Train the 90

By Tony Earp

In business, an “80/20 rule” is often talked about in regards to productivity and profits. It is believed that 80 percent of a company’s revenue/success/profits comes from 20 percent of its activities. Now, when thinking about soccer and what helps a player be successful on the field, how does that translate? This stat made me think about the way I train players and where do I focus their energy during training sessions. What activities and game situations do I put them in to help them improve their level of play and be prepared for the game? Over the years, it has changed the way I approach my training with players. I decided to spend the vast majority of my time with players to “Train the 90” during my training sessions, not the 10.

I believe high level players are high level because they can do the basic and consistently used skill movements the game requires of them at an extraordinary level (the 90 percent). Both the speed and effectiveness of their ability with those skills makes their level of play beyond the common player. Simple tasks in the game are done with very few errors, and are performed without much thought… almost subconsciously.

If you watch a professional match, you see all players doing the same things 90 percent of the game. Receiving the ball, passing over different distances, dribbling, moving off the ball, and defending are the most common activities of each player on the field. When players are excellent in these areas, they can do what the game requires of them 90 percent of the time. Often progress and development in these areas comes in three forms:
  1. Speed in which these skills are executed.
  2. The less time and space needed to execute them.
  3. Recognition of when, where, why, and how to use them.

During training sessions, I tell players all the time that if they can do the simple, every game activities, with consistency and speed, they can be a higher level player. I tell them to “Train the 90” on their own as often as they can, and spend less time on the 10. Frankly, when the 90 can be done at a high level, the 10 is much easier to learn and perform when needed. Unfortunately, with a generation of YouTube watchers and street soccer style moves, the players tend to spend more of their time on the 10 when training on their own. I believe all practice with the ball is beneficial, but what type of training is the most effective? What gives the best return on your time?

Think of it this way… if you go to the gym, that is obviously better than not going. But when you are there, do you make the most of your time and effort to see the results you want?

Now, as I said before, I think many of the YouTube channels with crazy skill moves and trick shots do serve a great purpose for players. It provides players with ideas and spurs imagination and creativity with the ball. Although, many of the activities are overly complicated or require a lot of expensive equipment to do on your own, and I think it has re-focused players on training and practicing the 10 percent (or sometimes 1%) of skills they rarely ever use in a game.

Why do I say that? I have worked with players (and played with players) that can do some crazy tricks with the ball, but lack the fundamentals. They struggle to receive and pass or even run with the ball at speed while keeping it under control, but can dazzle you with a couple juggling tricks, and fancy lift, or one “sick” skill move. All while their passing and receiving, two areas that are critical for a player to have success, are not at the level required to play the game at an average level. Although the tricks are fun to watch and impressive, it does not make up for how often the player loses the ball.

In short, when the whistle blows, it is not a YouTube trick competition. It is the game, and if you are not prepared to do what the game requires you to do, “The 90”, the game will expose your lack of ability in the fundamental areas of the game.

I know the basics are not as much fun as the fancier skill moves to do in training, but then again, you have to consider what you are training and practicing to do. Are you training to be able to perform tricks or are you training to improve your level of play? It is not always the same type of training.

As coaches, our goal is to help kids play the game at a high level. It is not to help them perform training activities at a high level or be great on video clips. With that goal in mind, what do our training sessions look like? Are the activities all about improving skill areas and movements commonly used in the game? Does the activity look and feel like the game?

As I tell players all the time in training, I am not trying to get them to improve their ability to do a training activity, I am trying to help them improve their ability to play the game. Within each activity, I ask them not to focus on the activity, but play the game within the task. Nothing is done in a vacuum in the game. Every movement and action in a game leads into another movement, has a consequence, and requires adjustments (constantly). This is how I ask players to train. It is always about what is next, what was the result of their action, and how they can adjust when needed.

I am not demonizing the teaching of tricks and complicated skill combinations as I teach those as well. BUT, and this is important, I think these items should make up a very small percentage of a training session. Let’s say about 10%. When you consistently “Train the 90”, the things your players will repeatedly and consistently be asked to do in the game, they will be more prepared than players who spend too much time on the 10%.

Now if you are training the next generation of YouTubers, than spend more time on the 10%. But if your goal is to help develop the next generation of high level players, you should be focusing on the 90%. “Train the 90” and make sure your players are prepared for what they will be asked to do when they step on the field to play.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Great feedback about coach appreciation

We received some great feedback from one of our clients regarding our article, Make Them Feel Appreciated. The President of a soccer club which has been a long-time client of ours had this to add:

With over 25 years of coaching many sports and administrating a soccer club, here is some current info we do plus some observations:

* All coaches get a coach shirt each season and every few years a coach wind-shirt or jacket with club logo patch and “Coach” above the patch.

* At the end of the fall season each team has a pizza party or other event where the coach usually gets a small token gift of appreciation.

* We offer preseason clinics and division directors are in constant communication with coaches throughout the season. I make the rounds throughout the spring and fall season watching practices and games and checking in with the coaches and always thank them for coaching.

* Once we have a person on board to coach, they usually stay until their kid is finished with rec soccer. Unfortunately this often results in the early loss of coaches when their child moves to travel soccer.

* The millennial generation is pretty much detached from involvement. I am doing winter indoor now for our rec kids and most parents are looking at their smart phones throughout the session. Most would rather write a check than do coaching. Some of these people have an attitude of entitlement, too. Fortunately I have a great group of high school players that train the kids so adults are not needed to actually coach the kids. While some of our divisions get enough coaches, we struggle in others; it varies from season to season.

Thanks for the great input. If you are a league administrator or parent or coach and have other suggestions, send them to us at info@coachdeck.com.

The Better Team Lost! Exploring Soccer’s Phases of Play: Part 1 – Attacking Phases

By Tom Turner

Part I. The Attacking Phases

Attacking and Building-up
Soccer is a game of passing and dribbling, with the objective of scoring more goals than the opponent. In terms of individual decision-making, the first thought any player should consider when in possession is whether they can score a goal.

How often, for example, do we see young players creatively attempting to beat the goalkeeper from distance? If scoring is not possible, the player should assess whether an assist is possible. If an assist is not possible, they should look to move the ball forward towards the opponent’s goal. In most circumstances, looking to advance the ball forward is preferred to moving the ball square or backwards. However, when a forward option is not available, the objective is to keep the ball in possession until a forward dribbling or passing option, or a shooting opportunity, becomes available.

As the options to attack the goal become more limited, either because the ball is too far away, or the opponent is too well organized, the better teams will look to circulate the ball and maintain possession. This is called building-up, or the build-up, and it is the phase of play most lacking and perhaps least understood in American youth soccer.

Transitioning From Build-up to Attack

At any moment during the build-up, a pass, dribble, or shot may signal that a goal scoring opportunity is available and the tactical phase has changed from build-up to attack. When an attack on goal is possible, the speed of play will often increase significantly as individuals take initiative, or a small group of players attempt to gain a numerical advantage around or behind a defender(s).

Given these definitions of building-up and attacking, the distinction between the two can often be quite blurry. For example, the build-up may be as simple as a long throw from the goalkeeper to a forward when the opponents are caught in a poor defensive posture; to a long pass over the top of a flat back line by a quick-thinking full back; to a quick transitional pass by a midfielder to a forward following an interception close to the opponent’s goal.

More likely, the formal building-up phase will involve forward and backward and side-to-side passing and dribbling. It is also true that the build-up will take two very distinct forms depending on the position of the ball.

Building-up in the Defensive Half

In cases where the goalkeeper or a defender has secured possession and the opponent is not pressing, the better teams will take the opportunity to slow the game down and circulate the ball into attacking positions. This tactic of building from the back helps save energy and, as the ball is advanced, provides the attacking team with shorter distances to run with the ball or play penetrating passes.

The tactical advantage is simply a function of numbers, with the vast majority of system match-ups providing for the defenders and the goalkeeper to outnumber the attackers. For example, when both teams are playing 4-4-2, the four defenders and the goalkeeper often play against only two forwards, ensuring a high probability of maintaining possession and successfully advancing the ball.

When building out of the back against a retreating defense, the flank players will create space by moving as wide as possible; the forwards will create space by getting as far down field as possible; and the central midfielder(s) will provide the defenders with time and space by initially moving forward. If this space is not created, the team that attempts to build out will find themselves under pressure and in danger of turning the ball over in a very dangerous part of the field.

Playing out from the defensive half does not always include a formal choreographed build-up. Many times, the goalkeeper can initiate open play with a quick release to a teammate in space; the same is true of any player who gains possession in the defensive half. Sometimes these passes result in a counter-attack; most often they simply force the defense to retreat into their own half and allow the build-up to take place further forward.

Building-up in the Opponent’s Half

When a defending team deliberately bunkers in, or is otherwise pegged back in their own end, the attacking team is faced with a very difficult problem, as there will be very little space behind the defense and very little space between the defenders. Even on a regulation-width field of 72-75 yards, the challenge of creating goal-scoring chances demands skill, mental patience, and a high degree of tactical discipline. The team that possesses good dribblers may succeed; the team that possesses the ability to pass the ball with pace and accuracy and length may succeed; the team that can quickly combine in tight spaces may succeed; the team that can score with shots from outside the box may succeed; the team that can score from wing play may succeed; the team that can score goals from restarts may succeed; the team that can change their formation and style may succeed; the team that can add a “dimension” player, such as a tall striker, may succeed. But nothing is assured, and history is replete with examples of courageous defensive performances resulting in famous results being secured against very long odds.

To build-up effectively when an attack has stalled, or patience is required, individual players must have the dribbling skills to keep the ball and the passing skills to warrant teammates spreading out from back to front and from side to side. With the offside law restricting how far forward a team can expand, the onus is often on the defensive line to drop off from the midfield to create time and space at the back of the team. This is often achieved in the defenders own half of the field and is one of the primary reasons why the lingering practice of positioning “goalie guards” – those who are required to stand on top of the penalty box — is so abhorred by youth soccer observers. By restricting the forward movement of defenders to support the team during the build-up, coaches are destroying these players’ natural and necessary connection to their teammates and to the most enjoyable phases of soccer.

The Moment Of Transition

In any soccer game, teams will find themselves in and out of possession, and the most dangerous moments during open play are often found when the ball transitions from defense to attack and from attack to defense. When a team is building up, the players are usually spread out from back to front and from side to side. The opposite is true of the defense, whose organized shape will be very compact, as players move towards the ball from the sides and from the front and back. While a good attacking team will have wide players as much as 75 yards apart, and will have committed defensive and midfield players forward for attacking support, a good defending team will try to move as a tight block in order to help create layers of help around the ball.

Counter-Attacking

In the seconds immediately following a change of possession, two opposing dynamics come into play: The counter-attack and defense against the counter-attack.

The team that has just regained possession will look to exploit the spaces between and behind their opponents before the defensive block can be organized. At the higher levels, the team that can effectively counter-attack is often the more successful and therefore a premium is placed on speed of recognition and speed of play. The counter-attack can be carried out with any combination of dribbling and passing movements, with the point of origin generally impacting the likely tactical solutions.

Because attacking spaces are more available when counter-attacking, under-pressure defenders are often forced to take greater risks with offside tactics. This, in turn, pressures attacking players to better appreciate how, where, and when to run into shooting or crossing positions. Players who understand the value of lateral and diagonal running in these situations often become the game breakers; conversely, players who run in straight lines often become offside.

Sometimes, what starts as a promising counter-attack opportunity quickly peters out as defenders recover goalside, or technical/tactical lapses kill the impetus of the moment. While the initiative for an attack may still be regained, it is more likely that teams must abandon the counter-attacking phase and revert to formally building-up.

Next: The Defending Phase

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 coaching@oysan.org.

Who Wants It the Most?

By Tony Earp

There is no way to predict which players will be the ones who will end up playing at the highest level or achieving the most over their soccer careers. As coaches, we like to think we are good at identifying the soccer stars of tomorrow, but we are often wrong. There is just no way to know how a player will develop and change over time. Too many unknown variables lay ahead of each player that will directly or indirectly affect his or her path and where that path eventually will lead. With that said, with any team or group of players I have coached over my years in this profession, I can easily identify the players who WANT TO BE THE BEST by their focus and effort during training. It is easy to see who wants it the most!

You might be thinking that I am talking about the player who does exactly what is asked and is never a “behavior issue” in training, but I am not. Although that may fit the description of this type of player at times, it is not a defining characteristic. I have coached many players who other coaches would describe as being inattentive, disruptive, and stubborn, but I saw something different. I saw a player who was inattentive because they wanted to play, disruptive because they came up with their own rules, and stubborn to be the type of player they wanted to be. No matter how a coach might label this player, there is no denying that this type of player would put his heart into everything he did. Passion and desire is often not obedient and structured. Some of my most passionate players and those who wanted to be the best, were also the most difficult to manage in training and in games. This is the type of player who does not stick to the path, but creates their own.

On the flip side of the coin is the player who never takes his eyes off the coach and is zeroed in on absorbing as much information as possible during each training session. This player is a coach’s dream in training and in games. He will do whatever is asked and more, while taking advantage of every opportunity to get better. It is obvious this type of player is determined to be the best and his actions show he wants it more than others. Like the player who is driven by passion and desire, this player is driven by other forces. This type of player is fueled by purpose and the quality of each and every action. He wants to be the best and will jump through any hoop, leap any wall, and overcome any challenge to move closer to the goal. This is a player who sticks to the path, and runs through anything standing in the way.

A player who “wants it” is a player who does the little things right all the time. The player who does not take a second off during a training activity or game. A player that is driven to improve and is actively working towards that goal. Most importantly, these players do the most of their “work” when no one is around. They do not just work hard when people are watching, or do what is asked for the proverbial “good job” from a coach or parent. They don’t care about that. They just care about their ability to play the game. Since that is their goal, they take every opportunity possible to work on their craft. They do not just do it when asked to do it by someone else.

When kids are young, the better players can sometimes be the players who have just developed physically or cognitively faster up to that point. There can be as much as a two year difference in physical and cognitive ability of players of the same age group. We point to the players who are more mature in those age groups as being the stronger players. We assume those are the players who be the best in the future, and some may be. But, we must also give our attention to those players who seem to want it the most, who love to play the most, and who have the most passion, drive, and purpose when they play. These players may need time to physically and cognitively catch up to their peers, so they cannot be overlooked. When these players develop, hopefully they received the same coaching and attention needed along the way to help them reach their potential.

Let me give you two examples of what I am talking about….

My first example is a player who I have coached over five years starting at age 8. He was always a “wild one” on the field and showed a tremendous amount of passion and joy to play the game. He was never happy unless he was competing, playing, and winning. He has never had much patience for standing around and listening for instructions, but I could always tell he was listening. When working on one skill, he was always the first player to try the skill his own way. It was common to hear, “What about this coach?” while he tries a heel pass versus the inside of the foot passing the rest of the team was working on. When I called the group in to talk, he used that time to work on his favorite skill move or start an impromptu 1v1 challenge with a teammate by megging him. Although the behavior could be seen as distracting at times, I understood where it was rooted. The kid just loved to play.

As he aged, his passion and creativity matured with him. In his age group, he may be one of the most exciting players to watch on the ball and is completely unpredictable (in a great way) on the field. He never ceases to amaze in what he has the guts to try when he plays that no other player would even dare think about trying during a game. The way he moves on the ball and what he is capable of doing was not a product of my coaching. It was a product of him wanting to be the best. What many people do not know about this player is the amount of time he spent at home on his own just trying things with the soccer ball. Lifting, chipping, bending the ball all around the house and backyard, along with many other challenging skills, provides this player with a distinct advantage when he plays. He is capable of manipulating the ball in a way that other players cannot creating a number of options only available to him when he has the ball.

Second example, I currently work with a player who always arrives early for training. When waiting for training to start, while other players are talking and hanging out, this player finds space to work with the ball. Either dribbling and changing direction, juggling, or anything else the player feels the need to work on, gets its needed attention before the organized training session even begins.

During training, he never trains below a maximum effort and he can be someone tough on himself when mistakes are made. Although undeterred, he will quickly use disappointment as fuel to try again and work even harder. When the session stops, and I am talking to the players, he never cuts away from me with his eyes and often asks questions about the training. More often than not, I can count on him stopping me after training and asking specific questions about his performance and ideas on how he can work on skills on his own.

On a final note about both of these types of players, and the players in my example. The players who want it the most, seem to appreciate their coaches and parents who provide guidance an opportunity the most. These players have never left a training session with me, or any other coach, without saying thank you. Of the two players I talked about above, the first always walks by me on the way out of training with a quick “finger point” and says, “thanks coach.” The second player always shakes my hand, says, “thank you” and then usually asks me a question that is based on helping him improve.

Both of these players are very different in almost every way, but both are very similar in where it matters the most, they both want it the most!

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Will your league invest in coach training?

We know budgets are tight in non-profit, youth sports organizations. But we also know that training your volunteer coaches is an important, shall we say necessary responsibility of every youth baseball, softball, soccer, football and basketball league. Yet asking coaches to visit websites and watch videos and download practice plans just doesn’t work. They’re too busy and they need something they can use “on the fly” when they show up at practice straight from work. That’s where CoachDeck comes in. Our handy deck of 52 cards broken into four color-coded categories each containing a great drill that can be made into a fun game makes it easy to run a tremendous and enjoyable practice. And that’s what volunteer coaches want – easy. Or customers tell us that the better practices their coaches are now running lead to more kids coming back to play and more coaches volunteering to help out again. And isn’t that the sign of a healthy league? And isn’t striving for that health the number one priority of the organization’s leadership?

Play, Learn, and Create

By Tony Earp
When coaching soccer, it is easy to get caught up in all the technical and tactical aspects of the game that you want your players to learn, and all are skill areas I am sure the players need to know very well to have success on the field. We know we want the players to learn those skills, but how do we approach teaching it to them, or a better question, how will the kids approach learning those skills? It is the approach that kids take to learning new skills that we need to pay attention to so we know how to teach it to assist in the process of learning. During a training sessions, I know the kids will want to play and that is how they will learn. How will I know if they picked up the skills? They will demonstrate a strong understanding, a mastery of those skills, once they are able to create things I did not ask them to do on their own without any direction.
Play is a great word because it can be used to describe so many different things. It can be used describe almost any situation or activity in which an individual, of any age, is doing what they want, when they want, and enjoying it. It can be done alone or in a group (small or large). Usually play involves very little structure or rules, but it still usually always has a distinct goal or purpose. Often one of the goals of “play” is to get better at whatever is being done. This is true even though someone playing would not probably point to that as being the reason, which is a great thing, and why play is so valuable.
For example, when I was a kid, we built ramps and rode our bikes off them in the street. Now we were playing, and definitely having a lot of fun, but at the same time, there was this internal push to get better at jumping off that ramp. Once we could go over one ramp and land it consistently without falling, then we wanted to go off an even higher and steeper ramp, even when we knew we would fall much more often and fail the first time we tried. If we kept going over the same ramp, at the same height, over and over, it would eventually get boring and we would not want to do it anymore. As kids, we did not think of it this way. We just did not want to be bored, and it is fun to be challenged. Even though we were not consciously doing it to get better, each time we reached a certain level, we tried to do a little bit more. It made it more fun, and it helped us get better. The fun usually can be found just outside where we are comfortable.
At the same time we were making ramps higher, just going over them and landing was no longer all we wanted to do. We could do that…now what? Well, how about a twist of the handle bars, or try to spin around in the air? I am not saying we never got hurt, but we were playing, having fun, and without anyone pushing us to do so, we were trying to get better… and we got better.
Think of a kid’s video game. If they completed a level and then just had to repeat it again, they would probably not want to play it very long. Although the game itself is fun, it is only fun because there is another challenge around the corner. When do kids stop playing a video game, usually when they have beaten every level or there is nothing left to accomplish.
Play is a critical part of a player’s development because it is the foundation of how we learn anything. It is nature’s coach, and the way we were born to discover our limits and surpass them. We did it as kids, and still might do it as adults in some aspects of our lives. When you think of a training session, play must be involved heavily within the session for kids to learn. We need to create that experience within each session to ensure the same sense of enjoyment and internal drive to try new and challenging skills is present as it is essential for learning and growth.
Now, when you play, there is a process in which you take to learn. You learn what works and what does not as you fail and succeed at the task. Let’s go back to my experience jumping over ramps on my bike as a kid. We fell off our bikes, got bruises, and were too scared at times to try something new. We would “inch” into new jumps or more challenging tricks. We failed a lot more often than we succeed. We “wrecked” the bikes and our bodies… at first, but than we landed more often on two wheels rather than our face. But after each fall, we thought about what went wrong, tried to fix it,and tried it again. This was the benefit of the “play.” There was no one there to say, “Don’t do that” or “Don’t try that again.” There was also no one there trying to talk us out of trying something. Trying to convince us we were not good enough or it was too risky. We determined what we were going to try again, how we were going to do it, and when we were ready. This is how we learned.
At practice or in a soccer game, it is the same. Things do NOT work a lot more often than they do work. The worst thing as coaches we can do is take the “play” out of the game, and tell kids not to try difficult skills, things just beyond their current level, again, and again, and again when they play. After each failure, we need to be the voice that helps them correct the mistakes, as well as the voice that tells them to try it again. The same fear free environment that we all are part of when we play needs to be created by coaches on the soccer field. It is the natural way the players learn new skills. We cannot expect players to play just beyond their current abilities while at the same time criticizing and chastising them after every mistake. The mistakes should not just be expected and welcomed, they should be a sign to both the coach and the player, that learning is taking place and development is in the process. The play is being used to learn. Frankly, when kids come to practice and expect a mistake free day, or focus on not making mistakes, they are no longer “playing” and that key element needed to learn is lost. It becomes more of a scripted environment, a staged reenactment of playing soccer, and the kids are just trying to memorize their lines to avoid any “boos” from the crowd (a coach or parent).
Now, once the learning is happening, and the skills and confidence are improving, players will then feel comfortable to create with their new knowledge and skills. That is the evidence that every coach should be looking for to see if their players truly understand the concepts being taught. Once the players take those skills and start doing what they want with them, things that the coach did not even ask them to do, the players are demonstrating a strong understanding and confidence with those skills. Their competency is on full display.
Don’t believe me? One of the most common things I hear coaches say is (me included), “The kids did great with this (skill/concept) in training, but never use it in the game.” Well, this is exactly why. In a scripted controlled environment, they can repeat what you are asking them to do. But in the unpredictable environment of the game, the players do not really have enough understanding to create using those skills in that environment. This is why games are the key times for coaches to observe what the players are doing and not doing, what has been learned or not learned. A lack of a skill used in a game that was the focus of training the week leading up to the game shows a lack of competency in those skill areas. I would suggest more “play” in training to help deepen the understanding.
This is the natural progression of getting better at anything without really thinking about trying to get better at it. We play. Through our playing, we consistently try to push our abilities by doing more difficult or challenging things that make the play more fun. We explore the unknown possibilities of our actions. It is where excitement and fun reside, and where learning finds its home. As the learning takes hold, and the knowledge and skills deepen, we enter into the best part of play… the ability to create. The ability to create starts the process over. It provides a new way to play, new things to learn, and then new things to create.. and the cycle continues.
If there is a training session format that I could recommend to all coaches, this would be it. It is the most natural, it is the most effective, and it is the one that we all enjoy. Let the kids play to learn, and then let them create with what they learned. In a training environment, the coach is the facilitator of the play, and does not have to be an inhibitor of it when teaching. While still giving instruction and providing correction, you allow the kids to play and challenge themselves beyond their current abilities. Then, you can sit back and enjoy watching them create beautiful pictures on the field on their own. Through play, your players learned, and now they can create when they play.
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Soccer drills and coach appreciation

We run into soccer organizations that frequently tell us that they have regimented training that the put out for their volunteer coaches. Our response to this is, CoachDeck is not a replacement for that training, but the perfect supplement! Many leagues we work with provide a thorough curriculum but still utilize CoachDeck as a coach appreciation gift, thanking coaches for their hard work and willingness to help out. They understand that there are many ways to utilize the deck, as a fill-in if the head coach is absent, a reward for players to pull a card off the deck to play a fun game, and to ensure that if a coach didn’t have time to prepare he still has a great set of drills in his back pocket. The bottom line is that you cannot have too much good material and having a deck of cards containing 52 drills that can all be made into games kids love is icing on the cake!

Coach Captain Obvious

By Tony Earp

While sitting and watching a youth soccer match, you will hear a lot of things said from either sideline. Often we focus on things that parents say from their sideline that are not beneficial to the players, but what about what is being said by the players’ coaches? Throughout the game, what information is being shared from the coaches’ sideline to the players? This will change drastically depending on the type of coach that is working with your child. High level youth coaches provide information to help players solve the problems of the game and improve their level of play. When mistakes are made, information that is useful to the player to help them have success the next time is provided. Unfortunately, some players will play for coach “Captain Obvious” who does not provide information that helps the players as much as just pointing out mistakes and running commentary of the events of the game.
Think of it this way, it is not enough to just point out issues and mistakes on the field. That is not coaching. It is the lowest level of observation and thought by just stating the obvious over and over again. Also, when a coach only points on mistakes without any information to the player on how to correct it, than nothing is learned.
Does your child play for “Captain Obvious?” Here are some things you would hear from the sideline from this type of coach, and how I am confident most players would like to respond.
“You can’t lose the ball there!”
OK. Please point to the area of the field where it is fine to lose the ball. Next time I “INTEND” to lose the ball, I will do my best coach to make sure I am in that part of the field. Is there anything I could have done different before I got the ball or with my first touch to help me not lose the ball in this “can’t lose it there” area of the field?
“Keep possession!”
Ohhhh, I misunderstood the point of the game. I was TRYING to give the ball to the other team. I thought we got points for each time we lost possession. Any tips on how to keep possession?
“You need to finish those opportunities!”
Are there opportunities that I do not want to finish? Hopefully you understand my intention was to score that goal. I did not miss on purpose because I thought this was one of those opportunities that it did not matter if I scored or not.
“Take less touches!”
You mean take one less than the number I took right before I lost possession? Yea, I guess that would have been a good idea. I am not sure why I feel the need to take all these touches. It is like some type of addiction to have the ball at my feet. Personally, I wanted to give the ball up earlier, but my feet would not let me. How many touches should I take each time I get the ball? Is there some type of chart for me to review?
“Better pass!”
By “better” do you mean one that goes to my teammate versus the other team? You’re right that would be a better pass. Perhaps some advice on how to strike a better pass than reminding me I just gave the ball away. Were you under the assumption I thought that was a good pass?
“Better first touch!”
Again, by “better” you mean one that does not cause me to lose the ball? Yes, again, that would have been better. I am glad you said something. I was actually going to take a worse touch next time and see how that worked out.
“You need to win that ball!”
By win the ball, is there some type of raffle, or do I just go and take it from him? I was under the impression that they are suppose to just give me the ball when they do not want it anymore. If I would have known I am suppose to go win it, I would have done it already. Thanks again coach! This game is so simple.
“You let him get by you!”
Well, he asked nicely. He said, “hey man, can I get by?” So I said, “Sure!” Next time should I say no?
“You have to run!”
Not true. Look up Carlos Valderrama. He rarely ever ran and was really good, and I model my game after him.
“You are out of position!”
Can you perhaps put up some type of markers, or maybe an electric fence to help me know when I am not in “position” during the game? Don’t worry about teaching about my roles and responsibilities, just point and yell.
“You dribbled right into the defender!”
Incorrect. That defender ran right into me. It is his fault!
“Shoot when you get the chance!”
Thank you for permission to try to score when I have the chance. I tend to wait till I do not have the chance to try to score, but I will try your way from now on.
“Get open/No one is moving!”
I keep trying, but this guy keeps following me around. Can we ask him to stop following me? It would make it much easier to get open. But if he is just going to keep following me, I really just don’t see the point.
I know I am being overly sarcastic, but my point is simple. These types of comments are just obvious observations from the sideline from the coach. They do NOTHING to help a player improve or better understand the game. To tell a player who just lost the ball that he just lost the ball, is not what I would consider high level coaching. To tell a player who just missed a shot on goal to hit the target, does not provide any information to help the player do what is being asked.
Instead of telling a player to not lose the ball or score, a coach would provide information to help them be able to do that the next time they get the chance. The player does not need to be told what just happened. He was there and is well aware of what just transpired. What the player needs from the coach, is corrective information that the player can apply to the next time he gets the same opportunity.
Instead of “hit the target,” after a miss, a coach who is trying to teach may say something like, “Take a look before you shoot so you know where you are and get your feet set before your shot.” That is just an example, but it gives the player something to try next time they get the chance to score.
This can be applied to most moments in the game. When coaches speak to the players during the game, instead of just commentating on what just happened, it is much more helpful to provide the players with information to help them improve their level of the play. All the examples I gave do not provide any helpful information to allow the player to have a better chance of having success the next time. Like any great teacher, comments should be designed to either spark critical thinking to solve the problems presented to the player or are hints/tips for them to discover how to find more success in the game. Stating the obvious may sound like coaching, but nothing is being taught (or learned).
Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

Divide team into smaller groups

One of the cardinal sins of a youth sports coach is to run boring drills and force kids to stand in line waiting a turn. They need to be active and engaged at all times, lest they become restless and inattentive. A great way to ensure lots of action and repetition is to break the team into smaller groups, each group working on a different skill. CoachDeck is the perfect tool to help coaches in this regard. A coach who has a CoachDeck can pull a card out of the deck, give it to an assistant coach and say, “Will you take those four kids over there and do this drill?” and give another helper another card and ask, “Will you take this group over there and do this?” After 15 minutes or so, rotate stations so that all players participate in all of the activities. This means there will be less standing in line and more actual playing and getting better which means increased team improvement and player involvement and enjoyment.

Parental Code of Conduct

Here is a terrific document authored by one of our clients, the Chantilly Youth Association. This would be great for any organization to adapt and put out to their parents.