Tag Archives: soccer

Oh Captain! My Captain!

captainThe role of a captain can be very important on a soccer team. I say “can be” because on some teams, the captain does nothing more than the coin toss. My perspective is that the captain has a great deal of responsibility and should have certain characteristics that help her to lead.

Job Description: The captain is the liaison between the players and the coach. She is also the “coach on the field”. It is her responsibility to give players direction and keep the team focused on the task at hand. Away from the field, she should represent the team in positive ways. Other players and community members should see the captain as a representative of what all players in the program should strive to be.

Guidelines: There are many ways to lead others. Although I will make several suggestions about how to lead, one key component is that you need to be yourself. You may need to be a better version of yourself, but acting like someone else is not the answer.

  • ·        Arrow to the Action: Inherent to the word leader is the idea of going first. A captain/leader should never ask someone else to do something that they are not willing to do themselves. Captains set the example. If they lead by saying but not doing, they will be found out eventually.
  • ·        We before Me: A captain needs to put the good of the group before the good for herself. The role of captain is one of giving and not receiving. It requires a person who can control their desire for individual recognition. It does not mean that the captain receives no individual attention, but the team comes first and she knows that.
  • ·        The Diplomat: As the liaison between the team and the coach, the captain needs to understand what problems need to be brought to the coach and which need to be handled within the team. She is not a spy or an informant, but a representative that is the voice and ears of the team.

Not all coaches will view the captain in the way that I do, so it will be important to understand the role under your particular coach. It is possible that your coach only wants captains to do the coin toss. If that is the situation, recognize that you can do more. Despite your coach’s view of the role, your teammates may be looking for more from their captain.

If captain is a role that you aspire to hold at some point, look at the leaders that you respect. Take stock of the attributes and actions of those leaders and assimilate the positives into your personality when possible.  Remember something else.  You don’t need the actual title to be a leader.

America Needs to SOCCER!

pulisicMost of the time soccer is a noun but today I’m going to use it as a verb.  Of course when you are creating a new word, it’s important to define it.  Here is my explanation of the term.

The action of “soccering” is not the act of playing soccer.  We already know how to say and do that.  And NO!  It doesn’t mean acting like you’re injured when no one did anything to you.  The action of soccering is the real life application of the virtues that are possessed within the game.  In soccer, players must make real time decisions about what to do, based on the stimuli that they take in from both teammates and opponents in order to achieve the outcomes of simultaneously reaching a goal while defending their own.  The soccer paradigm puts the impetus of decision onto eleven individuals acting as a collective rather than following the pre-scripted orders of an overseer.  Although positioning and style of play may be directed, principles and judgment are the main directors of decisions.

America needs to soccer!  It needs to take back the very impetus that this country was founded upon.  Regular people doing things as a collective that move us all forward and protect us against failing.   We need regular citizens who want to be self-determining within the existing system and help to influence that system.  At the moment we seem to be overwhelmingly passive and extremely willing to look for someone else to be accountable rather than looking to be responsible ourselves.

We can soccer by trying to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.  We can soccer by changing our perspective from a “they” to “we” mentality.  We can soccer by doing the right thing even if we know that no one else will notice but us.  We can soccer by deciding to take a chance on something that might not work, rather than doing it “the way we’ve always done it.”  There are so many ways to soccer but the thing about soccering is that it has to start with you.  You can’t tell someone else to soccer.  You can only show them how by doing it first and being an example.

Below is a long description of the historical paradigms where this thought came from.  If you are inspired to do something right now, then don’t read the bottom, act now, read later.

Why do I believe that America needs to soccer?  The historical successes of the United States have in large part been attributed to a football paradigm.  Land acquisition and forward progress are the hallmarks of the All-American sport.  In the past, both politically and economically, we have pushed forward in the name of progress and it has served us well.  Manifest Destiny is the perfect example. Presidents and other decision-makers laid out a playbook for the American people to score a touchdown on the Pacific coast.  Americans led the charge across the continent through wars and promised economic success, the way football players might listen to a play called from the sidelines.  The Space Race, the Arms Race, the Cold War and Industrial Revolution were all perfectly suited to the football paradigm.  So why change?

The reason for change is that the football paradigm is fundamentally flawed in a few different areas.  The idea of neverending progress is unrealistic.  At some point stock prices level off, profits decline and progress slows and stops.  In a paradigm that preaches forward motion as the truest indicator of success, it is not surprising that we have: insider trading, big CEO bonuses for bailed out companies and strategic layoffs to protect profits.  Individuals, companies and the government have all pushed toward their given marker of success whether it be money, land, power or prestige.  These success markers are not inherently evil or negative but their acquisition without thought to the human equation has created an imbalance in our perspective on success.

There are also the separations in the football paradigm.  The coach is the one who calls the plays.  The offense scores the points and the defense stops the other team.  Although all are members of the same team, it is easy to point the finger at another individual or group when things go wrong.  In the Industrial Revolution this system was completely acceptable.  Henry Ford brought forth the assembly line.  He took men who were making fifty cents per day and paid them five dollars per day because of his efficiency.  People were more than willing to be a cog in that machine because it was a better life than what they expected.  They were linemen but were happy to be that.  Now with modern technology and globalization that deal doesn’t work anymore.  That deal is being shipped overseas and no one wants to be a lineman anymore.  Everyone thinks they’re a quarterback and expects to be paid like one.

America needs to soccer because you’re part of the problem and part of the solution.  You’re on the field.  The decisions that you make on a daily basis matter.  The President, the senator, the governor, your boss, your wife, your children, your friends, your teachers are part of it all but so are you.  So before you point the finger, point the thumb.  What can you do today to SOCCER?

Thanks!

Pete

Lost Too Many To Prioritize Winning

tombstoneI don’t feel comfortable sharing their names as I have not asked for parental permission. Nor would I ask because these people have definitely suffered enough.  In my almost twenty years of coaching, I’ve lost no less than five former players to suicide, drugs/alcohol and avoidable accidents.  This may not be statistically significant to some but it is something that I carry with me always.  In the eyes of many, the job of a coach is to direct an individual or group in technique and tactics in order to win a particular contest.

While this may encapsulate what coaching is for some, I can define coaching in one word: PROGRESS!  When broken down to the molecular level, this is what coaches should be striving for.  The progress of an individual or a group in not only their sport of choice but also as people.  At some levels, progress is measured by winning and it should be.  Professional athletes and coaches are in the business of competition/entertainment.  Their business model is dependent upon the sale of tickets, jerseys, food, etc. and winning is a key ingredient in that equation.  The problem is that the base blocks of the pyramid are not supposed to look like to the top block or “pyramidion”.  Basically 99% of all soccer played in the world is either true recreation or competitive recreation.  The previous statement will probably stick in the craw of many people but this fact should be embraced rather than lamented.

Recreation is the main reason that athletics came to be.  The battlefield was given up for the athletic field, where defeat did not mean death.  Therefore the “vanquished” could improve and RECREATE themselves into a better version.  Progress as an athlete meant facing your shortcomings.  That self-analysis is a skill that overflows into everyday life.  Recognizing one’s own weaknesses is not weakness.  It is actually strength because it allows the individual the possibility of progress.  Pain + Reflection = Progress is a formula coined by Ray Dalio (Bridgewater Associates).  In it lies the secret that so many of us continually overlook.  Failure is a key component to progress.  Those who are unwilling or unable to see their own faults cannot hope to move past them.  Since coaching is about progress and failure is a necessary ingredient to progress, then winning can’t be the point.

Having lost so many former players, I know all too well that the results of today’s game matter little compared to the results of a lifetime.  The point is not to win the game but rather to have a dynasty of days that have been won by moving forward.  So take the long term view with yourself and those that you care about.  Decide that short term wins that lead to long term loss are not in your game plan.  Recreate yourself regularly and recognize that the only person that you’re competing with is you.

Have great day!

Pete

The Sport of the 21st Century

MonroeThe 20th Century of the United States was largely dominated by an industrial economy.  The US rode the wave of the industrial revolution into prominence on the world stage.  Factories flourished thanks to interchangeable parts and largely interchangeable people.  Most workers in the 20th Century were able to earn a substantial living by doing simple repetitive tasks under the orders of their bosses.

In this system, it is no wonder that the sport of the century was Football.  In so many ways, football was representative of the American way.  It was progressive.  Moving forward was success and moving backward was failure.  It mirrored our historical land acquisition with its own “land acquisition”.  The decisions were made by a few bosses and executed by largely  interchangeable people.  The sport was the perfect corollary for the industrial age and both served the country well in their time.

Now that the industrial age has passed and we have moved into what many are calling the “Connection Economy”.  The people who create value in the market place are not interchangeable cogs in a vast machinery.  Cogs can be replaced, automated or outsourced to other countries.  True value in the modern economy is created by an individual whose contributions are irreplaceable and unique.

This change begs for a different representation in sport.  The football model of “run the play” holds little value when the rules of the game change so quickly.  Soccer’s flexibility and subjectivity require that players deal with complex problems and must make individual decisions for the betterment of the collective.  Since each player is a decision maker, principles rather than directives are the dictating forces.  No one person is in control.  Therefore players must learn to control themselves and direct themselves in an uncertain environment.

The beautiful game will become “America’s Game”.  It is just a matter of time.

Can The Next USSF President Undo Trump Damage?

Trump
Make American Soccer Great!

The election of a new USSF President is almost upon us.  Although the holder of this post may not be as recognized as the President of the United States, the impact of soccer on the world is not a thing to be discounted.  It has both started and ended violence.  So with this decision looming in the near future, what impact will the new POTUSSF have on the sport and the country at large?

To the general public, the answer would most definitely be “none”.  It is an absurd thought to give this decision anything more than a passing glance on their newsfeed.  This is an organization that specializes in a sport that garners almost complete indifference from most of its populace.  It’s national power would, to the average citizen, rank somewhere around that of the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America.  Mostly kids and adults running around to get medals and club patches.  While that characterization might be accurate on certain levels, it completely discounts several factors that could have a tsunami type affect based on this relative flap of a butterfly’s wing.

Perception Is Reality

It’s often not pretty but the perception of truth often has greater staying power than the actual truth.  At the moment, the United States has an international perception problem.  Regardless of your personal feelings about Donald Trump, his policies or his impact on the United States; he is projecting many of the characteristics most disliked about Americans.  His overall agenda to “Make America Great Again” seems to come with the postscript, “non-Americans watch out.”  Despite being only one man, the President has the dubious responsibility of being a partial personification of what the United States is.  Mr. Trump’s actions, statements and Tweets may be his own but they also belong to all Americans when viewed from afar.

The Butterfly’s Wing

Eight candidates are being considered with varying degrees of experience, personal motive and leadership potential.  While I’ll keep my personal preference on candidates completely out of this, the worst thing that the voters could do in these circumstances would be to elect on celebrity rather than ability.  The reason being that the perception of the USSF and its new President has very real implications in a short period of time.  The selection of the host for the 2026 World Cup will be made on June 13th.  While the North American Triad of the USA, Mexico and Canada may seem like a sure thing when pitted against Morocco, small nations have dealt us unlikely defeat recently (and I won’t bring up Qatar either).

Winning the bid to host the 2026 World Cup is one of the crucial components to a successful Presidency for any of these candidates.  Failure to secure this bid is not just bad for soccer, it is bad for this country.

In the mind of the general citizen of the United State in 2018, the World Cup is nothing more than a soccer tournament.  It’s a fun diversion at best and non-factor for most.  However in an even more interconnected world of 2026, it is a spotlight shining directly onto the United States.  This event gives us the opportunity to be gracious hosts to the world.  While seemingly trivial from the inside, this role could be crucial to change an international perception of a nation that exports entertainment and soldiers under a leader of singular self-interest.  As news becomes more dependent on the “man on the street”, it is conceivable (if not) probable that brand America’s reputation in the remote corners of the world will depend on the personal experiences of a group of soccer fans supporting their team in egocentric America.

Stirring the Melting Pot

In addition to the World Cup bid, the new President will at the very least have an influence over the involvement of Hispanic communities in US soccer.  The recent loss of Jonathan Gonzalez to the Mexican National Team system is not so much a loss of talent but a loss of contact.  The roots of many Hispanic Americans in this country run deep.  US history is so inextricably intertwined with that of Hispanic heritage that a number of our states and cities have Spanish names (regardless of how we pronounce them).  The involvement of Hispanic players, coaches and fans (or lack thereof) in US soccer will be another key to US soccer counteracting the more pervasive American perceived ethos.

While soccer does not possess the ability to cure all that ails this country, it can be a catalyst for positive change.  The leadership that is selected must realize the importance of this game, not only as a sport but a form of quasi religion that can galvanize the people under its spell.  With this power comes great responsibility, here’s to hoping that the lesser of the two presidents is able to learn from the missteps of the commander in chief.  “Let’s Make American Soccer Great!”

Thanks for reading!

Pete

PS – Historically speaking, host nations seem to have a greater likelihood of winning the World Cup.  With young players like Pulisic and Adams being in their mid twenties in 2026, there’s a fighter’s chance.

5 Ways to Win at the United Soccer Coaches Convention

IMG_3094It’s that time of year again where I make my trip to whatever city is hosting the United Soccer Coaches (former NSCAA) Convention.  It is great to spend 4-5 days talking, thinking and learning about soccer.  If this is your first time or you’ve never gone, here are some ideas on how to get the most out of the Convention.

  1. Decide – There’s more than enough going on at the Convention for just about any soccer coach/fan.  Deciding what it is that you want to get out of the Convention will get you much closer to achieving that goal.  It’s fine to spend some time wandering around the exhibit hall but it shouldn’t be your only activity.  Decide on some presenter that you want to see, Bill Beswick is one of my favorites.  Decide on the concepts that would really help your team, club or players.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be a paratrooper – This is my term for showing up to a session and deciding quickly that that topic, presenter or material is not what you were looking for.  Don’t be afraid to move on to another session.  There’s more than enough going on that you can have two or even three worthy sessions in each time slot.  So plan ahead.
  3. Engage – There are thousands of people here with the same passion as you.  The possibility for common ground is immense.  Although it may be more comfortable to only talk to the people that you came with, you’ll probably find that engaging with new people creates new possibilities.  This does not mean stalk Thierry Henry to pick his brain about how to fix your U9 girls team’s finishing problem.  There are more than enough people here who would be eager to talk to you about it though.  So step out of your shell.
  4. Get out of your lane – There are so many facets to this sport on display over the next few days.  Sticking to your own area is a great way to leave with the exact knowledge that you had upon your arrival.  Make a concerted effort to learn about something outside of your personal “wheel house”.  I once attended a panel discussion on club finances.  It gave me an insight into the work that my club’s treasurer was doing and helped us to prepare for some future financial concerns.
  5. Show up – Over the years, I’ve convinced several friends and colleagues to go to their first Convention.  Almost all of them are now yearly attendees.  There are many people in the soccer community that are disappointed in the qualification failure of the USMNT.  That problem will not be solved at this Convention.  However the solutions to American soccer problems will come from many of the people and ideas that are here.  As I hope that we’re beginning to see in many areas of life, a better tomorrow is not dependent upon the chosen few at the top.  It is incumbent on all of us who care to show up early and often to help get things right.

Enjoy the Convention if you’re already going.  If you’re not, get a one day pass and check it out.  Philadelphia is one of my favorite venues for the Convention.  The Market next door, the “Rocky Steps” and the city in general make it a fun time.

Thanks!

Pete

Soccer in American Football Terms: Offside

It has come to that time of year where many American football* fans are without a team to root for until the Super Bowl when they hope for good commercials.  If you are a soccer fan and have a football fan in your life who is interested in learning about soccer, then I have some tips below.  (NOTE: Do not try to convert the unwilling football fan.  Save your energy for the father-in-law who has grand-kids that play.  Trying to convert the uninterested usually backfires.)

The most incomprehensible thing about soccer to most football fans that I’ve spoken to is the offside rule.  Luckily there is a pretty easy way to convey the concept using football terms.  The key is to take the rule that they already understand and tweak it to help them understand the soccer equivalent.  If you’re not a football person, you might first need to brush up your understanding of the carrying game first.

Offside in football is a foul in which a player is on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. This foul occurs simultaneously with the snap. Unlike offensive players, defensive players are not compelled to come to a set position before the snap.

FootballOverheadScrimmage

In soccer there is no line of scrimmage nor a “snap” of the ball.  Since the ball is almost continuously in play, the rule is a bit harder to police but understanding is all that we’re aiming for now.  First of all, only offensive players can be called offside and only in their offensive half of the field (nearest the goal they intend to score on).  The line for offside is not a fixed yard line but rather it moves with the last defender** equivalent to the defensive position of safety. (See Below)

FootballOverheadSafety

So since the ball is almost always in play, offensive players are moving around and can even cross the offside line.  A call of offside is made when an offensive player is in an offside position and the ball is played toward him or her.  In football terms, the wide receiver cannot run past the invisible yard line of the safety until the ball is thrown by the quarterback.  So the timing of streak (go), post and corner routes need to be timed very well.  If the ball is not passed before the intended receiver gets by the “safety”, he’ll be offside.  Curl and comeback routes can be effective in keeping a player onside.  But if he is offside at the time of the pass, receiving the ball in an offside position doesn’t matter (like a defensive lineman who tries to jump back as the ball is snapped).

FootballOnside
The Receiver on the 15 yard line is onside at the time of the pass.
FootballOffside
The player in the end-zone is offside because he’s beyond the last defender at the time of the pass.

The player possessing the ball cannot be offside.  So a player can dribble through the offside line.  Therefore if the quarterback or running back carry the ball forward, they are not offside.

 

That pretty much sums it up.  If I’ve missed anything, please leave it in the comments below and I’ll adjust it.  Pass this information along to a football fan that cares to learn.

* I don’t like using the term American football but I do it to avoid confusion.  I also dislike using one sport to explain another but have done this

**This statement is partially false.  The last defender needs to have the goalkeeper behind them.  This is something that soccer fans and even referees get wrong from time to time.  Two defenders (one usually being the goalkeeper) need to be between the offender and the goal line.  If the goalkeeper goes out of the goal a far distance, one defender is not enough to keep an offensive player onside.

80’s Hair Band Soccer Logic

PoisonAlthough the 1980’s were memorable for many reasons, the crazy hair is probably one of the most prevalent.  Big hair was all the rage at the time.  Many of the 80’s rock bands invested a lot of time and money on their hair.  Image was almost more important than the music.  I’ve even heard interviews with bands who tried to gain information on the hair products of more successful bands in order to copy their formula.  It’s a silly image isn’t it?  Grown men hanging their hopes of musical success on the type of hairspray that they use.  There is a disconnect that should have been obvious to all involved but sometimes people are too close to the situation to see their own ridiculousness.

A similar phenomena is rampant in the soccer world and a good hard look in the mirror is more than overdue.  Each and every week, millions of kids and adults practice their skills of passing, dribbling, heading and shooting.  Coaches spend hours trying to help these players improve their skills and coalesce the group’s talents into tactics.  Meticulous care is given to all facets of the game including set plays on both the offensive and defensive side.  After hours of preparation, game day finally arrives.  The first whistle blows and that training seems to take a backseat.  It’s overshadowed by telling the one person not displaying any soccer skill about how badly he or she is doing.  The referee takes center stage in a contest that should be focused on the soccer skills of the players.  Much like the hairspray obsessed rock bands, the coaches, players and fans have taken something that should be incidental and made it THE big deal.

Having been a high school and youth coach for years, I’ve seen the lower level of refereeing on display.  While frustrating at times, the arbiter of the game should not overshadow all of the preparation that has been done.  Here are some suggestions that I have to put refereeing in its proper context.

  1. Audit yourself – If more than 25% of the things that you say are directed at the referee, then you’re focused on the wrong thing.  Your players need guidance, your teammates need information, your children need encouragement.  The referee does not need more reminding that you have disagreed with all of his calls.
  2. Walk a mile – Not literally but figuratively.  Get certified and start refereeing some low level games.  Or referee a scrimmage between two teams that you’re not associated with.  Either way the experience will change how you view the job.
  3. Try a new strategy – Rather than berating the next referee that you encounter, try something new.  If you’re a player, in a calm voice during a stoppage, ask him or her to watch for something that has been happening regularly.  “Sir, could you keep an eye out for #15 fouling after the play.  Thanks!”  If you’re a coach, ask the referee to remember a particular foul or incident for discussion later.  If you’re a fan, concentrate on the play of your team.  This is what your team has worked for, see their play.  Otherwise it’s like going to an opera but spending all of your time focused on the conductor’s outfit.  He’s supposed to be invisible.
  4. Recognize the long term – Donuts in small quantities are not by themselves dangerous.  If they are a small part of an otherwise balanced diet, the occasional treat is not harmful.  However constant abuse can be destructive.  The same is true for our refereeing situation.  The constant abuse of referees has led to a shortage that eventually could cripple the game.  That position has to be held by a human.  Who would sign up for the pervasive abuse that referees receive?

So as you prepare for this weekend’s contest, make a decision to focus on the game rather than the official.  After over 35 years of playing and coaching there are exactly two things that I’m sure of:  1.  All referees make mistakes.  2. They don’t get better or change their calls because you tell them that they suck.  For the love of the game, let’s all try to do better out there.  The hair bands can look back and be amused.  Let’s not all look back and be ashamed.

Pete

It’s a bit older now but still a good message from the English FA.