Saturday, December 29, 2012

Practice Planning and Reflection

One thing is for sure: if a practice doesn't go well, it's the coach's problem.  How do you fix it?

“Wisdom comes from reflection.”
― Deborah Day, BE HAPPY NOW! 

Regardless of how busy I am before training, I always find a way to have something written on paper for that session.  Most times it's a very formal plan, other times it's scribbling and doodles and lines.  But I always have something to refer to.

Can I run a session without a written plan?  Of course.  But that's not very smart.  In the chaos that sometimes develops from the presence of a group of youngsters, you can easily forget your sequence or to include coaching points along the way.  I always have my paper tucked into the waist of my shorts ready, if/when I need it.

My plans are simple.  At minimum:
  • Type of session (technical/small sided game/GAG/phase of play/11v11/etc)
  • theme
  • draw a quick sketch of the organization
  • equipment required (balls, cones, pinnies, etc)
  • list possible progressions
  • list key factors/coaching points
  • list possible detours if something is not available (players/equipment/space).  This is called "thinking on your feet", but it's easier if you have ideas already.
  • action points from the reflection of previous session
Coaches will have their personal preferences as to how they prepare for training, but something tangible, in writing, is a must.  And it has to be on the coach while they are on the field.  Leaving it in your bag is half a job.

Here are some links to sample practice plan templates:

After training you want to perform some form of personal reflection.  These are some questions to ask yourself:
  • How was your mood?
  • Did you look and sound like a coach?
  • What went wrong?
  • What went right?
  • Was the session enjoyable for you and the players?  Why?  Why not? 
  • Did the players improve?  Did the team improve?
  • What could/would you change?
  • How will your observations today affect your next session?
For me, I know how I feel after a good session and that's the feeling I want during the drive home.  When I don't feel right,  I look inward to find out why and work to fix it next session.   If I have a good session I work to build on it next time.

Reflection is not an option if you're looking to improve as a coach.   Honest reflection is your biggest tool in running a continuously improving program.  Create action points from your reflections to help plan your next session.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

U4 -Last "Active Start" session for this group

Nobody would ever guess that you prepare more as the age group gets younger.

Yesterday was the last U4 Active start session for this group.  It was my third with them, but they had 8 as a group.

What I learned:
  • I am not afraid of professionals, college players or youth travel teams.  U4 players keep me on my toes and nervous enough that I come to the field with nothing less than my very best.
  •  The LTPD recommendations for this age group are useful and very applicable.
  • Parents being involved on a 1v1 level is essential for success with U4.
  • Parents want to learn what you're showing the children.
  • Children do want their parents close by.
  • The level of participation is high when parents are involved.
  • Parents start to sweat quickly in their jeans and sweater  :)
  • One ball per player is the most basic and important requirement.
  • Spending time on physical literacy is a must.  Children that young do not total control over their bodies.  Some can barely run in a fluid motion.
  • Preparing for a U4 session requires time and effort as you have to make sure the session is busy enough that the players do not disappear on you.
  • These children are not ready for games.  Getting them to play 1v1 with parents and understand their direction of attack is a major undertaking.
This week, in addition to activities they were familiar with, we introduced tumbling (from a stand still and a short run) and dribbling with some direction.  The dribbling was a bit of a challenge but we got it on the table.  For those who return, they will see it more often and we will build on it every week.  There was still a lot of time to manipulate the ball and learn basic soccer movements. 
My goal for the next set of sessions after Christmas is to work with at least 8 of the parents and have them attend the Active Start course, so they can start delivering sessions when summer arrives.

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.