…Through the virtue of training, Enlighten both body and soul — Morihei Sensei

Posts tagged “soccer

The Game is So Much More Than a Game

natasha kai u.s. women's soccer national team celebrates after a goal on the road to the 2008 Olympics

Natasha Kai, U.S. Women's National Soccer Team

Sometimes the game is just a game.  Sometimes the game is so much more than a game.

This soccer season closed out with three ‘W’s for the weekend for our family.  My philosophy and approach is that winning is a secondary goal.  An eventual by-product of training the fundamentals.  Also, particularly in the younger age groups, a coach can win games, but not develop his players.  This has the near-term feel good payoff of bragging rights, but as the kids grow, if their skills don’t grow as well, they’ll be left behind.  The memories of those wins will fade, and they’ll fall out of the sport.

This isn’t some new-age, feel-good, self-esteem, non-competitive mumbo-jumbo.  I’m hyper-competitive.  I reel emotionally for days after a less-than stellar result (let alone a loss.)   This is a cognitive view developed from years of competition, and understanding what the real goal is.

It is critical, above most else, that the kids learn to love the sport.  This love is developed through positive reinforcement, encouragement, and a sense of mastery.  It is essential they feel that they, themselves, are actually mastering the sport or skill set.  Simply being a one-dimensional cog in a winning machine is not enough to hold them.  I’ve seen plenty of these teams dominate in early years, only to become irrelevant when the game advances.  Pick your sport, this is the case across the board.

After all the player development and fundamentals, sometimes you and your players just need a good old-fashioned Win to validate my your stance.   My girls closed the season out with that win.

It’s a pretty simple thing.  We work primarily on individual skills, we do some small-sided work.  We do very little set-play work, minimal team tactical work.  Plenty of time for heavy tactics later.  I know this approach will help the girls develop.  However, it is risky.  They are encouraged to take chances.  I play them out of their comfort zone.  There is a cost sometimes on game day.   We have wins, losses, and draws.  We improve against teams game-over-game.  My approach sometimes struggles in a world of wins and losses.

This weekend the girls started out flat, and we got behind.  I struggled to find the right adjustments and substitutions, but we were fairly far behind in the second half.  Finally something clicked.  I got the combination right.  More importantly, the girls started actually applying their fundamentals.  They started executing their 2v2 and 3v3 situations.  They started using their skills.  They made passes to the right spots.  They started scoring.  The successes encouraged them.  The opposing coaches scrambled.  They subbed.  They swapped out the whole front line.  My girls brought the score even.

The last (winning) goal was a free kick, a perfect kick.  Over the top of the wall, just under the cross-bar.  A set play.  Not a set play we practiced ad nauseam, but fundamentals we practiced ad nauseam, then executed, under pressure, at the whistle, in the last game of the season  (In this case striking fundamentals.)

In the end, the Win came from the fundamentals.  Validation.

Sometimes the game is so much more than just a game.



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U.S. Soccer Dysfunction: Elitism in the Beautiful Game

Soccer elitism in the United States is leaving too much talent wasting on the bench.

goalkeeper Kingson for Ghana clears ball from USThe United States Men’s national soccer team has advanced farther than they have before to-date. The Women’s team seems to be able to string together dominant teams time and time again (Olympics, World Cups).  Despite this apparent success, many seemed to find irony in that Ghana is the team that knocked us out (population 7% of US). Not to take anything away from the nation of Ghana or its team .  The irony is strictly about shortcomings of soccer in the United States.  I can sum it up in one word: Elitism.

Soccer as it’s developed in the United States is a sport that’s out of reach for most families and children.  Club and tournament fees make it very expensive to play on a competitive level.  Time and travel commitments for select level teams add to the cost for families who can’t take the time of from work.  With practices often at 5 or 5:30 pm, especially for younger select teams, many families just cannot get off work, pickup their kids, and get them to practice by 5 or 5:30 pm.  And these are just some of the issues at the club level.

The national club soccer programs are equally infected with elitist hurdles. All very similar to the ones mentioned above.  The Olympic Development Program, which ostensibly, would be identifying and developing National team players, is a joke. Structurally, it makes it impossible to identify or develop the best talent.  Selection in ODP is based on a tryout system, with dates and location information not actively publicized or distributed. The info is there, but if a family doesn’t know it’s there, they won’t look for it.  There is no scouting component to ODP, so only families and players tightly tied into the already exclusionary club system will be aware and tryout.  Additionally, tryout selection is a single evening affair for each cut, with extremely subjective criteria.  Oh wait, there are not publicized selection criteria, its strictly the will of the coaches.  So from the beginning ODP is flawed.  And this is even before addressing the financial and time commitment costs.

High School soccer coaches tend to be drawn from the ranks of club soccer coaches.  Thus, they carry over the same flaws from the clubs into the high schools.  In my son’s high school district, I was driving through a neighborhood, and saw some boys playing soccer in the street after the high school bus dropped them off.  I was stunned because I had never seen them at tryouts or anything else, but here they were playing soccer in the street.  I was sure, they must be from the neighboring district, and I was just mixed up geographically.  Stopping to ask them, the boys confirmed they were in the same district as my son.  Why did these boys not come out to tryouts?  What recruitment efforts did the school make?  How many other boys were there in the school, who also could’ve but didn’t come out?

At the high school, certain sports actively search out boys, and invite them to tryouts. Wrestling, Cross Country.  Our school holds many State and National wrestling and cross-country titles.  At freshman orientation night, neither the girls nor boys soccer programs were represented.  Basketball, football, golf, cross-country, wrestling, baseball, volleyball (you get the picture) were all there.  If soccer wasn’t actually being elitist, the net effect is the same.  Only the kids who were already committed to trying out would be motivated to run down the information needed.

Similar problems exist at the college and professional level.  Additional problems also exist, such as:  lack of loyalty within clubs to their players, no viable avenues to play outside of the club structure, and diverse, non-monolithic  state and national organizations.

Things that need to be fixed:  Implement an active recruitment process for all levels of play, including Recreational.  Lose the attitude that kids should feel blessed to play at a certain club.  Create systems that address the high cost of club and tournament fees.  Develop other avenues of play (integrate into comprehensive tutoring & after school programs) so that the simple act of getting kids to and from practice isn’t a filter. Those would be a start.