Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

The Top 5 Things to Love about the 2021 United Soccer Coaches Virtual Convention

I’m not sure that I was born an optimist but I’ve definitely become adept at finding the positive in things over the years. So although I am heartbroken that I don’t get to take my annual trip to some far off location to see friends and colleagues, I’m still able to find some good things about this situation.

5. Less walking/traveling – It varies year to year based on where my hotel is but I never need to worry about getting my steps in during the Convention. The second to last time in Baltimore, I averaged over 6 miles per day. Sometimes the traveling isn’t so bad when I carpool with my friend Anson (Not that Anson, a different Anson but we met THAT Anson last year). However I do not mind at all being able to roll out of bed or not, to catch a session.

4. Exhibit Hall Precision – This year I’m only having conversations/meetings with vendors that I really want to be talking to. It’s not particularly a bad thing to do small talk in the exhibit hall. I like to be social but I usually end up talking to a few vendors about a products that I have zero interest in. Here’s a video of my buddy, DJ Diveny, doing some skills. Since no one is coming to juggle in your living room, this will have to do.

3. Chat Feature – Although you’re not guaranteed to get your question answered, the chances are higher than they would be in a large auditorium where they pass around the foam microphone cube. This is something that they may want to consider doing for the live Convention in the future. Not exactly a chat but having a number to text in questions and the moderators can choose interesting ones. Just a thought.

2. Access to Recorded Sessions – I missed the Gregg Berhalter session last night. Luckily I don’t need to worry about it because I can watch it at some other point. At the live Convention, I usually need to choose between about 2 or 3 sessions that I want to attend. This year I can hit them all if I want.

  1. Guests that Normally Can’t Present – This is probably the best thing going for the Virtual Convention. Most of the “dream” guests that people would want to see, can’t ever attend due to coaching responsibilities. While Jose Mourinho may not be on everyone’s wish list, he is a presenter that is not usually available. Depending on how this goes, it may be another change to consider for future live events. Having notable coaches speak from a distance could be an interesting concept. We’ll see.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that none of this is ideal but under the circumstances I’ll take it. As coaches, it is our job to breakdown the opponent in order to move forward. That’s exactly what needs to be done here. This pandemic is a bunkered defense (almost literally). Pick it apart and do what you can to reach your goals!

Enjoy! And see you in KC!

Pete

Blogpost, SoccerLifeBalance

These Joyous Means May Not Have Soccer Ends

I was asked about the use of certain “games” in the US with young soccer players such as Stuck in the Mud, Red Light Green Light or Shark and Minnows. The thoughts below do not represent an in depth study of the situation, these are just “thoughts.”

The Strider or Balance Bike is a product that was created to help kids learn how to balance and steer without the additional concern of using pedals. Although it is not a “real bike,” it can make the process of learning balance more joyous than the use/removal of training wheels. Despite training wheels being used for generations, it may inhibit the actual desired outcome. The learner’s reliance on the training wheels keeps them from learning how to counter steer which means they must almost “relearn” how to ride. Finally the strider bike can also be used as a learning tool largely independently from direct supervision. A child learning to balance on a standard bike requires help from someone. Children are not small adults. Their needs are quite different but in the beginning, the strider bike was derided because it wasn’t a “real bike.”

Kids need to enjoy what they are doing. As they begin playing soccer, FUN is paramount to their desire to continue playing. Most players in the US do not grow up in a house where soccer is reinforced as a “way of life.” It is an organized activity that they are introduced to as part of some programming. For their parents, it can be a form of exercise for the child or even a cheap “childcare.” Although youth programs exist throughout the world, there is also cultural norm of individual or “street play.” Games like the ones listed above are intended to create a fun environment to learn skills. Elsewhere in the world, the development of skills is part of a cultural ratchet that values skill acquisition. Often through “unorganized” play, peer groups will create an environment where fun and skill acquisition go hand in hand.

Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso loving the game for all that it is!

There is nothing inherently wrong with playing fun games like Sharks and Minnows with young players. Much like using training wheels, it is a viable strategy. It can add fun to soccer for kids who are not already invested in the game. The issue is that many kids/parents are looking for a fun activity rather than specifically soccer fun. Therefore a disconnect happens when, “it’s just not fun anymore.” This can happen at any point in a player’s development. Learning to play chess, the flute, basketball, monopoly, etc. are worthwhile pursuits for young people. Only a small number of people will make it a lifelong pursuit.

Being honest with ourselves about why we are doing something is a crucial component to any endeavor. Playing monopoly with a 6 year old in order to instill a love of real estate investment is a strategy. However at some point the real thing doesn’t match up with the game. That first encounter is most likely not going to be the crucial component to a lifelong love. There will be milestones along the way that will either add or subtract to the child’s love for the activity. Having kids dip their carrots in ranch dressing is fine but at a certain point, the carrots need to stand on their own.

For me, soccer is a lifelong passion that speaks to me on a variety of levels. For some of my childhood friends, it is a game that they used to play when they were a kid. We spent years with undereducated coaches doing many poorly thought out drills by modern pedagogical standards. They did the best that they could with what they knew and got at least one lifelong convert. The strider bike may be the best possible way to get the intended objective but the training wheels still work. Neither guarantee that a kid will grow up to love bike riding.

The game is all about people. While I’m all for best practices, curricula and methodology; they do not guarantee anything. A kid needs to enjoy what they are doing enough to continue. More than likely, they need to see others enjoying that same thing. So if you are a coach, display your joy for the game! While we all might love soccer, joy is happiness that kids can see. That’s worth more than any activity that you’ll ever run for any age group!

“Football is life!” – Danny Rojas from Ted Lasso

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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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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, 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

Mourinho, Management and More Peter Loge (Author of Soccer Thinking for Management Success)

PeterLogePhotoIn this episode, Peter Loge and I have a wide-ranging conversation on soccer’s many uses as a metaphor.  Peter is the author of “Soccer Thinking for Management Success.”  Throughout the book, he discusses several different ways that soccer overlaps with management concepts.  Check out his work at www.soccerthinking.com

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 world 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