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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Four-Corner Development Part One – Technical-Tactical

Last Saturday, I laid out a plan for the next month to describe my coaching philosophy as it relates to the four corner approach used in long-term development of players.  Today is part one and a look at the technical-tactical corner.

The Obvious

At this point you’d probably expect me to talk about my philosophy of soccer.  I’ll oblige.  I tie my philosophy into the principles of play and into the key moments of the game (attack, defend, transition).   What you end up with is something like this:


  • Entertain through positive play
  • High tempo progressive possession
  • Develop the mentality to close out games early


  • Proactive and collective
  • Ball-oriented zonal defending
  • Swarm and smother the opponent


  • The ‘click’ is the switch from offence to defense or vice versa
  • Train the ‘pre-click’ – the ability to click faster than the opponent by learning to read the game better

It’s pretty simple, really.  I like to develop skillful players who have the mindset to want to score lots of goals.  I want the teams I coach to love the ball and to hate the times they are without it.  The possession we have must be progressive.  Therefore, it needs to develop in stages and that development must lead to an attacking third entry at the least, and a goal at the best as the outcome.

As such, the teams I coach should be in the ascension when it comes to possession.  However, the teams I coach do take risks and, as a result, they will lose possession.  I teach the players I coach that being without the ball is like hearing a continuous recording of nails being dragged down a chalkboard.  It’s aggravating and annoying and you want it to stop as soon as possible.


Because the power of many outweighs the power of one, the defending I teach is collective defending.  Kids naturally swarm the ball when they start playing the game (in other words, they’re ball-oriented).  I’ve never understood why we coach that natural instinct out of them.  We tell them to spread out and mark a man that’s in their area and in doing so we diffuse the power of many.  I want the swarm.  I just want it to have a collective level of intelligence when it acts to hunt down and smother the ball.


I think key moments in games happen because of the transition.  The astute players take advantage of those moments and the naive players get punished by those situations.   What makes the difference between the player who is adroit and the player who is obtuse in these matters?  I think it’s the ability to read and react to one’s environment.  We typically train players to learn content.  We don’t train players to be good decision makers.

Events in a game emerge continuously.  Like a car racing video game, you can’t make a decision about what’s coming until you see it coming.  Decision making in soccer is really no different.  Teaching players set patterns to remember is only good when what comes into view needs that pattern.  It may be that it is a variation of the pattern that is required to solve the problem.  Without the flexibility to modify responses, players will only act in the ways that they have been trained to perform.  They’ll make a lot more mistakes because of this and lose the ball more often than they should or lose the opportunity to gain possession more often than they should.

When it comes to transition, I’ve stolen the click habit from Canadian Women’s National team coach John Herdman.  Lord knows, maybe he’s stolen from someone else.  That’s really what being a coach is all about (no sense reinventing the wheel, right?).  So I spend time with the teams I coach teaching them to recognize the moment of transition happening before it happens (the pre-click).   I do that through questions asked of players as they recall specific situations in games and game-like training environments.  Those questions are designed to get them to recognize what their on-field world looks like when we are about to lose the ball or what their world looks like when we are about to gain the ball.

Developing the ability to anticipate is key to dominating the opponent and to successful technical-tactical development.  There endeth the first lesson.

Next post Sunday, November 16th.

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Week 2 of Indoor Training

Training Session – November 5, 2014

This was our second indoor training session and it followed pretty much the same format as the first session from the week before.  We continued with the 2v2 competition.  It’s amazing how much more confident female players tend to be after they are comfortable with the rules and over all structure of an activity.  Males, on the other hand, will have a go whether they understand it all or not.  And girls HAVE to know ALL the rules and conditions for an exercise in advance of starting the exercise.  You introduce them to a new activity and they ask a hundred questions.  5 minutes later you haven’t even started yet because you’re still standing there answering question.  With boys, you can’t even get out enough of the basic rules before they say, “Okay, let’s play!”

We played a larger sided game with the condition of playing the ball into one of two targets positioned in each corner of the field.  Again, I find it amazing that in teaching youth players possession we take away every instinct that they first had to play forward.  The players I am working with now have been conditioned to look laterally or backwards to pass when their first look should be forward.  The problem is that when they were in house league, they didn’t look forward, they just kicked it forward.  So now they’ve been taught to at least possess the ball laterally and backwards but they still haven’t been taught to look forward.  Then again, that’s why we’re focusing on this concept so soon into the start of the program.

Player Meeting – November 6, 2014

I didn’t want to say too much about the training session in order that I might save some room to talk about what I thought was the more interesting of our two events for week 2.  That was a player meeting that we had in order to start to set the tone for the program.

After beginning with a quick intro as to why we were there, I reinforced to the players the importance of taking an active role in their learning.  I actioned them to see if they could come up with questions to ask as we went through each portion of the meeting.  The key message?  Thinking is learning.  When you’re asked a question or you’re coming up with a question to ask, you’re thinking and thinking means you’re taking an active, not a passive, position in your learning.

I also told the girls that I wasn’t interested in what they know but instead in what they think.  Knowing insinuates that there is a “right” answer that I want to hear.  On the other hand, asking them to tell me what they think stipulates that their opinions are far more important and that there is often no such thing as a “right” answer.  And with that said, I also gave them the following disclaimer: that also applies to me and what comes out of my mouth as the head coach.  It may be the “right” way to do it but it’s no more than MY “right” way to do it.

So with that said, we put them to work in small groups – including a group made up of the two assistant coaches.  The players were asked to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you expect of yourselves?
  2. What do you expect of the coaches?

And the coaches had to answer the same questions but related to themselves:

  1. What do you expect of the players?
  2. What do you expect of yourselves?

When it was all done, we compared lists.  It’s amazing how quickly expectations could be summed up into a couple of sentences – one for the players and one for the coaches.  It was nice to see that even though there were eighteen individual players and two coaches that opinions consolidated very quickly into what was most important for the program (more on what that was in a future post).

Next phase was to tie in the expectations that we’d just come up with to some key standards that I wanted to sell the players and assistant coaches on.  Those tenets come from the FC Barcelona Academy:

  1. We must be the more sporting team
  2. We must play the more entertaining brand of soccer
  3. We must strive to win the game

To introduce the first tenet, we watched this video:

That got us talking about how soccer at the highest level had become very ugly because of the importance placed on results.  And being the more sporting team does not mean that you aren’t assertive either.  However, you don’t have to hate your opponent in order to play well against them.  They’re not our enemy.  “They’re a bunch of girls who think about and worry about the same things you do,” I said to the players.  The only difference is that they’re wearing a different colour.  I tried to convince them to look at their opponent as a problem to solve or a challenge to overcome, not an evil enemy to conquer.

We got into the second tenet after watching this video:

The discussion here revolved around playing the game beautifully and as entertainers.  The key point though was that playing the game more beautifully couldn’t come at the expense of being the more sporting team.  The prime example that came up was if we were playing really great soccer and as a result were having a real easy game against our opponent.  To maintain our commitment to being the more sporting team, we wouldn’t attempt to run up the score and we wouldn’t act cocky and disrespectful towards our opponent.

To reinforce the second tenet we also watched this video:

I asked the players a question: Do you think all those guys in the video got that good by doing those things at training sessions?  No was the answer.  They would have practiced them on their own team.  That for me was key because I was able to reinforce the notion of active learning.  I told the girls that while they did learn these things by practicing on their own, where it all started was with a question like, “I wonder what would happen if I kicked the ball like this?” Or, “I wonder if I could teach myself how to do that move?”  The biggest difference between an active learner and a passive one is that the active learner is always curious and always has a burning desire to know more and to want to do more.

We ended the evening with a discussion of the third tenet – striving to win the game.  I told them that we should be trying to win the game.  That, after all, is the reason we play a game – especially one where it says right in the rules that the team that scores more goals shall be declared the winner.  The main takeaway, though, was that winning the game could not come at the expense of playing beautiful or at the expense of being the more sporting team.  I told the players that even when winning wasn’t possible that we always had two other key pieces to look back on and be proud of.  And on the days that we didn’t win nor play beautiful we still could hold our heads up high because of our commitment to being the more sporting team.

At that point we’d run out of time and didn’t get to the last piece of the meeting.  They would work in small groups again and each group would take one of the tenets and come up with all the things that doing that tenet would look like for them.  I gave it to them for homework so I’ll most likely talk about results in next week’s blog.

Next post Saturday, November 15th.

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Holistic Player Development

I remember when I first started coaching how easy it was.  I taught the players how to play soccer.  Shoot, pass and dribble.  How to attack and defend.  It was simple.  And then I went to university and studied sports sciences.  Now, I was trying to teach them about nutrition, mental preparation, injury prevention, strength and conditioning and life skills. All of a sudden the ante was upped.  Because I knew more I felt obligated to share that information with the players I coached.  To knowingly avoid sharing information with players that could have helped them improve would simply have been unethical.  I had no choice, I had to develop players in more than just their ability to play soccer.

Today, there is a name for this approach to development in youth sport.  It’s called the 4-corner approach.  Those four corners are technical/tactical, physical, cognitive and social/emotional.   Developing players in all four corners represents complete coverage for the player as well as the person behind the player.

I didn’t have as much time as I’d wanted in preparing to write this blog for today.  For what it’s worth, I’ll mention that there is some youth sport research out there to support the trend towards developing youth sport participants in this way.  It gets referred to in the literature as positive youth development.  I just wish I could have pulled a few quotes or articles to provide the evidence-based backing that any opinion really needs to make it fact.

And now I do what I can to make explicit all the things that I feel fit into these four corners of development.  There really is so much to include but year by year I get better at boiling it all down into the short and sweet.  Here’s where I’m at with it now.

4-Corner Approach to Development

The first three corners I’ve now gotten down to simple statements that encompass everything that particular corner is all about.  It’s that fourth corner, the social-emotional corner, that I’m still working to do the same.

Over the next four Saturdays, I’ll write about each of these four corners and discuss how I see the development of youth soccer players (and youth athletes in general) occurring.

Next post Sunday, November 9th.

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Week 1 of Indoor Training

Training Session – October 29, 2014

The 2002 girls that I am coaching have now moved from trials to the initial portion of indoor training for the months of November and December.  There are still some final selections to be made in order to fill the last few remaining spots on the team.  With that said, we’ll get started with the training and development of these girls within the program.

Smiling and Sweating

Most of these players will now have been playing soccer for a good portion of 2014.  This time of year should really represents their off season and so it should be a chance to regenerate.  For that reason, we’re taking the first two months as lightly as possible.  We have two sessions per week leading up to Christmas.  The goal for these sessions is to ensure that players leave the field both smiling and sweating.

We’re using small-sided games of 1 against 1, 2 against 2, 3 against 3 and 4 against 4.  Why?  Because games are fun.  It gets players smiling.  I’m making sure that the games we choose for this training period also have conditions that keep that activity as continuous as possible.  I want as little standing around once the games start as I can get.  So there is a slight fitness component to it.  This is the sweating part.

There are specific rest periods that we have within games and between games.  This is the opportunity for players to hydrate and for coaches to deliver any messages they would like to deliver.  While the game is on, there are no stoppages by the coaches.

Collecting Data

For the first session, I chose a 2v2 and a 4v4 game that put the emphasis on passing and dribbling to play forward and attack.  This was supported by a warm-up that highlighted the development of dribbling and passing.

The 2v2 we will do for a number of weeks.  In each round of the game, players are randomly paired together and are randomly pitted against another pair.  They play for 2 minutes and when a ball is kicked out of bounds, the player that last touched it must retrieve it and place the ball in a specific location.  This creates a temporary 2v1 situation that changes the dynamics of the activity and gives the players different problems to solve – just like the regular 11-a-side game does.

At the end of the game I record the scores; 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss.  Also, each goal is worth a point.  At the end of the session I create a score for each player based on how many wins, ties and losses she had (plus goals for that her teams scored each game).  I can then look at the individual scores of each player to see who has scored the most points and who has scored the least points.  Observing this after just one session gives you an initial idea of who are the most adaptable and dominant players in this type of situation but the real strength will be in repeating this exercise multiple times and creating a long-term score for players.

I am collecting this data and will use it to help discuss with each player their individual development.  Each player will get an individual performance plan (IPP).  The more evidence I can collect and curate on behalf of the players, the better.  When I sit down for regular conferences with each player and her parents, I can reference this data.

I decided that I’d also collect heart rates.  We got the girls to take their heart rates at the beginning of the session, after warm-up, after the 2v2, after the 4v4 and after the cool-down.  I’ll plot those numbers on a graph and I’ll have the girls look at it next session to see what they can see.  I also left them with a question to answer for the next session.  They could see that each player’s heart rate fluctuated between other members and between activities.  I asked them to see if they could find reasons for why heart rate tends to vary.

Summing Up

The session flew by.  Over all, I thought it went well (being the first one and all).  I felt that a stumbling point was organization of the space.  There was some down time where cones had to be added or subtracted and so that slowed proceedings on a couple of occasions.  Really, it wasn’t that bad but what can I say, I’m picky and I’m demanding of myself.  I want to make it better for next time.

I believe the smiling and sweating theme was achieved.  The response from a number of the players when we called them in for cool-down was, “It’s over already?”  I figure that’s a pretty close equivalent to smiling.  And the structure of the activities had led them towards hard work so the sweating part was pretty good too (not withstanding what I’d said about organizational restrictions slowing things down).

We’ll keep this format for a few sessions and so that will help speed up proceedings since the players will be familiar with it and will be able to swing right into play mode from comprehension mode.

Parent and Player Meeting – October 30, 2014

The night after our first training session, I held a parent and player meeting.  It was an opportunity for both selected and still-on-the-bubble players and parents to hear about the technical direction of this program moving forward.

I think it would have been fair to say that it was an important opportunity for me to get off on the right foot (or to get back on the right foot).  It was the first real chance for the parents to get to know me as someone other than that guy over there running the trials.  And it was a further opportunity to explicitly show to the players what I am about as a coach.

I’m happy with the outcome.  Attendance was excellent.  Questions were good.  The atmosphere did feel optimistic.  The most difficult question, the one that still occupies space and time in my brain today, was about the players playing more than one sport during the season.  Such a challenging question.  Getting 13-year-olds to make the commitment that these girls are being asked to make even makes me think and re-think the whole thing.

At the end of the day, what is being asked of these girls is within current evidence-based acceptable limits and best practices.  However, the people that put the ink to paper to say that this is appropriate still don’t take into account all the details.  They only think about the actual activity itself.

They don’t think that even though the training or competition itself may be okay, there is still a couple of hours of time lost in traveling to and from the venue – especially in a very large city like the one where we conduct this program.  Even if the weekly family schedule shows that there are still time slots available to do other things, it’s not necessarily practical when so much time and energy is expended in just getting to the session let alone doing the actual session.  Burn out isn’t just about the activity itself, it’s about all the time that is invested into that activity.

Oh, it’s so very complex.  All I know is that I’ll need to manage it on a player by player basis.  The statement don’t be a child’s last coach rings loud and clear in my head.  And yet at the same point, sometimes the only natural way to realize that you don’t want to make this sort of a committed effort is to make the committed effort and find that out.

In that case, I may be a child’s last coach but in that case I may have also done them a favour by helping them to learn that.  If these players quit this program, I want it to be on their own terms.  I want it to be because they’ve made the decision that it’s not for them.  I don’t want them to quit because they feel they weren’t in control or that they didn’t like what was being done.

Helping these players to understand high performance soccer’s role in their young lives will be my job for the next 12 months.

Next post Saturday, November 8th.

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Learning about Learning

Brain science and learning theory is very cool.  I think we’ve learned as much about both in the last decade as we’ve learned in the fifty years prior to that.  I’m amazed at how my own life has changed since studying these topics.  Now I do what I can to pass this on to players and coaches alike.

3 of My Favourite Things

There are numerous lessons in learning how to learn.  I wanted to share three of my favourites.  Learning is

  1. Situational
  2. Constructed
  3. Social
Location, Location, Location

Learning for you and learning for me is different.  We’re both a product of our environments and because no two people experience the exact same environments, then each of us is destined to learn based on the environments that we experience.  Take, as an example, December 25th.  Depending where in the world you live, December 25th may be just another day or it may be Christmas Day.  Either way, how you interpret that day impacts what you’ve learned previously and what you will continue to learn.  The learning that you do depends on your specific situation.

Building Meaning

antenna on his headThe long held belief has been that our brains learn things by transmission.  That is, our brains are receptacles that we can pour knowledge into.  It’s a very passive view of learning.  One where learning is as simple as a teacher or coach talking or lecturing you on what to do when.


Now, I’d say what we know about learning can be likened to decorating a Christmas tree Broken Ornaments(staying with the holiday theme and all).  Our brain is like the tree.  The new pieces of information are the ornaments.  You cannot just take a box of ornaments and dump them over top of the tree.  Most of them would end up smashed and broken on the floor.  Any those that did manage to stay on the tree would have done so by complete accident, not by design.

Instead, the process of decorating is a thoughtful one.  We take each ornament and after studying the tree, decide where best to put it.  We may even come back to an ornament that we’ve already hung and decide we’d like to move it somewhere else.  Learning then, is an active process where every new piece of information needs to be built into what we already know, understand and believe.

When a person challenges what you think, that’s like someone telling you that he or she doesn’t agree with where you’ve placed a decoration on your tree.  You’ve got to decide if you agree with that person’s opinion.  Like right now, for example, you’re probably thinking about what I’ve just written here and you’re currently deciding whether or not you agree with me.  I’ve challenged the way you’ve decorated your Christmas tree and now you’re trying to decide if you can see yourself moving the ornament to a new place on the tree.

Thinking then is learning and learning involves thinking.  It’s why the transmission model doesn’t work very well.  It’s why learning is seen as an active and not a passive process. Meaning is constructed.

The Learning Social Club

Because we can have our beliefs challenged and that forces us to rethink what we know, it goes without saying that learning is a very social process.  First of all, it’s that interaction between people, that dialogue that allows us to adapt and evolve our own thinking and learning.  Second, the group is ultimately more intelligent than any single person that’s in it.  We need to continue to hone our own skills in leveraging the power of the group.  For many of us of a certain age, that’s a real challenge as it does not represent the way we were taught how to learn growing up.  Learning is social.

When you take just these three things into account, it does change your perspective on how we do learn.  It should also empower us to take advantage of this new knowledge and improve ourselves, in doing so, inspiring others to change too.  Learning about learning is very cool.

Next post Sunday, November 2nd.

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Day 9 of Trials

Wrapping up on a Positive Note

For the last day of scheduled trials with the 2002’s, I decided to try to get us back to the all out attacking that we’d done so well from trial #6.  We divided our game portion into ten minute quarters.

At the end of the first quarter I talked to the players about some stats that I had tracked (shots on goal and attacking third entries).  One team had dominated in both stats and also led on the score board 2-1. The message heading into the second quarter was for both teams to try and increase those numbers all around.

At the end of the second quarter the discussion was about why neither team had been able to really increase their numbers from the first quarter.  The common conclusion made by the players was that because both teams knew the other was trying to attack more, they defended with more commitment and intensity.  The second quarter was definitely faster albeit scoreless.  I think the players came up with a good explanation as to what had happened.

At the end of the third quarter, the team winning managed to get another goal to make it 3-1.  Their stats were definitely superior to the losing team’s as well.  The losing team had definitely been struggling but when asked if they’d felt they were trying to do new and different things to break their slump they replied that they were.  I told them that since they were already losing, what did it matter if they lost by a couple more goals.  A loss was a loss and they might as well go for it.

We talked about the need to get players moving forward and I hinted that where that really needed to happen was with the defenders.  I asked them to picture how they envisioned this to happen and the suggestion that came back was overlaps.

Interestingly enough, the main way the defenders aided the attack was by pinching into the opponent’s end to help win the ball back and keep the pressure on.  They’d done a fantastic job of it, winning that quarter on attacking third entries, shots on goal and goal attempts (one I had to add just for that quarter because there were a few shots blocked and shots that missed the net).

However, the team that was trailing but playing so well in that final quarter also got a taste of how cruel soccer can be.  After dominating that quarter, the game ended with them giving up a fourth goal.  They got caught going forward and the team already ahead on the scoresheet caught them on the counter attack.  It was very smart attacking because obviously at the previous quarter time break, they had listened to me talking to the losing team about taking more chances and committing more players to the attack.

It was a very nice way to end the trials.  The winning team had really put on a decent show on attacking and goal scoring while the losing team had improved from the first quarter to the last.  I told the losing team I was happy with that as an outcome because there were going to be games for us down the road that we weren’t going to win and it was always nice to know that we could look at other things to help us recognize the growth and learning that was occurring.

Next post Saturday, November 1st.

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Getting Personal with Player Learning

This Learning is for you

Educational researcher Benjamin Bloom believed that any student could be proficient at any subject (assuming they had the fundamentals already in place) if given quality instruction and enough time.  His approach became part of what we now call mastery or competency-based education.  In my coaching, have I given enough time to each and everyone of my players to become proficient at various skills? No, absolutely not.  As I’d said in last Saturday’s post, I’ve coached to the middle – when a good portion of the players have appeared to become competent at the activity then that’s enough time spent on that and it’s time to move on to something else.  But there’s still a portion that probably haven’t gotten it yet and, worse, there’s most definitely a portion that probably already could do those things before we even started.

And the quality instruction?  Well, I shouldn’t even try and flatter myself with that one.  But what is quality instruction anyway?  If it is seen through the variable of time then a part of quality instruction is giving each player enough time to work on the things that they need to improve.  That leads to the idea that quality instruction is all about personalized learning.  Personalized learning, in education is both individualizing and differentiating instruction for students.  To individualize instruction you work on the things that that student, or in this case player, needs to specifically work on.  When you differentiate instruction you present content to the learners in ways that are most meaningful and appropriate for them.

So personalized instruction is what quality instruction is all about.  It’s a long way from what I’ve been pretending to do in my coaching career.  That, however, is about to change.  For this coming season, I’m embarking on a huge project where I’ll set out to personalize the learning experience for each of the 35 (yep, 35) players that I will be coaching over the next twelve months.  Boy, I never do anything small.

Individual Performance Plans

So to kick this whole process off, we’re starting with a questionnaire for the players to fill out.  It’s approximately 30 items, some as simple and innocent as their favourite type of pizza and others a little more innately telling like who has been your favourite teacher/coach and why.  Many of the questions will give me some background on each player’s cognitive/learning abilities and social-emotional characteristics.  This will compliment what I’ve learned about their technical-tactical and physical capabilities through the trials.

That will then put me in a position to sit down with each player and her parents for an initial conference.  In these meetings I can finalize details about the first draft of individual performance plans (IPP’s) for each of the players.  This would include identifying targets for each player to attain weekly and monthly over the season.

From there, I have two very capable assistant coaches who will be able to lead most of the training which allows me to then pay close attention to individual players during training in order to provide them with my perspective on how I feel their work towards their IPP targets is coming.  My hope is to try and document as much of this perspective as possible using an iPad camera.

I can then start to accumulate evidence on each player – both showing improvements and areas still needing improvement.  Each player’s evidence I can then put into a digital portfolio which, the next time I sit down to conference with the player and her parents, I can share with them.  That round of meetings will lead to further iterations of each player’s current targets, the establishment of new targets and, of course, the celebration of completed targets.

Then rinse and repeat for the remainder of the season.

Sounds easy, right?  We shall see…stay tuned!

Next post Sunday, October 26th.

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