Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

First Touch Philosophy

A player’s first touch is crucial to their success as they progress to higher levels of playing. Although speed, a great shot, tactical knowledge, etc. may be desired, a quality first touch is a foundation that can enhance any skill stacked upon it and mask defects that would otherwise be apparent. Just like any other skill, a first touch requires physical practice but the skill in and of itself is heavily intertwined with being proactive. The ability to control the ball is not particularly a good first touch. It is the combination of control with the vision to see where it would be most advantageous to put the ball. Many players possess the skill to control the ball in open space. However amongst the chaos of small space, little time and huge pressure is the true proving ground for a quality first touch.

Although I would love for each of us to use this post as a catalyst for improving our first touch on the field, like always, I’m thinking to the bigger game of life. In life, the rules, skills and strategies are more subject to interpretation. That is why I put the word philosophy in the title. Each of us must develop our own stance on how we progress in life. Therefore it is not for me to say what is best for you, the philosophy part is up to you. However I am going to suggest some of the places where you might find opportunities to take great “first touches.” Below is a video of Frank Lampard (not my favorite player) scanning the field during his days with Chelsea (not my favorite team). Although I do not love the player, it’s easy to appreciate the preparedness. Being aware of your surroundings enough that you can make a better decision when the opportunity arises.

First Touch Opportunities

Here are some opportunities for you to set yourself up for success. The decision about how to approach these situations is up to you depending on your goals and strategy.

  • First thing in the morning. This is the truest of all “first touches.” What do you do when first wake up? Are you reactive to the way you feel? Proactive based on decisions made beforehand?
  • Meeting new people. This is another spot where you get to choose who it is that you want to be. This person doesn’t know you and no matter what you do, they will never know you 100%. They will only ever get a small percentage of who you are based on what you show them. Do you want to show them your BIG personality? Or are you sending the message that you are more interested in them? This may change based on the circumstances but is there a thought process behind your interactions?
  • Walking into a room. It’s true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. However I am huge believer in the fact that you should not trust what people say, nor what they do, trust the pattern. So every time that you walk into a room, you have a new opportunity to be the version of yourself that you want on display. What is your pattern? How do you show up regularly?
  • After making a mistake. This is a crucial time where chaos may be upon you. Perhaps not external chaos but internal chaos. A first touch is all about control and setting yourself up for success. How do you react to mistakes? Do you tear yourself down internally? Externally? Do you relive it in your head? Do you evaluate it in order to prevent it from repeating? Worst case scenario, do you even see your mistakes? Amidst the chaos of life, it is easy to get turned around. If you’ve not defined which goal is yours, it is possible that you’re heading in the wrong direction and don’t know it.
  • After someone hurts you. Looking for retribution is easy! Sometimes it might be the right answer. More often than not, it isn’t! Usually the people that are given the power to hurt you, have it because you share a relationship. Two ends of a “ship” taking shots at one another almost guarantees that the “ship” is going down. Is it a mistake? Does hurting the other person make you feel better? Do you even need to be hurt by this? In the chaos of the moment, these are hard questions to ask. So it may be helpful to rehearse some situations inside your head before they happen. See yourself acting in a way that will help you.

Obviously this list is not complete. There are plenty of places in your life where you can employ control and a vision for where it is advantageous to go. Just like a first touch on the field, it takes practice before the chaos. Practice is something that starts when you are on your own. Meditation, visualization, journaling and self-talk are some of the best tools that you can use to develop control and vision. These skills need to be honed over time. Then much like Lampard in the video clip, you need to be scanning the field to make opportunities out of the openings that you see or avoid the hard tackle coming from your backside. Life is inherently “out of control”. The only thing that we can control is ourselves. Make the best of the touches that you get today.

Go for goal!

Pete

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Hand Stitched Soccer Balls

There was a point in the past where the mark of a “good” soccer ball was that it was “hand stitched.” Unfortunately most of that stitching was probably done by children in another part of the world but we’re going to put the geo-political implications aside for the moment. Quality was associated with human labor. Someone putting in an effort to create. Doing it with intention that lead to a better result. While technology has improved enough that a machine can make a better soccer ball than a kid in a sweat shop. Some tasks are better done by hand and maybe even by children.

While I have no desire to make a better soccer ball, I do have an explicit interest in helping to make better people. It is nowhere near as simple as manufacturing because the material is inconsistent. The methods are various and not always effective or efficient. However there is one that I am more sure of than ever as we cope with this pandemic. Better people are made by hand. This does not mean that they are stitched together by a low wage worker in another country. It simply means that contact is key. Our ability to become a better version of ourselves depends heavily on the influence of people. While the position of influencer seems to have been reduced to someone who has a lot of followers, it truly is the people that we allow to nudge us in one direction or another. Those little pieces of other people that we pick up can be stitched together into something beautifully functional. Much like the panels of a soccer ball, we have a patchwork design that fits together in a way that no machine could predict. So we need to be “hand-stitched” and at some point we need to do it to ourselves.

There is a societal push toward perfection. Clearer pictures on TV, faster Wifi, smarter automobiles… These improvements seem to positively impact lives. However that same expectation around human existence is more dangerous than anything else. We are born through difficulty and struggle. Usually that is what makes us better as well. We need to be hand-stitched because from time to time, life tears us apart. It’s a skill that needs to be developed, picking up the pieces. Even though we want to protect our kids from anything harmful, they need to learn how to sew. Otherwise they’ll be dependent upon other things or people to make them feel put together.

Get back to work!

Pete

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Leaders Go First; Leaders Eat Last

As we get closer to the beginning of a new school year and (possibly) new soccer season, leadership is a topic that has been on my mind. Leadership is a crucial component to a successful team. The unfortunate thing is that many people see leadership from the outside and make assumptions about it. Or have only ever experienced poor leadership and assume that is what it looks like. I’ve put two contrasting ideas here in order to encapsulate what true leadership is about.

A picture taken directly before going zip-lining. I’m majorly afraid of heights but I went because my kids needed me show them how to face fear head on.

Leaders go first is a statement that I repeat to my players often. It should be obvious because the word leader has the word “lead” in it. Despite this fact, many people miss it. The plain and simple fact is that in order to earn a position of leadership, you need to be willing to go first. A leader doesn’t need to go first all of the time but those in her or his charge need know without a doubt that the leader can/will do everything that they are asked to do. Many people try to lead from their position. This means that they have a position of power, therefore people should follow them. Although it can work out just fine, it has the potential to cause a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality/perception. This can be problematic because people follow people, not positions, at least not for long. Recognizing this fact is important. Eventually the shine of the title will wear off and the people in your charge be left with you. The title makes you accountable. The people under you need you to be responsible meaning “able to respond”. It is the thumbs before fingers ethos. Leaders need to respond without pointing the finger.

Leaders Eat Last is the title of a great book by Simon Sinek. It’s based on a practice in the Marine Corps where higher ranking officer eat after their subordinates. This seems backward and coupled with the first paragraph makes leadership seem like a raw deal. However it makes perfect sense. Leaders eat last because if they have done their job effectively then their subordinates will want to be sure there is food left for them. We’ve gotten far too accustomed to people in leadership positions taking all of the spoils that come with their position regardless of their subordinates. These relationships do not exist in a vacuum. Our hierarchical system allows for leaders to take some of the riches that come in. However when they don’t meet their leadership mandate of looking out for those under them, the system is out of balance and can topple. Simon Sinek’s book does a wonderful job of describing the biochemical system that creates effective leadership. This video gives an overview. Regardless of whether you understand the biochemistry, you need to understand the bookends of the leader.

Leaders live in a dichotomy where they must be both above and below the people that follow them. This is not 100% literal nor is it 100% of the time. The leader needs to model the behavior for those who are following and help protect them when things go sideways. Again this seems like a raw deal. If it is done well though, a leader will reap the benefits of all of that selflessness by having it returned tenfold. Serve your people so well that they want to serve you! Support your people so well that they want to support you! Protect your people so well that they want to protect you!

After all of this talk about leadership, it might be easy to say “I don’t want to be a leader.” Unfortunately, no matter what you are the leader of at least one person: yourself. Now is the time to step forward. Leaders go first, leaders eat last! Be a leader because there are far too many followers.

Go get it!

Pete

Sign up for my email list and get a copy of my book!

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

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

Soccer Karma

IMG_3939Our beliefs tend to color or almost define our worlds.  The thoughts that we hold most dear are the filters through which we cyphon our experiences and produce meaning.  Recognizing this would make one think that people would be deliberate in the creation of their beliefs.  Unfortunately this is rarely true.  People’s beliefs are often a mismatch of heritage and circumstances.  This haphazard approach is bound to lead to disaster more often than not.  I’m not here to offer a complete belief system but rather one small sample: Soccer Karma!

I’m a huge believer in soccer karma.  It is a term that I may have coined (or stolen, not sure!).  The concept is simple.  On the soccer field, if you give a good ball, you’re going to get a good ball.  Meaning that if you give a quality pass to a teammate, they’re going to give you a quality one back.  This is of course, not completely accurate.  It’s completely possible that you give a good ball and get a crap one back!  This is true.  However the belief matters more than the reality.  If I believe that my intent is going to have positive returns, I’m more likely to put effort in that direction.  That effort will eventually influence those around me, especially if we all believe the same thing.  This belief acts a ratchet that brings positive returns.

For years now, I’ve been professing the positives of this belief system.  While I know that it has paid dividends for my players and teams on the field, my hope has always been that the metaphors of our sport are not lost on those who play it.  The moment that we step off of the field, we are being released out into a larger venue with bigger stakes and uncertain scoring.  Regardless of that, the belief system can be applied with equal effectiveness.  If enough of us believe in it, then we truly can make life “a beautiful game”.

SoccerLifeBalance

Being Intentional in Coaching and Leadership – Donna Fishter (Leadership Coach and Team Architect)

donna fishter consultingDonna Fishter is a Leadership Coach and Team Architect who works with athletes and coaches in order to make their teams better.  In this conversation we cover some of the ingredients of good leadership, red flags and remedies for poor team chemistry as well as an assortment of other topics.  You can find Big D at http://www.donnafishter.com

Click the link to see: A List of Big D’s Favorite Books, Videos, Speakers, etc.

 

 

SoccerLifeBalance

Hard Work Pushing Young Bull Forward – Brian White (New York Red Bulls)

bwhiteBrian White was the first draft pick taken by the New York Red Bulls in the 2018 MLS Draft.  In this conversation we talk about some of the things that set him apart as an athlete and the transition to life as a professional athlete.

SoccerLifeBalance

Sweet Feet to Educated Coaches – Brad Nein (Coach, Blogger, Doctor?)

bradneinphotoThis episode I got the chance to talk to Brad Nein, Coach and Blogger who works with kids and coaches in order to make a better experience of soccer.  We discuss his beginnings, his dissertation and many other topics.  To find out more about Brad and what he does, go to http://www.educatedcoaches.com or http://www.sweetfeetsoccer.org.

SoccerLifeBalance

It’s Chess, Not Kickball!

US26_LogoIt’s far off in the future but it will be here in a developmental instant.  Although the World Cup of 2026 is almost a decade away, the present is the only place where we can impact the future.  Recognizing that Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams may be the “veterans” of that team gives the extremely realistic picture that while our future could be bright, it is in our best interest to make it brighter.  The loftier heights of the sport world are not reached by the individual but rather by a cultural movement that serves as a base to raise the many.  So the US soccer needs to realize that it’s chess, not kick ball.

The reason is that our soccer culture has gotten extremely effective at creating only pawns.  Christian Pulisic is an anomaly as an American player because of his versatility and vision.  Generally speaking the youth systems of the country are extremely effective at creating players who can make the next pass and not much else.  A slightly dumbed down version of the beautiful game where creativity is superseded by practicality.  Although pawns are necessary in the game of chess, they are unable to win the game on their own.  The major pieces, like rooks and queens, give the best possibility for victory because they are dynamic and possibly game changing.  Opponents must fear them because they are unpredictable.  They are in the right spots because they think five moves ahead from where the play is right now.  And that’s what we all need to do with the game.

The recognition that right now is not the goal.  The goal looms in front of us in the distance but we can’t reach it playing kick ball.  We need to be playing chess, developing rooks, queens, bishops and even knights.  Seeing a path that leads to eventual checkmate will only come if we are developing enough quality pieces, not pawns for our small game.

Check yourself.

Pete

SoccerLifeBalance

Soccer Vision in a Football Town – Evan Weller (Head Coach Phillipsburg High School)

Evan WellerHead Coach, Evan Weller, has been building the soccer program at Phillipsburg High School for the past 16 years.  This conversation highlights some of the components to their success and thoughts beyond the lines of the field.