Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What cultivates creativity and imagination?

Sometimes, to help shape our coaching philosophy, we need to access information that has nothing to do with soccer.

I was motivated to finally write about this after tweeting back and forth with @nlevett 

Who has imagination?  Who is creative?  Are you born with it?  Can you learn it? Does it run in your family?  Will Lionel Messi's newborn son be just as good as he is? 

I don't believe everything is "natural" or that you are "born with it".  Many stories you read about the great players have a similar theme ... lots of practice and exposure (formal and informal) in an environment that is crazy about the sport they excel in.  The problem with accepting that much of that may be learned is it puts more onus on coaches and teachers to ensure the environment around children is always positive and nurturing.  For some people, that responsibility is too much.

My opinions about imagination and creativity do not have their roots in soccer, but affect how I think players should be coached.  It's always been topic that has captured my interest.

"...imagination is based on your past experiences and perception of reality..."

We want our players to solve problems in game.  Be imaginative.  But how can they if they've not seen the same situation before, several times?
  1. Problem solving is about imagination.
  2. A positive environment makes you feel better about what you're doing.
  3. A solid fundamental base gives you the freedom to act in given situations.
  4. Playing small-sided-games (4v4, 5v5, etc) exposes you to more situations more often that relate to bigger field game situations.
  5. With solid fundamentals and previous exposure to a certain situation, a player is in a position to be more effective during a similar game situation.
The science and stats of small sided games varies from source to source.  But the long and short of it is: more touches, more situations, more combinations with teammates, more confrontations with opponents, more goals, more learning.

To learn more about why small sided games work, you need to learn more about imagination and creativity as it relates to anything.

I've read several good books and many articles on development and talent that have little to do with soccer.

The Outliers By Malcolm Gladwell  and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle were my favourites, but constitute only a small amount of what I've read over the years.

I would also refer you to two excellent podcasts on CBC Radio dealing with Imagination.  These are from the radio show "Ideas".   They are about an hour each but well worth the listen.

Imagination Part 1
Imagination Part 2

There is an old saying "Without fundamentals, there can be no creativity". 

Most of the literature I've read discussed development and technical proficiency as a way of freeing the person to be able to express themselves using the techniques learned.  Simply put, if you don't have to worry about whether or not you have the ball under control, you are free to put more thinking into what you want to do with the ball.

The podcasts were a little more cerebral, but said the same thing in a round about way.  They dealt with the theme that imagination was based on your past experiences and perception of reality.

Here is my imagination handbook in 5 points :)
  • Solid fundamentals give you greater confidence and a positive feeling about what you're doing.
  • A positive environment gives you a positive perception about what you're doing.
  • More exposure to what you're doing in a positive environment gives you access to more situations and problems that need to be solved, building on your past experiences.
  • Positive scenarios around failures builds your experiences even more.
  • You can imagine/foresee more options about how to solve a current problem because of your memories on how you resolved similar problems and your confidence in that you have the tools to solve the problem.
The environment and culture is HUGE in my opinion.  There is a reason that not many hockey players come from Mexico or baseball players come from Uganda.  It;s tough for a hockey player in Mexicoto build a love for the game if there is little hockey around him.

Your job as coach is to nurture as many aspects of a player's toolbox as you can and set them up to be in positions of having to solve problems, all in the proper environment.

You don't have to wonder why the player who rarely plays has little idea of what to do and even less confidence in whether or not he/she can do it at all. How can they succeed if they have had little to no exposure to a situation?  Then deal with it under pressure?

I'll leave the deep explanations to the books and podcasts.  I hope you find time to enjoy them

P.S.  The podcasts have a wonderful section on how imagination also shapes or kills hope.  It's really good.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Delivered a GAG session to coaches on Wednesday

On Wednesday, I delivered a Game-Activity-Game session to our coaches at the club.

I'll spare you the in-depth explanation of what GAG is.

Here is a good explanation by the CSA's Ray Clark in PDF format.

Here is a good video explanation conducted by the OSA and York Region's Bobby Lennox during our Learning Facilitator Workshop of 2011.  I am in this with the red track top at the beginning.

Last night, I was caught a bit off guard.  We usually get a varying amount of coaches out to these things, between 5 and 10.  Last night we had about 25 coaches out.  We've made a habit out of bringing in guest teams to ensure we have a session to demo.

The guest team were the 1998 girls.  I always enjoy working with this bunch and their coach, Erik Opala, is a great guy and a super coach.  Had I known this many coaches would have shown up, I would have run the session with the coaches on the field.  I think we would get more out of the session with coaches directly on the field.

We had good questions but, more important, we had good discussion on the side how to apply this to their specific teams.

Here is my take on the GAG model:  if you are a new coach, you can use the model to set conditions during the Activity part to bring out a facet of the game you want to improve and get a bit more out of your team.  If you are a very experienced coach, you can get a heck of a lot out of your team using GAG.

GAG allows you to get more game time in your sessions and instill some new ideas directly into the context of a game situation.  There is a time and place for a GAG session.  It doesn't replace all styles of training, but is a very effective addition to your catalog of sessions.

Another observation Rob Lalama and I shared was how many new faces we have coaching at our club.  A lot of nice people who are very interested in delivering a good program.  I would like to see more females involved so we'll have to keep pressing for that.

I look forward to our next coaching session at the club and I hope to use the coaches on the field.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sabrina D'Angelo is U20 Player of the Year!

Welland's Sabrina D'Angelo was named the Canadian Soccer's U20 Women's Player of the Year! Read the news here.

Sabrina is the benefactor of her own hard work and determination. As a graduate of the Welland Soccer Club, we are ecstatic to have her name associated with us.

Congratulations to Sabrina and her entire family for the great recognition.  Sabrina's father, Gerry, is our goalkeeping coach at Niagara College.

Welland is very proud of her.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Second U4 "Active Start" Session

On Saturday morning, with the continued help of the parents, we had a very productive session.

12 players and 12 parents for 50 minutes.

I think that last week parents thought I was a little crazy for having every player with an adult at a sports session.  They were supportive, co-operative and helpful, but I think they were still wondering what I was doing.  By the end, we were on the same page.  Today they were with the program from the first minute and the progressions went smoothly.

The Active Start stage of LTPD is one of the most important, in my opinion.  It sets the stage for a patient and nurturing training environment.  It also helps parents understand that they need to remember what age their children are and what's appropriate in terms of information and situations. 

The parents worked hard today.  :)  Some were sweating and they were whooping it up with their children and the other players.

Why not involve the parents?  So much good comes of it:
  • MOST IMPORTANT.  The children have the person who loves them most close by and are comfortable doing all of the activities.  So you get a full session from each child.
  • The session stays organized.  Easier to coach.
  • Parents are directly involved in their child's activities, learning the "why" and "what" about your program.
  • Parents are the lifeblood of grassroots sports.  Involving them may lead to expanded interest in the organization and their desire to serve in the future.
  • Some parents who thought of coaching but were unsure might develop the confidence to step up.
This week we added a few more physical literacy exercises and parent-child ball sequences.

One main thing I added today was a little more running.  A lot of young children are still learning how to run and stay balanced.

A major change from last week was the game portion.  I did not do a 3v3 or 4v4 game today.  Instead we had a marked off area with 2 goals on either side.  All of the children played 1v1 with their parent and had 2 goals to score in.  I felt a lot of the children were afraid to play but I knew they wouldn't be afraid to take the ball from their parent or try to keep it away from them.

The multiple 1v1 games seemed to be successful as every child was playing and attacking the right goal.  That's not always the case in 3v3 4v4 at this age.  I will go back to small sided games next week to see how we progressed

We added a few more drink breaks.  We also made sure we had more goal celebrations, cheering and high fives and the parents did a great job with that.  I didn't stress that enough last week and I saw how it really gets the players going.

I've learned that the success of Active Start is a combination between a coach who believes in the philosophy and parents who are ready and willing to help and keep the message consistent.  The parents hold the power in this one.  If they start pushing for games or adult style drills, it will be pre-2010 all over again.  If the coach does a good enough job then they will see the benefit of patience.

Parents always have to remember and support ... "the right information at the right time".

Although I've coached U4s before, I really enjoy employing the LTPD philosophy in the program.  I look forward to delivering more sessions and sharing this information with other coaches who attend.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Never say "it's only house league"

Why do people feel they need to slot the house league experience below "rep" or "travel" teams?

True success as a sports stakeholder is realizing the best place and situation for a child to develop and enjoy themselves.  It may be rep, it may be select or it may be house league.

Remember, the right level, the right coach at the right time.

House league and grassroots sports are the backbone of all sports in Canada.  Because a child may not be at the level to win a spot on a rep team, it does not make them any less a participant in that sport.  The level of play and execution may differ but that does not minimize the passion.

Whether you are the right defender on a rep team,  the striker on a select team or the centre midfielder on a house league team, you are as much a footballer as Lionel Messi.  The same applies to coaches and managers.
"At the end of it all, 99.99% of youth players, regardless of level, will be playing in the same beer league.  And that's OK."

House League/Grassroots soccer has just a big a portion of Ontario and Canada's Long Term Player Development as everything else.  The "Active for Life" stream of the philosophy is very important.
Don't fool yourself.  The sports world is driven by what happens on Saturday mornings in every sport across the country.

My personal opinions:
  1. A parent or player shouldn't feel house league is a lower level of sports experience than travel.
  2. It's wrong for a sports organization to treat house league as an after thought.
  3. It's wrong for sports organizations to not offer their house league coaches support.
  4. It's wrong for sports organization to not offer meaningful pathways for house league players who are looking to make the transition to travel.
  5. It's wrong for organizations to not have proportional representation from house league on their boards.
  6. It's wrong to let facilities assigned to house league fall into disrepair. 
  7. It's wrong to give house league what's left over in terms of time at facilities. 
  8. It's "bad business" for groups to discount the importance of their grassroots program.
I like how the Welland Soccer Club has handled house league and the indoor program has been almost exclusive to house league.  There is another club in Welland, Plymouth Park Soccer League, who do a good job as well.

People who know me will tell you that, in spite of my personal involvement with travel soccer, my favourite place is the Welland Soccer Club on Saturday mornings.

As a final note: At the end of it all, 99.99% of youth players, regardless of level, will be playing in the same beer league.  And that's OK.