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

 

 

Sebastian Giraldo: Behaviors of Elite Soccer Players

Another great article submitted by Sebastian Giraldo.  He has contributed several others before.  Thanks Sebastian!

Making it in soccer is difficult. Training programs and players have improved dramatically in the past 15 years. Worldwide exposure has grown the sport and our knowledge about the development of elite athletes is progressing every day. To make it to the elite levels of soccer it takes a combination of skill, resources, luck, and opportunity. But even on this treacherous development journey, a player still has a lot of control. Through observation and research, we have learned that elite youth athletes exhibit similar thinking processes and behavior.

As a professional trainer, I have numerous stories about players that have progressed to the next level. The problem is that anecdotal evidence is heavily biased and not necessarily accurate for generalization. But when on-field observation aligns with empirical research, then we know we are starting to discover important truths about the elite youth player. In learning and athletic development, research confirms that the best performers are successful at self-regulation. Self-regulation involves processes that enable individuals to control their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Effective self-regulators can adapt and control behavior/thinking to counter responses that might prove detrimental to performance. For example, a youth player shooting a penalty kick to win a game is a stressful situation. An effective self-regulator could probably calm their emotions, disregard parents screaming “kick it,” and rely on their training to execute the task at hand. As a result, this athlete would increase their chances of scoring the goal. In sport, effective self-regulators are typically the best learners. Athletes who better control their learning and environment are more often capable of maximizing their athletic potential and thus succeeding in high performance settings. This is relevant to elite sport where you are constantly battling to earn or maintain a spot.

Behaviors and cognitive (thinking) processes of successful elite youth athletes:

  1. High Self-awareness. They self-monitor consistently before, during, and after training/games. Critical of strengths and weaknesses and aggressively pursue methods to improve. Behaviors include seeking specific information from coaches, attention to detail in training, and belief in improving through training.
  2. Proactive learners. These athletes are fully engaged in their learning environment by asking questions and try to maximize individual and team learning during every session. Behaviors include coaching of teammates, passion during training, and verbally approaching coach during instruction and exercises.
  3. Willingness to expend and sustain effort over years. Soccer development is a long-term objective that can take many years (13+). Commitment, discipline, resilience, and social support are factors that facilitate progression in elite youth soccer. These athletes have a growth mentality where they are constantly working on improving in order to achieve long-term goals.
  4. Follow instructions and effectively perform in competition. Coaches’ perceptions of behavior are crucial because they are the decision makers on playing time, strategy, and tactics. In elite soccer, a player must be able to receive and apply instruction even in stressful environments. Effective youth players understand that listening to coaches is vital to success so they devise strategies to apply criticism and instruction (and other strategies to ignore obnoxious parents).

In our program, we have dozens of players that possess the skills and athleticism to be successful at the next level. The pertinent question always seems to be whether they have or are willing to develop the self-regulation behaviors and cognitive abilities to truly propel them on their path. As part of our philosophy, we treat the cognitive components of the game as the most important aspect in long-term performance success.

Improving self-regulation abilities should be top priority for any elite training program. The development of these skills comes from a complicated interaction between the athlete, environment, player-trainer relationships, and support systems. These skills should be taught and refined throughout years of training. As the athlete progresses into higher levels of their sport system, the better they will have to be at self-regulation in order to be successful. Teaching and educating on self-regulation can begin early with focus on improving these skills incrementally over the long term.

Our best players are committed, disciplined individuals who have found their own inner motivation to succeed. They train to the point of exhaustion and then ask what they need to improve on. They know themselves intimately as a player and honestly assess how they fit within the levels of competition. They accept that their development journey will be riddled with adversity but they are willing to give full effort over years and years of training. They know their role as a player and understand how they fit in the training environment. They breakdown sometimes and have effective support systems to help them cope. They are constantly competing and want to succeed. Conflict and adversity are motivators and rarely a deterrent. They believe they control their future.

The truth is that these athletes did not come to us this way. Not a single one. They developed and refined these skills over time. Now they have become elite youth athletes and their dream of playing at the next level is becoming a reality. The path is not an easy one, but players have more control than they think. If you want to be a top player, you must think and behave like one.

Sebastian Giraldo

Giraldo Elite Futbol (GEF)

Giraldoelitefutbol.com

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