Coach Kids and Save the World

This past Wednesday was Earth Day.  It was the forty-fifth anniversary of the event.  In speaking about some factual differences between 1970 and 2015, I heard a journalist on CBC Radio comment that in that time the population has doubled and the number of species of plants and animals has dropped by half.  But what really caught my attention was his story ending statement, something akin to the following:

“It’s not a matter of whether the planet will go on.  It will.  The question is how long will plants and animals be able to survive.”

A bit dramatic?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

This immediately made me think about the way I deliver the two high performance girls’ soccer programs I’ve been hired to coach.  As silly as it may sound, I feel that my coaching duties tie completely into our future as it pertains to the mission of Earth Day.  That statement from the journalist haunts me.  It reminds me of why I contemplated ever having kids (even though now I do have one and another soon to arrive).  Prior to becoming a father, and even still now, all I could think about is the legacy I’d be leaving my child.  “Here you go son, enjoy the plight I’ve left for you!”  I never thought it fair to bring another person into this world only to have him or her deal with all the crap that was created by the rest of us.

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” – John Scully

So over the years I’ve done what I can to teach the kids I coach to take an active role in their learning.  To become critical thinkers.  To develop the skills necessary to become adaptable and flexible.  To go beyond the simple X’s and O’s of being good soccer players.

Often times though that might look a lot less traditional than the typical youth soccer environment that kids and their parents are used to.  I feel this only proves my point.  We’re not very adaptable to change and we’re passing that lack of flexibility on to our children.

How do I know that the parents of the players I work with have a problem with what I’m doing?  I don’t really but I’m pretty certain they exist.  Some are very supportive and they let me know that.  However, those that aren’t never seem to speak directly to me about their concerns.  Instead, the technical director of the club that I work for seems to get fairly regular calls from some of these people asking why it is I’m doing things the way I do them.

I think it’s pretty obvious why I do what I do.

Do we not yet see that it’s about far more than learning soccer?  With all the melodrama of a great blog post, our very future is at stake here and kids growing up today in the 21st century need a set of skills that growing up I (and probably my parents and their parents…) did not get, but could have certainly benefitted from.  If we did, we’d probably have a healthier planet than we currently do.

21st century kids need to be able to show the following:

  1. Resilience – able to handle and bounce back from failure
  2. Resourcefulness – able to adapt and to have a Plan B (C, D, E or Z)  if Plan A goes out the window
  3. Reflection – able to self-analyze and to understand how who they were can help them become a better future version of themselves
  4. Relationships – able to see that the group is far smarter than any one individual within the group and therefore committed to the group

Sure, I can take a traditional approach to coaching and just teach these kids how to play soccer.  Or I can do my part to help them learn a set of skills (which manifest themselves in the form of the 4 R’s, for example) that will not only help them become better soccer players but also autonomous and responsible 21st century citizens.  Adults capable of solving the serious problems that we’ve put in their laps.

Why do I choose to be a heretic?  Well, I don’t think I can change the world but I can help prepare today’s kids (including my own) with the skills necessary to do their best to change it.  I don’t believe that education is the sole responsibility of schools and teachers.  I am far more than just a “soccer coach.”  So I will do my part in the best way I know how to try and reverse the mess that we’ve so unceremoniously left for the current, and the coming, generations.

Next post Sunday, April 26th.

And here are 11 more great Earth Day talks.

http://blog.ted.com/12-talks-to-watch-this-earth-day/

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Week 22 of Indoor Training: Preparing and Following the Game Plan

Last weekend, the two high performance soccer teams I’m coaching took part in a team building camp.  We’d put a fair amount of time that weekend into mental preparation and showing them how a pre-game and in-game routine are important for them to have.  We also tried to show the players the importance of having a game plan.

A game plan gives each player something personal to focus on and work towards.  Just thinking about winning and losing alone doesn’t really help you avoid losing or achieve winning.  Often times, it does just the opposite.  It can get a player worked up in such a way that she or he becomes a dud to the team.  Or thinking about the score can rob a player of BELIEF and CONFIDENCE.

The whole point of a game plan is to get away from looking at the score or looking at the opponent, on paper, and deciding that day whether we think we’re going to win, lose or draw.

Stick to the plan!

It’s as simple as that.  That is where I want the players’ to focus.  Then it is their pre-game and in-game routines that allow them to keep their concentration on the plan and away from distractions that could pull them from their best performances that day.

It comes down to control and getting the players (any of us for that matter) to recognize what they can and cannot control.  When you realize just how little you can control, it can be a little depressing I suppose.  Maybe you’re the optimist type though and see that realization as liberating (“Look at the small list of things I can control, I can do that!”).  When they start worrying about the opponent or the weather or the field conditions or the referee or something someone says to them in the game then they’re not recognizing what they can’t control and letting distractions pull them from the game plan.

The only thing they can control is themselves and how hard they work – even how well they play can sometimes not be completely in their own hands.  So the game plan becomes both a tactical tool and a psychological tool.  It’s a tactical tool because it lays out roles and responsibilities for the game.  It helps to promote UNDERSTANDING within and between players.  It’s a psychological tool because it gives the players a tangible and concrete item on which to keep their attention (“I’m supposed to be thinking about the plan!”).

Right now, when I put together a game plan, it has a few key components.  There’s the starting line-up and substitutes.  There’s the key team goals that I’d like them to concentrate on.  Some of these are the same each game and some change depending on the game and/or what we are working on in training.  There’s unit goals where players focus on the goals of the particular line of players of which they are a part (like the forwards or the midfielders or the forwards and midfielders working together).  And then there are positional and individual goals.  I can give each player role-specific goals for the particular position she is playing that day.  Currently, I ask each player to come up with her own individual goal for that day.  They each have an Individual Performance Plan with goals that they are working towards so I encourage them to bring those into the games if at all possible.

Once the plan has been reviewed, it’s our pre-game preparations that then lead the players to develop the BELIEF, CONFIDENCE and UNDERSTANDING needed in order to work together to carry out the game plan.  And during the game, it’s the in-game routine that helps them stick to the plan or get back on track with the plan when they’ve lost their focus.  It’s the BELIEF, CONFIDENCE and UNDERSTANDING that are key though.  Together the psychological routines and the game plan work to help build those elements to their maximum.

In doing so, it doesn’t matter who we play or how good they are.  We go out and follow our game plan.  If we do that then we are successful, regardless of the score.  If we do that game in and game out, then we have also developed performance consistency – another key developmental learning objective that youth high performance players must master.  Again, the psychological preparations, not the physical or the technical or the tactical, are the key to developing consistency.  They are the means by which the players can look at all the work they’ve done physically and technically and tactically in training and feel BELIEF, CONFIDENCE and UNDERSTANDING in themselves and in each other.

Of course a concrete game plan to follow just by itself does not mean we have kept perception and subjective opinion out of the final evaluation of whether or not we were successful on any given game day.  In order to make a concrete judgment on whether or not we achieved the team, unit or individual goals, we need concrete measures to show their presence (or lack thereof) during games.

So my assistant coaches and I take stats that tie into the goals in the game plan that we are pursuing that day.  Those statistics provide us with something objective to gauge our performance by.  Of course, as I always mention to the players, a number is just a number.  It still needs words to define it and make sense of it relative to the game plan.  That’s where a good post-game debrief and self-analysis come in.

This is the final part of the players’ game day routine.  At the end of the game, and during cool-down, we look at the stats and talk about them relative to the game plan.  Then the players have a series of questions to ask themselves which they can do on the car ride home (since for some that car ride can be up to an hour).  In doing so, they’ve reviewed their performance that day – the good bits to continue and the gaps they want to improve next time around.  They come to the next training session or the next game with a to-do list based on their analysis of themselves.

This process persists.  Training themes are composed and game plans are designed as we continue to help the players seek the ability to control their performance consistency as simply as flicking on a light switch.  Showing them that playing their best (and avoiding their worst performance) is all about proper physical, technical, tactical AND psychological preparation is what they need in order to help them climb the ladder both on and off the field.

Next post Saturday, April 25th.

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Teaching Players to Self-Assess (Coaches Too!)

One of the elements that I’ve toiled to instil in the two high performance youth soccer teams that I’m currently coaching is competitiveness.  For almost four months now we’ve been working to get them to compete against each other the way they would against an opponent – an easy thing to do in theory but a hard thing to do in practice.

In order to try and get the players to be more mindful of their work ethic and intensity, we started doing exit slips at the end of practice.  An exit slip, from the world of education, is a formative method of assessing learner progress.  I can ask some sort of question, the players record their response on the slip and the review of their answers gives me an idea of where they are at in their learning and performance.

For a few months now at the end of the first session of the week we ask the players to complete the process of and exit slip.  They’re asked to record two scores.  The first score is for themselves (on a scale of 1 to 10).  The second score is for their group that they are part of that night (again, on a scale of 1 to 10).  They are asked to judge their willingness to train with their whole heart and an above average effort – 10 being the best of that and 1 being the worst.

I then report back to the players what the average individual score and the average group score was.  The coaches also provide their overall score.  Therefore we get to see, on average, what the individual thought of her training relative to her group.  Typically, she has felt that on average she is not quite as strong as her group.  We also get to see how the coaches compare to the players when scoring the overall group.  In general, the coach’s scores are as much as one full number below the players.

The lowest score the coaches have, on average, given the entire group has been a 6.3.  The highest score we have given, on average, is about 7.5.  The players, on the other hand have scored their groups, on average, as low as a 7.5 and as high as an 8.

While over time the players and coaches were starting to get a little closer to each other in score, one of the assistant coaches in the program said that maybe the players really don’t know what a 9 out of 10 looks like.  Maybe we hadn’t done enough yet to give them the information they need to answer those two questions effectively.

And so with that, the assistant coaches set to work on creating a project to help the players become more familiar with what exactly a soccer player giving her whole heart and an above average effort looks like.

They gave the players a bunch of actions statements – things that describe what a soccer player might do to represent a 9 out of 10 – and asked to select the ones that they felt were most pertinent.  These statements were diverse referring to all four corners of development (technical-tactical, physical, cognitive and social-emotional).

The assistant coaches then worked to see if from the most popular choices they could create an acronym – something that would be easy to say and remember.  They came up with PACED.

  • P=Pressure and refers to all things proactive in defending.  When you don’t have the ball, go and get it back as quickly as you can.
  • A=Attentive and refers to the player taking an active role in her learning and being engaged in her training.
  • C=Competitive and refers to players practicing the way they want to play, competing against each other in practice as if they were opponents.
  • E=Efficient and refers to the player not waisting a single second of time during training. Wasted time is learning lost.
  • D=Demanding and refers to all things attacking, the player wanting the ball – even when under pressure – and willing to take risks with it to do something exciting and entertaining.

We’ve been using it now for just a couple of weeks.  I was driving to training one night a few weeks ago and was thinking about my own performance in coaching the players.  How was I making sure that I was my own 9 out of 10 in my efforts?  I’d realized that I should have some way of assessing myself.  So as I drove, I came up with my own version of PACED.

  • P=Passionate and refers to my love and energy for the game feeding the players’ love and energy.
  • A=Attentive and refers to my ability to both narrow my focus to the players I am coaching but also broaden my attention to be aware of what is going on around me.  I am, after all, coaching two teams and there are times where five of us (coaches) are working with 34 players.  I have to be able to both broaden and narrow my focus to keep a handle on all that is going on.
  • C=Compassionate and refers to my ability to have patience and understanding with the players.  It also refers to my ability to do the same with coaches too.
  • E=Efficient and refers to my use of instructional styles and methods.  I need to be spot on with the delivery of content using the right style and methodology at that point in time in order to maximize player development.
  • D=Demanding and refers to me honouring high standards and holding the players accountable to those standards.

Now, as a drive to each session, I think about the coach’s PACED and visualize what I will do for each letter in order to provide coaching that is above average and done with my whole heart.  At the end of each session, I score myself out of five (one point for my performance under each letter).

It provides me with a way of objectifying my performance for each coaching session.  It takes me beyond the level of, “Well, I think I had a good session today” to something a bit more concrete and tangible.  If I’m asking the players to do this for themselves shouldn’t I be doing it to?

Next post Sunday, April 19th.

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Week 21 of Indoor Training: Teaching Athletes Mental Skills Part Two

Yesterday, I started sharing the process and content I’ve been going through this weekend to start developing the mental skills of the developing high performance soccer players I coach.  With our first classroom session at this weekend’s team building camp, I’d introduced the game plan and the vision for what that should look like.  In the second classroom session we introduced the value of setting goals as part of a good game plan and having stats/metrics to measure those goals.  In the third and final classroom session, I introduced competition routines as an important aspect of sticking to (or getting back to) the game plan.  They were presented with the following information as an introduction.

1. Pre-game routine – combined with the physical warm-up, this includes a proper psychological warm-up and an appropriate before kick-off focus. Through this routine you are attempting to do three things:
a. You want to strengthen the feelings of being prepared in order to solidify your CONFIDENCE in your preparation and in yourself.
b. You want to avoid the intrusion of self-defeating thoughts. They can raise the level of worry, lower CONFIDENCE or interfere with a good game focus thereby hindering your performance. You need to hold your attention away from worry and channel it into doing you the most good.
c. You want to help yourself enter into a more desirable pre-game feeling-state, activation level and focus to set the stage for a superior performance.

SKILLS: Positive self-talk, concentration (i.e., width and direction), locust of control (i.e., parking/treeing), activation (i.e., relaxing or energizing), imagery.

2. Game routine – there are three components that make up this routine:
a. Event focus – How can you best focus your attention during the game?
b. Event refocus – What can you do to get back on track if your focus drifts?
c. Extending limits – Is your ability to mobilize all your energy and resources during the most demanding parts of the game.

SKILLS: Positive self-talk, concentration (i.e., width and direction), locust of control (i.e., parking/treeing), activation (i.e., relaxing or energizing), imagery.

3. Post-game routine – Taking the time to reflect and self-assess providing constructive criticism to your own performance. It is composed of answering the following questions and looking for strengths and weaknesses to compare and contrast:
a. How was my technical execution? Tactical decision making? Physical (speed, strength and endurance)? Social interactions? Emotional control?
b. How was my work rate/effort?
c. How well did my focus before the event work? During the event? How well did I refocus?
d. What individual goals did I achieve? What positional goals? What group goals? What team goals? (Also, note what goals for each of these you did not achieve)
e. What did the coaches say regarding my/our performance? What did other players say?
f. What will I do differently for next game?
g. What should I do in preparation for the next game?

SKILLS: Reflection, critiquing, journaling.

With the routines introduced, we were able to give the players a chance to talk about and practice some of the actual mental skills that they would carry out during those routines.  Earlier in the week, I’d asked them to think about and write down the details of their best ever performance as an athlete and their worst ever performance as an athlete.  I asked them to think about why their best was their best and their worst was their worst.  During this final classroom session, we used their examples to identify what routine (pre-game, in-game or post-game) was the target) and what skill they did (or needed to do).

A number of the girls had already found ways to use mental skills even though nobody had ever set them down and said, “Okay, this is visualization or relaxation or positive self-talk and this is how you do it.”

We didn’t get as much time to practice the skills I’d I’ve have liked.  We’ve got exhibition games coming up over the next few weeks so we’ll be able to build them into those but the players still need a few opportunities to experiment with the skills before they actually try experimenting with them in a game.

I’m going to put together a mental skills training guide and video for them that they’ll be able to use.  I’ll see if I can get that done to share in next week’s blog.

Next post Saturday, April 18th.

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Teaching Youth Athletes Mental Skills – Part One

This weekend the two high performance girls’ soccer teams I am coaching are taking part in a team building camp along with their respective boys’ teams from the same club. It’s two-and-a-half days of on field, classroom and social activities.  For me, it’s an opportunity to delve even further into the holistic development of these players.

We’re four weeks away from the start of the season. We’ve spent a great deal of time working on the physical, technical and tactical.  We’re about to start some exhibition games and then a season and we’ve not really done anything to ensure that these players are mentally prepared to play their best in games.  This weekend then was the perfect opportunity to introduce to the players the outline of a standard game plan and the mental skills necessary to stay focused on the plan.

Today I started by introducing the notion that training your mind is as important as (even more important) than training your body.  Your muscles are slaves to your brain. Whatever your brain says, your body hears.  If you want to perform your best on any given day, you must be in control of your mind and what it thinks about (more importantly what not to think about).

Having a game plan is an important part of being able to control the thoughts and feelings that go on within your mind.  If you stick to the game plan, you have the greatest chance of success both individually and as a team.  Then I spent the rest of our first classroom session laying out a vision of what our game plan would look like and include.

When we play a game, what do we do?

Shock and awe: “(Technically known as rapid dominance) is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power, dominant battlespace awareness and maneuvers, and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.” – Wikipedia.  Rapid dominance: (i.e., dominant soccer) is a culture in which the players and the team operate with the UNDERSTANDING and CONFIDENCE that they have the power to CONTROL the opponent, both when IN POSSESSION of the ball and when OUT OF POSSESSION.  IN POSSESSION we CONTROL the ball (i.e., strangulation by triangulation) and OUT OF POSSESSION we CONTROL the space/field (i.e., squeeze and smother).  It is a culture in which the players and the team BELIEVE that their approach will yield the most favourable results possible regardless of the opponent.
2 & 2 promise: We promise to score two goals a game AND we promise not to lose two games in a row.
Immediate Response: If our opponent has done something good on the attack against us (i.e., created a goal scoring opportunity, took a shot, scored a goal) then we need an equal and immediate response.  As quick as we can, we hit them back with a goal scoring opportunity, a shot or a goal.
4-Goal Dignity Rule: At the point of a four-goal differential in the score, the game is practically over – we’re either going to win or we’re going to lose.  If we’re winning we find other ways to honour our philosophy of playing attacking, entertaining soccer while maintaining our opponent’s dignity. No more goals need purposefully be scored.  If we’re going to lose than we do so with dignity and go down fighting to the end.

How do we do it?

Goal setting – Overall team goals, offensive/defensive goals, positional goals and individual goals.
Statistics – Goals, shots, final quarter entries, possession/passes (attacking); location of ball won (defending).
Pre-Game Routine – To build CONFIDENCE and BELIEF by learning to control pre-game feelings and focus.
Game Routine – To maintain CONFIDENCE and BELIEF lost by learning to control focus within the game.
Re-focusing Routine – A type of game routine designed to deal constructively with distractions and to turn things around when they start going wrong at any point.
Post-Game Routine – To ensure standards are maintained consistently game to game throughout the season (i.e., quality control).
Communication plan – To build and maintain UNDERSTANDING by opening channels of communication and improving team harmony.

Today, we will be going into more detail on the when we play a game what do we do and how do we do it.  I’ll also spend some time with them reviewing some of the mental skills that they can use in order to help them with their belief and confidence.

I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

Next post Sunday, April 12th.

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Week 20 of Indoor Training: Measuring and Using Heart Rate

Last Sunday I was speaking about the need to put together a fitness program for any of the players on the two teams I’m currently coaching – in particular the younger of the two teams.  I was going to talk today about how I was introducing that whole program which started this past week in training.

Asking 12-year-old girls to get more fit seems a little odd to me and yet here I am asking just that.  I really want to play every player equally. It’s much easier to do that when you know all the players you have are fit enough to play intensely for the entire game without needing numerous substitutions.  Right now, I don’t have that.  I have some players that could maintain their intensity throughout the ninety minutes and I have some that would struggle to finish the game as strong as they started it.

So because I want to play every player as equally as I can and because I’m committed to trying to help each of the players I coach develop individually, I’m working with the two teams to learn a new trick they can use in the process of developing their endurance.

It’s interesting to note that working out could, as a matter of fact, be a waste of time. You could actually get into your athletic gear, hit the gym, do your routine, get showered and head out thinking you’ve “worked out” when actually you’ve not trained at an intensity high enough to stress your system to adapt.

Stress forces your body to change. To get stronger to be able to endure that stress the next time and not find it as, well, stressful. A good workout program then ensures that the stress continues to incrementally creep upwards, forcing the body to get stronger along with it. The problem arises when the intensity you are working at doesn’t actually stress your body enough to change.

So how does the average person, outside of a sport science lab, know if how hard you are working is hard enough?

While it’s not overly scientific, noting your heart rate is probably the best and easiest way for any of us to understand our intensity of effort.  Now I’m not certain about the validity of using young adolescent heart rates to judge intensity but we are giving it a go for what it’s worth.

Understanding how to use one’s heart rate to gauge effort I learned in my very first year of university.  I think it’s something that’s still being taught to kinesiology and human kinetics students twenty years later as well.  What I learned was the Karvonen Method and it is a way of calculating one’s target heart rate for exercise. That is, the target range of heart rate for aerobic exercise that needs to be reached in order to actually benefit from that exercise. The formula looks like this:

((MHR-RHR)*Intensity)+RHR

Where MHR is maximum heart rate (usually calculated by subtracting one’s age from 220) and where RHR is resting heart rate (usually calculated by counting one’s pulse for 60 seconds when well rested). Intensity is the desired intensity of the exercise to be undertaken, typically something between 50% and 85% of one’s maximum intensity. After you get those numbers, it’s just a matter of plugging them into the formula and doing the math in order to get your own personal target heart rate for the intensity of exercise you want to complete.

As I said, resting heart rate is counted when well rested. You are no more well rested than when you first wake up.  When I was playing and training in my 20’s I used to take my resting heart rate first thing when I woke up every morning.  Over time, not only was it consistent to within one to three beats, the days that it was highly elevated I knew meant I might be getting sick.  For me at least, and I think in general for all of us, when we are stressed we can experience a higher resting heart rate.

So during the previous mid-week session, I got both teams to copy down the content in this document.

Resting Heart Rate Experiment

Starting Thursday morning, they were to record their resting heart rate for seven days. They were also to record their health (I feel healthy, I feel sick, I feel so-so) and their level of fatigue (I feel rested, I feel tired, I feel so-so). Come the mid-week session this week, the plan was to review their data and move on to the next step – which was showing them how to use the Karvonen Method.

Unfortunately, I found out yesterday that I do not have a mid-week session for the two teams this week (nice to know these things well in advance, eh?).  So I think what I will try to do is set up a webinar for each of the two teams, get them to check in from home with me for an hour and take each team through the process to make sure they know how to calculate their target heart rate.

There other option is to do a video, send them a link and hope that they all complete it.  More importantly, if they struggle to understand how to use the formula to figure out their own target heart rate then I can’t really help them in an asynchronous video.  With the webinar, I can take questions as they come up which then might also be helpful for the other players on the webinar too.  We’ll see.

Once they have that ability to calculate their target heart rate for various intensities, they can use it to manage their at-home fitness program (if they have one) as well as they can use it just in regular training sessions. We can stop them at any point, have them take their heart rate and then know immediately for each player relative to the type of activity that we are doing whether or not the players are giving what they need to give at that moment.

It’s not state-of-the-art heart rate monitoring like you see with the pros but it’s the best we can do. I’m still excited to deliver the content and see where it takes us.

Next weekend’s posts are all about sport psychology.  Can’t wait!

Next post Saturday, April 11th.

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Manifesto of a Heretic Coach

Once in a while it’s good to remind yourself what you’re about.  Each week I get so focused trying to write posts that I’d forgotten about my own Manifesto.  Reading it again clarified things for me.  It reminded me why I do what I do.  With that, I present the Heretic Coach Manifesto.  Which can also be found here on the website.

1. It is not about being right; it is about doing what is right even when what is right is not popular, the norm or traditional. Too many adults, for their own egos, need to be right and therefore stand in the way of the positive evolution of youth sport.

2. Developmentally appropriate practices are the right things to do for youth sport. Development must supersede winning. Performance must trump outcome. Excellence must be the foundation of success. Effort and hard work must support them all.

3. The saying “the customer is always right” is not at all accurate in youth sport and is in fact dangerous if made into an edict. All parents want the best for their children, however in youth sport, they rarely know what that is. They do not understand developmentally appropriate practices. Money does talk. Persuaded by their cheque books, youth sport organizations have given parents what they want at the expense of the long-term development of the participants. Therefore, the youth sport customer is not always right (see #1).

4. It is the developmentally focused technical leader that must drive developmentally appropriate practices within the youth sport organization; not parents, administrators or boards. For over three decades we have let non-experts – influenced by parents – decide what is best for a youth sport program. Look where that has gotten the culture and practices of youth sport today and the results that culture has created throughout all levels of sport. Parents certainly should be consulted. However, parents must realize that consultation simply means being heard about what they believe is best. The administration and board are there to support the developmentally focused technical leader not micromanage that individual or make that individual’s decisions. Otherwise, why have a developmentally focused technical leader?

5. It is not enough to have been or to be a great player of the sport to be a developmentally focused technical leader. It is not enough to be a good coach or instructor either.  Nor is it enough to understand the development of children and adolescents. A good developmentally focused technical leader should have all three. Sadly, in youth sport culture today these good developmentally focused technical leaders represent the exception and not the norm.

6. To become a good developmentally focused technical leader one must be a well trained coach. A well trained coach and a well certified coach are two different things. Youth sport culture does a good job of certifying coaches but not training them. Soldiers know that war makes generals. Coaching makes better coaches. However, current certification schemes do not allow for that to happen in a progressive manner that reflects the way adults learn.

7. To become a well trained coach means hard work, life-long learning, pushing comfort zones and taking risks; the latter is something that most adults have chosen to no longer do. Without risk, there is no change and therefore nothing different occurs. Players imitate their coaches. Therefore, mediocrity rules supreme in the current culture of youth sports and sports in general.

8.  With faith placed squarely on the choice to risk, one person truly can (and must) make a difference.  If you believe in these statements than you too are a heretic in the eyes of the youth sport community.

Next post Sunday, April 5th.

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Week 19 of Indoor Training: Does Effort Equal Fitness Level?

First day of grade ten social studies and my teacher lectured us on the perils of making assumptions.  He wrote the word assume on the chalk board as follows:

Ass/u/me

And then he said that when you make assumptions, you make an ass out of you and me.  Heard that one before?  Not as funny now as it was at the time to an adolescent male I guess.

I realized this week that I may have fallen prey to making a big assumption.  I think that the players I’m coaching – the younger players – may have been sucked in similarly.  The younger group’s fitness level is…well…just okay.  It’s getting better but it’s got a ways to go to be considered enough to get them start to finish through a game against a fit team without tripping over their tongues the last 15 or 20 minutes.

During one of our weekly sessions where they are combined with the older girls group I’m coaching, I break the 33 outfield players into three groups based roughly on ability.  Group A has the most capable older players, Group B has a mixture of older players and the most able younger players and Group C has all younger players.

Now the assumption that I’ve made since day one – an assumption that drives my philosophy and everything I do with these players – is that each and every one of these girls gives 100% during our four sessions per week and then goes home and continues to give 100% towards becoming the best players they can be.

The program is now into it’s third month.  Fifth month for the younger girls since they started in November.  I think it’s fair to say the honeymoon is over and four training sessions a week every week is probably starting to look a little less novel and more like a grind.  As such, the intensity level has taken a noticeable drop.

I’ve theorized over the last few weeks, as I’ve started to question the merits of my assumption about work ethic,  that the drop in intensity (and, therefore, effort) is most noticeable amongst the players in Group C.  Recently the girls completed a second fitness assessment.  One of the tests is the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test.  The YYIRT is designed to measure aerobic power (a very important physical skill for soccer players).   I had an inkling to compare the test scores of the players in Group B to those in Group C.  Here’s what it showed:

  • Group B     Group C
  • 17.3             17.1
  • 16.3             15.6
  • 16.3             15.4
  • 16.1             14.5
  • 15.6             14.5
  • 15.3             14.3
  • 15.1             14.2
  • 14.8             14.1

The average for Group B was 15.9, a full level higher than Group C (14.9).  Seems significant to me.  The standard we’re aiming for on this test is 16.1 so if you remove the four players from Group B and the one player from Group C who have already achieved that currently as their minimum and re-calculate the average you get a two-stage difference (14.7 for Group C and 15.2 for Group B).

So while the gap does seem large to overcome, it really isn’t that much different.  And this is exactly the way I’d explained it to the girls during their mid-week session.  I started by asking them what a hypothesis was.  Someone volunteered that it is an educated guess.  So I asked them to make an educated guess about what they thought the connection was between hard work and Yo-Yo Test scores.  They agreed that a good hypothesize was the harder you work, the higher your Yo-Yo Test score will be (those that move more are fitter).  I then showed them the above numbers (they were ordered randomly so not as easy to visually see right off the bat the difference) and asked them to give me a hypothesis about which group would have the higher average.  They guessed that Group B was going to have the higher average.  From there, I shared with them the data I shared above.

Earlier I said that I think the players had fallen victim to the dreaded act of assuming as well.  I thought it possible that the girls who I have seen as less intense in their training behaviour who also show lower fitness scores, may not have even realized this.  They may have assumed that they were working as hard as needed.  My chat with them mid-week was to try to get them to realize, through the use of the above data, that they aren’t.

For those that have scores in the 15 range on the Yo-Yo Test, a simple shift of mindset to ensure that the four sessions per week are done as intensely as possible should be enough to get them either to or very close to the 16 mark by the time we start our game schedule (May 10th).  For those that are below the 15 mark, they’re also going to need to be more intense in their four sessions per week but that alone won’t be enough for them.  They’ll each need a goal added to their Individual Performance Plan (IPP) to help improve their aerobic fitness level over the next six to eight weeks.

I have a plan to introduce that process to them this week in training and will talk about that in next Sunday’s blog.

Next post Saturday, April 4th

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Coaching Kids and Parenting Kids is not the Same Thing

For 30 years now I’ve coached youth soccer.  That’s three decades of helping other people’s kids.  It takes a village to raise a child, right?  Well then I’ve had my fair share of opportunities doing my part to raise quite a few kids over the years.  Yep, the kids come, I coach and then at the end of the night they jump in a car and go to their own homes.

And I’d go to mine.  With no kid in tow.  A situation very rare in youth sports seeing as most coaches are parent coaches.

Not having children of my own has been more about a professional choice than a lifestyle choice.  I’d always worried that if I had kids then I wouldn’t have the energy or the focus or the patience to deal with other people’s children.  Plus, I’ve seen the challenges of trying to coach your own child fairly.  It’s a difficult thing to accomplish.

Then three years ago, that all changed with the birth of my son.  And there’s another baby on the way in May 2015 so my life is going to be very different than what I’d ever imagined.

I’ve worked with kids from age 3 to 18.  That has been as a coach and as a technical leader in club soccer.  In the role of leader, I’ve had to dispense my fair share of youth sport development advice.  Most of that advice was directed at parents about how to handle their child’s youth sporting experiences in a positive manner.

When you’ve worked with kids as long as I have – even when you aren’t a parent yourself – you feel you know them pretty well.  You observe how parents often obsess over the progress of their children in sport and you try to get that across to them in the nicest way possible.

I don’t know if I’ve ever succeeded at that.  I was threatened to be sued once by a parent for apparently telling him what was best for his child.  For the record, I never told any parents how to raise their children.  I did dispense a great deal of counsel on how to properly develop a youth soccer player though.  Somehow, to parents, those messages would get crossed and doing my job became telling them how to parent.

I’ve seen and heard my fair share of stories.  Stories about parents behaving badly in conjunction with their child’s youth sport endeavours.  There’s  my generation and people older who growing up did not have much if any parent involvement in their free time.  Now, there is constant participation by parents in their children’s activities.  And that investment has completely changed childhood today.

It’s been that over investment that I’ve tried to make parents aware of.  Maybe then that translates into feeling like you’re being told by a non-parent how to raise your own child?   However, I felt I’ve always been fighting for kids.  Making sure they get to have a youth sport experience that’s genuinely their’s.

But then I also didn’t get it.  Get what it was like to be a parent.  How could I?

Now I do.

As a parent, it’s hard not to be invested.  It’s hard not to obsess.  It’s hard not to dote.  You watch your child go from helpless to capable right in front of your eyes.  However, having the experiences that I have had as a technical leader, it is always at the front of my mind to make sure my son (and future second son) have my support but not to the level of unreasoned passion.

All those years I thought I knew kids.  Knew everything I needed to know about them to guide them through youth sport.  I’ve made this realization numerous times standing in the doorway of my son’s room at night watching him sleep.  As I do, I often ask myself, “Did my mother stand and watch me sleep?”  I would have never known if she did.  And I would have never asked myself that question if I hadn’t become a parent myself.

There are some things you just can’t know until you’re there.

Next post Sunday, March 29th.

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Week 18 of Indoor Training: Goal Setting

I’ve had the opportunity to go through the goal setting process once already.  The younger of the two high performance girls soccer teams I’m coaching was able to start their program eight weeks earlier.  Each of those players already has individual goals they are working towards.  You can read about my initial goal setting efforts here.

Now I get to go through the process again.  This time with the older team.  The team that has already completed a full year in this new high performance development program.  Because they’re a year older and a year more experienced, I’m going to put a bit more onus on each of them – more than I’ve done with the younger group.  I believe I can afford to release more responsibility to them in the development of their individual performance plan (IPP).  Besides, I shiver when I think about trying to keep track of 37 individual plans.

Eek!  But it has to be done.  I my goal is to develop each and every individual within the teams.

With the younger group, I met with each player and her parents, discussed where they and I thought there were gaps (using a four-corner approach to identifying those gaps).  Then I took that away and created for each of those seventeen players an IPP.  I reviewed that IPP with each player and her parents and for the last ten weeks those players have been trying to accomplish the goals listed therein.

With the older group I’ll still meet with each player and her parents.  I’ll still discuss gaps (using a four-corner approach) that they and I feel need to be addressed.  However, I’ll let them work on creating their own goals instead of doing it for them.  What I realized with the younger group was even after going through the process to the detail that I did, players still struggled to get started with their plans.  I think it is because they’ve really never been asked to do anything like this before.  They needed more guidance and examples of what they were supposed to be doing and how they were supposed to be doing it in order to get themselves on the way to accomplishing their goals.

So for the older group, I’m going to provide them with some scaffolding – content that taking into account their level of cognitive maturity, should bridge their understanding about goal setting from where it is now to where I need it to be to have them hit the ground running on their plans.  During my meeting with each player I will start by reviewing with them the four steps that we’re using in creating their IPP.  That looks like this:

Reflective Practice of Goal Setting

Once we’ve agreed on three to five gaps that need to be addressed, I will share with them the process for how to go about setting a good goal.  Making a goal is easy,  setting a goal is hard (just think New Year’s resolutions).  We can all talk about what we’d like to improve.  That’s the easy part.  The hard part is trying to bring tangibility to our goal.  Things that we can see.  Things that allow anyone who sees to know whether or not we are getting closer to accomplishing our goals.

Typically, goal setting gets taught using the acronym SMART which stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.  This really is the key to setting tangible goals.  Again though talking about SMART goals is much easier to do than actually setting SMART goals.  I’ll share with each of the older players a goal setting tip sheet that will help them turn each of their implicit wishes into something explicitly concrete and (hopefully) achievable.  That tip sheet looks like this:

Goal Setting Tips

From that point on, it will be a matter of working with each player to check what they’ve come up with, make some suggestions and provide support along the way as they try to achieve the goals that they’ve set for themselves (and all by themselves).  Scary.  Scary but still exciting!

Next post Saturday, March 28th.

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