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.

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my morning reading I came across this.  The author is unknown, but I’ve adapted it for my athletes from Petersen’s book “For Men Only,” pg 132.

[The Teammate]

A [Teammate] respects those who are superior to him and tries to learn something from them; a [Pretender] resents those who are superior and rationalizes their achievements.

A [Teammate] explains; a [Pretender] explains away.

A [Teammate] says, “Let’s find a way”; a [Pretender] says, “There is no way.”

A [Teammate] goes through a problem; a [Pretender] tries to go around it.

A [Teammate] says, “There should be a better way to do it”; a [Pretender] says, “That’s the way it’s always been done here.”

A [Teammate] shows he’s sorry by making up for it; a [Pretender] says, “I’m sorry,” but does the same thing next time.

A [Teammate] knows what to fight for and what to compromise on; a [Pretender] compromises on what he shouldn’t, and fights for what isn’t worth fighting about.

A [Teammate] works harder than a [pretender], and has more time; a [Pretender] is always “too busy” to do what is necessary.

A [Teammate] is not afraid of losing and will take measured risk to win; a [Pretender] is secretly afraid of losing and will stay away from any risk.

A [Teammate] makes commitments; a [Pretender] makes promises.

Quote of the Day

Posted: February 25, 2013 in Quote of the Day
Tags: , ,

“In every act of greatness…the best of the best accomplish extraordinary feats by doing ordinary things with extraordinary consistency, commitment and focus.” -Jon Gordon

Recently our state has gone through a few milestones in growing the beautiful game, and we’ve taken a few setbacks.

In 2012 the South Dakota school activities association became the last state to to finally implement a sanctioned season for high school soccer.  It’s been an issue I’ve watched closely since I came to the state five years ago.  It was a big step for the state activities association to sanction the sport three years ago, however it has caused a momentary break in the progress of soccer in the state.  Only a third of the high school club programs switched over to school sponsored programs, leaving the state high school teams divided into two leagues, and three classifications.  The state is divided on which school districts are willing to finance the future of high school soccer.  At a time when more communities are sponsoring and supporting the sport of soccer the state is at risk of losing half of their high school teams once club sponsored teams are not allowed to compete in the fall season.

The development of collegiate soccer has been a roller coaster itself.  The state has seen a number of college programs started and closed over the years.  National American University discontinued men’s and women’s soccer after the 2001 season, and Huron University closed, taking the men’s and women’s soccer programs to Dakota Wesleyan University in 2005.  In 2012 the state of South Dakota saw SD Mines and Technology introduce men’s soccer bringing the total of men’s soccer programs back to five.

Then the sad turn of events at the University of Sioux Falls saw that number drop back down to four, while the number of women’s teams maintained at eight.  It’s been an up and down battle for soccer, and the trend for collegiate programs is simply keeping steady, never really gaining ground, but not losing ground either.

The state has also seen a Premier Development League franchise come and go.  The Spitfire had a good run for their first two seasons qualifying for the national final four, but were forced to close after seven years in the USL.

It’s hard to see growth in the youth game when there are such limited opportunities for players at the senior levels.  But a lot of it comes down to a lack of support from school administrations and the soccer community.

Brek Shea Deal All But Done

Posted: January 31, 2013 in US Soccer
Tags: ,

Stoke City has announced that Brek Shea received his work permit today and they are trying to push his transfer through by tonight’s deadline.  Definitely sad to see a player with such potential leaving FC Dallas, but I know it’s the best thing for his personal development and the continued development of US Soccer.  It’s been a good transfer window for USA based players going to Europe!  Hope it translates to an improvement at the International level for the US Soccer Federation.

http://www.stokecityfc.com/news/article/shea-work-permit-631504.aspx 

I had the opportunity to preview this book before it was released.  Stevie Grieve does a great job of breaking down the details of the 4-2-3-1, and it builds well on his first edition of the system (I’ve also read the first book).

In the “Advanced Tactics” he breaks down the defensive and attacking principles of the system.  Looks at certain professional clubs and what he has seen from them and this formation.  He also does a great job of looking at pattern play in developing the attack.

In both books he finished with several training sessions related to the 4-2-3-1 and teaching defensive and attacking principles needed for the system.

I recommend this book if anyone is looking for more detail and information on this modern system that everyone seems to be adopting.  There are definitely things that I am going to take away from Grieve’s book and apply to our 4-3-3 system this upcoming spring.

You can find more information about the book and how to order at this link: World Class Coaching

Interesting

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Major League Soccer, US Soccer
Tags: ,

I read this article published by the Wall Street Journal Jurgen Klinsmann challenges the mindset of US Soccer internationals and our soccer culture as a country.  It’s interesting because I’d have to agree with him in some respects.

As a country we’ve taken it as a personal challenge to be the best at almost every sport we attempt in international competition.  And for the most part we’ve found a way to be successful.  No one can deny our dominance in such sports as basketball, baseball, and women’s soccer, but look at the other sports that are not popular in the USA that we have developed to become the best.  We won a gold medal in hockey, compete in wrestling off and on, and have developed a successful culture in winter events like skiing.  So why not soccer?

Soccer is one of the most popular sports in the USA when we look at participation, but we are unable to develop enough athletes to put eleven men on the field that can consistently compete against the top five nations in the world.  Given our natural presupposition to do what it takes to be the best at everything, it is kind of strange that we haven’t found a way to at least be a little more relevant in soccer.  Our biggest accomplishments in the sport since the 1930’s is a single win in the knockout stages of the 2002 World Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup final appearance.  Our FIFA international ranking usually fluctuates between 15 and 30, when we are one of the largest countries in the world with shear number of kids participating in the sport.

Maybe we have become complacent when it comes to soccer.  When we are satisfied with a World Cup appearance and advancement to the knockout rounds are a successful campaign we might want to re-evaluate what success is?

I believe it’s okay to demand more from ourselves, and I think we need to start doing that.  We need to start demanding a higher level of play from our domestic league (after we start supporting it), and demanding more from our professionals.  We need to hold the national team staff to a much higher standard, and should be ashamed when our U23 and U20 National Teams are eliminated from qualifying!

Maybe it is time for a change? Maybe we need to find that “go-old American competitive spirit” again and demand to be the best?

Well, I’ve had a few days to reflect on the course and try to determine the highlights of the process.

One thing that really sticks out to me about the “A” license that I really enjoyed was the amount of quality feedback that we received on multiple occasions.  The instructors stated that the Federation was making an effort to teach coaches how to improve through the licensing process, rather than simply evaluating coaching ability.

For instance, the technical analysis review is something I’ve never seen before.  In the previous coaching courses I’ve participated in we conducted a match analysis, developed a training session based on what we saw, turned it in and waited for two months to find out if we passed.  Giving us the USA v. Guatemala game to watch ahead of time and then spending time to give us feedback on what they thought of our analysis was a big help.  Adding the match analysis as our oral exam also made a lot of sense to me.  As coaches we have to learn how to analyze a game and then verbalize that to our players.  Really thought this was a positive change to the licensing process, and it was added to all three levels of the residential schools.

The dialogue after practice training sessions was also a huge change.  In previous courses instructors have brought candidates in after every practice session and dedicated a few minutes to their thoughts of the session.  What areas could use improvement and what areas were good.  But the amount of quality information that we received (and maybe it had more to do who the instructors were) was a very positive experience for me.  I felt like every session analysis was a coaching seminar in itself.  The attention to detail and the things we were given to improve ourselves as coaches was a positive.  I knew exactly what the instructor was looking for me to change and areas he felt I needed to improve before the final assessment.

However, there were some things that I felt were lacking considering it was an “A” license course.  Although the instructors provided a lot of quality feedback, they were never around for interaction and discussion outside of the structured environment.  Every course I’ve attended prior to this one the instructors made a point to at least be around the candidates one or two nights throughout the process and made themselves available for conversation and just building a rapport.  The Federation has always been a little more distant than the NSCAA courses I’ve taken, but this was on a whole different level.

In general I was disappointed with the camaraderie of the entire school.  Our housing situation wasn’t ideal (candidates were spread out through a condo complex), and the candidates rarely saw each other outside of structured sessions and meals.  It wasn’t until the last couple of days that I really started to find coaches who wanted to hang out and dialogue about the course and the sessions.  The instructors were housed in a separate location, and never made themselves available to the candidates outside of the lectures and field sessions.  In previous courses I’ve found the interaction away from the schedule to be more valuable than some of the content covered in lectures.

Every course has positives and negatives, and overall this was a very good experience for me.  I learned a lot about myself as a coach, and I learned a lot about the game from the instructors.  The positives outweighed the negatives, but I would have to say it wasn’t my favorite course to date.

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.