Posts Tagged ‘preseason’

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching is a tireless job.  Preparations seem to never stop for the upcoming seasons.  At the collegiate level we are constantly recruiting and preparing for future seasons that we might not even have completed schedules for.

But on a more practical level “preseason” begins with my post season player meetings.  I actually just got done with my last player meeting today, and it’s an evolving process for me.

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of a season?  How are players appropriately debriefed?  How do you set to the tone for the new and upcoming season?

Here is the evolution I’ve personally taken with player evaluations…

2002- As an assistant coach I sat in on some of the post-season player evaluations we did.  Mostly the head coach pointed out to the players what he saw from them and opened it up for the players to vent about their season.

2005- My first year as a head coach, I debriefed my players and asked them to set three goals for themselves related to soccer for the upcoming competitive season.

2006- I started using a form I stole from a fellow coach (with permission).  The players had to take the form home and have it filled out when they returned for their post-season meeting.  The form covered several areas for short term (in college August of the upcoming year), midrange goals (approx. 3 years), and long term goals (6-10 years).  The goals were supposed to be wholistic, not just related to soccer.   The players are asked to set goals academically, athletically, and basic goals they want to see achieved in their lives.

Present Day- I still use an updated version of this form.  I’ve found that it does a great job of tackling several things.

  • Goals need to have a time limitation!  What’s the point of having a goal without having a deadline?  So we’ve established that short term goals are set to be achieved by the beginning of the upcoming season (approx. mid-August).  Midrange goals I’ve established as the time table they have until they graduate with their bachelors’ degrees (I think it’s important for college students to think about that last year and what they want to achieve by the end of the collegiate career).  And long term we’ve left as 6-10 years down the road.
  • Goals need to be wholistic.  I like that our players set goals for academics and life.  Some players set GPA goals, deciding majors, spiritual goals, and relationship goals.  This shows our players that we care more about them as a whole person rather than just an athlete.  And, it helps the athletes prioritize soccer in the big picture of their lives.
  • Identify obstacles to achieving success!  At the beginning of each season we try to help our athletes identify what the other teams are going to do to stop our attacks, or to break down our defensive shape, and why not in goal setting.  The biggest challenge I’ve noticed in goal setting for soccer players is they meet a challenge and don’t know how to overcome it so they give up.  Identifying that we will have obstacles to success and establishing a game plan to overcome is a great psychological victory!
  • Goals need to be written and shared!  It’s too easy to give up on our goals when we don’t put them down on paper and share them with our teammates.  There’s no accountability if they’re in our head.  Each of my players turns a goal setting form into me, and I photocopy it and give them a copy to leave in their lockers.  For our individual meetings in August I pull these sheets back out and confront the players with them.

These are just a couple things I have learned about goal setting with our players.  After we have individual meetings with the team we sit down as a community and set goals for the upcoming season as a unit nine months in advance.

This is important to put all of our off-season work into perspective.

How about you?  What do you do for goal setting with your team?  I’d also be very interested to hear from club coaches on how you tackle this with your teams.  I coach a club team in the off-season and I find it very challenging to establish goals.