Archive for February, 2012

This off-season I’ve changed a few things to try and develop a more competitive culture on our team.  The objective is to raise the level of fight in our players, and to be the team that is playing to the last whistle harder than any other team.  I also want to foster a culture of unity; working together to be the best that we can be as a unit rather than as individuals.

At the NSCAA Convention this year I had the opportunity to hear Coach Dilanni break down his competitive environment philosophy.  They use a series of competitions in three main areas; The Player (soccer), The Person (personal growth), and The Student (academics).

So when we got back to Wesleyan we decided we could use an off-season competition to raise the level of teamwork and competitiveness in our players.  And stealing from Coach Dilanni we wanted to make it a competition that focused on the players as a whole person, not just a soccer athlete.

After the famous Anson Dorrance we decided to call our competition the Cauldron Cup, and our players were divided into four teams that were arranged by the coaching staff.  The four teams were organized to have an equal number of upper class men and freshmen, and each team had one of our four leadership council members on it.  Then we asked the teams to designate a captain (could not be a leadership council member) and those captains were responsible for reporting scores and organizing the team competitions.

Then our coaching staff came up with a series of competitions that we thought would be fun and encourage the players to work together several different ways.

  1. Skills Challenge: in the off-season we have a skills circuit the players are run through once a week for seven weeks.  Every week the players keep score in seven skills ranging from one touch repetitions to 1v1 battles, and they are ranked 1-25 based on their scores.  The four teams are ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th based on how their team members finished that week.
  2. Basketball Challenge: to give us something different and unrelated to soccer we have the players do something outside their comfort zones that requires some physical challenge.  The four teams play a round robin, and then the top two seeds play a championship, and the bottom two seeds play a consolation game.
  3. Fund Raiser Challenge:  we decided to involve the players in the fundraising dilemma and thought we’d make a competition out of it.  Each team is given a week to raise as much money as they can, and the winning team was going to get a box suite at a local semi-professional hockey game.  My thought was it gave the players some ownership and an opportunity to be creative.
  4. Academic Challenge: midterm grades would be calculated and a team average GPA would be ranked against the other teams.
  5. Picture Hunt: teams are challenged to take a creative picture from town that best represents what we are about as a university soccer program.  Coaches will rank the pictures 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
  6. Dutch Cup: our second soccer related challenge is an individual challenge essentially. Players are randomly placed on teams and put into small sided games of various kinds.  The players receive points based on how their team performed that one round, and then they are randomly mixed again and placed on different teams.  We use this throughout spring ball and try to get at least six rounds of games in.  Players accumulate points individually, and the four teams’ points are added up to give a team rank.

The idea is that we are creating a competitive environment where the players have to rely on each other, but also learn how to compete in a healthy way against each other to raise the bar of the program.

So far the guys seem pretty into it.  The mix of activities, especially the unrelated ones, seem to be a big hit with the guys to give the winter a different look.  I’ll post results and put together an off-season review to let you all know how it goes.

The “American Style” of Soccer

Posted: February 17, 2012 in US Soccer
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With the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann as the head men’s coach of the US National Team there has been a lot of talk the last six months about finding the “American Style” of soccer.  It’s been a debate for decades in the United States, but has been something that Jurgen has raised to the forefront of the soccer community in the USA again most recently.  It’s an issue that I keep going back and forth on, and now with the announcement of the US Development Academy moving to a 10 month season we see more of a push for our youth to conform to our European counterparts.

What is this elusive “American Style” of soccer?  One side says it needs to have a Latin presence, another says it needs to be a counter attacking style, and with the recent hiring of Klinsmann we’re seeing a push for us to become a more attack minded nation.

First, let me preface this with a comment; US soccer as it is right now is not competitive enough at an international level.  Considering we are one of the most advanced nations in athletics as a whole with our progressive training, nutrition science, facilities, resources, and the social importance we place on athletics it is a wonder that we can’t be more competitive at this sport.  Our society is a ripe environment to foster progressive athletics, but we seem to have missed something in soccer.  Thus the continual debate over what exactly is missing and what we can do to catch up to the rest of the world.

Right now I am sitting in on a Sports in Society class that studies the sociology of sports, specifically in US society.  The arena of sports is not exclusive to the United States, but it is clear that our country has helped revolutionize athletics as a business and elevated the entertainment value of these games.  The professionalization of athletes to the multimillion dollar enterprise it has become was spearheaded by the US social structure.  Athletics, and athletes, have always been a major social structure in the world history, but never have we seen so many resources poured into games that are expressly for the entertainment of the masses.  Not only are athletes making a living off of this industry, but sports scientists, fitness trainers, nutritionist, sport psychologist, coaches, advertisers, agents, and even grounds keepers have full time jobs to keep this industry moving forward.  This is the world we live in, and yet we trail behind the rest of the world in this beautiful game.

Growing up in a country outside the United States I had the opportunity to see how the rest of the world views athletics.  In the European culture sports has become just as much of an industry as it has in the United States, but it has developed much differently than in the US.  During the industrial revolution we saw the development of sports clubs in each town that provided facilities and sometimes coaching for local residents.  They would pay their fees and participate in these sports clubs and would challenge neighboring towns.  As athletics developed these sports clubs became professional businesses and started paying athletes to come represent their club.  When sports leagues were officially organized they were structured around these sports clubs.

In the United States we had sports clubs at one time too, but the evolution of sports took a much different route in the USA.  With the importance of education and the role it played in our society we see colleges take the role the “sports clubs.”  The collegial environment of scholastic sports developed at the same time as our sports clubs for amateurs, and thus it has become a very important part of the fabric of our athletic culture.  No where else in the world can you find 20,000+ people paying top dollar for seats at a secondary school sporting event like you can in Texas on a Friday night.  It’s absolutely unheard of, and yet in our society there is something about the identification of a scholastic institution with their sports teams.

So how does soccer fit into all of this.  With the rise of soccer in the United States we’ve begun to see a shift in the direction our governing body, USSF, wants to take the development of athletes.  And, as mentioned earlier, there is a huge need for us to catch up with our counter parts in Europe and South America.  But my question comes down to this; is it right for us to sacrifice our culture for the sake of winning?  If we are trying to find a way to rival the world with an “American Style” shouldn’t we try and find the “American Way?”

Maybe playing for your high school or college team plays an important role in the development of competition and team spirit that playing for a club can’t give us?  The one thing I love about watching the US Men’s National Team is the confidence that we will never give up and we will fight to the last whistle.  We have that will to win, and that spirit to fight for our team and country.  Is this an important piece of the “American Style” that we might be cutting out by eliminating scholastic sports from the development of our youth?

Growing up overseas I didn’t see a lot of countries trying to change their development of basketball and track athletes to mimic our scholastic development system.  Even though I would say that we have been a forerunner in these events we don’t see a lot of European countries trying to adapt their sports culture to be more like the USA.  So do we lose something when we ask our youth to sacrifice this important cultural event so that they can be trained by the same coach for 20 of the next 24 months?  Is it right for us to force a social shift in this one sport?

And I speak from a limited point of view.  I’m sure there are other sports that I’m not aware of that have to got through something similar here in the United States.  But I see this debate raging back and forth all the time about the US Style and System, and what I’m really seeing is a push to be more like someone else rather than a push to discover what it is we can be.

Is there a way for us to play on the strengths of the US sports culture and incorporate the best of what we see happening around the world?  Do we need to sacrifice who we are and how approach athletics that has made us so competitive in other areas, because we feel at such a disadvantage right now?  Is there a way to find our true American Style in the way we have become so dominant in the other arenas?

Not sure I have all the answers, but I do feel like we are going to look back on these couple of decades in the development of this sport I love and wonder why we gave up our American way.  Maybe the best thing isn’t to keep sending our youth overseas and disconnect them from this great country and the social structure we have for athletes?

Something does need to change, but I’m not sure we’re going about it the American way.

Fundraising Weekend

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Team Management

One of the necessary evils of coaching is fundraising and convincing your team that it IS necessary.  This weekend we are hosting our annual youth futsal tournament, a major fundraiser for our program, and motivating our players to play their part in this event is like pulling teeth.

My personal feeling as a coach is to build the best program that is possible, and in every situation I’ve coached fundraising is a must to do this.  Small college soccer is not afforded large budgets, but we still want to create that college experience.  Therefore, the need to find those funds is crucial to building the environment and program that we want.

We have three primary fundraisers that our players participate in to help pay for equipment, travel for a big trip every two years, and spring competitions.  The indoor tournament is one of these three, and it is also a major marketing tool as well to get our programs name out to the state.

Without these fundraisers we’d need our players to each contribute approximately $500 a year, and I feel this is a significant amount on top of tuition, books, room & board, and miscellaneous expenses.  So giving up a couple afternoons and a Saturday-Sunday to help with these efforts sounds like a small commitment to me.

On the other hand it is an extremely frustrating process as a coach (at least it has been for me).  I keep trying to find ways to decrease the time commitment and increase the profitability, but it always seems to be pulling teeth to have our guys participate.  Definitely one of my least favorite elements to college coaching.

However, the youth tournament we host is a great event.  This year is our biggest year with 45 teams participating and the level of play has gotten better every year as well.  And I can’t stess the marketing importance for our program to have 45 youth teams from across the state on campus playing in our facilities and having a positive experience with our men’s program.  I think it adds a lot to the regional recognition of our college program and exposes kids to the college level.

Quote of the Day

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Quote of the Day

“Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.”

– William A. Ward

Had a great discussion in my class this week about how we should define leadership.  Here are some of the definitions my students came up with…

“Someone who guides or directs a group.  They must be a motivator and a role model.  They influence people in a positive way.”

“Holding your team accountable and showing them the right way to do things through speech and actions.”

“Leadership is influence on a group of people to do a task for the better good.”

The definition we use in our class is from the book “Launching a Leadership Revolution” by Woodward and Brady; “Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction and is done through the example, conviction, and character of the leader.”

As John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence- nothing more, nothing less.”  And I fully support this belief.  Positive or negative, leadership is simply the influence of other people.  As we discussed these various definitions the comment was made that John Maxwell’s definition was too broad, and it is, but that’s the point.

Leadership is not for the select few who are given a title or position above other people.  It can be as broad as the father who has influence over his wife and kids, or the one person who influences a group of friends to select a designated driver.  My personal belief is that leadership moments arise in everyone’s life, and what matters is the willingness to recognize and act upon this moments.

Therefore, everyone has the responsibility to develop their leadership skills and potential to be ready for these moments.  Everyone will be called to step up and lead at some point in their lives, so the responsibility is on us to be ready for these events to lead effectively.  That’s why I include a unit on leadership in a Psychological Dynamics of Sport class and in our curriculum with the soccer team.

Our world needs people who care about being ready for these moments they are called to lead in.

Great Quote on Leadership!!!

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Book Review
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“Everything rises and falls on leadership…The effectiveness of your work will never rise above your ability to lead and influence others. You cannot produce consistently on a level higher than your leadership. In other words, your leadership skills determine the level of your success- and the success of those who work around you…

“This is humorous story underscores the importance of effective leadership: During a sales meeting, the manager was berating the sales staff for their dismally low sales figures. ‘I’ve had just about enough of poor performance and excuses,’ he said. ‘If you can’t do the job, perhaps there are other sales-people out there who would jump at the chance to sell the worthy products that each of you has the privilege to represent.’ Then, pointing at a newly recruited, retired pro-football player, he said, ‘If a football team isn’t winning, what happens? The players are replaced. Right?’

“The question hung heavy for a few seconds; then the ex-football player answered, ‘Actually, sir, if the whole team was having trouble, we usually got a new coach.'” – John Maxwell; “Developing the Leader Within You”

Four weeks into the spring semester for our university and second week of off-season training.  Just thought I’d discuss our off-season principles and priorities.

Technical, physical, mental and tactical development are all intermixed in off-season training.  We break our spring semester into two phases; Phase one runs from mid-January to early March and we focus more on technical and physical development during this phase.  Phase two runs mid-March through April and the focus is implementing tactical elements and developing the mental side of the game.

Phase one will run six weeks and includes three main elements.  The first is individual skills training in small groups of 4-6 athletes twice a week.  One session is always a touch and passing accuracy skills circuit that the players are ranked on every week.  Scores accumulate for the whole six weeks and players are ranked for the entire period.  The second skills session is up to the coaching staff to focus on the technical elements that were seen lacking during the previous season.

The second element of phase one is weight training.  We lift year round, but during this six week period we will run through a metabolic routine that really pushes the players lactic acid threshold.  We have two lower body days and an upper body day with at least 72 hours rest between the two lower body days.

The final element involves film and tactical sessions once a week.  These sessions are held with the entire team, or in their lines depending on the tactical elements that we want to address with the players.

Phase two is a five week period when we go back outside and also schedule three dates of scrimmages that we normally term “spring ball.”  For each spring ball session the coaching staff identifies a couple tactical elements that we feel need attention before the upcoming competitive season.  It is also a time for us to look at new line ups that will be options for the upcoming fall.  We normally train three times a week at normal training times, and have a team meeting once a week to either watch film or address mental skills training.

According to league rules we are allowed to schedule three competitive dates during this period.  Normally we schedule scrimmages against non-conference schools to give us a different look, and we prefer playing teams who are a division above ours to really push our limits and prepare us for the fall.  And if we can schedule it, we will try to have an alumni scrimmage in the spring as well to give us a fourth date of competition and to bring the graduates back to campus and see where the program is headed.

Over the years I’ve noticed that spring semester is a tough time for fall sports.  The season seems so far off in the distance, and the winter months seem long.  Motivation is usually a tough thing, and it’s important to keep team goals for the upcoming season in front of the players.  Still, it is a challenge to keep the intensity high during this period.  But it usually helps to get back outside in March and start getting back to playing other teams.