Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It's time to cut your BEST player

Now that I have your attention 👊

With the recent passing of Dick Bate, I was reminded of something he said to us while he was still in Canada, as the CSA Technical Director:

"The best coaches lose their best players."

In February 2006, we had Coach Bate visit the Welland Soccer Club for an on-field and classroom session.  He opened his talk with that line and the room was overcome with a thundering, earth-shattering silence.

The concept was revolutionary for many, but for a few it's something that has frustrated us for years.  At the time, as the club's technical director, I was in a battle-royale with a club coach over a player.  The player was very good, the current coach was weak and the team played in a lower league.  We had no viable in-club option to serve her.  She was on her way to a better team, in a better league with a better coach and I was being asked by their coach to call her parents to advise them (ie. mislead) that they were making a mistake.  His beef was that it would hurt his team and he would lose more players.  My argument was that it was best for the player and it would give another player on his team a chance to move up and be "the best player".

Why would you ever hold a player back if they have outgrown you or your situation?  Once the thought has entered somebody's mind, it may as well be dealt with because the relationship is about to be tested.

A different situation could be a better/different league or a better coach.  To me, the deal must include moving to a better coach to make it legitimate, but sometimes being in a better league with a competent coach will help the kid.  (nb. a higher league does not always equal better soccer.)

We all need to remember something very important; we do NOT own the player.

In my own experiences I have witnessed:

  • Ontario coaches trying to keep their players away from Toronto FC Academy when it was first organized. (I list this first because it shocked me the most)
  • Up until 2015, U14 coaches who did not qualify for OYSL work to keep their players away from the teams that did qualify and did have a competent coach at the helm.  
  • In Niagara, local coaches working to keep players away from the Regional program that their own presidents voted into existence. In four instances, it was coaches who supported the program until they were not chosen to coach a regional team.
  • As coach of the Niagara U12 District program for 4 years, some coaches told me they did not want their players to come out for fear of them being recruited by other coaches. At the time, the District program was the fist step in the Regional/Provincial program. 
  • Coaches that would not agree to let their players play for the club team above them, as a call up.  Whether it's B team to A team or playing a year up.  We reminded them that they did not have that authority.

The best player on every team has not necessarily outgrown their situation, but there are instances where this is clearly the case.  This is where the Technical Director needs to start the conversation. From a club perspective, an ideal solution has the player play for the same club.

Some possible scenarios for expanding your best player's experiences:

  • Arrange attendance at training sessions with a higher level team/coach.
  • Arrange maximum call-ups to the next highest team at your club.
  • Arrange maximum call-ups to a higher team at another club.
  • Arrange a guest-player scenario for another team at a tournament.
  • If the player agrees and a competent coach is present, move them to the next highest team at your club. If this is not available, then another team at another club.

There are two possible outcomes if you offer to expose your better players to another situation: they will accept or they will decline.  Either way, all of your players will know you have their best interests at heart and that's a big deal.

I have been coaching with the same gentleman since 1988 and we have both always judged ourselves by how well our players do away from our program. Its a nice feeling to see them doing well.

Reaffirming my obsession/frustration with coaches who impede a player's progress was Dick Bate's gift to me and I am forever thankful.

Rest in Peace, Coach.


The young lady at the heart of my battle-royale mentioned earlier recently completed a 4-year degree on a Division 1 NCAA scholarship in Alabama.  The young lady who became the next "best player" after the departure also just completed a 4-year scholarship at a NCAA school.

I have seen players move to teams that were in lower divisions but coached by more qualified and better coaches.  Again, the coach.

Holy moly, I just looked. I haven't posted an article in almost two years.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Are you TRULY in tune with the tryout process?

You were awarded the team and your first advertisement goes out.  "TRYOUTS.  Wednesday, 6:00-8:00pm Blah Blah Blah"

Chances are, if you're reading this, you coach an amateur team that belongs to a club or educational institution.

Nobody has the tryout process mastered and we've all made mistakes that we wish we could take back.  We try to conduct them as professionally as possible, but nobody has it mastered.

What is your job during tryouts? What is appropriate for the age you are coaching? (If you are coaching U12 and below, are tryouts appropriate at all?)

You're thinking this might be a guide on how to select players, but it's just as much about the players you don't select and the environment you've set up at tryouts.

I am fortunate that I have a very enjoyable coaching situation with the Niagara College Men's and Women's Soccer programs.  I am surrounded and supported by good people and I like to think we look at the tryout process in a bigger scope, outside of soccer.

On a quantitative level, our job is to select the 22-24 student-athletes who we feel will achieve the best possible results and challenge for a national championship. There is much more going on.
Nobody has the tryout process mastered and we've all made mistakes that we wish we could take back. 
We are in a different position than basketball and volleyball.  Their student-athletes have a chance to acclimatize to the campus environment and fall into a bit of a routine before their athletic schedules ramp up to their full commitment.  The first-year players who are in our program are figuring out their academic life while the soccer program is in in full motion, with some living away from home at the first time.

What do you need to keep in mind during your tryouts in your particular coaching situation?
This is what we need to consider during tryouts for our college program:
  • Recruiting begins early, many times when the prospective player is in Grade 11.  Are we giving them a positive image of Niagara College, and post secondary education in general?  We have the ability to get them excited about the next phase of their education. (Is your club's travel program making a positive impression that seeps its way down to the younger age groups?)
  • Varsity Soccer tryouts begin August 14, a full 26 days before the fall semester starts.  Do our new students and prospective athletes receive a positive impression of the college they've chosen?  If their parents drop them off, what will be their impression?
  • Is the organization and delivery on Day 1 consistent with the experience that Niagara College wants their new students to encounter?
  • Is the selection process laid out for them?  Is the Day 1 experience at soccer a sneak peak at their first days of class when professors review their Course Outline and Teaching and Learning Plans  for their selected courses in their respective programs?
  • Do they know what's expected of them, physically? Are they aware of the commitment and expectations? 
  • Niagara College is a diverse learning community and our tryouts reflect that in every way.  We welcome the athletes, share our passion for the game and our enjoyment of the situation, but we don't use jargon, clichés or make parochial comments to ensure the environment is inclusive and welcoming.  Not only is it respectful and properly reflects Canada, it also helps more players bring out their best and puts us in a better position to select the strongest team.
  • Can we answer more immediate questions for them about the college and details they need to tend to before classes begin?  During tryouts we receive questions regarding registration, financial aid, bookstore hours, local amenities, etc.  
In case you haven't noticed .. we haven't even touched the ball yet.
  • Is the process fair and does it provide players with a true opportunity to showcase their skills?  Not only does this respect the player, again,  it gives us a better chance of selecting the best players.
  • How do we deal with the players who aren't selected along the way? Some players have moved into their new living arrangements early and may end up being in Welland for a few weeks before classes begin.  Many go home and return for classes, but a few remain in the city.
  • Did we create a positive enough experience that the players who weren't selected still wish to seek out an active lifestyle in their new college environment? Being released from tryouts is a difficult life event, but handled correctly the player will find other avenues to stay active.
  • For the players who are selected, have we provided enough guidance and support that the beginning of the semester is a positive experience, not an avalanche of new commitments.
Niagara College has trusted us to deal with almost one hundred of their students before the semester begins and we know their expectations.  The situation is interesting because this will be the last occasion in most of these players' lives where they will face a tryout process.  For many of the selected players, it will also be the last time where they will compete for playing time.

That is our spectrum of considerations every August.  What does your club expect of you?  Do the players you released continue playing or do they quit after the selection process?  Will they stay at your club and try out again next year?

How you conduct the process and treat the players you release speaks volumes of who you are and
An example of a tryout ad.  I have no idea who this club is.
lays the foundation for a positive team environment.  In my situation, I encounter many of the students we did not select around campus and it's important to me that we continue to have a good rapport throughout the academic year.  It's important for the players we select to know that the players we didn't select were handled fairly.

Some ideas for your tryouts:

  • Do the players understand what you're looking for?  If you can't spell it out and share it, how will you know if you see it.  Sometimes a coach will tell a player "You didn't have what we were looking for."  and the player is wondering "What were you looking for?"
  • Learn their names.  We have a lot of players attending and take everybody's picture with them holding their name on a small whiteboard, resembling a mug shot.  I had a released player tell me once that I didn't know who he was.  When my assistant and I told him what he was wearing the past few days, where he was playing and some of the on-field scenarios we remember, he dropped the accusation.
  • Be ready and organized!  Get the tryout sessions going quickly so the players can show their stuff.  Long speeches at tryouts are just long speeches, nothing else.  They came to impress you, not vice verse.
  • Give players a fair chance to showcase their skills.  Often, if they're realistic, they will know the outcome before you tell them.  In a situation where there are a lot of players, not everybody will have a chance to play in a game, but there are still ways to have a game situation. A good friend is a scout for the Boston Bruins and he said once that players will cut themselves if tryouts give them enough chances to play.  I never forgot that.
  • My pet peeve is signing players along the way until you have two or three players battling for one or two spots - you've pretty much just told those kids they are the weakest on your team and you've set up a pecking order from day one. If you do implement that method, do so at your own risk and don't email me for advice because you will not like my answer.
  • If you are releasing a player, give them some information so they can move forward.  In a youth club environment, a list of contacts for other playing situations would be very helpful to them and their parents.
My final point for you to consider is how quickly news spreads in 2016.  Whether you inform the selected or released players first will not affect how quickly the telephone and social media inferno ignites and players start to figure out the team on their own.  The news should come from you, not from somebody else's Facebook status.

The specific process you implement will depend on numbers, schedule, facility availability etc.

Remember what your tryouts are; a group of ambitious, enthusiastic athletes who want to show you that they have the skills to be selected to the program you are running.  Their willingness to be judged and evaluated obliges you to give them the respect they deserve and nothing less.

Just remember to run a tryout process that you would feel comfortable with if you or your child were trying out for a team.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The importance of being yourself when you coach.

be yourself
In any activity where you are the leader in a situation such as coaching or teaching, a major part of your apprenticeship is being encouraged to "be yourself".

Sounds easy, doesn't it?

BE.  YOURSELF.  Ya, simple.

Since 1988, I have been coaching non-stop and have done a lot of teaching.  I even had a stint in politics.  Even with all that exposure, the "be yourself" thing took a while to happen.

Learning how to be yourself is a major part of your development in any profession or pursuit, including coaching.

Why is it so important to be yourself?  Well, the first reason is that you are beautiful.  You must be

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Danger of Consolidating Players Before U12

"The best players need to play together."  Do they?  Maybe, but when?

Let me offer some disclosure so you know my mind set.  I am not a fan of recruiting.

For your personal trophy case and perhaps your coaching resumé, consolidating the best players in your area as soon as possible might seem like a good idea.

For the development of the age group, I think early consolidation is damaging to everybody involved including the players who are being consolidated.

In many cases, consolidating players before their U12 year does nothing for anybody other than their coach. Not all cases, but many.

A coach has a decent U8 team.  He sees his friend has a son on a neighbouring town's team and the boy is decent.  "Hmm...." he thinks to himself and when the season ends, he invites his pal over for a

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Need to Show our Players How to Reflect

soccer reflection
"Reflection".  Sounds great, but do our players know how to reflect? Have you shown them how?

My coaching pal Chris Loucks brings this up on occasion and he got me thinking.

As you move up in your coaching education, reflection becomes a major part of the process.   Having also attended Teacher's College, I've been through the reflection process many times.

As adults we start to appreciate the benefits of reflecting and we make good use of what we learn from it.

The frustration for some is when you ask your players to reflect and they look at you with a blank face.  You may not remember this during your certification process, but somebody along the way did teach you how to reflect.  I wrote about reflecting way back in 2012.

Don't you think we need to teach our players how to reflect?