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.  :)