Tag Archives: coaching youth soccer

Why You Should Have 2 Center-Mids in Small Sided Formations (9v9)

Our league (United Soccer Club) transitioned from 8v8 to 9v9 this year.  In any event, in any league you play, you will encounter variations of small-sided games.  As you balance development versus results, the way that you align your players at young ages says a lot about your motive.

I believe, without reservation, that the optimal developmental formation for SSGs (7v7, 8v8, 9v9) requires you to play 2 Center-Mids. This opinion has been years in the making.  Are there other formations that would be easier to get forward? Yes.  To score goals?   Of course.  The problem is that at the ages where the players are playing SSGs, you have to balance development heavier than tactics or results.

In the new 9v9 setup, I see most coaches play a 332.  The lone center-mid is left to spray the ball forward for the forwards to run onto it.  To me, this is seed of the 442.  My problem is this:  if you can teach players how to build through the middle and teach 2 players to operate in that boundary-free zone, they can always play “direct” 332 style when necessary.  But the reverse is not true.

I played competitive tennis as a youth. I loved overheads.  I loved to spike them (play them short).  I was taught by a wise coach to play deep overheads – preferably in the corners – but in no case should I spike them.  He told me that if I could learn to play deep overheads, I could always spike one when appropriate – but knowing how to spike doesn’t mean you know how to play a proper deep overhead.

Using 2 CMs in youth soccer is the same to me.  Will it slow down your attack? Yes.  Will it cost you goals? Yes.  But, if you can start building the concepts of having 2 CMs learning to work together in the middle – learning how to move in support (either away or to each other), it is like learning to hit a deep overhead.  As a coach, you just need to do it.

So, for the last year my 9v9 teams have played a 323.  And, for me, I do not see a 433 like Real Madrid – they are not all 3 “forwards” for me.  I have a lone forward with two wingers or attacking midfielders (however you want to call them) that provide width to the attack.  They are expected to track back and defend but not all the way back to the touch line.  The their defensive duties usually stop around the penalty area or a touch higher.

But, for me, the bottom line is that you need 2 CMs in the SSGs to encourage play through the middle and encourage technical growth, not selling out for short-term results.

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.

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.  

Soccer Camp Review: Manchester United Soccer Schools (“MUSS”)

We made the trip over the pond and took our 11-year-old to Manchester United Soccer School.  This is a 6 day camp.  The location of the boys camp was Denstone College – a Boarding School south of Stoke.

The Location – Denstone College

IMG_1945Denstone College is usually a boarding school for boys focusing on athletics.  As a result, they have a lot of playing fields available for training.  The residential and main hall looks like something from a Harry Potter movie.  In fact, they told us it was on a list of finalist for filming locations.  I have to admit, the drive in was concerning … Denstone is a small village in the middle of nowhere.  It is not close to Manchester so you start to wonder  what you have signed up for.  Then, when you turn into the drive, wow…

The dorm rooms were set for 6-8 boys.  They honor room requests (as best they can).  Since there are so many boys to a room, it is reasonably likely your player will be with his mate.  Each boy has a bed, desk, and about 6 drawers.  The bathroom facilities are nice – private showers and toilets.

Registration/Check-In

We showed up near the end of the check in so there was a slow-moving line.  As a result, we missed the junior intro but they said just come back for senior intro.  There is staff everywhere and you go from registration room with a personal escort (a coach) to your dorm room.  On the way, you stop to put your valuables with another staff member.  Seamless and easy and professional.

What You Get

IMG_1940 (4)Room and Board and a Manchester United Training Kit with a matching Rain jacket (great idea).  The kit is a long sleeve nike red top with logo and a pair of white shorts and one pair of black socks.  There is no need for extra money although people left players lots. We left our son $20 and he didn’t spend it.

For the two-week course, instead of going to Old Trafford, you got to a theme park (Alton Towers) — yes the one where there was recently a horrible accident on a coaster.  But, as my host says, this is a very cool park.

The Price

The price for the 6 day camp was about $1500 US.  By comparison, the Dynamo Residential Elite 3.5 day camp is $850 US.  If you go for the 2 week camp, they usually run some discounts for the second week.  But, on a day-for-day basis, they are about the same price.  Neither is cheap and this is where you have to decide what you want out of the camp. If you are going to get evaluated, don’t bother.  I doubt any of the MUSS coaches work for United.  If you want to know what it feels like to be a professional footballer, this is the camp.  The living arrangements, scenery, and closing day at Old Trafford make this worth it to me.

The Quality of Players

IMG_2002Mixed.  It is open enrollment so all levels.  There are high level players but the camp is not dedicated to them.   One thing that is neat about this camp is that there were players from 36 different countries represented of 188 players.  My son’s best mate was from Kenya.  That is something you will not get from other places.

One thing you have to remember as an American attending, your kid will be immersed in European culture.  And, in some countries, their young men use language that you normally wouldn’t hear in the US at 11.  That was the one negative (among very little feedback) we got from the player.

The Quality of Staff

As you are unable to watch training sessions, hard to say.  My son is coach-loyal (loves coaches) and he is just 11 so hard to get a read from him.  The only thing I did learn for sure was that in the games, he let them sort themselves out and didn’t mix in or offer help.  I wish coaches intervened more in these situations.  Our kids come from a family of 5 where the motto is if you ask for it, you get the opposite.  In athletics, they never ask to play a position or demand it.  From my experience coaching kids, especially in camps, some kids need some help to be team players.  The kids that are penalized are the ones with better manners.

IMG_2066 (2)The coach played in the Swansea organization through his youth.  Low 20s.  Very nice guy.  He did not complete the evaluation but let my son complete it.  He did tease my son for calling him Sir.  (It’s a Southern thing).

Professionalism

Off the hook.  These guys know how to run a professional camp.  From the first moment you arrive, there is no doubt what is going on and what you need to do.  All dressed in official clothes (Man Utd).   And staff are everywhere.  The opening presentation was impressive with a breakdown for the week as well as a summary of Manchester Ideals.  Very good.

Communication

The camp does a good job with a Facebook page for the camp and posting pictures.  We were in the first week so there was not as much as the later weeks.  My son is not one to bother with communication so we heard little for him but he was not homesick and had a great time.

Closing Ceremony

For the players, this was a great day.  For the adults, not so much.  The players arrived at Old Trafford, ate lunch, went to shop, locker room tour, walked through tunnel, and ended in a Director’s Box.  Van Gaal was doing a presser with Memphis Depay on the field when we were there.  The players were just feet away from the presser.  They then marched them out (in stadium seats – not allowed to get on field).  I think for them, it was amazing.  For parents, you were mainly there to collect your player.  Short presentation.  Each kid got a medal.

Overall

I didn’t know what to expect with this camp.  Previously, had sent kids to University of Texas, LSU, local college, etc.  I think where this camp grades strongest is that the kids leave the camp loving soccer more.  I am not sure how much more you want from a camp than that.  The location and surroundings are beautiful.  The staff is uber-professional and littered with former professional players.  My son left with a greater passion for the game.  That is the best ROI I could ask for.  Do I wish they would encourage better language … yes.  But, as my English friend told me, it is more a cultural thing.

In terms of player evaluations, I just do not think that camps are the way to go.  There is a camp in England called the International Football Development Academy (iFDA) that may offer more concrete information and feedback and is allegedly attended by scouts.  I am looking into it and will post information when I get it.

Conclusion

After picking him up, again, he is not that talkative (I had one coach assume from that he doesn’t like soccer.)  He is a shy kid but I asked him if he learned a lot about soccer and he said he learned the same stuff we already do but from a different perspective and he liked it.  I asked if he would want to go back, he wasn’t sure.  This was his first residential experience and he went alone.  I think he was most put off by the language of the other campers.  He wants to be a professional footballer.

After attending the Dynamo Camp, I asked which he preferred.  He preferred the Manchester Camp.  My older son, who did not go to the Manchester Camp but did attend the Dynamo Camp said that if he went next summer, he would prefer the England experience, but had a good time at the Dynamo camp.  I can review the Dynamo camp separately.