Monday, August 6, 2012

Are your players ready to compete?

Are technique and skill enough to make a player effective during a game?  Why do some players struggle during competition after demonstrating their competence during training?

If I had an answer to this question I would be the most sought after coach on the planet. 

Technical preparation has to be the foundation of everything that makes the competent athlete.   Technical proficiency means you spend your precious time on the ball making decisions instead of worrying about your ability to execute.

 The Olympics are great because it always bring on numerous conversations about non-physical preparations and why people crack.

There are several, equally important, facets to our athletes that need to be in tune for success in a game.  Long term success brings on a whole new list of issues.  We will deal with game success here.

  • Has the player had proper sleep?
  • Are they tired?  Were they swimming/biking/hiking during the day?
  • Are they hydrated?
  • Are they partially sun stroked (during summer)?
  • Did they have dinner?  Was it appropriate?  Rushed?
  • Are their injuries being properly managed?
  • Is there fitness level suitable for what is required during the match?

  • Did they get a good warm-up before the game?
  • Do they know their job?  Can they execute their job? Do they UNDERSTAND their job?  Have they had a chance to rehearse or discuss what expected?
  • Is your team working as a unit in activities leading up to the game?

  • Does the player like/respect/trust his their coach?
  • Were they late?  Did that cause stress for them?  For you?
  • Did they forget some equipment and upset while waiting for it to arrive?
  • What about what happened before arriving to the field.  Was there an argument at home?  Did they have a bad day at school/camp? Family stresses?
  • Do they get along with their teammates?  Is there a bullying problem among your team?  Is anything going on “on-line” that you need to know about?
  • Do they want to play?  Why are they playing?
  • Are they playing at the appropriate level?

  • What are the expectations? Do they match the level of the players?
  • What is the tone/emotional level of the coaches and parents?

These questions not only apply to every age group and level, but the answers have different implications for each age group.  Social/emotional considerations for a 16 year-old will be much different than a 10 year-old player.  And in the younger age groups a child born in January 5 may not have the same characteristics as a child born December 27.  Both of these players are a week away from being in a different age group.

Some people will discount these points as being too analytical and kids should just "suck-it-up" and play.  The funny thing is a parent might tell their son’s teacher there is a problem at home, but not their coach.   And a coach will check a player’s injured knee or ankle, but rarely check on the organ that is between their ears.

Friday, August 3, 2012

U13 - We finally tried to stay calm with the ball.

I was very proud of my U13 boys team last night.  Under unbelievable pressure they were still working to solve problems and establish a passing game.

We have struggled to play possession soccer because we have been panicking under pressure.  Rather than trying and failing, we've been avoiding the issue.  Last night  I saw a crack in their collective stubbornness last night.

Playing possession draws more players into the game, builds everybody's confidence, helps us develop each player and is MORE FUN.  Successfully solving problems is a tremendous buzz for everybody involved.   Panicking and smashing balls for 80 minutes is not enjoyable at all.

Right from the opening whistle they were trying to string passes together.  Passes were being intercepted or misplayed or way off target.  As each minute passed we were connecting more passes and making progress.

Let's be clear, we were not going to beat this team last night, and didn't.  But it was a great opportunity to force the issue.

The message was clear.  Possession soccer, first and foremost, regardless of the score.  Figure out a solution to the problem of playing a stronger team.  Panic kicks were not acceptable and failing was OK as long as you tried again.

By the 25th minute we were crossing half on a regular basis and by the early part of the second half the game was still in reach and a full back-and-forth affair. 

The first step to becoming more competitive with the ball was fighting to keep it.  There was a lot of shielding and a lot of our boys drew fouls while forcing the other team to fight to get it.

We still have a lot of work to do but last night was the first time we rally tried to stay calm and establish some form of possession.  This weekend we have 3 games and that will be the message again.  Luckily we have another crack at the same team we played last night.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

U17 - who is ready for the last 5 minutes?

I have always believed you learn most about a player during the last 5 minutes of a 1 goal game.  Are you the type of player your teammates want on the field?

Our next session we will be spending 30 minutes on simulated situations to better prepare the boys for that very situation.  Both down or up a goal.  Last night we were up 2-1 and letting our opposition run freely as they were trying to tie the game.  We escaped with the three points, but it's the third such situation in the past 3 weeks where the end-of-game grit was nonexistent.

In two of those games we escaped with three points.  In one of them (cup game) we allowed a goal  at the very end and lost the game in penalty kicks.

The boys have been doing so many good and exciting things on the field.  If we could add this end-of-game insight into their tool box it would make them all the more competent for their next soccer experience.

When you are leading by a goal you have to defend and work on the assumption that the other team is very eager to score.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, the opposition is pouring out all of their desire and willing to walk off the field drained in search of the equalizer.  They are anticipating the celebration and have nothing to lose at that point.  Are you ready to contend with that as the defending team?

How about when you are down by a goal?  Smarter possession?  More daring players who want to make an impact?  Are some players being too selfish and want to do all the work?  Are your players level headed enough to not get frustrated and work to win the ball back and relaunch their comeback attempt?  Are your players to anxious and exposing you to an easy counter attack too early in the come back attempt?

What role does fitness play?  Are the right players on the field?  Have tactical adjustments been made for the situation?

There are a multitude of tactical discussions to have, but I feel you need the right people on the field to do that job.  As a player, the last 5-10 minutes of a close game are so exciting.  I feel the mental and emotional condition of the players are the bigger factors in succeeding.

At U15-U18, emotions and discipline are all over the map. Co-operation is sometimes hit and miss and you don't want to be criticizing or over-coaching players during those moments.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

U9 Boys - Pelham - receiving the ball

Few situations are more rewarding than watching the instant improvement of younger players.

Tonight I went to run a session for my nephew's U9 team in neighbouring Pelham.  I always felt silly running around doing sessions for people and never working with my nephews.  My brother helps with this team and I also wanted to support his coaching endeavours.

Tonight's topic was receiving the ball with the inside and outside of the foot and moving the first touch away from pressure.

I started them off with a small sided game for my own diagnostic purposes.  We had some fun and I saw what I needed to see.

We ran them through various passing drills focusing on the way they receive the ball and move out from their first touch.

Coaching points throughout were:
  • Attack the ball
  • Look-touch-look-play
  • First touch out from the feet
  • First touch away from pressure
I enjoyed the session and a lot of players quickly picked up on what we were doing.  We let them play enough, but next time I think I would let them play more or have more competitive challenges.

I kept the practice on an individual level for a few reasons: it supports LTPD to do so and I am not aware of their coach's philosophy during games.  Some coaches are not comfortable with certain styles of play and I respect that.

If I get the chance, I would like to work with this group again on footwork and turns.

Tonight reinforced what I people say regarding coaches going back and working with younger age groups to stay sharp.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

U17 - Shape around the ball

Our U17 boys have been very good at establishing their overall shape, but we need to continue working on our shape around the ball.

The work and commitment these boys have put into establishing team shape has been good.  They've given themselves to the philosophy, put some stubbornness aside and have put forth some good team efforts.  We appreciate the trust they've shown us as coaches.  They also see that it opens up more opportunities for them and they've been successful.

What does need to be worked on  is our shape around the ball.  That being the shape of  2v1, 3v2, 3v1, 4v2 and 4v3 situations.

Next session we are going to work on the shape involving the player with the ball and his near support.

Some things that were bothering me during our game last night.  Maybe it's bothering me because I want to take them to another level:
  • The movement of players after they use the support behind them (or lack of)
  • The angle and movement of players in near support
  • Players who don't know when to take 3-4 steps backward towards the touch line to create space
  • Checking back to create space
  • Body position of support players
  • Ability to quickly recognize and execute 2v1
The 2v1 is the biggest.  All good things revolve around the 2v1.  When a player is coming up the field and then pressured, we sometimes have a teammate standing behind the pressuring defender.  This causes several problems:
  • Takes away the 1v1 opportunity for player with ball
  • Teammate behind the defender is not supporting the ball
  • Takes away wall-pass option.
  • Making defender's job easier
All that player needs to do is move 3-4 steps towards either touchline and VOILA, the 2v1 is there and you now have 3 options.  3-4 steps took the situation from no options to 3.

We have worked on it and some players are in the habit of making the right movements, but we need to do it until all players know what's expected of them in close quarters.  The right movement and positioning off the ball makes you a more attractive option for a pass, creates options for your teammate and causes problems for defenders.

We do have a lot of wall passes during games and pass our way out of a lot of tight spots, but we want to have that ability regardless of the combination of players present in a situation. 

Knowing how to move around the ball will make some of these boys more attractive to their respective college/university/senior  coaches in the future.

Over the years I've made an observation at all levels of play.  The guys who don't move intelligently/decisively off the ball are the same guys who complain of never getting a pass.  Hmmmmm.....