Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Four days into preseason and it has been anything BUT routine.  We’ve a had a few medical emergencies and a few disappointments in our roster, but there’s still a lot of excitement about the upcoming season.

I’m not the most seasoned coach by any means, but it’s always heartbreaking to see players make the decision to walk away from the team in the midst of the battle.  I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it, except to take them at their word and understand that there just isn’t a passion to compete any longer.  And I have to be honest with myself and admit that I have no idea what these players are going through in other areas of their lives that might be impacting their decision to leave soccer.

We’ve put so much time into developing a sense of family and team unity that it’s hard to understand how someone who has been a part of that family can walk away in the middle of season.

It’s probably something that I’ll never understand, and it will probably happen every year, but it never ceases to shock me how easily young men and women can walk away from people who have dedicated so much of their time and energy into helping them.

This is the nature of competitive athletics; some chose to compete and fight through adversity, and some just can’t for what ever reason.  There are struggles, and victories, and it takes a person of passion and motivation to find a way to fight through the challenges to reach the successes.

As I wrapped up individual meetings in the fall I started to notice a trend; team chemistry was a highlight of the year for most of our players.

This past season was disappointing from a results point of view, we finished on a high note with our last five regular season games, but we didn’t hit the goals we had set coming into 2012.  So I was a little surprised when a majority of the freshmen stated that this was one of their favorite seasons to date in their careers, and a majority of the returners felt better about team chemistry compared to last year.  I would have to agree with them, 2011 was a fantastic year in the record books for Tiger soccer, but team chemistry was not where we wanted it and the result was a mass exodus of the freshmen class.

So it leaves us begging the question how important is team chemistry to on-field success?  In 2011 the team had several problems with team chemistry on and off the field.  The new student-athletes didn’t feel they were welcomed and the upperclassmen didn’t feel like the new additions were good for the team.  However, in 2011 we were very successful on the field and our success translated to several program records being broken.

Coaches always talk about how important team chemistry is to athletic success.  But the results of the past two seasons have started to bring this philosophy into question for me.  My coaching philosophy has always been built around the importance of team chemistry.  Our team culture tries to emulate a family atmosphere, where opinions of teammates are valued and we look out for each other on and off the field.  Team unity and developing a family environment have been a corner stone of every program I’ve had the privilege of coaching.

Ultimately, talent wins games, but attitude can be the difference maker (to quote Jon Maxwell).  All things being equal, if the team in 2011 had been able to get along better we might have had even more success and been able to achieve even more.  If the team in 2012 could of had more talent or been in better form we might have over achieved.

Not ready to throw out the cornerstone of every program I’ve run, but there are lessons to learn from the past two years.  Ultimately though my coaching philosophy revolves around developing an experience for the student-athletes that helps them to grow as men and women, and the focus is more on them than the results.  I want to be successful and win games as much as the next guy, but in the end it’s the relationships that our students have developed and their memories that will be the legacy of the program.

Today we kicked off the practice coaching sessions.  Since my last name is “Tosaya” I am slated to be 17th out of 19 sessions, so we won’t get to mine until way down the line.  But it’s been really good to hear the instructors feedback and start getting an idea what they are looking for in the sessions.

The thing I keep hearing from Mark Berson and Jeff Pill is “5 W’s” over, and over again.  You must make sure we can answer the “Who, Where, When, What and Why?” of the topic by just observing the session.  Tom Durkin’s feedback for his candidates is intense, but very detailed and good.  I have never heard such in depth feedback from the instructing staff at any of my coaching education courses (and I’ve been through a few between the NSCAA and the USSF), and you will definitely get your monies worth at this course.  The knowledge that this staff has about how to help develop training topics and teaching methodology is top notch.  Keep in mind, it’s still one man’s opinion, and there are many aspects and vantage points to address this stuff, but I’m really enjoying listening to all three and the critique.

After our practice sessions we had a lecture on attacking from the flanks.  This lecture was probably the low point of the course, we simply watched highlights from the 2010 World Cup and left.  Oh well.

In the afternoon we had a field session on pressing from Durkin and it was very refreshing to watch him work with the U18 girls team.  As I’ve mentioned, they are a group that will challenge you to be a good coach.  He handled it beautifully!  The topic was defensive in nature, but during the warm up he couldn’t get the attacking team to maintain possession long enough to allow the team he was coaching to organize and press.  He had to back track, address the possession issue, and slowly introduced his team into the picture and started addressing the topic.  Too many times I’ve seen clinicians and instructors just get impatient with the lack of talent and ability and drop the topic all together.  As Durkin stated after the session, “If players were good enough to play the game automatically we would be out of a job.”  It was very refreshing to see a national staff coach bring the topic to the level of the team he was working with and we saw marked improvement once he got to his topic.

After the field session we hit the classroom again for our player psychology lectures.  The instructor was Dr. Jennifer Etnier, Sports Psychology professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.  She covered two topics in two lectures this evening; Communication and Burnout.  The elements of quality communication, criticism, and relationship building were covered in the first.  The lecture on burnout was very interesting.  We covered the signs and symptoms of burnout and how important periodization is to helping prevent staleness in athletes.

Playoffs

Posted: November 1, 2012 in Psychology, Team Management
Tags: , ,

Well, this is what the season is all about. Qualify for the playoffs and then test yourself against the best. It’s been somewhat of a disappointing season, but we managed to secure our spot in the post season by going 3-1-1 in our last five matches of the regular season against some very tough competition. Now we travel to the top seed to play the first round at their place and test ourselves against the #25 team in the country.

It’s amazing how quickly the mood on a team can change in the span of a season. Coming into 2012 we were really excited about the possibilities. Within a month we were throwing everything out ready to start from scratch. a few weeks later we went back to the tested ways and started to climb out of the basement a little. Now we’ve had a small taste of success and we are ready to take on the world. Sports are crazy, but it wouldn’t be any fun any other way.

This is why we do this, and this is why we invest our time and energy into something that is so simple and means very little in the big picture. But hopefully we are doing a good job to use this fun, and sometimes frustrating, game to teach these young men lessons that will apply to their lives down the road in a more important way.

The season isn’t done yet, but I know that one of the things that will stick out about 2012 for me is how the team came together like a family and never gave up on the year. There were times that we didn’t like each other very much, but they kept fighting for one another and for the team. It was really fun to watch them come together so quickly and take ownership for one another.

Tonight is the test, but the journey has been a good one overall.

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.

“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.

Quote of the Day

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Coaching Philosophy, Psychology

“Talent doesn’t and won’t ever be the factor that sets you apart.  When you are at the Final Four, everyone is talented, everyone can play.  There needs to be another factor that sets you apart.  For us, it is being detailed in all apsects of our lives.” – Leah Sipe (Former player at Messiah College)

The New Year seems to always be a good time to reflect on the past year and evaluate goals for the upcoming year.  So it would be a good time to discuss proper goal setting for 2012.

I like to have our players set long-term goals (about 10 years away), mid-range goals (4-5 years), and short-term goals (this next year).  We have them set goals in three areas: life, academics, and soccer.  Life goals are things you want to see in your personal life in relationships, spiritually, or work.  Academic goals apply specifically to our players because we want them to be focused on why they are in college.  Not only setting goals for a specific GPA, but finding a career-related internship, or applying for graduate school.  Finally soccer goals are related to their playing career.  Specific marks on the fitness tests, making the varsity team or the starting 11, and hopefully some goals related to the success of our team in the upcoming seasons.

For my personal goal setting I’ve broken down my goals into three main categories as well: spiritual, life, and career goals.  Spiritual goals are related to my walk with Christ and being the spiritual leader of my family and my team.  Life goals are related to my health, personal growth, and my relationship with my wife and friends.  Career goals are obviously related to things I’d like to accomplish in my program, or related to club and other outside coaching interests.

Finally I want to discuss some rules related to goal setting that I’ve picked up along the way.

  • Goals must be specific, measurable, and written down.  Goals that are not measurable might as well not be goals.  We need to know when we’ve achieved a goal or missed the mark.  Instead of saying, “I want to improve my fitness” we should say, “I want to be able to run a 5K in under 21 minutes.”  Make it something that is specific and you know you’ve hit it.  Then write them down!  Nothing is worse than taking the time to set goals and then forgetting them.
  • They must have an established time limit or deadline.  Goals that don’t have a deadline are bound to be pushed to the wayside and put off because they don’t seem important or urgent.  Having a time limit on our goals forces us to establish a sensible plan of action to address them.
  • Goals must be attainable, but they need to stress us.  In the field of exercise science we have what’s called the Overload Principle.  Our bodies need to be stressed and overloaded to see improvement.  You don’t physically train at a rate that doesn’t take any exertion, you push yourself so you start to see improvements and the work rate becomes easier.  It’s the same way with our goals, we need to set realistic goals that are attainable, but that will stretch us to grow and improve ourselves.
  • We need to keep our goals in a prominent place so we can see them on a regular basis and be reminded of them.  It’s the same reason we write the goals down, so we are constantly reminded of them and keep striving for them.
  • When we achieve our goals, or miss the target, we need to re-evaluate the process and seek council from others to consider what we need to change the next time around.  Asking mentors to help us walk through the process and offer any wisdom and insight can be an invaluable process.  They might have a point of view that is extremely valuable, or experience in this same area that would help us side-step unforeseen challenges.  Set up a periodic time to evaluate your goals and your process of achieving these goals.  New Years seems to be the natural time to do this, but we should have periodic times throughout the year as well.

I hope you all have a blessed and prosperous 2012.  We should always be striving for more, and stretching ourselves to new heights.