MVP of Premier League

Great article about “the most effect player in the EPL.”  http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/22/football/kante-chelsea-roi-football-stats-win-percentage/

unknownLove this article because of the point it makes.  Alex Ferguson said this player was the best in the EPL last season.  He is the best this season.  He is not a forward.  He is not a #10.  He is not a flashy winger.  He is a center midfielder!  He is known for interceptions and tackles and high work rate.  Love it!

Cant makes the players around him better.  That is why he is the most effective player in the EPL and regarding by Sir Alex as the most valuable.  Yet, coaches at all levels, particularly youth coaches, fail to recognize these traits in players.

I can watch a game with another coach – see a player disrupting play form the other team, cutting out passing angles, intercepting, tackling, and be amazed.  I then ask the coach what he sees – he doesn’t even notice the CM.  He sees the fast kid up front or the big kid at back.  It is embarrassingly poor observation.

So, for all of you, read this article and ask yourself, “why does Sir Alex say what he does about Kante?”  And, “what can I do or say to reward these types of behaviors on my team?”

3 Takeaways:  

  1.  Track interceptions made at center mid or back line.  I like to give those players a target when they walk on the field – specific – “I am looking for 5 interceptions.”  I love doing this – gives them a target to aim for and accountability.   Lets them know also what I am looking for.
  2. Track tackles made at center and back.  Again, I like to give players a target – “5 tackles” – this does not mean that they win the ball, it could mean turning a player around, shoving them off a run, etc.   Same as above – helps with accountability as they know what my expectations are.
  3. Track connected passes or turnovers.  Either one.  If your team is struggling to connect, track turnovers.  For youth players, here is my standard:  “If you have the ball with little or no pressure (like, say, after an interception), I expect you to make a connection (which may require some dribbling and looking).  I count turnovers.  I have yet to have a player I coach tell me that any coach has ever done that for them.  Sad.

That being said, I do not mind turnovers if they are risking something.  That is different.  If they are trying to play through or over, fine.  I am talking about turning the ball over when they have time and space to find the next pass.

Coaching 442 – My “Aha” Moment

You can follow my education on coaching soccer on this blog.  I was a clean slate starting in ’06 and relied on coaching experience and coaching education to form my foundations.  At that time, the US Youth Coaching guidelines (through Reyna) were to teach and work toward a 433.  I took that to heart and tried to apply it and its concepts of short passing, ball on the ground, etc.

So, for one reason or another, I felt like I was caving to use a 442 – that somehow it was below me.  That I was selling out for direct, kick ball results if I used it.  How naive.

While reading Alex Ferguson’s bio and a few other books (I list them on the site), I learned that there are a lot of variations in formations and tactics.  And, the player’s tactical role matters more really than whatever formation you think you are using.

So, while coaching my U14s (they are a top Division 1 team in the Houston area), I continued to work and work and work with the center mids on spacing and building through the middle – taking advantage of the number advantage in the middle (as most teams we played used a 442 direct approach – even in the A bracket in Division 1).   But, week after week, I noticed we seemed to gain little advantage with the spare midfielder.  They continued to struggle with spacing – not giving enough space to each other or giving too much.  Most often, though, they would crowd each other in possession.  And, we were still scoring mostly on the counter.

So, I tried something new.  I wanted to create more space in the middle for the mids so I went to a 442 and, aha, we were able to build through the middle.  We actually possessed more.  It was an “aha” moment for me.  Here are my lessons learned:

  1.  U14 players, even elite college-bound ones, are still kids.  And, as I continue to learn, the hardest thing to coach is the middle because it requires more cleverness and the spacing decisions are not as obvious (no orientation point).  Quite simply, simplifying the approach can make it easier for them to play the right way.
  2. If your team is struggling with spacing, decisions, etc., consider a formation that is more simple so that they can use their mental energies on creativity on the pitch not on trying to remember where they are supposed to be for the formation.
  3. It is what I learned a long time ago with kids – less is more.  If you give them fewer players and more space, they will do more.  If you put more players in smaller spaces, they struggle.  They are not sure what is their job and someone else’s.
  4. I still think it is important to learn other formations – this team plays a 433, 4231, 352, and now a 442.  They are learning and my job is to educate.  Even it it means suffering a result.  As a coach, be open to ideas and learning.
  5. I am still learning all the time.  Just watching the boys play in a 442 taught me a lot.  As a coach, I feel like I should always be learning something new.
  6. I don’t agree that we should be told what formation to coach from a national standard.  As a coach, you should teach your players all different variations.  I don’t agree that US Youth Soccer should be telling coaches which formations to use and those ideas get dated.  The most important thing for me is to use a formation that best helps to teach ideas to my players – whatever that may be.
  7. When I am coaching for a result (like a Cup or competition game), even then my formation depends more on the players I have that day and their characteristics then some genera guideline.
  8. Be flexible, so you don’t get bent out of shape.

Summer Camp Special – Should You Spend the $$$?

This is my annual take on summer soccer camps.  I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on camps through the year – from England to Dynamo to local colleges to UT to LSU to Challenger.  I have 5 kids that all play.  Here is why you should send your kid to soccer camp:

  1.  They will have fun.  I would recommend they go with their friends.
  2. They can develop a greater love of the sport.  Especially if a camp does fun games (like mini-world cups, etc.).
  3. They leave camp with greater confidence in their skills.  This may be because of a lot of positive feedback (some of it unnecessary).  It may be because they get to go against kids much lower than their skill level.  But, if it gives them greater confidence, more power to them.
  4. It is a way for underpaid coaches to make some extra money (and I am for that).
  5. The staff can inspire them to be better players.  A lot of camps use college players or former players, with little coaching experience. Bad for teaching but great for inspiration and role modeling.
  6. If your player is from a recreation program, then the coaching will be great and I highly recommend you go.  If you are part of a competitive club, and have a regular professional coach, you are better off asking for their evaluation and lowering your expectations to 1-5 above.

Why you should not spend the money:

  1. It is expensive.
  2. Their will be no real constructive feedback.  I have learned this the hard way.  Remember, they have your kid for a few days amid a sea of kids.  They are not going to take a close look at them despite anything that they say.
  3. Camp coaches lack accountability to you beyond the week.  Hence, they have no incentive to be honest with you on their assessment.  That is why they do not give a good assessment.  They just want you to be happy so you will come back.
  4. Because they will not deal with you again, or the next week, they really just want the kids to have fun.  They also will not be coaching your kid in any competitive match the following week – they lack any incentive to really dig in.
  5. You are generally dealing with less experienced coaches.  If they are using college players to coach, just know that with rare exception, what you are getting is someone to inspire your kid, not teach your kid.  A few in college are good teachers of the game but, from my experience, it is the exception rather than the rule.  I can tell you I have not seen the top club coaches at any of these camps.  Maybe they coach in their club-camps.  To me, it is like college – if you want a good education, take a class with a good professor.  Same for soccer – if you want your kid to learn and grow, find a coach-teacher who educates, motivates, and inspires.
  6. Camps are revenue makers, not player-makers.

Coerver Coaching: Review of Youth Diploma I Course

I attended the Coerver Youth Diploma Course in Arizona June 2015.   Charlie Cook was the instructor.  The same Charlie Cook who played for Chelsea and several other professional organizations.  What a wonderful guy.  He was free with his time and he allowed me to quiz him quite a bit.

This is a much different experience than a USSF course.  I hold a National Youth License (fantastic course) as well as an E (2008) and a National D (2013).  There was no assessment part of this course.   The ratio of classroom time to field time was about the same, but the Coerver coaches run all the sessions.  And, for every session, they had Coerver players present so you were able to see what youth Coerver players look like and how they respond to the activities.  That being said, they still need participation from the coaches.

I absolutely fell in love with the philosophy.  I am very picky about player evaluations and am generally unsatisfied with the level of focus paid to that aspect of soccer.  For me, the first thing I rate in a player is how do they touch the ball.  That is what I define as “technique.”  The USSF courses are big picture course – helping coaches to run a team session.  Coerver is laser-focused on ball mastery and individual skill, or what I refer to as technique (how you touch the ball).    In fact, it is the foundation of their philosophy.  Finally, I am among like-minded people.

So often I listen to coaches rate players based on obvious factors – speed and aggression.  I call those factors fool’s gold, especially at the young ages.  I appreciate those characteristics but, in my experience, those factors get nullified post-puberty if the kids are still playing.  Yes, there may be some with truly special speed, but, for the most part, evaluating players on speed and aggression pre-puberty is lazy.

So, Coerver is concerned primarily with how you touch the ball.  to help that, they believe in repetition with hundreds of different ball exercises.  You can download the app for free.  For $10, you have access to all of their moves.  If your idea of getting you players to touch the ball better is juggling, Coerver has a whole new world of ideas you need to check out.

Here is the biggest advantage Coerver has over regular coaching sessions – in every other aspect in our “pay for play” youth soccer world, your player is trained within a team construct.  Despite all of the “player development” talk that goes on, coaches are concerned with winning.  If their team is not winning, the parents go elsewhere. If the parent goes elsewhere, they lose their paycheck.  So, as a coach, while you may pride yourself on “player development,” you also have to perform for your employer (parents).  Coerver doesn’t have that problem.  Since they do not have teams, they are not bothered with team concepts in their sessions.  The focus is on the individual.  You are paying them to help your player improve ball mastery.

Here is a link to their site where they list the dates for the courses and itinerary.  Coerver Youth Diploma

 

 

Writing about youth soccer, player development, and the professional game.