Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Are you TRULY in tune with the tryout process?

You were awarded the team and your first advertisement goes out.  "TRYOUTS.  Wednesday, 6:00-8:00pm Blah Blah Blah"

Chances are, if you're reading this, you coach an amateur team that belongs to a club or educational institution.

Nobody has the tryout process mastered and we've all made mistakes that we wish we could take back.  We try to conduct them as professionally as possible, but nobody has it mastered.

What is your job during tryouts? What is appropriate for the age you are coaching? (If you are coaching U12 and below, are tryouts appropriate at all?)

You're thinking this might be a guide on how to select players, but it's just as much about the players you don't select and the environment you've set up at tryouts.

I am fortunate that I have a very enjoyable coaching situation with the Niagara College Men's and Women's Soccer programs.  I am surrounded and supported by good people and I like to think we look at the tryout process in a bigger scope, outside of soccer.

On a quantitative level, our job is to select the 22-24 student-athletes who we feel will achieve the best possible results and challenge for a national championship. There is much more going on.
Nobody has the tryout process mastered and we've all made mistakes that we wish we could take back. 
We are in a different position than basketball and volleyball.  Their student-athletes have a chance to acclimatize to the campus environment and fall into a bit of a routine before their athletic schedules ramp up to their full commitment.  The first-year players who are in our program are figuring out their academic life while the soccer program is in in full motion, with some living away from home at the first time.

What do you need to keep in mind during your tryouts in your particular coaching situation?
This is what we need to consider during tryouts for our college program:
  • Recruiting begins early, many times when the prospective player is in Grade 11.  Are we giving them a positive image of Niagara College, and post secondary education in general?  We have the ability to get them excited about the next phase of their education. (Is your club's travel program making a positive impression that seeps its way down to the younger age groups?)
  • Varsity Soccer tryouts begin August 14, a full 26 days before the fall semester starts.  Do our new students and prospective athletes receive a positive impression of the college they've chosen?  If their parents drop them off, what will be their impression?
  • Is the organization and delivery on Day 1 consistent with the experience that Niagara College wants their new students to encounter?
  • Is the selection process laid out for them?  Is the Day 1 experience at soccer a sneak peak at their first days of class when professors review their Course Outline and Teaching and Learning Plans  for their selected courses in their respective programs?
  • Do they know what's expected of them, physically? Are they aware of the commitment and expectations? 
  • Niagara College is a diverse learning community and our tryouts reflect that in every way.  We welcome the athletes, share our passion for the game and our enjoyment of the situation, but we don't use jargon, clichés or make parochial comments to ensure the environment is inclusive and welcoming.  Not only is it respectful and properly reflects Canada, it also helps more players bring out their best and puts us in a better position to select the strongest team.
  • Can we answer more immediate questions for them about the college and details they need to tend to before classes begin?  During tryouts we receive questions regarding registration, financial aid, bookstore hours, local amenities, etc.  
In case you haven't noticed .. we haven't even touched the ball yet.
  • Is the process fair and does it provide players with a true opportunity to showcase their skills?  Not only does this respect the player, again,  it gives us a better chance of selecting the best players.
  • How do we deal with the players who aren't selected along the way? Some players have moved into their new living arrangements early and may end up being in Welland for a few weeks before classes begin.  Many go home and return for classes, but a few remain in the city.
  • Did we create a positive enough experience that the players who weren't selected still wish to seek out an active lifestyle in their new college environment? Being released from tryouts is a difficult life event, but handled correctly the player will find other avenues to stay active.
  • For the players who are selected, have we provided enough guidance and support that the beginning of the semester is a positive experience, not an avalanche of new commitments.
Niagara College has trusted us to deal with almost one hundred of their students before the semester begins and we know their expectations.  The situation is interesting because this will be the last occasion in most of these players' lives where they will face a tryout process.  For many of the selected players, it will also be the last time where they will compete for playing time.

That is our spectrum of considerations every August.  What does your club expect of you?  Do the players you released continue playing or do they quit after the selection process?  Will they stay at your club and try out again next year?

How you conduct the process and treat the players you release speaks volumes of who you are and
An example of a tryout ad.  I have no idea who this club is.
lays the foundation for a positive team environment.  In my situation, I encounter many of the students we did not select around campus and it's important to me that we continue to have a good rapport throughout the academic year.  It's important for the players we select to know that the players we didn't select were handled fairly.

Some ideas for your tryouts:

  • Do the players understand what you're looking for?  If you can't spell it out and share it, how will you know if you see it.  Sometimes a coach will tell a player "You didn't have what we were looking for."  and the player is wondering "What were you looking for?"
  • Learn their names.  We have a lot of players attending and take everybody's picture with them holding their name on a small whiteboard, resembling a mug shot.  I had a released player tell me once that I didn't know who he was.  When my assistant and I told him what he was wearing the past few days, where he was playing and some of the on-field scenarios we remember, he dropped the accusation.
  • Be ready and organized!  Get the tryout sessions going quickly so the players can show their stuff.  Long speeches at tryouts are just long speeches, nothing else.  They came to impress you, not vice verse.
  • Give players a fair chance to showcase their skills.  Often, if they're realistic, they will know the outcome before you tell them.  In a situation where there are a lot of players, not everybody will have a chance to play in a game, but there are still ways to have a game situation. A good friend is a scout for the Boston Bruins and he said once that players will cut themselves if tryouts give them enough chances to play.  I never forgot that.
  • My pet peeve is signing players along the way until you have two or three players battling for one or two spots - you've pretty much just told those kids they are the weakest on your team and you've set up a pecking order from day one. If you do implement that method, do so at your own risk and don't email me for advice because you will not like my answer.
  • If you are releasing a player, give them some information so they can move forward.  In a youth club environment, a list of contacts for other playing situations would be very helpful to them and their parents.
My final point for you to consider is how quickly news spreads in 2016.  Whether you inform the selected or released players first will not affect how quickly the telephone and social media inferno ignites and players start to figure out the team on their own.  The news should come from you, not from somebody else's Facebook status.

The specific process you implement will depend on numbers, schedule, facility availability etc.

Remember what your tryouts are; a group of ambitious, enthusiastic athletes who want to show you that they have the skills to be selected to the program you are running.  Their willingness to be judged and evaluated obliges you to give them the respect they deserve and nothing less.

Just remember to run a tryout process that you would feel comfortable with if you or your child were trying out for a team.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The importance of being yourself when you coach.

be yourself
In any activity where you are the leader in a situation such as coaching or teaching, a major part of your apprenticeship is being encouraged to "be yourself".

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

BE.  YOURSELF.  Ya, simple.

Since 1988, I have been coaching non-stop and have done a lot of teaching.  I even had a stint in politics.  Even with all that exposure, the "be yourself" thing took a while to happen.

Learning how to be yourself is a major part of your development in any profession or pursuit, including coaching.

Why is it so important to be yourself?  Well, the first reason is that you are beautiful.  You must be

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Danger of Consolidating Players Before U12

"The best players need to play together."  Do they?  Maybe, but when?

Let me offer some disclosure so you know my mind set.  I am not a fan of recruiting.

For your personal trophy case and perhaps your coaching resumé, consolidating the best players in your area as soon as possible might seem like a good idea.

For the development of the age group, I think early consolidation is damaging to everybody involved including the players who are being consolidated.

In many cases, consolidating players before their U12 year does nothing for anybody other than their coach. Not all cases, but many.

A coach has a decent U8 team.  He sees his friend has a son on a neighbouring town's team and the boy is decent.  "Hmm...." he thinks to himself and when the season ends, he invites his pal over for a

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Need to Show our Players How to Reflect

soccer reflection
"Reflection".  Sounds great, but do our players know how to reflect? Have you shown them how?

My coaching pal Chris Loucks brings this up on occasion and he got me thinking.

As you move up in your coaching education, reflection becomes a major part of the process.   Having also attended Teacher's College, I've been through the reflection process many times.

As adults we start to appreciate the benefits of reflecting and we make good use of what we learn from it.

The frustration for some is when you ask your players to reflect and they look at you with a blank face.  You may not remember this during your certification process, but somebody along the way did teach you how to reflect.  I wrote about reflecting way back in 2012.

Don't you think we need to teach our players how to reflect?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Coaches, Always Keep Your Ears Open a.k.a. What I Learned in Church.

coaching soccer team work
On Sunday,  January 24, I attended 9:00am mass at St Francis Xavier Church in Brockville, ON.

Before I get started here, I need to say the church building itself was absolutely amazing, inside and outside.

My ears are always open, no matter where I am.  Maybe I'm nosey, maybe, but I am always listening. A coach's eyes and ears should always be open.  There is always something to learn and if you are not receptive, you might miss something big.

During that mass in Brockville, the lay reader had my attention from the first line of the second reading, a Letter From St Paul to the Corinthians (Corinthians 12:12-12:31).

If you attend mass at a church, the Letter from St Paul to the Corinthians is familiar to you. If you do not attend mass, you should still read the excerpt below.  (You will not be asked for a donation at the end)

The reading talks about how every part of the body is different, but necessary.

A coach's ears should always be open.

We have so many players on a soccer team, it's difficult , yet important, to give everybody on the team a sense of belonging and self worth.  We all work to do that knowing that some players have a bigger external/visible impact than others, but there is still a place for everybody in your team community.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Do our kids "love" the ball?

Coaching Soccer Canada
I was at a FIFA Grassroots Workshop in 2012 and one of the first slides displayed a quote:  "Where there is a child and a ball there is happiness"

My use of the word "love" usually revolves around people, not things.  We all know a soccer ball is not just a "thing".

You often hear and read about how young players need to build a "relationship with the ball", sessions revolve around "ball mastery", how we express ourselves through what we do with the ball and becoming intimate with the ball.  What does all of that mean?

Basically, to me, it means that you and the ball truly understand each other.  It goes where you want it to go, not the other way around.  The movement of the ball accurately represents the idea you had during a game.  It means anywhere, anytime, anyhow, you can control the ball.  Pressure becomes easier to handle because you are not fighting with the ball while making a decision.

In Canada, there are kids who supposedly play travel soccer, but they never touch a ball unless they are with their team.  When I guest coach I sometimes ask the players who has a ball at home and shocked at how many do not.

You can love the ball and still not be a very good player.  That happens all over the world.  But, can you be a very good player and not love the ball?  I don't think you can.  Too few aspiring players spend enough time on the ball and it shows.  There are schools of thought that say top level professional players would have touched the ball at least one million times before the age of eighteen.

One million.  1,000,000.  If you did that before your 18th birthday, that means 152 touches per day since the day you were born.  If you started at age 5, that would be 210 touches/day.

While most of our kids are with a ball for 90 minutes 2-3x/week, children in Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Jamaica and all over CONCACAF are playing morning till night from a young age.

And we expect to win?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hey, it's OK to like Messi AND Ronaldo

Coaching Soccer CanadaGreat news!

You don't have to pick one or the other.

It's OK to like both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

That's it.  My shortest post ever.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Are We Not Embarrassed That So Many Kids Quit Sports?

Kids quit sports
It's a very simple job.

Set up an activity for children and make sure they enjoy it.

Why is that so difficult to master?  What is so complicated in that equation?

Kids quit sports before they reach 13-years-old.  It's a fact.  Various studies show the number to be between 40% and 75%.

We are trying to help Syrian refugees resettle in another country and find ways to power our transportation that will not kill our planet.   Who are we trying to fool?  We can't manage to do something as simple help our children have fun, yet we think we can stop our polar ice-caps from melting.

The job is very simple.

1. We set up a sport or activity.

2. We let the kids enjoy it and want to come back.

3. Go back to step 1.

Our children quitting activities is a major failure for adults that we don't seem to acknowledge or own up to.  I think the most difficult part is that most adults probably don't even realize what's happening.

We like to blame their departure on technology, video games, jobs, etc.  The real answer is sad, and not so complicated.
And who do we talk to when kids quit?  Their parents.
If kids were given the option to quit school at 13 years old and told us that was their wish, we would order a royal inquiry into the competence of their teacher(s) and the system they work in.

Once we admit, on a systemic level, what the problem is, the solution will be very clear.

The sport or activity must be about the player/child.  People ridiculed Ontario Soccer for their implementation of LTPD at the grassroots level in 2012, but

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Educate the Vocal Parent Who Doesn't Understand Your Sport

vocal parents
You know who I am talking about.  Luckily, they are not part of every team out there, but some teams have the pleasure.

Tough job: coaching a sport when a stakeholder that influences your program doesn't understand the sport. 

Who are your stakeholders?  Usually, they are executive/management, host school, players, parents, sponsors and media.

My focus here is on some parents.  And those parents don't always realize they're doing it.

Years ago, my oldest son had one of the best (ice) hockey coaches any of my sons ever had.  His name