Thursday, August 30, 2012

U17 - the importance of mental toughness

The most important part of the game for a player to manage is the 6" space between their ears.

Last night we had an implosion so severe I think the moon moved 10m closer to the Earth.

Our U17 boys had an interesting game.  By some crazy soccer we went down 3-0 by half-time.  Some joking and talking at half-time we agreed that it would be very cool when we come back to win 4-3.  What else could we do?  We had to let them vent for a few minutes and collect themselves.  The boys knew they were off their games and it was either going to get worse or better.  Simple.

This was a rare 7pm game and arrivals to the field were close to game time.  We used the first 15 minutes of the game as our warm-up :)

Our positioning was OK, we were just a half-second late to every ball.

Anyway, we started the second half with a goal that was called back 5 minutes in.  The boys started bickering a bit and the other team was being chirpy, getting under the skin of our boys.  We then scored 2 goals in 15 minutes and it looked like we were going to have an interesting finish.

A few questionable calls later and some well timed comments from their opponents sent our boys over the edge.  Our boys were so pre-occupied with the officials and the other team that they forgot to finish the job at hand.  Poor decisions on the ball, sloppy/lazy defending, desperation runs, excellent/excessive cheering from the other team's families and smart play by our opponents led to our downfall. 

We ended up losing 3-2.  The good news is that when the game was over our guys had the look on their faces that they knew what had happened ... they were hooked, played with, then reeled in.

I feel that no lesson would have been learned had they come back and won.  These boys will be fixing my brakes, filling my cavities and handling my finances some day.  They need lessons with respect to staying focused.

Staying focused not only keeps you on task and playing your game ... if you're opponent is trying to distract you, you might actually knock them off their game in frustration.

There are several key factors involved in helping you overcome distractions: 
  • mastery of fundamentals of your sport
  • deep knowledge of your job on the field
  • experience
  • confidence in yourself and trust in your teammates
  • high fitness level
  • using training to rehearse and learn from mistakes of previous games
  • controlled breathing
We need to build an appreciation for the focused athlete and stop glamourizing the outbursts and tantrums that we see on "Top 10" lists on sports newscast.

This is something that will have to be addressed next session as we have 2 games left and a first place finish still possible.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Niagara College Tryouts - Still going

Being a parent and former player directly affects how I run tryouts.

Our college tryouts have ballooned to an outrageous number.  I would have never guessed that 56 players would have come out for a shot.

As a former player, I remember what it was like going to Mohawk College by myself in August to tryout for Varsity Soccer, and how well I was treated.

As a parent, I always watched with interest with respect to how coaches carried out their tryouts by their own methods.  I also watched my sons' reactions after being selected or released.  I didn't always agree with how tryouts were conducted but I did respect the fact that the coach did what they felt was fair.

Right now, as I deal with young men coming to me from out of town, my own son is trying out for Varsity Lacrosse at the University of Guelph.  I am very interested to hear about his experiences over the week and see what I can integrate into my own methods.

Sometimes I hear parents complain about tryouts, fairness, timing, etc, ... and all I can think is "you have NO clue".  Every coach I know works to make sure tryouts are fair and respectful.  It may not appear that way and everybody has a different idea of fair, but the thought and will is there.

Right now we are at 30 players left of 56.  By next Tuesday I expect to be down to 22.  Some boys are dealing with the realization that they are not as good, fast and/or strong as they thought they were in high school.  Others are coming to tryouts while trying to settle into a new town and not knowing anybody.  This program is their first impression of Niagara College and I have to make sure it's professional and hospitable.

My goal for the players who do not get selected is that they have a better realization of what's required to play at this level and they learned something they can take back to their regular program.  I want those players to keep playing and hopefully want to coach one day.  To support LTPD, I have to present a situation that makes them want to be Active for Life.

This Thursday, we have a pre-season game at Seneca College then an Intra-squad game next Tuesday.  The team should be complete after Tuesday.

Friday, August 24, 2012

U17 boys - still moving forward and making progress.

Our U17 boys team is still at the top of the table.  But it's not the results that turn my crank with this team.

Working with this group has been interesting.  They're tough, athletic, they want to play and still want to learn.  We still have a few players who fight us on staying organized and working through bad habits, but we make progress with them too.

During games I look to remind them of their shape, keeping the ball moving, involving everybody (including the GK) and looking to play entertaining soccer.

A few players have had a lot of success in new spots and that has given us more options to get more players on the field for more minutes.

Between players, we've had a lot of positive talk on the field and a few all our arguments about how things should have been played at certain times.  I can live with that as long as they're talking about the soccer and not each other, and get back to the business of playing.

My hope for these boys is that they all take what they've learned and apply it with their high school programs and beyond.

For each position we continue to give them suggestions on how to play different situations and getting out of jams during games.  My biggest pet peeve has been wide midfielders trying to take guys 1v1 when there was a wall-pass or penetrating-pass option already present.  We gave them options for this too.

We'll see how the season ends.  We have 3 games left with a 4 point lead.  One of our final 3 games is against the second place team.

U13 boys - 2 steps backward tonight

After two very productive training sessions this week, that last thing I expected was a flat 8-0 loss.

Our opponents were bigger, stronger and faster,  but we still have to offer up some resistance to stay in the game.

I can accept losing.  I don't like it, but I can accept it as long as there is something to gain from it.  Tonight I felt like we were teetering on the fence of success and ended up falling backwards.

With this particular group in the division we are in, we are going to run into a lot of teams that are stronger than us.  But I do expect the team to compete and look to execute what we learn in training.

During our sessions we always apply every new concept and technique in small sided games and exercises with pressure.  They will not always succeed in games right away, but we have to attempt it and attempt it again until it works in a higher pressure environment.

With the exception of a few games, I have been wrestling with this all year and unsuccessful in finding a permanent solution.  Our production in games is not even close to what they are willing to try in training.   Our passes are lighter and slower, tackles are incomplete, etc.

We've been physically overwhelmed in a lot of games, but I still want to see sparks of brilliance around the field at different times.

We have 2 games left.  One session before the first then 3 sessions before our final home game.

The kids still come to learn every session and work hard.  For this I am proud of them and it's a stern reminder that it's always the coach's job to set the boys up to succeed. 

My job is to teach, nurture, continue demanding that they compete during matches and look to execute what we learn in training. 

I do not worry about finishing last and being relegated.  It might actually be a blessing so these boys have a chance to succeed and enjoy their time with the ball on the field.  At this age success is important to keep the players interested.  It might not be team success, but there has to be individual successes somewhere along the line.  Maybe the prospect of a lower pressure environment is good medicine.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Niagara College men's tryouts

It was with great excitement that I started tryouts through my new position as coach of Niagara College's Men's Soccer Team.

Over the past two days, 46 players have come out to show their stuff.  My biggest accomplishment to date is that I now know all of their names.  For me, this is important so players know they are not operating in anonymity.  You never want somebody who wasn't selected to suspect you never knew who they were in the first place.

The sessions have been basic.  Dynamic stretch, personal stretch, warm-up drill to help evaluate individual technical levels then on to a game.  It's tryouts and they want to audition.

The first day, things went OK and I saw everybody play.  The second day really showed me what I was working with.  We have  plenty of players how can compete at the college level, but I can't keep them all.   The pace and intensity of the game today was promising.  There was a lot of communication on the field and players were really working to combine to develop smart plays.

We have several lefties out and the type of players available cover the spectrum.  They are all good athletes with suitable physical characteristics for competitive soccer.  Technical proficiency is what will separate players in the end.  The players know that their "hustle" and physical gifts are not useful if they can't control a ball and make decisions under pressure.

I shared one thing with them.  Tryouts NEVER end.  You are trying out to win a spot on the team.  Then you are trying out every session to be one of the 18 players dressing, then to be one of the 11 on the field. If you're not on the field, you want to be the first one I call from the bench..  If you're not one of the 18 dressing, you want to be the next one called.

In support of LTPD, I work to make this experience encourage the guys to be players for life.

They have 3 days off until we reconvene Friday.  The group will be trimmed after Friday then again after Monday.  We have a pre-season game Aug 30.  The season starts September 8.  Some players still have club commitments and we'll have to see how that plays out.