Answer to Wednesday’s “You Are the Ref”

Below are the answers to yesterday’s, “You Are the Ref”, the classic cartoon strip, (Courtesy Guardian UK). If you didn’t see the original post, take look here, but don’t peek below first!

1) Play on: there’s no reason to order a retake. No one is at fault here other than the penalty taker. He slipped and scuffed his shot – and the fact that he did not directly make contact with the ball is irrelevant. It is enough that his kick caused the ball to move forward. (Thanks to Richard Gibbon.)
2) The managers are right to suspect that the authorities would order a replay in these circumstances, and their reluctance to go through it all again in a busy season is understandable. However, it is your decision, not theirs. You need to judge it on whether a) there is enough visibility to avoid it being a farce; b) whether there is any risk to player safety; c) whether it is reasonable to have half the shoot-out played in very different conditions; and d) whether the paying public can see it properly. I would complete the shoot-out if at all possible, then leave it to the authorities to determine whether or not the result stands. (Thanks to Patrick Finnis.)
3) You cannot go ahead: a size 5 ball is mandatory in senior football. Delay the re-start in the hope that staff can recover one of the balls from outside the stadium. If they cannot, you have to abandon. (Thanks to Jason Chau.)


Another, “You Are the Ref”

It’s been a long time since we’ve brought you one of these – we’ll rectify that today. They’re always fun! We’ll print Keith Hackett’s answers to these puzzlers tomorrow. Stay tuned! Courtesy of the Guardian UK.

You are the Ref Dawson

Pick up your copy of OnDeck today

The July, 2014 editions of OnDeck are out. You can download the soccer issue here, and the baseball/softball newsletter here. Better yet, read them both!

July edition of OnDeck Newsletter arrives tomorrow

If you’re not yet signed up to received our free, OnDeck Newsletter, what are you waiting for? Tomorrow’s issue will be a blockbuster, with tons of great articles and offers. Sign up to get your copy here.

Time for a Vacation?

I was emailing a friend and business associate and we were getting caught up on one another’s families. He said, “We have a place up at the lake that we have been to the past 3/4 weekends. Our need to take advantage of the warm weather and desire for time at the lake took precedence over baseball, so unfortunately there are no baseball stars in this house.” It got me thinking about the choices my family has made through the years because of sports, and wondering if we’d gotten it right.

I have four kids who all play sports, ages 22, 21, 18 and 16. So obviously, having that many children means that more time and money is being spent than a family with one or two kids. But we have lots of friends who take elaborate vacations – Hawaii, Europe, the Caribbean. Our last family vacation? One fluke weekend when no one had sports conflicts we went camping in the local mountains an hour away. And that was three years ago.

Last summer, I went by myself to see my son play baseball in Canada for three days. My wife went on two soccer trips with my daughter. This year the two of them have already flown for tournaments to New Jersey for a week, Seattle for a week, and now Virginia for the national championships, another week. We’re also taking her on college visits across the country. Not only do those airfares, hotels and rental cars put a dent in a vacation budget, they mean there’s no time left over to do anything else. Now I have another son playing his summer baseball in Canada and the oldest playing his first year of pro baseball in Florida. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to see either one of them. And if I do go alone, that’s not a family vacation.

It wasn’t much better years ago. There was always a sports conflict and the incredible cost of travel teams impeding our options. There were constant out-of-town soccer tournaments, baseball showcase tournaments, (which were, by the way, a waste of time and money – for us anyway) and rigorous game and practice schedules that could not be disrupted. So no, my kids have never been to Hawaii, never been to Europe or the Caribbean. If you ask them their favorite vacation we ever took they’d probably point to the couple of times we’ve gone back to the Midwest and stayed with their aunt or their grandfather and got to hang out with their cousins who they rarely see. And even the last time we did that we worked in a couple of college visits for baseball.

When I was a boy, growing up in Indiana, we couldn’t afford to do anything elaborate on my father’s junior high school principal salary. But each summer we drove to Florida and stayed two weeks with my aunt and uncle who lived on a lake. Those memories are some of my fondest and I’m sure my siblings would agree. But there was no all-consuming summer ball back then. You played a light  schedule and even if you did miss a few games for vacation it was no big deal. Not like today.

If you asked my kids if they wished we’d done more family activities, specifically vacations, they’d unanimously say no. They’re too ingrained in sports. But they also don’t know what they missed and, unfortunately, neither do their mom or I. We don’t know if it would have been healthier, better for our family and ourselves if we’d cut back somehow on the sports and mandated a nice family vacation each year without any interruptions. And now we never will.

Has there been a payoff? In terms of money I guess you could say yes, there have been college scholarships. But I can say honestly that never played into our decisions. When the kids were younger I truly never dreamed that something like that might happen. We were doing it because it was what the kids wanted.

There is no easy answer. Each family has to make its own decision and hope for the best. I can’t say I have any regrets because I think our children have turned out pretty well and we have lots of great sports memories. But I do have twinges of sadness thinking about how fun it would have been to have spent more family time together. I guess everyone wants it all – wishes they could have the best of both worlds. And if there is a way you can manage to do both, I highly recommend it.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC ( He can be reached at

How To Assess Soccer Players Without Skill Tests

By Tom Turner

Evaluating soccer players can be a challenging process, particularly when the criteria used for evaluation are not based on the demands of the game. Soccer is a very fluid game when it is performed well; to play at speed, players must have skill and vision and tactical insight. However, with novice and experienced coaches alike, there is a tendency to look at soccer as a series of discrete skills or actions, separate from the game as a whole. This can lead to the development of evaluation criteria that are based more on “scores” than “performance.”  While a deep knowledge of the discrete components that comprise the game of soccer is important, and, in fact, serves as one marker that separates the more experienced coach fr om the novice, there is an inherent danger in thinking about the game in discrete terms when evaluating players. This is particularly true in try-out situations when “skill tests” are seen as more objective and often utilized to protect inexperienced coaches from unpopular decisions. Let’s take a look at passing as an example of the folly and futility of individual skill testing for the purpose of selecting players for teams.

A common skill test for passing is to count how many times the ball is exchanged between two players in 60 seconds using the inside of the foot. In soccer games, the purpose of passing is to score goals, to take opponents out of the game, or to keep possession of the ball. There are six surf aces of the foot that can be used to pass the ball (inside, outside, heel, toe, instep and sole) and the ball can be passed using a variety of spins, speeds and trajectories. If we separate the tactical aspects of play ( when and why do I pass there?) from the technical aspects (what surface and texture is required?), the basic elements of the game are decoupled and we are left with activities that involve technical repetition without tactical context. In addition, when we choose to test passing skills with a particular surface, it is of ten at the expense of the others. This can send the message to players that the other surfaces are either less important, not recommended, or not to be considered. Think about coaches who discourage, and would certainly never test for, passing with the toe, and then consider  all the ways the toe can be used as a viable option in problem solving!  To take this to the extreme, if we decide to be fair and test all six surfaces, how long will this process take and what time will be left for assessing all the other technical, tactical and physical aspects that constitute the elements of play?

Looking from a different perspective, think of practicing passing with one surface as similar to learning to strike just one key on a keyboard. We may become good at striking “G,” but it doesn’t make us think about how to find “G” in the context of creating a complete sentence, or  how “G” is situated in relation to the other keys. Ironically, practicing only one technique in isolation is actually reinforcing for coaches because players do improve their ability to perform that particular action. However, the downside to predictable technical repetition in young players is that those who learn the game in less predictable ways are more likely to develop a deeper understanding of how to adapt their range of techniques to solve novel tactical problems; in short, they become more skillful! While street soccer may be a thing of the past, think no further than the upbringing of the average NBA player to form an appreciation of  its lost value. Creative, skillful players develop in response to an environment where techniques and tactical awareness develop in unpredictable ways “together” though hours of unstructured free play.

So how does this relate to try-outs? My premise is that quantitative (numerical) measures of ability do not work very well in evaluating soccer players. Timed sprints, kicks against a wall, kicking for distance, number of Coerver’s in a minute, and various competitions, such as 1v1 Combat, are all examples of activities that have been used to assess whether players can play soccer or not. However, knowing that Suzie can sprint 50 yards in 8 seconds, juggle 5 times with her right foot, kick 25.5 yards with her left foot, and run through a line of cones in 12 seconds tells us very little about Suzie’s ability as a problem-solver  under pressure. For that, we need to watch her play soccer and evaluate how her technique impacts her decision-making.

While the task of watching and assessing decision-making within a live game can be quite difficult for the average parent-coach, the following criteria form the basis of a realistic playing evaluation. Assessing players’ strengths and weaknesses in an authentic setting not only provides information on which players can actually “play” soccer, but also allows coaches the opportunity to target for remediation those areas that are observed to be absent or a hindrance to good performance. Consider how realistic it would be to tell a parent that their child is on the “B” or “C” team because they don’t yet understand how to create space, or they can’t keep possession of the ball when under pressure, or their tactical understanding does not allow them to play in combination with others, or that they simply take too many touches and play too slowly. Contrast that message with the information that their child is on the “B” or “C” team because they can’t run fast enough, juggle well enough, dribble through a line of cones under control, or because they finished bottom of a competitive heading ladder. In reality, the differences between the scores of young players may be one or two juggles or one or two seconds, or one or two feet. We must ask if those differences really tell us anything of substance about that person as a soccer player?  (Next: What to look for in players)

Tom Turner is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Coach, Region II Boys ODP Coach, Ohio North State Director of Coaching. He can be reached at

Get Psyched! How Mentally Tough Are You? (Part Three)

By Dr. Jim Taylor

The ability to stay focused is essential for you to perform your best consistently. Keywords in training and competitions can help keep you focused and avoid distractions. Come up with one or two key words that you need to focus on to perform well. For example, key words can remind you of proper technique (e.g., reach, straight body), staying relaxed (calm, breathe), good tactics (e.g., attack, patience), or staying motivated (e.g., be tough, hang in there). Key words are particularly useful when a competition gets difficult because they give you something you can grab onto and say to yourself, enabling you to remain focused when it really counts. Mental imagery—closing your eyes and seeing and feeling yourself performing the way you want—is another powerful focusing tool. You can use mental imagery before training sessions or competitions to block out distractions, focus on key aspects of your performance, and imagine yourself being successful.

The emotions that you experience before competitions often determine how you perform. If you’re excited and happy, you will likely do well. If you’re fearful, frustrated, or feeling despair, you will probably not achieve your goals. There are no specific mental training techniques to improve emotions, but you can develop emotional mastery by learning to recognize what emotions you are feeling, what is causing the emotions, and then look for solutions to resolve the cause of the emotions. You should use opportunities in which you’re feeling bad to figure out how to change your emotions so they can feel good and perform better.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle you will face in achieving your athletic goals is the pain you experience in training and competition, particularly if you compete in endurance sports. Pain is your body’s message telling your mind that it is threatened and wants to stop. Pain has such a powerful influence because, not only does it hold your body back, but it also affects how you think and the emotions you experience. Unless the pain indicates an injury, if your mind listens to your body, you will ease up and you will not perform your best.

Research has shown that when you connect performance pain with negative thoughts (e.g., “I hate hurting this much!”) or negative emotions (e.g., frustration, anger, despair), you actually feel more pain. There are several mental techniques you can use to limit the pain you feel.

First, accept that pain is a normal part of sports training and competition—“no pain, no gain,” as the saying goes. The reality is that if sports weren’t difficult, they wouldn’t be very satisfying and you probably wouldn’t do them. Second, stay emotionally detached from the pain and use it as information to help you perform your best, for example, adjust your technique, pace, or body position. Third, realize that everyone else is probably hurting too, so if you’re the one who handles the pain best, you’re more likely to be successful.

Fourth, when you feel pain, your body braces to protect itself. Unfortunately, this actually causes more pain. You can counteract this tension by actively relaxing muscle groups and using deep breathing. Fifth, by connecting positive self-talk (e.g., “The pain means I’m working hard to reach my goals”) and emotions (e.g., pride, inspiration, excitement) with your pain, you’ll increase your motivation and confidence and trigger pain-killing endorphins so you’ll feel less pain. Finally, perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned as both a sport psychologist and an athlete is this: The physical pain you feel in training and competition in no way compares to the emotional pain you will feel if you don’t achieve your goals because you let the pain beat you.

Dr. Jim Taylor holds a Ph.D. in Psychology, is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, and blogs on politics, education, technology, popular culture, and sports for,,, and on his own blog at