Friday, May 3, 2013

Will new soccer facilities in Welland change our club?

Welland Soccer Club
The Welland Soccer Club has a new home.  The Youngs Insurance Sportsplex is a partnership between the City of Welland, Nustadia Recreation , Welland Soccer Club and the Welland Indoor Tennis Club.

Our old facility was very good.  It had 7 grass fields that were able to accommodate 4v4 to 11v11.  We had an indoor facility that was the old style field with boards and the field measured 200' x 90', but it was very suitable for soccer although it had the old style turf as well.

Our new facility has a full size indoor and two full size outdoor artificial pitches with the latest technology in turf.  The indoor facility is routinely divided into 4 mini fields that are rented by teams (with great rates). The artificial fields all have multiple portable goals.  Three grass fields are still growing outside (for spring 2014) and we still have our seven fields at the old location.

Why the new facility?  Well, first and foremost, the idea was hatched by city employees who knew we were sitting on a valuable chunk of property.  The new location is old industrial land.  Second, we did need a new indoor setup.  The boards on the indoor field were antiquated, the turf needed replacing and the demand was there for more space.  The building also needed a lot of work.  It has since been taken over by Niagara Sport and Social.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the concept of a public-private-partnership (PPP).  It has proven to be a bit of a change in terms of how money travels through the system, but that's a story for another day.  I am not saying it's good or bad, it's just new to me.

Back to soccer...

In the past our coaches were accustomed to:
  • Grass fields available May 1 - Sept 30
  • A heavily booked indoor facility
  • Limited suitable gym space within our area
So programming and intensity matched what was available.

Now our coaches have access to:
  • More suitable indoor training space with much better turf
  • Artificial outdoor fields that can possibly be used March 1 - November 30
I am not saying our coaches don't take their jobs seriously, but they did schedule their programs around available facilities.

"There will also be pressure on the Welland Soccer Club to expand programs as our income was a major selling point for the city to build the new complex."

So, if facilities determined our teams' programs and we now have expanded facilities, would the natural progression be towards more frequent and longer programs?  Will coaches respond with having more sessions?  If so, will players' interest increase accordingly?  And will the obvious end result be realized ... a more committed and better built athlete?

The new facilities have also gotten our membership excited for the first time in a while.

But we need to move the new momentum from the "euphoria" stage to the "habit" stage.

There are three possible bi-products of newer, more available facilities:
  • Current coaches expand their programs
  • Players move to Welland for more soccer 
  • More people looking to coach in Welland
  • Other clubs' coaches look to move their programs to Welland's facility as a homebase during the off season.
For Niagara, this is a great addition to an already expanding list of facilities that include:
  • Kalar Rd outdoor turf field in Niagara Falls
  • Niagara Sportsplex in Niagara Falls (2 indoor mini fields)
  • Kiwanis Field outdoor turf field in St Catharines
There will also be pressure on the Welland Soccer Club to expand programs as our income was a major selling point for the city to build the new complex.  The complex's selling feature to politicians is that it would pay for itself, at no cost to the taxpayer.
So what will be the result of new facilities?
  • I am hoping to see expanded programs by all coaches across the board, top to bottom.  
  • Our new indoor fields do not have boards, so I am hoping to see more control and thought into playing rather than  using the boards as a safety net.  This has already been commented on by some parents so I think that result may be well on its way.
  • I am hoping to see expanded membership, from U4 to adult, male and female. 
  • I am hoping that programs expand enough that we continue utilizing all of the fields at both locations.
  • I am hoping the added enthusiasm will encourage more people to show interest in club governance.
Building new facilities for any recreational activity is money well spent for any municipality.  It's another selling feature in any city's "Work-Live-Play" scenario and it spruces up the area in which they are built.

New facilities always have an overall positive effect, regardless of whether it's for professional or amateur sports.  But is the effect long term?

We can use the new facility to appeal to the curious and ambitious, but we have to make sure we have quality in the programs after the wow factor has faded away.

As a club, we need to:
  • stay organized, professional and progressive
  • be accountable to our membership
  • set up measurable performance indicators
  • demonstrate that the new facility is financially viable
  • keep our coaches up-to-date and educated
  • keep the club and program player-centred
I look forward to watching the club through the next few years.  I will also enjoy observing the reaction from the soccer community for the next two summers as this is uncharted territory for me.  I wasn't involved with the club when the last facility was built in 1983.

But a bigger club doesn't mean a changed club.  The new facility will attract people, but the technical staff and board has to change our program to add more value in terms of player development.

The new facility's minimal effect should be more soccer, plain and simple.  That's a gimme. I imagine our curious coaches will research training sessions that utilize portable goals and more out-of-town teams will consider Welland for pre-season friendlies.  The adult programs are already showing a big increase in numbers.

I will check back in here July 1 to report on membership numbers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Motivating young soccer players in Canada to be defenders

soccer defender
In soccer, there is a no more beautiful site than a defender stepping up to get their head on an incoming cross.

I only played defender full time for one college season - on the right.   I could throw to the penalty spot, I was strong, fast and was given a lot of information by my coach to succeed.  And I did.  But, for the most part, I was a midfielder and forward.  Right now, in our rec men's league I enjoy the wide defending positions ... until a team brings a speedy winger with them  :)

It always confused me when some parents were disappointed when their children were assigned a defending position on a soccer team.  Even a hockey team.

Maybe my appreciation for defenders came from my family culture (Italian) and who we followed (Serie A).  Maybe I had good coaches with good teams that had solid appreciated defenders.

As a young Canadian watching soccer I had the North American Soccer League to watch.  My team was the New York Cosmos and Franz Beckenbauer was on the scene.  The league had a lot of good defenders.

Canadians have had a lot of strong defenders to look up to over the years: Bruce Wilson, Ian Bridge, Randy Samuel, Jason deVos, Frank Yallop, David Edgar ... on occasion Paul Stalteri. Big names that most Canadians know.

If I wasn't big enough on defenders before 1982, Italy wining that World Cup pushed me over the edge with great names in the back like Gentile, Cabrini and Bergomi.  Their names were just as big as Paolo Rossi and Bruno Conti.

For me, as a coach, my defenders are my stars.  Those that I've coached know that if I tapped your
soccer defending
shoulder to be a defender, I was paying you the greatest of compliments as a player.

Why the reluctance by our society?  I had a boy who was an excellent defender and enjoyed the position but got nervous when I put him there because "his parents don't like it and will be mad on the way home".

I have a theory.

In the local newspaper, when the sports section prints quick stories on minor hockey and soccer results, who is mentioned?  The goal scorers and goalkeeper.  During hockey tournaments, who is the player of the game?  A forward in a 6-4 win, the goalie in a 3-0 win.  NEVER the defencemen.

"Canadian soccer fans have had a lot of strong defenders to look up to over the years"

If you don't understand sports, you will have difficulty in appreciating the defending positions.  But let's consider the prototype defender in soccer and you tell me if it's a compliment that your son/daughter is called to fulfill that role :
  • Speed and stamina
  • Physical strength on the ground and in the air
  • Tougher than a $2 steak
  • Confident playing ball with all parts of their body, in the penalty are under pressure.
  • Ball winner
  • Smart timing and location of physical challenges
  • Good 1v1 defender on flanks and in central area
  • Good technical skills to keep possession when winning ball
  • Good communicator
  • Leader and trustworthy
  • Committed team player
  • Able to play balls long and short, on the ground and in the air
  • Able to break up an oncoming attack and start a counter attack 
  • Able to get into the attack and cause unexpected problems for opponents
  • etc etc etc
If somebody described me or one of my sons like this, I would be on Cloud-9. 

Soccer has come a long way since I played as a youth and since I started coaching in 1988.  More people understand the position, but we still have a way to go.  How, as a coach, do you sell the position?

Well, one of my mentors, Rino Berardi, showed me on day-1 of my coaching.  We had tryouts for an under 9 team in 1988 and he said "Boys, we are looking for 2 strong, fast, smart and confident soccer players to be our 2 central defenders.  Not everybody can handle it, but we will see who can do it."  From that day and for every game for 3 years when I announced our starters ALL hands went up when I would say "OK .... right defender .... "

Once the parents know you appreciate all spots on the field (including defender) so will they.  Once the players know you appreciate all spots on the field, so will they.

Here is my personal philosophy, however unfair it might be.  You are not a true, well rounded player until you prove to me that you have all the tools to be an effective defender.  This means mental, physical, tactical and technical.

Every player on my youth teams have put in time with the back four.  I owed it to them to be tested and work to make it a positive experience.

As a coach:
  • Preach total soccer - 11 players defending and 11 players attacking.  Don't leave defenders in the back waiting for the play.
  • Treat individual and team defending as a specialized science
  • Make a big deal about EVERY spot on the field 
  • Give your players as much info as possible about the defender positions.
  • Do not treat the back 4 as the "left over" spots.
  • Give them important jobs on restarts, etc.
  • Teach your parents when and what to cheer when defenders do good things during games.
  • Give the kids names for role models.  Every professional team has big name defenders.
  • When you win a close game praise the defending efforts of everybody in preventing the equalizing goal.
  • Preach/coach technical proficiency for your defenders.
  • Preach the importance of winning the ball and keeping possession.  Not to just give it back.  "Regain and retain".
  • Coach your midfielders/forwards to look for support from defenders on the attack.  Conversely, teach the defenders how to join the attack (overlapping runs/shape/communication/set pieces/etc).
  • Coach defending set pieces and give them leadership roles in the organization.
  • Let them contribute to your half-time talk and encourage them to  share what they see and help them learn the game.
  • Make the position very positive and give everybody a chance to succeed there.
While you're at it ... help the back 4 and GK learn to work together as a unit.  I sometimes refer to them as my back 5 when coaching.

Do not underestimate the importance of giving all of your players the tools to be strong defenders and the thrill you can give a player when they become a successful defender.  I hope this is useful to you and you can find more ways to keep defenders motivated and appreciated.