Friday, November 16, 2012

Think about the player that will be ....

Working with the early bloomer and preparing the late bloomer.   Another justification for Long Term Player Development.

"Get the ball up to Joey ... go, get it UP!!!! .... go Joey  GO JOEY  SHOOT  SHOOT .... AHHHHHH Joey .... Ahhhhh ..... don't worry Joey , you'll score next time .... wait ... yes .... Get the ball back to Joey .... why didn't you give the ball to Joey??? "

Eight smaller players.  One big, fast striker.  Everybody's job is to get the ball up front to the big boy.  His job is to run and bury the ball in the goal.  He will score 1 of every 5 chances because he can't strike a ball while he's running.  He will run a lot because the passes are all over the place with no real purpose other than to go forward.   Nobody has learned a thing because the team is winning games and the coach, with his nice jacket and two trophies,  is feeling successful.  This will keep working .... until you play a team with TWO fast players.

Everybody needs to remember that everything changes at 13/14 years old, for boys and girls.  The growing player starts to become the adult they're going to be and speed and size start to even out.  So what will separate players at that point?  Technique, skill and smarts.

Ask yourself:
  • Have I seen a player who dominated at age 10 disappear at age 15?
  • Have I seen a player who struggled to make a team at age 10 dominate at 15?
Playing at the right level in the right situation at the right time with the right training helps the early and late bloomer compete once everybody catches us to each other.  Keep in mind that not every athlete is a late or early bloomer.  Some are average the whole way through.

Early bloomer
  • More confident, at the moment, because they are succeeding
  • Exposed to more competition because they are making the higher teams
  • Established reputation that might help them later if they start to fall behind
  • Never had to worry about skill development because they were faster and stronger ... true technical abilities may be lacking
  • Subject to unrealistic pressures too early in life
  • Sometimes subjected to jealousy of other parents
  • Occasionally benched because score is running out of control ... in a sense, being punished for being an early bloomer
  • May be exploited by coach to secure wins, forgetting about development
  • Parents may start to "dream" a little too early.
  • Child may have trouble dealing with competition when other players "catch up"
Late bloomer
  • May lack confidence from not making travel teams
  • Lack of success may result in trying multiple sports
  • Lack of confidence may carry on into other areas (ie school) or vice versa
  • Rarely hear their name being cheered for during games
  • Parents may not understand development and make poor decisions
  • May be subject to negative feedback
  • May lose interest in seeking a competitive spot later on
  • May develop an attitude of "what's the point of trying?"
Don't fool yourself.  Both the late and early bloomer are feeling pressures that are uncomfortable.
So the problem is simple.  How do we best prepare everybody to compete when our physical stature is no longer the main separator? When the defender is now as fast as your striker, how does your striker beat him 1v1?  How does the player who scored by putting the ball over the keeper's head score now the the keeper is taller?
  • Keep everything enjoyable and progressive.  Frustrations from games and crazy sideline talk needs to be wiped away by enjoyable environments.  We want those players to be training and playing while and after their bodies are going through changes.
  • Don't let the early bloomer rest on their early successes and insist they focus on mastering technique and playing "smarter".  Encourage the early bloomer to use their tools to bring teammates into the play.  If an early bloomer is smart and technically sound, your entire team will benefit.
  • Find occasional situations for the early bloomer to step in to that challenges their mind and body (playing higher levels or with older players).
  • Find occasional situations for the late bloomer where they can take a bit of a leadership role (training with a younger or lower level team)
  • Don't let the late bloomer feel like they are just a supporting player for the better players.  Give them roles that suit them today, building confidence in them for tomorrow.
  • Raise the level of physical literacy among all of your players.  During the periods of growth spurts, continue to train the muscle groups to keep co-ordination levels where they need to be for soccer.
  • Technique Technique Technique - Ensure all of your players are comfortable with the ball in as many situations as possible and at full pace.  Do this with and without opposition.
  • Problem Solving - continuously give your players problems to solve involving the technique they are using.  Mini competitions at training, small sided games with conditions, individual challenges, etc.
  • Promote and encourage ambidexterity.  This is necessary for the successful player and ties in with physical literacy, but is also a great confidence builder as a child.  Imagine how they would feel after a goal or assist with their weaker foot.
  • Revolve positions to give your players exposure to as many situations as possible.
  • At training, use small sided games to force players to find ways to compete without the convenience of their size or speed.
  • Devalue competition or decrease the number of pressure situations you put your team in.  Maybe skip a tournament and find festivals to play in.  This takes pressure off stronger and weaker players and makes it easier to have them feel comfortable in trying new positions.
  • Make sure you have treats afterwards.  This has nothing to do with anything in this article ... I just like treats.  :)
If you've amassed any kind of coaching experience, you will have stories about late and early bloomers quitting sports at around age 15. 

Learn about LTPD and you will see that what they emphasize at different stages of a child's development supports the information above.  And it doesn't apply only to soccer.

Your goal is that all of your players are socially, emotionally, mentally and physically prepared to compete and enjoy soccer in their teenage years.  If you get them to that point, you've succeeded. 

Some good articles about late bloomers:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Assessing and adjusting during your session

How do you know if your session plan is working?  What do you do if it's not working?

It's a scary moment for an inexperienced coach.  You feel so good about your plan and reality sets in.   Players are lost, not following the drill or bored.  NOW WHAT?

We've all seen it.  A coach is running a drill.  It's not going well, so he yells, as if to force it to succeed.  Oh, it's not working still?  OK, run 5 laps then we'll see.  Still? OK, no game at the end because the drill didn't work.  What one person feels is motivation another sees as losing control of their session.

Questions #1.  What is the main objective of your session?  Hopefully it's that every player improves and enjoys themselves.

The main thing in keeping yourself ready to adjust is to realize that if a training session falls apart, it's up to you to fix, and quickly.  Remember, if you are in North America, you see these players 1-3x per week in an environment where the players are not playing much on their own.  You need to get as much "soccer" in as possible during your time with them.

There is a chance that they are not understanding your message.  Consider these points:

  • Know your players.  Is your exercise appropriate for their age?
  • Know how people learn.  Children learn by (i) seeing (ii) hearing instructions (iii) doing
  • Do any of your children require differentiated instruction.  It's OK to ask parents at the beginning of the season "Does your child have an "Independant Education Plan" at school that might help me be a better coach for them?"
OK.  First, your session plan. 
  • Have your progressions listed.  Know what you're looking for before progressing.
  • Have your coaching points listed
  • Be organized!
  • Know what you are looking for to determine if you have success.  How will you know if it's working or failing if you don't know what you're looking for?
  • Plan ahead with respect to how you can take a step backwards if the players aren't successful
  • Understand where your players are coming from before training and make sure your session plan takes that into consideration.  Were they all at a teammate's birthday party?  Are they on a 5 game losing streak? Is it the last or first week of the school year?
  • Use LTPD as a guideline to see if what you're trying to achieve is relevant to their age.
Your clues that you need to make an adjustment
  • Most players aren't "getting it".
  • You are losing their attention - consider the possibility that you are talking too much, instruction is too vague (no demonstration?), too complicated or the topic is not relevant to their age group.
  • Avoidance of a drill or stepping to the back of a line, faking an injury or cramp, etc.  Some players will avoid doing something because they don't understand it.  Watch for that and figure out why.
  • They have a look on their face that is a respectful acknowledgement of what you are saying , but doesn't make you feel they really understand it. (Reading this look takes experience)

Adjustments you can make during a session
  • Change the area size, # players or distances in that part of the session
  • Change the conditions or challenge of that part of your session.  If they can't get 10 straight passes in 5v2, decrease it to get success then move back up.  If they can't do the hurdles, adjust the distance. 
  • Look inwards first before yelling.
  • Even if you are falling behind schedule and a drill is not yet succeeding, but the players are still working and interested, don't progress to the next one.  The session plan schedule is useful, but you have the final say.
  • Change your teaching method.  Know and understand different methods such as (i) Command method (ii) Question and Answer method or (iii) Guided Discovery.
  • Move on to the next drill if it's not directly progressing from the current drill.  Re-assess later, adjust and try it again another session
  • If things are falling apart in a big way, go to your small sided game and try to add some conditions in there to bring out the topic.
Adjusting a session in progress takes experience.  You have to think on your feet and have the confidence to make the change and carry on.

Some of these points sound very obvious, but some coaches get so stuck on what's planned that they feel pressure to follow it to the letter.  As you read this you might be thinking that I am touching on session planning, or body language, or reflection, or many other topics. The answer is yes yes and yes.  Everything comes together to bring about a great session and to progress to another great session.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The importance of body language

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.  It may be a cliché, but it's very true. 

A definition of body language found on is:  a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.

When a person walks into a room, you watch them and before they say a word you've already formed an opinion of them.  You're not shallow or superficial.  They've already said "hello" with you via non-verbal  communication: body language.  That is your famous "first impression" that you never get a second chance to make :)

As a coach you have no choice but to learn as much about this as anything else.

It's a very powerful aspect of communication that very few people have complete control over.  It makes all the difference when starting conversations and gaining trust. It can also be used to manipulate.

Your body language can reveal the truth that your words are trying to hide.   Or it can distort the intention of the words you've chosen to relay.

It's estimated that 85-93% of what you say is conveyed through body language, while words only deliver 7-15% of the message.  Think about that if you are trying to rally your team back into a game or getting them to pick up the pace during a drill.  Think about HOW you deliver your message.

See it for yourself in front of a mirror.  Take a sentence that you would say during a training session or game and try to say it different ways with different body gestures.  "That was a nice try", "Are you playing today?".  Try slouching, standing up straight, hands in and out of your pockets, head up/down, frowning/smiling.  Now change which word you emphasize and even add a sarcastic flare to a word.  See how the message changes.

Picture this: you're at a party, walking up to the host, shuffling your feet, hands in your pockets, with a sad look and your head down, shoulders dropped, let out a *sigh* and say in a monotone voice  "Thanks for inviting me.  I'm having a great time."  See how convincing you are.

So what does this have to do with coaching?  Everything.  It's your #1 non-technical coaching tool.  Positive body language tells your players "trust me, I know what I'm talking about".  As a coach you are trying to get the players to buy into what you're teaching.  Who wants to learn something from somebody who's not excited to teach it? 

So, as a coach, control the factors that affect your non-verbal communication:
  • Look and sound like a coach
  • Be neat in your appearance (shave, clean clothes, shoes in good repair, etc)
  • Eat and stay hydrated so you are just as fresh at the end of training
  • Eliminate as many physical distractions as possible to avoid frustrations
  • Leave your problems at home
  • Mind your posture
  • Remember who you are dealing with
  • Make mental notes/reminders on your practice plan
Body language is very contagious. And minding it not only makes you a better coach.  It also makes you a better teacher, doctor, mechanic, WalMart employee, police officer, spouse, dog whisperer, etc, etc, etc
Some resources for body language

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How can we help our players to not be afraid?

Call it what you want: nerves, anxiety, pressure, butterflies or apprehension.  The truth is a lot of young players in a lot of sports are afraid to play.

Why is that?  What is it?  There are a lot of terms out there but they all mean the same thing. 

What are they afraid of and how can you combat it?  As you read this you can start to think of how this also applies in a classroom for students.

Some thoughts below.  All don't apply to all children.  Some don't apply to any children.  But all are easily visible if you hang around enough teams.

Fear of losing.

This would be a direct result of how much emphasis a coach, parents or situation puts on winning.   If you want to see this gone bad, go check out a Novice AAA hockey game in Ontario.  Parents are yelling, benches are shortened and goalies are pulled in the name of the scoreboard.  For soccer in Ontario, the threat of relegation and promise of promotion drive the win/loss mentality.  Top soccer countries?  No scores or tables at the young ages.  LTPD in Canada is bringing in the same thinking.  But it's not all the system's fault.  You, as the coach, have to temper importance on the score to your players.  Easier said than done if where you play does not follow that philosophy.

Fear of not being accepted.

Teams are groups of human beings and social acceptance is a part of the equation.  If you pay as much attention to your weakest player as you do your best player, you can cure this problem in one shot.  Cheering, encouragement, respect, patience and love make universal acceptance possible.  Don't embarrass one in front of the rest.  If somebody is struggling with something, set them up to succeed in front of their peers.

Fear of their coach not liking/wanting them.

The players on your roster are all different.  Get to know them and you will learn what makes them tick.  Do what you can to make them all feel like a million bucks and happy they came.  Let them know, publicly, that you cared enough to remember they ran a cross-country race that day, or a birthday, saw their picture in the paper or any good news you've heard.  A smile or kind word goes a long way with people.

Be careful how you criticize and watch your body language.

With younger players, a poorly chosen phrase, emphasizing the wrong word in a sentence or your body language can change the intended purpose of the message.  With the wrong player on the edge, it can ruin a season.   Try this.  Repeat the phrase "That was a nice play".  Each time change the word you emphasize, how you say it and play around with your body language.  You can go from praise to sarcasm to criticism to public humility by playing around with the same four words.

Body language includes where you look, your facial expression, your posture, where your hands are and how you're dressed. 

Expectations too much to handle.

There are times when an entire team (and parents) are depending on the efforts of one player.   And the kid knows it.  There have been times where I've seen that one kid, in the first five minutes, get sick, hurt, frustrated and/or emotionally breakdown.  I've seen parents cheer in weird ways pretty much letting that boy know he's letting them down.  Or opposing parents cheering against him, wanting him to fail.  Expectations are dangerous when laid on too heavily.  Even professionals can fall victim to heavy expectations.

For younger children, not having familiar faces nearby.

The Active Start stage of LTPD involves having family close to the player, even on the field.  Impressing and pleasing somebody you love is very high on a child's priority list.  Have you ever seen a child have a "career" game because their grandparents were at the field?  The people who make a child comfortable are a big part of the solution for getting them past any anxieties.  Old school types would say "Keep the parents away as they are a problem" but research supports the positive effect of parents being present.  As they get older, involve parents in team support roles such as organizing parties, game day duties, etc.

Fear of failing or not knowing what to do.

There is a difference between losing and failing.  Nobody wants to fail in front of their friends or family, even if the team won.  Walking into a game imagining how many things can go wrong is a terrible feeling.  Giving all players formal game experience makes them more comfortable with being on the field.  Rehearse and introduce as many situations as possible at training and small sided games so it's not a completely new experience in a game.  Provide useful and intelligent information if their decision doesn't work and encourage them to try it again, and point out what was good about their decision.  This takes time and patience on your part but will pay off.

Fear not not being able to execute after their decision.

The only cure for improved technique is effective coaching and repetition.  Competence at a variety of techniques removes one complete layer of worries from a player.  The more techniques they have in their tool-belt, the more options they can and will consider.   Every technique not mastered represents a set of ideas they will not consider in a game.  And not having good technique means they can't execute your tactics, possibly fueling your anxiety level and chipping away at the previous points.

Success breeds confidence

People are not successful because they are confident,  they are confident because they've had success.  Make sure your training sessions allow your players to succeed so they are not afraid to expand on what they've learned.  Have you ever seen a successful lower level team soundly beat a struggling higher level team at the same age group?  It happens all the time.  The lower level team walked on the field expecting to win.  The same translates down to the player level.

One last thought

Coach John Wooden was a legend at UCLA for US college basketball success.  Legendary UCLA and NBA centre Bill Walton often said the games were a breeze after practicing/competing with his fellow Bruins.  Making training more difficult than games is not a new idea.  If your approach is right and the group suitable, it could turn your game into a reward for hard work at training.

Work them hard, work them smart, work them all, and let them play.  If they are not wanting to express themselves in games, adjust your approach accordingly.  For their sake, not yours.

I've been told by parents that they appreciate my approach with their children, but I know myself that there were occasions where I was less than "OK" when it came to making them comfortable .  A few times I've gotten in my car with that terrible feeling in my stomach after soccer.  Most times I feel good, but I am human, and so are you.  Reflect on your sessions and catch yourself when you slip and come back better net time, for each player as well as the team.

The equation is simple, but the execution is not always easy.  Work hard to keep your players interested and confident and enjoy watching them enjoy themselves and succeeding on the field.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What is your off-season plan, as a coach?

In sports, the off-season has become a science all in itself.

As a coach, how will you spend your off-season?

When in-season, we are so busy and focused on our teams and competition, it's difficult to step back for review or find time to get involved in any kind of personal or professional development.  So when the off season arrives, how do you spend it?  There is no 100% right and wrong answer that is in line with any coaching manual.

For some coaches in certain situations, doing nothing, resting or going fishing is what's needed.  And that's OK.  But becoming a better coach will require you to invest some time.

At the very least, if you are in Canada, you should use the time to become extremely well versed in LTPD.

Some options for off-season development:
  • Attend coaching clinics and courses
  • Find a different group to work with for a short period
  • Be an assistant to a more experienced coach
  • Reading, research
  • Educate other coaches
  • Coaching other sports, but working on your coaching style
  • Enjoying other sports as a parent
Your age, level of coaching, in-season time and travel commitment, club situation and personal goals all affect your direction.  If your coaching is a 12-month arrangement, then you need to make the time for personal development.

There is another choice you need to make.  How much contact will you keep with your players? Will you give them time away from you to do what they want?  Did you give them a plan?  This is a whole different topic from their point of view, but very related from your point of view.

If your off-season plan delivers a rejuvinated coach to your team when you start your pre-season, then you made the right decision.

If I can offer a tip that helps me get more from my off-season activities: make sure you include activities or literature that is NOT directly soccer related.  There is a lot to learn out there, and it's not always taught by the so called "soccer people".