Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

5 Things Professional Soccer Coaches Can Learn from a Foreign Language Teacher

A foreign language can be exactly that to many people “foreign”.  Despite that fact, there are lessons to be learned and applied from the study of language that reach into the sports world extremely easily.  At the highest level, the margin for error is so slim that all possible advantages must be explored.

Darren Ferguson, manager Peterborough United.
  1.  Language is an agreement – This is crucial.  Right now you (the reader) and I are working under the English agreement.  We must agree in order for messages to travel freely and easily.  This is simple when we’re talking about identifying a table or a ball.  However this idea goes much deeper.  It involves vocabulary, tone, context and audience.  As a coach, when you address the team, it leaves your lips as one message but gets received eleven or more different ways.  This recognition by itself can be powerful but knowing your receivers can allow you to improve your messages.  Your business is results.  Anyone can bark orders.  Not everyone can craft a message. So learn to give the message in a way that will be received.
  1. You’re doing it to yourself – It doesn’t exist in every language but in several, there is a construction called a reflexive verb.  This is when the person doing the action is also receiving the action.  Think of washing your hair, brushing your teeth or shaving.  In Spanish there is a verb “ponerse”.  It means “to put on”.  Although it can be used for clothing, it also gets used for emotions.  You put anger onto yourself or sadness or excitement.  Even though your language may not represent it that way, it is exactly what happens.  You and your players are making yourselves feel a certain way.  Feelings don’t infect us.  We create them.  Do your players put excitement on by themselves at training or matches?  Or do they need your help? As the person who will eventually be held accountable for the results of the team, it is important to consider what emotions are continually being put onto everyone involved. Can you direct that more effectively?
  1. Permanent/Consistent or Temporary – Much like the last concept, language frames the way that we look at the world.  In Spanish, there are two words for the word “to be”: Ser and Estar.  Ser is used for things that are permanent or consistent.  Estar is used for things that are temporary.  In English it is possible for someone to say “I am depressed.”  Since there is only one word for “to be”, this could be a temporary thing or a long term.  The signal to other people and the mind can be difficult to decipher.  This overlaps with the concept above about agreement.  “John is horrible” and “John is having a horrible day” have very different meanings to both the sender and receiver.  In your team’s culture, what ideas or concepts do you want to be permanent/consistent?  What is meant to be temporary?  Listen to your players’ language patterns when they talk about themselves and others.  Are there patterns that are undermining success? Are you the one who put them there or did you allow them to stay?
  1. Slow Process vs. Fast Process – Languages are broken into four different modalities:  reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Reading and writing are slow processes that allow the person to take their time as they are doing it.  Listening and speaking are done in real time.  Therefore each can be more valuable at different times or may be used in tandem.  Consider the importance of the message that you want to send.  Is saying it enough?  Remember, you already know the message that you want them to receive.  So be sure to give them the opportunity to get it with the amount of depth that you intend for it.  Should you write it down for them to see it?  Should they write it down in their own words?  In their own language? Your players are going to be performing in a high stress environment. Make sure that the messages that matter stick.
  2. Question Words Require Extra – Who? What? ¿Dónde? Quand? Jak? And WHY?  Although there may be times when all you want is the simple yes or no, your players are complex creatures who have lives beyond the game.  Probing beyond the surface level may be the key to unlocking a level of focus and commitment that you never knew existed from an individual.  Yes men are easy to find and easy to replace.  Although all question words elicit extra information, they are not all created equal.  WHY is the eventual question that you want to find an answer for.  If you know a player’s WHY and are able to link it to the team’s goals, you’ll have a brother in arms rather than a mercenary.  One of my favorite illustrations of the concept of WHY comes from the movie Cinderella Man (2:00 minutes in).  He says what he’s fighting for but it puts his WHY on full display.           

In the world of professional soccer, everyone’s job is to prepare to the best of their ability in order to achieve a result on game day. Coaches are using words as their main tool to get the most from their players. Despite that fact, language patterns and word choice rarely get considered. The best version of you as a coach requires that you and your players understand one another. Be sure that your message is not being lost in translation.

Blogpost

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

Blogpost

Soccer as Religion

IMG_4372 (1)It has been said many times that soccer is a “religion”.  While this may be taken as an exaggeration or possibly a slight against religion, there is reason to take the claim with a certain amount of seriousness.  Although the sport does not call for the fealty to a superhuman controlling power, it could be considered a form of faith and worship.  Routinely throughout the year, people flock by the thousands to sport cathedrals to have their faith tested by the team of their choosing.  Much like a religion, an individual must decide to keep believing in the face of conflict.  Although the teams, managers and players are the facilitators, it is actually the mass’s belief in the sport itself that makes it most like a religion.

The belief structure of soccer is not something that is written in a holy book but there are some universals that are worth mentioning as they relate heavily to life.

You’re never fully in control.  Although the ball can be “possessed” by anyone on the field, that possession is tenuous at best.  Even the goalkeeper has a time limit on their ability to hold the ball.

Progress and protection must be balanced.  Even the most forward thinking teams recognize the need for a form of balance.  Those who do not recognize the need for balance pay the price eventually.

No one can stand alone.  Even the best players in history needed a supporting cast in order to be successful.  Much like life, the individual is part of a larger whole and therefore is dependent on others.

There are many ways to meet your aims.  Style of play, formations, personnel and other components are merely ingredients to an eventual product.  The path does not always follow the plan or the map but actually doing is the key.

The tools may be finite but the possibilities are infinite.  Each player has a finite number of tools to use but their ability to respond to the situation with those tools is what brings people back repeatedly.

These are not commandments or any form of religious doctrine but rather a few ideas that are inherent to the game.  It is because of these ideas and many more that the game of soccer is so universally beloved.  It mirrors life in so many ways that the people who love it may not even realize the overlaps.  The game encapsulates in ninety minutes (or thereabouts) the struggle of what it means to be alive.  Collectively and individually we are all caught in a struggle and the game is an available guidepost to help us along the road.

Play both games well!

Pete

[mc4wp_form id=”5149″]

Blogpost

Would You Know a Good Ref If You Saw One?

refereeToday my son’s game had an extremely good referee group.  The center referee and his two linesmen called the game very well.  Despite the fact that they did a great job and got the majority of the calls right (even the ones that went against my son’s team), there were still complaints from parents.  Which made me wonder if people really have any idea what makes for a good referee or if they just want calls to go in their team’s favor?  Here are some thoughts to consider.

The level matters – Recognize that the job of a referee changes as the age and the level of play changes.  At the lowest levels, the referee is part of a learning process.  Their job is more about managing the understanding of the game rather than calling “fouls”.  Often the sidelines are complaining about things that are poor body control and not actually a foul.  The higher levels require much more reading of the flow of the game.  A good referee will identify possible problems developing in the play.  Their use of cards, advantage, player discussions and fouls called/not called will depend largely upon their reading of the game and individual’s roles within in it.  So as you are watching a game, give some thought as to the level of soccer being played and what the referee’s role truly is at that level.

Perspective matters – By design, referees are intended to be a neutral third party at the game.  So they are not carrying the bias that most of us bring to the game.  Their decisions are based upon what they see and not what they feel.  This creates another issue for most fans because their vantage point is completely different from that of the referee’s.  So it is not only possible but actually completely accurate to say that fans and referees have seen a different game.  Most of the time this is done with no instant replay, no VAR with different camera angles.  This is done live with twenty two players running in all directions and possibly screening the view.  Despite these major obstacles, perfection is the standard that many expect.

The Laws are the Laws – A good referee will call the game based on the laws of the game, not public perception of what the laws are.  There are many things that are commonly shouted from fans or even coaches about things that do not apply to the Laws of the game.  “Winning the ball” for example does not make a player immune from having a foul called against them.  If the play is deemed to be reckless, then a foul is appropriate regardless of who won the ball.  A large number of players, fans and coaches have only a cursory knowledge of the Laws that are based more on hearsay rather than actual study.

Obviously this is just a small sample but each is worth considering.  The game requires referees and the good ones need to be identified, praised and promoted.  I fear that many people involved in the soccer world would not be able to identify a good referee if they saw one.  That is unfortunate because that means that people are unable to see past their own desires.  Most of the soccer played in this country is youth soccer.  Therefore the majority of children are getting a skewed view of right and wrong.  Right means in my favor and wrong means anything else.  The ability to be objective could be lost.

Blogpost

McBride It!

I was going to post this a few days ago but thought that it made sense to wait until Mother’s Day.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there!

McbrideIn the modern world, there is a certain leaning toward being self-centered.  The pervasiveness of selfies in the social media world sends the message, “Look at me, I’m special.”  While I truly feel it is important for people to believe in themselves, things that go too far to one extreme tend to become their opposite.  Too much of a lifesaving drug becomes poison.  Too much focus on weight loss becomes anorexia.  Too much focus on the self becomes narcissism.  The key to balance is a counterweight.  Brian McBride seemed to have that balance figured out perfectly.

Now I’ve never spoken to Brian McBride about this.  So I’m not sure if I am representing his thought process but here is my outside view.  Whenever he scored a goal, he would kiss his ring in a form of homage to his wife.  This is only one of many reasons why I respected him as a player.  At the moment when all eyes were on him, his thoughts were on the person who supported him.  At a time when people point to themselves, their own name or have elaborate celebrations; his were a welcome counter example.

Each of us should be striving for whatever we deem to be “success”.  That could mean so many things that formulating a list would take forever.  Regardless of your chosen endeavor, none of us can make it completely on our own.  We all require support, encouragement, love and so many other ingredients that come from our family and friends.  No matter how big you get, McBride it!  When everyone one is praising you for how great you are, take a moment to pay homage to the person or people who got you there.  It makes the victory so much sweeter when you have people to share it with.  Maybe it’s even worth it to thank them now, before you’ve made it.  You’re going to need them on the climb!

Have a great day!

Pete

Blogpost

5 Ways to Avoid Youth Sports Burnout

EmSoccer.jpgI remember playing soccer as a kid pretty vividly.  There’s a smattering of games, practices, camps, travel and associated activities swimming around inside my head.  Perhaps I’ve forgotten but there was only one time that I ever considered “quitting” soccer and that was near my transition to high school.  However that was because I was considering going out for football.  So other than that, I truly don’t have a recollection of not wanting to play anymore.  Perhaps I’m wired differently because I also ran track through high school and into college.  Basketball got left behind as a sophomore in high school.  That was more of a “talent” and interest thing than burnout.  When you’re getting the token minutes as a freshman, the writing is on the wall.  I needed to get a lot better in order to be successful at the sport that was not my priority.

Define Burnout – With the quick anecdotes above, it’s obvious that I am defining burnout differently than just discontinuing participation.  There are seasons for everything in our lives and sports are no different.  Allowing one season to end in order for others to begin or become more prominent is not something to bemoan.  It is the natural order of life.

So what we are specifically talking about is the idea of saturation to the point of generalized overwhelm, exhaustion with and possible contempt for the activity.  Notice the underlined word, generalized.  Everyone has moments where the things that they pursue can become difficult in the moment.  Burnout is much more than that, it is a constant rather than a one off.

The following suggestions are not the only possibilities nor a silver bullet but rather the beginning of a conversation.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is a relevant metaphor here.

Give them an “out” – Even though they may never take it, giving kids a visible way out of something can be an antidote to burnout. This can come with some stipulations such as finishing out the season/year but the message should be clear “if you don’t want this anymore, that’s ok.”

Renew the contract – This may seem like the same thing as giving them an escape route but it’s not.  Kids do not process things in the same way as adults.  Even though they may know that the can get out if they want to, they may not evaluate that “want” regularly.  At the end of the season AND before the next, check in to make sure that they want to continue.

Align the goals –  “I love soccer/football/hockey/badminton/etc.” may mean something completely different to your child than it does to you.  Make sure that the goals that you and your child have for the sport are aligned.  If you’re thinking, “college scholarship” and they are thinking, “I love hanging out with my friends and the games” that disconnect is going to cause friction at some point.  There’s always room for changing course but if parents and kids are pointed in different direction, problems may arise.

Find the model – If your youth athlete has expressed an interest in play at some higher level whether it is high school, club, academy, college or professional.  Find someone who is at that next step and talk to them about what it takes to get there.  Do not try to jump steps.  Your 8 year old does not need to understand the training regimen of a professional athlete.  Most young players would say that they want to go pro.  That’s not the question in the beginning.  The relevant question in the beginning is do they want to practice when no one tells them to?

LOVE THEM, no matter what – This should be obvious and it probably is to you, as the parent.  Often messages get convoluted in the day to day grind of all of the responsibilities that we have.  Regardless of the outcome of games, tryouts, tournaments or anything else; your child should have an overwhelming sense that their performance and your love are completely separate items.

I hope that after reading this that you’re saying to yourself “I didn’t need this article!”  Nothing would make me happier!  The unfortunate thing is that many people do.  So if you could spread it, that would be great!  I’m extremely passionate about my sport of choice, soccer, and also helping young people.  Almost nothing is more disappointing to me than to see a child who had a love for a sport driven out of them.

Sports are a great opportunity to bring the best out of our children.  Let’s take that opportunity to raise our children up and not wear them down.

Make today a great day!

Pete

[mc4wp_form id=”5149″]

Uncategorized

Cheering for Someone Else’s Kid (An Exercise in Perspective)

Huryk-LukeEvery weekend the players line up on the field, the referee blows the whistle and the microscopes come out.  I’m speaking figuratively of course.  Although a fusion between youth sports and science would be great, I’m talking about the tunnel vision of the fans on the sidelines.  It’s actually not their fault.  It is in our nature to pay attention to the things that we care most about.  So a parent’s focus on their child at a time of high emotion is both normal and expected.  Our youth sports culture has definitely swung toward the extreme with cost, intensity and behavior.  The thing that we often lack as we go through life is perspective.  We tend to think that the way we perceive the world is the way that the world is.  It is only our version.  There are billions of others and none of them is completely correct either.  So it may be valuable to gain a different perspective.

Go to a youth sporting event of someone else’s kid, not a niece or a close friend’s son but two levels of separation.  It may just be a different age group at the club that your child plays for.  Choose a child that you’re going to “support” for the game.  If you’re a cheerer, then cheer.  If you’re the quiet pensive fan, then be quiet and pensive.  Whatever you would normally do at your own child’s game, do you best to recreate it (bring your spouse to bicker about the coach if need be).  I understand this will be uncomfortable and feel odd for most people but here are some things that will probably happen.

You’re probably going to lose focus on “your player” from time to time and watch the overall game.  All of the reactions that you would normally have will be slightly muted.  You may be able to look at the player and pick up on subtle cues about them.  Do they like the sport?  Do they play with joy and look like they are having fun?  Are they afraid to mess up/of contact/of trying too hard?  Are they embarrassed by the stranger cheering for them (keep it under control)?  At the end of the game, was success or failure based solely on the score/outcome?

The payoff in this experiment will be different for everyone.  If the difference between the fan that you are in the two situations is small, that’s probably a good sign.  If the difference between the fan that you are is vast, it might be helpful to consider why.  In the grand scheme of the world, both games probably meant about the same amount.  Sports bring out some of our best and worst characteristics as humans.  The kids are practicing regularly in order to be their best, let’s be at our best as well!

Go!

Pete

[mc4wp_form id=”5149″]

Blogpost

You’re Never Going to Know

DivingI’ve not watch a NFL game for about four years.  I used to love it but now I can’t stomach to sit through a play or two.  The exorbitant contracts don’t bother me.  Although the blind eye to domestic (or just regular) violence off the field do bother me, that’s not it either.  It’s the fact that the people inside the sport no longer want to play the game.  They want to play the system.  Rather than going for the ball, they go for the call.  Games are more about referees than players.  The game has become a sad shell of what it was.  I’ve got the same complaint about my preferred sport of soccer but it has not reach the point of boycott YET!  There are millions of dollars (or whatever currency) on the line, I get it.  The problem is that the we’re all being robbed, not just the fans.

The reason why sports are such an ingrained part of our world is that they are a metaphor for what it is like to be alive.  Whether it’s football, soccer, badminton or any other athletic endeavor; it is a meeting of body, mind and spirit that is a test on what we are capable of.  When you look at sport in this light, it is easy to see that every time that someone tries to dupe the referee and succeeds, we lose.  The fans, the players, the coaches and sport itself loses because we are no longer testing what we are capable of, we are finding out what we can get away with.  I’m not picking on professional athletes because unfortunately it has become a cultural norm.  The reason why I point them out specifically is that they are in the spotlight and have the ability to move the culture.  They train for most of their lives to become the best of the best on their field but then become snake oil salesmen when it truly counts.  And none of us will ever know!

We’ll never know what they could have done.  Had they just played through the foul, the contact or the almost contact of their opponent.  It puts the result of the day on the line for sure and I know that everyone loves a winner but at what cost?  If gaming the system is the most common way to win, then we need to consider very heavily what it is that we’ve lost.  More than likely it is the willingness to put it all on our own shoulders.  Until we do that, we’ll never know what we were capable of and that is the point.

So I beg of you, as you go out into your own life today, don’t take the dive.  Don’t look for the loophole or the shortcut.  Even though you’re not a professional athlete, we all have the opportunity to find the greatness within ourselves.  The key to that is that you must demand a higher standard of conduct.  Because if you don’t give it your all, you’re just never going to know!

Don’t give up!

Pete

[mc4wp_form id=”5149″]

Blogpost, self-reliance

Am I Good? Is the Wrong Question

TestThe spring season brings rejuvenation and tryouts.  Soccer tryouts, hockey tryouts and I’m sure many others.  The constant evaluation of players is now a cultural norm.  While it may seem like a necessary evil, it is our job as the adults or forward thinkers to ensure that it doesn’t become pure evil in the mind of a young player.  The constant question can go swirling through their head “Am I good?”  While it may be a common question, it is probably the wrong question.

Comparison is all around us.  There are grades, likes, follows, rankings and so many other ways to compare people and anything else.  Some of them are objective and others completely subjective.  They are easy to focus upon because they feel real.  A sense of power and prestige can be derived from comparison but the opposite is also true.  It is often easier to feel powerless and insignificant because we are usually comparing our worst with our projection of other people.  Neither of these pictures is completely accurate but the feeling of inequity can be overwhelming.  So we often look for validation from others, such as coaches, teachers, parents or others with the question, “Am I good?”  The answer is never going to satisfy in the long term.  It becomes a button that needs to be hit every so often to keep things in balance.  Multiple choice is not your friend in most instances.

Although most people avoided them in school, it is two open ended questions that allow for a more compelling look at one’s self.  “How am I better than I used to be?”  “How can I progress forward?”  Both questions are asked with a leaning toward positive self discovery.  Our brains are an amazing piece of machinery that will answer almost any question that we ask of it, even if it needs to make the answer up.  Consistently asking “Am I good?” will inevitably lead to plenty of instances where the answer will be “No” because metric and competition change frequently.  However by asking the open ended questions, the question sends a subtle signal that in some small way you are better than you were.  Also there are ways to progress forward if you’re willing to look for them.

These are obviously not the only questions that can be asked.  They are simply two examples that can break the comparison chain.  Done consistently, proactive questions like these can be life altering because we are evaluating ourselves and our lives continuously.  Wouldn’t it be better to stack the deck in your favor?

Have a great day!

Pete

Blogpost

Major League Soccer as “Fragile” Frankie Merman

FrankiemermanIn “The Junk Mail” episode of Seinfeld, we are introduced to Frankie Merman.  He is Jerry’s childhood friend who has many quirks including digging holes to sit in when he is upset.  Despite his eccentricities, George is slightly jealous of Frankie because Frankie and Jerry attended camp together.  George ruefully refers to Frankie as the “Summer Me”.  He even goes so far as to lie to Jerry about an imaginary summer friend of his own.  All of this ridiculousness is par for the course in the world of Seinfeld.  As far fetched as it all may be, it got me thinking about the soccer world in which American fans live.

PremNext weekend marks the end of the Premier League.  For those who religiously follow teams from England on Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is hole to be filled.  Recognizing this fact, it might just be time to embrace Major League Soccer as your “Summer League”.  I can hear the protests now, “MLS sucks!”  “There’s no promotion or relegation!”  “It’s a retirement league!”  I’m well aware of this and all of the other vitriol that comes out whenever someone suggests that our domestic league should be watched by our domestic fans.  I understand the thought process.  My son and I just took a trip to England to see two matches.  The allure of European soccer is not lost on me.  The only question is do we want it to be this way?  Do we truly want to be thousands of miles away from the best soccer in the world?  Americans account for the largest number of ticket buyers at the World Cup, other than the host nation.  Which means that we travel to far off lands at great expense to see the best in the world compete.  In 2026 when the World Cup is here, will Americans not attend the games because they are here?  That would be a ludicrous thought!  We want the best games with the best players to be in our backyards.  BUT we’re impatient, entitled and shortsighted.  Let’s take a look at each.

Ricky Davis 79We’re impatient.  Major League Soccer is barely 20 years old.  Even the re-branded version of the English first division is older by around 4 years.  Comparing MLS to any of the historic first divisions from Europe is at best an apples to oranges comparison.  At worst, it ignores all common sense.  Teams and leagues are made up by players and their endeavors are supported by fans.  European fans have supported their clubs for generations.  MLS clubs have not existed for a generation yet.  Love for a team or club is not built overnight.  It is a slow process and we’re in the thick of both the development of love for clubs and a talent pool.  If the desire is that MLS should just buy the best talent in the world, do some research on the Cosmos.

LeaguesWe’re entitled.  Other than MLS, the other major sports leagues based in the US are arguably the best in the world.  NFL, no competition.  MLB, takes whatever talent is produced in other leagues.  NBA, second tier talent from the US go to play in the other leagues.  NHL, brings in talent from all over the world.  Is it really that disheartening to have one league of the top five major sport that is not YET the best?  Especially when you consider that with the exception of hockey, the others are “American” sports.

We’re shortsighted.  In the 1990’s my knowledge of English soccer was actually pretty limited.  At the time, the Italian Serie A was arguably the best league in the world.  The ingredients that contribute to the rise or fall of the fortunes of a particular league are multiple.  One of the most important parts to a successful league is fan interest.  If there are not enough fans, there is not enough money to buy enough talent and the product on the field suffers.  The shortsighted thought that, “MLS sucks now.  I’ll pay attention when it’s better.”  is a recipe for disaster.  The league cannot reach a status of world renown without the backing of American soccer fans.  If you want the best players in the world, playing in your backyard for your local team, then you need to pay for it now, not then.  We never get there if we don’t put down the deposits (both financial and emotional) right now.

So yes!  Major League Soccer might be Fragile Frankie Merman.  It may have all kinds of eccentricities that may not fit your model of a perfect replacement.  BUT if you spend your summer pining for the return of George and don’t pay attention.  Frankie will continue to disappoint and your summers will always be George-less.

It will never be “The Summer of George”

Pete