Juggling the Four Corners of Development

unnamedA few years back I had a coaching colleague send me this image.  He said, the guy in the picture represented him as a coach.  The three pins represented one each of development, winning and fun.  The spring loaded platform represented the parents (the paying customers).  It was certainly a good analogy and one, I think, that still holds very true for any of us that are coaching kids.

Here’s the thing…

If you added in one more juggling pin to that picture then you could also extend the analogy to a coach’s ability to juggle the four corners of development.  With each of the four pins representing a corner of development (technical-tactical, physical, cognitive and social-emotional) and the spring-loaded platform representing not only parents but the organization’s expectations of the coach.  Coaching kids to help them develop holistically is a true balancing AND juggling act.  And maybe the guy should also be wearing a blindfold!

Here’s a personal two part example of the challenge of implementing a four-corner development approach from my own coaching experiences.

Part One

I’ve talked regularly here about the group of 2002 girls that I am coaching.  I haven’t mentioned the 2001 girls that I will be coaching much but I can do so here as part of my two-part example.  I’ve had a limited amount of time with this group as they were still in season with their current coach up to the end of November.  What I did try to do when I worked with them the few times that I did was to give them a glimpse of the four-corner approach focusing specifically on the cognitive corner and becoming 21st century learners.

I felt getting the kids to recognize the importance of taking an active role in their learning is the most important thing that I could do to try and make a good and lasting first impression.  I tried a few different activities to allow the 2001s to experience more control over and therefore a more active role in their learning.  In speaking with one of the parents who decided in the end to move from the team to explore other opportunities at the end of the season, there was a definite concern that I wouldn’t be able to deliver such an ambitious plan.

He’s certainly right about that.  I still have to try though.

This parent also made reference to one of my sessions where the players didn’t touch a ball for the first 20 minutes (or apparently this is what he heard as he was not actually there).  I clarified with him the date of the session that he was referencing.  At the beginning of that particular session, I’d divided the group into three teams of about six players each.  I then reviewed with them 1) the purpose of a warm-up and 2) what a good warm-up entails.  They were then instructed that they would have five minutes with their group to design their own 15 minute warm-up.  At the end of the five minute period, each group would simultaneously run their created warm-up while the coaches would judge which one they thought was best.  At the end of this warm-up challenge (which I stole from former national youth soccer team coach Ian Bridge) we reviewed with the groups the things that we thought each did well and what we thought was missing and then awarded a winner.

Yes, it is true that during that time two of the three groups started their warm-ups doing generic movement and dynamic exercises without a ball.  But for 20 minutes?  Absolutely not.  I suppose when you consider the five minutes that they spent discussing their warm-ups along with the first five minutes where two of the three groups didn’t use a ball then maybe it felt like 20 minutes to those who were observing but didn’t know what was going on.  You have to chuckle at how the truth can get stretched.

The small-sided games we played that night also involved the three groups that we had created playing against each other and having to make decisions about numbers and combinations of players that would play in each game.  They made those decisions, not the coaches.  And as they made decisions and saw what the end result was of their choices once they played, they had further opportunities to make more changes.  It was just a small way for me to try and give them some ownership.  Apparently, the parent I mentioned above, asked his daughter about how this particular session went.  Her reply, according to him: “It was weird, he made us do our own warm-up.”

Part Two

When I was getting ready to join the organization that I am currently coaching for, I did make certain that I alerted them to the fact – both in the form of documents and multiple times verbally – that the coaching I do will be “different” than the norm.  The response to me was that different was fine as long as it meant “better” or “improved” on what had already been done.  However, it shouldn’t be different just for the sake of being different.

Don’t be different just to be different?  Hmmm…

That’s exactly why I’m doing what I do!  I’m doing what I do because the way we have been doing it for practically three decades now isn’t working.  It’s not producing better soccer players.  It’s not creating participants that stay involved in soccer longer.  And it’s not creating any better individuals who become autonomous and contributing members of society.  I do what I do because that’s the whole point of being a heretic coach.

Eventually though I hope that everyone else will jump on board and do something similar.  At that point I won’t need to be a heretic coach any longer.  That would be nice although I’m sure there will always be a tree that needs to be shaken or an ointment that needs a fly  in it in order to positively benefit the development of kids.

Next post Sunday, December 21st.

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Week 7 of Indoor Training

As a coach, what do you do when your group gets their training session started badly?  Very badly in fact.  You’ve barely gotten into the warm-up and it already looks awful.  The kind of disaster where it looks as if it’s their first time touching soccer balls with their feet.  That exact thing happened to the 2002 girls that I was coaching this past week.

The old me would have gotten frustrated with the poor start.  The old me would have stopped them and tried to light a fire under their butts by demanding them to get their heads in it.  I guess there’s still a time when I’d be the old me but for the most part the new me takes a much different approach.

The new me kept the warm-up driving along as best it could.  When finished I asked the players if they agreed with me that it was a clunky-bumpy warm-up (which they did).  I reminded them that it didn’t bother me that they were starting off badly as that sort of thing will happen.  The new me let them know that what I was now most interested in seeing is what they did from that point forward through to the end of the session.  Could they affect positive change?

Sure enough they did turn it around and in the process ended up having a really good session.  THEY did it.  By themselves.  No real coaxing or cajoling required.  Only an appeal to them as active learners and  a willingness to open up of the space necessary for them to execute the turn around themselves.

I could have filled it.  The space that is.  I could have filled it with a lecture or a motivational speech or a lot of yelling.  After all, that’s what a coach does, right?  He or she directs players.  The coach says “jump” and the players ask “how high”.  The new me still wants the same thing the old me wanted and that is to get the players I coach to a higher level of performance.  It’s just the new me wants to do that as much as possible by empowering the players to solve THEIR own problems as opposed to trying to solve the problems for them.

And what’s the worst thing that could happen if they don’t come around that session?  They have one bad session.  Big deal.  They possibly engrain one more session’s worth of bad habits?  So what.  A coach told me recently that players at this age have a lot of bad habits that need to be dealt with immediately before they become too hard to change.  He said he has to step in and coach – no questions asked – every time he sees a bad habit.

I know I used to think exactly the same way.  But here’s thing.  When my back was turned working with that player or players that just made the mistake that I wanted to fix, there was another player or players that I wasn’t seeing making mistakes at the very same time.  And those mistakes they were making were ever adding up to more severe bad habits.  Oh-oh!

There is the problem that I’ve come to see with coach as director.  You cannot possibly affect everything that goes on with every player’s development positively all the time.  And to think that when you do that you are greatly benefiting every player on that field is foolhardy and naive.  As a facilitator and not director of development, my job is to empower players to do more to solve their own problems.  To be more hands off.

I think now when I do choose to display a little emotion – get a little frustrated with their behaviour or deliver a win-one-for-the-gipper speech – it has a great deal more impact because the players don’t see it very often.  Not to mention that cognitive science now tells us that under conditions of negative stress, we do not learn.  Fight or flight mechanisms kick in to preserve us when we’re under that sort of assault from a wrathful coach (according to neurologist Dr. Judy Willis).

As the transformational session with the 2002’s came to an end, I let the players know just how great a come back I’d thought they’d made from the beginning of the session.  As I was getting ready to leave the facility, a young boys team was already on the field going through their warm-up.  It was technical, drill-like and repetitive.  It appeared as if many of the players were just going through the motions.  Apparently, their coach thought the same as I did and he quickly barked at the players to get their heads in it and start caring about what they were doing.

Next post Saturday, December 20th

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Leaning to the Left

“As parents and teachers, we place a great deal of emphasis on how well our children learn reading, writing, math and science, as well as how they develop skills in extra-curricular activities.  And we should.  But shouldn’t we place equal emphasis on developing the foundations of how young people grow to take action in the world – to love, work and play in ways that bring them happiness and well-being?” – Marilyn Price-Mitchell

The last month and a bit, I’ve been talking here about developing youth soccer players (and youth athletes in general) in a holistic manner.  That is, helping them realize their full potential through a four corner approach to their development.  From top-right going clock-wise, those four corners include technical-tactical, physical, cognitive and social-emotional.

4 Corner Approach Explained

I don’t know about you as a coach, parent or even casual observer if you’ve noted this but I really feel that what I’ve seen has been an over emphasis on the right side of the four-corner model.  We’ve turned sport into mechanics and performance and forgotten about kinship and well-being.


Like the exposed roots of a tree reminds us just how powerful that tree truly is and just how important those roots are, we need to make explicit the implicit side of youth sport development.  We see that beautiful and powerful tree and forget that there is so much that lies beneath that is responsible for its greatness.

We do the same in youth sport also.  We’ve taken the left side of the four-corner development model too lightly.  We’ve missed or forgotten the fact that those two corners anchor everything else that is and will be that player or athlete.  Long after kids grow up and sport becomes minimized in their lives.  Long after the physical, the technical and the tactical all become faded memories, those grown up kids will still be identifiable by the cognitive and social-emotional.  Sport will still leave a permanent mark for all to see.

Put another way the cognitive and social-emotional corners of development represent an inner guidance system, what Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell in her ebook Reframing Success: Helping Children & Teens Grow from the Inside Out calls an internal compass.  That compass directs us throughout life and keeps us grounded, so to speak.  Dr. Price-Mitchell’s internal compass looks like this.

Internal Compass

As you can see, it really is a summary and another way of saying the same things that I’ve talked about the last two weeks in the posts about the cognitive and  social-emotional corners of development.  Her eight compass points represent a set of skills and it is the teaching of these skills that can greatly elevate the potential within kids.  Skills like self-awareness, and creativity and character and resilience if learned through sport can then also be applied to one’s life outside of sport.

The left-hand side of the four-corner model represents our opportunity specifically as leaders and generally as adults to help children and youth become  autonomous and contributing members of society.  Or as Dr. Price-Mitchell says:

“When children develop an internal compass from which to draw strengths, they learn to navigate life without the help of parents and teachers.”

I’d add coaches in there too.  After all, isn’t that what we want?  In addressing the question what does a great coach do, I’ve always liked the response that a great coach makes him or herself obsolete.  In other words, the players or athletes working under a great coach eventually no longer need that great coach.

So I don’t know about you but for me, when it comes to four-corner development in youth sport, I’m going to be leaning more to the left from now on.

You can find Marilyn Price-Mitchell’s free ebook here.

Next post Sunday, December 14th.

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Week 6 of Indoor Training

I continue my work with a group of 2002 girls making their move into high performance soccer.  We’re currently in the team selection phase (three spots left to fill) but also at a point in the season where these players have been almost going hard for a full year now.  For that reason, as much as it’s been about selecting players, I’ve also tried to keep it light.

A great deal of what we’ve worked on over the last five weeks has been in the category of setting expectations and developing standards.  This week, the players received a one page document that summarized the standards and expectations that we as a team had worked to create.

We sat down to review it and I asked them to apply a critical thinker’s perspective to it.  Recently, they’d copied into their journals just such a process.  So they worked in pairs to review the document and come up with three statements or questions about the document.

You know, it’s funny.  You can do all these things to help develop players.  Things that most coaches aren’t doing.  Things that help players to truly realize their FULL potential.  You ask them some pretty good guiding questions.  And yet just because you coach them or introduce them to this stuff it still doesn’t mean that learning happens.

This reality hit me as we reviewed what sorts of things they come up with after looking over the standards document.  I’d equipped them with this critical thinking content and expected them to be able to think critically.  It’s not that easy though.  As John Wooden said, you haven’t taught them until they’ve learned it.

Scaffolding? No, not this kind. The instructional kind.

So I’ve thought about it quite a bit this week and I realized that I think what’s missing is scaffolding.  In education, scaffolding is the support given during the learning process.  Typically it’s tailored to suit the needs of each student.  Just like construction workers use scaffolding to support them while they work, scaffolding in learning serves as temporary support for the development of a specific skill.  When the skill has been learned (or the construction work done) the scaffolding is removed.

I want to help the girls become critical thinkers but so far, after providing only the most basic supports, they’ve not really done so yet.  Of course not!  Why should they?  Just because I’ve done the basics of teaching them about critical thinking doesn’t mean that they’ve learned it.  So I will continue to come up with hints, examples, questions, stories, prompts and explanations to help develop their critical thinking skills.

Too often as coaches, I think we shrug our shoulders when a player we coach hasn’t learned.  We’re too quick to shift the blame for not learning and not quick enough to look inwards and ask ourselves the question: did I come up with every possible way of helping that player learn?  It couldn’t be me (the coach), it must be them (the players).   Coaches are a proud bunch and it can be difficult for us to admit our frustrations with ourselves when we haven’t been able to help a player reach further into his or her potential.

So I must continue to find measures that help each player get that light bulb to appear above her head (the aha! moment).

Once I’ve done that, I’ve truly done my job.

Next post Saturday, December 13th.

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Four-Corner Development Part Four – Social-Emotional

This is the fourth blog of four describing my philosophy as it pertains to the four-corner approach to development.  You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.  Today’s blog is about the social and the emotional side of player development.

Developing the Ability to Connect

 “Like the patterns of nature, we are all connected.  It is not one person, teacher, or experience that fosters success.  It is the collection of relationships, experiences, and opportunities that weave together each of our stories – that determine the people we become and how well we contribute to our families, jobs and communities.” - Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Reframing Success: Helping Children & Teens Grow from the Inside Out

Last week I talked about how the future is changing so much and so fast that it makes it difficult to know how to help young people prepare themselves properly.  One certainty that comes out of that blitz is how society continues to become more and more interconnected.  Yes, it will require youth to learn how to be adaptable, creative and innovative in solving complex problems.  Moreover, it will require youth to solve those problems collaboratively as the smarts of many indubitably outweighs the smarts of one.

Sounds great!  However, the question that remains is how do you give your best to others and get the best from them?

Living the Dream

In school and on the field, so much attention is paid to testing the “harder” (not “softer”) skills.  Reading, writing and arithmetic in school.  Shooting, passing, dribbling, speed and endurance in soccer.  Maybe it’s this way because the easy things to test are the things that get tested.  Or maybe it’s that we’ve just not gotten our priorities straight for the 21st century; we’re still holding on to 20th century beliefs and methods.  It all feeds into the images we have in our minds of our kids one day being “successful”.

“What if we measured success by internal rather than external wealth?  What would that look and feel like?” – Marilyn Price-Mitchell

The point is that adult expectations of youth, without the appropriate social-emotional skills to pursue The Dream as well as cope with the stress of pursuing The Dream, is creating the completely wrong environment in which to develop.

It’s yet another one of those situations where, like the cognitive corner of development, teaching kids a set of skills versus a bunch of content may end up being the better solution.  The easiest thing for an adult to do when it comes to leading kids towards something is to just do it for them.  Just make all the tough or time-consuming decisions and then hope that they will figure out what ones to appropriately model and what ones to discard in order to find their own future success.

I remember reading parenting expert Barbara Coloroso’s book Kids are Worth it. That would have been in the late 90’s early 00’s.  She was (and continues to) advocate a hands off approach saying that if what kids are about to do doesn’t break the law or lead to their own demise, then take a breath, let go and give them the space to have at it.  I couldn’t agree more.  Absolute the best way to learn.

But as coaches, we have a hard time doing that because we almost inevitably know that kids making their own decisions will lead to mistakes or it will take a lot of time out of a session and cause us to have to cut out other important things that we wanted to work on.

If not now, then when?  If not you, then who?

We want sport to create youth who are autonomous and contributing members of society and yet it seems we expect that to happen by osmosis.  We don’t have to put any time into its development because it will just happen.  I’m at the point now in my coaching where the technical-tactical stuff almost seems a little…um…blah.  It’s my commitment to helping the players I coach develop on the left-hand side of the four-corner approach – the cognitive and social-emotional corners – that has me really excited now about what I’m doing.

And so with that in mind, I’m committed to trying to help the players I coach develop socially and emotionally in the following five ways:

  1. Self-awareness – Players should be able to recognize their emotions, verbalize their values and interests, and assess their strengths and weaknesses accurately.  I would like the players to have self-confidence and to be grounded when it comes to their thinking about their future and The Dream.
  2. Emotional Regulation – Players should be able to cope with and manage stress.  They should be able to control impulses – delaying gratification when appropriate but also getting gratified when equally appropriate.  They should be able to persevere and show grit in the face of strife.  I would like them to be able to appropriately express their emotions in a wide variety of on- and off-field scenarios.
  3. Social Awareness – Players should be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.  They should be able to identify differences and similarities that exist within the members of a group.  I would like them to be able to actively find and use the appropriate resources from family, school, community and soccer.
  4. Relationship Skills – Players should be able to cooperate and collaborate.  They should be able to both seek help and provide help when needed.  They should be able to assertively handle interpersonal conflict.  I would like them to be able to resist inappropriate social pressure.
  5. Decision Making – Players should be able to make responsible decisions that reflect safety, ethics, social norms and respect for others.  This should be done on and off the field. I would like them to be able to navigate the often complex and confusing relationship between choice and consequence.

Many of these items will come through in the form of individual goals that each player sets.   Soccer’s group environment offers a great petrie dish in which to explore and develop these social-emotional skills.

So there you have it.  All four corners of development explained in the style of The Heretic Coach.  Developing these four posts has given me some more inspiration on the subject and so I’ll talk a little bit more about four-corner development for the next two Saturdays as well.

Next post Sunday, December 7th.


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Week 5 of Indoor Training

Tuesday, November 25th

This week at training, I introduced a procedure to the players to help them understand the critical thinking process.  I had the girls copy the following into their journals:


Also during the session, I started the first set of parent-player conferences.  These conferences are being held to set goals for each player’s individual performance plan.  I’d scheduled four interviews.  I gave fifteen minutes for each with five minutes in between each meeting.  I was to start at 6:30 pm and finish at 7:45 pm.  I started at 6:30 pm and finished at 8:15 pm!  Time flew by.

I’d asked the players to come prepared with things they thought they’d like to work on from each of the four corners.  Three of the four girls did that in great detail.  During the meetings, parents were integral in helping to highlight key issues and encourage their daughter to speak up and share with me what they wanted to work on.

Creating these IPPs is going to be a challenge.  Stating goals is easy.  Developing goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive is very challenging.  As I looked at the notes from each of the first four interviews, I shifted uncomfortably at my desk and began to sweat as I thought about how I was going to turn the players’  general desires into actionable and achievable targets.

Wednesday, November 26th 

The girls got to put the critical thinking procedure they’d copied down from the night before to work.  We started with showing them some data on the 2v2 random games competition that they do each week.  We looked at their average heart rate at the end of the 2v2 for each of the first four weeks and we looked at the number of goals scored in the 2v2 competitions for each of the last four weeks.

There seemed to be a connection between the two.  The data seemed to show that more goals were scored in weeks where the average heart rate was higher.  The previous Wednesday, their total goals and heart rate had been the highest they’d been in the four weeks of sessions.  It was also interesting to note that in that record setting session the girls were given instructions to go out and take risks on the attack to try and unbalance their opponents.  The potential conclusion is that that advice contributed to the girls working harder in their 2v2 games and subsequently scoring more goals.

So we looked at the data from the first four weeks and we went through each of the steps of the critical thinking process shown above.  In the end, the players decided that the best thing to do in that current session was to try and replicate the session from the week before in order to see if in assuming the mindset of risk on attack, they did work harder and, as a result, scored more goals.

The data for that session ended up being pretty close.  Their heart rates weren’t as high as the week before and they didn’t quite score as many goals as the week before but, next week, I can show them the data and see where they take it next.  I think there’s a lot of different directions they can take this.  Should be interesting.  Stay tuned.

In preparing for this blog, I found another really great critical thinking infographic.  I think this one is even better than the first one I showed.


If sport is going to live up to its potential of creating great athletes who away from the sport are also autonomous and contributing members of society then we must make sure to train critical thinking.

Next post Saturday, December 6th.

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Four-Corner Development Part Three – Cognitive

This is the third blog of four describing my philosophy as it pertains to the four-corner approach to development.  You can find part one here and part two here.  Today’s blog is about the cognitive.

Cognitive and not Mental?

You may have seen in a four-corner approach, the use of the terms mental or psychological instead of cognitive.  I prefer cognitive to the other two.  Cognitive development, according to Wikipedia, is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child’s development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of brain development and cognitive psychology compared to an adult’s point of view.  Cognition then is an act that involves mental processes, therefore, mental is a working part within the bigger picture of cognitive.

If you are thinking about mental from the point of view of mental health then that, in my mind, goes under the social-emotional corner.  However, the outcome of poor mental health could have an impact on the psychological capabilities of an individual and therefore affect his/her cognition.  So again, there still is a connection between the two.

21st Century Learning

I have a son.  He is almost three.  Now that he’s here and developing every day, I ask myself a great deal what my role is in his life.  I know I’m to love him unconditionally.  I also know I’m to help him prepare for the future.  The problem is, I can’t really help him prepare for the future because I don’t know what his future will be like.  I know it will be very different than mine but I don’t know how different.  How do you prepare someone for something like that?  You go with the more biological definition of parenting – my job is to help my son reach adulthood and thrive because he has learned to be adaptable.

21st century learning then starts as a philosophy or belief.  It comes, as its title suggests, from a dissatisfaction with the methods of learning we have used and from the desire to leave those methods behind in the century that has just passed and that lays claim to them.  The 21st century requires us to be more than we ever were.  However, in the 21st century we also know more than we ever did about ourselves.  We need to use that knowledge to our advantage which is what becomes 21st century education.

The Skillset for Today’s Learner

So the working philosophy behind a 21st century approach to learning is to put the focus more on the teaching of skills than simply on the content to be learned.

“If we produce learning, the learning may stop when students leave our classes.  If we develop learners, they can keep learning for a lifetime.”

It’s the ability to produce individuals who ask things like what will happen or why did that happen.  Moreover, it’s the need to get them to say: Because I’m curious, I want to know more.

Therefore, the necessary skills that need to be assimilated in today’s world include:

  1. Becoming a critical thinker
  2. Learning how we learn/how the brain works
  3. Growth vs fixed mindset
  4. Ability to work in groups or alone
  5. Ability to communicate effectively
  6. Digital, cultural and community literacy

If you’d like to explore each of the six skills further, I’ve attached a short video which outlines each skill in more detail, simply click on a skill to call up the video.

From on the Field to Everywhere

We hear it said often that sport builds more than just capable athletes or players.  Sport builds great individuals both on and off the field (court, rink, etc.). Yet there are more than enough stories out there to show how sport has failed to live up to its full potential as a tool for holistic development.  I think coaches over the years – myself included – have taught content at the expense of more holistic and transferable skills.  We’ve taught in the technical-tactical and we’ve taught in the physical but we’ve only paid lip service to the cognitive (and to the social-emotional).

Following a four-corner approach to development reminds us that we need to teach content but also just as importantly (or even more importantly) we need to teach skills.  Equip young people with the skills they need to adapt and thrive in the 21st century and the acquisition of content in any domain becomes far more simplistic in its acquisition.

All along, we’ve been so busy building athletes/players to realize we should have been building learners/thinkers as the best way to bring the most out of sport.

Next post Sunday, November 30th.

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Week 4 of Indoor Training

Tuesday, November 18th

It’s great having a 2-hour window for training with the 2002 girls that I coach.  For our Tuesday evening sessions we use the first 30 minutes of that time frame to cover aspects of the girls four-corner development that goes beyond the technical-tactical and the physical.  The remaining 90 minutes is business as usual then.

This past Tuesday, we continued to work on content that represents the team’s expectations and standards.  Out of all the ideas the girls and coaches had come up with for what we expected of each other, I’d created some wordles (visual arrangements of words/text where the larger the word, the more frequently it was used within the text).  I did one made up of only ideas from the player expectations.  I also did one made up of the ideas from the expectations of coaches.  And I did one where I combined all the ideas together (player and coach) to make a team expectations wordle.  Here’s what that final one looked like.

Expectations Wordle for Team

So the girls were divided into three groups and each group spent a few minutes looking at each of the three wordles.  Their task was to create a one sentence statement that they felt best represented what they saw in that wordle.  By the end, each group had a statement of player expectations, a statement of coach expectations and a statement of team expectations.

That was as far as we got with that as I’d had more I wanted to do so I told the players we’d look at their statements the next week (more on that next post).  With the time we had left in our half hour, the girls copied out the following into their journals

4 Corner Approach Explained

I will be starting the player-parent conferences this week in order to begin creating an individual performance plan for each player.  I wanted the girls to start thinking about what they were strong at and what they felt they needed work at in each of the four corners of development.

Of course, I knew they may need a little help with it so I spelled out some things in each of the four corners to get their wheels turning.  When we sit down to discuss their plans, we will directly try to incorporate the suggestions they have for improving themselves in each of the four corners.

Wednesday, November 19th

Yuck!  Snow fell throughout the day and made rush hour very difficult for everyone.  And yet as I saw player after player arrive at the field, I realized just how lucky I was to be coaching this group of girls.  Yes, I’m smiling with pride right now.

It was a much better session from the Wednesday before which I’d noted in last week’s blog was probably one of the weakest performances yet.  Interesting to note were the resting heart rates of most of the players upon arrival.  They were high.  Very high.  Maybe they were stressed because they were arriving late as a result of the inclement weather and that stress resulted in the elevation?  It’s something I can show them and that we can talk about.  They know that stress is one thing that elevates heart rates so it will be interesting to see if they arrive at the same conclusion when I show them the numbers.

For a few weeks now, I’d been meaning to talk to them about the 2v2 random games competition that we do each Wednesday.  This was week #4 and since the session they’d completed the night before had a great deal of connecting points to the 2v2, I felt it was the best time to note those connections.

We talked about balance in a 2v2 and how the defense wanted to maintain balance while the job of the attacking team was to break that balance.  The first way to do that was to dribble 1v1 and try to get behind the nearest defender.  There was also a combination play between the two attackers to get behind the nearest defender.  And there was an overlap in order to unbalance the defenders by creating a 2v1 against the defender nearest the ball.

The most important thing was that the attacking team had to find a way to unbalance the defense but in doing so, they had to unbalance themselves (i.e., if the player on the ball chose to dribble and failed, there would most likely be an advantage for the defending team as they’ll have now won the ball and be looking at a potential 2v1 in their favour).  In other words, trying to unbalance the opponents carried with it an element of risk.  I told them I wanted to take risks, to go for it.

Did they go for it?  Absolutely!  Looking at the games, you could see the risk.  The intensity was high.  Games were very competitive.  They were failing and their opponent would immediately try to counter and score.  If that happened, the team that failed would take the ball and go right back at their opponent again.  The game scores coming in that night were high.

I did the tally later that night and compared it to the week before (the not so good session).  Total goals from all the games?  71.  The week before?  60.  Average heart rate by the end of the 2v2?  155.  The week before?  133.  So if we speculate from the numbers, taking risks paid off in increased goals but it also resulted in more intense games which were confirmed by the higher heart rates from the week before.  Of course, the higher heart rates could also have been a lingering sign of the stress from arriving late at the session that night.

In either case, it’s data I can’t wait to share with them next week in order to start a discussion.  Even if they decide that the elevated heart rates may have been as much from stress as from higher work rates, I hope they will realize that the best way to find out for sure is to try and replicate the risk taking from the last session in order to see if they can reproduce the same results.

If it works, they’ll be taking a very active role in their learning.

Next post Saturday, November 29th.

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Four-Corner Development Part Two – Physical

This is the second blog of four describing my philosophy as it pertains to the four-corner approach to development.  You can find part one here.  Today’s blog is about the physical side of a player’s development.

Physical Means Fitness, Right?

So I’m currently coaching girls turning 13 and 14.  Is fitness training really that important for them right now?  Sure, I’ve got to develop speed and endurance and strength and flexibility and a host of other capacities.  Still, wouldn’t my time with those players be better spent teaching them the skills of the game?  Isn’t fitness a waste of field time?

While these girls are just approaching a period in their development where involved fitness training would become an actual item on their program menu, I’m still looking at the physical corner of the four-corner model in a slightly different way.  I’m talking about something called physical literacy.

Physical literacy is the ability to move with competence and confidence in multiple environments (i.e.,  on land, on ice, on snow, in the water and in the air).  Being physically literate is what most of us would call being coordinated.  In sports, physically literate participants often get called athletic.

It is this increased competence and confidence that allows a physically literate child to enjoy success in a wide range of sports and physical activities.  You can’t become physically literate by only doing a few select activities (i.e., specializing in a few sports early).  Because all you learn in those sports is how to play those specific sports.  That’s great for teaching you how to be coordinated or athletic at those exact activities but not at everything else.

Think about it.  You want to build a really elaborate and large house (i.e., a talented soccer player).  You go about doing that by putting a kid in soccer as soon as possible and only soccer.  Yet the ground that you’re building that house on is not the most stable and in taking the approach you have, you’ve neglected building a foundation.  It doesn’t matter how solid the house itself is (from years of dedicated soccer training), without a foundation it will, sooner or later, show physical stresses or weaknesses that could lead to more serious problems.

Learning to be physically literate is establishing a strong and broad foundation on which a future sport-specific career can be built.  In their article on the creation of a long-term athlete development model, authors Cote and Vierimaa look specifically at the evidence that exists supporting early diversification (i.e., physical literacy) in youth sports.  Based on their review of the existing research, they (1) state the following:

  1. Early diversification does not hinder elite sport participation in sports where peak performance is reached after maturation (like soccer).
  2. Early diversification is linked to a longer sport career and has positive implications for long-term sport involvement.

So what does developing physical literacy look like with the girls that I’m coaching?  They are in a high performance soccer program after all so they will be doing a fair amount of soccer and soccer-related movements.  But I’ll also get them doing non-soccer related movements.

I’ll do this to help develop their physical literacy as they are still quite young and able to benefit immensely from multilateral training but I’ll also do it to stave off burnout.  They will be training in soccer four times a week, every week for about ten months straight.  They’re going to need something other than soccer every so often to keep them fresh and motivated.

Besides, with their commitment to this program, they may not have much (or any) time to be involved in other activities.  So if they can’t be involved in other activities, then I’ll bring the other activities to them.

The way to high level success in one realm starts first with the development of skills across many realms.

What’s Up with Concussions?

I was having a discussion with a coaching colleague the other day.  I asked him if he felt concussions were a problem for us when we were growing up.  I’d barely gotten the question out and he was responding to me that they were, we just didn’t know about them.

I don’t know.

I can’t think of anyone that I played sports with that had to stop because of recurring cognitive issues like dizziness or headaches, myself included.  My coaching friend said if we were to have our brains autopsied, we’d be able to see first hand the damage that we have done to ourselves but not known.  Alas, if my brain is being autopsied, I don’t think showing the existence of old concussions will be much of a concern to me.

I’m not convinced that concussions were, in my childhood, the epidemic that they now seem to be (2).  While, sports participation in my youth wasn’t nearly the same as it is for kids today, the fact that I spent most of my time in unsupervised activities would preclude you to assume I should now have one highly bruised brain.  After all, I was not in a safely organized adult-led environment most of the time.

And that’s why I feel that concussions weren’t a significant issue for us growing up.  It seems to me, although I couldn’t find the research to back it up, that concussions come as much nowadays from contact with the ground as they do from contact with another person or object, like a goal post.  Growing up, we climbed up trees and we fell out.  We climbed up fences and we fell off.  We climbed on monkey bars and we fell through.  And in doing so we learned to fall by falling.  And as we got bigger and more brave we climbed higher and learned to take a fall from those heights until we didn’t fall any more.

Maybe I did get suffer concussions.  Seriously though.  How could I be writing this now if I’d experienced negative and not positive lessons from all those falls? Gaf=nlw ‘sing;a iw;/2eu 9ldiolaj ;[jnmiq- (just kidding!)  What organized youth soccer program for children today  teaches kids to take a fall?  Many kids that I have worked with struggle to do a proper somersault!  They can dribble, pass and shoot a ball but they don’t know how to fall down properly.

Which brings us back to the significance of teaching kids to be physically literate before we teach them the skills and strategies they need to be professional athletes.  This is the critical importance of the physical corner of the four-corner model of development.

Next post Sunday, November 23rd


  1. The Developmental Model of Sport Participation: 15 Years After its First Conceptualization. Cote, J. and M. Vierimaa.  Science and Sports: 29S(S63-S69).  2014.
  2. American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement: Concussion in Sport. Harmon, K.G. et al.  British Journal of Sports Medicine. 47(1): 15-26. 2013.

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Week 3 of Indoor Training

Tuesday, November 11th

This was the third week of training and the first time that we had back-to-back sessions.  Our first session of the week (and the new one to the schedule) is in a high school gymnasium.  For it, we’ve mustered up as many futsal balls as we can find.  Those heavier smaller balls really do make a big difference.

We started that night reviewing the homework that was leftover from our player meeting the week before.  They were separated into three groups and each group was asked to come up with examples for one of the following of what our teaming doing this thing would look like: 1) be the more sporting team, 2) play the more beautiful soccer, and 3) strive to win the game.

The nice thing that came out of that work was that many of the items that appeared on the list of the group that did striving to win the game could also be found under one or both of the other two.  It led the players to recognize that in being the more sporting team and playing more beautifully you ARE doing many of the things that you should be doing in order to strive to win the game.

This gym session was the first session where both assistant coaches working along side me in this program had the wheel and steered the ship so to speak.  One coach was working with our goalkeeper for the session and the other with the outfield players.  It gave me the chance to stand back and observe the players.

Geeze, there’s just so much to do!  There was no time to sit down and relax.   I spent most of the session trying to collect video footage on my iPad.  I’m collecting that footage so that later I can edit it and find clips of each player doing good things as well as things that need improvement.  Those clips then get uploaded to a site where they are tagged under a category (like attacking body shape) as well as itemized by player.  I can then either pull up those clips to show to the player and/or her parents or I can send the parents an email telling them to look at a clip involving their daughter.

Trying to collect the footage was really difficult.  Many times I ended up recording clips that I erased immediately as not usable.  The next challenge was reviewing each clip and seeing what relevant bits I could pull out.  Then I had to pull out the relevant bits by editing each video clip into shorter clips.  And finally, I had to tag those videos to the program I use to keep track of each player’s individual development.

If only this was all I had to do each day, life would be just about manageable.

Wednesday, November 12th

I think I can say that this was the first session I can remember (since the very first trial we had for selecting the team way back in mid September) that was really not up to snuff.  At the end of the day, I will attribute it partially to the fact that the players did their first back-to-back sessions in a week.  For the two weeks prior we had only one training session per week.

During the session, we did the 2v2 competing for a third week in a row and it’s interesting to note that the overall scores for this week’s competing were lower than the previous two weeks.  Either defending got better or the effort and focus to attack just wasn’t the same. as it had been.  That was one way I’ve justified to myself that this week’s session was at a lower standard than the previous weeks.

I’m sure there could have been other reasons besides the Tuesday-Wednesday commitment to train to explain why it wasn’t a great session.  Oh, and let’s not forget that the players are 12 years old after all.  Most days development with kids this age is like riding the Leviathan roller coaster at Canada’s Wonderland.

What was really nice to see (and I wish I’d kept the pictures) was their attention to detail and efficiency from week 2 to week 3.  During the player meeting last week we’d talked about these two subjects and I told them how important I felt they both were to the pursuit of excellence as a soccer player.  I’d taken a picture during the week 2 Wednesday session of all their water bottles just strewn around the sideline.  I showed it to them after we’d had the meeting and asked them if they felt that represented efficiency and attention to detail.  Sure enough, this past Wednesday they had all their water bottles (and their journals) lined up along the wall.  Seeing the pictures would have been a nice touch…I’m kicking myself now.

Efficiency and attention to detail make a huge difference.  I’m big on efficiency because of the sheer amount of time it takes to create a habit.  Learning is a permanent change and behaviour and to get to that point can require significant opportunities to practice.  You can’t get that if your training environment isn’t efficient with players losing practice time all over the place during sessions.

I’m also very anal about attention to detail, like picking up cones and putting them back in place again after someone has knocked them over or tucking in your shirt during training.  I tell players that becoming the best at something means you’ll be different compared to most people.  Paying attention to such details definitely makes you different than the average person who wouldn’t bother to tend to such minutia.  But then again, that’s my point exactly.  To be the best you need be willing to do the things that most people wouldn’t bother doing.

Next post Saturday, November 20th.


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