All posts by Clint

B.A. in Political Science from BYU (1996). Law degree from University of Texas, December 1998. Received E License in August 2008 and National Youth License May 2012. Also, grade 8 referee.

A New Take (To Me) on 4231

I took one of my boys up to Dallas to play with a team in the NPL.  It is an 04 team – so the boys are still struggling to play 11v11.  Having been coaching for over a decade now, I will say that the hardest thing to coach is the center-mids, especially for boys.

Boys tend to think forward all the time.  And, in the middle, they have no orientation points.  On the edge, they have the line.  At the back, they have everything in front of them.  Up top, they are usually playing on the back-shoulder (as much as you work on playing “between the lines.”). But, in the middle, they have nothing to orient to.  We work on it all the time with 8-10 yard grids we incorporate in our possession games.  I will set 3 center-mids versus 2 defenders in the middle and the rule is that the the CMs cannot occupy the same square as their partner.  It teaches rotation and off-the-ball movement.  It requires A LOT of work.  And, in the game, they crowd each other again….

Defensive mids split middle
So, while I struggle to teach rotation, I watched my son play holding mid on a team playing  what they call a 433. I call it a 4231 as the assign two center-mids to play in front of the defensive line.  And, to aid in orientation, the coach assigns them sides – left and right – and adds an imaginary line dividing them.

I must say I chuckled when I watched him start to move into the other side to stop at the imaginary line.  I thought – how silly – and, what is that teaching?  Isn’t the point for them to learn the proper way to play off-the-ball?  In support?

But then I thought, hey, I have struggled and struggled to play with 3 in the middle because they don’t understand rotation and spacing.  And, this helps.  It is an orientation point in the middle.  So I watched some more.  I found that the boys did better in giving space to their teammate – they resisted the desire to run into other’s space and solve their problems.  Interesting.

One thing I have learned in this game is that you can always learn.  You can learn from everyone around you.  I enjoy seeing another coach’s tactics and ideas and how they communicate ideas of the game.  So, now I am going to experiment with orientation in the middle.  I will report back…

12 Years In – The Most Important Question I Ever Ask A Player

OK, so those here know I am a lawyer.  And, as a lawyer, I am actually a trial lawyer – the ones that go to court, object, cross examine, etc.  I love a good question.  One thing I loved about the National Youth License is the concept of “guided discovery.”  (@nealellis @samsnow!). As a lawyer, I love well-crafted questions so this was right up my alley.

So, after coaching youth soccer for more than a decade, and studying the game, other coaches, learning with the players, etc., I have discovered what I think is the “best question.”  I have to say, a lot of the lessons I have learned, sharpened, and developed started with a group of girls in a pasture by my house.  That was my first 5 years.  One of those girls is an early-enrollee at Texas Tech on a soccer scholarship.  I still think about Macy when I coach and, along with the other girls, her affect on the game and on me.  One of the things that defined her as a player, and it is now my test of an elite player, is she made the players around her better.  I have spent 12 years trying to create more Macys.  How do soccer players make the players around them better?

Definition of an Elite Player

It is their spirt, their effort, technique, creativity, ideas, concepts of the game, willingness to fight through mistakes – theirs and their teammates – their spirit of competition.  It is their HEART. It is their WORDS – what words do they use?  What words do they avoid (that may be as important)?  I am very picky about this.  I do not want to hear negative words on the field toward anyone – not the referee, other team, and especially not their teammates.  It means that when their teammates make mistakes, they lift them up with their words.  It is their DEEDS.  It means they lift their teammates up – literally – if they are down.  It means that when the team is down, they stay up.  It means they never quit.  It requires sacrifice.  It requires a willingness to deal with failure, not accept it.  It requires constant positive body language.  These things infect those around them – for good.  

I appreciated our Athletic Director in Vidor, Jeff Matthews, who works hard to develop this in atheletes.  He would come and support the girls soccer and verbally comment on the value of leadership and what it means for the game.  One of our captains last season spent a lot of time rallying the troops – she used words and positive body language.  While she might not have been fastest, most technical player, she used positivity to be leader on the field.  And, her AD and head football coach called her out on it.  As coach, don’t forget to praise these things.  Don’t spend time picking low hanging fruit.  Nourish instead with specific positive feedback.     

Confident, Not Arrogant

It requires a ton of confidence with equal measures of humility.  It does not need arrogance.  Confidence and arrogance are strangers to each other – people get confused on this.  Confidence requires humility to accept responsibility for yourself and, even better, for those around you.  An arrogant player blames others.  An arrogant player makes excuses.  An arrogant player is hard to teach.  A confident yet humble player strives in adversity; works through failure; is teachable.  A confident player spreads confidence to those around her.  An arrogant player brings players around him down.  An arrogant coach does the same.  I am passionate about this – just writing this paragraph tells me I need a whole post on this.  

The Macy Test 

My first 5 years doing this shaped my perception of elite players.  Macy Chilton helped me form those ideas.  They apply to all sports.  They apply to coaches.  Macy never felt that she was too good.  I watched her play high school – on the field surrounded by players that made mistakes she didn’t.  What did she do?  What did she say?  Nothing negative.  No negative body language.  No assessment of blame.  No excuses.  No throwing hands up.  No arguing with teammates.  That is the essence of greatness – they inspire those around them through positivity – not by fear, blame, and bullying.  Not by making players who are not at their level feel that way; rather, players gained confidence as hers spread to them.  She elevated the play of those around her.  I apply the “Macy Test” to all my players.  That is what I am looking for.  

When her teammates made mistakes, she worked to cover them.  When she lost the ball, she fought to win it back immediately.  She risked much – dribbles, passes, shots – she failed plenty – she kept going.  She got better.  Players around her improved.  Players around her gained confidence.  She smiled.  She never dwelt on defeat or mistakes.  She moved on.  Yes, she is agile.  Yes, she is fast.  Yes, she is quick.  But none of those things define her.  

She learned the game in a pasture with lines made with gasoline.  She moved from the pasture in Vidor to a country team from Jasper.  From Vidor to Jasper – that is her pedigree.  She moved to Houston at a top club only after those years.  She had access to great instruction – some better, some worse.  I can tell you this – she never made me feel as a coach that I was inadequate, that she was too good for our team.  Unfortunely, I have seen that attitude from less talented players and their parents in years since.   It is sad.  The same parents who so badly want their kid to be elite get in the way or give their kid the wrong roadmap.  I never heard Jeff or Rebecca complain about any of their coaches.  I never heard Macy.  (And I have seen her plenty since she moved from our little squad – they live across a pasture from us).   

My lens may not be perfect.  And certainly there are elite players that are a different flavor.  But, for me, this is the standard.  It is from this that I rate players.  Sometimes, my evaluation differed markedly from another coach.  And I am not saying it won’t change in the next 10 years, but the truth is, I don’t think it has changed in the last 10.  I just now can express it in words better.  For the last 5 years, I have run 4-6 90 minute sessions/week.  I have coached hundreds of games.  I have expanded my coaching vocabulary with experience and education (and a lot of failures along the way).  But I still look back to the pasture.  

For Coaches, It Means Not Coaching the Mistake 

It applies to coaches too.  There are lots of pieces of “low hanging fruit” during a session, during a game.  You really want to pick it.  You know those moments – a failed dribble; a poor touch; a mis-timed tackle; a poor passing decision.  I know we want to coach the mistake – to get on to them.  Why?  I used to do that.  Somehow I was offended that they screwed up – like it reflected poorly on me.  When I had those moments, I realized I was making it about me.  –Take a step back, Clint.  It is not about you.–  I am just much better at it now.  Rather than pick the fruit, let it hang.  Nourish the roots instead – watch what they do after that moment.  Praise the willingness to fight back.  To rise up.  

We are Americans.  That is what defines us.  It is why Rocky is iconic to us.  Rocky gets knocked down a lot – that is not what defines him.  It is what he does next.  He gets up.  My teams (all of them) share this motto:  “Get Off the Mat.”  I am looking for the moment after, not the moment of.  I am not interested in picking the low-hanging fruit – the players know what just happened.  In other words, as a coach, I judge myself by the same standard – “what am I doing to help my players play great?”  If you are honest with yourself, you know that picking the low-hanging fruit is not the answer.  

The Best Question

But, 12 years in, I think I have found the perfect question.  I am introducing it to my 05s.  I use it with 03s.  It applies to high school kids.  It applies to me as a lawyer with my trial team.  The low-hanging fruit is to get on to someone for screwing up…does that help?  I have learned that the most important thing is not the mistake – we all make them – it is what you do after that that defines you.  I tell the boys – “if you are willing to deal with adversity, not accept it, and fight through mistakes, you will be great individually and as a team.”   I am proud to say that I don’t coach the mistake any more – I praise the effort after.  I look for it.  I celebrate it.  I specifically mention it to the boys.  (In trial, that is what we call “squeezing the orange.”).  

And, before my players step on the field, and when they step off, they have to ask themselves this question:  “What have I done to make the players around me better?”  “What have I said?  What have I done?”  That is it.  At halftime, we review it. Then ask I use:  “Can you do better?” Answer, EVERY TIME, “yes coach.”  And then, the best follow-up:  “How?”  There is your half-time talk.  There is your post-game talk.  And your players leave feeling like a million bucks.  `

I love doing this.  My wife thinks I spend too much time on it.  I love it as much trying cases (just finished a trial last week).  I give coaching the same amount of dedication, work, and focus I do my cases.  It is a brilliant game with brilliant opportunities to teach lessons about life.  

How do I help my kid get better at soccer?

IMG_0592I have been coaching soccer for over a decade.  During that time, I have also been raising 5 kids.  All of them play soccer, some at very high levels.  I think one question I get a lot from parents of the kids I coach is “how do I help my kid get better?”  So, here are some helps for parents who would like to see their child improve.

  1.  Two training sessions/week will not make your child an elite soccer player.  You need to understand this.
  2. Kids like what their parents like.  So, the first thing I do when I am asked this question is I ask the parent:  “how much soccer do you watch on TV?”  Almost without exception, it is little to none.  This is a problem.  So, you need to improve your passion for the game.  Watch it.  I mean all of it – not just the goals.  Learn why defense is so important.  Learn how keepers manage a game.  Learn how teams play through the back and middle.  Listen to an English game, when they applaud the defense for winning the ball and playing simply through the middle, and ask “why are they clapping now – there was no goal?”  If you spend your time watching baseball or american football, talking about baseball and american football, that is what your child will like (with rare exception).  So keep that in mind.  It starts with you.
  3. Talk to your child about soccer (professional), not about their game.  This will increase their passion for the sport.  We discuss league standings (Premier League), tactics coaches used, formations, etc., at the dinner table.  If you have a daughter, follow the national team — they are the top of the world.  Go to a match when you can.
  4. Take your child to a professional game or local college game.  For the players to see, up close, what top soccer looks like is inspiring. In some ways, I would recommend your local college team first as your player will have more access to the players and get closer to the game.  Your player’s team may even get to be collect balls on the sidelines.
  5. Play Fifa with them.  I know this is a big ask for many parents – but, if you want your child to understand and love the game more, (a) let them play Fifa (PS4 or Xbox) and, (b) better yet, play with them.
  6. Knock the ball around with them in the backyard.  No, don’t lecture them or try to make it “a session.”  Just go out and play.  Pass and receive – do a aim challenge (if you don’t have a goal, use a fence post), design a set piece with phantom defenders.  If you have 4 people, make a game.  We play 2v2, 3v3, with weird rules (the little kids’ goals count x3, only score with _______, volleys only, etc.).

All of these ideas are things you can do and you are spending time with your child.  One thing I have learned raising 5 kids, they like what you like if you make it fun.  If you are too serious about it, it won’t come off.

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.