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5 Ways to Win at the United Soccer Coaches Convention

It’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 were disappointed by 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.

Baltimore is one of my favorite cities! The Convention Center is in the Inner Harbor area which has a lot of great restaurants. If you feel like getting out of the area where all of the soccer people are, you can head over to Fell’s Point or Canton. Those areas have slightly more local feel. Looney’s is my personal favorite. I go there for the crab melt! Enjoy the Convention!

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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

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

The Comparison Problem (Soccer in the USA)

Women’s Soccer is an American sport. Men’s Soccer isn’t (yet). Therein lies the problem of comparing the two on every level. Although they kick the same ball, they are very different for a variety of reasons. Just in case anyone reading this is waiting for my arguments against equal pay, they’re not coming. I believe the women’s compensation from USSF should be “equal”. (actually fair is the right word because the structures of compensation are vastly different and should be for now) The drum that I’m banging on is the need to separate the men’s game in this country from the women’s game for a while (about 12 years is my guess).

Women’s soccer is an American sport and if that was not obvious before, it should be after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. All American sports have a distinct characteristic: first mover’s advantage. The reason that the best leagues in the world for football, baseball and basketball reside within the United States is that these leagues existed before the rest of the world was overly interested in them. Yes, the players in baseball may now come from a variety of islands to the south but they are playing in the stadiums that were built by the legacy of the Babe, Rose, Clemens, etc.

“But the women’s league in the US has failed multiple times and the NWSL is propped up by National Federations.” Absolutely correct but the institution of Title IX gave women’s soccer a place to breed female talent before any other nation cared. The proof was on full display during this Women’s World Cup. Both coaches in the final played soccer in college and neither were born in the US. Soccer on the women’s side has been growing in the United States for decades. It is only recently that other nations are beginning to invest in the idea of women playing soccer. France and Spain in particular have begun the difficult game of catch-up but they have many obstacles to overcome and many don’t rely on money. Rose Lavelle was a standout performer in this World Cup because of Mia Hamm. A culture of women’s sport does not develop overnight and the rest of the world needs to contend with that issue. Unfortunately a majority of the female soccer stars on the international stage are from one country.

The exact reverse situation exists on the men’s side. Soccer is not an American sport (yet). The heroes that young players in the US idolize are usually not from their country. The best talent from the US is exported rather than imported. The game does not have a “first mover’s advantage”. It is one of the last dogs to get to the feeding bowl and often the traditional American sports have taken the greatest athletic talent before soccer gets a sniff. So the comparison of women’s and men’s soccer in the United States is at best apple to oranges and at worst unfairly skewed. But do not despair comparison people! The playing field will eventually be level, again I’d guess in about 12 years.

To use a phrase from Peter Diamandis’ book “BOLD”, men’s soccer in the United States is in a deceptive phase. Diamandis uses this moniker to describe a period when progress in technology seems to be almost non-existent. Results have looked basically the same for a long time with the USMNT. Win some, lose some but never a sense of dominance like the women enjoy, even in our own region. The reason why this is a deceptive phase is because all of the groundwork for the breakout of the men’s game has been happening for 25 years. Slowly, fathers who played now have sons who play. Soccer is becoming less of an afterthought and more of staple. The professional game is stable in this country and there is more soccer shown on TV in this country than ever before. So while the results of the Gold Cup may be disappointing, it is not truly a representation of where the men’s game is now. It is on the cusp of disruption.

This is where I’ll stick a pin in my argument for not comparing the women’s and men’s soccer programs for a while. Eventually the two will be on a level playing field as the rest of the world catch up to our women and the men disrupt the status quo in American sports culture and world soccer. I’m not sure which will happen first but I’m fully confident that they are both going to happen!

Enjoy the games!

Pete

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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

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The Soccer Caravan (How We Get There Matters)

Image-1Things were different before the internet.  There’s just no denying it.  I told a group of young people recently about how we used to caravan to soccer games.  Most of the group of parents would meet at a predetermined spot and follow each other to the location of the game.  It may seem ridiculous by the modern day standard.  Ten cars following each other down the highway to reach a youth soccer game.  That was just how things were done.  The positive side was that we combined cars a lot.  People would ride together.  One of my best friends from that time came from the fact that his mother didn’t like to drive on highways.  So he and his mother would ride with us.  So even though it’s not how we do it now, it had its virtues.

The convenience of the GPS has made for less people getting lost but we’ve lost our sense of people.  The chance to become part of a clan that travels together has dwindled.  We are a species that has historically worked together in order to reach our greatest heights.  Will we find the convenience to be a consolation for traveling alone on the road?  It’s not particularly how fast we get there.  It is a question of whether or not we got there well.  Bringing people together is a key to our survival.  Let’s find ourselves by coming together.

Enjoy your travels!

Pete

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Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

White Soccer Cleats (The Messages We’re Sending)

IMG_20190525_0002Growing up playing soccer in the 1980’s was kind of like the Wild West.  Not everyone fully understood the rules.  Cultural norms were not fully established or recognized.  Those players/teams who had a parent or relative who understood the game were an anomaly and an advantage.  The first unwritten rule that I learned was “if you wore white cleats, you’d better be the best player on your team or even the field”.  I learned this by accident because I wore white cleats for a season when I was young.  They weren’t my choice.  My mother bought what was cheap and these were definitely cheap!  Either Patrick or Wilson, I don’t even recall.  If anyone can tell by looking at the photo please put it in the comments below.  Regardless of the brand, my attire sent off conflicting messages to people who understood.  The color of my cleats sent the message, “I’m the best”.  The fact that they were cheap said, “I don’t have the best tools (either through poverty or ignorance)”.  My play sent the message “I don’t realize that I’m sending any messages!”

Ignorance and youth go hand in hand.  Lack of experience is part of life.  We pick up little pieces of information along the way that help us, mold us and allow us to move into a bigger world.  It was plain to see that I was not sending a message with my cleats.  They were simply a means to an end.  I’ve never worn white (or colorful) cleats again.  My skills don’t support them.  Even though that cultural norm has changed, I still subscribe to it.

So what messages are you sending to the world on a regular basis?  The cultural markers are different for all walks of life.  Whether it is the clothes that you wear, your hair style, your walk, or your smile; you are sending messages for sure.  But are they deliberate or clear?  This is not a post about conformity.  By all means, buck the cultural norms of the majority.  Rather it is about the subtle clues that you are giving to people about who you are.  Perhaps the message you want to send is “I don’t care what you think about me.”  And it is expressed with your clothes, hair, shoes, facial expressions and language patterns.  That’s completely fine!  However if you’re sending that message but want to be accepted by everyone then you’ve set yourself up for a losing battle.  The key is alignment.

You need to align the message that you are sending with the one that you want people to receive.  The first thing that you must do is DECIDE.  Decide on the message that you want people to get about you.  Keep it simple though.  No matter how deliberate you are about the signals that you send, no one is going to fully understand the complexities of you at first glance.  So lead with something.  Once you know what signal you want to send.  See if people are getting it.  Go to the people that you trust to tell you the truth and ask.  If you’re off the mark, it is up to you to adjust or accept that you’re not sending the right message.  The world is not obligated to understand you.

At this point, you will need to do a lot of observation.  Are you getting the results that you’re looking for?  Do people seem to be getting the signal that you’re sending?  This will probably be easier to read from people that you do not know well.  Those who know you well will take time to adjust to a new version of you.  If you’ve been a downer in the past, smiling more will tell those people that you see every day “she’s happy today” not “she’s a happy person”.  Changing long held perceptions will take time, effort and consistency.

So as you go out into your day.  Recognize that you’re sending signals.  You can keep sending the ones that you always have or change it up.  That’s completely up to you.  It just helps to have people receive the message that you want to send.  Those white cleats might be holding you back from opportunities that you don’t even realize!

Have a great day being you today!

Pete

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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.

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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

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Leveraging the Dark Space Inside

High School Soccer from Senior Year

My overall purpose in this world is to help people get the best out of themselves.  Whether I do that work in the classroom, soccer field or elsewhere is irrelevant.  Most of the time it is done through helping people see the possibility within themselves and breaking through the self-imposed limits that they have.  Although my messages are usually positive in nature, I’m not against the idea of leveraging the dark space inside each of us.  It is probably the reason that I’ve been a successful coach for many years.

It was my senior year in high school and there were no big expectations for our soccer team.  There had been lots of talent in the prior year’s senior class and the season had no trophies or accolades.  My senior class had only a couple players of impact.  The junior and sophomore classes were full of talented but untested players.  As the only senior captain, I believed it was my role to help get every last bit of effort out of our team.  If we kept the idea that we were all in it together, we’d do OK.  In all honesty, we shocked a lot of people, even me.  We had an impressive record with only one loss and one tie as it was getting close to the playoff portion of the season.  Our record was good enough to win the conference title.  Against all odds in a penalty kick shootout we were able to beat a much bigger school for the county title.  We were ranked highly by the papers in the area and the number one seed for our section in the state tournament.  I’m not sure if it was one factor or a combination of things but we lost in the first round of the state tournament.

That was over twenty five years ago.  Despite that fact, it is one of the reasons that I have so much to give to my athletes from the sidelines.  Winning and losing are not actually my concern.  The reason why that is such a hole inside of me is that we didn’t give it our all.  I, as the leader, was possibly complacent and overly confident going into that game.  Sure there were other things that impacted the outcome but I know inside that it was at least partially my fault.  So I’ll have this hole inside of me forever because I can’t rewrite the past.

The only option that I have is to leverage that dark space into something positive.  That cautionary tale that I lived through is a driving force on the mundane days where no one feels like giving their best.  It is that pain that gives me the energy to work harder than others and leave it all out there.  I don’t talk about it often or even replay it in my head.  I don’t have to, it’s just there in the background.

We all have these experiences.  There is nothing particularly special or unique about mine.  The question becomes whether or not you can use it toward a future positive end.  Even the greatest lose from time to time but it is what you do with that setback that matters.  No moment is a definitive statement for the positive or negative on who you are as a person.  We are what we’ve done consistently.  With todays challenges you should absolutely give them everything you’ve got.  But if you come up short, take the lesson from it and allow it to propel you forward.  Sometime you win and sometimes you learn!

Have a great day!

Pete