Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes of Soccer: The opportunity of COVID-19 to fix American youth soccer

When music stores still existed on a large scale, I was mainly listening to punk rock. As I would shuffle through the CDs in the punk section looking for something by Millencolin, I would invariably see Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. It was a strange enough name to catch the eye but I never really looked into them because Youtube and other sampling tools weren’t available. In preparation for this article, I decided to look more closely at their history and catalogue. I just liked the name to hammer home an idea but it turned out to be more perfect than I thought. Me First… is made up of members from different rock bands and they perform punk cover versions of popular songs like “Mandy” by Barry Manilow or “Hello” by Lionel Richie. They take other people’s winners and dress them up a little differently. There’s nothing really wrong with what the Gimme Gimmes are doing because the original songwriters get a portion of the revenue produced. Now that you’re up to speed on Me First… let’s see what was can do about youth soccer.

The system of youth soccer in America is in need of an overhaul. The dissolution of the DA may end up being a positive in the long run but from top to bottom there’s a lot more wrong. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes are not pretending to be anything more than what they are a cover band. However their name seems to be a perfect way to describe the overall ethos of youth soccer at the moment. Leagues, clubs, trainers, tournaments, etc. are all part of a system that seems to be less about soccer and more about money. This is a game that could be almost free for kids to play but here it is big business. Why? Because the system is so disjointed that it allows people to take advantage and there is no real incentive to act in the interest of the greater good. So my hope is that the hiatus that we are on will shed some light on those issues. Allow me to explain.

In most countries there is a soccer pyramid that makes some form of sense. Teams that are higher up the pyramid get there by a type of meritocracy. The same is true about players. A player must climb the pyramid as well. Perhaps they are fortunate to get discovered early in their career. In the professional ranks, teams can either develop their own talent through their academy system or buy talent from elsewhere. If a player is bought, then their youth club gets some form of financial compensation called development payment. This money allows the smaller clubs to continue to develop players. Sometimes the financial gain is worth letting go of a good player. It helps the club’s finances and the player usually moves on to a higher level.

In the American system, there is no incentive for clubs to let go of their players. Development payments are not recognized yet by the USSF. Therefore clubs are less likely to help talented players move on. A quality player or team of players raise the perceived clout of the club and can bring in more money. Since the US does not embrace development payments, all of the money is brought in from the families of the players. So every player is also a customer and losing customers is not a good strategy for staying in business. Although this is a major problem, it is not the only one. Due to the lack of overarching structure the United States soccer “pyramid” has many organizational flaws. The lack of a concrete system allows perception to dominate common practice. NCAA, NAIA, ECNL, NPL, AYSO, US Club, ODP, and so many other acronyms are part of a landscape of muddied waters. Each acronym with their own vested interest that may or may not serve the betterment of their players or soccer in general.

Although the system is dysfunctional and needs an overhaul, a pandemic might be the perfect cure for what ails soccer in the US. More than anything, it is giving people time to reflect.

  1. Path to the Pros – USSF has already taken this opportunity to dissolve the DA. Although it may take some time for MLS to get its replacement right, in the end, any club in the “Development Academy” league should have some direct path to the professional game. This change can separate the cream of the crop from the pretenders who pay a lot for the prestige of being in the DA.
  2. Going Solo – The pandemic has forced all training sessions to be shut down. So since players can’t see their high priced trainers, they’re practicing on their own. It probably shouldn’t be this big of a revelation but American kids and parents are recognizing that skills practice in isolation can help. The flip side of this coin could also be a revelation. A kid who is not practicing during this huge opportunity to get ahead of competition, probably doesn’t love the sport enough to justify a huge financial investment.
  3. Dollars and Sense – With the economic impact of the pandemic on the average family’s income, most people are going to have to consider their expenditures heavily. So high priced soccer clubs are going to have to take a backseat to things like food, health care, electricity, etc. With the loss of DA status and the financial crunch that so many will be feeling, clubs will either prove their value or struggle to survive. If you’ve ever read my work before, I’m a huge proponent of the local club for the vast majority of players.
  4. Come Together – We can’t right now but eventually when we can, the game is going to need fans. Support your local MLS, USL or NPSL team. The common refrain that I get when I talk to people about supporting professional soccer in America is “I can’t watch MLS, it sucks!” This stance only helps the ego of the person who is willing to believe it. MLS is NOT the Premier League or La Liga or the Bundesliga or the Serie A. Roger that! However, do you really desire to have the best leagues in the world be an ocean away? Or would you rather have the best soccer in the world being played right in your backyard? If the answer is that you love the long distance relationship, then great. If you want the best to be within your reach, then you have to pay attention NOW! Investors are going to put money into soccer, only if they see that the product is selling. So Euro snobbery is only going to perpetuate the status quo.

So now I circle back to the beginning, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. I’ve seen a lot of things throughout this pandemic and the attacks of 9/11 and other tragedies to know that people in this country are not all about themselves. Not everyone has got their hands out looking to take from others. However when things are “normal”, we’re so damn busy and distracted that we don’t think much about the collective. How we all fit into the bigger picture. Soccer is a we sport! My hope is that this pandemic will teach us the lesson that WE are all in the together: soccer, life, the world.

Blogpost, self-reliance

Jello Jenga

I didn’t realize before I started writing this that it was a drinking game. For me it’s actually just a concept that I’ve been thinking about recently. Under normal circumstances, the game of Jenga (even the drinking kind) is played with some form of wood blocks arranged in a tower type construction. A player must remove a block and put it on top of the stack without causing the entire thing to collapse. It takes some concentrations and manual dexterity.

As I have been thinking about people and their problems recently, I imagine that many people would love for life to work something like Jenga. Identify the problem, remove it and put it someplace/discard it. The mental image works to a certain extent but our lives, problems, fears, and anxieties are not firm and solid things. They are much more fluid and unstable like jello. So imagine the tower of jello rectangles, wobbling and shaking, as you try to remove one of the blocks. Although it may be possible to get it out, it’s not going to be a neat and tidy operation. It will probably take several attempts. Half of the block may remain stuck in the space and require a different angle of approach. In addition to the extraction, there is the eventual sagging into the open space. It may have been one block that was removed but it affected all of the blocks around it in some way. The ripple effect may be felt throughout the entire structure.

My point here is not to create a very messy new game for people to try. Quite the opposite, it’s a game that you’re already playing. My entire point is to give a framework for dealing with some of the issues that people have. Quitting smoking, overcoming anxiety, dealing with depression and so many other extractions are going to be messy but they are possible. Humans were never intended to work like the machines that surround our world at the moment. We are fluid, ever-changing and imperfect structures that require a high level of care.

So as you go out into your life today. Survey your situation and see if any wobbly and sticky situations need to be removed. Using this idea as a framework, start to dislodge them. Just remember, that it’s not always going to be simple or pretty but you can figure it out even if it requires a spoon.

Have a great day people!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Left Foot Psychology

It’s almost comically predictable at this point! The responses that I’m bound to hear when I say, “Ok, let’s do the same skill with your non-dominant (usually left) foot.” Most players will reply with “My left sucks!” or “I can’t do this with my left.” Other grumbles will be heard but I don’t let them linger for too long. I know that it is not so much their left foot that needs work, it’s their mindset.

After over twenty years of coaching and teaching, I am not surprised anymore. The same patterns of problems keep coming up over and over again. It’s not because people lazy, stupid or indifferent. One of the main reasons that people don’t do the things that they need to do is that they are trying to protect themselves. Their weaknesses are safety blankets that protect them from an effort toward something that might not work out. It’s not truly the effort that they are scared to put in. The uncertainty of the outcome combined with the effect that “failure” (real or perceived) would have on their self-image are the true obstacles.

So in my practice, it is my job to create a place where we redefine failure. Failure is not trying! Success is 1% improvement. If you missed the goal by 10 yards on the first attempt, then missing by 9.5 on the second is a success. This redefinition of success and failure gives an open invitation to effort and protects their self-image.

Most of us are not working with a coach on a daily basis. No one is redefining success and failure for us, so we stick with that safety blanket approach. We protect our self-image because it is important for us to feel good about ourselves or at least comfortable with who we are. The exercise regiment, new eating habits, relationship tweaks, etc. are not safe because if we tried and it didn’t work out, what would that say about us? It would mean we’re a success.

That’s right! It was easy enough to see the efficacy with little kids kicking a ball but as soon as it is our weakness, it seems much more complicated but it’s not. Trying is your new measure of success. (Yeah, Yeah! There is no try. F$#% Yoda for the moment) Once you’ve tried, then any small smidge of improvement is something to be celebrated. You jog 100 yards on Monday. Then on Tuesday you do 101, that’s success. Perfection is not attainable and movie style miracles are not coming your way any time soon. So get up off your a$$ and put your left foot forward!

Have a great day people!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Caboose of Your Choices

At one point in history, the caboose was a standard part of a train. It served many functions. It was used as lookout point for identifying issues with the cars being towed by the engine. The caboose was also where the crew of the train tended to live. As train technology improved, the caboose was deemed unnecessary and discarded. Although technology made the actual caboose irrelevant, it is possible that it makes our life caboose much more relevant. Allow me to explain.

If you picture your life as a train heading down a track, there are splits in the track everywhere. From moment to moment, you are presented with choices of which direction to go. Some choices you labor over as you see them approach. Others you’ve made so often, you don’t even view them as choices anymore. You just staying on that track. All of those decision are made at the front end based on what you, the engineer, see coming up. In a modern context, things come up fast because the world is moving at an alarming pace. So it is no wonder that as we are moving forward we forget that we live in the caboose.

We forget the fact that when things slow down and the place where we live catches up, those momentary choices may have us in a really bad spot. The choices, that only took an instant, deteriorate as soon as the engine passes by and leave the caboose living in a desert of poor consequences. It’s easy to beat yourself up when the caboose comes along but you need to get the message up to the engine “Remember we’re back here!” I say ‘we’ because there are so many parts of your life living in the caboose: health, relationships, finances, self esteem, etc. So what do you do?

  • Make a plan – decide where it is that you want your caboose to end up and spend most of its days, WRITE IT DOWN!
  • Follow the routes – someone else has done this thing before, follow their procedure
  • Keep that plan in mind – keep the plan somewhere that you will see it often, build habits into your life that perpetuate the plan
  • Stay on track – (pun intended) you know you better than anyone, build processes into your life or take things out that make it more likely that you’ll reach your destination

It’s easy to look at the world and say “there are no tracks”. So you feel like you’re at the mercy of the world. You’re absolutely right! There are no tracks if you don’t lay any but as I said at the beginning, there are some decisions in your life that ceased to be decisions a long time ago. In the future, you want those new habits to be the things that you don’t consider anymore.

This entire post sprung out of a thought that I had while listening to an Impact Theory interview with Trevor Moawad. The interview is amazing and I loved so many parts of it that I’ve listened to it at least ten times already. However I disagreed with his statement about choice being an illusion. I believe that we have the ability to choose but those choices get followed up by a full train that endure the consequences.

STAY ON TRACK PEOPLE!

Pete

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Success Is The Distance…

For years I’ve been saying it to my teams, “Winning is not always success and losing is not always failure!” Now this sticks right in the craw of many people who want to put trophies on mantles and points on the board. The problem is that this one metric doesn’t tell the entire story. It’s just the most obvious thing that people measure. It’s also the reason that I REALLY REALLY dislike Manchester City in the English Premier League. We need to dig a little deeper to uncover the metrics by which true success can be measured.

My statement about success and failure is usually followed up by a thought exercise. I’ll ask my high school players, “If we played Arsenal and lost 1-0, were we successful?” The answer is always a resounding “YES!” Then I ask, “If we were to play against a U8 team and won 1-0, were we successful?” The answer is always a resounding “NO!” “Could we even characterize that as a ‘failure’?” Again the answer is always unanimous, “YES!” So if a loss can be success and a victory can be failure, how do we truly measure these contradictory outcomes that are so integral to how we feel about ourselves? It is simple but not easy.

Success is the distance between someone’s resources and their results. Many of the components may be subjective but we have the exemplars written in the fabric of our culture. It is no wonder that Rocky continues to be a classic after all of these years. That movie personifies this idea about success. Rocky has almost none of the resources but uses what he has to get unexpected results. Conversely Apollo has all of the resources and barely gets the minimum expected. These may be fictitious characters but these stories play out in the real world everyday. Possibly even in your own life.

Now that you have a definition for success. Take it, use it, run with it. Measure yourself against it. Are you really succeeding or are you beating up on the U8 team because it’s easy? With the resources that you have at your disposal, are you living above or below that line? Recognition is the first step to moving in a new direction. Then put on the gloves and start swinging.

Fight the good fight people!

Pete

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It’s All Bull$#%t Until It’s Not

A good friend of mine had a great night tonight. He is a high school basketball coach in Iowa and they won their first game of the season. The victory is more impressive because they did not win a single game last season. As I’ve known this man for many years, I know that he has been selling an idea to his team for months. The idea that they are better than their record from last year. I am sure that he has been trying to convince his players that they could win. While I like to believe that everyone is as optimistic as I am, there were probably a few of his players that believed he was full of it. The truth is that he was, up until tonight.

Magellan, Galileo, Tesla, the Wright Brothers and yes! John Windham were all kidding themselves at one point. At least that is what the people around them tend to believe. The reason is that it is easier to be pessimistic. It takes almost no effort at all to see the obstacles. The struggle of believing is just too hard for many people to bear. We’ve become enamored with the ideas of predictability and consistency. As we go through our lives, the monkey wrenches that get thrown into the gears of our perfectly planned days cause major upsets and anxiety. Everything is supposed to work like Starbucks where things are predictable but make you feel special at the same time. Believing something into existence is just too much work! What if I fail!?!?!? What if I’m full of it?!?!?! You will and you are. The people above were all branded fools up until and often beyond their successes.

If it’s all bull$#%t until it’s not, then what are you willing to be mocked for? The pessimists are always going to be there, no matter what. So the key is believing in something more than you care about what people will say. Time and tenacity are all it takes to change the impossible to the possible. Now is your time!

Pete

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No One Is Waiting For You To Be Great

This thought hit me the other night as I was watching “A Few Good Men”. Tom Cruise’s character is a lawyer who everyone expects to take the easy route. He has a reputation for plea bargains and that’s what they expect him to do this time around. No one is waiting for him to do anything great.

Our lives are made up of moments and they stack upon one another. We get used to our particular level of performance. Whether your best is better or worse than someone else’s is largely irrelevant. People expect that you are going to show up like you. When you fall short of your normal level, the people who care about you might worry. Your enemies may chuckle but most people are too self-interested to even notice.

The thing that no one is waiting for is for you to be great. It will make your friends uncomfortable because if you do something great, then they feel inadequate. Your enemies want you to fail, not succeed and the general bystander needs more mediocrity or ineptitude from others to make them feel better about themselves. So under no circumstances is anyone waiting for you to do something great.

HighJump.jpg

So it all boils down to you and what you want for yourself. The moments of your life belong to you. There will be peaks and valleys for each of us. The question becomes what level do you want to be your average? Who do you expect to show up every day when you look in the mirror? If no one else is waiting for you to be great, will you demand that of yourself? Or will you live up to the expectations that people have for you at the moment? These are questions that only you can answer. Regardless of whether you do so consciously or not, your actions will tell the story. So what are you waiting for? Make today happen and if at all possible, make it great!

Pete

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Building Confidence: Exchange FEAR for MIRE

Recently I was asked by a young player to give some thoughts on building confidence on the field. Although the request was made with a very specific goal in mind, building confidence is possible for anyone. The component pieces are the same regardless of the specific pursuit.

The first step is to focus on skill acquisition. Competence leads to confidence. This should be an obvious step but it is overlooked by many. People generally do not want to take the time to become good at something. They want to believe in themselves before they have any reasons to support that belief. Take the time to develop the necessary skills. Do the work when no one is watching.

As the physical skills are building, it is also important to build a mental framework. The opposite of confidence is fear. Fear as an acronym is False Evidence that Appears Real. The reason why most people are not confident is that they have the pictures of all of the ways that it could go wrong in their heads. Combating these images takes deliberate practice. In order to get to the point where you can admire your own abilities, you must have Mental Images Rehearsed Everyday. It is important to see what you want in your mind’s eye before it happens. Before things happen in the external world, they have to happen in your internal world.

Finally there is a component of faith to any endeavor. A belief that things are going to work out. With this faith there is a certain amount of emotional equilibrium that one must possess. The ability to see setbacks and obstacles as part of the process is crucial. Ultimately humans lead with belief and the willingness to leap out into the void at some point is necessary.

The most confident people did not develop that ability in a day. Nor is it a super power that is kept from us mere mortals. It is simply a process like so many others. Follow the steps to get similar results. Unfortunately it is easier to succumb to fear than to take action. However even the most difficult things can become a habit if they are practiced enough.

So go out there today and face your fears. Build your skills and become confident based on your new abilities. Nothing is so big that it can’t be broken down into bite sized pieces. Be careful because if you picture it, you just might do it!

Go forth with confidence!

Pete

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The Viral Life Expectancy Has Gone Viral

It was the latest thing! The internet was on fire with different videos. Everyone from celebrities to little kids were taking part in this craze. For about two weeks, I saw it go through the entire life cycle. The birth, life and death all happened in such a short period of time that it was impossible to miss it. It didn’t last long enough for anyone to care that it was gone. Of course I’m talking about the “Harlem Shake”. If you had something else in mind, that’s not a problem because I could have gone with other examples. Flappy bird, dabbing, fidget spinners, bottle flipping, etc. Each had their own amount of time in the spotlight but none lasted too long. Fads are not new and by no means am I suggesting that they should go away. My fear is that everything has become a fad.

As a child in the 80’s, I saw the rise and fall of so many fads I could “gag myself with a spoon!” I had Bugle Boy Jeans a year after they were cool. My mullet was never quite right and convincing my mother to buy jeans that already had rips in them was unthinkable. Even though I didn’t fully partake in any of these fads, I was influenced by the culture around me enough to notice what was “in”. As I said previously, it’s not that fads are new. Each of the fads that came and went through my childhood stuck around long enough to be remembered. None were life altering but they usually hung around long enough to get associated with a year or part of life. The life expectancy of a fad was long enough to make it memorable and possibly meaningful.

In the age of the internet, the viral nature of media has caused fads to appear out of nowhere. They disappear almost as quickly. Very few cultural phenomena have the “staying power” to hang on for a year. Often the life of a fad is measured in weeks. While this isn’t a problem on its own, let’s face it, the Harlem Shake didn’t deserve much more of our time. The issue is the cultural impact on our perception of life expectancy. People have become accustomed to the idea of things disappearing quickly. So things that matter or require time to develop and flourish get swept aside because they don’t peak early enough or burn slower than people’s comfort level.

In a world filled with fads that seem like mental candy, have we lost our ability to recognize the things of substance? Are we so accustomed to anticipating the new that we are unable to determine if the thing in front of us deserves the time to develop? Our minds are like muscles in so many ways. I fear that these short spurts of attention are training us for the wrong game. Most of the things that really matter in life are the result of long term thinking. If that long term muscle never gets exercised, it will atrophy. Eventually we will only be equipped to deal with the short term, prepackaged, watered down version of life. While it might be easier, I don’t think it will be more fulfilling. So be aware! Some things, people and situations in your life deserve more than just a passing glance. You need to develop the awareness to recognize them and have the patience muscle to see them through. There will always be another shiny thing laying in the road. Most of it is just trash that you’ll discard. Most of the things of value require some mining!

Play the long game!

Pete

Blogpost

Room Temperature Butter

There was always a butter dish at my house when I was growing up. It was on the kitchen counter most of the time. A stick of butter on a glass plate intended to hold it with a metal cover. It wasn’t something that you paid much attention to until it was empty. The discovery of the empty butter dish usually happened at the exact moment when there was a piece of toast or a bagel that needed buttering. Refrigerated butter is almost useless at that point. It does more damage than it does to enhance the taste of the chosen item. It spreads unevenly, if at all. Microwaving the stick to soften it was an exercise that always ended in disappointment. That’s why the butter dish being empty was such a crime because room temperature butter is ready for action.

If yo’ve read my blog before, then you know that I’m not talking about butter. I’m talking about you! Not your ability to melt evenly on a waffle but rather you ability to be ready for action. The room temperature butter is exactly that. It exists in that sweet spot where it can be anything for anyone at a moment’s notice. While we’d like to believe that we are room temperature butter, most of us are in the refrigerator or even worse we’ve already melted. In most instances we’ve grown cold to the possibility of anything other than what we had planned for our day. We need to be coerced, convinced and prepared for the things that are coming our way. Otherwise it spikes our anxiety, takes us out of our comfort zone or just plain freaks us out. What would the butter say? Nothing!!! It’s butter! But what do you have to say for yourself?

Each of us has to take responsibility for at least one person in this world. Recognize that the ability to respond to the world around you is important: not the way that you wish it was, not the way that it used to be but the way that it is! Plan, yes! Schedule, yes! Dream, yes! But do not expect that life is going to lob you underhand pitches for you to knock out of the park. It is going to go high and inside on you to put your but in the dirt. So be ready! Be nimble! Be flexible! Be room temperature butter! The events of today are going to happen with or without your consent. Be ready to take whatever it gives you!

Have a great day!

Pete

Just for fun! “I Melt with You” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuN6gs0AJls