Wednesday, January 16, 2013

U14 House League indoor soccer

For the first time in a LONG time, I am coaching house league indoor soccer.

I avoid coaching indoor soccer and my son is very OK with that.  In his words "Dad, you're the kind of guy who is a good coach for teams that practice and have games and that kind of stuff.  Indoor is not for you".

The real reason I avoid it is that I have been involved with our club for a long time.  The last two times I had house league teams (always random) we did very well, so the conspiracy theories begin.  So I park my rear-end on the parents' side and enjoy myself.

It's a once/week co-ed affair with games only.  The kids really enjoy it and I love that my sons enjoy playing it.   The club called last week to say one of the hired help will coach this team and my son then told me that now it's OK for me to coach.  He's very nice to me that way :)

We had our second game tonight.  It's 9v9 on half field, with 6'x18' goals.  Our last facility had boards around the field, so it's a switch this year.

Our team has nice kids on it and they actually try to play with ideas.  With the removal of the boards the players have to be concerned with putting the ball out of play so they work harder to control it.  For me, it's even playing time, revolving positions and not intense.

For the players, it's competition with a score clock, so it's all out... but civilized.

The only time they hear my "coaching" voice it's to remind players to get back when we don't have the ball.  Other than that, I try to cheer as much as I can with the occasional funny guy moment.  They know how I am now and are not afraid to ask if they can try certain positions.  And they ask about all of them, not just striker/forward.  I admire that.

Officially, I don't coach as much as I facilitate their recreation ... but I will admit to having them playing 2-3 touch soccer and moving the ball around quickly.  It's not pretty, but their eyes are going up, the ball is moving and everybody is involved.  We are set up as 3-3-2 to make it simple and we've given 8 of the 15 players a chance to be our centre midfielder, so far.

You didn't really think I wasn't going to "coach", even if quietly.  ;)

The house league coaches job is to foster a life-long love for the game and keep the environment enjoyable.

This league is great.  It's pure fun for the kids and loose for 99% of the parents (you still get the occasional nut).  A lot of players get to play with their friends for the first time since U6 (separated by travel and house league during the summer) and it creates a lot of very good individual moments for every player there.  Coaches are casual with each other and the referee, and that sets the tone for everybody.

Travel leagues look to raise the level of each player and hopefully harvest some of Canada's future.  League like this Wednesday night U14 co-ed indoor league will foster a player's passion to keep playing well into adulthood and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

New group for U11/12 program

Tuesday night was session #1 of 10 with a new group in the U11-U12 age group.

The club's player programs started this week and I was assigned the Tuesday night U11/12 co-ed group.  The sessions are at the new Youngs Sportsplex and we are using 1/4 of the field.

That night, the joint was jumpin'!  We had our session on 1/4 field, another coach (from Niagara Falls SC)  was sharing his team's space with a GK session and the entire other 1/2 field was being used by another team training (Pelham SC).  It's nice to see the place busy and nice to see the other clubs coming in and renting the field.

Our group has 30-32 players and 2 assistant coaches.  The group is in the Learn to Train stage of LTPD.   Some of the girls are past Learn to Train, but I will treat them all as the same group.  It's a combination of travel and house-league level players.

Last night I took a diagnostic approach, wanting to have a look at what we are working with.  But I also wanted them to get something out of the session.

We started with a warm-up that involved 4 squares, each with a different ball warm-up.  We did one minute/square and did the circuit twice.  There was very little coaching the first time through then a few tips the second time through.

Our next exercise was a passing square, where players pass to the next corner and go to that same corner to receive the next ball through.  The exercise was done as 2 touch only and in both directions.  It's a very basic exercise, but it set the stage for what I wanted in our small-sided game.

We didn't over coach it.  For receiving: body position on angle and away from corner cones, first touch towards next target, 2 touch play.  Nice and simple.   For the ball to move around the outside of the cones it became clear to them that the passes had to be quick.

The field was then organized for 3 small sided games using pugg netts.  the teams were organized 5v5 and the condition of the game was 2-touch soccer and "one-time" panic kicks were heavily discouraged.

Every game had a coach present who gently reminded the players to play 2-touch and remind them when a one-time strike popped it's unwanted head.  For the most part players were getting the hang of playing 2-touch and the ball was making it's way to every player in the game.
After a short water break, another coach and I joined each game, one at a time.  We were promoting the idea of looking before and after the first touch, looking to make smarter plays in possession.  While we were playing with each team we were gently massaging the shape and encouraging players to support behind the ball.  By the time we got through each game all 6 teams were using their last player as support and moving to support them after the pass. 

After the session, we gathered them together for a few minutes to ask them to try a small ball control sequence at home before our next session.  My intention is to give them "home work" each week, something small and easy that keeps a ball on their foot.

What would I change next week?
  • Moving players into 4 games with smaller teams, for more involvement.
  • Easier exercises in the 4 squares.  One of them was a little too difficult for them.
Did they players learn/improve?
  • Their game play was better at the end than it was at the beginning.
  • Some of the players who struggled during the technical drill slowly improved during the game.
Did they play enough?
  • LTPD suggests 50% of the session for this stage be small-sided-games and it was.
  • Our involvement in each game as we went around showed us each player was playing and not hiding, which was nice to see.
  • LTPD suggests training be 45-70 minutes in length. We went 80 minutes on a 90 minute field allotment. 
  • I broke the order of warm-up/game/technical/game because I saw that all players were not there and didn't want to keep re-arranging teams the first night.  A lot of players arrived late.
How was I feeling?
  • Admittedly, I was tired after a long, busy day, but the players were ready to play and I knew some of them from previous encounters, so we got along quite well and it was enjoyable for me.  
  • The facility was busy and loud with balls flying everywhere.  It was annoying more than it was distracting, but I was happy to see the place so alive with soccer.
  • My voice was raspy, getting over a cold,  but coaches Colum and Nilan are not shy and kept their groups moving without my needing to speak too much.
  • I was a little frustrated before the session started, not knowing where we were setting up but that disappeared once the setup is complete and the players start to arrive.  This problem has been fixed for next time.
How was the help?
  • Coach Nilan and Coach Colum coach travel soccer at our club and were both actively involved with the players.
  • A player from my college squad was also there and decided to join us and was very helpful.  He's worked camps for his home club of Milton Soccer Club, so I knew he was experienced.
  • There was confusion as to where we were situated in our busy complex so time was tight and I didn't fully brief them on the plan, although I gave them a hardcopy.  They caught on very quickly.
Did I accomplish everything on my plan?
  • No.  We had some organizational kinks to work out with the size of group and I took it a bit slower once I read their overall level.  But we did play quite a bit and we improvised a bit during the game, with the coaches jumping in to give advice.
  • The plan was a guide and not carved in stone.  When you have 30-32 players you work the session to stay productive.
Now that they know the general format of the warm-up, we're able to get productive sooner next week.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

U4 - Active Start - A new Group

This morning I started with a new group of players (and parents) for a 10 week Active Start program.

Of the 18 players, 8 are returnees.  When we got the group together, I explained how the program worked to the parents and we were fortunate that each player had a parent partner right from the start.

Parents were all too happy to join the kids on the field.  It was awesome!  As long as they were given direction on what to do, they seemed more than comfortable being there with 18 young footballers running around.

Involving them is such a wonderful thing.   The most important bi-product is that they get to be with their children, have some fun and be encouraging every step of the way.  Their involvement also increases the probability of their child being involved in EVERY exercise and achieving some success, week after week.  Parents are also becoming more comfortable on the field, among children, and a few might come to the realization that they might want to stay involved as the children get older.

With their parents on the field, children feel safer; socially and as learners.  They are far less likely to run off scared as they might in a group of children.

Every week, I  enjoy the Active Start stage more and more.  It's different from other coaching experiences.  It's a true test of a coach's ability to engage the group as this age is easily distracted or scared.  Your coaching certifications gets lost in the shuffle and you depend on your ability to get right down to the player's level to earn their trust (with their parent's help, of course!).    Sir Alex Ferguson is more than welcome to come to our club to run a session, but if he's not willing to put himself "out there" for the children, they'll eat him alive.

I work with different ages all the time, but there is a very different feeling with this type of setup.  It's not just cones, balls and drills.  It's a lot of physical activity, laughing, high-fives, experimenting and love.  I love the way the kids are loving being close to their parents.  I love the way the parents want to be on the field and get involved.

The craziness that is sometimes equated to sports is completely absent.  And, by the end of the 10 weeks, they will all be more comfortable with the ball.

Now that we've started, my goal is to identify parents who would make decent Active Start coaches for the summer and draw them closer to what I doing, get them into the Active Start course and working with the children this summer.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Is your yearly plan almost ready for 2013?

By this time every year, I always had a yearly plan done.  This year feels weird because I have no team this summer.

I always took November and December off (minimum) but by the end of December I have indoor training space booked until March 31, tournaments planned, a rough budget set and calendar set up.  I don't take myself seriously, but I take what I do seriously.

When I offer advice to coaches I suggest:
  • Communicate with players before the end of the previous year.  You can tell them where you are in your planning, remind them of upcoming dates or just say Merry Christmas.  It shows them you are thinking of them and getting excited about getting started.
  • Book indoor space in local indoor facilities or gyms.
  • Contact and make informal arrangements with other teams for friendlies or joint training sessions.
  • Plan tournaments for summer and local hotels if traveling.
  • Set a budget for families and communicate this to them as early as possible.
  • In accordance with LTPD, your best training practices and what you've learned during the off-season, set your goals for the upcoming season.  Share your plan with assistants and friends and ensure it's realistic and appropriate for their level and age.
  • Plan possible dates for non-soccer team activities (pool party, BBQ, etc)
  • List volunteer positions to be filled by parents.
When you plan ahead, you have more co-operation from parents and players. It demonstrates that you are happy you are coaching the team and concerned enough that you want the season to run as smoothly as possible for the players.  It also demonstrates that the team is not a fly-by-night operation and you expect commitment in return from the people involved.  Sometimes planning ahead 8-10 months scares people because it makes them realize what a commitment coaching is, if done correctly.  But scaring people is not the purpose of planning.  If anything, it should ease the mind in the sense that it frees you to just coach after the work is done.

Make sure your plan:
  • Leaves opportunities for tweaking.  Revisit the plan on occasion and ask yourself tough questions about it's effectiveness.
  • Is presentable and organized so there is no misinterpretation.
  • Is presented in a meeting type of atmosphere and you are open for questions of clarification.
  • Is defensible by you in case anybody questions "why" or "how" with certain areas.
The hassle you put into planning up-front saves you a lot of time the rest of the season.  I know school teachers who know exactly what they are teaching on which day before a semester begins.  If you plan week-to-week and are flaky with your scheduling, players and parents see a casual program.  You will also cause yourself stress over attendance and facilities if you do not plan ahead.

Just as you plan, assess, adjust and reflect your sessions, so should you do the same with your yearly plan.

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.