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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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”.