Monday, April 8, 2013

I am past the pain of not taking a team this summer.

For the first time in 25 summers, I do not have my own youth team to coach.  I will coach the Niagara College program in the fall, but being a head coach a youth team was not in my plans this year.

The last few months I've been feeling a bit lost.  This was the time of year when I was at my best, finding training space, planning friendlies, parent meeting, etc. I am still busy with soccer, but with different things.

I do miss the group from last year.  I've run a session for them already and it was nice to see them again.

There were a few reasons for stepping away.  I re-read my reflection from October 2012 and still feel the same way.

At the end of it all I am happy to have a break from running tryouts for young players and dealing with competitors who mistaken recruiting for coaching.  Other teams in our age group have been flipping clubs, changing players like dirty underwear and the usual dog and pony show that accompanies all that, looking for the ultimate prize (whatever that is).  I also look forward to a break from youth competition as a head coach.

(Note: solid coaches who do some recruiting are not the same as hard recruiters who think they're coaches). 

I hit a point where I needed to temporarily step away from a system and environment that confused success with winning when it came to younger players.

Being the transition year between what we had and the implementation of LTPD in Ontario, I am going to enjoy working with others in getting ready for the new philosophy.

My soccer time has been filled with helping other coaches with their teams, helping friends with session plans, team questions, etc   I have a group of 8 friends that I've been offering support to, and learning a lot at the same time.  New for me is being more involved in formal coaching education.  I've also been tooting the LTPD horn and trying to help people understand where things are heading.

My other hobby is refining the art of stepping in with a team, running a session that brings some success to the players and leaves the coach with good ideas for future sessions.

Until this past weekend, I was still wondering if I had made the right decision.  My former team is still going with a new coach and we still have two full teams in Welland at that age group.  My youngest son is still playing and they are moving along nicely.  I am glad my departure did not leave them stranded as sometimes happens with youth teams.

"I needed to temporarily step away from a soccer environment that confused winning with success for young players."

But this weekend I ran two sessions as a guest coach (Welland 1999 boys and Pelham 2002 boys).  Before and after both sessions I saw the coaches running around dealing with parents and team business.  I arrived, set up, delivered the session and left.  I will miss the interaction and team business for a year, but for what I wanted to do, this weekend was a good sign to me that I will serve the community better in this capacity.

What I will not miss:
  • Telling a 12-year-old player who is keen during tryouts that they can't be on our team
  • Game sheets requiring 20 signatures every game, for 11 year old players
  • Checking books for 10 minutes during warm-ups
  • Wondering, half way to Brampton, if I remembered our player books.
  • Fines for whatever and whenever
  • Teams/coaches/parents panicking if they are nearing relegation zone
What I will miss:
  • Building the collective chemistry of a team over a period of time
  • Putting a yearly plan into action
  • Team parents who become good friends
  • Watching kids build friendships away from soccer
  • Watching kids succeed when they play soccer away from our program
  • Team dinners and parties
  • Good moments for each player at different points in the season
  • Juggling positions to find success for a player
  • Training sessions with the players
  • Watching my watch during games
  • Pre-session "World Cup" games.
  • Smelly pinnies
  • Welland S.C. staff during registration time (stress and smile at the same time)
  • Delivering my joke of the day :)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How the soccer community will make LTPD work

Before LTPD can bear its intended fruit, a lot of things need to happen.  And the various sports federations have nothing to do with it.

Everybody is weighing in on how effective LTPD will be.  These are my opinions and not representative of my club, employers or any governing soccer federation or association. You always have to add the disclosure.

(N.B.  I returned to this point after re-reading the list.  It's exactly what we expect and demand from our teachers and school system ... yet we think our child needs to be taught differently when it comes to sports) 

I enjoyed myself under the old system, but there were a lot of frustrations.  And the more I learned about soccer, development and coaching, the more frustrated I became.

OK, here we go.

We all need to be patient.  LTPD will take time, so don't start a petition to  repeal the philosophy after Canada's next loss.

We need to trust the people up the ladder who have done their homework, and, as well, do our own homework to increase our understanding and become better coaches and parents under this philosophy.

While we don't have empirical evidence that our new structure will work, we have to admit we have a heck of a lot of evidence that what we do now doesn't work.  By the way, LTPD is based on methods already in place in successful sporting countries, so it's not without field testing.

Learn the difference between individual success and winning.

We have to admit that a paradigm shift was needed because the old system was "tweaked" many times with the same results.

We have to accept that some people will have doubts and we need to work to educate and share information, not criticize or demonize.

We have to admit that children are not small adults.  Mentally and physically, they are different creatures. They don't share our values.

We need to work together and be creative when it comes to a club funding the possible purchase of new goals and equipment for the different stages.

"...the more I learned about soccer, development and coaching, the more frustrated I became."

We have to remember that most sports were designed for adults to play.  What can be adjusted should be adjusted for different ages and development stages.

We have to admit that what we were doing in the past is not producing the player retention and quality that we want.

We have to admit that the environment that currently exists contributes to players, coaches, officials and
volunteers quitting.

We have to admit that our players, in general, have been more robotic than athletic or creative.

We have to admit that our children are less athletic and active than in the past.  Physical literacy is a problem that transcends organized sport.

We have to admit that our system encouraged coaches to coach teams rather than coach players.

We want our coaches to be better educated in knowing who they are working with, in terms of development stages.

We have to stop beginning every argument with "when I was a kid .... ".

We have to learn to look past the score and recognize and acknowledge good ideas and moments during games.

We have to admit that our children will keep score, whether there is a scoreboard or not.  And we will all celebrate every goal and "oooooohhhhh" every time a shot goes wide of the net.  The game's intensity, emotions will all be there, like they always were.

Every game, we need the two coaches and referee to work together in teaching our young players.

We have to admit that other countries have effective methods in developing their young athletes.

We have to admit that developing an athlete requires a holistic approach ....  physical, technical, tactical, emotional, social and mental development.

We have to acknowledge that far too many talented players were discarded by travel coaches for being too small before 12/13 years old.

We have to admit it will be easier to coach when we are able to patiently work with our younger players without the pressure of standings, stakeholder expectations and crazy recruiting.

We have to stop saying that it's important for a 9-year-old to "learn how to lose" and needs "life lessons".  What we teach them now is how to go into a "big game" without having enough of a fundamental foundation, and being expected to produce a quality game.

We have to admit that freedom of expression, ideas and decisions are important facets to a child developing as a player.

We have to admit that formal competition and development are conflicting philosophies.  Neither is a sin, but they don't co-exist well when there are points up for grabs.

We have to admit that the parameters of the game must change to reflect the development stage of the player.

We have to remember that our training session should match the physical and mental characteristics of the players in the session.

We have to appreciate that the better the environment at sports, the longer they will play the more confident our children will be outside of sports.

Since coaches have great influence on our children, we want to give them the tools, information, structure and environment to help them have as positive an effect as possible.

We have to appreciate that fewer players quitting means more older children being active in the recreation stream, more players available for our elite streams, more future coaches and officials and a healthier Canada.

We have to appreciate that an increase in retention in every sport translates into an increased number of families involved, further translating into a position to influence government spending and recognition for the need for continued growth/maintenance in recreation facilities and programs.

I look forward to LTPD moving forward.  My level of interest comes from being a coach for 25 years, a sports parent for 15 years and a player since I was 6 years old.  My other reason for learning all I can about LTPD is that I felt it was a VERY bold move for 59 different Canadian sports to introduce this paradigm shift in coaching and development.

I know it's a little bit of preaching, but that's my list ... so far.  Let's see where LTPD takes us.

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