Archive for April, 2011

One of my players suggested this book to me and I’m glad he did.  I’ve read Ken Blanchard’s “One Minute Manager” and was very impressed with his writing, and this book was just as good.  Co-authored with Sheldon Bowles, the book is a parable of a corporate worker who gets fired for not being a team player.  In his spare time he takes up coaching his son’s fifth grade hockey team, and the lessons he learns about teamwork in the process.

There were four main principles they listed to developing a “High Five” team spelled out the acronym P.U.C.K. 

  1. Providing clear purpose and shared values.  An over-arching team goal or purpose that everyone buys into has to be established before anything else.  What is the “holy grail” that will challenge and motivate people to work together?  Make sure there is a clear goal and strategy to achieve the goal.  Once the team goal or purpose has been established then the individual goals and strategies need to be developed so each person knows how they can help the team achieve success.  The shared values by a group helps to define the group and build shared team culture.  The team purpose needs to be prominent for the group so they are reminded of where they are going (ie. the hockey team chanted their team purpose before every practice and every game).
  2. Unleashing and developing skills.  The fundamentals needed to be successful have to become a priority.  Without quality individual skills the team is useless.  Each member of the team needs to have a solid working level of the skills it’s going to take to be successful in achieving the team purpose or goal.  These skills need to be trained and developed until each has a working mastery of them.  Feedback should be provided that is positive and builds confidence and accountability in each person.
  3. Creating team power.  “None of us is as good as all of us.”  The term they liked to use in the book was “synergistic harmony.”  There must be a game plan that will help a team to be successful when each person plays their part.  Establish a system of rewarding teamwork and making it more important than individual achievement.  The individuals in the team have to understand the power and potential of what can be accomplished when they work together rather than working at the same time.
  4. Keeping the accent on the positive.  The final step is to repeatedly reward and recognize the team when they are living out the first three steps.  This will help build a culture in your team and keeps the cycle moving.  For each step there needs to be repeated rewards and recognition so the team develops a habit of each one.  This principle becomes the lasting piece that will help your team sustain success rather than going through highs and lows of working together as a team.  The idea is to catch people doing the right things, and reward them or recognize them in those moments.  Don’t punish negative behavior, but redirect the individuals towards their goals and the team purpose.  All of the recognition and rewards should be linked to the team purpose and goals.

The book was written for corporate management and team building, but the principles are the same for soccer teams.  I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad to see a university professor that makes his college students read books like this one.  There is a lot of value to be reaped from this book and I would recommend it to anyone who works in a team environment.

The fact that it is written in a parable format made the reading enjoyable and easy, but I would recommend spending some time and picking out the principles and digesting them a little.  It’s easy to see how the four principles above can be applied to a soccer team, but the work comes with implementation. 

Most coaches will enjoy this book because it doesn’t try to rewrite anything or give us a magic formula.  The principles in the book are all familiar, and sometimes we just need a reminder.  But the four principles are logically laid out and I like how the authors show the progression; needing a team purpose before we can develop the skills to be successful individuals and help the team to that goal, etc.  I think this will be a book that I will have to add to my collection and use as a resource for my coaching staff.

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I had a great opportunity to analyze the Chivas USA v Columbus Crew game at the Home Depot Center this past week with a former Chivas USA coach.  Thought it would be great to pass on some of the information I learned about reading and analyzing a soccer match.

First; match analysis is something I’m very interested in because I was never taught much about it as a player or as an assistant coach.  Most of what I’ve learned about this important component has been self-taught, reading books, and brining up the issue with other coaches.  However, I feel like this is an aspect of the game that coaches in the USA don’t do very well and heavily under-use to improve our teams.  So what are the components of a match analysis?  Below is an example of what the US Soccer Federation (USSF) recommends for analyzing a match… 

  1. Team Stucture: What system are they playing?  What is the shape they are in?
  2. Attacking tendencies: How do they try to advance the soccer ball?  What are their objectives to advance the ball?  Who is the game maker; goal scorer; and who takes their restarts?
  3. Defending tendencies: What is the line of confrontation?  What style of defending are they using?  Man/Zone?
  4. Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses: How do you and the opponent match up with speed, size, and technical ability.
  5. Set Pieces: What are their objectives on corners, free kicks, inside of the penalty area extended, outside the penalty area extended.  Who are the kickers, their tendancies, cues?  Key target players.

Really enjoyed doing a match analysis with the National USSF Staff.  Walking through the match analysis and how we would use the information to plan out our training approach for the next week.  Very beneficial.  Highly recommend sitting down and making a priority list for yourself and using it when your team plays. 

This past year I’ve been able to discipline myself to start taking notes on the three stages of the game for our team (attacking, defending, transition of possession).  This has really helped my training sessions to become more focused and the players are making marked improvement on the things that will change our game for the positive.  I’ve always tried to design my training sessions around what I saw in the previous match, but the things I see are a lot different when I decide to be quite, sit down, observe the game, and make notes.  Wonder how many things I missed the previous eight years of coaching?

Warm-Up:

Every day we warm-up with a technical passing sequence as the guys show up to training.  Today they went through diamond passing in groups of 6/7 players per grid.   Everything is one or two touch and the players have fifteen minutes to warm themselves up and get through dynamics.

Specific Warm-Up:

Goal keepers went with keeper coach to work on footwork.  Field players got into a 44×36 yd grid and proceeded to do a 1 touch passing warm-up.  First with two balls and worked our way up to five soccer balls in the grid.  Only instructions to the players is to keep the ball moving, only allowed to use one touch, play the ball the ball the way you’re facing, and communicate and look so one player doesn’t end up with two soccer balls at his feet.  Worked up to a ratio of 3 players to one ball.

Transitioned into triangle passing, three players per group.  Two players play one-touch passes, third player stretches the field and reads when to check to.  One of the passers looks up, takes a touch towards the third player, plays the long pass and follows to play one-touch passes with the third player.  They repeat. 

Coaching points: third player is supposed to read the passer, not dictate the pass.  When they pick their head up and take a touch towards them that is when he is allowed to check to the ball.  Second coaching point is the passer always supports the long pass with a run.  Slowly introduce wall passes, overlaps, and takeover into the activity combining with the third player and then going into their one-touch passes.

Small Sided Game:

Transitioned into 3v3 inside a 44×36 yard area (two penalty areas) with a goal and each endline and keepers joined us at this time (had two games going on at once).  Midline was introduced between the two penalty areas.  Players set up to play 2v1 in each half.  The two defensive players play possession on their half and look to combine with the third player in the attacking half.  If they do one of the defenders can be played into the attacking half to go forward.  Played a round robin tournament, two teams with the best record at the end played a “championship” while other two teams cleaned up balls and cones.

Coaching points: same as above, the third player in the attacking half needs to time their runs and read the passers.  The passer needs to do a better job supporting the pass and combining to get the ball into the other half and create a 2v2 to goal scenario.  As soon as they are dispossessed then one player needs to drop to defending half.

Expanded Game:

Removed the rebound goal in the middle of the two smaller grids and opened up a 44×72 yard space (played penalty area to penalty area) with goals at each end.  Penalty areas were marked out.  Played 7v7 in this area and only restriction was a striker had to combine with a mid to bring another player into the final third.  Players can shoot from anywhere on the field, but the striker has to combine to bring someone into the final area. 

Coaching points: watch for third man combinations all over the field, especially combining with the striker to finish the attack.  Same reads, don’t check too until they see the passer pick their head up and take a forward touch.

Open Match Play:

Played straight up 7v7 with subs.  Two 8 minute halves, at the half let the two teams get together for 2 minutes to discuss and make adjustments.  Field clean up for the losers.

Coaching points: same as above, how can the passer support their pass and join the forward momentum.

Cool Down and Stretch

Comments About the Session:

The players struggled to transition from the 3v3 to the 7v7 using the principles.  Probably need to stop the play early in the 7v7 game a little more often and show them visual pictures of where they could have used the third man to support a pass.  I think they understood what  we were doing, but definitely need to work on this more to make sure we make it a natural part of our game.

I’m a huge fan of coaching education, and I’ve been very involved in both sides of it as a candidate and as an instructor.  I think it has been one of the great benefits of pursuing a career in coaching soccer that I never thought would be much of a benefit.

This weekend I was an instructor at a “D” License course and it just reminded me of how great our profession is.  Each night I had the opportunity to sit down with other coaches and pick their brains about a million different things.  We covered tactics, coaching psychology, vented a little about parents, and got to know why we all fell in love with this crazy career path.

Does a coaching license determine how good of a coach you are?  No, there are several good coaches out there who do not have a coaching license, and there are a lot of coaches who have several licenses and we wonder how it happened.  But here is the reality of the process, promoting coaching education the way soccer associations do is a very unique attribute of our sport.  Having a license program (or diploma program) is a great way to bring coaches together and promote professional development.  Most coaching associations have an annual convention, but there aren’t too many that have a progressive educational process that can take a parent coach to be a high level competitive coach, and maybe even the director of other coaches. 

I sat down with a young coach yesterday and we talked for three hours about being a collegiate coach in the women’s game.  She had just finished their first year coaching and some of the insights she had were things I had never considered.  Her views on physical conditioning and the psychology dynamics of being a female coach for a women’s team compared to the male coach of a women’s team were really interesting (another topic for a future post).

One thing I noticed, as an instructor, were the different motivations for coaches attending the course.

  1. They were being forced.  Our state association has a rule that any coach who works with U15-U18 must be a D licensed coach.  Or the club I work for requires all competitive head coaches to be at least a C licensed coach.
  2. It was free.  The hosting association was waiving the registration fee for active coaches to help push the numbers.
  3. Coaches who wanted to grow.  These have to be the best candidates to work with from an instructor’s point of view.  They want to learn, they ask good questions, and look for application to their current coaching situation.
  4. And finally, the coaches who need it to move on.  These are the coaches who might think they are too good to learn anything from you and they just need the “check in the box” to move on to the license level they really want.  Or they are simply doing it so they can say they have it.

The coaches in groups 1 and 2 are challenging because we need to grab their attention and show them the importance of the course in the first day or they’ll probably drop out.  You see it all the time, they show up for external reasons and once they get there and see coaches from high schools, or top level clubs, and even college coaches they start to get really nervous and just realize it’s probably not for them.

The coaches in groups 3 and 4 are internally motivated, and they will stick it out, but there is a major difference in the quality of their interaction and demeanor.  Coaches in group 3 are engaged and help create a positive learning environment.  They are participating in the activities and discussion, they look for real world application, and they usually ask the best questions that benefit the whole group.  Coaches in group 4 can be a positive influence, but sometimes you get the coach who thinks there’s nothing to be gained from the course.  Someone in the Federation made a mistake by not letting them go directly to the A license and they don’t want to learn anything because they already have it figured out.

Coaches in group 3 are the reason I’ve decided to be so involved in coaches education.  Getting together after the sessions are over to talk shop is one of the best parts of these courses.  If you get a group of professionals together (whether in coaching or otherwise) that have a passion to grow as an individual and have an attitude that they have something to learn from almost anyone the conversation can flow for hours and hours into the night.  The amount of knowledge and experience in a room full of people like this could shorten the learning curve for some of us by years!

True leaders of any field are the men and women who have a thirst for knowledge and growth.  This is the purpose of this blog, to give us an opportunity to sit down and hash things out across the internet instead of just at a coaching course.