Friday, May 3, 2013

Will new soccer facilities in Welland change our club?

Welland Soccer Club
The Welland Soccer Club has a new home.  The Youngs Insurance Sportsplex is a partnership between the City of Welland, Nustadia Recreation , Welland Soccer Club and the Welland Indoor Tennis Club.

Our old facility was very good.  It had 7 grass fields that were able to accommodate 4v4 to 11v11.  We had an indoor facility that was the old style field with boards and the field measured 200' x 90', but it was very suitable for soccer although it had the old style turf as well.

Our new facility has a full size indoor and two full size outdoor artificial pitches with the latest technology in turf.  The indoor facility is routinely divided into 4 mini fields that are rented by teams (with great rates). The artificial fields all have multiple portable goals.  Three grass fields are still growing outside (for spring 2014) and we still have our seven fields at the old location.

Why the new facility?  Well, first and foremost, the idea was hatched by city employees who knew we were sitting on a valuable chunk of property.  The new location is old industrial land.  Second, we did need a new indoor setup.  The boards on the indoor field were antiquated, the turf needed replacing and the demand was there for more space.  The building also needed a lot of work.  It has since been taken over by Niagara Sport and Social.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the concept of a public-private-partnership (PPP).  It has proven to be a bit of a change in terms of how money travels through the system, but that's a story for another day.  I am not saying it's good or bad, it's just new to me.

Back to soccer...

In the past our coaches were accustomed to:
  • Grass fields available May 1 - Sept 30
  • A heavily booked indoor facility
  • Limited suitable gym space within our area
So programming and intensity matched what was available.

Now our coaches have access to:
  • More suitable indoor training space with much better turf
  • Artificial outdoor fields that can possibly be used March 1 - November 30
I am not saying our coaches don't take their jobs seriously, but they did schedule their programs around available facilities.

"There will also be pressure on the Welland Soccer Club to expand programs as our income was a major selling point for the city to build the new complex."

So, if facilities determined our teams' programs and we now have expanded facilities, would the natural progression be towards more frequent and longer programs?  Will coaches respond with having more sessions?  If so, will players' interest increase accordingly?  And will the obvious end result be realized ... a more committed and better built athlete?

The new facilities have also gotten our membership excited for the first time in a while.

But we need to move the new momentum from the "euphoria" stage to the "habit" stage.

There are three possible bi-products of newer, more available facilities:
  • Current coaches expand their programs
  • Players move to Welland for more soccer 
  • More people looking to coach in Welland
  • Other clubs' coaches look to move their programs to Welland's facility as a homebase during the off season.
For Niagara, this is a great addition to an already expanding list of facilities that include:
  • Kalar Rd outdoor turf field in Niagara Falls
  • Niagara Sportsplex in Niagara Falls (2 indoor mini fields)
  • Kiwanis Field outdoor turf field in St Catharines
There will also be pressure on the Welland Soccer Club to expand programs as our income was a major selling point for the city to build the new complex.  The complex's selling feature to politicians is that it would pay for itself, at no cost to the taxpayer.
So what will be the result of new facilities?
  • I am hoping to see expanded programs by all coaches across the board, top to bottom.  
  • Our new indoor fields do not have boards, so I am hoping to see more control and thought into playing rather than  using the boards as a safety net.  This has already been commented on by some parents so I think that result may be well on its way.
  • I am hoping to see expanded membership, from U4 to adult, male and female. 
  • I am hoping that programs expand enough that we continue utilizing all of the fields at both locations.
  • I am hoping the added enthusiasm will encourage more people to show interest in club governance.
Building new facilities for any recreational activity is money well spent for any municipality.  It's another selling feature in any city's "Work-Live-Play" scenario and it spruces up the area in which they are built.

New facilities always have an overall positive effect, regardless of whether it's for professional or amateur sports.  But is the effect long term?

We can use the new facility to appeal to the curious and ambitious, but we have to make sure we have quality in the programs after the wow factor has faded away.

As a club, we need to:
  • stay organized, professional and progressive
  • be accountable to our membership
  • set up measurable performance indicators
  • demonstrate that the new facility is financially viable
  • keep our coaches up-to-date and educated
  • keep the club and program player-centred
I look forward to watching the club through the next few years.  I will also enjoy observing the reaction from the soccer community for the next two summers as this is uncharted territory for me.  I wasn't involved with the club when the last facility was built in 1983.

But a bigger club doesn't mean a changed club.  The new facility will attract people, but the technical staff and board has to change our program to add more value in terms of player development.

The new facility's minimal effect should be more soccer, plain and simple.  That's a gimme. I imagine our curious coaches will research training sessions that utilize portable goals and more out-of-town teams will consider Welland for pre-season friendlies.  The adult programs are already showing a big increase in numbers.

I will check back in here July 1 to report on membership numbers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Motivating young soccer players in Canada to be defenders

soccer defender
In soccer, there is a no more beautiful site than a defender stepping up to get their head on an incoming cross.

I only played defender full time for one college season - on the right.   I could throw to the penalty spot, I was strong, fast and was given a lot of information by my coach to succeed.  And I did.  But, for the most part, I was a midfielder and forward.  Right now, in our rec men's league I enjoy the wide defending positions ... until a team brings a speedy winger with them  :)

It always confused me when some parents were disappointed when their children were assigned a defending position on a soccer team.  Even a hockey team.

Maybe my appreciation for defenders came from my family culture (Italian) and who we followed (Serie A).  Maybe I had good coaches with good teams that had solid appreciated defenders.

As a young Canadian watching soccer I had the North American Soccer League to watch.  My team was the New York Cosmos and Franz Beckenbauer was on the scene.  The league had a lot of good defenders.

Canadians have had a lot of strong defenders to look up to over the years: Bruce Wilson, Ian Bridge, Randy Samuel, Jason deVos, Frank Yallop, David Edgar ... on occasion Paul Stalteri. Big names that most Canadians know.

If I wasn't big enough on defenders before 1982, Italy wining that World Cup pushed me over the edge with great names in the back like Gentile, Cabrini and Bergomi.  Their names were just as big as Paolo Rossi and Bruno Conti.

For me, as a coach, my defenders are my stars.  Those that I've coached know that if I tapped your
soccer defending
shoulder to be a defender, I was paying you the greatest of compliments as a player.

Why the reluctance by our society?  I had a boy who was an excellent defender and enjoyed the position but got nervous when I put him there because "his parents don't like it and will be mad on the way home".

I have a theory.

In the local newspaper, when the sports section prints quick stories on minor hockey and soccer results, who is mentioned?  The goal scorers and goalkeeper.  During hockey tournaments, who is the player of the game?  A forward in a 6-4 win, the goalie in a 3-0 win.  NEVER the defencemen.

"Canadian soccer fans have had a lot of strong defenders to look up to over the years"

If you don't understand sports, you will have difficulty in appreciating the defending positions.  But let's consider the prototype defender in soccer and you tell me if it's a compliment that your son/daughter is called to fulfill that role :
  • Speed and stamina
  • Physical strength on the ground and in the air
  • Tougher than a $2 steak
  • Confident playing ball with all parts of their body, in the penalty are under pressure.
  • Ball winner
  • Smart timing and location of physical challenges
  • Good 1v1 defender on flanks and in central area
  • Good technical skills to keep possession when winning ball
  • Good communicator
  • Leader and trustworthy
  • Committed team player
  • Able to play balls long and short, on the ground and in the air
  • Able to break up an oncoming attack and start a counter attack 
  • Able to get into the attack and cause unexpected problems for opponents
  • etc etc etc
If somebody described me or one of my sons like this, I would be on Cloud-9. 

Soccer has come a long way since I played as a youth and since I started coaching in 1988.  More people understand the position, but we still have a way to go.  How, as a coach, do you sell the position?

Well, one of my mentors, Rino Berardi, showed me on day-1 of my coaching.  We had tryouts for an under 9 team in 1988 and he said "Boys, we are looking for 2 strong, fast, smart and confident soccer players to be our 2 central defenders.  Not everybody can handle it, but we will see who can do it."  From that day and for every game for 3 years when I announced our starters ALL hands went up when I would say "OK .... right defender .... "

Once the parents know you appreciate all spots on the field (including defender) so will they.  Once the players know you appreciate all spots on the field, so will they.

Here is my personal philosophy, however unfair it might be.  You are not a true, well rounded player until you prove to me that you have all the tools to be an effective defender.  This means mental, physical, tactical and technical.

Every player on my youth teams have put in time with the back four.  I owed it to them to be tested and work to make it a positive experience.

As a coach:
  • Preach total soccer - 11 players defending and 11 players attacking.  Don't leave defenders in the back waiting for the play.
  • Treat individual and team defending as a specialized science
  • Make a big deal about EVERY spot on the field 
  • Give your players as much info as possible about the defender positions.
  • Do not treat the back 4 as the "left over" spots.
  • Give them important jobs on restarts, etc.
  • Teach your parents when and what to cheer when defenders do good things during games.
  • Give the kids names for role models.  Every professional team has big name defenders.
  • When you win a close game praise the defending efforts of everybody in preventing the equalizing goal.
  • Preach/coach technical proficiency for your defenders.
  • Preach the importance of winning the ball and keeping possession.  Not to just give it back.  "Regain and retain".
  • Coach your midfielders/forwards to look for support from defenders on the attack.  Conversely, teach the defenders how to join the attack (overlapping runs/shape/communication/set pieces/etc).
  • Coach defending set pieces and give them leadership roles in the organization.
  • Let them contribute to your half-time talk and encourage them to  share what they see and help them learn the game.
  • Make the position very positive and give everybody a chance to succeed there.
While you're at it ... help the back 4 and GK learn to work together as a unit.  I sometimes refer to them as my back 5 when coaching.

Do not underestimate the importance of giving all of your players the tools to be strong defenders and the thrill you can give a player when they become a successful defender.  I hope this is useful to you and you can find more ways to keep defenders motivated and appreciated.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Is your Goalkeeper an active part of your soccer/football tactics?

soccer goalkeeper
When your goalkeeper is not an active part of your team both in possession and defending, you are wasting a valuable position on the field.

Before I start ... a shout out to Kevin Muldoon,   former Canadian Keeper Coach who lectured at three of my licensing courses.  A great resource, a seasoned coach, a true gentleman and now enshrined on his own in the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.


I have a major weakness as a coach and that is trying to coach a team with a goalkeeper who can't play the ball from their feet.  I am reluctant to make all of the concessions that I need to make to compensate for that.  Since Day 1 of coaching, my GK had to be ready to play the ball.  From the goalkeeper's point of view, I am not easy to play for as I expect you to be a willing member of my 11.

Your team is playing 11v11, 9v9, 7v7 or 5v5.  That numbers includes your goalkeeper and therein should lie your message.  Teams need to stop treating their GK like an immobile, ball punting shot stopper and practice dummy.

"The GK ... Don't let that tactically important
position go to waste."

I am learning slowly that a lot of coaches are uncomfortable having the ball played back to the keeper.  Playing the ball back to my own keeper has been coached to me since I was 13 years old.

Why do coaches shy away?  Is it the fear of the own-goal on a messed up play, or the ball being intercepted by a pressuring striker?

I think the biggest factor affecting our collective fear is the type of kid who served as goalkeeper when we were younger.  Smart coaches had good, athletic GKs and their teams were properly rewarded.  But a lot of teams had their least athletic player in goal, their next least athletic players as defenders, and so on and so forth.  The mainstream public did not understand what was required or even how the position fit into the grand scheme of things.

But whether the GK was athletic or not, there was a reluctance to play the ball back to help keep possession.  There was also a lack of GKs who took command of the defensive third of the field and ran the show from their position at the back.

Why was that?  I still don't understand.  All of the immigrants who came here from soccer countries knew the GK was a big part of the game.  They all had famous GKs and the mold for a good GK was already cast.  Their GKs were good players, involved players and frequently used options in possession.  Why did they not carry that mindset onto our fields when they coached Canadian kids?

When we were youth players our GKs could pick up the ball on a pass back, so it was safer than it is now, but still wasn't common in our games.  In 1992 the GK pass-back rule was changed so the GK could no longer pick up the ball from his own teammate's pass.

Did that make us more afraid to pass back?  Not sure.

But that's in the past.  Right now, today, we know what we know and that's that the GK has to be part of the 11 player attack and team defending.  That means you need to get their field-player skills up to par (or better) with the rest of the team.  I have a past post on that very topic.  :)

Where do the GKs come into play?

  • Goal kicks
  • Free kicks in last 40 yds of the field
In possession
  • Last man supporting
  • Moving with the ball, always in position
  • Being vocal, giving information to teammates
  • Launch possible counter attack after receiving ball from an opposing cross or penetrating pass.
While Defending
  • Communication with teammates, assigning players to mark and alerting of possible unmarked runs
  • Playing off the line ready to attack and control any penetrating passes from opponents
So now we are talking added points on a GK's resume:
  • More game intelligence
  • A variety of distribution techniques
  • More athleticism and speed
  • Technical proficiency, feet and hands
So now you have an added responsibility at training; your #1 player, you goalkeeper.  Don't let that tactically important position go to waste.  Most clubs now have access to a GK coach who is part of the technical staff.  Use them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

LTPD, "Soccer for Life". Every stage counts.

I heard some very refreshing words  from a relatively smart guy this morning.

People shy away from coaching when players are in their teenage years. Those players need good people coaching them during a very turbulent time in their personal development.

My friend coaches an older girls team in the Niagara Region.  The team is at the NRGSL level, which is a local league, but above house league.  He took the team over a few years ago with admittedly little soccer experience.  But he does understand the principles of team sports and his personality is conducive to being a good coach for teenagers.

His wife is also involved with a younger boys team as well as assuming some admin duties for their club.

So what makes him a good coach in my eyes?

This morning we were chatting and I asked about his 2013 team.  He told me he lost 5 players who moved to teams at higher levels and has replaced them with 5 new girls.  Then he said "Hey, 5 players moved up and most of the girls made their high school teams in Grades 9 and 10 so far, so I guess I'm doing my job".

This team has had some success on the field during league play, cup games and tournaments, and yet that was what he measured his success by; the success of his players.

He then went on to say that he wasn't willing to win a game if he had to leave his weaker players sitting.  He wants them all to keep playing and is hesitant to make it unpleasant for anybody.

His points were bang on with LTPD for that age:
  • "Soccer for Life"
  • Looking to motivate them to keep playing.
  • Keeps his attitude and program consistent with level of play and age group.
  • Seeks help in giving them more info.
  • Works to keep the game and the team interesting.
... regardless of the direction they are heading in and where they came from, the fact that they are teenagers should be the most influential factor when laying out your program.
When you are a "Soccer for Life" coach, you have players in various situations all playing together:
  • Will not take their game to a level higher than local/intercity travel, yet still want to play
  • May be a late bloomer and still looking to get to the next level
  • May have been at a higher level and recently released from another program
  • Looking to play because they love soccer
  • A good player, indifferent towards soccer but loves being with friends
For all of those players, you have the same job.  Remember who you are dealing with: teenagers.  There is a lot more going on in their lives than just soccer.  And regardless of the direction they are heading in and where they came from, the fact that they are teenagers should be the most influential of factors when laying out your program.

At every stage of LTPD, the program challenges coaches to fully understand the physical, social and
psychological characteristics of the players.  This does not change for the Soccer for Life stage.

As a "Soccer for Life" coach you have several responsibilities.  Your job is to take the players from Learn to Train and shape your program to motivate them to keep playing.  Those players are our future coaches, soccer parents, sponsors, convenors and referees.

There will be players and teams at different levels with different soccer mandates in terms of personal goals of the players, but they are all teenagers and need the same basic building blocks to keep their programs productive:
  • Interesting
  • Respectful
  • Progressive
  • Collaborative
  • Structured
  • FUN!
Whether you coach Toronto FC U16 Academy boys or Wainfleet U14 girls, there are common elements to your approach.  The TFC team will train harder and more often, but if that coach forgets he's dealing with teenagers, he's in big trouble. 

The main fault of coaches who fail with this age group is they forget to maintain the adult/teenager separation.  Some think the players will relate better if they swear and act in an immature fashion.  On the contrary, teens want solid adults in their lives that they can respect and work hard for.

Don't fear the teenage player, but embrace them.  Keep your head on straight, work hard to make your program interesting and enjoyable and it will be an experience you'll never forget.

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 :)