Friday, June 1, 2012

U17 - Season Game #2 - Too Much Excitement for Me

The boys are not perfect, but they do generate excitement.
Our U17 boys had their second regular season game Wednesday in Milton.  Seven of the boys already had games earlier that day and it was emotional for all of them.  The two main high schools represented on our roster played each other and the victor lost in the next game.  High School soccer is over for this group.

We only had 11 players for our first game.  Wednesday was better; we had 12.  We now have 3 injuries and another boy was working.  Our GK was also hurt, but he played.

A slow start is a huge understatement here.  We were down 3-0 after 15 minutes.  All three goals were finished by a 1v1 with our keeper.  There were holes in our shape that you could pass a cargo ship through, our GK could not be as helpful as usual and some of the boys were mentally weak early on.  As the half progressed we were slowly getting organized and were looking more like a U17 soccer team.

When half time arrived the boys came off down 3-0 and my son says “guys, we’re not playing that bad”.  He was right as the boys did show some positive energy, but was 3-0 too much to overcome?

I had pointed out to them that we were losing our shape on attack and that was causing holes that made it easy to counter-attack against.  We were throwing ourselves at their net in 6’s while our defenders stayed back at half.

Coach Ben pointed out that players are leaving their positions to defend somebody else because they did not trust the person there to do their job.  That actually caused the first goal against.

We also had to rein them in mentally.  They were starting to bicker with the official and each other.

The boys started the second half with the positive energy that was building the first half.  And it didn’t hurt that an opposing player was sent off in the 47th minute for persistent dissent.

We were starting to penetrate down the wings, switching the play and using support from behind.  Crosses were coming in and attempts were made on goal.

A penetrating pass to a winger who finished on a first touch shot brought us to 3-1.  The same player on the same pass was brought down in the box to make it 3-2 on a PK and the attack continued.

We started to break down a bit and the boys needed to be reminded of their shape and philosophies we have been following.  Some boys were trying to fix the game on their own at one point.

The boys were positive with each other and worked to stay organize, but their overall fatigue was evident.  Being a man up was the best gift they could have received, especially when that player scored 2 of the 3 goals we conceded.

In the last minute, another penetrating pass caught a midfielder running through.  A collision with the keeper caused the ball to pop loose and our player was in a position to slide it in to tie the game.

It was another good moment for the team, but I can easily live without the tension.

We do need to reinforce our team shape and paint a better picture at training of how we should look on the field.  With school soccer over, we can have some more productive sessions and move towards a more cohesive team on the field.

U13 - Poorly planned ending to an otherwise good session

Last night we had training with our U13 boys, and I think I made it a bit too long, or planned the ending poorly.

We had a 2-hour session on one of our club fields.  I had 2 parents help us, which was a very good thing.  I wanted to cover a variety of things before getting to my main topic, hitting the ball firmly with the laces.

Before getting to our topic we did:
  • Keep-away (they are getting better at it)
  • Heading
  • Flick-ons, redirecting an oncoming ball over the defender behind you
  • Playing the ball out of the air while running, from the front and side
I was glad we touched on all those things and I see the boys’ confidence continue to build slowly.

When we got into striking the ball with the laces, I set up several scenarios:
  • With a partner, pushing ball out and striking after 1 step
  • Running with the ball and striking with laces
  • Receiving, turning and striking a low, penetrating pass with laces to a running winger, through 2 poles serving as defender
The coaching points were:
  • Toe down
  • Knee bent, over the ball
  • Head and Chest in appropriate positions depending on purpose of strike 
  • Jump into kick with plant foot, leaving hips open
  • Lock ankle
  • Follow through
I still see a reluctance to hit the ball cleanly with the laces.  There is still a tendency to revert to the inside of the food if they can get away with it.

The mini-game at the end is where I feel I blew it.  There was quite a bit of running before we got to this point and the game was a giggle-fest.  A more appropriate ending might have been a spirited competition testing their accuracy with a laces-driven pass.  Maybe I should have let them play and left them alone.

We have 2 more training sessions before our season opener.  I will have to make sure to spice them up with exciting endings.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

U17 - First game of the season

Last night, the U17 boys had their season opener at home.  The game was interesting even before the first player showed up to the field.

With a 17 player roster, the team had 11 players the entire match.  Very dangerous considering it was hot and humid and most of the players had a school practice at 2:30pm.  2 players were suspended from last season, 2 players are injured and 2 players were sick.  The U16 team was still at a tournament in Erie, PA, so there was no chance of using their boys as call-ups.

Playing with 11 players leaves your team so vulnerable: tactically, emotionally and physically.  Our opponent was Oakville SC.

I was unable to be there for the first half due to a family function.  Upon arrival, we were down 1-0.  Watching the boys, I saw that one striker was running out of steam and one of our central defenders was in discomfort (limping).  Trouble was brewing.

I was happy to see they were staying organized and playing intelligently.  The team was adapting to their partially healthy teammates and picking their punches.

We drew even off a set play.  A long ball was played wide and over the defenders.  A player hit the ball out of the air back in front of goal, where it was redirected in by our striker.

After a change in tactics and formation to further compensate for our fatigue and suffering players, one of our guys was brought down in the penalty area.  He converted the PK to go up 2-1 with a few minutes left.  The team shuffled the deck again to hold their lead and finish out the match.

There were a few times where I was worried about 17 year-old tempers hurting our team, but those incidents were quickly diffused by calmer teammates.

There are things a coach can observe and comment on after every game.  In this case, you celebrate the incredible effort and teamwork, take your 3 points and go home.  I am hoping the team uses this effort and result as a springboard to an enjoyable season.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Congratulations AGAIN Sabrina! Senior WNT call-up

Welland's Sabrina D'Angelo continues her exciting journey in our national program by getting called to be a backup goalkeeper for our women's national team, this Wednesday vs China in Moncton, NB.

Link to pregame story
Link to Sabrina's profile

When do we start specializing positions?

Determining the age of when to start slotting players in fixed positions is a never ending debate for every sport. 

Slowly, we are moving our team towards 1, 2 or 3 possible positions for each player.  We will always tinker and experiment, but there will be an underlying consistency to our line-up.

So when is a good time to specialize young players in certain positions?  We have players who have had tremendous success in certain positions but are reluctant to try other spots. 

How about when a parent is trying to interfere with where you are paying their child?  I say “try” because if a parent is influencing your line-up, your team needs another coach.

I like to try players in different spots to see if we can determine the best spot for them.   But I try to ease those changes in while keeping the rest of the line-up stable. 

Here are my thoughts.  If you have players who can succeed in more than one position:
  • They develop a more complete set of skills, mentally, tactically and technically.
  • It gives you more flexibility in putting other players on the field.
  • You have more options tactically, for different situations.
  • You prepare them to win spots in other programs, away from your team (school, academy, college, etc).
There are things you need to consider.
  • If a player is trying a new position with limited (but increasing) success, you can move them back and forth so they continue to experience success.
  • If a player is failing at a position that you thought would work for them, you should consider the possibility that you were wrong.  Let them go back for a while, then try somewhere else when you feel they are ready.
  • Make sure you put each player’s needs before the entire teams.  When all of your players are confident and succeeding, the team’s needs will be met.
  • All players deserve the opportunity to periodically play a full match. Sometimes players don’t “let it all out “ if they know they are your first choice to be replaced during games.
One last consideration is that each position has desirable physical characteristics for the players who play there.  As the players age and pass through puberty, their physical characteristics will also change.  The more technical work and situations they are exposed to as younger players, the better prepared they will be for the challenges their future coaches hand to them.

We will see how things develop with each boy as the season moves forward.  It’s a challenge for youth coaches to not get caught up in the score and situation, forgetting to serve their players.