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

Five Questions to Ask Your Coach

By Tony Earp

One of the things all players need to do more is ask questions. I challenge every player I coach to ask questions during training sessions, before, during, or after games, and any other time they are not sure about anything. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where most people, including youth soccer players, do not like to appear like they do not have all the answers already. Especially when around their peers, kids are very hesitant to ask questions in fear of being judged by the other players, or even the coach. More often than not, players (all of us really) would rather pretend like we understand than ask a question to get help we need to perform at a higher level. Our fear of being seen as incompetent outweighs our desire to improve.

So during the season, I would challenge all players to ask questions of their coaches when anything is unclear or to get a deeper understanding of an aspect of the game they feel they already know. All of us, coaches, parents, and players, should always be seeking more information and knowledge to help us make good decisions and elevate our level of “play” on the field and off the field.
Here are 5 things a player should never hesitate to ask your coach:

1. What are my weakest areas as a player? Be ready for the answer to this question. Often people ask for feedback and they only want to hear good things. Too negative of a response and we do not take it well. As a player, one who wants to be great, you WANT to hear the negative. The positive does not help a player improve, but it makes them feel good and build confidence (so it is important to). When a coach is very honest with a player about what he needs to improve, it is the most valuable information the player receives. Listen intently, make sure you understand, and then go to work making it a strength.

2. What are your expectations of …. ? All coaches are different and no two have the same views about almost anything. Each will have a different opinion about how the game should be played, players should act, and what makes up a great player. Although I hope a coach would make this clear before the season, it does not always happen. There are a lot of assumptions. A coach assumes players know what he wants, and the players assume they understand what the coach expects. Often, both are wrong and it is a key reason for confusion and misunderstanding. Find out what your coach expects from you, and work hard at exceeding those expectations.

3. What is my role within the team? Coaches see every player in some type of role within the team. For the team to be successful, each player must play their role so the team can reach their goals. You hear coaches say, “Know your job.” On a soccer team, a forward, midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper can play very different roles and have very different “jobs.” Each coach will ask those players to play those positions very differently. Players will assume that playing forward for one coach is the same as playing for another coach. It is not. Within the system the team plays, your role can be very different. Make sure you know your role on the field (know your job) and execute!

4. What did YOU do as a player? Coaches need to know their players in order to coach them effectively. But, players should also know their coaches in order to play for them effectively. Understanding a coach’s background, playing experience, coaching experience, and how they played the game, often gives valuable insight to why and how the coach teaches the way he or she does. We are all influenced by our past and experiences, and a coach is no different. Coaches often reflect the way they were as a player in their approach to teaching the game. As you learn more about a coach’s playing past, habits, successes, and failures, it is easier to anticipate what the coach will do or say before the coach says it or does it.

5. Why? As a coach, I love this question from players. After explaining something during a training session or during a game, I appreciate when a player asks why. For me, this is a clear sign that either player wants to learn more about what I was talking about, or the player does not understand why I am asking them to play a certain why. Players often understand what I am asking them to do, but often do not know WHY they are doing it. As a coach, I try to explain the why, but I know not every player gets it or maybe even agrees with it. By asking why, a player can not just know what they are doing, but can understand why they are doing it and how it relates to the game. This is probably the most important part of the education piece of coaching. When players do something without understanding why, the slightest change in any aspect of the task will leave the players left unsure about what to do. When the WHY is clear, a player can make appropriate adjustments to any changes in the game or in a training activity. They can take the same principles of the WHY and apply it to any other situation to make a better decision.

Just ask questions….that is all I am saying. Too often, players are passive onlookers in their own development. Players should take control of their development, own their development, by asking important questions to coaches throughout the year. As a coach, I have learned a lot from my players asking questions about training activities and the way I ask them to play the game. In answering, I feel I helped them become a better player and student of the game, and it challenged me to fully understand my coaching approach and philosophy.
Simply, when we stop asking questions, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we stop growing.

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

Building Real Confidence

By Tony Earp

Confidence and self-esteem are important for every player to have in order to be successful on and off the soccer field. As coaches and parents, one of our goals is help develop both of these in players over the course of their childhood to help them be prepared for the real world when they are off on their own to face the challenges ahead. Confidence and self-esteem help people deal with adversity by being able to make thoughtful decisions in difficult situations that are aligned with their core values. It helps people stay the course in pursuit of their goals while others tell them it cannot be done or they are doomed to fail. Confidence and self-esteem prevent people from quitting too early. The importance of these traits in a person cannot be stressed enough. With that said, we need to be very careful in how we try to develop confidence and self-esteem in kids as they grow up. Too often, we are too focused on making kids feel confident and have self-esteem through artificial means versus developing the skills that are the foundation that confidence and self-esteem are built upon.

Success does not develop confidence or self-esteem. Confidence and self-esteem develops sustain, life-long success. It is not the other way around. Too often, we try to manufacture situations that kids will have success in order to build their confidence and self-esteem. Although in the short term, yes, a child will feel good about what just happened, but will that confidence last? Is it the type of confidence that will remain the next time the child fails? Or is it more like a big shiny bubble that is great for a moment but will not last? Unfortunately, artificial success creates a confidence “bubble” that will always pop leaving nothing of substance behind.

To build confidence and self-esteem in kids, you are not really focusing on building those things. To build that in a child, the focus needs to be on developing the skills required, and abilities needed, to actually be confidence and self-assured about what they are able to do. To build confidence and self-esteem, a person needs the skills and ability to be successful in whatever they choose to do. Building confidence and self-esteem without any real substance behind it, is like building a house with no foundation. Under the slightest amount of pressure, it will crumble.

For example, a doctor who is confident is normally confident for good reason (at least we hope so). Over a career of developing knowledge and skills to provide the best care possible for patients, the doctor is confident in the ability to diagnose a problem and treat it accordingly. Although the doctor may be wrong at times, it does not hurt the doctor’s confidence or cause doubt in the doctor’s ability to do a great job. But what if the doctor lacked any substantive knowledge or advanced skills, what if deep down the doctor really knew that those abilities were not there? How quickly would the doctor’s confidence and self-esteem fade at the moment that the doctor is challenged or faced with adversity to any degree? How quickly would the doctor shy away from “difficult cases” or give up when a diagnosis could not be found quick.

In relation to soccer, confident players are ones who have the necessary skills to play the game. They are not necessarily the players who are having success. Yes, they may claim to be confident and may even show the body language and demeanor of a confident player, but what happens the first time they are really challenged by the game or another player? What happens the first time they fail? Does the confidence remain or does it quickly fade? Does the player assume he is no longer a good player? Or is the player confident in what he is able to do and recognizes a temporary setback and an opportunity to grow and develop.

Kids are confident and have a high self-esteem when they know they are good at something. When they know they have the skills to be successful, and they can make a positive impact on what is going on around them, they are confident and will shine. When challenged, they do not break. They rely on what they know how to do and what they can do to meet the challenge and overcome it, but even when they fail, it is never from a lack of effort or persistence. More importantly, they do not take it as an attack on their self-worth or confidence, but as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become better. Even in failure, self-esteem and confidence can grow, but only in those who are really confident and have a self-esteem solidified on the substance and value of their abilities.

Too often we are too concerned with the final result, a score, a grade, a certificate, etc… and not concerned enough with what the child actually is capable of doing or what the child actually knows. Think about back when you were in school, and you got an A on a test or a paper. Getting the A is a great thing, and in no way am I saying that trying to achieve high scores is a bad thing. My question is what did you really have to do to get that A, or what did you learn? Getting the A is not what built your confidence or self-esteem. It is what you are now capable of doing or what you now know that was significant. It is what real self-esteem and confidence grows from. If the A was not really earned, nothing was learned, or the child was setup to do well (easy questions, “spoon fed” the answers), then the A really has very little value. Yes, the child may be “proud” of the grade, but then what? What is the child left with besides a memory of a moment that they felt good about something they “accomplished?”

On the soccer field it is the same, we are too concerned on whether a child wins and loses and the effect it will have on their self-esteem or confidence, rather than really looking to see what the child is or is not capable of doing. What is the child learning or not learning how to do? Winning is a great thing, and every player should compete to win, but winning does not build confidence. Ability does. Players can be on a team that wins all the time, but if deep down they know they do not have the skills to play the game, then they are not confident or have a high self-esteem when it comes to soccer. Yes, they feel good and smile after a win. Of course they do, since winning feels good. But the truth is, they are not building confidence to play the game. Why? They have nothing to really be confident about.

Confidence and self-esteem come from one simple question: What can you do? The more skills and ability a person has, the more they are capable of doing, the more confidence they will have in what they do. Past success, does not help a person in regards to what they are capable of at this moment. When the answer to the ability question is “not much,” how would we expect someone to be confident in that scenario. This is why our mission and goal as coaches and teachers is NOT to help kids have success. It is absolutely and most importantly always to help kids DEVELOP SKILLS and ABILITIES to be able to answer that question…. What can you do?

Also, when that becomes the focus, it provides the kid a straightforward answer to what needs to be worked on. Simply, whatever they cannot do right now is what they should be working on to be able to do in the near future. Confident players know their strengths and their weaknesses. They are not ashamed or embarrassed by their weaknesses, but instead use those areas of their game to guide their training and drive to improve. Unconfident players, ignore their weaknesses and try to pretend they do not exist. When those weaknesses are exploited, a player’s’ confidence in his level of play immediately plummets.

Instead of trying to build confidence and self-esteem through artificially, adult manipulated, worthless “victories” or prizes, confidence needs to be developed by making players confident in the skills they possess. In order for them to be confident in those skills, the focus for coaches, teachers, and parents should be to instill those skills, not confidence. Without the skills, there is really nothing for a child to be confident about. Again, yes, having success, winning, getting a good grade, makes anyone feel good, as it should. All I am saying is that it is critical to pay attention to the context in which those things are being accomplished. Are they being done in a way that it is earned by the children through the development of skills and knowledge, or is it being given to the children with little substance or value supporting that success? It is the simple difference between building confidence and building nothing in child.


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

Development Requires Competition

By Tony Earp

Often when talking about development and soccer players, it is assumed you are reducing the importance of trying to win or the will to compete for the players. Since development is the focus, than whether you win or lose is irrelevant, right? No matter what, after each game, everyone is given a gold star, ice cream cone, and patted on the back and told they are great. The kids should feel no different after a loss than they do after a win. Results do not matter, so who cares who won, right? In reality, nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, competition is at the heart of development and learning.

When I was a kid, part of the reason I trained so hard was because I hated to lose. I still to this day despise losing at anything. With that in mind, I also had a coach who made it crystal clear that in order to give myself the best chance to have success, I had to get better. It is not enough to show up at a game and want to win really really really badly. It is not enough to show up and just feel like you can work harder than everyone else on game day and expect to get positive results. From early on, my coaches, and parents, made me earn every ounce of success I had on the field by helping me understand it would be a direct result of what I was learning and how I was improving.

Part of any player’s development is learning how to compete, and what is required to have success on the field. The problem is that kids can be set up and put into situations by adults to have success without earning it, to be set up to win without having to compete. I call it “bumper bowling success.” By manipulating the kids’ actions or the challenges of their environment to make things easier or only asking them to do what they already can, success is handed to players. The success is not earned.

When players are set up to succeed, they are not really being asked to compete at all. Although a player can have success initially, eventually without the development and learning, the success will end. The player may have assumed he was getting better due to the wins or positive reinforcement from the coach or parents, but all of a sudden he will find himself in a situation where he has no chance of being successful. Without the fundamental skills to play the game, there is no way he can compete. Not only will he not know how to compete, the player will also lack the tools to even give himself a chance.

Is there a crueler thing to do to a child? Make them believe they are heading down the right path, when actually, they are going the wrong way.

It is really a simple concept. The players all need, and should, develop a desire to win when they play. But, you know what, if they want to win, then they need to learn how to play and earn it. They need to compete the right way and try to finish first. That is how life works. There is no logic in wanting to win and not wanting to learn the skills needed to play. This is true in school, business, sports, and every aspect of life. You should want to do well and want to have success. Not for the sake of the success, but for the fact that is the standard you hold yourself too. And that is what kids need to learn. If you do not want to learn how to play soccer, you do not want to learn how to control the ball, dribble, pass, receive, defend, move off the ball, and everything else needed to play, then you really do not want to compete at all. You really do not have a strong enough desire to win because you are not willing to do what is necessary to win, not once, not just now, but for as long as you play.

Winners, true competitors, win because they work harder than their competition to get better. They want to win, so they know they need to get better. They work hard, get better, and win they win more than those who do not. As they win, the competition gets tougher so they still strive to continue to improve.

When players do lose, there are plenty of lessons from the loss that need to be addressed and learned by the players and the coach. A “development-first” focus is not saying, “Hey, we lost. No big deal.” There is no room for learning or development in that statement. Developing players is using those times to look at the games and identify where the team and each player need to improve to get better. Again, development is key. The players are asked to reflect on what went well and what did not, and how can they replicate the things that worked and improve on the things that are currently out of their reach.

On the other side, a loss does not mean that the game was a waste, and that is where the line is drawn. Those who just want to win, and do not care about development, fail to find the important takeaways from those games. The only thing focused on is the fact that the player or team lost. If a team loses but the players are executing and utilizing skills learned throughout the week with the coach, then there is success there that needs to be recognized and acknowledged.

When any player or team tries new skills or tactical approaches on the field, it does not work perfectly the first time or the first full season attempting what is being learned. While trying to learn those skills, the players and team expose themselves to a higher possibility they will lose some games. Not until they have mastered those skills will the players have the best shot at winning playing that way and using the new skills.

This is where the lessons are found when a player loses. Those lessons are what they take back with them to training to work on to improve before next game. If the approach is “who cares that we lost,” then it does not give the kids goals to work towards at the next training session. On the flip side, if the kids are just scolded for losing and their attempt to use those skills are not recognized and praised, then what is their motivation to continue to get better at those skills or try them again?

In training and in games, competition is key for player development. The drive to win and have success on the field is connected to the drive to improve and get better at the game. A player cannot only focus on one or the other as it would not allow the player to develop. If a player just wants to win, but is not willing to train to improve, there will be no development and winning is not possible. If a player just wants to get better but does not want to win, then they have no reason to use what they are learning. If you cannot use what you are learning, why learn it? And frankly, if you do not want to win, there is no reason to play.

Competition is healthy when it is presented in the correct way to the players. We cannot ask kids to compete without giving them the tools to play the game, and we cannot ask them to develop the tools if we do not want them to compete. It is when winning is the only goal and the development is sacrificed in order to take short cuts to help players “cheat” themselves into a win and out of getting better that competition is grossly warped by adult influence.

The purest form of competition can be found in the streets and parks when kids play pick up on their own. With no adults or added external pressure, the kids will still compete because they want to win. Because they want to win, they will take risks, take charge, and assert themselves into the game. This is part of why “free play” is an important part of player development. Free play creates some of the most competitive environments kids will find themselves playing.

When someone mentions favoring a player development focus over a focus on winning, it does not mean that winning is not important. It usually means that the goal is to develop players which requires learning how to compete and win games, but there is no room for taking shortcuts to win a game if you want to create an environment to develop players. As with a developmental approach, it is understood there are no shortcuts to developing players but plenty of shortcuts to win games.

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


Things My Mother Never Said (Part 3)

By Tony Earp

As a soccer coach, I hear a lot of things said by parents to me or their kids that my mom never said to me growing up. Below is a sample of comments I hear all the time. As a coach, I cringe every time I hear them. Maybe because I never heard them growing up from my mom.

“I will talk to the coach.”

Nope, never, not going to happen… if I had an issue with a coach, I always was forced to discuss it with the coach. My mom never stepped in and expressed concerns for me. I asked my mom why she always made me talk to the coach. Her response was not what I expected.

In short, my mom said to me she would never talk to the coach about what he was doing on the field because she would never expect him to talk to her about what she was doing with me at home. It was a simple point and again a very good one. Can you imagine if your soccer coach knocked on your parents’ door and gave them suggestions how to be better parents? Her view was that he was the coach and she was the parent. She will do what she thinks is best for me and the coach will do what he thinks is best. Both will make mistakes and will need to learn from those errors.

With that in mind, my mom gave me the responsibility to discuss issues with my coach or any adult I felt it was necessary. When I was younger, she would go with me, but would still make me talk. I know there were times she may not have agreed with the coach but she would never express her disagreement to me. Why? Probably because as soon as I knew my mom did not respect the coach’s decision, she knew I would not respect the decision either. She would be giving me the “green light” to dismiss the coach anytime I did not agree with him.

There a lot of lessons my mom was teaching me by doing this, but I will not go into them all. Outside of taking responsibility and learning how to bring up concerns to people of authority in a respectful way, the most important lesson was probably the least obvious. By my mom refusing to talk with the coach, it made me really decide if my concern was important. When a parent will quickly bring up an issue with a coach, a player will be more likely to bring up every little thing seen as an issue with the parent because the parent will discuss it with the coach. When the kid is forced to have the discussion, the child will be a little more selective about what is a REAL issue and what is not.

“You are better than that player.”

I would ask my mom if I was better than player “x” or player “y” because those players were getting more playing time than me or playing in a position I wanted to play. Whether I was better or worse did not matter much to my mom, or at least, she never made it the focus of the rest of the conversation.

In my mom’s heart she probably thought I was the best player to ever wear soccer cleats. She loved watching me play and thought very highly of my ability and potential on the field, but she NEVER compared me to another player. She would let me know when I had good days and bad days, but she would not compare me to any other player on the field. There were no coaching points or suggestions on how to play better, but she would be honest about my level of play. Normally the comments would be limited to things like, “I have seen you play better” or “it just did not seem like your day.” On the positive side it would be limited to, “You worked very hard today” or “It was a lot of fun to watch you play.” She always made it just about me, positive at times and negative at other times. She was not afraid to let me know when it was not my best effort, but never slow to let me know I played well.

Honestly, I am not sure if I know how my mom felt about any of the players I ever played with. She never gave me specific feedback about any players on the field. Her comments about the rest of the team would be very general. She would always refer to the team and never about individual players. After games I would hear, “the team looked great” or “the team seemed a step slow today.” This continued all the way through college.

My mom just focused on me most of the time. I was her focus and none of the other kids were her responsibility. She never spoke about me to other parents or talked about other players with other parents. Although parents may ask, my mom deflected the questions and avoided those types of conversations. It just was not her concern and made a choice not to allow herself to be part of those discussions.

This kept me focused on me. We are quick at times to justify how well or poor we are doing based on others around us. My mom forced me to measure myself against myself. When using other players to decide how well I did can dangerously lower, or raise, my expectations for myself. It can create a false sense of success or a false sense of failure, depending who I would measure myself against. We all compare ourselves to others at times. It is unavoidable. But when you cut through all the distractions, you should measure success or failure against yourself. It takes a deep sense of awareness and the courage to accept the fact you did your best or you never even really tried. Both are hard to admit at times.

As parents and coaches, sometimes it is the things we do not say that have the biggest impact on a child’s ability to be successful. Youth sports is not about the parents or the coaches, it is only about the kids. It is their time to play, learn, and grow. The kids need to experience success and failure, confidence and doubt, courage and fear, anger and joy, and everything else that comes with playing sports. My mom allowed me to experience them all. She did not shelter me from the bad or shower me with the good, and I never got to take the easy road to where I wanted to go.

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

Things My Mother Never Said to Me (Part 1)

By Tony Earp, Director SuperKick Columbus

I truly believe nobody accomplishes anything on their own. Success is a combination of individual effort and surrounding yourself with the right people who will influence your life in the correct way. I was fortunate enough to have a mom who loved me dearly and would do anything necessary to make sure I had the best chance to be successful. As a kid, my success on and off the soccer field was a direct result of a lot of hard work (because I am not overly gifted in any capacity), and the discipline instilled in me by my mom in every aspect of my life.

My mom would often say to me, “You can only control what you do.” With this in mind, she rarely ever allowed me to blame other people or look anywhere but internally on the reason for, or the result of, my actions. This is a tough thing to stick by because there are a lot of times in life that you do everything you are suppose to and things do not work out the way we want. It is usually at those times we look for external reasons for “why” and will point blame to a person, group, or organization. My mom would never allow me to do that. She always refocused me to learn from the experience and work harder the next time around.

It may have been different times when I was a kid, and I will never tell a parent how to raise a child or to not step in when their child is being treated unfairly. All parents have the urge to protect their child and want their child to have the best opportunities to be successful. But when do parents step in too much? Even with the best intentions, by parents protecting their kids from negative situations, they can create situations for their kids that actually will have long-term negative effects. On the surface, it looks like the right thing to do, and may have a short-term benefit, but will have negative effects on the child moving forward.

As a soccer coach, I hear a lot of things said by parents to me or their kids that my mom never said to me growing up. I attribute my success on the field to my mom avoiding these comments and not allowing me to make excuses or justify disappointment in the wrong way. By avoiding the comments below, my mom forced me to always focus internally and never make excuses for myself or others. My high school team won 3 state championships, I received a full scholarship to play at Ohio State University, I was a four year starter for the Buckeyes, and captain my senior year. I am convinced the only reason I made it to that level and had success, not being overly athletic or talented, is my mom forced me to take responsibility for everything that happened to me on and off the field. Her most common advice to me was, “work harder next time.” The sentiment stuck.

Below is a sample of comments I hear all the time. As a coach, I cringe every time I hear them. Maybe because I never heard them growing up from my mom.

“My child is not being challenged enough.”

My mom never said this to a coach when I was growing up. If I ever came home from a training session and said, “Practice was easy today,” my mom would reply, “Then, you did not work hard enough.”

She did not even humor the idea that maybe I was not being pushed hard enough by the coach or the coach was making me do training activities that were “below my level of play.” Her immediate reaction was to let me know that how hard I worked was completely under my control. If I felt practice was easy, I just did not put forth enough effort. Case closed.

Am I taking the coach completely off the hook, absolutely not! It is critical for coaches to try to challenge every player and push them to excel. But being challenged is more internal than it is external. For example, if an athlete is asked to run a mile, it may not be a challenging distance for the athlete. The player may be in great shape so a mile run is not challenging at all (on the surface). If the player wanted the mile to be challenging, all the player would need to do is try to run the mile as fast as possible, maybe try to break his/her record, or to put it simply, the player would make the choice to make the activity challenging.

My point is players can control how challenging any activity or environment can be for them. Playing with more skilled or less skilled players, doing complicated or simple training activities, or the duration of activity are not the only reasons something is challenging.

Many parents reaction to a child indicating they are not being challenged it to search out other types of training or a higher level team. I am not saying this is not a good idea at times, but at times it is a quick fix to a deeper issue that goes unaddressed. The child does not put forth the effort required and the reason for that is being put on everyone else but the child. In time, this will hurt the kid’s ability to continue to develop down the road. Anytime a situation is not “ideal” for the player, the excuse of “I am not being challenged enough” will be an acceptable reason for their lack of success and effort.

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

Let the Players Coach

By Tony Earp

How do you know when you really understand something? It is said that when you really understand something, you can teach it to someone else. If this is true, then an easy way to check for understanding in your players is to have them coach. Sounds strange? Yes, it would be very weird to walk up to a training session and see the players giving instructions and explaining a technical, tactical, physical, or mental skill of the game. Although it may be strange to see, it would be a pretty amazing display of understanding by the player. For a coach, it would be affirmation the player understands that part of the game. How else throughout a practice, or a season, can a coach really check for understanding?

One of the biggest mistakes I make as a coach is saying to players, “Does that make sense?” Of course, most of the time everyone says “yes” in unison, and then everyone takes the field and it is immediately clear that what I said did not make sense. One of the techniques coaches use to avoid this is to ask the kids questions versus just telling them the answer. By asking a question and having the player tell you what they could have done is a great way to check for understanding. Based on the player’s response, the coach will know whether or not the player understands what the coach wants them to do.

Could we take this a step further? While asking guiding questions during a training session to check for understanding, could you ask a player to lead an activity or part of a training session? Just as an example, by asking a player to lead an activity on 1v1 attacking, the player would have to explain a single part of 1v1 attacking, but review all the important “coaching points” with his teammates. The player would have to, with the coach’s help, coach the other players on the team in that skill area. Would that not help develop understanding of important principles and skills, that in the long term, would help the players learn those skills faster, and more importantly, understand how to apply them to the game?

As a teacher, I used this approach in the classroom all the time. I would ask the students to teach the class on certain sub-areas of a major topic we were discussing during that time. The students would create a presentation, lead the class through the presentation, and then provide an examination for their classmates to check for understanding. The students really enjoyed this process versus me standing in front of the room and just talking about the topic while they took notes.

They had to work with the material and know it well enough to teach it to their classmates. In terms of long term understanding and comprehension, and the skills of how to process information and use it, were the invaluable benefits to this process for the students.

A side benefit was that students felt empowered, like they were the adult (teacher) for a little while, and they had control over what happened in the classroom. It gave them complete control of their learning and their classmates.

This is something as a coach would be easy to bring to the practice field and gain the same benefits. With the players studying different skill areas or tactical focuses and trying to teach them to their teammates, they will gain a deeper understanding and take ownership of their development as players. Again, like the kids in the classroom, all of a sudden the kids are empowered to be the adult (teacher) for a little while and get to learn how to speak in a group setting, teach a skill to another person, and the confidence to lead a group of people to complete a set task.

The benefits of this approach are endless, but it would require coaches to give up a little control by giving the players the freedom to lead parts of the training session. Of course, like in the classroom, you need guidelines for the kids to follow to ensure that part of the training session is productive and meaningful for all involved.

I like to think of the playing field for kids as an extension of the classroom (because it is). As we look for different approaches to make a meaningful impact on our players, it is appropriate to look at the best practices of teachers in the classroom and think a little bit outside of the box with our strategies for our players to learn. Depending on age and level of the kids you coach, you can make the opportunity appropriate and something that will not overwhelm or underwhelm the players.

If you really watch kids, they love to teach each other what they know. It is a way for them to display a skill or something they learned. You see it all the time when kids play video games or play sports in the backyard on their own. Thinking back, many of the “tricks” I learned as a kid was taught to me by teammates before or after practice. Kids would go home, work on a new trick, and once they had it perfected, they could not wait to teach the rest of us.

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