but he was effective when he had the ball.  He then grew into his present self starting in Grade 7 and is now 6'1".  The last half of his youth days and into adulthood, he was a tough defender with good vision.  Hopefully he adopts a desire to engage in some form of coaching education.

As a side note, the other assistant on that team is his central defending partner on our Adult team for many years, Pat.  The two of them made a fearsome pair in front of our goal. 

Anthony is going to make a good coach and I am excited to see how he does.

OSA's LTPD link

The OSA has a link to access their information on Long Term Player Development.  The "Parents Frequently Asked Questions" section is very well done.  Check it out.

The questions I am fielding about LTPD are incredible.  Some are informed and detailed questions, but others are rooted in conspiracy theories and deep suspicion.  I am not sure why, but that's what I am finding.

The biggest surprise for me are new Canadians who are involved in soccer who start every sentence with "Back in my country...".  Well, this is what they are doing back in your country, we just had to give it a name so it could be implemented.

People are wary of change and that's understandable.   Here is what everybody can agree on:
  1. Coaches of entry level players are unsure of what to do with these young players.
  2. A lot of player quit soccer by the time they are 14 years old.  
  3. The path to the top level of play is confusing, and being made moreso by the arrival of more independent leagues.
  4. For the number of players we have playing the game, we aren't very good at it on a national level, nor do we produce many professionals.