Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Well the season is over and the individual meetings have been wrapped up.  This is just some thoughts and comments I have about the 2011 season and what I’ve learned about myself, and our team.

Season Stats:

  • Finished 9-9-1 (6-3-1) with the toughest schedule in program history.
  • Finished 2nd in the conference for the regular season (highest finish in program history).
  • Advanced to the conference tournament semifinals and eliminated in the semis again for the second year.
  • Eight players given All-Conference honors (One on 1st team, two on 2nd team, and five Honorable Mention).
  • Two Academic All-District selections.
  • Home record 7-3-1; Away record 2-6
  • Achieved three of four preseason goals (the fifth team goal for team GPA is still pending until the end of the semester).

General Thoughts

My first impression is that we struggled to be consistent, especially on the road.  However, it wasn’t a bad season, and there are a lot of positives to draw from the year.  We struggled with injuries the last half of the conference schedule, and we still found a way to go 3-1-1 in the last half through some pretty tough games.  We showed some resilience and responded at times when we really needed to step up and come through.  We did enough to finish second place in the conference standings when we were selected in the preseason to finish sixth.

We had some key freshmen really step up for us this season and they are looking to be bright spots in the next three years.  The rest of the team developed as we had expected and the returners were right where we left off last year.

One trend we noticed with the team was the struggle we had with being the “better” team.  Our team identity is shifting, and we need to develop the mentality to go along with this shift.  In the past we’ve played the role of the underdog and the under-rated team really well.  We need to start making the shift to show up and earn the result we are supposed to have.  We can’t let other teams dictate to us how we should be playing, we need to play at the highest level we are capable of and not let our play drop.

Priorities to Improve for 2012

Areas that I see a need to improve before next season are the following:

  • 1v1 defending
  • Speed of play
  • Keep momentum going forward in the attack
  • Ability to possess the ball when necessary
  • Team defending and cutting down shots by opponents

Things I Personally Learned

With the ups and downs of the season I need to challenge myself to see what is happening with the team’s mentality through the season.  I’m concerned about how we respond on the road, and I think we need to look at what we do and what we can change for our routine. 

I felt like our coaching staff did not do a good job of keeping evaluations of the players updated and available for the players during the season.  Our focus on the lines really fell through this season compared to last year, and that surprises me especially since we have a larger coaching staff this year compared to previous years.

As always I walk away from the season feeling like we did well, but still did not reach our potential.  I’m confident in the system that we run, and I’m confident that it will help us win a championship.  However, I need to do a better job of sharing that with the team and helping them understand it better.

Overall, it was a season that surpassed my expectations in some areas, and fell short in others.  I really feel good about the direction that the program is headed and where we are with recruiting for the future.

As always I want to challenge myself in the off-season to get better personally and help the guys tighten up their fundamentals.  There is still a lot of things I want to see this program achieve, and I think we have the potential to do them.

Final Home Game of 2011

Posted: November 5, 2011 in Psychology

Today is our final home game for 2011.  We are hosting the conference tournament semifinal.  If we win we will advance to the #1 seed’s place for the conference final.

You have to love coaching in a sport like soccer.  This morning I woke up and found the newspaper had a blast of information about the last home football game, and the last home volleyball game was listed as an “area event,” high school playoff game previews were all over the front page of the sports section, and nothing about soccer.  Our campus administration will be at the two other sporting events, and one of our assistant coaches will have to keep stats because the SID will be at Parent’s Day for the other two sports.

I’m reminded how easily soccer is forgotten in the mill of everything else going on in this country.  But I chose this sport, it is my passion and our fans are second to none because they support us no matter what.

It’s going to be a great day today, doesn’t matter if anyone else in town is there.  We have three seniors who have meant the world to me playing their final home game, and a group of guys who have faught hard this season to get to where they are.  Very proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished, and I know it’s going to be a great day today.

It’s been an excititng regular season, and we have had our ups and downs.  But I am so proud of our team finding a way to get results that we needed to finish 2nd in the conference this year.  We’ve had season ending injuries to four key players in our varsity, and we’ve moved some guys around to positions they haven’t played.  But the guys still found a way to finish strong.

I’m excited to see how we will respond in the playoffs.  For the first time in program history we will host playoff games, and it’s going to take the best we have to offer to reach the conference final with the roster we have right now.

What a great run going 3-1-1 in our last five conference games!  The team was picked to finish 6th this year, but once again we’ve proved everyone wrong.  Hope our players understand how special it is to come together and achieve something as a team, not as individuals, but a unit with a common objective.

The season has been a series of close games for us this year, and as a typical coach I see the things we struggle in more than the successes we’ve had.

We’re one month into the season, and there is month left in the season.  Our record is 4-5-0, and our conference just opened last week and we are 2-1-0 tied for fourth currently.  Below is my mid-season analysis and a break down of some objectives I want to see for the second half of the season personally, and as a team.

2011 Goals

  1. Finish top six of the conference (qualify for tournament): currently tied for 4th
  2. Average 1.75 goals per game in conference: currently averaging 2.67
  3. Average 0.85 goals allowed per game in conference: currently averaging 1.00
  4. Shutout 30% of our opponents: currently have four shutouts, two in conference, out of nine games

Personal Analysis of Games

We’ve had a tough schedule this year, and we wanted it that way this season.  We’ve played the defending national champions, three teams who have been nationally ranked or received national votes, and a fifth team that was at the national tournament last year.  Our record against these five opponents 2-3, and in two of the losses we had the lead at one point.  Every loss has been by a single goal, and we’ve had two double overtime games.

Our record isn’t that impressive, however we’ve seen some huge successes on the field in areas that can’t be measured with just the win-loss-tie record.  For instance, our shots on goal percentage is 0.598 this year.  This means we are getting quality chances at the goal, not just shots.  Our team’s passing accuracy for the season is just under 80% at 0.77 of all passes; we’re doing a good job finding feet and limiting mistakes.  Our backs have a passing percentage higher than our midfielders, and midfielders have a higher percentage than our forwards.  To me this means we’re making good decisions and taking risks in the proper thirds of the field like we should be.

There are some areas that I have concern about and our coaching staff needs to address for the second half of the season.  We’ve allowed nine goals in nine games, not bad.  However, only one of those goals has come in the first half, the other eight have occurred either in the second half or overtimes.  We are obviously not substituting properly to maintain a level of intensity that matches the first half.  We are also giving up more corners in the second half of games, and this means we’ve allowed teams to dictate the play a little more in the later parts of matches.

Another stat that troubles me are the three leads we’ve given away to lose a match, and the five matches we’ve loss by a single goal.  We struggle to close out matches and find the goals to put opponents away.  We need to work more on game management and decision making on the field to maintain a lead, or to push harder for a winning or tying goal.

Team spirits are high, and the players are training hard.  We’re meeting our goals and objectives we’ve set for ourselves and the players see the results of those with the quality competition.  We need to start instilling an attitude of winning however in training, to help our players recognize how and when to close out a game.  We need to focus on the second half of games and be more aware of energy and intensity level.

Hope to see us learn from our mistakes and successes and finish the season strong.

Pre-season is wrapping up and classes begins tomorrow.  We wrapped up our final week of 3-a-days with a Blue v. White Scrimmage in Rapid City, SD (home town for several of our players, and a city that has no college soccer teams within a three hour radius).  The team kicked off the weekend with a cookout hosted by one of our wonderful parents, and the guys had a great time meeting families and enjoying good food.  We booked a youth camp for the team to stay at, and we were able to take the boys through a low ropes course.

The low ropes course was a great oppoturnity for the players to compete outside their comfort zones on elements that challenged their thinking, communicatuion, and team work.  We had some fun too!  In the debriefing we discussed how we could learn from the challenges in the course to help us with the season.

The next morning we were scheduled by the hosting soccer association to run a youth soccer clinic.  Mid-morning half the team went down to Mt. Rushmore to play tourist for the day, and the other half went down and watched a few high school games.  Our scrimmage was hosted by the local soccer club in Rapid City, Rushmore SC, and they helped to bring in a decent crowd for our scrimmage.  We ran through a couple game management scenarios, and let the boys play for a period as well.  After the scrimmage it was fun to watch the players signing autographs for some of the kids that stuck around.

The first road trip is always fun, and I loved how we were able to make this trip a great team bonding experience.  I think it’s important to get the players away from campus and secluded with one another before classes begin and the life of college slowly pulls the team’s attention away from one another.  The camp experience was a great one too, staying in bunk houses and making memories with each other on the low ropes course was a definite plus.

Right now we are less than a week away from our first varsity match of 2011 and we definitely have some weaknesses.  Some of our game management scenarios opened our eyes to the fact that we need to work on when and how to press higher up the field in a goal down situation.  We still struggle to keep possession in the middle third of the field and need to work on the decision making of our boys when to pull the ball back and when to push forward into the final third.

First match is five days away, we have one more exhibition match against a great opponent that should give us the final tune-up we need.

In the next few months I’m going to be writing a summary of our season and what we’re doing.  This is my life as a coach, the regular season is the destination that we aim for the other nine months of the year.


Training camp starts with a day of planning and meetings for the leadership council.  Our four council members and two captains got together to plan team building activities, discuss our small group sessions, and to review the objectives and goals we have for the season.


The upperclassmen get together early and wait to help the freshmen move into their dorms.  Team leaders are asked to meet up with the new players that they have been assigned to on their teams.  Players are welcomed on campus with a watermelon social in the campus plaza put on by our student life staff, and we have our first team meeting that night.  The meeting consists of ice breakers and an overview of the schedule and objectives.  The first day is capped by a friendly scrimmage between the new arrivals and the returners.  This year’s returners won 5-1.  It’s interesting to watch the new players and the team dynamics.  Who will step up to lead their team, what shape do they use, who will communicate, can they take ownership?  We played two 45’s and the new players did very well in the second half to slow things down and find opportunities to go forward and they built up an attack and put away the finish.

The rest of the week is intermixed with fitness testing, going over defensive principles, and lots of team building and fun activities.  This year we had 12 of the 34 not pass the fitness testing standards that we set, so I think we’re definitely further ahead than last year.  The players are drafted into six teams by the leadership council, and these six teams compete against each other several different competitions (small sided games, fitness testing, soccer golf, soccer tennis, a laws of the game test, etc).  The premise behind these teams is for the new players and returners to focus on getting to know eachother in a small group setting, and then expand to developing team unity in the larger numbers.  Our match analysis session was over the USMNT v. Mexico friendly, Jurgen Klinsman’s debut as a coach, and the objective is to start teaching players how to be a student of the game and look at games in more of an analytical sense.

Week 2

Start to introduce our principles of building an attack.  With the skills sets of the team we have right now we are leaning more towards a counter attacking style.  But right now our technical and tactical sessions are very fundamental in nature and can be applied to any style of play.  Players who did not pass the fitness test are required to attend a conditioning session in the morning, and the rest of the team has two practices and a team meeting to attend.

Team meetings are focused on developing a team identity and better communication to work together.  We go through a personality profile and discuss team goals for the season.  Players are then asked to come up with individual team goals based on the team objectives.  We also start to break down team roles and responsibilities in the three phases of the game (when we have possession, when we don’t have possession, and the transitions between possession).  After team philosophy and style of play are analyzed players break into lines and define the traits and responsibilities of their specific lines with the coaching staff.

The first team scrimmage against outside competition in during week two.  This year we were able to scrimmage Iowa Lakes Community College at home.  I think in general community colleges give schools like ours a great look at building an attack against a team that presses high up the field, and how well we do defending against athletic and technically sound players.  The exhibition was broken up into three periods, and line ups for each period were pre-determined by what we’d seen in practice so far.  We wanted to see certain players play together and see how chemistry factored into specific line ups with different players.

NOTES FROM EXHIBITION:  Our returners did a great job applying our system defensively and created a lot of opportunities to counter through winning the ball in the midfield.  Forwards were making solid runs and midfielders were finding them on the other side of those runs.  As we started to go deeper into the bench we could see a lack of experience, and the knowledge to play our system right now.  Lots of good things we can take away from this scrimmage to improve on this week before our next exhibition.

Good overall first two weeks.  Pleased with where the guys are physically, and I think the team is really coming together quickly.  We’re struggling with complimentary runs off the ball and being organized on our zonal defending.

There’s never enough time in the week during a college season.  We start the season around the second week of August, cram 18 games and 2 scrimmages in before November, and then we might go for an extra two or three weeks into play-offs, and then it’s done and we have nine months to think about what we could have done better.

What this means is we have to find time for technical training, conditioning and weights, tactical training, recovery, film, team meetings, and two games a week!  The players are over loaded with soccer, and yet we never feel like there’s enough time to get everything in.  We analyze the games and come up with what we need to work on for the three actual training sessions we get per week, and half the time we can’t get all of that in.

So where do we put Mental Skills training into all of this?  In my Psychological Dynamics of Sport classes we always quote famous coaches who say their sport is “90% mental, and 10% physical.”  Great!  But if that’s true why doesn’t our training schedule reflect the percentages?

There is no way to quantify the actual percentage of success in athletics based on physical and mental skills, but I think most coaches agree that the mental side of sports is a major factor towards achieving goals.  So why don’t coaches commit the time in training needed for players to be mentally prepared for competition?

My personal belief is that mental toughness and sport-specific intelligence makes up 40% of the game, mastery of physical skills specific to the sport makes up 30%, and athleticism makes up the final 30% for college soccer.  Do my training methods during a season reflect this? Not at all!

We spend 45 minutes three days a week conditioning/ lifting, 90 minutes three times a week training technical and tactical elements of the game, 60 minutes a week on recovery, approximately 45 minutes a week watching film, and maybe 30 minutes a week working on mental skills.  The only reasoning I can come up with for this major flaw in my training methods is simply this; I must believe deep down that I can impact the outcomes of our games more with modifying tactics and skill technique rather than improving mental skills.  What else can it be?

So what led to this presupposition?  My personal belief is we are simply creatures of habit.  We replicate what we’ve seen for so long in our playing careers, and what we see other coaches around us doing.

I personally believe that sport psychology and mental skills are the last variable for teams to get an edge on their opponents in soccer.  We’ve mastered physical training (there are always improvements and research going on, but fitness training and conditioning are common place in soccer now).  Tactics are always a changing thing, but the improvements we’ve made in technology with computers, film, and match analysis are better than they’ve ever been.  Sports medicine is taken very serious now with soccer teams at the collegiate level.  With advancements in research and rehabilitation methods injury prevention and recovery are better than they’ve ever been.  Nutrition has also been an area that has seen so much improvement in the last couple of decades.  Timing, science of macronutrients, and education have made a big impact on athlete performance.  And then there are the improvements in equipment and training tools.  Uniforms, training gear, cleats, and training equipment have all made massive improvements that have made a difference in the performance of soccer players in the modern game.

All these variables have impacted the game of soccer, and have given teams an edge on their opponents at one point or another.  But now the playing field is very similar for teams in most of these areas, and the one last area for teams to invest in for an edge is the mental skills of athletes.  The longer I’ve been around the game as a coach the more and more I’ve seen college athletic departments contracting the services of sport psychologist.  Professional and international teams have slowly been adding sport psychologist to the payroll over the last decade because they’ve seen the value of intentionally developing these skills in the players.

All we can do is continue educating ourselves, and making mental skills a priority with our own teams so it starts to become part of the habits they experience and take with them into their coaching careers.

Mental skills target things like relaxation, energization, stress management, motivation, and attention.  How can we work these elements into the training sessions that are already in place for our teams?  First coaches need to educate themselves on the elements that will help their specific teams and the unique challenges they face.  We need to prioritize the elements that we are going to train with our teams.  Once we’ve established the top three or four elements that we are going to develop then we need to  determine how to incorporate mental skills training into our current practice schedule.

For example, teaching our players relaxation methods should be included with recovery sessions.  Que words, muscle control, breathing, and mental awareness can all be incorporated with a recovery training session, and should.  We can teach players to visualize success as they are waiting for their group to jump into a finishing activity.  Mental rehearsal before actual performance can be very beneficial, and why not practice visualization while they are waiting to join in?

I think its going to be a continual process of finding things that work and what needs to be changed, but as a coach I have to make a commitment to implementing mental skills more and more every year.  If mental skills are really a priority in my coaching philosophy, than it needs to be reflected in my training philosophy as well.

After watching the USA v. Spain game today I started to think about the science behind scheduling that we as caoches try to manipulate every year.  Will playing the best team in the world help the USMNT take their game to a higher level for the Gold Cup?  Was the warm up match worth the 4-0 result?  What does this do psychologically for the athletes?

I was talking to a peer of mine who has been a college coach for over 20 years and we started to talk about the science of scheduling our seasons.  We both used to subscribe to the philosophy that playing nationally ranked teams will raise the game of our players and prepare them for a hard conference schedule.  But now my friend believes it really doesn’t make a difference to his players who they play, but big losses tend to have a very negative effect.

This upcoming season we have four teams in four weekends who have been to the national tournament, and the last of the four games is against the defending national champions.  My personal belief is this schedule will raise our level of play for the conference schedule and help put us in the right frame of mind. 

Maybe it comes down to our personal coaching philosophy?  Do wins against easy teams give you the confidence to take on good teams, or does losing to nationally ranked teams raise the level of your game to handle lesser competition down the line?  I personally subscribe to the later, but I do see the logic in the first.

The USMNT playing Spain was a brave move by Bob Bradley who seems to feel this game is going to help solidify something in our Gold Cup roster.  The final result (4-0) could be seen as something that would demoralize the team leading into their first round robin game on Tuesday, June 7th, against Canada.  And on the other hand, playing such a quality side like Spain could make the games against Canada, Panama, and Guadeloupe a lot more manageable in comparison.

Either way, we really come back to the coach.  What is their philosophy of scheduling?  Do you schedule tough competition so your team knows how to compete against the best teams in the country and raise their level of play?  Or do you schedule games where you can build confidence in your players and get some consistency in scoring and developing your attack?  With any dynamic of the game there are several factors that need to be considered.  What is the objective of the season?  Are you trying to qualify for the national tournament?  Trying to build a soccer program up that has been on the bottom for a long time?  How many returners and new additions do you have on the team?

I personally like a challenge, and I like to play the best.  I want to test myself, but I also don’t want to completely crush the spirits of my teams.  It has to be a balancing act, and the coach needs to know how much the team can be stretched and challenged.

A Great Quote

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Coaching Philosophy, Psychology

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us…Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson

The biggest challenge I face as a college coach are the three months leading up to the season.  Being a fall sport is great for weather.  I have a lot of respect for spring sports who are constantly fighting the elements and rescheduling, however, I envie the time they have with their teams leading up to the competitive season.

Summer does reveal a lot about a team though.  You find out very quickly who the committed members are, and who is takes the college game lightly.

So how can we motivate our athletes to care more about the shape they’re in and how their summer habits affect the team?  Below is simply a list of things that I have learned over the years, but I would love to hear from anyone else about what they’ve discovered in the realm of motivation.

  1. Casting the vision for the program.  If the players don’t buy into where you’re going, they won’t take the extra 30-60 minutes three or four times a week to stay in shape.  We come back to goal setting, which is one of the biggest foundations in my mind for a successful program.  I’m still trying to find the right way to involve the players in the process, but I do know if the players have taken ownership of the vision for the program it will increase the value of intrinsic motivation.
  2. Helping the athletes become aware of personal gain.  They need to see the value of training in the months leading up to the season.  As a culture, Americans are high on efficiency and comfort.  An athlete will expend the least amount of energy possible to still be a starter on the team this upcoming year.  So my challenge as a coach is to continue finding talent that will push the returning players.  At the small college level the trend I’ve seen are freshmen and seniors are usually my most fit athletes coming into camp.  The freshmen don’t know what to expect, they know that there is going to be a process to winning playing time, and they’ve put in the work.
  3. Rewards and consequences.  This was the first method I leaned on as a young head coach.  My first job I required my college men to run a timed three mile fitness test in a specific time before they were allowed to dress for a varsity match.  I’m not a big believer that endurance is the main energy system we need to focus on, but it seemed like a big enough run that my guys would take it seriously.  If they couldn’t pass it they earned an extra fitness session with me in the mornings before the other two practices a day.  Of course what happened was some of my best players didn’t make the 3 mile time, and we were left with a major challenge to get several players in shape before the first scrimmage.

These are the three main factors that I’ve seen used, and tried using myself.  It’s a challenge for sure, and I’m not sure I’ve found the best method to increase motivation in my players yet.  The one thing I do know is this; intrinsic motivation is the best force to help athletes train over the summer.  Fostering intrinsic motivation is where I struggle.  How do we get players to own their fitness and make it a priority like we see it as coaches?