Archive for the ‘Coaching Philosophy’ Category

If you are a soccer coach in the area of Dakota Wesleyan University, please take our survey about the possibility of a coaching symposium to be held in Mitchell, SD.

The issue of professional development in the coaching ranks here in our region is one that is not addressed very often. The limit of coaching education usually ends with the USSF “D” License offered by the state association, and I am exploring the idea of offering a short symposium annually to address current trends in the sport.

Any feedback from coaches in the area would be greatly appreciated!  Please follow the link below…

This weekend we wrapped up another session of spring training.  Spring ball, as we call it at our college, brings a whole new environment to the college soccer experience.  In the fall every training session is directly related to our current performance.  Games are layered with pressure to perform and to stay in the hunt for postseason play.

In the spring there is no pressure to perform and attain results on a team level.  However, individual players are fighting for varsity roster spots, and starting positions on different teams.

This spring we improved every weekend of our matches.  We addressed two main themes this spring; winning the ball in specific areas of the pitch, and transitioning forward with quality and quick possession into the attacking third of the field.  Every week we saw players growing and adapting to the college game.

We entered spring ball with 26 players in training, and between injuries, eligibility, and the business of a student-athlete’s life we played our three dates of scrimmages with approximately 15-17 players.  This was actually a huge positive to the spring season; several players surpassed our expectations and really claimed spots on the varsity roster for next fall.  They showed marked improvement in their understanding of our team systems and tactics as a whole, and I will feel much more confident dipping into our bench next season when we are fighting injuries or weariness.

Overall I’ve been very encouraged with this spring ball season.  Probably much more than I have in any previous spring season while here at Dakota Wesleyan University.  But spring is still just spring, and the results mean nothing.

Now it’s time for the coaching staff to contemplate and agonize over what the fall season might bring during the long summer.  The hardest part of coaching a fall sport is leaving the preseason preparations in the hands of 35-40 young men who are looking forward to a well deserved break.  However, the summer is also a very exciting time with the endless possibilities of the season-to-come constantly on the mind.

We’ll find out in three and a half months!

This time of year I’m used to seeing a lot of coaches moving in and out of jobs.  In recent years the turnover has been less and less as coaches are hanging onto the jobs that they value in an uncertain economy.  And every spring I stand by and watch graduate assistant coaches struggle to find the next step for their careers.  Some have been fortunate and had the right doors open up for them, others I have to watch try and try and resign themselves to another career path.

It seems to me that the job market for soccer coaches has become extremely tough though in recent years.  One that is becoming very hard for entry level coaches to find their way up in a crowded job market.  With the recent hiring of Ryan Nelson at Toronto FC this past winter there seems to be a lot of questions about what young coaches need to do to break into the market.  Here was a player who had zero years of coaching experience, no coaching education to speak of, and spent zero hours getting acclimated to the league before diving in.

Then we watch a coach like Caleb Porter who came through the USA college system, played in the MLS for a couple of years, spent time as an assistant college coach, and then made a name for himself at Akron.  He worked his way through the USSF coaching license structure, ODP and U-23 National team coaching ranks, and finally landed a head job at the professional level.

Martin Rennie is another great example of a coach who worked his way up from a Premier Development League team, to the United Soccer Leagues, he made a stop in the North American Soccer League, and finally to the MLS.  He has his UEFA coaching badges and progressed as a coach through the ranks as he proved himself.

So what can my graduate assistant coaches, and many young coaches, take from these examples?  As the old expression goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  There isn’t a right answer, and it probably comes down to the individual creating and preparing for the right circumstance to arrive.  John Wooden has been credited with saying, “Luck is when preparation and opportunity intersect.”  People need to be ready, they need to be working and preparing themselves, because someday that opportunity will present itself.  The only question is will the individual be ready to rise to the occasion and grasp what is in front of them.

Some very qualified people are being overlooked for positions, and some very under-qualified coaches are being hired.  Ultimately it comes down to what you do.  There is no “right” answer, or magic formula, that will work for everyone.  It can be frustrating to watch, and it can be even more pain staking to endure.

In the end though I have to believe that the men and women who really feel led or called to be in this profession will find a way to coach and make an impact in this country for the beautiful game.

We were eliminated in the first round of the conference tournament; and the game was a great representation of how the season went as a whole for us.

The first half was a lot of fun.  We competed and played really tough together as a team and held the top seed to a 0-0 score line by the half time whistle, but unfortunately the second half was a total 180 degree turn from the first half.  We made major mistakes around the goal that resulted in two goals allowed off of set pieces, we didn’t stay focused and allowed things that were outside of our control to distract us, and we went away from our style of soccer and build up.  As a result we gave up three goals in the second  half and really didn’t give ourselves a chance to compete in the second period.

It was very gratifying to watch the guys compete in the first half, and even though I have to concede that the better team won, it was disappointing to watch our level of play drop so drastically in the second half.

And the toughest part of the night was saying good-bye to my first recruiting class here at DWU.  All six seniors hold a special place in my heart, and it was very difficult to go through that line and see each of them crying at the end of their career.

We finished the season strong, which is always a coaches objective, but overall I leave 2012 with a lot of questions about how we could have done more to reach our potential.  Felt this team had a lot more to give, and as a coach I was unable to get that out of them and help them reach their potential.

More to come later.  Season evaluations will be conducted tomorrow, and individual meetings will be conducted this week.  Hopefully it’ll give us a better idea of what we could have done better with the talent we had.

The 2012 season was supposed to be the crown jewel of all the work that has gone into the previous three years here at Wesleyan.  The first recruiting class are graduating this upcoming May and they had successfully turned a program that finished dead last in the conference into a title contender in 2011 with our second place finish.

But things don’t always turn out the way you imagine them too, and players don’t always care as much about the “crown jewel” as you do.  In all honesty this has to have been one of the toughest seasons in my young coaching career.  I’ve had worse seasons in the record books and on paper, but this one feels like we are the furthest from reaching our potential.

We returned nine starters from last years team, six All-Conference selections, and we brought in what I thought was one of the better recruiting classes we’ve ever had here.  For some reason the chemistry on the field has just not been there, and every game has been a struggle to stay competitive.  Off the field it feels like the team is closer than last year and the rookies have been accepted and brought into the family quickly.  But we don’t trust eachother on the field, we play very selfish and individualistic soccer on both sides of the ball.

So I’ve had to re-evaluate my coaching methods and our training schedule.  Are there things we need to go back and address or start from scratch.  We threw in a new defensive system after the first four matches.  We’ve changed our personnel over and over again looking for the 11 guys that play the best together.  Now that we have eight games left I’m looking at my notebooks from the previous three years and I’m wondering why I gave up so quickly on the things that got us here?

I threw out our team culture and system way too fast.  Now we’re having to play catch up by going back to it with a third of the season remaining.  But I’ve learned a valuable lesson this season; If I believe in the system and style that we are playing and I’ve recruited around these things then I need to be confident enough in them to give our team a chance to be successful with it.

There’s a time and a place to change things up, but maybe smaller changes can be made instead of wide spread changes.  It’s a simple lesson, and one that probably several of you already are aware of.  However it seems that I had to learn this the hard way.

All season the San Jose Earthquakes have been using the “Goonies never say die” tag line for their Supporters Shield run.  Need to take a little bit of that and apply it to DWU soccer.

The spring has been an bit up and down.  We’ve been trying to implement a few things into our style of play, and they’ve been a little shaky on the results.

This past weekend we hosted a triangular and the results were a little frustrating, but even more frustrating was the soccer on the field.  We gave our opponents several opportunities just outside the penalty area because we were very lax on our passing.  Passes were not crisp, they were off target, and they were constantly being lifted.  This made for a very tough possession game, and we couldn’t advance the ball.

Our defensive strategy is coming along, we still don’t have enough experience in it and we are leaving gaps open all over the place because we are not consistent in all our positioning.  We will probably have to go back to our style from this past fall, and continue working on it next spring and see what we can do with another two months working on it.

2012 is shaping up to be a year of question marks for us right now, and I’m starting to lean more towards sticking with what has gotten us here in the first place than implementing the next big thing.  But I don’t want to throw everything out.  We will take a look at the film over the summer, watch our games from this past season, and see where we can make improvements during pre-season and non-conference play next fall.

“Keep in mind the difference between a winner’s and a loser’s mentality. Winners focus on winning big – not just how to win, but how to win big. Losers, however, don’t focus on losing; they just focus on getting by!” – Bobb Biehl

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.

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.

The Annual NSCAA Convention is one of my favorite events.  I haven’t had the privilege of attending as often as I’d like because of distance and cost, but when ever I’ve been able to attend it has been an enjoyable event.

I love learning, and I enjoy this fraternity of coaches in our profession.  It’s one of the greatest benefits of this career and I would recommend to anyone to pursue any opportunities that arise to get involved and get around other coaches.

This years event had several highlights for me.  I’m just going to run through the highlights, but hopefully will have time to put down specific notes later on from sessions that I really got a lot out of.

The convention started off for me when I attended a panel discussion that included Anson Dorrance, Jay Martin, Janet Redfield and others as they covered developing the mental side of coaching.  It was a great session that covered topics such as the complete athlete, competitive caldron, quantitative measurements, and leadership.  The experience sitting on that panel alone would have been enough to make the convention worth while.

I attended several field sessions that seemed more geared towards attacking in the final third this year.  Clinicians like Paul Power (U-15 Manchester City FC coach), Tom Sermanni (Australian Women’s National Team coach), Peter Vermes (Sporting KC coach), Albertin Montoya (U-17 USA Women’s National Team coach), Shellas Hyndman (FC Dallas coach and personal favorite), and Tony DiCicco (former USA Women’s National Team coach).  Good content from most of the sessions, and I took something away from every person.

But this year I learned a lot from the lectures.  One of my favorites was a session led by Dave Dilanni (Head Women’s Coach at Grand Valley State) on the topic of creating a competitive environment at your university.  It was great not only because of the content he covered, but after every topic he would have us discuss what we would do at our own schools in that area with the coaches sitting at our tables.  Took a lot away from this session.

Another highlighted lecture for me was Martin Rennie’s (Vancouver Whitecaps coach) discussion on his journey from the corporate world to coaching in the Premier Development League, and finally all the way to coaching in the MLS.  It was great information because he discussed his personal coaching philosophy, key points to building a culture of success, and personal lessons on leadership.

I was also honored to be asked to sit on a panel for a session on how to get into coaching.  It was a small seminar held in conjunction with the national convention that was geared towards young or aspiring coaches.  The seminar was hosted by Deb Raber (Head Women’s Coach at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts) and Gary Cook (Head Boy’s Coach at Wilbraham & Monson Academy), both NSCAA National Academy staff members.  I sat in on some of the sessions throughout the day and it was great to see the NSCAA offer a course like this that was helping young coaches think about the paths they want to take to get into coaching.  The finished with a panel discussion including myself, Simon Nee (Director of Recruiting for the New York Red Bulls) and Theresa Echtermeyer (DOC for Highland Ranch Soccer Association and also a National Staff member of the NSCAA).  We simply shared our stories about how we got into coaching and then it was opened to questions from the audience.  Definitely a highlight for me to be sitting with three national staff members and a professional ranks coach.

And finally, the biggest highlight of the convention this year was the opportunities I had to talk with so many experienced coaches.  The first was Dave Brandt (Head Men’s Coach at US Naval Academy) who helped orchestrate the success at Messiah College on the men’s side.  He agreed to sit down with us for 1.5 hours to discuss his coaching philosophy, methods, and tactical system.  I think it ‘s great when a coach with experience like that is willing to sit down and “talk shop” with people he doesn’t even know.  Also had the privilege of talking to Doug Williamson (Asst Director of Education and Coaching Development for the NSCAA), Shellas Hyndman (FC Dallas coach), Dr. Tiffany Jones (President of X-Factor Performance Consulting), Rick McKinley (Director of the Chicago Eagles Summer Academy), Simon Clements (Exact Sports) and so many friends and peers.

Great event, very enjoyable, and hopefully I can digest everything I learned and become a better coach because of the experience.