Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why do we have fall tryouts for U9 to U12 Soccer ?

Patience is a virtue.

Something happened in youth soccer in Niagara about 12 years ago for players U12 and below.  Fall tryouts.

The one season ended and we immediately gathered the group together for tryouts.

This topic came up again speaking to my friend from our neighbouring district. Everybody wonders why we do it, but we keep doing it.

I am not criticizing people who do fall tryouts for younger teams.  I started doing them when it

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When things go wrong, the responsibility falls on the coach

Coaching is easy when things are going well.  You wear your nice jacket, smile a lot and say pleasant things like "nice ball" and "well done".

But what happens when things aren't going well?

Let's start with my personal rule number 1a.  When things go wrong, the responsibility falls on the coach.  Hopefully my attempt to explain why is clear.  Read this quote from Luiz Felipe Scolari.

This is what I believe and it works for me.  Reflection has become a big part of my process and this mindset makes it work better.  You may disagree, but read it anyway :)

Personally, I believe everything falls on the coach when it's not 100% perfect ... a negative encounter with a parent/official/player, a session that wasn't overly productive, even poor attendance at training.  But for this article, I am talking about the game.

Our Niagara College men's soccer program had a good year and the program has been moving in the right direction for the last three years.   But our last game for the 2014 season was a bad day.

We traveled to Ottawa to play Algonquin College in the quarter finals of the OCAA playoffs.   We won't talk about the first goal against, or the seventh.  We had a bad day.  (added Oct 27 ... it is of little consolation to me that Algonquin beat Sheridan and Humber Colleges to win the provincial championship on Oct 25)

I've been on both ends of such games and it isn't easy either way.  You want to win and lose gracefully, always.  But "things going well" and "success" are not always associated with winning and losing as there are times you coach a team that doesn't have the horses to beat the opponent you're currently playing.  Regardless of who you're playing and what your chances are, there are still things that could/should be happening that sometimes aren't.

I appreciate coaching with Rino Berardi in situations like this. We've been together since 1989 and for the most part, he was my first (and still one of my best) coaching teacher.  I've moved on in terms

Friday, September 26, 2014

Coaching and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Always learning.

Some coaches think their only job and concern is the sport they coach.  They're wrong.  Soccer is the last component of the job.

Is you show up with balls and cones, deliver a session then forget about your group until the next session,  any success or enjoyment will be short lived.

I've always known that, but, for some reason, I am finding myself learning new things as our Niagara College Knights soccer season progresses.

Knowing your player has been a big message for coaches the last ten years.   We've been dealing with the usual items that would involve players at the college age.  Let's put ourselves in LTPD mode and review the "Soccer for Life" development stage and what we know about this age group in this situation:
  • Potential social issues being new to college life and heavy into a sport before school even begins
  • For some, away from home for first time
  • Living away from parents, not always eating or sleeping as they should
  • Potential relationship issues
  • Potential family issues back home causing distractions
  • Potential financial issues
  • Pressures of academics for those in tougher courses
  • Commitment to club teams that are still in progress
  • Unable to manage time with academics and athletics.  Not realizing their title is "Student-Athlete" and not "Athlete"
At this age it's very easy to become insecure, especially if you were a very central part of your youth team and arrive to a program where everybody was a big wheel on their club team. It doesn't take much to feel

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Does "how" you play the game really matter?

Joga Bonito - Play Beautifully.

Does "how" you play the game really matter? 

This topic comes up often in soccer .  First you speak of the result, then how the game was played.  Was it beautiful?  Technical?  Ugly?  Sloppy? What was the style of play?

Do people really care how a sport is played?  Well, let's go back to 1972 and how the Soviet brand of hockey captured everybody's imagination.  With more European hockey appearing before us, many fell in love with their style.  And it continues to ruffle the feathers of some hockey dinosaurs in Canada.

For some people, the score is the only thing that matters, regardless of the level.  Even at the youth levels.  For those people I offer this:

FIFA Ranking as of Sept 10

When we visited the academy of Club Brugge in 2009 there was a U15 game going on.  The Academy director said to me, of their opponent, "Nobody likes that team because the players don't have ideas when

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The problem with overcoaching during games.

So difficult to let go ....

Your goal is for your players to learn and enjoy this game, not to act out your instructions like puppets or FIFA 2014  game avatars.

During training, your session delivers your content.  You work together through drills and exercises
to apply the content and observe their basic abilities.  You organize functional sessions to allow them to apply their techniques with the presence of opposition, and observe.  Assess their learning so far.

Getting into small sided games at training allows you to observe them in a game situation where you start to

Friday, July 18, 2014

How a grassroots coach can help a young referee

As a grassroots coach, it is your duty to help young referees develop a passion for officiating.

Sadly, many referees do not last past the first few years on the job.  All it takes is one comment from one bozo to make it a bad experience.  This is in all sports.

All three of my sons officiated at one point or another.  It was not uncommon for them to show up, drop their stuff on the side, be ignored, get the game sheets and start the game.

Young people are not small adults, they're young people.  They don't all have the social graces to break the ice and jump into conversation.
"Ensure that a young referee leaves the park wanting to officiate another game. "
Put yourself in their shoes.  There are two teams, probably 4-6 coaches in tracksuits that don't fit properly and an army of lawn chairs on the other side of the field... and the referee is all alone.

How can you help them?
  • Educate your parents on the importance of encouraging young referees and to not berate them for a missed call in a U9 game.
  • As an adult, you have some coercive power over a young adult.  Don't abuse that power.
  • When the referee arrives, welcome them, introduce yourself and your assistants.  Shake their hand, focus on them for a few minutes.
  • The referee should review everything with you.  If they don't have the confidence to address you, why don't you call the other coach over and help get that started for them.
  • PAY THEM, don't make them ask. 
  • If you know them personally, do not address them by name but as "Referee".  
  • If they don't bring it up, ask the referee if they would like volunteers to put a flag up if the ball goes over the touch line.
  • Confirm game parameters with the referee.  Ask, don't dictate, they're the ref.  Length of half, substitution rules, retreat line, etc.
  • Give them friendly reminders worded in a way that doesn't attack them .  "Referee, if you don't mind, can you remember to blow your whistle a little louder and state the call clearly.  My kids don't always pay attention and it helps me see who is learning and who needs extra reminders.  I really appreciate it."  If you don't have the skills to reword sentences, maybe it's best you just smiled and leave the official alone :)     
  • Keep calm during games.  If you yell at the referee once, you've given permission to your team parents for all of your parents to do it. 
  • At half, ask if they need a drink.  They're kids and kids forget to pack things.
  • Remind the referee to stay on the field after the game so the kids can shake their hand.  Some will quickly retreat to their bag on the side.
  • Ensure ALL of your players shake the referee's hand after a match.
  • If you have treats after your games, offer one to the referee. 
  • Before they leave, smile and politely ask if they have their pay envelope.  If you've coached enough then you have found the occasional envelope floating around with money in it.
  • The referee will walk through a gauntlet of adults on their way out.  It doesn't hurt for the occasional adult to say "Good job Ref!".  I would even suggest that you quietly appoint several parents to get that started.  It's contagious.
  • Ensure that a young referee leaves the park wanting to officiate another game.
  • If your club has a head referee, give them some constructive feedback on that official if you feel some is warranted.  Do not address that with the official yourself, it's not your place and not the time.
With each passing game, if coaches are helpful, the referee will take on more of the tasks themselves.
If our young officials do not stay in the game, the game will pay a dear price in the future.  Think about that before you decide to say something silly about a missed call in a game that will mean nothing to anybody in an hour's time.

If they stay in the game and develop, as does a player, they will learn to deal with the heat and stress of competition and be better equipped to handle it.

At the Welland Soccer Club we are fortunate.  Our head referee is always working with our young officials and provides periodic educational sessions and feedback.  He has taken the job beyond scheduling.

A referee who is passionate can explore the soccer world (updated link) the same way a player or coach can.  Help them along that path.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Getting soccer into your school

For your back-to-school list in September.

A nice addition to my soccer life has been involvement in festivals for elementary schools.  I've had the pleasure of delivering three and helping out a bit with a fourth.

Too many of our young athletes only play their desired sport when the formal session are organized.  Sometimes when I get a pickup game going at a school I hear questions like "throw-in or kick-ins?" "Where is the box?" "What's out of bounds?" "They have one extra player!".  We want them to realize that you don't need a board of directors and a formal schedule for a sport to happen.

Simple rules of pick-up sports:
  • All you need for a game is a friend and a ball
  • There is always enough room for a game
  • There is always enough room for another player
  • Call your own fouls
  • The game ends when the sun goes down (if you have no street lights)
Back to school ....

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grassroots Soccer Festival at Gordon School in Welland

What a great day!
  • Gordon School, Welland, Ontario.
  • 146 players from Grades 3,4 and 5.
  • 48 Group and Station leaders from Grade 8 (and some grade 7s)
  • Equipment from 4 supporting organizations
  • Unexpected hot weather
  • Lots of soccer
Last September, with the help of my good friend and teacher, Rino Berardi, we organized a grassroots festival at St Christopher School in St Catharines.  You can read my reflections from that festival.

Today, I was joined by my good friends Carl Horton and Ramin Mohammadi, Grassroots Advisors from the Ontario Soccer Association.  We all attended the FIFA Grassroots Workshop together last year.  They had not been to a festival of this structure and I was only too happy to have a "3 heads are better than one" scenario.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Intertwining summer and winter sports. When do you stop?

I couldn't resist :)
I spent May 17 watching my nephews' Peewee hockey tryouts.  Seriously.  They are also both travel level soccer players.

If you're reading from outside North America, it's that time of year in Canada.  Soccer season is starting and ice hockey tryouts started for next fall.

This fall, some soccer tryouts will happen while hockey is getting rolling.  In the spring more soccer tryouts will happen while hockey is in playoff mode.

In today's soccer environment, where heavy recruiting is rampant, some coaches feel they need to jump the gun and get started early or risk losing players.  That is an understandable attitude considering the environment

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Running with the ball at pace ... show your players they can do it

Be honest, coach.

How many of your players can run with the ball, for 30-40yds, at pace and keep the ball under control?  I ask this when I deliver coaching courses, and it's an uncomfortable question for some, but it does make them think.

We've all seen it.  A young player has open space in front of them, takes off and is chasing the ball in a different direction with every touch.  Or touches too far into the keepers waiting arms or wide and over the goal line.  Or too close and they overrun the ball.

As a fan, it's very exciting to see a player make a penetrating run and awesome when that player has the pace and control to brush off anybody looking to spoil the moment.

For young players we have a few problems.  The first being their ability to execute.  The second is there are many teams where all the child hears when they get the ball is "PASS!!!!!!!!!!"

Get your kids in on the action.   1v0 is just as valid a session or drill topic at 1v1, 2v2, 3v2 etc.

Keep it simple.  Give your player a ball, tell them to run with it and see if they can do it.  If they don't try/do it at training at full pace, they'll struggle to do it properly in a game.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Soccer can be played anywhere, anytime.

We have a HUGE soccer problem in Canada.  Most kids only play soccer when they are with their team and cannot picture a "soccer game" in another situation.  It's your job as a coach to help break that line of thinking.

This is part of both the Physical Literacy conversation and the Soccer Culture conversation.  For the growth of our game, development of the culture and contribution to the physical literacy solution, we have to get those kids playing soccer when they are away from our programs.

Over the last few years I've been hearing coaches worry more and more about collecting money for rental costs and the difficulty in finding decent turf times during the winter months.  We have some coaches at our clubs who do not train if they can't get turf during the winter or a traditional field during the summer.

So, in order to help the kids picture soccer in other settings, we need to get you to do the same. Remember, 2 players and a ball and the game is on!

Coaches need to remember that every training session does not always need to be on turf/grass or on

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Young Soccer Players. Let them fail, and fail at full speed.

A kid tries something in a game.  It doesn't work.  He gets yelled at or hears the moans from either touch line ...  and never tries it again.

Thank goodness nobody ever yelled at Thomas Edison.

With the advent of LTPD in Ontario and the decreased importance on standings, I hope that coaches feel less pressure to win and feel more comfortable allowing mistakes to happen and learning to take centre stage.
  • Give your players a challenge or task.
  • Let them try it.
  • Let them try it at game pace, with opposition.
  • If they fail, let them try it again.
  • If they fail again, let them try it again.
  • If there are techniques and movements that can be improved to increase chances of success, develop that technique, then try the sequence again.
  • The players will know they're approaching success.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are you coaching a soccer team or running a program?

During a coaches meeting at Niagara College in September 2013, our Director of Athletics and Recreation gave us an important reminder "You are running a program, not coaching a team".

I took that to remind us of taking a more long term and holistic approach to how we deliver our program.  I feel I've always run programs, but the statement still begs thought and reflection.

Coaching a team is team centric.  Running a program is player centric.  The team's sustained success will come from the collective development of your individual players.

First, you need to answer the main question yourself.  Are you coaching a team or running a program?  As soon as you giver the question some thought and come up with an answer, your coaching will change.

My sons have had both types of coaches through their sports.  There were some who plucked group of players  and worried about that season.  There were others who treated their coaching as a long term project.

Friday, March 28, 2014

How is your program's reputation?

reputation - noun - the beliefs or opinions that are generally held about someone or something

Does your program's reputation matter?

Quick answer: YES

I am not talking about your reputation, but your program's.

If trophies are your only way of assessing a program and trying to form a reputation, please do me a favour and stop reading now.

People who like working for a company do so because they appreciate how they are treated and respected.  You never (very rarely) hear somebody say "I love working there, we make the best brake drums ever and always within specifications, +/- 0.1mm".

Look at the OSA's Club Excellence Overview.  It does not list anywhere in the criteria "How many Ontario Cups has your club won?"

Your program's good reputation is what will draw quality people to join you.  Your good reputation makes it easier to garner corporate and community support. 

Your reputation needs to be guarded and protected.  It can take years to build, and minutes to destroy.

With a group of wonderful people around me, we coach at Niagara College and we will soon be

Friday, March 7, 2014

Everybody has a talent. It's YOUR job as a coach to help a player find what they are good at.

People are strutting the streets and fields in their fancy track suits bragging about the great programs they're with.  That's OK.  But never forget that all soccer is soccer and everybody playing is a soccer player.  I am reminded of that every Wednesday night in Welland.

My wife coaches a CoEd U15 indoor house league team and I am her able-bodied assistant.  My youngest son trains with his travel program but also plays in this league. 

The skill level in this league varies.  There are travel players, house league payers and some players who only play soccer during the winter, but all players nevertheless.

I always leave with a good feeling because every week somebody has a very good game.  Do we coach?  Not in the "fancy tracksuit" meaning of the word, but we do give info and we encourage.   When we find something that somebody does extremely well, we let them do it.
 "... there is something for every player to do."
When I hear people say "just house league" it bugs me because I feel more magic can happen at

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Age Appropriate" a simple and powerful call to action for any sports program.

"Children are not mini-adults"  Remember this as you read this article.

I've been spending a lot of time on both ends of the education equation in my adult years.  In the world of sports and education, I can claim to have experiences both as a learner and educator.

Being a participant in those worlds, I enjoy reading about the theory and science of learning and teaching.  One thing has become obvious to me: Canadian Soccer's LTPD is probably the most powerful, decisive and courageous educational/philosophical shift I have ever seen.

There are a lot of guidelines and background information to support programs but the two most important words to me are "age appropriate".  You can present opinions and arguments against

Friday, January 24, 2014

Young children need to learn how to lose. I DISAGREE!

Why do children need to learn how to lose?  What motivational speaker came up with that?  When people talk about youth sports, you hear it all the time, sometimes to justify decisions.

The biggest cry of the anti-LTPD army is that young children need to learn how to lose. (for the record, LTPD is not about removing scores ... but that's another story).

For the record, in my humble opinion, when it's done at an adult level, kids don't need to learn how to lose.  I didn't always think it was very wrong, but I did always feel it was wrong.  Now, as I reflect back on mistakes and successes and learn from that, my position is more defined.  Watching my nephews come through their respective systems now, I feel even stronger about age appropriate programming.  (writer's note, I write this article drawing on YEARS of making mistakes.)

First and foremost, kids don't need adults to teach them how to win or lose.  They live and learn it everyday at the schoolyard and playground and I think it's great.  Most playground games have a winner and loser.  Some kid has to get picked last for teams.  Not everybody gets to be Sidney Crosby in street hockey.  Somebody dumps their bike quicker and gets to the Slurpee

Monday, January 20, 2014

IMO. Coaches need to know the Laws of the Game.

Would a true understanding of the Laws of the Game help our players?

Have a read:

To me, a professional player  making such a mistake is embarrassing.  And his justification didn't help.

We work on techniques, skills, tactics, etc but can we really teach our kids everything we want without a solid understanding of the Laws of the Game?

Here is a direct link to FIFA's Laws of the Game document.

One thing has always impressed me about baseball people ... they know the rules of their game

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Problem Parents. Remove the parent or cut their kid? Or both. OR NEITHER.

Would you cut a kid because of their parents? Sometimes I like to ask the question just to spark a conversation.

I am not talking about parents who complain and accuse after their child is released.  I am talking about a player and parent still in your program.

Let's clear something up first.  Good parents outnumber problem parents in a big big way.  Good families are what make coaching enjoyable and rewarding.   The media has wrongfully demonized parents, but the problem parent does occasionally exist and needs to be dealt with.  Never forget, the problem parent in sports is the exception, not the rule.

If a coach has a problem with a lot of parents every year ... you have to take a look at the coach.

Back to the question.   Cut the kid?  There are so many possible arguments for both the "yes" and "no" side of the question, however valid or invalid.

Yes, the parent is a pain in my rear.

Yes, I am a volunteer and don't need the hassle.

Yes, it's important to remind everybody who's in charge.

Yes, the parent is a cancer on the sideline.

Yes, I know the parent wants to apply for the team next year.

Yes, the parent refuses to comply with my rules.

Yes, the parent likes to cause trouble over social media.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

High school soccer is not the enemy.

High School soccer exists.  And in a big way.  Let's establish that fact.

Over the years, there have been so many initiatives to keep kids out of high school soccer, it's mind boggling.

When I was in high school (1980-1984), you were not allowed to play a travel sport and high school at the same time.  So once travel soccer started, high schools lost those players.

These days I hear of travel coaches who forbid their players from playing high school soccer.  For those of you not from Ontario, high school soccer is usually played on school fields just after winter.  Those same fields are usually used for football in the fall.  Their conditions are not always ideal.

(NB.  This is not aimed at players who play in a professional systems' academy or any

Friday, January 3, 2014

Why LTPD was successfully implemented in Ontario for U4-U12.

As a soccer community, we just completed our second year with the implementation of Long Term Player Development (LTPD).  Field and team sizes have shrunk and league/tournament structures have changed.  The Canadian Soccer Association made the brave move of walking the soccer world down that path.

My experiences on several fronts give me the impression that most people are generally supportive of what's happening with the younger age groups (U4-U12).

During 2013, all of Ontario was playing 7v7 for U9/U10 and 9v9 for U11 at the travel level.  Many