Friday, May 10, 2013

Do policies help you do your job as a soccer coach?

Policies when coaching soccer
In 2009, my oldest son's Bantam house league hockey coach announced to anybody who bothered to listen "5 on 5, power play and penalty kills, no matter the situation, the next guy at the door goes on".  With that statement, he pretty much killed any and all questions from wannabe coaches in the stands who wanted to talk about why we lost or what could be better.  In February, one dad said to him "Some teams put their better players on the power play" and he replied, politely "Good for them". 

As a coach, you are called upon to make decisions over and over.  As a club coach your attention is required everywhere, from team party to hotel arrangements.

Here is where the idea of policies comes into play.

A policy is a principle or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. A policy is a statement of intent, and is implemented as a procedure or protocol.  Policies can assist in both subjective and objective decision making.

"Will your policy make coaching more enjoyable for you and the team more enjoyable for the players?  If the answer is no, stop right there."

During my time as an elected Councillor in Welland and Niagara, I learned that policies relieve staff of having to make ad-hoc decisions over and over, with the possibility of being inconsistent.

In most club team situations, policies come from the National/Provincial level, District, Club and team.

Should you have some policies in place when you coach? Are they helpful?  Well, let's suppose you are a technical director at a medium size clubs, roughly 15 travel teams.  How difficult is it for the club to be accountable for 15 coaches who all run their teams differently?

For you as a coach, I am not talking about a 400 page manual to distribute to parents.  I am talking about guidelines that help settle situations/questions before they become issues.  The players do not need to know about all of your policies regarding team operation.
"Having things in place through team and club policies and addressing topics at your parent meeting makes life a lot easier down the road."
If you are part of a club's governance, how easy is it for your club staff if they have answers for members regarding issues like payment plans for registration, refunds, etc.

But let's think of this as coaches.  What are the questions you keep dealing with over and over?
  • Can we buy this?
  • How do we pay for tournaments?
  • How long are tryouts?
  • How do you handle releases?
  • What is the minimum number of tryouts a player has before judgement?
  • How do we pick jersey numbers?
  • Who starts?
  • How do you handle playing time?
  • My child is going to be late again.
  • Can you stay late until I pick up my child?
  • Can he wear his favourite green shorts to game?
  • We don't go to away games.
  • When can I talk to you about my child, in private?
  • Can I set up a fundraiser for the team?
  • Why are we staying at that hotel?  Who picks the hotel?
  • How are team parties handled?
  • etc etc etc
Policies and guidelines established in advance answer a lot of questions before they even become questions.  In no particular order, here are some of my personal policies and guidelines when I coach, over and above the clubs:
  • The team money is held in a double-signature bank account, by 2 parents who are not married to each other or one of the coaches, at a bank not used by one of the co-signers.  I do this for accountability.  Cash is not accountable or traceable.  The choice is bank is to avoid the team account being raided in the event one of the signers has overdraft issues with their accounts.
  • No cash.  Everything is done by cheque.
  • Grey t-shirt at training.
  • Player selections are done via posted list on Internet.
  • Two parents in charge of setting up bench area for games.
  • No fundraisers without the coaches' direct involvement.
  • Coach expenses covered and not covered.  Mostly not covered :)
  • Absolutely no social media postings about the team, good or bad.
  • No positional requests or conversations about tactics.
  • We publicly go by the name of the sponsor that was registering via club procedures, not a private donor.
  • Coach does not drive players to tournaments (we have enough to do once there).
  • Coach does not handle club administration issues for parents.
  • Coach is off limits 15 before and 5 minutes after training.
These are a few ... but in each case I did them to make my job easier and keep things consistent.   The last thing I want to hear is that I decided something one way for one person and another way for somebody else.  Much of the policy concerns non-soccer matters.

Before you go crazy making a book of policies and procedures, you need to ask questions:
Policies when coaching soccer
  • Will your policy make coaching more enjoyable for you and the team more enjoyable for the players?  If the answer is no, stop right there.
  • Is there a persistent and repeating issue that leaves you in a position for making quick decisions?
  • Who is being directly and indirectly effected by the issue?
  • What have been the fairest results of the decisions you made in the past?
  • Who is available to review any rough drafts of policies or rules you are considering?
  • When do you want the policy to take effect?
  • Is your new policy in contravention of any club bylaw?
  • When are you going to review the policy and make adjustments if necessary?
  • Is the policy necessary?
  • Are you willing to drop your policy at a later date if you see it's not necessary?
  • Is your potential policy consistent with your philosophy?  If you are not comfortable with what you are proposing, don't do it.  Nobody can fake it for very long.  My experiences are most coaches make rules about attendance, punctuality and playing time that they don't really believe in.
Am I trying to complicate coaching?  No, quite the opposite.  Having things in place through personal and club policies and addressing topics at your parent meeting makes life a lot easier down the road.

You also want to prevent the possiblilty of being seen as bending to everybody's request and making one-off decisions over and over.

Before addressing this topic, ensure that you check all of your club policies first.  You don't want to reinvent or contradict any of the work already done by the club.

If you have policies that work, share them with other coaches or your club.  If you see other coaches' and clubs' policies that you like, retool them for your own use and share.

Please keep this one thought in mind;  if you do establish any ground rules for the operation of a team, ensure every idea is geared towards providing a better program for the players.  If the sole purpose is to establish your authority, your enjoyment and time with that team will be short lived.

Now that you're finished thinking like a politician, go coach!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why I really liked my U12/U13 basketball and soccer coaches.

U12 U13 coaches
2013 Port Colborne Sailors Bantam, my son standing 4th from right
Looking back, I remember exactly when I became an "Active for Life" athlete.

My U12/U13 sports seasons were, by far, my most memorable and formative.  During those years (Grade 7 and 8) I played school and club soccer and basketball.

My soccer coaches were Jerry Mastroianni and Lino DiPasquale.  My basketball coaches were Larry Cooney, John Conte, John Witlib and  Ralph Nero.  All important people in my formation, philosophy and methods as a coach.  I was very lucky to have them in my life.  Now that my sons have all passed through the Grade 7/8 phase of their life, my appreciation for their coaches makes me enjoy my own memories even more.

U12 Club Soccer. 

My U11 year was not that much fun.  My travel team had very poor practice attendance and we never did look or feel like a team.  I was a main player on the team which made it more frustrating.  For U12, I decided to play U12/U13 house league with my friends and my coach was Jerry Mastroianni.  You would never look back and consider Jerry a soccer guy, but I do and I still remember him as one heck of a coach.  He was only 18 when he coached us, had his own car and already a hard working guy.  We all knew him because he was also a basketball referee.

Jerry wasn't a house league coach in the sense that we got a half-program or just show up type-of-thing.  First of all, he made sure we were fit.  Two sessions/week, 8 laps before we got into any soccer.  Then, Jerry made sure everybody had ideas about their positions (my first time ever).  I can't even remember what he told us or didn't tell us, all I remember was he took the effort in making sure everybody felt useful and understood their job.  Games were fun, the league was fun and I will never forget Jerry as a coach.

It impressed parents that a young man like Jerry was as dedicated as he was to our team.

A few years later I worked with Jerry at a local pizzeria and still see him often.  I hold him in high regards.

U12 Club Basketball (travel)

My travel coach for U12 Basketball was a gentleman named Larry Cooney.  He owned a local funeral
U12 U13 coaches
2007 St Catharines Concord U12.  My son 3rd from right, top row
home and was a big supporter of local hoops.  Still, to this day, he is the namesake of the Welland Tribune's Basketball Tournament MVP and his former funeral home sponsored Welland's Sportsman of the Year award.

Mr Cooney made sure we could all dribble and shoot.  There wasn't much in terms of set plays, etc.   If I took anything from his sessions it was repetition and technique.  During games he was competitive and fun at the same time.   Tournaments were fun and he smiled at all times.  Don't get me wrong, there was a fire burning in him that we all felt, but we learned how to play.  Seeing him afterwards I realized even more what a gentleman he was.  I was proud to have Mr Cooney as my coach.

"All important people in my development, philosophy and methods as a coach."
U12 Club Basketball (house league)

Everybody who played travel also played house league.  John Conte was our coach.  John passed away at a young age but I will never forget him.

His knowledge of the game was sound and he ran good practices.  He could sneak in great one-liners while delivering his message while we worked on set plays, etc.  Our practices were fun and we learned. 

But what I remember the most about John was that he ALWAYS came to games dressed like a million bucks.  There were always girls talking about John Conte and that made him a king to us.  The fact that he was a good coach who cared about us was an added bonus. 

Games were fun, but he expected us to play hard.  He used to sneak out of work for a while (men's wear, of course) to be with us.  Everybody, all game, was getting information, heck for something and funny one liners.  We're talking players and referees alike.

The one thing about John was I heard parents compliment him on being dedicated.  Not sure why that sticks, but it does.

Right now John's brother, Ben, coaches my son's U18 team and I am glad to help.  I feel like I am paying John back.

U12/U13 School Basketball

When you played for St Andrew's School in Welland, it was an honour.  The school won 5 straight City and County championships, on the boys and girls side.  It wasn't by mistake.  John Witlib was the coach and he was OK with whatever you brought to training, as long as it was perfect and 110%.  As a student, you were expected to be better than everybody else, not just as good.  Marg Connelly was the girls coach.

Every year, after first report cards, he would go through EVERY report card for Grade 6 boys and up.  There was a list on the wall shortly after saying "The following boys are eligible to try out for the School Boys basketball team".  If you had one failing mark in any class, you were not on that list.

Every June he had a meeting with all boys who were in Grade 5-7 and gave us a training plan for the summer.  Every practice, 30 foul shots.  Every day during the winter you had to have boots, hat, coat, gloves and a scarf.  On game days, dress pants, dress shoes and button up shirt.  Your uniform was brought to school on a hanger and hung in the nurses room.

U12 U13 coaches
2005 Welland Wizards U11, my oldest son sitting 2nd from left
Over and above all of this was the basketball.  And that was a story all on its own.  We all had a ball in our hands so much during grade 7 and 8 you felt like basketball was the reason you were at school. (Mr Witlib made sure we knew it wasn't).

Mr Witlib was not only a very very good coach, he was a very solid man.  We all looked up to him.  He was athletic, well spoken, very funny and he cared about us.  On top of all that, he knew a hell of a lot about basketball.

U13 Club Basketball (travel)

Ralph Nero was a legend to all of us.  Growing up, playing minor basketball, you wanted to make Mr Nero's team in Grade 8.   He was a nice man, a VERY knowledgeable basketball coach and he cared about us.  During that season, I really learned how to play sports, not just basketball.  Mr Nero taught us how to play , technically and tactically.  We used to do this position during warm-up which was our defensive stance.  We held it till it burned.  Technique was super important to him and he could diagnose any problem we had with remedies.  So many good players passed through Mr Nero's programs he would have his own alumni association of university and college players.

It clicked into me as an adult that his real intention was to make sure we could all compete at the high school level.  over the next few years, when he showed up at your high school games, you tried harder.

Years later, he was coaching basketball at Niagara College when I started coaching soccer.  From there I learned one of the building blocks of the LTPD philosophy being propagated now.  He knew the college aged athlete and how to treat them.  I watched him with them and he wasn't the same as when he was with us at U13.  We had may talks about this over the years and I found it very helpful.

During the winter of 1979/1980, on Mondays and Wednesday, we would train at St Andrew's until 5:30ish and Mr Nero drove by in his big Ford and we all piled in to go to Plymouth School to train until 8pm.  Mr Witlib and Mr Nero.  Can you ask for a better situation to be in twice/week?

U13 Club Soccer (travel)

Growing up, Port Colborne always had the best team in our age group.  When I played for Jerry in U12 there was a travel tournament in Welland.  Welland had entered a U11 team to fill a spot and asked if I would play with them.  So I was a U12 player on a u11 team in a U12 tournament.

We played Port Colborne and after the game their coach asked why I wasn't playing for Welland U12 travel and asked if I would consider playing with them next season (U13) .  The coach was Lino DiPasquale.  My father never interfered with my sports, but he did tell me I wasn't playing travel soccer in Welland anymore.  So it all worked out.

Starting from January training at the INCO gym, I had been overwhelmed with so much soccer information that I'd never heard before.  When he pulled out a chalkboard to describe the new formation they were playing. I was in heaven.  The players were good, the training was busy and I was learning.  I knew most of the guys from previous years and basketball so there was no social barrier.

I had a slow start but assistant coach Jim Babirad and Lino both made sure I molded into a winger and success came soon after.  I was a big boy and they took full advantage of that.

Our games?  Well, I tell people our team was non-stop socializing up to the opening whistle and after the last whistle.  Family presence was important with that group.  The game, well it was a thunderstorm.  You were expected to produce but they prepared us to produce.  Lino was passionate, knowledgeable, volatile and caring all at the same time.  Looking back, I'm not sure how I would rate him as a technical teacher, but he could get us to play, and play hard.  I say that because I don't remember the technical parts of training with them.

Years later, we lost in extra time in the Ontario Cup final.  We were in the dressing room, upset, Lino walked in, big smile, sat next to our left winger, Mark, and slapped him on the thigh and said "That was one hell of a soccer game, eh Frenchie?".  At that moment I knew the last few years were the right decision.

I still see Lino and many of my teammates.  I will never forget that first year with them.

Those two years of my sporting life happened at the right time, at 12/13 years old.  That is when kids decide to quit or change sports.  For me, it cemented my passion for both.  I cherish the guys I played with during that time.  As a coach, you have that power when the athletes are that age.

Much of what I do and my conduct is modelled after those six men and their assistants.  I still see my coaches often and we always talk about our common sport.  They know what I am up to and I feel like a little boy again when they say something nice. 

All of my coaches were nice people from U6 to men's league.  But those two years with that group of people really stands out as the most formative.

So far, my sons all had fairly positive sports experiences during U12/U13 with soccer and hockey.  My youngest son was a bit nonchalant with sports but something has sparked in him this year, during grade 8.  Physically, he is the most equipped of my three sons.  Tactically/Gamesmanship, my middle son leads his brothers and my oldest is the most competitive.  Basketball was not always a good experience, but my boys still enjoy their hoop on the driveway so they did get something out of it.

The coach who assumes the job at the beginning of the Active for Life Stage has a very big job to do and their influence is huge.

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.