Archive for the ‘Team Management’ 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.

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!

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.

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.

Playoffs

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

Fundraising Weekend

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Team Management
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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.

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.

Below is an email I sent to my coaching staff.  Our program is on the verge of becoming a strong program that is going to push young men to grow and be their best, not only on the field but off the field as well.  But we need to make some team culture changes and we need to improve as a staff as well.  The team can only grow as much as the staff grows, and ultimately as much as I grow.  If we want the team to take a step to the next level then as a staff we need to take ourselves to the next level.  This is why we have committed to reading books on leadership and influence over the break, and why we are attending the convention together as a staff.

This will give you some insight into what our goals are for the spring and what I believe are steps that our staff needs to take to improve…

Guys,

New goals for Recruiting this Spring:

  1. Have the class of 2012 signed by February
  2. Have at least 10 individual visits on campus for the class of 2013 this semester
  3. Have at least 10 players on campus for the Junior Visit Day
  4. Get at least 20 recruits to our summer camps from the class of 2013
  5. Narrow down the 2013 recruiting class to 50 seriously interested players by June (right now we’re at 127), and organize them into our top 15 and 30.
  6. Get four verbal commitments for 2013 by August.
  7. Have our recruiting class of 2014 inquiries up to 30 seriously interested players by August (currently have 28, but may not all be serious)

 Also, I’d like us to have a series of meetings during the first week all three of us are back to discuss some changes I’d like to make to the way we do things.  A lot of it is based on the books I’ve been reading over break, but some are ideas I’ve been kicking around for a little while too.  Come in with ideas of your own too.  The main thing is I want us to start living up to the program creed “Experience the Difference.”  This needs to be one of the toughest places for players to play, and I want it to be the best place to play in the GPAC and the Dakotas.  We shouldn’t be fighting with local colleges for the same players.  It should be a no-brainer for kids that if they want to be the best they need to come to DWU.  To do this we need to change our team culture to play to the standard, not a specific opponent or school, but a perfect standard.

 After we get back from the convention I’d like us to do a series of meetings with the seniors and juniors to get their input into this culture shift.

 Also, start building up a store of youtube videos to use for film sessions with your lines (Stefan-keepers and backs; Dan- mids and forwards).  I’ve ordered film from the national tournament, and I’ve also ordered some additional film that I’d like us to watch as staff and break down for the players.  I really want us to make an effort to get into the classrooms this Spring semester with the players for at least eight hours total (in their lines, starters and reserves, etc).  We need to start explaining the player’s roles and expectations better to them.  They need to start reading the game better to make the best decision, not just good decisions.

 Finally, don’t forget about the books you’re reading over the break.  During our meetings when we first get back I’d like each of us to take a few minutes and talk about something we took away from the books we read that we can apply to the program in the future.

 Have a great break!  Safe travels as you guys are all over the country this winter break.  Thanks so much for everything you do!  The two of you have played a big role in the direction this program has turned and we definitely have not reached our peak yet!  It’s an exciting time for our program, and you guys are a major factor in this.

 Coach

Our club was fortunate enough to have Don Ebert hold a short coaching clinic with the association coaches.  When I received the information about the clinic I was immediately interested since I was familiar with Coach Ebert’s coaching record while he was at Concordia-Irvine, and NAIA powerhouse when I was a national rater in 2008.  He also had an extensive playing career at the professional ranks, and has been coaching club soccer for more than 25 years.  He is currently with Strikers FC and working with Jurgen Klinsman to develop a Center of Excellence in Southern California.

Below are some notes I took from his session…

Don Ebert; “Challenges of Coaching Youth Soccer Today”

First he addressed several challenges that players, coaches, and clubs are faced with in today’s American soccer culture. 

  • Players are faced with extreme pressure to perform.  They are receiving top level coaching year-round and they are expected to produce results more than ever before. 
  • For coaches he recommended that the number one thing we need to get better at is managing parent’s expectations for their kids.  Individual evaluation and feedback are becoming the keys to proper team management in a world where parents are investing thousands of dollars into their child’s playing career.
  • Clubs are faced with several issues related to finances and product.  The price of participation is going up and up with no end in sight, and the introduction of the US Development Academy has increased the funds needed to compete at the highest levels.  More and more the demand for clubs to produce professional and top flight college level players is becoming more of a priority in marketing.

Second he discussed how Strikers FC is trying to focus on developing the players in their association through the different age levels.  Strikers FC is a unique club in that they will only have one competitive team per age group.  As a member of the US Development Academy their primary goal is developing players who will be ready to play for the U18 and U16 academy teams and move on to the professional ranks or college. 

The key emphasis for the academy teams were equal attention to technical, tactical, and physical development.  Sessions need to be varied, intense, and extremely competitive.  The players in these two top teams were always being individually measured and evaluated, and not only on paper, but also in groups in front of their peers.  The coaches were instructed to train and coach to the best player’s ability, not the team’s average.  As an academy program they cover all the costs for the players, and therefore the coaches demanded absolute commitment from the players for the entire ten months.

Very different from the environment that we are able to provide in our club, simply because the objectives of the level are different.  But there were some things that I definitely took away from the clinic that I found to be very interesting.

  1. Individual measurements helped coaches to teach players personal responsibility and realistic evaluation. 
  2. Speed of play in possession is the priority in development.  It starts with proper technique, and works up to tactical decisions and reads that players must make.  But we do not spend enough time preparing youth players for the higher levels.
  3. Good coaches are evaluated by their ability to help players progress and how ready their players are for the next level.

It was a great clinic and I really appreciate the efforts of our DOC and club to get Don Ebert to host the session!