Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is a "hunch" really just a "hunch"

People sometimes ask why you made a certain game-time choice or decision.  Admit it.  Sometimes you don't have a quantitative, concrete reason.

Last night our college team lost our season opener 2-1 to Mohawk College.  The time came to test our guys in true competition and we saw what we saw.

Leading up to that game we saw a total of 63 players for tryouts.   We slowly whittled that down and came up with 18 guys to dress for last night's match.

How did we come up with those 18?  We actually have 22-23 players who will form our roster throughout the season.  Getting down to that number was done through evaluating players based on technique, skills, decisions under pressure, etc.  I can defend the choices I made.

When it comes down to smaller decisions such as who will dress, who will start, which GK will play, those decisions come from what I see in the training sessions leading up to the game and sometimes a hunch or two.

If you lose, you are second guessed.  If you win, you credit the players.  One of the reason why you coach in a competitive environment is to live through the pressure of making those choices.

But the "hunch" that people talk about isn't a whim that you come up with sitting on a toilet or randomly roll dice.  The hunch is a little more informed and developed by spending time with your players at training and learning what makes them tick.  You start to pick up tendencies, address them and see what comes of your suggestions.  You get a feel for who fits into the puzzle best under certain situations.  With other coaches you get input and then you make the final decision ... and live with it.

Did I make the right decisions last night?  Will I make the right decisions before the weekend?

My main goal for a situation like this is that the players trust the decisions I make.  I have to keep working towards that, and will do so by being honest and available to answer their questions.

I can guarantee my players that whatever my decision, it wasn't taken lightly and arrived at with extensive consultation with people that I, and hopefully the players, trust.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

U17 Boys - League Champs

Our U17 boys team clinched their league title.  Well, somebody else clinched it for them. 

We had a chance Wednesday to clinch the title against the team that was 3 point behind us but let a 2-1 lead slip away in the last minute on a penalty kick.  So the champagne was put on hold for another day.  But last night our chasers lost to the third place team, clinching the title for Welland.

I would say the boys truly deserved the win.  They played hard, worked together and got along.  We had a few mental lapses, some monumental brain farts and a few on-field disagreements after mistakes.  All part of the package for U17 boys, I guess.  If they learn from their mental lapses, then we're OK.

As the move towards being life long players, they will learn that success will come through chemistry, decisions and discipline, not just raw physical tools.

There are a few things we had a hard time selling them, but they slowly gave in:
  • Patience while defending on the wings and away from our goal.  It improved but they need to make a conscious effort of it as they grow older and play smart players.
  • Patience on the attack and deciding when it's off and time to reload and relaunch.
  • Focus on defending in the late stages against a desperate team looking to tie.
We had some challenges early on. Our shape was a bit out of whack because our GK was hurt and struggled to play balls off the ground.  We had some new players and some players who missed a lot of games early on.

We were OK with only 2 yellow card suspensions, no red cards and only .....  1 brawl. :)

We finish the season with our last game on Wednesday on the road.

The boys won this league by their own on-field play and commitment to each other, and that makes it nice.

Friday, September 7, 2012

U13 Boys - end of our season

It will be tough to not spend more time with a great bunch of boys.

Our season ended last night.  We didn't win many games but I still say being with this group was time well spent.  The parents were very supportive, all year long, and the boys attitude was positive.

I have to put some time between last night's game and rethinking the U13 season that's now over.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Reflecting at the end of a season

Players win and coaches lose.  It's that simple.

When I heard former Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou say that in an interview 20 years ago, it stuck like glue.

Your final assessment of how a season went does not always boil down to wins and losses, but you have to take an honest look at how you did in terms of being a coach.  You have to look at the failing moments and see where you could have done better.  Blaming the players is not an option.  That's what Alou's statement meant to me.

My stronger coaching mentors also had the same approach.

At the end of summer 2012, I will find myself at 2 extremes.  My U13 boys team will finish last and my U17 boys team may finish first.  Reflecting after both seasons have ended will be educational for me and, I hope, formative in my approaches in 2013.

Every year I ask myself the same sort of questions:
  • Do I enjoy coaching this team?
  • Am I the right coach for this group of players?
  • Did I present the information in a way they were able to learn from me?
  • Did they improve as individuals and as a team?
  • Did the players enjoy themselves?  Do they still want to play soccer next year?
  • Are they motivated to play with me as the head coach? 
  • How was attendance?
  • Do I still have something to teach them?
  • Is my voice becoming background noise?Are they still listening?
  • Can I conduct an honest and open tryout after spending an entire season with the same group of players?
  • Do the parents trust me to continue coaching their children?
My personal belief is that when you feel you are above self-analysis and honest reflection, you're finished.   To assume you are the right person for the job without evaluating yourself says that you are not willing to subject yourself to the same scrutiny as your players.

Reflecting does not mean you look for a reason to quit.  It tells you where you need to make adjustments to your delivery and to make sure your players are getting the very best you have to offer.  The end result might be that you remove yourself from that situation, but that's not the intention.

I will share my personal reflections for each team when the seasons end.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Niagara College - Video doesn't lie

After your game-time emotions and distractions subside, it's time to watch the video to see what REALLY happened during the game.

Last Thursday we had our first pre-season game at Seneca College.  We are still in tryouts and I had 8 players and a second GK on the bench.

During the game I saw a lot of things I liked and some things I didn't.  But I was also watching the clock, making sure everybody got a chance to audition and just managing the game.

A young man captured the game for us on video for me to watch afterwards.  It's always sobering to review the game a few hours later. Did we really give the ball away that many times?  Was that player really not as good as I thought he was?  Did that other player's energy during the game really hide that he was out of position as much as he was?  Was that other guys really second to the ball every time?

For younger players, video use is hit and miss.  I've done it a few times but I never really felt the urge to utilize it.  For the older players, where the game is faster and more is going on, it's a great tool.  For me, it's easier because I have other skills and tools to move that video to a DVD for easy and quick replay.

You do need to sort out a few things set before capturing a game on video:
  • What are you going to review with the video? 
  • Do you have a useful vantage point to shoot from for the sport you are reviewing?
  • Are you depending on other people to prepare the video for you to watch afterwards?
  • Are your players going to watch it? 
  • Who is going to see it?  Coaches?  Players?  For the same purpose?
From a player's viewpoint, video can be scary.  Sometimes the coach's direction is not sinking in or you don't believe them.  Seeing it on video might reveal you are not the player you though you were and you are seeing the shortcomings that people have been telling you about for a while.

It's also a positive tool where you can emphasize the good things players do and let them visualize doing it again and again.

Regardless of the use, as you move up the ranks and the game gets faster, video is that objective set of eyes watching that doesn't have a kid on the team or a vested interest in the result of the game.

Another byproduct of video for older guys is I see bad habits that remind me to address it with the younger players.

The college has made a camera available to me and we have the manpower to run it, so I plan to continue using it.