Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

So this was the final push.  We tackled 15 candidates of the 20 on day 8, and had five candidates left on day 9.  I happened to be number 17, so I was second on day 9 which did not bother me a bit.  I don’t know if the candidates were extremely nervous, but I felt like the quality of our final training sessions as a course were not on par with where our practice training sessions were.  It was strange because several of us felt like the groups on a whole got better as the practice training sessions went on, and they should because later candidates are listening to the feedback that the instructors are giving and applying it to their sessions.  But it seemed that as a whole we took a step back in our final sessions.

There were some very good sessions, don’t get me wrong, but there were some mistakes that seemed to be pure nerves.  My final sessions felt weird.  I took the comments that my instructor made on my practice session and made a very focused effort to minimize the stoppages and coach specifics to what I saw.  I felt like I was leaving a lot about my topic unspoken, but I was much more brief than I was on my practice topic.

My over all personal evaluation is that I underperformed.  Based on how I did in my last few coaching courses (the “B,” Advanced National and Premier) I was very disappointed in my level at this license.  But I did my best to learn from the practice session and apply the comments he made to me, and I hope it was enough.

Now the waiting begins!  Two months before we start getting our results and finding out if we did enough to pass.  Either way I can’t be done learning.  Achieving a specific license is a great accomplishment, but it’s just the beginning.  As coaches, leaders, we can’t be done learning in our short lifetimes.  There is so much better that my players deserve from me, and I need to do my part by trying to stretch myself and grow as a coach and an individual.

Overall I thought the course was quality.  The instructors were top class with their insight and wisdom about the game.  There were some administrative glitches, and the housing situation hindered the social aspect of the course, but it was a good course.  Learned a lot from tactical sessions with my two roommates watching the USA v. Guatemala game over and over again.  We did spend some time as a course together outside of the USSF activities, and it was great to sit down with some guys and get to know them better as people and not just coaches.

A very positive experience for me, it was an opportunity for me to grow as a coach and a person.  There are lots of nuggets that I am going to take away from this experience and apply to my coaching career.

But first it’s back home to my wife!  Then catch up on work and classes, then maybe I’ll get a chance to evaluate the week more indepth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

WEEK 1: DAY 0

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.

WEEK 1

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.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the Chicago Fire’s training session on July 19th as they prepare to take on Manchester United this July 23rd.  First, just need to say thanks to Frank Klopas and Brendan Hannan for letting me join the Fire, what a friendly and accommodating organization.

9:45 am – Assistant Coaches have the field set up already and players start arriving and playing small games.

10:00 am – Physio Coach takes the player for a ladder warm-up with several dynamics intermixed followed by static stretching and water.  Goal keepers warm-up separately with the keeper coach.

10:15 am – Four corner passing.  Four cones set up a grid approximately 20x20yds, and a coaching stick is set up one yard inside of each cone.  Field players divide up evenly at each cone with a two balls starting in corners diagonal from each other.  The team trainer puts the guys through a series of passing drills and combinations.  The coaching sticks are defenders and the players are asked to go game speed in beating the “opponent.”  They start with just an outside of the foot touch, wall pass, drop pass, and over laps.  Keepers are still working on footwork and positioning with multiple shots from different positions.

10:40 am – Players moved to a grid 30×40 with a half way line down the middle and are divided into two even teams of eight players.  Greens are on one side of the half and blues on the other.  The objective is to connect five passes to score a point, the other team is allowed to send four defenders into the other side of the grid to break it up.  After they score a point they have to find the coach.  Play was very tight and quality first touch and passing is demanded of the players to be successful.

Game changed a little with having to connect a pass into the other half after five passes on their side to score a point.  And then moved on to include a drop pass to score the point.

11:00 am – Team moves to a grid with two full sized goals set up around two penalty areas.  A line extends at the half to the full width of the field.  Players are divided into two teams of eight with two players left wide in the channels for each team, four defenders, and two attackers in the attacking half.  Ball must be played wide by the defenders and then that wide player looks to combine with the two attackers and join them. Goalkeepers joined the session at this point as well.

Game changed to where both wide players can join the attack when the ball is played wide by the defenders.

11:20 am – Team moved to a 9v9 match with standard match rules.  Field was 50×60 yds.

11:50 am – Closing comments by Coach Klopas, and then they were given a few minutes to stretch on their own.

Primary coaching points by the staff related to possession in small spaces to develop the attack.  Could they find a way to advance the ball with small space and lots of pressure.

Personal Notes: The elements were fighting against the players, it was extremely humid and hot and did not create a very conducive training environment.  The players were given several water breaks, but I thought it was interesting that they didn’t leave them any subs during the session.  Every player was asked to train the entire session and to go hard without substitutions.

I thought for the most part that the training session was successful, and the activities brought out the topic fairly well.

Always a positive when you can learn from coaches who have been around the game longer and at a higher level.  The love of learning is the first step to excellence, the second is application.  Really enjoyed the experience, and even had a chance to talk to Frank Klopas a little after the session.

How important is technical training in relation to tactical?  A lot is going to depend on the age of the players you are working with, so I’d like to focus on the competitive U18 and older players.

I was at a residential coaching course a few years ago and one of our instructors stated if he was coaching college men he would focus all his trainings around technical skills.  I had a hard time digesting what he said, and I have a lot of respect for this instructor and thought I learned a lot of great stuff from him.  So this topic has been something that I’ve tossed back and forth with other coaches at the college and competitive levels. 

Technical training has always been a major foundation of my coaching philosophy; how can we play the game effectively without a solid technical base?  At the college level however, how much can we influence the technical ability of players who are 18-21 years old?  Shouldn’t we be working with players who already have a strong technical base and put those abilities into a tactical system that plays to their strengths?

The instructor I mentioned above sat down with me and we discussed this philosophy of his a little more in depth.  It was all built around the belief that players in the USA (he was originally from England) don’t have the technical fundamentals to effectively implement a tactical system.  He believed that most players in the United States shouldn’t focus on the tactical elements of the game until they can pass a ball with extreme precision, and control the ball on a dime.

I understand where he’s coming from.  A tactical system really serves no purpose for players who don’t have a handle on the fundamentals.  There is a lot of truth to this concept, the technical ability of players in the US is not the best. Soccer is such an elitest sport in our country that it hinders the development of the game compared to our counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic or in South America.  However, is our technical development so poor that we can’t implement a system of play? 

At my level of college soccer I feel tactics play a big role in the success of a program.  Players need to know their roles in a system and what the objectives are on the attack and defensively.  My other contention is the simple fact that I’m not sure we can change the technical ability of our players at this age during a 3 month competitive season.  So I feel my time is better spent teaching a system that the players can implement with thier skill set and have some success doing it.  The off-season is the time that I feel we should spend developing our technical side of the game.

So where does this leave us with U16-U18 players?  I feel it’s our responsibility as club coaches to start teaching team tactics from U14 and up so they can be a more complete player.  Thoughts?

Right now I’m sitting in a hotel and my youth team is getting ready to play in a futsal tournament.  In our part of the country these futsal tournaments are very popular, due in large part to the weather (it’s currently -10 outside and about 4 inches of snow has fallen in the last 24 hours).

I recently had a conversation with another youth coach that had a very strong opinion about the limited relation that small sided futsal games had to the full sided game.  He was quite serious and felt the futsal games had little game application for his players, and did not provide them enough “game experience” problem solving tactical situations.

I’m not one to debate with people particularly, but I thought this coach’s opinion was pretty narrow and misinformed about small sided games.

In my opinion there is no better teacher of the game for young and inexperienced kids than a small sided 4v4 of futsal game.  The dynamics of the big game are all there; depth, width, and penetration are all present.  The decisions are similar, maybe a little less complicated and simplified, but still the same.  But the most important benefit to a small sided game is the quantity of touches and opportunities for decision making players get.  In a game where the ball is only shared with nine other players compared to 21 other players the chances of touching the ball and making decisions related to the game are much better.

How do we develop youth players, give them situations in a game to touch a ball and make game like decisions.  The more opportunities they have to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes will make them a better player.  So what is the downside of a small sided game for a youth player?  I use small sided games all the time with my college players.  The ability of our coaching staff to catch our players making good decisions and to correct their poor decisions is much easier on us if there are fewer players to be following than in a full scrimmage.

Maybe it’s the country I grew up in.  We weren’t a world power in soccer by any stretch of the imagination, but one thing we were decent at was futsal.  We regularly have professional clubs qualifying for the UEFA Futsal finals.  It’s a passion of ours and we thrive in it, and we turn out some very good players through futsal.  We’re just too small of a country and too disorganized to be a power in UEFA in the next 50 years.

 But look at a country like Brazil.  When I had the fortune of traveling to Fortileza we were playing futsal and beach soccer every night at the local parks.  Kids from 10 years old through old men were playing together on the same courts in mixed teams of 5v5.  You’re telling me that this doesn’t have an impact on the development of a nation in the world’s greatest sport?

Kids need to play the game, absolutely, and we want them to play the game.  However, I think it is invaluable to our players development to be playing futsal, or small sided pick, or anything that will simulate game tactics while increasing touches at the same time.

I am a huge fan of the Dutch system of development and training for youth soccer.  The Total Football of the 70’s and 80’s is something I’ve always aspired to as a coach and a player. 

So when I found out that an assistant coach from the Ajax system was coming to my area for a clinic I was on board right away.  So I thought I would blog about the clinic and some of the key points I’m picking up from the weekend.

Day 1

– Three sessions today covering transition play and the Dutch system of training related to passing.

The primary thing I took away from the first two sessions conducted by the Ajax coach was how far behind we are as a nation and how simple the Dutch have made the development of soccer.  It was so unfortunate that the club teams chosen to help out the clinician by demonstrating his training session could not catch on or perform to his standard.  He really struggled with them because their skill level was so poor.  These players looked like U16’s, and they were wearing USYSA Region 2 patches on their jerseys!  But the simple principles of maintaining possession in a 4v4 game was astounding.  They did not understand the concepts of playing  a diamond at all, and he was repeating himself several times.

When he started his session on technical passing the small things that U12 teams in Holland could do were lacking in our American players.  Simple things like having your feet ready to receive the ball, preparing the hips to receive a pass in a specific direction.  Playing mandatory two-touch, movement off the ball, and understanding patterns went right over their heads.  It was a just such a major visualization of where we are lacking as a country.

The thing that “rocked” my line of thinking so hard was the simplicity and redundant nature of the sessions he was talking about.  The players in the Ajax system will work on these passing drills two or three times a week.  There’s nothing too them, just focusing on passing with the left or right foot, preparing the body for the ball, etc. 

I want to start doing something more basic with my players until we are passing the ball the way we should be.

Day 2 tomorrow!