Monday, December 16, 2013

The parent coach is very important to soccer

As people get more serious about soccer they shouldn't distance themselves from the grassroots level.

Let's give you the punch line right now, as I see it, of course.  The mom and pop coaches are THE most important component in soccer's sustainability as an organized sport in Canada.

You may hear the sentiment that parents should not be coaching their own children.  Maybe so, but that's not a realistic scenario. so why go there?

When it comes to elite programs involving talent identification, tryouts, selections, uneven playing time, etc, parent coaches may not be suitable.  If it's avoidable, I agree 100%. (Unless you're Walter Gretzky, you will probably not have 100% comfort as a parent coaching a travel sport)

Before that age arrives, there is an army of soccer players out there looking to play.

Kudos to the Ontario Soccer Association and other provincial federations for investing in and stressing grassroots soccer.

In June 2013, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in a 4-day FIFA Grassroots Workshop

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Niagara College Men's Soccer - 2013 Season Reflection

Season two for the Niagara College Men's Soccer team with this new coaching staff is now in the history books.
This year we kicked off our program with a different mindset than last season.  Being my second year as head coach, with assistant coaches and players returning, we were able to hit the ground running.

One major difference from last year to this year ... I now coach both the men and women.

There is one thing I really enjoy about this league.  We are in the toughest division in Canada and you cannot afford to ease up at any time, in any game.  That kind of pressure is exciting and keeps everybody on their toes.

We knew what we were looking for in our group of trialists.  We wanted to adapt a style-of-play that

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Niagara College Women's Soccer - 2013 season reflection

From the first day of fitness training in March 2013, I was glad I returned to coach the Niagara College Knights Varsity Women's Soccer Team.

The in-season phase of our program ended with a last minute 2-1 loss to Lambton College on October 6 at our home field.

I was coach of the women's program from 2008-2010 then left.  I returned to the college in 2012 to coach the men, then took on both teams this past season.

We had a job to do. The team had 4 points and 3 goals combined over the previous 2 seasons.  Their combined goal differential was -64.  They had credible coaches during that time that I respect,  so I cannot speculate as to what happened.  But I did watch most of their games last season.

My first call was to Kristin Campbell, one of the assistants with us when I coached last time.  Kristin was our indoor team MVP in 2009 and has a good understanding of the game.  She is a very active 12-month player on the women's soccer scene.  She is just as passionate as a coach as she was as a player.

Gary Condon has been the assistant coach for this program for the last two coaches.  Gary has a long soccer resume, a lot of coaching experience on the women's side and a former student-athlete himself while at University. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The importance of the Quick, Early and Accurate pass

I've watched a lot of sports at various levels and I like to think I know which players are better than others.

My main experiences have been with soccer, hockey and basketball.  But over the last 3 years I've been introduced to and am enjoying field lacrosse.  This past fall, my son was a member of the University of Guelph Lacrosse team and I watched them play at least ten games plus their tournament on the way to winning a National Championship.  I used my old experiences to help me identify who the strong players were.

I always observe a player's athleticism, speed, "smarts", durability and body language.  But one thing I do appreciate about sports at a high level is how quickly the ball (or puck) moves. 

During my licensing courses with the CSA, our instructors used a term that has always stuck with me - "Quick/Early/Accurate" passing.  It's short enough to insert into your coaching and easy for players to

Friday, November 22, 2013

Turns - your definite sign that a soccer player is "getting it"

I like work on turns with young players, a lot.

Last night, at our U8-U12 weekly session, we saw some shy young players execute turns during games for the first time.  I LOVE IT!

The futsal session we had on the weekend also brought out the necessity of turning in some young players.

The technical part of teaching turns can lead to a lot of exercises at training that keep kids moving with the ball at their foot.  It also works on Agility , Balance and Control (the ABC of physical literacy).

But my main reason for working on turns and demonstrating when they can be used in games is that it is one of those indicators that a player's development is moving in the right direction.

If a player uses a turn to shake off a defender and create space, their 1v1 abilities just jumped a level.

If a player turns back when they determine they can no longer go forward they demonstrate that they

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Futsal - the joy of just letting them play

This past weekend, we hosted some teams in our gym at Niagara College to play some futsal.
I've always liked futsal and I've always enjoyed training in gyms during the winter months.  I loved the whole idea of a confined area and just letting the kids play and figure it out.  Given the chance, they show you some pretty good stuff.  And being in a confined area, there is no where to hide; if you're on, you're involved.

Playing in a confined area on a hard court naturally brings out athletic, tactical and technical qualities that are required to excel and succeed.  Using a regular soccer ball instead of a futsal ball turns the game into a pinball machine.  The

Monday, November 18, 2013

Developing soccer players in Canada is not cheap.

So Canadians want Canada to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.  Awesome.  Let's do it.  OK now, let's talk about the cost. 

Hey, where did everybody go?

Soccer is a game that can be played by the masses, regardless of gender, physical ability, income or social position, anywhere, anytime, 1v1 up to 30v30, with a ball, can, stuffed bag or whatever else will move if you kick it.  But the environment has to change when it comes time to move a player to the next level.

There has been a lot of talk in Ontario the last 12 months about our new Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) and the proposed costs associated with it.  And this is just an extension of the talk that has always existed about the price tag for private soccer academies.  OPDL is a standards based program introduced in Ontario.  The first season is 2014 and will feature only U13 boys and girls programs at 18 host clubs.  Eventually, this will eliminate our current provincial team system.

There is a painful reality of a more consistent, high level, professional system and that is the reality of
money.  Physical space, equipment, support staff and professional coaching all cost money. 

Around the world, the development system is delivered by professional teams who have made their youth system an

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Does club/institutional support matter in soccer?

I came to a realization this week in regards to my soccer experience.  I'm spoiled.

Is having a good organization to work with important in sport?  At the end of the day, you have to be a good coach to deliver the final product, but back-end support is very helpful, and in some cases necessary, to setting up a proper environment that fosters a quality program.  This ties into a previous article I wrote regarding your stakeholders.

Among my many soccer related activities, I have three busier roles right now.  I coach Niagara College's Men's and Women's Varsity soccer program, I deliver development programs for the

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Grassroots Soccer. Coaching less ... not easy, but rewarding

I wrote an article in September about being "not so loud" when coaching.

Last night we started our Fall U8-U12 Wizard Academy at the Welland Soccer Club.  We run two programs in the fall and winter for players U6-U7 and U8-U12.  Rob Lalama, our Technical Director, has done a fabulous job engaging the grassroots through various initiatives.

Our session had 56 players, 5 coaches and 5 stations.  I will not get into the stations and organization as I've done that before.

I enjoy doing stations for a number of reasons.   The most important being that it keeps the kids in smaller group and busier.  LOTS OF SOCCER.  But my other side alternative is coaching development.

Even if a coach is experienced, I give them the plan for the station and coaching points.  And my initial message to them is to give the kids their problem to solve and let them solve it.  Fight the urge to coach too much.

I know how difficult it is to not over-coach.  As a person who has faith in humanity, I have to believe

Monday, October 21, 2013

What does your board of directors do?

I haven't written anything in a while.  I've been very busy with our Niagara College Men's and Women's Soccer programs, but I've been doing a LOT of listening lately.

Just about every Non-profit Organization has a board of directors.  This includes most sports based clubs.

(Moving forward I will refer to Board of Directors as BOD and Non-profit Organization as NPO.)

Why am I writing about BODs?  It's not to criticize, but to offer suggestions for directors and club members.

In Welland, there have always been grumblings at one time or another about boards and they all take their turn being accused of bad decisions.  Soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball or lacrosse.  Somebody, somewhere did something wrong to somebody else.

Even at a district, regional, provincial or national level , decisions on sports are analyzed and criticized.

Over the last few years:
  • Canadian Soccer implementing LTPD
  • Canadian Hockey moving the age for body contact
  • Quebec Soccer implementing, then rescinding, a ban on religious head-wear on the field
  • The way Ontario Basketball tiers teams for provincial championships
  • The most recent controversy is Ontario Soccer's selection of clubs to start the new Ontario Player Development League.
We aim our criticism at emotional targets like "nobody cares about the kids" or "in it for their own

Friday, September 20, 2013

Grassroots Soccer Festival at St Christopher School in St Catharines

On Tuesday, Septemer 17, I had the pleasure of organizing a Grassroots Soccer Festival for the Grade 3/4/5 students at St Christopher School in St Catharines, ON.

In June 2014, I was one of 30 coaches invited to a FIFA Grassroots Soccer course held in Toronto, hosted by the Ontario Soccer Association.  The objective of the course was simple "Football for Everybody".  What we did at St Christopher was based squarely on what we did during this course.

Back to the festival.

I've been itching to do one of these festivals at a school since the course.  I've organized similar group events for multiple teams to come together in a "station" type set up, but a school is where I wanted to find myself at some point.  For me, it's a good way to present an enjoyable side of soccer and a

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The challenge of staying quiet and letting them play.

It sounds easy doesn't it?  Stay quiet.  Let them play.  Simple.  But that's not the case.

To ask a coach to set up a game and just let the players play is unusually difficult.

A coach who is not confident may feel like they aren't coaching if they are not heard.

A coach might feel like the team parents think he's doing nothing because he's not interfering.

Team parents might actually feel their coach is ineffective because they aren't screaming.

By stepping back and WATCHING you can quickly see who is applying the skills your teaching and who isn't.
Think about what North Americans see in terms of coaching:
  • NCAA March Madness has half their highlights of coaches yelling

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Are your young soccer players improving?

It's the end of the summer 2013 soccer season in Canada.  Every coach has the same question "Is my team improving?"

There is one very easy, yet VERY INCORRECT way to assess your progress, wins and losses.

If the score is your only indicator, then every game can only have one team that got better.  No?

If the score is still your only indicator, then you will never be happy.

Let's be honest.  Your U9 team has all small players.  All of the other teams have 2 or 3 big boys and you ain't gonna beat'em.  Or will you?

When you run your program you need more points of assessment other than wins and losses.  I walk

Thursday, August 22, 2013

U8 grassroots soccer program wrapped up. Mental notes.

While coaching, it's important to be learning and gathering information while you're instructing.  If you're not , then you're not growing as a coach.

We just wrapped up The Wizard Academy, our weekly U8 development program at the Welland Soccer Club.  This is for U8 players in house-league who seek more soccer. There was no cost to the program and players came as their family schedule permitted.

As an OSA Learning Facilitator we spend a lot of time during coaching courses learning about the development stage we are working with.  According to my resume, I could probably justify telling a parent that I have nothing more to learn about 8 year old players, but that would be VERY incorrect and self-limiting.

Every session should reinforce what you know about that age group or provide you with more insight into the kids.  If you don't know the player, how can you coach?

OK, what I walked away with.  Some new, some reinforced.

U8 players: 
  1. want to play
  2. want to have fun

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hey Mr. Soccer Coach! Let the kids play the ball out from the back, please.


The cry of the Canadian Soccer coach.  It's annoying and disheartening.  When I see kids not even trying to work their way out of their own end it drives me crazy.  Sometimes they'll just concede and put it out.  Other times they panic.  Or nobody comes to help.  Or they don't pass to their GK for support.  Why?  Because they don't know how.

There is so much to learn and teach when you let your players play the ball out from the back, as individuals,

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Coaching soccer when your team is "weaker"

We live in an environment where the scoreboard can single-handedly ruin or make a season for some people.  Being a coach is easy when your team is winning games.  You go, they win, you go home.  Maybe not, but you know what I mean.

How about the coach who has a team that's not winning games or competing?  Feeling pressure because they think they know how sports are ultimately judged. 

Every league table has somebody at the bottom.  It's the law.  One day, it could/will be you.  If you're coaching house league, your playing a hand that was dealt to you.  If the team is weaker than others, see it as a challenge because every player is looking for a soccer experience.

Before we get started, please understand two facts:

Monday, August 5, 2013

What does "The Golden Rule" have to do with coaching youth soccer?

"You're incompetent!"  "You're wrong, and that's it."  "That's a crazy idea,  Were you serious?"  We've all heard it.  We might even have said it, if even to ourselves.  I know I have on occasion.  But is it right?  Is it ever justified?

When did it become OK for our interpersonal conduct at sport to be on a lower level than the rest of our day?

Like everything else in life, participation in sports involves relationships that need nurturing and respect.

The Golden Rule.  This might be the absolute one thing that can make your life easier and more successful when you're involved in sports.  Actually, it makes your life easier with whatever you're involved in. 

Simply stated, The Golden Rule is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  It's very nature demands that your reverse the situation before acting, forcing the realization that your relationships are not

Thursday, August 1, 2013

U8 Grassroots Soccer - Wizard Academy - Week 5

We had our fifth session of our U8 Wizard Academy program. I am feeling guilty after these sessions because I wonder if the boys are having as much fun as I am.

After reffing 4 mini games last weekend, I wasn't happy with how kids just let balls roll out of play or how coaches and parents say "let it go..." . Players were also taking their sweet time getting the ball back in play.  I shouldn't say "wasn't happy" because the whole experience was very nice.  I should reclassify this as an old pet peeve that resurfaced :)

Our goals for tonight:
1.  Individual ball work
2.  Put it in their heads to work hard to keep ball in play.
3.  Test their gamesmanship and see if they can be clever during small sided games.

The small-sided-games satisfied goals 2 and 3 in one stroke.

Tonight we had Coach Marco again, along with Coach Joe.  Coach Joe made his first appearance tonight. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My close encounter with a mini soccer festival at Club Roma

I asked my friend Joe Talarico to assign me four mini-games at the "Ti Amo Festival Cup" in St Catharines, hosted by St Catharines Roma Soccer Club.  Reffing is a mild sideline of mine and I don't want to let that interest slip away.

As a coach and coach educator, I wanted to spend some time in a festival environment and experience some of the sights and sounds for myself.  I've watched festival games as an uncle or friend, but never officially participated in one involving "travel" teams in an environment that was previously "competitive".

Under LTPD, younger tournaments are now held as festivals, with no standings or playoffs.  The USA was

Friday, July 26, 2013

U8 Grassroots soccer - Wizard Academy Week 4

The challenge is simple.  Keep the kids interested and busy for 90 minutes. Period.  Ya, simple.

People work hard to build titles, collect licenses and build a collection of shirts and jackets with the logos of higher level programs.  I am one of those people with a lot of clothing of that nature.  I enjoy the programs I work with and I am fortunate to have met the people I get to work with.  We also hope the higher programs are a destination for younger players to aspire to play in one day.

But that's not where the important work has to be done at this point in time.  We are being called to bring

Friday, July 19, 2013

Special Education, grassroots coaching and the youth soccer player.

special education
Soccer is for everybody.

This post was inspired by my conversation with Joe Talarico before we both officiated the same game.  Joe works in the "Brain Injury" business and we got to talking about how people discover, much later in life, that they had treatable and addressable issues in their learning and living, with respect to what happens between your ears.

Before I start, please know this is not a lecture or preaching.  This is me sharing with you what I learned

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Delivering a U4 Active Start soccer session - anybody can do it.

This just might be my most important and influential soccer work at the moment.  Spreading the good word about Active Start makes people more comfortable with their entry into the soccer world and eases their initiation into the coaching world.

When the CSA developed the Active Start session guidelines, I thought it was brilliant.

The format is quite simple.  Every child has a parent as a partner.  There is one ball per child.  You lead them through exercises and movements for roughly 45 minutes.  Lots of high fives and cheering.  Lots of drink breaks, smiles, laughing etc and you go home happy.

Some coaches aren't buying the format.  Some say it's not soccer.  HEY.  It's U4, it was NEVER soccer.  EVER.

I watch some groups try and play 4v4.  10 kids per team.  One kid has the ball.  7 are watching.  9 are sitting on

U8 Boys Grassroots Soccer - Wizard Academy - Week 3

welland soccer club
This past Thursday (July 9) we had our third session of the Wizard Academy, our club's "development" program for our U7/U8 players.  There is NO SURCHARGE by the Welland Soccer Club for this program and it is one of the coolest initiatives our Tech Director, Rob Lalama, has ever come up with.  And Coach Rob is a cool guy.  He was a drummer in a band and it can't get cooler than that, can it?

The group (players and coaches) is nothing short of energizing, from the point of view of a facilitator.  Planning and arriving to set up is fun, chatting it up with the boys as they stumble in.  Soccer Training for U8 players is the beginning of where you can start to see kids become "players".

Comfort with the ball and the confidence to experiment is our biggest priority with these boys.   The second priority is working with the coaches to improve their delivery of sessions.

For me, coaching development should be an important bi-product of everything the club does. (unrelated side-note;  Teams that call me to run a session only to see the coach "chill" with the parents the whole time never see me again. It's not a night off for the coach.)

This week we had 27 boys and 5 coaches.  We had an extra helper in the form of a U12 girl, Coach Kennedy, who is also part of the district program.  We split the boys into three groups of 9 and she evened out the small-sided-game station by making it 5v5.

We started out by doing a "follow the leader" type of dribbling exercise, in groups of three, one ball per player.  We then followed with 10 minutes of working on turns.  Lots of touches.

For the next part of the session, we set up three stations.  The group rotated through the stations twice.

Station #1 involved various dribbling sequences using agility poles instead of markers or cones.   It was the same setup we used in week 2.  This was manned by Coach Mirko (aka The Croatian Sensation) and Coach Chris (no nickname ... yet)

Station #2 was a 1v1 station with a different twist from previous weeks.  We set up 2 goals on each side of the attacker.  Coaching points:
  • Attack either goal
  • See the ball, the defender and the space you want to attack
  • Use turns if a change of direction is required and accelerate.
  • Don't be afraid to turn again if required 
  • COMPETE!  Challenge to win the ball.  Drive the goal to score.

1v1 soccer drill

This station was delivered by Coach Marco and Coach Dave.  Their observation was that about 1/2 of the players were getting the idea and executing the second time around.  We will do this again.
"Comfort with the ball and the confidence to experiment is our biggest priority with these boys."
The small-sided-game Station was delivered by Coach Scott.  Minimum two-touch was the main condition again, but we were suggesting and looking for more turns, and we got them.  We also worked to get them to get their restarts going a bit quicker.  "Can I take it?" by 5 players is not necessary EVERY time the ball goes out.  We'll snap them out of that habit.  :)

  • The program is voluntary and meant to give the boys more tools to enjoy the game.  The next session will not have group activities to start.  It made some of the kids who arrived late feel a bit alienated while we reorganized on the fly.
  • Running players through an exercise a second/third/fourth time gives them a chance to succeed and refine. 
  • We need to keep the water in a central location.   Too many players running to mom and dad and taking too long to regroup.
  • I let the U8 coaches do most/all of the coaching tonight.  I was just moving around watching and injecting the occasional tidbit of information.  That seemed to work well.  The session content brought the learning out.
  • I am trying to encourage the coaches to let the players settle their own disputes.  Too often we want to control what's happening and they depend on us.  I had the same experience at our club camp where everybody goes to the adult for the answer. Teachers tell me the school playground is the same scene, kids not working out their own issues.  The issues I am speaking of include fouls, somebody staying in as GK, who put the ball out, etc.
  • For the last 5 sessions I am going to have one coach at each station and one coach travel with each group.  The coach with the group will co-coach each station.  This way, each week,  they get a chance to: (1) deliver one session multiple times to work on their delivery (2) see multiple exercises and be involved in delivering each one using the same group.
Near the end, I did assemble the parents for four reasons:
  • Balls need to be inflated.  I passed a few balls around so they could see the correct pressure.  We have a pump onsite, but the balls arriving inflated makes everything easier.
  • Kids were running out of water too early.  Send more water.
  • Reminder to wear white shirts.  Easier to organize for games.
  • Praise the boys and thanked them for their support.
So far the support has been good and the players have been enthusiastic.  We reconvene in July 25 for another 4 sessions.

P.S.  Coach Rob's brother, Mark Lalama, is a busy musician and is the former music director for Canadian Idol.  His youngest brother, Paul, is lead singer in a local band called Jonesy.  So, Rob is even cooler by association and genetics.  His other brother, Dave, was a decent player and is now an architect in Winnipeg.  I guess that's cool too .... I do know he doesn't return calls from  Art Vandelay.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Six soccer teams, all ages, boys and girls - This past weekend made easy by LTPD

long term player development
When people hear the term "LTPD" they automatically think of no standings and no scores.  That is a very minor component of LTPD.  Long Term Player Development revolves around age appropriate programming, patience, training methodology and attitudes, coach and referee education, game format, etc, all focused on the player.

This weekend I had direct interaction as a coach with six different teams.  This is what you call a "busy weekend".  And I still managed a 3rd birthday party (Thanks Patricia and John!), some soccer club duties, work to prepare for the week and a chic-flick.

I could have easily planned for each group, walked on the pitch and delivered decent sessions.

By using LTPD as my guiding principle, all sessions involved age-appropriate activities consistent with their development stage characteristics.  I am not the story here ... LTPD is.  Let me explain.

Saturday Morning.

Welland U4 girls.  32 players.  We ran the session using the information provided for the Active Start level and Active Start Course.  One parent/partner per player.  One ball per

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Will adult soccer help drive the game at the Grassroots level?

father son soccerTonight I was an Assistant Referee for two women's game in St Catharines.  During the one game I asked a player on the bench how many teams were in their league.  She told me three tiered divisions of 9 teams each.  This is a Niagara based league.

I told her when I started playing men's soccer in 1984, Welland had one team in each the Niagara Soccer League Premier and First Division.  We now have 2 city-based men's leagues of 10 teams each, a Co-ed 9v9 program of 22 teams as well as teams in the NSL Premier, First and Second Division.  This growth has happened in every city in Niagara.  There wasn't a women's team in Welland for a long time.

So what does this have to do with Grassroots football?

You walk into any garage in Canada in you will find ice skates that fit everybody in the house, hockey sticks of all sizes and the occasional puck.  Many families have a hockey net as well, standard issue red posts with white mesh.

When I was a kid (born 1966) most of our parents did not play organized soccer, although may of our families came from soccer countries.  But, for argument's sake, we were the only players in the house.  All of my

Do field conditions matter when developing soccer players? Artificial turf, the necessary evil.

Before I get started, don't start talking about kids on the streets of Africa and South America.  Our kids not playing street soccer is another issue.  

Once our players get to the point where it's time to move them forward, how important is a surface where the ball rolls true?

We take our kids to Streetsville Memorial Park in Mississauga, Central Park in Burlington or Mohawk Park in Hamilton, and we expect a quality game?  Never mind the game, what about training there? Ontario's bad field list is VERY long but it's also a victim of the significant growth in soccer.

(We were at Mohawk park last night, that's what drove me to write this.  It is my least favourite place to take my team.  The grass fields are poor and they have the same white lines for football on them making them very confusing)

Poor fields and limited climate narrow the scope of our collective programs because of limitations on when you can train and where.

I know soccer people prefer grass over artificial turf, I know I do, that's for sure.  But in a place like

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The genius of LTPD ... easier and better coaching.

I have a fear.  My fear is that new coaches are nervous, but do not take advantage of the incredible information that's out there to help them calm down and deliver a quality program.

LTPD has proven to be a very rare philosophy that is simultaneously easier to understand and provides better results. In this age of technology, we equate better with more complicated.  Not always true.

I can tell you, with modesty firmly in place, that I am confident that I can design and deliver a session for any team at any level, male or female.  In fact, a lot of my friend are.  But I find LTPD to be a very useful and valuable tool in my planning and delivery.

My main justification for using LTPD?  I have a lot of experience and formal coaching training.   But LTPD was developed by people far more experienced and educated than me.  I would be a fool to not embrace it and appreciate and evaluate it's ability to improve soccer in Canada.  Over time I may develop some opinions of it's effectiveness and contribute to its development, but for now I'm enjoying it.
I've written session plans for some coaches and they literally ask "that's it?"
My inspiration for this stems from the many conversations I have had with coaches who say they are not sure what to do at training, yet ignore the mountain of very focused information that has been printed, mailed, emailed, verbally conveyed and visually demonstrated to/for them.  They want to do it "their way".  That would be OK if they had a "way".  One thing I learned as I progressed through the coaching ranks ... there is no glory in re-inventing the wheel.  My reward comes in my delivery, rapport with players and ability to observe and correct (or cheer). 

What you get from LTPD.

Better knowledge of characteristics of the player.

With the help of LTPD info and info from courses, you have deeper insight into the player you are working with.  Characteristics include physical, tactical, technical, mental, social, and psychological .

Considerations for training session

If we know who we are working with, then we know what would be better and more appealing to them in terms of session content.  LTPD information offers coaches more suggestions for session considerations.

Age appropriate activities

I've seen coaches trying to run U16 level sequences with U8 players, and vice-versa.  Age appropriate doesn't mean dumbing-down a session.  It means establishing a challenge level
that still gives a player a mountain to conquer, but able to see successes along to way to build confidence.

Knowing the LTPD information offered about the development stage you are coaching puts you in the right frame of mind to deliver the session effectively to the athlete you are working with.

Session/season organization.

LTPD information gives coaches guidelines/suggestions for how much time to spend various areas of focus.

You also have guidelines on the type of schedule you should keep  and length of the program.

And now, as the icing on the LTPD cake, Ontario Soccer has just released the Provincial Grassroots Curriculum , a quality document that comes to the aid of the entire soccer community.

Other coaches' experiences

LTPD was developed by very experienced and educated coaches and educators.  Why not put their own growing pains to work for you?
"In this age of technology, we equate better with more complicated.  Not always true."
As an experienced coach:

LTPD reminds you to consider developing a more player-centred session plan and tailor your delivery to maximize the time you spend with your players.  Even if you are an academy coach or club technical director, you need to remember to reset your expectations and delivery from session to session if you work with different groups. The framework has also made it easier to train other coaches by keeping sessions simple and focused.

As a beginner coach:

You're nervous and have the same question as many other new coaches "What do I do during practice?".  OK.  Let's talk ..... you're coaching U8 girls .... you played soccer yourself up till U18 ... you are one girl's father and somebody else's mother is helping you ... she has no soccer experience but is very active ... you and your assistant refer to your LTPD information for "Learn to Train" development stage.  Hmmm .... you now have an idea of what they are capable of, physically, mentally, socially, psychologically, etc ... you know a L2T session suggests 15% warm-up, 50% small sided games, 30% soccer technique and 5% cool down.


Your assistant leads them through a dynamic warm-up and you transition that into a few warm-up exercises with the ball. 

You get them into a small sided game, after letting them play, you add a condition where they must pass the ball 3x before scoring.

You stop the game and have them play 4v1, 4v2, 5v2, etc keepaway within a grid.  You give them ideas that you are comfortable giving, but let them solve the problem before them.  You and your partner have a group each and you switch so you can both see them all.

You get them back into a game and see if they are able to keep possession a bit better.  Yes?  Great.  No?  Maybe reintroduce your game condition of 3 passes or back into the keep-away for a bit and mix up the groups, then back to the game.

After wrapping that up, your partner leads them through a cool down.

You go home.

"LTPD was developed by people far more experienced and educated than me."

The LTPD info (available at NO CHARGE) laid out the warm-up, game, technique and cool down scenario.  You used the curriculum and Internet to find some ideas for each section.

Your practice is done. Your girls played a lot of soccer, had some problems to solve on the field and maybe even squirted you with their water bottle.  You, my friend, just delivered a very decent session.  More experience will help you offer more information and be more comfortable in your delivery.

Using LTPD's information relieved you of some of the stress surrounding the content of your session.

If I brought my young son to a session and you delivered the content I just presented, I would be happy.  And they got to play so, more importantly, my son was able to play some soccer.

This is the genius of LTPD that some people are not open to seeing.  Your sessions are easier to deliver, yet content of the session will contribute more to your players' development.

I've written session plans for some coaches and they literally ask "that's it?".  Yes.  That's it.  I think they're disappointed because they're expecting a 1000 cones and 40 drills.

Simply put, coaching in accordance with LTPD works.

If you have more questions, consult your club's technical director or any friends that you have who are more experienced coaches. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

U8 Boys Grassroots soccer - Week 2 - Rain stayed away!

This week we continued our club's U8 program.  Last week we had 44 players and today I was expecting 60.  I plan for 10 and am ready for 90.  It rained most of the day here and I guess people assumed we were cancelled.  We ended up with 18 players.  For the record ... it didn't rain at all during the session.

Please know that almost all of my sessions this year have been structured using LTPD as a guideline.  Even as an experienced coach, LTPD's structure makes a session even better and puts you in the right frame of mind.

I arrived early and set up 3 of the stations I had planned.  When I saw the number we had, I just decided to run the entire session as a group.  The plan was to run 4-6 stations depending on numbers.

Before I get into the session I will declare, with great enthusiasm, that I was VERY happy with how our session went.  Helping tonight were Coach Melissa (U8 convenor), Coach Scott and Coach Mirko.
"All were able to execute at 1v1 but not all during 4v4.  Does that not oblige us to show more patience?"
My goal for the session was over-exposure to the ball and manipulating it in different situations.  One ball per 1/2 players at each station was important.

  • 4 mini fields with 4x8 goals.
  • Lots of balls, pinnies and cones

Monday, June 24, 2013

Is there a place for you under LTPD?

With all the new documentation being released and information sessions being delivered across the province, it's plain to see LTPD is here in full force, everywhere.

But where does that leave everybody?  There is a feeling among some people that LTPD is for the "experts" to deliver and everybody else to sit back and enjoy.

Ummmm ....  I don't think that's correct. In fact, I know it's not correct.

The first thing you need to remember is that you don't have to be an experienced athlete to positively contribute to a soccer club.

With LTPD soccer will need even more people.
  • Smaller teams = more teams = more grassroots/parent coaches
  • More teams = more games/week = more officials/conveners/facilitators/etc
  • More teams = more sponsors = people for community outreach 
  • More GrassRoots soccer = more festivals = you know what .... people
  • More information = more communication = more questions = people to understand and answer questions at the club level
  • Different size fields and goals = new goals = $$$ = people to locate/arrange/raise funding

"I am a soccer player". All the ID a youth player needs.

During our FIFA Grassroots course, two grade 5 classes came from local schools on the Friday to play in 4 rotating small-sided-games.  There was one child who had some solid skills.  I ask him if he played soccer and he said "yes".  I asked which club and he said "No club, I play at school". I am guessing he meant at recess, lunch, before and after school, gym, etc.

Is he still a soccer player?   He sure is.  He is as much a soccer player as Lionel Messi and Dwayne DeRosario.

Moving forward, what is written here applies to EVERY sport.  I hope you agree.

This weekend I spent my time:
  • Delivering my nephew's U11 session.
  • Walking the fields (with my dog) watching the U8 boys house league players who come to our Thursday sessions.
  • Delivering my son's U18 session.
  • Watching my son's U14 friendly.
  • Personally delivering a very positive social media comment to our U12 girls team. (thanks @colinscameron)
  • Watching a U10 girls session (and stepping in briefly).
At all of kids at all of these stops were soccer players.  Boys, girls, different leagues, ages 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Utopia: Mass particpation and no cuts before U12. Grassroots sports.

grassroots development
I started writing this article in April 2013.  I kept rewording and reworking it so I didn't sound like a man gone mad.  I even had some honest friends read it over and they liked it, but I was still unsure to hit the "publish " button.

This past week (June 12-15) I attended the FIFA Grassroots course and confirmed that I wasn't crazy after all.

So here it is (as written on April 24, 2013).  I haven't touched it since then other than to add 2 pictures and the notes at the beginning and end.


Don't call the psych hospital.  I've put a lot of time into formulating my opinion of how sports should/could be handled from U12 and younger.  And not having a team this season gives me more time to observe and refine my thoughts.
"Countless kids playing a lot of games."
I haven't lost my mind in a "Jerry Maguire" sort of way.  Ontario's adoption of LTPD, personal research, recent personal and educational experiences and good old fashioned "listening" moves me in this direction.
The grassroots festival held at the FIFA Grassroots
festival June 15, 2013

On first glance you might think I've lost my desire to compete and win.  This is not about "not winning".  This is ALL ABOUT WINNING.  But winning when it counts.  And the more kids you take on the ride (of all levels), the more that will gain confidence, the more will be able to compete for higher spots at U13 or keep playing and stay active.

It's also about giving as many kids the environment to develop their agility, balance and control and the ability to adopt another sport of their choosing later in life.  Even if they are not "good" at the sport they choose,  the system needs to be a champion for these kids.

Here goes.  :)

grassroots developmentSports for U12 and below, all sports.
  • Lower to no cost.  Get in as many kids as possible.
  • No tryouts or cuts.
  • General athletics/activities for ALL children U3/U4/U5.
  • For all young children in Canada, physical literacy on land/water/ice/air (running, swimming, skating, jumping)
  • Proper and appropriate training and playing environments for players in the sports of their choice U6-U12.
  • Full manuals for ALL coaches, written by the best coaches in co-operation with educators, at every age providing full season, age appropriate program plans.
  • For children who play basketball or soccer, a BALL to take home.  :)
  • Money or skill level never a barrier for entering the sport of their choice at the grassroots ages.
  • All sports are all inclusive.
  • In-person exposure to major or minor league professional games.
  • Additional exposure for players who show interest, but all participate at set minimum levels.
  • Equipment for tether-ball, small sided "street" soccer, lower basketball nets, "foot hockey" nets, game markings all over the play ground and outside of gym walls at ALL elementary schools.
  • Daily, full period of phys-ed up to Grade 6 (minimum).
  • Schools must be an active part of the community sports system.
The social goals are:
  • Financially and organizationally healthier clubs
  • Healthier kids with more confidence to make friends
  • Children learning to embrace cultural diversity at younger ages
  • More facilities and better playgrounds
  • Have as many kids as active as possible, confidently heading into puberty and beyond
  • More coaches coming out of the volunteer parent groups
  • More officials
  • More volunteers
  • Calmer, more productive environment for development
  • Better attendance at schools.
  • Potentially better grades in school through physically stimulated bodies.  Read here and the bazillion other reports that back this claim.
The competitive goals are:
  • Better and more confident athletes through constant exposure to various movements and sequences.
  • Smarter athletes exposed to various activities and problem solving through self/guided-discovery
  • Maximizing technical development through Golden Age of Learning (U8-U12)
  • Have as many trained players as possible heading into U13 sports, physically and mentally ready to compete for spots on competitive teams or simply wanting to keep playing. (How many kids were at the last U13 tryouts you attended?  What if there were double that amount? Triple?)
  • We don't tell a young kid in development that they aren't good enough.  We keep them involved and keep alive the chance of something clicking at some point.  At the very least they'll want to keep playing the sport into adulthood.
  • Keep late bloomers in the loop so they don't quit at U9/U10 for being too small, increasing retention for your sport/club and talent pool at 13.
  • Better, more confident coaches coming through GrassRoots stages.
Why today's setup is bad for development
  • Losing kids too early to low confidence.
  • Not enough exposure to athletic movements and problem solving.  On average, young Canadians not active enough.
  • Late bloomers being relegated too early to non-participation at high levels.
  • Potentially the wrong kids are playing at the U13 high levels because the wrong kids were picked at U8.
  • Fewer kids competing for Elite spots at older ages.
  • Players are technically proficient but not overall good/smart athletes.
  • Possible standouts are excluded because of money issues earlier in life.
Why today's setup is bad for clubs/business
  • Fewer kids playing past U13 at clubs = less revenue.
  • Fewer families (= Voters) involved means less pressure on local government to maintain/build facilities.
  • Fewer children playing now means fewer adults playing in the future.
At the very least we should/could/would end up with healthier, more energetic kids who, on average, might have higher grades. Activities must include situations where even the least athletic kids can achieve some level of success in the use of their bodies.
"Even if they are not "good" at the sport they choose,  the system needs to be a champion for these kids."
Am I looking for more coaching and structure?  No, this idea would have much less control than we have today.  We need some good, old fashioned "play time" and problem solving.  More street hockey, playground baseball and small sided soccer games.  Every physical literacy research paper backs this up.  Putting the environment in front of them and giving them the time to play is the key.


Think about it.  There will be a cost, but how much?  How much does it cost to let kids play?  Some schools do need to update their playgrounds for games.  School is where they have no xBox or online games.  We use phys-ed for physical literacy and exposure to games, and recess for free play time.  Sports clubs get them into the habit of structured teams and planned sports outside of school hours.  Parents start to build better networks in less stressful environments.
"Schools must be an active part of the
community sports system"
Sometimes when you talk to people about this you look at you like you've lost your mind.  Maybe I have.  But I am not alone.  If you read various reports on player development, where good players came from and physical development of children, they all point in this general direction.

I'm not crazy.  Well, not 100%.  This thinking has been brewing in me for years. It started during my first coaching course (1988) when our instructor said if it was up to him we would have no travel soccer until U12.  I've watched kids play pickup soccer in Mexico, Switzerland, Holland and Italy, pickup basketball all over and God only knows how many street and frozen pond hockey games.  It picked up speed when my son went to Ridley College for Grade 5 and 6 back in 2005-2006.  All students played something every semester.  If you were not able to stick with a team, you played intramural sports at a level that was suitable for you.  It may have been intense, it may have been casual.  But it was physical, daily and mandatory.  EVERYBODY.  EVERYDAY.  Nobody died as a result.

We need more broken fence boards, more broken windows, more balls ending up on school roofs, more kids stinking from sweating at lunch time, more holes in the knees of their jeans, less adults interfering in their play time, more kids being yelled at because they played too late past sundown ...

The Ontario Soccer Association has seen the importance in this and hired a full time person to specifically lead Grassroots soccer, Manager of Grassroots Development.

Countless kids playing a lot of games.  Some kids will scrape a knee or receive an accidental black eye.  They'll be fine.  And they'll be good.

P.S.  Added June 18, 2013.  During our FIFA Grassroots course we ran 2 mini festival type of sets for kids during their school day.  On Saturday we ran a festival for 280 children on one field (see picture below).  Very little coaching.  Activities and small sided games.  The kids loved it, the parents were ecstatic and it was a lot of fun.  280 kids with a ball on their foot is never a bad thing.

Yours truly at the FIFA Grassroots course
P.P.S Added August 2013. The OSA released a Grassroots Curriculum that can be downloaded and shared.  It's a very good document.

Friday, June 21, 2013

U8 Boys grassroots soccer - 44 house league players out for more soccer

Every year, the Welland Soccer Club hosts what they call the "Wizard Academy".  Traditionally, it was for players in U8 starting to be identified for U9 travel.  I was never participated in this program until this year.

A change to the philosophy this year is that it's open to U7/U8 house league players and there will be no cuts.  Upon hearing that, I decided to participate.  (great decision, Rob!)

A lot of these kids have never had a real "training session" of any kind.  Learning to listen, adhere to safety rules and get organized are probably more important than the soccer itself for the first couple of sessions.

My main goal of the session was diagnostic; to get an idea of what we were working with.  I liked what I saw and enjoyed the group.  I had a few of them in last year's WSC summer camp.

I have some simple rules:
  • Have fun or go home :)
  • When I am speaking, I don't want to hear anybody else and I want to see your eyes..
  • We do not kick balls into crowds.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Welland U18 Boys. Introduction to adult soccer; learning the hard way.

This past weekend we were in Erie, PA for a tournament with our 1995 boys.  The age classification was U18/U19, so there were many players born in 1993 already playing college/university soccer on the field.

I help with this team at training on occasion, but they have a head coach and long time assistant.  My middle son plays here.

Our boys are in Grade 12 and will be off to school in the fall.   Some are interested in trying out for their new schools while others want to play in competitive men's leagues.  The jump in speed, technical demands and physical play are noticeable and, for some, extremely intimidating.

This weekend our team was thrown into the firepit, covered in oil and cooked until well-done.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Soccer referees are people too.

Last night something happened that I am appreciating more as time passes.

We were at my son's game out of town.  It was a decent back and forth affair and my son's team was down 2-0 early in the second half, but pressing.

In this particular moment, a ball was played into the midfield to our centre midfield player.  His options ahead were ready and we had their team outnumbered.  He had room to run and press forward.

The referee found himself in the middle of the traffic and collided with our player before he got to the ball.   The ball rolled all by its lonesome, looking for somebody to take ownership of it.  Their player took it, had room to run, one pass and it

Saturday, June 1, 2013

When will Canadian Soccer benefit from our multiculturalism?

woolwich arsenal
So many people from so many great footballing nations all living in Canada, involved in soccer.

This is not about new Canadians cheering for other countries.  That is addressed in this podcast by Pedro Mendes.

New Canadians have made contributions to our game in a big way.  They play, coach, officiate,  start and administer clubs and bring some serious passion to the pitch.  Many have connections back home that they utilize to provide the occasional opportunity for an aspiring player.

The efforts of those new Canadians who have been coming here since 1900 have positively affected the level of commitment of their children and grandchildren. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Pelham u11 Boys - Rugby and other sports

So, Thursday night I told my brother we were going to start his session with a little bit of rugby.  He wasn't sure if I was joking or not.

Some professional academies insist their younger players play other sports to develop the holistic athlete.

I also believe that a player's habits and ideas transcend all of the sports they play.  My middle son hadn't played hockey for 8 years.  He took it up again during the last year of midget house league.  Watching him play, I saw him pull every trick and tactic that he used on the soccer field, but on the ice.

By the same token, ideas that a player picks up in one sport, he will bring to the others.  If I brought a midget AAA hockey player to a pick up basketball game, you could bet he would be scanning the

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The beauty of 9v9 soccer for U11 and U12.

9v9 soccer
There was a time when soccer people were thinking of moving U11 and U12 to 7v7 soccer.  That would have been too small. 

I remember when my boys were U11 and u12 and on a big field.  We did very good things but never had that one kid who could cover the field and physically take the game over.

Watching 9v9 has been a pure pleasure, as a technical coach.  I envision some of my old players and what we could have built on during those special years.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Relating techniques to recognizable situations in a soccer game.

session topic
Every coach has access to drills but not sure where and how those relate to a game.

The big question comes" What do I work on at training?"

Well, let's look at the game, then we'll build our training session.

"Every situation in a game can be broken down into a set of required skills and coachable chunks..."
If you are a very experienced coach, this may come across as overly simplified. 

4-4-2.  Ball played into goalkeeper, right defender checks back and wide, GK rolls him the ball, he passes to a central midfielder who then passes to right midfielder.  Simple everyday situation.  What

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The danger of "The Deal" when a new soccer player recruits you.

Winning is not a crime.  Wanting to win is not a crime. Recruiting is not a crime.  As a parent, wanting a better place for your child to play is not a crime.  Wanting to find another place to coach is not a crime. Let's all understand those points.  Good people have good reasons for a change.

I've had a lot of time to consider my position on recruiting.  I know people say I am not aggressive enough in recruiting and that it was my biggest weakness as a youth coach.  I take that as a compliment :)

When some coaches engage in heavy recruiting, I don't see them as bad people (although I don't like heavy recruiting).  But I do wonder

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Maybe enjoying soccer as a parent is not that complicated.

Soccer parent
Yesterday was a day I was dreading for a while.  Watching my old team play.

I coached Welland 1999 boys for 3 seasons (U11/U12/U13).  For various reasons, I did not return to coach, but my son is still playing.

Yesterday was their first competition.  I only saw tryouts in small chunks, but I did deliver two sessions for Coach John over the past 6 weeks.

Yesterday did not go how I thought it would.  I was thinking I would over-analyze everything, being frustrated, yelling instructions and seeing how the old players are doing and how the new players fit in, etc etc etc.

Instead, I watched from the sideline, had a blast with the other parents and enjoyed watching my son play without his father on the bench.   Chomping on my sunflower seeds, drinking my Timmy's (Green tea, black, bag out, in case it's your round...) being a wise-guy and cheering.  That was me.

The level of the games was "OK" at best, but they were all exciting.  The first game they drew 1-1 with a team that beat them 6-0 last week in a friendly.  Then they lost 3-2 in a tight game and lost the last game in penalty kicks after an exciting 2-2 draw. They played with a lot of confidence and intensity.
"Chomping on my sunflower seeds, drinking my Timmy's, being a wise-guy and cheering. 
That was me."
I have been just as relaxed watching my other son's senior high school games.  I could write a 200 page technical report on both teams (good, bad and ugly), but in this case, it's more fun and very easy to just watch and enjoy.  I don't think my wife and I discussed the games at all on the way home.

Enjoying myself is not only good for me, it's being fair to my children and their coaches.  Their coaches know that other parents ask me questions all the time, but I never engage in that kind of talk. 

I still coach a lot and do so with 110% of everything I have, but I intend to enjoy watching when my job is a parent.

If the game is not enjoyable at U14, they will walk away and do something else.  I intend to contribute to that enjoyment as much as I can.

I am proud of this program.  There have been 2 teams since U9 and both teams are still full.  Some players have come, left and returned and many have been there since U9.  Neither team is exceptionally strong, but some so called "power houses" have imploded around us over the years.  I hope the program stays strong until U18.

P.S.  Do not let this negate the fact that I do miss those boys.  :)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Do policies help you do your job as a soccer coach?

Policies when coaching soccer
In 2009, my oldest son's Bantam house league hockey coach announced to anybody who bothered to listen "5 on 5, power play and penalty kills, no matter the situation, the next guy at the door goes on".  With that statement, he pretty much killed any and all questions from wannabe coaches in the stands who wanted to talk about why we lost or what could be better.  In February, one dad said to him "Some teams put their better players on the power play" and he replied, politely "Good for them". 

As a coach, you are called upon to make decisions over and over.  As a club coach your attention is required everywhere, from team party to hotel arrangements.

Here is where the idea of policies comes into play.

A policy is a principle or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. A policy is a statement of intent, and is implemented as a procedure or protocol.  Policies can assist in both subjective and objective decision making.

"Will your policy make coaching more enjoyable for you and the team more enjoyable for the players?  If the answer is no, stop right there."

During my time as an elected Councillor in Welland and Niagara, I learned that policies relieve staff of having to make ad-hoc decisions over and over, with the possibility of being inconsistent.

In most club team situations, policies come from the National/Provincial level, District, Club and team.

Should you have some policies in place when you coach? Are they helpful?  Well, let's suppose you are a technical director at a medium size clubs, roughly 15 travel teams.  How difficult is it for the club to be accountable for 15 coaches who all run their teams differently?

For you as a coach, I am not talking about a 400 page manual to distribute to parents.  I am talking about guidelines that help settle situations/questions before they become issues.  The players do not need to know about all of your policies regarding team operation.
"Having things in place through team and club policies and addressing topics at your parent meeting makes life a lot easier down the road."
If you are part of a club's governance, how easy is it for your club staff if they have answers for members regarding issues like payment plans for registration, refunds, etc.

But let's think of this as coaches.  What are the questions you keep dealing with over and over?
  • Can we buy this?
  • How do we pay for tournaments?
  • How long are tryouts?
  • How do you handle releases?
  • What is the minimum number of tryouts a player has before judgement?
  • How do we pick jersey numbers?
  • Who starts?
  • How do you handle playing time?
  • My child is going to be late again.
  • Can you stay late until I pick up my child?
  • Can he wear his favourite green shorts to game?
  • We don't go to away games.
  • When can I talk to you about my child, in private?
  • Can I set up a fundraiser for the team?
  • Why are we staying at that hotel?  Who picks the hotel?
  • How are team parties handled?
  • etc etc etc
Policies and guidelines established in advance answer a lot of questions before they even become questions.  In no particular order, here are some of my personal policies and guidelines when I coach, over and above the clubs:
  • The team money is held in a double-signature bank account, by 2 parents who are not married to each other or one of the coaches, at a bank not used by one of the co-signers.  I do this for accountability.  Cash is not accountable or traceable.  The choice is bank is to avoid the team account being raided in the event one of the signers has overdraft issues with their accounts.
  • No cash.  Everything is done by cheque.
  • Grey t-shirt at training.
  • Player selections are done via posted list on Internet.
  • Two parents in charge of setting up bench area for games.
  • No fundraisers without the coaches' direct involvement.
  • Coach expenses covered and not covered.  Mostly not covered :)
  • Absolutely no social media postings about the team, good or bad.
  • No positional requests or conversations about tactics.
  • We publicly go by the name of the sponsor that was registering via club procedures, not a private donor.
  • Coach does not drive players to tournaments (we have enough to do once there).
  • Coach does not handle club administration issues for parents.
  • Coach is off limits 15 before and 5 minutes after training.
These are a few ... but in each case I did them to make my job easier and keep things consistent.   The last thing I want to hear is that I decided something one way for one person and another way for somebody else.  Much of the policy concerns non-soccer matters.

Before you go crazy making a book of policies and procedures, you need to ask questions:
Policies when coaching soccer
  • Will your policy make coaching more enjoyable for you and the team more enjoyable for the players?  If the answer is no, stop right there.
  • Is there a persistent and repeating issue that leaves you in a position for making quick decisions?
  • Who is being directly and indirectly effected by the issue?
  • What have been the fairest results of the decisions you made in the past?
  • Who is available to review any rough drafts of policies or rules you are considering?
  • When do you want the policy to take effect?
  • Is your new policy in contravention of any club bylaw?
  • When are you going to review the policy and make adjustments if necessary?
  • Is the policy necessary?
  • Are you willing to drop your policy at a later date if you see it's not necessary?
  • Is your potential policy consistent with your philosophy?  If you are not comfortable with what you are proposing, don't do it.  Nobody can fake it for very long.  My experiences are most coaches make rules about attendance, punctuality and playing time that they don't really believe in.
Am I trying to complicate coaching?  No, quite the opposite.  Having things in place through personal and club policies and addressing topics at your parent meeting makes life a lot easier down the road.

You also want to prevent the possiblilty of being seen as bending to everybody's request and making one-off decisions over and over.

Before addressing this topic, ensure that you check all of your club policies first.  You don't want to reinvent or contradict any of the work already done by the club.

If you have policies that work, share them with other coaches or your club.  If you see other coaches' and clubs' policies that you like, retool them for your own use and share.

Please keep this one thought in mind;  if you do establish any ground rules for the operation of a team, ensure every idea is geared towards providing a better program for the players.  If the sole purpose is to establish your authority, your enjoyment and time with that team will be short lived.

Now that you're finished thinking like a politician, go coach!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I really liked my U12/U13 basketball and soccer coaches.

U12 U13 coaches
2013 Port Colborne Sailors Bantam, my son standing 4th from right
Looking back, I remember exactly when I became an "Active for Life" athlete.

My U12/U13 sports seasons were, by far, my most memorable and formative.  During those years (Grade 7 and 8) I played school and club soccer and basketball.

My soccer coaches were Jerry Mastroianni and Lino DiPasquale.  My basketball coaches were Larry Cooney, John Conte, John Witlib and  Ralph Nero.  All important people in my formation, philosophy and methods as a coach.  I was very lucky to have them in my life.  Now that my sons have all passed through the Grade 7/8 phase of their life, my appreciation for their coaches makes me enjoy my own memories even more.

U12 Club Soccer. 

My U11 year was not that much fun.  My travel team had very poor practice attendance and we never did look or feel like a team.  I was a main player on the team which made it more frustrating.  For U12, I decided to play U12/U13 house league with my friends and my coach was Jerry Mastroianni.  You would never look back and consider Jerry a soccer guy, but I do and I still remember him as one heck of a coach.  He was only 18 when he coached us, had his own car and already a hard working guy.  We all knew him because he was also a basketball referee.

Jerry wasn't a house league coach in the sense that we got a half-program or just show up type-of-thing.  First of all, he made sure we were fit.  Two sessions/week, 8 laps before we got into any soccer.  Then, Jerry made sure everybody had ideas about their positions (my first time ever).  I can't even remember what he told us or didn't tell us, all I remember was he took the effort in making sure everybody felt useful and understood their job.  Games were fun, the league was fun and I will never forget Jerry as a coach.

It impressed parents that a young man like Jerry was as dedicated as he was to our team.

A few years later I worked with Jerry at a local pizzeria and still see him often.  I hold him in high regards.

U12 Club Basketball (travel)

My travel coach for U12 Basketball was a gentleman named Larry Cooney.  He owned a local funeral
U12 U13 coaches
2007 St Catharines Concord U12.  My son 3rd from right, top row
home and was a big supporter of local hoops.  Still, to this day, he is the namesake of the Welland Tribune's Basketball Tournament MVP and his former funeral home sponsored Welland's Sportsman of the Year award.

Mr Cooney made sure we could all dribble and shoot.  There wasn't much in terms of set plays, etc.   If I took anything from his sessions it was repetition and technique.  During games he was competitive and fun at the same time.   Tournaments were fun and he smiled at all times.  Don't get me wrong, there was a fire burning in him that we all felt, but we learned how to play.  Seeing him afterwards I realized even more what a gentleman he was.  I was proud to have Mr Cooney as my coach.

"All important people in my development, philosophy and methods as a coach."
U12 Club Basketball (house league)

Everybody who played travel also played house league.  John Conte was our coach.  John passed away at a young age but I will never forget him.

His knowledge of the game was sound and he ran good practices.  He could sneak in great one-liners while delivering his message while we worked on set plays, etc.  Our practices were fun and we learned. 

But what I remember the most about John was that he ALWAYS came to games dressed like a million bucks.  There were always girls talking about John Conte and that made him a king to us.  The fact that he was a good coach who cared about us was an added bonus. 

Games were fun, but he expected us to play hard.  He used to sneak out of work for a while (men's wear, of course) to be with us.  Everybody, all game, was getting information, heck for something and funny one liners.  We're talking players and referees alike.

The one thing about John was I heard parents compliment him on being dedicated.  Not sure why that sticks, but it does.

Right now John's brother, Ben, coaches my son's U18 team and I am glad to help.  I feel like I am paying John back.

U12/U13 School Basketball

When you played for St Andrew's School in Welland, it was an honour.  The school won 5 straight City and County championships, on the boys and girls side.  It wasn't by mistake.  John Witlib was the coach and he was OK with whatever you brought to training, as long as it was perfect and 110%.  As a student, you were expected to be better than everybody else, not just as good.  Marg Connelly was the girls coach.

Every year, after first report cards, he would go through EVERY report card for Grade 6 boys and up.  There was a list on the wall shortly after saying "The following boys are eligible to try out for the School Boys basketball team".  If you had one failing mark in any class, you were not on that list.

Every June he had a meeting with all boys who were in Grade 5-7 and gave us a training plan for the summer.  Every practice, 30 foul shots.  Every day during the winter you had to have boots, hat, coat, gloves and a scarf.  On game days, dress pants, dress shoes and button up shirt.  Your uniform was brought to school on a hanger and hung in the nurses room.

U12 U13 coaches
2005 Welland Wizards U11, my oldest son sitting 2nd from left
Over and above all of this was the basketball.  And that was a story all on its own.  We all had a ball in our hands so much during grade 7 and 8 you felt like basketball was the reason you were at school. (Mr Witlib made sure we knew it wasn't).

Mr Witlib was not only a very very good coach, he was a very solid man.  We all looked up to him.  He was athletic, well spoken, very funny and he cared about us.  On top of all that, he knew a hell of a lot about basketball.

U13 Club Basketball (travel)

Ralph Nero was a legend to all of us.  Growing up, playing minor basketball, you wanted to make Mr Nero's team in Grade 8.   He was a nice man, a VERY knowledgeable basketball coach and he cared about us.  During that season, I really learned how to play sports, not just basketball.  Mr Nero taught us how to play , technically and tactically.  We used to do this position during warm-up which was our defensive stance.  We held it till it burned.  Technique was super important to him and he could diagnose any problem we had with remedies.  So many good players passed through Mr Nero's programs he would have his own alumni association of university and college players.

It clicked into me as an adult that his real intention was to make sure we could all compete at the high school level.  over the next few years, when he showed up at your high school games, you tried harder.

Years later, he was coaching basketball at Niagara College when I started coaching soccer.  From there I learned one of the building blocks of the LTPD philosophy being propagated now.  He knew the college aged athlete and how to treat them.  I watched him with them and he wasn't the same as when he was with us at U13.  We had may talks about this over the years and I found it very helpful.

During the winter of 1979/1980, on Mondays and Wednesday, we would train at St Andrew's until 5:30ish and Mr Nero drove by in his big Ford and we all piled in to go to Plymouth School to train until 8pm.  Mr Witlib and Mr Nero.  Can you ask for a better situation to be in twice/week?

U13 Club Soccer (travel)

Growing up, Port Colborne always had the best team in our age group.  When I played for Jerry in U12 there was a travel tournament in Welland.  Welland had entered a U11 team to fill a spot and asked if I would play with them.  So I was a U12 player on a u11 team in a U12 tournament.

We played Port Colborne and after the game their coach asked why I wasn't playing for Welland U12 travel and asked if I would consider playing with them next season (U13) .  The coach was Lino DiPasquale.  My father never interfered with my sports, but he did tell me I wasn't playing travel soccer in Welland anymore.  So it all worked out.

Starting from January training at the INCO gym, I had been overwhelmed with so much soccer information that I'd never heard before.  When he pulled out a chalkboard to describe the new formation they were playing. I was in heaven.  The players were good, the training was busy and I was learning.  I knew most of the guys from previous years and basketball so there was no social barrier.

I had a slow start but assistant coach Jim Babirad and Lino both made sure I molded into a winger and success came soon after.  I was a big boy and they took full advantage of that.

Our games?  Well, I tell people our team was non-stop socializing up to the opening whistle and after the last whistle.  Family presence was important with that group.  The game, well it was a thunderstorm.  You were expected to produce but they prepared us to produce.  Lino was passionate, knowledgeable, volatile and caring all at the same time.  Looking back, I'm not sure how I would rate him as a technical teacher, but he could get us to play, and play hard.  I say that because I don't remember the technical parts of training with them.

Years later, we lost in extra time in the Ontario Cup final.  We were in the dressing room, upset, Lino walked in, big smile, sat next to our left winger, Mark, and slapped him on the thigh and said "That was one hell of a soccer game, eh Frenchie?".  At that moment I knew the last few years were the right decision.

I still see Lino and many of my teammates.  I will never forget that first year with them.

Those two years of my sporting life happened at the right time, at 12/13 years old.  That is when kids decide to quit or change sports.  For me, it cemented my passion for both.  I cherish the guys I played with during that time.  As a coach, you have that power when the athletes are that age.

Much of what I do and my conduct is modelled after those six men and their assistants.  I still see my coaches often and we always talk about our common sport.  They know what I am up to and I feel like a little boy again when they say something nice. 

All of my coaches were nice people from U6 to men's league.  But those two years with that group of people really stands out as the most formative.

So far, my sons all had fairly positive sports experiences during U12/U13 with soccer and hockey.  My youngest son was a bit nonchalant with sports but something has sparked in him this year, during grade 8.  Physically, he is the most equipped of my three sons.  Tactically/Gamesmanship, my middle son leads his brothers and my oldest is the most competitive.  Basketball was not always a good experience, but my boys still enjoy their hoop on the driveway so they did get something out of it.

The coach who assumes the job at the beginning of the Active for Life Stage has a very big job to do and their influence is huge.