One Question

By Tony Earp

Can you play? It is simple question and the most important one. All the evaluations and feedback, opinions about what makes up a great player, and debate about the most important skills a player can possess, all come back to that simple question. The only thing that matters when determining a player’s ability level is if or if not that player can meet the demands of the game. When players are training, focusing on improving different skill areas of the game is very important, but will it translate into the players being effective and better in the game?

As many coaches have seen, there are players who are technically sound, physically capable, understand the game, and work hard, but struggle to be effective in games. They have the tools, but cannot seem to use them when needed. All the pieces of the puzzle are there, but they cannot put them together to meet the demands and challenges of the game.

These players have worked hard fine tuning their technical ability on the ball. With both feet, they are sound in receiving, passing and dribbling with speed and control. Tactically, they understand their role in their position, the principles of attacking and defending, and the coach’s expectations on how the team should play. The player is physically capable of playing the game, and the player is competitive and wants to win. Again, all the critical skill areas to play the game are possessed by the player, but for some reason, the player is unable to use them in the game effectively.

Something was missing in the player’s training. Something very critical. Although the player has learned all of these skills and has these tools, he has never learned:

  1. HOW/WHEN/WHY TO USE THEM.
  2. HOW/WHEN/WHY THEY ARE CONNECTED

Often this occurs when learning of these skills are done in a vacuum, isolated of one another, and not within the context of the game.

Think of it this way… like many people, I enjoy watching the many YouTube videos of people doing crazy tricks and skills with the soccer ball. From juggling, skill moves with the ball and finishing, there are some amazing things people can do. Many may watch these videos and just assume these people must be great players based on what they can do with the ball, but that assumption may be very wrong.

The only thing I know watching that type of video is that the player is exceptional at that one skill. I have no idea if the player is actually an effective player in the game. I know he can juggle, do a wicked (insert Boston accent) skill move, or hit a crazy bending shot, but I have no idea if that player is any good at playing the game.

I am not being critical of those players or those videos. I actually think they are tremendous tool for young players to watch and get ideas to train on their own, spark their own creativity, and expand their understanding on what is possible to do with the ball.

The point is that a player’s goal is NEVER to just get good at a single skill movement or an activity in training. It is not to be a better juggler or be able to do a skill move with the ball. A player’s goal should ALWAYS be to improve their ability to play the game. So when training, or practicing any skill, it always needs to be done in the context of how it will be used in the game.

When training, without the context of the game, or a clear understanding of the application of the skill being worked on, it is possible to develop players who are excellent at training but struggle to play the game. Just like in the classroom, information and skills learned are most effective and useful when applied to their required use when it really matters (in real life).

In contrast, there are players that in training seem to struggle, but when the game starts, they are able to play at a higher level than expected. They may not be as technical on the ball or physically good as we think they should be, but when they step into a game, the player can find ways to be successful and very effective in helping his team. On an evaluation, a coach may have a slew of areas the player needs to improve on, maybe a lot more than other players, but at the same time, the player seems to be more successful than a player who would rate better on a written evaluation.

This type of player shows a clear understanding of several important things:

  1. His own strengths and weaknesses. He understands how to play towards his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
  2. The game. Really understanding nuances of the game, the critical points, that allow the player to make exceptional decisions and anticipate the game.
  3. Competitive spirit. Let’s face it. Some players are better because they just want it more.

The larger point is that all players are deficient in some skill areas comparatively to other players, but that may have little impact on their level of play. Despite not being as strong in some areas as other players, their “total game”, or their ability to be effective in games, is much higher than players who have considerable better technical or physical abilities.

Again, the real “evaluation” or the only “test” that really matters in determining a player’s level is how they do when the whistle blows. I have always been one who believes in player evaluations and feedback, but when we cut through all of the fog of player development and determining a player’s level of play, the only true evaluation is the game. The game is the only real measure of a player’s level of play.

The game is not biased, it is not political, it has no self-interests, and does not care about getting phone calls or emails from parents. The game will always be the most honest person with any player about what they are and are not able to do. Simply, either you can play or you cannot play.

When training, keep this in mind. Your goal, whether on your own, with your coach, or with some friends, is to get better at playing the game. Find ways to train yourself to be more effective in a game, when it counts.

Skills are necessary, juggling is important to improve your touch, YouTube is fun, but the game cares very little about how many “views” your last video post received, how many times you can juggle, or how crazy your skill moves look. It will only ask you one simple questions once the whistle blows… Can you 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

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OnDeck Newsletter Arrives Tomorrow!

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Six Things Parents Should Say to Their Player

By Bruce Brownlee

A lot of soccer parents with good intentions give a 30 minute lecture, covering all the players supposed deficiencies and giving playing advice, in the car on the way to each match. The kids arrive far off their optimal mental state, and dreading the critique they are likely to hear, whether they want it or not, on the way home. Kids who are massaged in this way tend not to play badly, they just tend to not play, possibly to avoid making mistakes.

The easiest way to detect this problem is just to ask the player if it is a problem. Kids are more than willing to share this grief. The easiest way to correct this problem is to speak to the parents, as a group, about your expectations, and to cover this as a routine problem. Many of the parents will recognize themselves if you can present this problem with humor and illustrate the importance of the kids having fun and arriving in a good state of mind.

For best results, parents should memorize and use the following.

Before the Match
1. I love you
2. Good luck
3. Have fun

After the Match
1. I love you
2. It was great to see you play
3. What would you like to eat?

Bruce Brownlee coached boys soccer from 1978 to 1988 in Marietta, Georgia.  Coached girls teams from 1988 to 2003 for Tophat Soccer Club in Atlanta and AFC Lightning Soccer Club in Fayetteville, Georgia.  Served as a staff ODP recruiter and coach in 2002-2003.  Returned in 2010-2011 to help coach his granddaughter’s U11 team.  Won 4 state cup championships at Tophat.  Proud of his four children who played top-level club soccer and amateur and college soccer later. His site Soccer Coaching Notes.com is a terrific resource for club and amateur soccer coaches.

Street Soccer – Let the Players Play

By Adrian Parrish

Most adult coaches reading this article can remember their days as a kid playing sports in the streets. Picking your own teams, learning technical skills from your peers, setting your own rules and the only time an adult would yell at you was when you were told that it was time to head home.

More natives from African and South American countries where street soccer is still very favorable are now living and playing soccer in the US. Even one of the world’s best players has opted to play the remainder of his career in the Major League Soccer, but even with these introductions and growth in the game what has happened to the Sandlot Kids?

Perhaps you could argue that the streets are not safe due to more vehicles, the play grounds are not as safe as what they were 20 years ago, and open grass fields are been taken over by houses or office buildings. This may be true, but the fact could also be that our children never get the opportunity to be children as we schedule their play time to be as busy as an adult work life.

Children are becoming involved in structured practices at an earlier age, meaning that they are being taught so much more and become use to structured environments at increasingly younger ages. Parents fear that if the do not put their little four year-olds into this kind of set up that they may fall behind, allowing no room for trial and error which is found in street soccer.

We can not change the culture but through our practices we can give today’s children some insight into what we experienced growing up in hope that they will pick this up and take it away, and perhaps set up games among friends or even just with a ball and a wall that is at their disposal.

Almost every practice a young child will ask the question “Are we going to scrimmage today?” If you let your team scrimmage at the beginning or the end (or even both) of your structured practice, it should be a time when you allow the players to take control and create a street soccer environment.

Players need to take responsibility in setting up the fields, teams and rules and lose the controlled approach. Observing your players take on these responsibilities will help you find leaders within your team. A captain’s role is more than just leading the warm-up or stepping up to the center circle to flicking a coin. In a street soccer environment you will start to see every player take some personal responsibility and not rely on an adult to help them. Positions may be set, but every child will be given the opportunity to learn every role. These positions will not only change from game to game but during any moment of that scrimmage, thus allowing your team to create a “Total Football” style seen by the likes of Arsenal in the English Premiership and the Dutch National team of the 70’s.

But the principle is still to get the best out of each player and offer them the best opportunities. I encourage clubs to set up a Street Soccer Festival/ League that has no standings. In today’s society we focus too much on the results and do not allow our players to learn through the game. They know when they have won or lost, but they do not dwell on it.

There are many different ways of setting up a Festival/League from having set teams for the whole event or changing from game to game. Ages can be mixed, leadership can change player’s hands, but the children will learn from each other as well as the challenges and problems they face.

Many of the youth playing and living in America today may have never experienced the true and real meaning of Street Soccer, yet as we already know it is not a new fashion trend. We just feel that we are getting something better by putting our children in a structured environment, instead of just letting them play.

Adrian Parrish is the Director of Coach & Player Development for the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association. He is responsible for the Coaching Education Program and the management of the Olympic Development Program. A native of Louth, England, Parish currently possesses a USSF “A” License, UEFA “A” License (Pending), and the US Youth Soccer National Youth License. He can be reached at adrianparrish@kysoccer.net

Don’t celebrate too early

We’ll let the video speak for itself. You’ve never seen anything like it. Courtesy of Bleacher Report

Yep. You missed it

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