CTE & Soccer – New Stories Out

For those of you who read this blog, you know that I post as much information as I can find about the effects of repetitive heading and brain injuries in soccer players.  Yesterday, a story broke about a recently deceased soccer player confirmed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).  He died of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) at age 29.  He played soccer all of his life and continued his play in college then in the Professional Development League (PDL).  Here are a couple of stories about it:





The main point that is made is that soccer is a game where there is repeated trauma to the head.  The first article noted practice as the main culprit because of the repetition there.  Interestingly, in Italy, they had already concluded a study stating soccer players were more likely to develop ALS than populace in general.  (See first article).

Sebastian Giraldo: The Often Overlooked Role of the Trainer as Teacher, Part III

This is the final piece in a Three-Part Series from Sebastian Giraldo, PhD, regarding the role of the soccer trainer as a teacher.  You can access the prior posts on the home page if you cannot find them.  There is also a search feature.  Many thanks to Sebastian.

The Trainer as an Actual Human Being

To this point, we have covered some basics on the important role of the teacher in student learning. Let us now move to understanding the teacher as a person. What characteristics do good teachers possess? Do trainers need different skills to succeed? You will quickly realize that research findings in regard to the characteristics of a successful teacher largely overlap with common characteristics possessed by a successful trainer.

1. Effective teachers care and show that they care. Caring can take on many vehicles but the important part is that the caring is acknowledged by the student. Research shows that students believe successful teachers to demonstrate gentleness, understanding, knowledge of the students as individuals, nurturing, warmth, encouragement, and overall love of children (I cannot claim the last one  <—-don’t worry, this is a joke). This leads to several implications for youth soccer training. Our players want us to connect with them beyond the soccer level. They want to be treated as individuals, listened to, and understood. Players want teachers who give them focused and sympathetic listening. If you understand your players through their problems and try to help them, they will value you as a teacher. I will use my dad as a perfect example here. Despite being 59 years old, he connects with younger players better than anyone on our GEF staff. This provides a glimpse into his personality .

Parents often tell us that he has a gift and some kind of magic in the way he handles kids. I don’t doubt that he is gifted, but I have also witnessed the effort and relentless work he has put into becoming a great teacher. He always tries to understand his players and students as individual people. He goes well beyond what is expected of a teacher to connect and gain the trust and understanding of his pupils. The lesson is that while he might have an aptitude for teaching, he is a person that has put work into his craft and understands that caring is an essential component of being an effective teacher.

2. An environment of fairness and respect is vital for learning. Effective teachers establish rapport and credibility by emphasizing, demonstrating, and practicing fairness and respect. When people attend GEF sessions for the first time, one of the first observations always has to do with the respect, discipline, and friendliness of the training environment. Be fair and respect your players and they will begin to open up (remember more effective teachers know their students on a more personal level) and will begin to buy in to the message of the training program. We often want to give instructions for every little detail of training, but in reality, as research demonstrates, the more we empower our youth the more committed they will be to their learning and the program itself. Treating players fairly and with respect will go a long way in accomplishing training goals.

3. A teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is an important part of effective teaching. Bottom line is that students view effective teachers as motivational leaders. Effective teachers know how to target individual student needs and be flexible in their teaching. This is a significant concern in soccer training as we have trainers that often develop a certain style and then stay committed to that style for decades. Effective teachers are flexible in their teaching and learn how to motivate players as individuals. High levels of motivation and enthusiasm in a teacher has been positively related to high levels of student achievement.

4. A teacher’s attitude toward their profession makes a large impact on learning. Effective teachers are not only committed to student learning but also to personal learning. This goes back to the commitment addressed earlier in regards to personal professional development. Effective teachers are constantly learning so that they can better know their subject and themselves in order to target students successfully. Teachers must be positive about their profession and their students. Every student can learn. Every player can learn and become a better soccer player.

5. The most effective teachers are constantly reflecting on their craft. We need to accept as trainers that we are involved in a profession that requires endless learning. This should be exciting for trainers and not daunting. We should constantly be searching to refine our craft and examine ourselves. The best trainers are often concerned about the art and science of training, improving lessons, how to better target player learning, and are willing to try new approaches (it is ok to fail). One of the best pieces of advice I have received in my professional experiences is the idea that my learning should never stop. Even from less experienced trainers or unlikely sources, try to learn something.

This discussion on successful and effective teaching has myriad implications for youth soccer training. One of my biggest concerns is that we continue to try to improve our soccer development programs without addressing one of the major problems. The majority of trainers are not trained to teach. Some of the research presented here can be easily applied to current soccer programs at little cost. If we shift from the perspective that soccer trainers are there to train kids in soccer and start viewing trainers more as educators, we are moving in the right direction. We always tell our GEF trainers “an average person could be extraordinary at this.”

Sebastian Giraldo

Co-Owner Giraldo Elite Futbol


Email: giraldoelitefutbol@gmail.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/GiraldoEliteFutbol

Twitter: @GEFSebastian

Sebastian Giraldo: The Often Overlooked Role of the Trainer as Teacher, Part II

Effective, Successful teachers

Our knowledge of teaching is pretty expansive and every day we have highly intelligent individuals who continue to add to this literature. I have had the pleasure to not only work with several throughout my education but I was lucky enough to have one in my household. My father, Jose Giraldo, is a PhD in mathematics and is a true innovator in teaching methodology. He has dedicated his life to improving teaching in math and soccer and is one of the driving forces behind GEF’s pedagogical success. I picture him in my mind when I delve into the research about successful, effective teachers. To properly frame this conversation, it is important to note that at GEF we consider ourselves teachers and educators rather than trainers. We do much more than just train. And to be successful in soccer development, this is a necessary mindset for a trainer.

So what does an effective, successful teacher (trainer) look like? When parents ask me this question, I usually answer with “we know things.” It is true, we know a lot about what makes a successful teacher as we have spent significant resources researching this subject area. Most of this information is just not commonly applied or practiced in the soccer training world. Here are some prerequisites that we know are necessary for the foundation of a successful teacher:

1. Teacher preparation is key. Successful teachers have short term and long term plans, curriculum, and goals. Every chance to teach is planned. To maximize development, trainers should never go into a session without planning first. The most successful teachers and trainers, have specific long-term and short-term plans. This is an extremely time consuming process but one that causes the effectiveness of teaching to go through the roof.

On top of actually having a game plan for teaching, it is imperative that we train people to be teachers. The most successful teachers are ones that were appropriately trained in their profession and continue to be trained (i.e., content and pedagogical knowledge). Clubs and leagues are doing a better job of ensuring that trainers are licensed which is the beginning step in preparing our trainers. But in the information technology age that we live in, this duty should primarily fall on the individual. At GEF, trainers are expected to constantly be studying the sport and examining different training methods. (my  emphasis)   We have created a culture where learning is of the utmost importance. As we tell people, even our head trainers are learning on a daily basis. This is a change for soccer programs that can immediately impact the effectiveness of teaching and increase player knowledge retention. Be prepared and study your content. The on-field training is only a small glimpse into the responsibilities of a trainer.

2. Successful teachers are able to control and manage the learning environment. I will not go into much detail here as one of my past blogs was partly devoted to the importance of environment in development. But people that have been trained in specific methods and techniques for managing learning environments are better teachers than people that have not. This again seems obvious but how often do we try to stick a former professional soccer player into a training role and then act surprised when the results are less than stellar (we are looking at you right now AC Milan). It happens a lot and one of the reasons for failure is that these individuals haven’t been taught how to manage a learning environment. Until a few years ago, U.S. soccer used to let former professional players bypass a majority of their coaching certifications. The certification process probably went something like this:

Coach: Bollocks!!!

Licensing official:  Are you English sir?

Coach: Indeed bloke.

Licensing official: : Congratulations. Here is your ______ license.

Coach: Cheers!

In the near future we will look back at some of these practices and laugh about why the U.S. was not producing top soccer talent.

 3. Curriculum and assessment should be closely aligned. Both the curriculum and assessment techniques of a soccer program should be designed together with specific, complementary goals and objectives. It is mind boggling to me that in this day in age there are still soccer programs that exist without set curriculums and assessment methods. It is much more common than we realize. It is a little scary to admit that the majority of clubs and programs in my area do not have a set curriculum and have no semblance of an assessment program. Simply, we do not know if players are actually improving unless we track them along a specific plan and have learning outcomes identified. There would be a revolution if you were sending your child to a school that had no curriculum or assessment methods. This is happening in soccer and it needs to change now.

4. High verbal ability is a common characteristic of successful teachers. In the end, if we do not communicate properly as teachers, the task of student learning becomes much more complicated. While we have had difficulty linking teacher’s intellectual aptitude to student success, we have discovered that students taught by teachers with high verbal ability learn more than those taught by teachers with lower verbal ability. Higher verbal skills lead to ideas being conveyed effectively and communication being clear and compelling. Soccer is a unique, international context where trainers stem from all over the globe and it’s difficult to spend time on a training ground without hearing an accent of some sort (I personally enjoy the multicultural nature of the sport). Is it possible to be an amazing trainer in the U.S. without dominating the English language? Absolutely. But we know that high verbal ability can increase learning. In effect, students can learn faster and more effectively when their teacher has a high verbal ability. Our trainer development programs should target increasing verbal and communication skills as major learning objectives.

The final part will be released on Friday of this week.  Great work Sebastian. To contact Sebastian, here is his information:

Sebastian Giraldo

Co-Owner Giraldo Elite Futbol


Email: giraldoelitefutbol@gmail.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/GiraldoEliteFutbol

Twitter: @GEFSebastian


Sebastian Giraldo – The Often Overlooked Role of the Trainer as Teacher, Part I.

The following is part of a 3 part series from Sebastian Giraldo regarding the importance of Teaching when you train or coach.  I love this piece by Sebastian and it is special to soccerthought.com.  As Sebastian explains, coaches and trainers associated with youth soccer need to look at themselves more as a teacher than as a coach.  Here is his article:  

It was one of those typical nights for me after a long day filled with company administrative work and training that I stumbled across my next blog idea. I was deeply immersed in the black hole process of trying to select a show from the never ending choices provided by Netflix. I eventually came across the 2011 award winning documentary Buck about Buck Brannaman, the horseman who went on to inspire and consult on the Hollywood film The Horse Whisperer. I will say that my adventurous attitude in regards to Netflix has resulted in finding some cinematic gems and this was no exception (please be aware that sometimes on Netflix you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your cinematic prince).


I was immediately captivated by the teaching abilities of Buck and his relationship with horses (ironically, he speaks very little to the horses and for sure never whispers). It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before and an obvious example of a man that has dedicated his life to perfecting his craft. Since I am relentlessly searching for research and ideas that are applicable to soccer training, I could not ignore the parallels that exist between Buck and the future of soccer training in the U.S. There are a lot of interesting topics being explored in soccer development, some more exciting than the next. Often times, the less sexy topics get ignored. In this trend to revolutionize soccer development, we often overlook or undervalue one of the key components of soccer development. The trainer/coach. The trainer might be the most essential component of player development and yet our soccer programs teach very little about how to make us better, more effective teachers. This is currently changing but we need to understand that we can rapidly improve the effectiveness of trainers by teaching and informing them on methods to improve teaching. At GEF, our trainer development program is primarily focused on teaching our trainers to become better teachers. At the core of this program is the abundance of information we have accumulated from education research.

Buck is not the originator of his teaching philosophy, but is commonly credited with bringing the idea of natural horsemanship into the mainstream and vastly improving handling techniques. The field of natural horsemanship is predicated on the idea that training should occur through the horse’s nature and instinct. Essentially using an understanding of how horses think and communicate to train the horses to accept humans and work confidently and responsively to them. This should sound eerily familiar to trainers as this is similar to the teaching philosophy being applied by U.S. soccer. The better we understand how children behave and think during their different development stages, the more appropriately and effectively we can train them. Of course, this requires a deep understanding of psycho-social, physical, and cognitive development. All fields where there is more specific sport research popping up daily. This blog is dedicated to highlighting the importance of the trainer as a teacher. Specifically, I will examine how education research can help us improve as trainers right now.

 Buck and How He Relates to Soccer Training

Throughout the film, Buck displays several characteristics and attitudes that perfectly align with those of a successful, effective teacher. I will display here a shortened version of my notes that I jotted down while watching the film so as not to nuisance those who do not love horses (note: everyone should love horses J).

My personal notes on Buck:

  • had extremely abusive childhood and credits this as part of the reason he has deep reserve of empathy; lives by “you can be the change” philosophy
  • started working with horses at 12 and quickly identified that several techniques used were ineffective
  • believes that biggest problem is that people do not understand horses
  • most horse trainers do not control their own emotions
  • Buck believes “an average person could be extraordinary at this”

There are noteworthy parallels between horse and soccer training that are applicable to our conversation about trainers as teachers. Here are a couple of observations that will set up our discussion about teacher research and soccer training:

 1. You can be the change. Just because you were taught one way does not mean that you must teach that way. Change for the better, be flexible, and learn from experiences. Buck’s experiences helped him understand that horses have different needs and thus teaching must be flexible and varied.

2. We must accept that a lot of techniques we use in soccer training do not work (or are not as effective as desired). Don’t be scared to try new things. You might fail, you might not.

3. We do not properly understand our players. Players should be treated as individuals and targeted differently to maximize their learning.

4. We often lose control of our emotions (I am guilty of this). When we lose control of our emotions we lose control of the learning environment.

5. An average person can become an extraordinary soccer trainer. Lots of people disagree with me on this point but I tend to agree with Buck here. While I do consider the idea that extraordinary educators might have some innate ability for teaching, I truly believe that with desire, appropriate education on content and pedagogy, that a large group of people can become extraordinary soccer trainers.

(A link if you are curious about what Buck does http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK9Ix5mfDkw)

Part II Next Week!  Thanks Sebastian.