Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

These Joyous Means May Not Have Soccer Ends

I was asked about the use of certain “games” in the US with young soccer players such as Stuck in the Mud, Red Light Green Light or Shark and Minnows. The thoughts below do not represent an in depth study of the situation, these are just “thoughts.”

The Strider or Balance Bike is a product that was created to help kids learn how to balance and steer without the additional concern of using pedals. Although it is not a “real bike,” it can make the process of learning balance more joyous than the use/removal of training wheels. Despite training wheels being used for generations, it may inhibit the actual desired outcome. The learner’s reliance on the training wheels keeps them from learning how to counter steer which means they must almost “relearn” how to ride. Finally the strider bike can also be used as a learning tool largely independently from direct supervision. A child learning to balance on a standard bike requires help from someone. Children are not small adults. Their needs are quite different but in the beginning, the strider bike was derided because it wasn’t a “real bike.”

Kids need to enjoy what they are doing. As they begin playing soccer, FUN is paramount to their desire to continue playing. Most players in the US do not grow up in a house where soccer is reinforced as a “way of life.” It is an organized activity that they are introduced to as part of some programming. For their parents, it can be a form of exercise for the child or even a cheap “childcare.” Although youth programs exist throughout the world, there is also cultural norm of individual or “street play.” Games like the ones listed above are intended to create a fun environment to learn skills. Elsewhere in the world, the development of skills is part of a cultural ratchet that values skill acquisition. Often through “unorganized” play, peer groups will create an environment where fun and skill acquisition go hand in hand.

Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso loving the game for all that it is!

There is nothing inherently wrong with playing fun games like Sharks and Minnows with young players. Much like using training wheels, it is a viable strategy. It can add fun to soccer for kids who are not already invested in the game. The issue is that many kids/parents are looking for a fun activity rather than specifically soccer fun. Therefore a disconnect happens when, “it’s just not fun anymore.” This can happen at any point in a player’s development. Learning to play chess, the flute, basketball, monopoly, etc. are worthwhile pursuits for young people. Only a small number of people will make it a lifelong pursuit.

Being honest with ourselves about why we are doing something is a crucial component to any endeavor. Playing monopoly with a 6 year old in order to instill a love of real estate investment is a strategy. However at some point the real thing doesn’t match up with the game. That first encounter is most likely not going to be the crucial component to a lifelong love. There will be milestones along the way that will either add or subtract to the child’s love for the activity. Having kids dip their carrots in ranch dressing is fine but at a certain point, the carrots need to stand on their own.

For me, soccer is a lifelong passion that speaks to me on a variety of levels. For some of my childhood friends, it is a game that they used to play when they were a kid. We spent years with undereducated coaches doing many poorly thought out drills by modern pedagogical standards. They did the best that they could with what they knew and got at least one lifelong convert. The strider bike may be the best possible way to get the intended objective but the training wheels still work. Neither guarantee that a kid will grow up to love bike riding.

The game is all about people. While I’m all for best practices, curricula and methodology; they do not guarantee anything. A kid needs to enjoy what they are doing enough to continue. More than likely, they need to see others enjoying that same thing. So if you are a coach, display your joy for the game! While we all might love soccer, joy is happiness that kids can see. That’s worth more than any activity that you’ll ever run for any age group!

“Football is life!” – Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso

Blogpost

An Open Letter to My Future Players

To Whom It May Concern:

VESPhotoI am your new coach.  That’s a role that I take very seriously.  It’s a mixture of teacher, mentor, psychologist, personal trainer, confidant and many other jobs that coalesce into a position of great possible influence.  The word possible is in there because people are put into roles like this every day but just because someone leads does not mean that anyone will follow.  A position of power does not make someone a leader.  Leaders must be willing to go first.  My hope is that I am able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am.

At this point, I could list all of my past experiences and accolades but they are only slightly relevant.  Prior success is not a guarantee of future success.  Also that term is something that we will have to define together.  So what am I offering?  Commitment…  A similar commitment to the ones that I make to my wife and children.  I take it that seriously.  The commitment to do what I believe is best in the long run.  Not particularly today.  Not the things that are easy.  Not the things that most people would do but rather the things that few people would do.  Things that may lose games but improve lives.  Ultimately that is the game that I care the most about: LIFE.  Eventually everyone’s playing career comes to an end.  The things that we carry with us after the games are over are the true victories.  The friends, confidence, self-discipline, self-awareness, and so many others are the trophies that we not only carry with us but can rely upon for years to come.  In the end, your ability to control a ball will probably amount to very little but your ability to control yourself will give you everything.

So where do we go from here?  Forward!  We are going to take the necessary steps in order to prepare for what lies ahead.  There is no way to predict what those things might be.  Every team and every season is different.  So we will do our best to anticipate the challenges and prepare for them.  We will endure hardships.  Face opponents external and internal.  Enjoy the successes but no matter what it will be done together.  Every one of us will contribute to whatever we accomplish.  From the starting captain, all the way down to the last person on the bench of the lowest level team, we all have something to give.  It may not be goals, saves or minutes but there is value in all of it.

I could go on but rather than talking about starting, we should just start.  So for now, let me just say that I am extremely excited to be working with you.

See you soon!

Coach

P.S.  Below is something that I wrote a few months back.  Not sure how it will play into my plans but I’m putting it here for your consideration.

“Toward Full Stature”

I go out today in search of victory,

Not over the opponent who stands in front of me

But the lesser self that resides within me

Before I can conquer anyone or anything else

I must first conquer and control myself

And if today I am able to stand victorious,

I know that tomorrow will bring a new challenge

Each day my ability to stand tall will be tested

But I am confident that I will reach my full stature

self-reliance, Uncategorized

Choosing the Bench

BenchIt’s such a common conversation that in each instance, I really work hard to not get fired up.  A player (or a parent) will complain to me about the fact that their coach is not playing them for __insert reason here____.  Usually it is some combination of “playing favorites” or “doesn’t know what he/she is doing”.  The reason why these conversations are so difficult is that the player almost invariably refuses to see that they are choosing the bench.  That sentence and the title of this post must sound ridiculous but I’ll do my best to make my argument for its accuracy.

The player who is complaining about playing time is almost always ignoring the fact that they have control over the key component to their PT, themselves.  When people don’t get what they want, the easiest thing to do is  blame someone else or circumstances.  While this is the easiest thing to do, it rarely has positive results.  In these situations of complaint, I usually direct the player’s attention to how much extra time they’re putting into their skills, fitness, tactical awareness, relationship with key players, etc.  Upon asking about these things, I usually get a blank stare or a halfhearted explanation of their “extra” work.

In all of my years of playing and coaching, I’ve never met a coach who kept talent on the bench without a reason.  Therefore the equation of playing time becomes quite a simple one.  GET SO GOOD THAT YOU CAN’T BE IGNORED!  The truth of most of these situations is that the player only wants to do enough to get what they want.  They do not truly want the playing time because if they did, they’d be doing all of the work to get it and a ton extra.  The obstacle of the coach is just an excuse for them not to do the work.

“Thumbs before fingers!” has been a mantra of mine for years.  It simply states that you need to acknowledge your contribution to any challenge before you blame someone else.  By seeing your faults first, you have the power to change them.  If you ignore the fact that you have any fault, you become powerless.  You are completely at the mercy of the person or situation.  So I implore you!  Don’t put yourself on the bench!  Become so good that you can’t be ignored!  Give so much effort that the coach has to feel guilty about taking you off the field!  Then other people can talk about you being “the coach’s favorite” but you’ll know the truth of how hard you worked to get there.

Go get your goal today!

Pete