Friday, November 23, 2012

The importance of coaching education

When you are done learning, you are done as a coach.

It's that simple.  Good coaches are open to learn anything from anybody.  From other coaches (good or bad), players, parents, teachers ... you know where I'm going.  If you are competitive, then you will always have your ears and eyes open for as much information as you can gather.

This weekend, I am attending the annual workshop the Ontario Soccer Association holds for its Learning Facilitators.  We review new techniques for teaching, share ideas and get new information to pass on to coaches.

Why involve yourself in formal coaching education?
  • To learn how to convert your own soccer knowledge and experience into teaching situations for players to learn
  • To gain new ideas on how to organize practices
  • To improve your ability to coach by learning new methods of teaching
  • To share experiences with other coaches and collectively walk away with more information
  • To expand your personal network of coaches.  This will come in handy more than you can imagine
  • To deepen your level of being soccer literate, speaking the language
  • To realize that you do have a lot to learn, like all coaches.
Most courses also have a side emphasis on the ethics of coaching, knowledge of the working body and suggestions for general operation of a team.

It's simple.  If Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini can go listen to another coach speak and take notes ... so can you. 

I've had coaches tell me straight to my face "I don't need those courses, it's not that hard."  Oh, OK.

Any experienced coach will tell you that courses are informative, social and very enjoyable.  I've made lifelong friends and am part of a great support network as a direct result of my education.

Your education should not only involve formal courses.  You can also go observe demonstration sessions, sessions being run by an exemplary coach or even personal reading.  You also need to choose educational avenues that match the team you are currently coaching.

Coaching education has been a positive experience for me.  This is a list of the formal courses that I have taken:
  • NCCP Level 1 Theory - May 1988
  • OSA Level 1 Technical - April 1990
  • NCCP Level 2 Theory - April 1991
  • OSA Level 2 Technical - April 1991
  • OSA Level 3 Technical - May 1991
  • NCCP Level 3 Theory - February 2004
  • OSA Pre-B Assessment - September 2003
  • OSA Provincial B License - September 2004
  • CSA National B License - May 2006
  • CSA A-License - May 2009
  • Admission to Ontario College of Teachers - May 2011
  • NCCP Making Ethical Decisions - April 2011
This doesn't include the number of demonstration sessions and speakers I've seen as well as how much I've read on my own.

It's seems that the more you learn you realize you have more to learn.  That's a good thing.

Check out the education begin hosted by the soccer governing body in your area.  If you live in my area check out:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How important are the Laws of the Game during your session?

Never give up a chance to deepen your players' knowledge of the Laws of the Game.

First of all, as a coach, you should have a VERY strong understanding of the Laws of the Game.

When running a training session, you always have to remember that enforcing the Laws of the Game when possible, creates less game-time confusion for your players and puts everybody on the same page.

Very few players under 15 years old know the rules are called the Laws of the Game, or that there are 17 Laws.  How can we inject coaching points involving the Laws of the Game to help our players?  Let's go over the 17 laws, one at a time.

1.  The Field of Play

You can quickly educate your players on identifying safety hazards and situations that officials need to rectify (hole in the net, missing flag, etc).  Teach your players the language of soccer by helping them learn the names of the markings ie: penalty area, goal are, corner arc, touch line, goal line, etc.

2.  The Ball

Your players should know the size of ball they are playing with and a quick check to see if it is properly inflated.  They should also know how to identify a ball that has defects or if it is losing its integrity.

3.  Number of players

How many times have you seen a busy coach ready to start and a player yells "We need one more player on the field".  Enough said :)

4.  Players Equipment

During training encourage your players to be in full equipment with shirts tucked in according to the rules.  Make sure your GKs in small sided games are distinguished in their colour compared to the players.  Make sure they understand that they need to remember all equipment and uniforms because some leagues demand that all colours, including socks, match on a team.

5.  The Referee

Your players need to know what the referee will and will not call or govern.  For example, a player should know to tell the referee about a large hole in the goal, and not their coach.  Many young players begin their own training as a referee and begin to appreciate the referee's duties even more.

6.  Assistant Referees

Players should know what they can and should expect from the Assistant Referees.

7.  The Duration of the Match

During Small Sided Games you can help young players with the concept that their is no score clock and the referee is the official timekeeper.  Rather than play up to a score you play by time.  You can also use situations to help them gain an appreciation for what might cause added time, if it is applicable to their level of play.  Players should know how long their games are at their current age level or tournament.

8.  The Start and Restart of Play

This is where you can do the most integration of the Laws and your sessions.  Laws 8-17 are very easy to apply every session.  Adhering to the rules of each restart avoids unnecessary intervention by coaches and referees during a match.  Proper throw-ins, legal kick-offs, distance of defenders on restarts and knowing drop-balls are all examples.

You can start off small sided games with a coin toss and proper procedure.  And if your players know the Laws, they'll know to ask the referee to mark off 10 yards on a free kicks.  :)

9.  The Ball in and Out of Play

During training, enforce the law that dictates the ball is out of play when the whole of the ball crosses over the touch or goal lines (on the ground or in the air)  or when the referee has signaled a stop by way of their whistle.  They also need to know that a ball that hits a referee, assistant, corner flag, goal post or cross bar and stays on the field is still in play.

If you are at a game and notice a tree growing over a part of the field, or a goal that has extra components to it (football field goal poles), allow one of your players to inquire with the referee the ruling when that extra feature comes in contact with the ball and to explain it to teammates.

10.  Method of Scoring.

The rule is simple to understand.  But if your players start to argue during a small sided game regarding the validity of the goal, let them present their ideas and only interfere if they ask you for interpretation.

11.  Offside

During small sided games, you can adjust your field so it is big enough to bring off side into play.  Ensure you have an extra coach on each side to act as assistants and enforce the rule.  But you have to offer an explanation if required if you feel the player does not understand why they are offside.

Offside is a difficult rule to fully grasp.   Bringing the rule into effect at training is necessary as you cannot explain it during a game.

Before coaching offside, ensure your understanding of the law is clear.

12.  Fouls and Misconducts

Another easy Law to integrate into training.  During small sided games, ensure to call all fouls and insist that the free kicks are executed within the Laws.

13.  Free Kicks

During small sided games call direct and indirect free kicks and review their execution.  The players should also get a feel for which fouls result in an indirect and direct free kicks.

14.  Penalty Kicks

Ensure your players are aware of the rules and procedures of penalty kicks and the organization around them.  They should also know who can play the ball when it rebounds off the post, cross bar or goalkeeper.

You should also review the procedure of penalty kicks to settle a tie in a tournament or cup match.  You don not want to be teaching penalty kicks during a match.

15.  The Throw In

Save your players the embarrassment of a foul throw call and review this technique.  If you have players who are capable of longer throws you should review some strategies for taking advantage of their skills.

16.  The Goal Kick

Review the rule surrounding what results in a goal kick and the organization of taking one.  It also gives you the opportunity to coach your field players to organize themselves, whether attacking or defending goal kicks.

17.  The Corner Kick

Review the rule surrounding what results in a corner kick and the organization of taking one.  It also gives you the opportunity to coach your field players to organize themselves, whether attacking or defending corner kicks.

I have, on occasion, had quizzes on the laws of the Game involving fun "what if" type questions. ie: "What is the call if a throw-in goes directly into your own net without another player touching the ball", "What is the call if a mom got off her lawn chair and stopped a clear goal from crossing the goal line?"

Don't ignore the rules during practice.  It is your only chance to allow for proper review of the Laws.  Nothing looks worse than a referee having to help prganize young players during a restart or free kick.

As an ending note, please acknowledge referees who help young players understand the Laws of the Game by explaining news calls to them during a match. 

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