Posts Tagged ‘Community’

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.

Just returned from my first residential course assignment as Associate Staff for the NSCAA.  It was a great experience and I’m excited to be on this journey of developing myself as a coach of coaches.  I’ve been on state staff for Federation courses now for five years, but it’s been a great experience to see the other side of the NSCAA.

For the my first course as staff I “apprenticed” with the senior staff.  Basically shadowed a few  instructors in the National Diploma and Advanced National Diploma courses, watched how they conducted model sessions, and I was a part of the candidate evaluation process too.

The differences in the philosophy and mentality of coaching education is drastically different in my mind between the NSCAA and the Federation.  Maybe it’s more fresh in my mind since I only completed my “A” license this past January, but the emphasis on development versus evaluation is very apparent, and I even experienced it as an instructor in training.  It’s always been something I’ve really enjoyed about the NSCAA, they want you to go home a better coach because you’ve been at their course, no matter what grade you end up with.

During the National Diploma course the four instructors were always available to the candidates for help.  We ate in the cafeteria, we stayed in the same dorm, the staff were regularly walking through the lounges to make themselves available to the candidates, and even the course social the second evening sets the tone for the remainder of the course.  It’s a community of coaches, and the more experienced ones are trying to share knowledge with the less experienced, and one another.  It’s a coaching fraternity, and once you’re in, you’re in, and you have just as much right to the information and feedback as anyone else.

I felt all of this as an apprentice this past week as well.  Senior staff were asking for my input on model sessions they were running, asked for insight on candidate training sessions to make sure they were evaluating properly, and treated me as a member of the instruction staff from the get-go.  It reaffirmed the reason why I feel passionate about educating coaches, especially with the NSCAA.

This past week I spent eight days on a missions trip to the island of Dominica.  I was blessed enough to be able and use my talents as a soccer coach to try and serve a developing country.  What a blessing to work with a people who love the game of soccer, and appreciate what little they have.

Training the NGB Soccer Academy in Dominica

Training the NGB Soccer Academy in Dominica

The trip was a partnership between Generation of Opportunities and Athletes in Action to bring seven coaches down to the island of Dominica.  We brought coaches from four different disciplines (soccer, basketball, fitness, and volleyball/ chaplain) and conducted player clinics and coaches sessions throughout the week.  This was the first trip of it’s kind to Dominica, so the trip was also as much discovery as it was action.  We met with several officials and administrators from the presidents of the basketball and football associations, to principles, city officials, and administrators of soccer academies.

I was personally impacted by the love of soccer they had.  Kids were taking buses from villages almost an hour away to attend their academy training on Saturday in the city.  Children with out proper footwear and clothing would jump in because they just enjoyed the game and wanted to be apart of it.  In a country with a total population of 70,000 people they had four competitive divisions of soccer plus neighborhood leagues and eight academies for the children to be involved in!  They love this sport, and they are passionate about playing it.

But there is a need for intervention.  The one repeating theme we kept hearing over and over again from coaches and administrators alike was the battle to teach the youth of their country the value of discipline, hard work, and respect.  There is a need for this younger generation to learn principles that will lead to success later in life, and Generation of Opportunities is trying to help change that through the platform of sport.

The trip has given me a passion to see the culture of the youth in Dominica change, and if I can use soccer to do that then all the better!  God was opening doors left and right for us to be involved in the lives of the young and old alike through this beautiful game, and I’m looking forward to going back!

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.

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.

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.

Coaching licensing has always been an issue in leagues and associations around the world.  Here in the US it is a particularly strong debate because in the “Big Four” sports coaches don’t have a licensing program like we do in soccer.  The athletic culture in the US is to hire coaches based on experience and past success.

So how should we view soccer associations that mandate specific licensing levels to determine paid, or even volunteer coaching positions?

Coaching education gives us a framework of how to teach the game.  It lays out a progression and thought process that is supposed to be a guide to use, not a rigid mold that everything must fit into.  In all honesty when I first started taking the coaching courses I had never heard of the progressive method; simple to complex.  It was a revelation to me, because the coaches I had worked for and played under had never used it.

Coaching education by experience is spotty, and very random.  It really depends on who the coaches are that you had the opportunity working with and observing.  Hopefully in a person’s career they have the opportunity to work with some very quality coaches, but some may not.

Coaching education like the NSCAA and USSF courses give us a consistent standard of information that is communicated about the game.  Does an “A” License coach or a Premier Diploma GUARANTEE that you are qualified to coach at a high level and are capable of teaching the game; no.  BUT it does mean you have a resource of information and the association or club that highers this coach can be confident that they have been exposed to a minimum of information related to the game.  And that this person has been evaluated on several different occasions by some of the better coaches in our country.

The problem is when you come upon a coach who is quality because of their personal experiences but has not been fortunate enough to pursue the licensing available.  Whether because of finances (our licensing structure is VERY expensive at the residential level), or because of location (some states and areas of the country just don’t have the resources or the staff to offer courses) this person may not have the mandated diplomas or licenses.  And unfortunately this person would probably be denied opportunities even though they are a great coach.  Hopefully hiring processes and references will allow this person to be noticed, but it can’t be guaranteed.

To me it is the same as our educational process in careers.  Does a bachelors degree in education guarantee that my teachers were of the highest quality and would be excellent in teaching?  No, but at least we know that our teachers have a base of knowledge to draw from and have passed certain standards laid out.  Education is important, and hopefully this process of learning also continues and we keep growing as professionals.

So are we better off as a sport because our mandated coaching education?  I think so.  Personally I’ve loved the opportunity to learn from other coaches that I would never have the opportunity to meet any other way, and I’m not just talking about the instructors.  There are candidates that I’ve been blessed to get to know because we were taking a license together.  It’s a great process, and something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed in my development as a coach.  It is something I’m so passionate about that I have joined the ranks of instructing coaching courses to try and be that resources of development for others.

The New Year means the latest NSCAA National Convention is around the corner!  This is one of the events that I really enjoy attending.  And this year I’ve been asked to sit on a panel for the new seminar series “So You Want to be a Soccer Coach” Saturday afternoon!

The convention is a great opportunity for us to stretch ourselves as coaches and to enjoy this great coaching community.  One of the perks is getting together with coaches I’ve gotten to know over the years through coaching courses and ODP and catch up on life.

If you’re debating going to the convention just commit to going.  There are a ton of great sessions and coaches with ten times the experience I’ll ever have willing to share their knowledge.  Couldn’t think of a better investment in one’s career and personal development.

One of the best things I’ve enjoyed about this career is the fraternity of coaches I’ve met in the last nine years.  Every convention, coaching course, showcase, and tournament we find time to sit and enjoy exploring this great profession we’ve all chosen.

What is it about sitting down with other coaches to swap training activities, coaching philosophies, stories of sport psychology, and the great memories we’ve created working with young people?  I enjoy attending and teaching at coaching courses because the outcome is the same; I get to learn from other coaches who work with a wide range of ages and competitive levels during lunches and breaks.  It’s a great profession when you’ve never learned enough and can always glean something from your peers.

That’s why I wanted to start this blog.  I wanted to give coaches a place that we can come together and share with one another to help us grow as individuals and become better coaches in our profession.  This is a place where you are encouraged to share!  You are the expert, and you have something to offer the rest.  If we work together than we can make an even better impact on the players that we work with.