Saturday, June 30, 2012

MLS - EPL - EURO 2012 - Are the kids watching?

With so much soccer available on TV these days, it blows me away as to how many young people who play have never watched a game from beginning to end.

I have troubling understanding how that's possible, as it hasn't been a problem with our extended family.  Even with Euro 2012 and all of the big names, I know some of my players have not taken in an entire match.

Where does my duty as a coach end?  On the field?  Making them passionate by introducing them to professional soccer? Is it appropriate for a coach to make plans that will cost parents more money and time?
One of the biggest marketing problems with North American soccer has been turning the incredible number of youth players into paying spectators.  People do not realize that in Canada there are more youth soccer players than ice hockey!  But getting somebody to a professional match a second time is very easy, after they experience the environment.

Some people will say tey want to see Europena football ... well, we don't live in Europe.  MLS matches have proven very entertaining and fun for the fans.  In 2011, MLS attendance average was higher than the top leagues of Scotland, Australia, Japan, Belgium, most of the South American leagues and all of the pro leagues in England (except EPL).

Whether watching on TV or live, there is so much for young people to see and emulate from high level professionals.  Ideas, styles and learning happens when a young set of eyes are watching the sport played correctly.  Great examples are young players emulating the NHL players while playing street hockey or young American basketball players mimicking their idols on street courts.

In 2012, seeing soccer at high levels is not a challenge.  The Canadian Soccer League has teams all over Ontario and Toronto FC is within a 2 hour drive of most of the population.  Soccer is available on TV at TSN, SportsNet, The Score, TeleLatino, Gol TVand ESPN.  We see soccer from all over the world on our screens.

Canada's Men's National Team is now playing all their home games in Toronto.

Most players rarely touch a ball away from the team environment and never watch the game on TV.  Everything they know comes from their own discovery and the coach's lips.  That's not enough.

The reality just may be that soccer will always fight the "participation sport" mentality.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

U13 - two steps away - TWO HUGE STEPS

Challenging for 50/50 balls and patient 1v1 defending away from our net.  If we could sell the kids on those two things, our fortunes would be so different.

Easier said than done, but it's our job to fix it.  We do it in training but the games have been a different story.  We will keep doing it in as many different forms as possible until all of the boys are on board.  We love the boys and they are definitely worth every effort put forth on their behalf.

Last night we played the team one level up from the same club as the team that beat us last week 5-1.  We ended up losing 5-0 last night.

It was the same story.  It was 0-0 for the first 35 minute.  We weren't in there half as much as other games this year, but we were holding our own against a much better team.  The difference was, as always, the ability and willingness to challenge and properly compete for each and every ball.

Our shape was decent again and I was happy with what I saw considering we had to move some players around to cover for our absent central defender.   He's a fast, athletic boy who wins balls.  We had a lot of wall passes and they worked the ball around the back several times with some success.  We also used our GK more often when under pressure while facing our own goal.  Our width is happening as a reaction instead of habit and that is taking away options from our wide defenders when they win the ball.

Coach Paul and I will mix things up a bit at training but we will still bang our drums about challenging for balls and patient 1v1 defending.  The over-committing in 1v1 defending was at an all time high last night.  We will continue to emulate those situations at training.

The size difference is so much more noticeable this year at U13.  Not only height, but the level of "manliness" each boy has.  Some boys are literally intimidated by the physical structure of the player they are to challenge.  We have some big boys as well.  Some boys are simply dishing the ball off to whomever when somebody is attacking them.  Again, we have to continue simulating those situations at training and work to give them confidence when that happens in a game.

Practices have been touching on numerous technical components of the game, but the main theme of the session always revolves around what had to be improved from our last match.

We have 2 sessions before our next match.   We'll see what comes of them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

U17 - Phase of Play - 2 strikers in 4-4-2

On Sunday we had a session with our u17 boys.  The boys have been successful in league play but we have yet to have a session with enough boys to get organized in our 4-4-2.

Our back 4 and midfield have been relatively decent.  However our 2 strikers have not been organized at all and balls have been played to them in a haphazard manner and they have basically been sent on endless footraces on through balls.  They are playing well, individually, and scoring goals, but against a better team the lack of organization makes things more difficult.

So the focus of our phase of play was the movement of our 2 strikers.  What's been bothering me the most is that they have been playing flat and assuming roles of left and right striker.

We ran a phase-of-play practice.  The organization was a section of the field, full width, fixed goal on one end and 3 mini goals (6ft wide with cones) placed across the field at the back end of the centre circle (65 yds away from the fixed goal).

For the attacking team we had 2 wide defenders, central defender, 4 mids and 2 strikers.  For the defending team we had a GK, 4 defenders and 2 midfielders.  The attacking team scored in a regular fashion, on goal.  The defending team had 3 goals to choose from.  Offsides were in effect.  The game was started by playing a ball to the wide defenders on the attacking team.

We were working on the relationship between the 2 strikes and their movement in relation to the ball being in different areas.

In order to make this work we had to coach the team into shape first, keeping the ball moving and having them play 2 touch soccer.  We also had to get the defending team to push out and make the situation more realistic.

The message was:
  • Regardless of where the ball was, the 2 strikers had to have an idea of what they could do so support the ball and look to play behind the defenders.
  • For the purpose of early learning, we wanted both strikers on the same side of the field as the ball when the ball is wide.
  • It is not the job of both strikers to make penetrating runs on every pass.
  • Penetration is a result of the 2 strikers and 4 mids working as a unit of 6
  • As one striker moves to support the ball one of the central mids or opposite wide midfielder sneaks up looking to get behind the defenders, if that play is one
  • Balls had to be played through "now" to keep defenders scrambling and prevent offside situations.
I thought it went OK but things were derailing on occasion.  The team had to recognize when it was time to determine the forward pass was off and it was time to relaunch from a different point of attack.  We also need to involve our wide defenders more when it was time to relaunch.

We also had a problem getting the defenders to adopt an attacking mentality, and look to score and move out.  Getting them out and playing offside was a challenge that eventually happened.

This was the first time I had done anything overly tactical with this team and I saw it was the first time any of them had ever done anything tactical, on a field-wide level.  They did well enough and I think next time they will appreciate the setup of a phase-of-play and adapt quicker. 

Coach Ben has been working during games to keep good shape and avoid players being flat and I give him credit.   My pet peeve with the 4-4-2 is coaches just throw their players on at 4-4-2 and let the game happen.  There is no shape, players are flat, not enough width and large gaps exist when people are not running.  There is so much each player has to know in any formation, but 4-4-2 seems to be the fall-back setup of most people.   I see 4-4-2 a lot, but rarely is it played correctly.

I am not a fan of 4-4-2 for youth soccer and rarely use it anymore for teams.  In this case, all of their high school teams use it as well as most men's teams ... so I figured we may as well equip them with as much info as possible so they can make a transition and fit in.

Today I think the message sunk in for the 2 strikers.  We will see Wednesday.

I should have asked first if the boys had ever done something like this and that they would need to focus and listen as the field is big and they can easily feel left out of the coaching points.  I should have explained the purpose of what we were doing and the importance of everybody working to make it successful.  I did explain what we were doing, just needed more of the "why" and "how".  I tried to keep the coaching points to a minimum but ran into a few spells where I needed to make a few extra points.  I will do a phase of play session again to improve the defenders ability to win and keep the ball.