Saturday, March 30, 2013

U4 Active Start Soccer Program Debrief

Today, our 10-week U4 Active Start program ended.  For me, it was sad because those kids left me in a great mood all day long.

One nice feeling I left with was how many parents mentioned they were considering being Active Start coaches this summer.   Some haven't played but feel they can lead the group through sessions similar to what was delivered during the program.

I was also happy to see how many grandparents came out to watch what was going on.  I am sure they came to watch a game but the kids were happy to see them there.  That's what grandparents are for .  :D

"...those kids left me in a great mood all day long."

Thoughts I take away with me:
  • Letting yourself have fun and getting down and dirty makes the session all the easier to deliver
  • Keeping the players busy was important
  • Including the parents was paramount in making sure every child did every exercise
  • Parents appreciate learning about their children
  • U4 players should not be trained like miniature 16-year-old players
  • 1 ball per player, all session, every session
  • Lots of drink breaks
  • Keep the exercises simple to generate success
  • Physical literacy components are important.  Do not skip them as kids need exposure to various movements.
  • Be organized before everybody gets there.
  • All coaches should learn and deliver the occasional Active Start session.  You have to go back to the smallest building blocks of teaching.
  • Introducing them to training equipment (cones, hurdles, etc) is fun for them and make great learning aids.  It also introduces them to a more formal soccer environment.
  • Share what you are doing with the parents, don't lecture.
  • U4 kids are NOT ready for full games.

I will file this program under "Great Experience".  Thanks kids.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Learn to Train - Saltfleet Soccer Club

This weekend, I had the pleasure of delivering the OSA's "Learn to Train" course to 22 coaches.

The course took place at St Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary in Stoney Creek.

I have to say it is very enjoyable working with coaches who are just getting moving in their coaching journey.  The most learning for me is through the questions they ask.  As time passes you start to take little things for granted, but weekends like this bring those important questions and "what if" scenarios back to the forefront.

I also enjoy listening to people who bring experiences from outside soccer that apply directly to the course.

There is one thing that was disappointing.  Of 22 coaches, only two were female. I still keep up my hope that the number of qualified female coaches will show an increase and the number of female coaches matches the representation of females in the player population.

" start to take little things for granted, but weekends like this bring those important questions and "what if" scenarios back to the forefront."

During the course, I thought LTPD would generate more discussion but it didn't.  A few questions then we moved on.  Maybe this is a sign that people know enough about LTPD and are ready to get to work with their players.

I look forward to delivering another course.  It's tiring, but I like being in this environment.

Information on OSA coaching courses can be found at under "Coach"

Friday, March 22, 2013

How is your team's overall environment?

"Learners in supportive environments have high levels of self efficacy and self-motivation and use learning as a primary transformative force" (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1989).

To run a great program, all aspect of your team's operation have to make a positive contribution to the overall environment.

People will use the words "demanding", "competitive" or "intense" when describing their environment.  I submit that you consider words like "safe", "engaging", "open" and "inviting".

We're talking here about the learning environment with the young players.  There are other facets to environments such as a level of excellence, expectations.  The biggest example for me: The Montreal Canadiens have an expectation to win the Stanley Cup, every year.  Players who play for them know this and the team operates in that manner.  The Toronto Maple Leafs have become a team that do not talk about the Stanley Cup, they talk about hoping to make the playoffs.  Corporate environments interesting studies but are not much different than sports teams.   Their overall environments reflect the expectations, and vice-versa.  In this article we will talk about the learning environment.

"...when describing their learning environment ...  consider words like 'safe', 'engaging', 'open'
and 'inviting'."

Before we move on, what do we mean by "safe"?  Today you might think that would mean freedom from physical and mental abuse from adults, and we could/should include that.  But for me, a "safe" environment is also someplace where a child can go, experiment and make a mistake with the knowledge that they will be encouraged to try again and be offered assistance/coaching if required.  In an unsafe environment, learning cannot happen.  An example in a classroom: a child puts up her hand, offers an incorrect answer and somebody laughs at them or tells them to shut-up.  That child will no longer feel safe extending themselves into a discussion and their classroom experience is now negative.   If you yell at a child for missing a shot they will look to pass from then on.  A player who is berated for being beaten 1v1 will now offer up 10 yards of safety to their opponent with the ball.  You get the idea.

An educational description of learning environment: The term learning environment encompasses learning resources and technology, means of teaching, modes of learning, and connections to societal and global contexts. The term also includes human behavioral and cultural dimensions, including the vital role of emotion in learning, and it requires us to examine and sometimes rethink the roles of teachers and students because the way in which they make use of spaces and bring wider societal influences into play animates the educational enterprise.

Your learning/coaching environment sets the stage for the learning that needs to take place.  The very reason your art teacher had art hanging all over the room.  And your auto mechanics teacher had car parts, advertising posters, reference charts and tools hanging on the wall .

Notice!  It's called a learning environment, not a teaching environment.  Focused on the player/student.

Factors affecting the learning environment:

Natural and physical surroundings: Location.  Training surface.  Climatic and atmospheric conditions.  Prolonged exposure to heat and humidity decrease physical and mental efficiency.

What about the  scene of the practice?  Does it look like a training session is abut to happen?  When the players arrive do they see cones, pinnies, etc all set up?

Time of day: Depending on time of year, co-existing with school schedule, fatigue, etc.  eg. Are you going to have a more productive session on a Saturday morning or after dinner on the Sunday of a long weekend?  Age is also a major factor in choosing a smart session time. 

Social surroundings: These are tougher to control, but sometimes the effect on one player affects your team.  They include the environment your players are subjected to at school, home and neighbourhood.  Their socio-economic situation might also impact their learning, attendance, etc.

Teaching style: The delivery of your program, your body language, choice of words,  suitable choice of teaching methods to suit the group, aids such as cones/agility poles/etc.  Your ability to leave your bad day at work off the field will also impact your teaching style.  In terms of body language, are you dressed like a soccer coach?  Do you look the part?

Relationship with parents/stakeholders: Good or bad, all feelings off the field eventually find their way on to the field. Cancerous attitudes and actions, selfish comments and lack of co-operation makes life difficult.  Here are two more articles to help with that: Parent Meeting  Build trust .Your overall environment can also be affected by what happens in the world of social media. 

Healthy peer group: When the players get along, there is less tension.  Tension is a major obstacle to learning.  A positive emotional climate among the players goers a long way in benefits for everybody involved with the team.  Keep an eye out for situations involving cliques, bullying and various forms of exclusion.

If you have a positive training environment for the kids, individual and team success will follow.

Remember this:  You work hard to set-up as positive learning environment as possible.  While a few outside factors can negatively influence your environment, your positive program can influence your players and help them succeed in other learning situations.

And that, my friend, is your job as a coach.

Great links

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why do people coach. Why do YOU coach?

The question is very deep.  And very important.  Why do you coach?  Answer the question truthfully and be able to share it with whoever asks.

It doesn't have to be a killer answer that sounds like you just made it up, yet brilliant.  It can be thought about, over time, and shaped into a precise, sincere statement.  You also have to leave yourself open to modifying it as you gain experience.

What some of my friends said:

Linz: "For the love of the game  "

Theo: "To teach the youth of today!"

Randy: "To reinforce all the best of what sports offers-short term and long term."

Allie: "I always felt like I had a really good understanding of the game and what each player could bring the game ... And I found it rare to find a well educated coach who knew how to let the players shine with their individual skills - rather then try and conform them to an "idealistic" view of what they think a player should be ... I just wanted kids to know that there is no such thing as the "perfect" player...everyone brings what they can"

Dancer: "Because I feel I have something to offer" 

JJ: "To give kids the chance to be something great and to keep them from going down the path of peer pressure."
Carmine: "To teach the game as it should be played, of course."

Frank (not me) : "To try to generate the love I have for the games in the kids"   

@7-touch-coachng: "I coach because I love soccer. I coach because I want to share my passion. I coach because teaching fundamentals is critical."  

@SoccerCoachYYC: "To give back to the game. To help kids be better people. To serve my community. And because its (usually) so much fun!"

Randy has the unique task of introducing new high school students to football every year;  teaching technique, physical training, coaching to compete and organizing a team at the same time, for a lot of students who have very little sports background.   Victories perk up that school for days.  He does good work.

My favourite answer was from my sister-in-law Andrea, who is not involved in sports : "To share in the joy of empowerment."  This statement speaks to me of confidence, expression, ownership, enjoyment, etc.

Other writers offering their reasons:

OK. you know how to use Google too ....   :)

So, here we are ... why do YOU coach?


    Thursday, March 14, 2013

    Why hockey justifies LTPD.

    A lot of LTPD's opponents cite hockey, its competitive nature and our domination as a basis for their argument.  But is hockey in Canada that successful?  Is it as successful as it could/should be?

    FYI.  Hockey has formally adopted Long Term Player Development, but it's implementation is still not fully known.

    Before this goes any furthers, let's be clear:  I enjoy hockey and it's been good to our three sons.  Port Colborne and Welland Minor Hockey have provided good times and exposure to wonderful people for our children and family.

    But Canadian hockey people seem to think our supremacy as a hockey nation is untouchable.  Not only is it very touchable, I think it's a title we can no longer claim so uninhibitedly.  We still produce the most players, but there are enough foreign players occupying the top spots in our top league that we need to think about what's going on.

    My personal position is clear:
    1. I want Canada to be the undisputed world leader in producing quality hockey players and coaches.
    2. I want minor hockey's registration numbers to increase year after year.
    A strong and healthy sports scene helps all sports and produces healthy, active Canadians.  Increased sports registration motivates governments to invest in facilities.  But hockey has some work to do, culturally and technically.

    Why discuss hockey?  Because hockey is the argument most people are using against LTPD.  I say hockey justifies LTPD.

    Let's put some information out there.

    This is a summary of several different sources.  But for the most part, Canada has:
    • The most players, at all ages.  Canada and the USA are top two for number of players.  Canada and the USA each have more players than the third to twentieth country COMBINED.
    • The most coaches
    • By far, the most rinks.  More than the rest of the world, combined.
    • We build new rinks at a higher rate than other nations
    • The world's best preparatory junior hockey system
    A little less than half (99/211) of the players drafted into the entire 2012 NHL Draft were Canadian:
    • 15/30 drafted in Round 1 were Canadian
    • 16/30 drafted in Round 2 were Canadian
    • 15/30 drafted in Round 3 were Canadian
    Not bad.  We have 46/90 players drafted in the first three rounds.  21/90 were American. 
    No question.  We are, by far, the most dominant hockey country on Earth.  Or are we?

    After the first few rounds where the better European players are noticed and selected, should our numbers, both Canada and the USA, pretty much occupy the majority of the rest of the draft?

    Over the last 13 years, seven non-Canadians have won the goal scoring race and nine non-Canadians have won the points race (no Canadians the last 5 years). (updated June 19, 2013 ... Martin St Louis [CAN] won the points race while Alex Ovechkin [RUS] led the league in goals for the shortened NHL season)

    Every winner of the league's MVP award (Hart Trophy) up to 1993 was Canadian (I still count Brett Hall as Canadian).  Since 1993, of the last 18 winners, 8 are European.  More notable, 4 of the last 5 winners are European.

    Of active players, top 5 in each category
    • Points/game - 4 non-Canadians
    • Goals/game - 4 non-Canadians
    • Assists/game - 2 non-Canadians
    • Plus/Minus - 3 non-Canadians
    All time, 24/25 of the penalty minute leaders are Canadian.  Tiger Williams and Willie Plett are the only players on the list from the era that did not have many Europeans playing. (I smile when I see Ulf Samuelson on the list)

    Since all players were eligible for the Olympics in 1998, we've won 2 gold medals and did not medal in 2 other Olympic games.

    For the last ten U20 Championship (World Juniors) we won Gold five times and Silver three times.  Now, if that was any other sport, we would say that is great, and it is great.  But, for hockey in Canada, we know how big our numbers are and it's not unusual to expect success every time.  For the last two World Juniors, our boys have come home empty handed.

    Some say the change in rules over the past 10 years catered to the European style of play and given their players the advantage.  What advantage is that?  Skating?  Speed? puck-handling?  Are you talking about core fundamentals?

    Others will say that we are training some of their better players in our junior system.  I dispute that claim because your fundamental base is laid before you are 12 years old.  What foreign players we do have, we don't see until they are 16-17 years old.  Their basic skills are already in place.

    With our numbers and resources, every hockey competition should be a race for second place and the NHL should be a Canadian celebration with a few foreigners getting drafted along the way.  If you add the USA to the mix with their numbers, everybody should be a very distant third to our two countries.  Awards, leaders, etc should be dominated by Canadians and Americans.

    Why isn't it that way?  How do small hockey countries like Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic demand such attention in our highest league, considered to be the world's best with no runner-up?  Why are foreigners able to infiltrate the upper tiers of our highest leagues, with star status, in strong numbers. 

    What does this have to do with LTPD?

    What are the other countries doing that we aren't?
    • Their entry level youth programs focus solely on technique and skills.  Skating, puck handling, decision making. Very few games.
    • Most countries start a more serious approach around Grade 5 or 6.  In Czech Republic, players are considered  in the "preparation" stage until Grade 5.  You can play word games to try and distinguish the top hockey countries, but the formal age structuring is not that different among European countries. 
    • Czech Republic and Finland play on smaller ice (across 1/3 rink), smaller nets, lighter pucks and smaller sticks up to 8-years-old. 
    • In Russia, smaller players play across the ice on 1/3 rink.
    • In Sweden there is no body contact until 14.
    • Only 20% of Canada's Tyke and Novice players reportedly use the lighter pucks recommended by Hockey Canada. (nb I'm not a hockey guy and I've seen the famous lighter blue pucks in a lot of places, so I am not sure how that number is derived.)
    • In Finland, the practice to game ratio for youth players is much higher than Canada (3:1 as compared to average 1:1 here)
    • Emphasis on games start later in Europe.  Practice ratios are higher and fundamentals are mastered long before tactics.
    • Fewer arenas means programs are adjusted according to resources but training is still the priority.  In Peter Forsberg's home town of Ornskoldsvi, where there are less players, there were 4 training sessions per week.
    • Their emphasis on winning is achieved by focusing on better trained players, not shaping teams at young ages. 
    • In Czech Republic, players do not play on a full size ice until Grade 4/5.
    • Coach training is also taken to a new level with age appropriate instruction for those teaching the game.
    • In Finland, those teaching younger players are called "Instructors", rather than "Coaches".  To get an Instructor Diploma you must have 100 hours of courses through Finland's Ice Hockey Federation.
    OK, still, what does this have to do with LTPD?

    It seems to me that European hockey has been developing their players using the same model they use for soccer, and a lot of other sports they enjoy beating Canada at:
    • Small sided games
    • Game parameters and equipment adjusted for age, to aid in skill development
    • Programs designed around individual skill development with little/no team tactics
    • Less emphasis on games/scores at young ages
    • Specific information for coaches at specific ages
    • Higher practice:game ratio
    Sound like LTPD to me.

    I have opinions about what hockey can do to improve, but I am not a hockey coach nor have I ever played, so I will keep those to myself and not be another unqualified voice on the hockey bandwagon.

    There is one thing hockey cannot deny.  As with every other sport, physical literacy is a huge problem with every passing entry level group and will continue to be unless it's addressed.  Our kids, on the whole, are not well rounded athletes.

    I feel sorry for hockey coaches in Canada.  Every guy who plops himself in front of the TV every Saturday night thinks he understands how hockey works and they collectively pressure coaches to shape their programs to satisfy them.  Parents want to see a mini version of NHL when their children play.  But it can't be that way.

    Let's get something straight.  Europe's slow, patient development and holistic approach to training young players is not about taking winning away.  It is 100% about winning, when it counts most. 

    A lot of hockey people do not like having this conversation and I’m not sure why.  But when I watch ex-professional players coaching, the ones who’ve been to the top, they seem to be the most patient and thoughtful regarding skill development.

    Canada is not dying on the rink.  But you have to admit that Europe has come a long way in a relatively short time.  They have a lot of lessons for us to learn from.  The very level of their presence in the NHL, Olympics and World Juniors not only suggests, but OBLIGES us to closely examine and integrate their methods into our programs.

    The one point that stuck with me during this article was how Finland uses the title "instructor" instead of "coach".  A simple word changes the function of that person and the reason the players are there.

    Another that stuck with me that was not mentioned earlier is that a lot of countries start hockey a bit later, from 6-9 years old, depending on the country, instead of 4 years old like we do.  So now we can start to think about (a) burnout as another possible scenario (b) why aren't the extra years on skates producing more top players.

    The top hockey people know there is work to do and hockey is religion in Canada.  We take is so seriously that we even had a Hockey Summit in 1999 after a few fruitless tournaments.  A SUMMIT, like warring countries or major economic powers have, but for hockey. 

    I wonder if the hockey community (ie. parents, coaches, administrators) would ever accept a system that downplays competition and promotes deep fundamental mastery at young ages.  It would take some seriously big hockey names to promote this and some very strong coaches to take a slower, more fundamental approach to coaching the youngest players.

    Canada will continue to have hockey successes , but the signs at the very top point to an antiquated system that has not changed much in 50 years.  Formal initiatives are released and guidelines change, but the same things keep taking place on the ice.

    Some articles for you to read :

    Great Article:

    (Update June 17, 2013.  The OMHA has moved the introduction of body contact from PeeWee to Bantam, )