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
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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 tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

When A Coach Promises Scholarships

By Tony Earp

Run. No, seriously, run as fast as you can in the other direction. Like a late night TV ad on how you can get rich quick if you follow a simple 3 step plan, you NEED to change the channel. One of the most ridiculous things I hear around youth sports is a coach promising a better chance to receive a scholarship to play in college if a player plays or trains with that “coach.” What is even more frustrating is that some parents actually believe it. As a player who did receive a scholarship to play in college, I want to say that NO COACH, I EVER PLAYED FOR OR TRAINED WITH, EVER PROMISED ME, ANYTHING! Scholarships are not given. They are earned. Great coaches know that, and I had great coaches. That is why none of them EVER talked about scholarships. They only talked about what I could do to get better. Why? Because that is all that matters.

First, receiving a scholarship to play college sports is very rare compared to the number of kids who play sports. If you’re curious, it is around 2% (according to CBS sports). Some stats may vary some, but I think you get the idea. There is about a 98% chance your child will not receive a scholarship to play college sports. Your kid should be focused on academics to get themselves into college. Sports is not going to be the vehicle that gets them there.

With this in mind, it seems ludicrous for a coach, trainer, or organization to dangle scholarships as a selling point for their program. If they are going to lie to people, why stop there? How about they offer a winning lottery ticket or some ocean front property in Kansas? In terms of trying to sell their ability as a coach, and to help a player improve, those type of “selling points” mean just as much. In other words, they tell you nothing about what your child should expect when playing and training with that coach. A scholarship promise just tells you that the coach is pretty confident in his ability to make promises he or she cannot keep.

Scholarships are earned by the player. They are earned over years of hard work and dedication. It is something that is mainly influenced by the player. It does not matter how good a coach is if the player is not willing to put in the time and effort to train that is required to play at a higher level. In terms of earning a scholarship to play, that is a completely different commitment level, effort, and sometimes….luck (right place, right time) that goes way beyond the amount of work needed to just play at the college level.

A player has never earned a scholarship because he trained or played with me. Any player who I have coached who earned a scholarship did not get a scholarship because of me. I have never used a player who has earned a scholarship as a sales point for other players in an attempt to try to convince them to play or train with me. Why? Simply, it is wrong. Doing that completely takes credit away from the person who earned the scholarship, THE PLAYER, not the coach. It is trying to boost yourself up on some else’s achievements.

Coaches should be proud of their players’ accomplishments, celebrate with them, be happy for them, and continue to help them achieve great things, but they should never take credit for it. That is not what great coaches do. Great coaches do not want the accolades. They do not need the spotlight. They work hard to put their players’ goals and ambitions in front of their own, and when their players achieve great things, they let those kids have the stage to themselves. Although coaches play a big part in a player’s development, we are only one of MANY guiding forces and factors that lead kids down their chosen path.

If it was just the coach, if the coach was really the only key difference maker, than every player who worked with a certain coach would all rise to nearly the same level. But, we know that is not the case. Even in the most prestigious training academies around the world, where they have tried to get development down to a science, most players never make it all the way through to the end.

In the end, it is very disingenuous to use scholarships and hopes of playing in college as a recruiting tool or selling point for any coach, team, or program. It is simply something NO ONE can deliver on. What you can sell is who you are as coach, how you train, your core beliefs about player development, and who you are as a person. These are the only things any coach can control, and the only thing a coach can ever promise a kid who plays for them.

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

Starve the Beast

By Tony Earp

There are many benefits of taking time off during the year as a competitive athlete. The obvious ones are mental and physical rest the body needs in order to stay healthy and avoid overuse injuries or “burnout.” The amount of rest needed changes from player to player depending on age, competitive level, and personal needs. In short everyone is different, and so is the need for rest and recovery. But what is the best thing about rest? The answer is the least talked about benefit and the one I found to be the most helpful as a developing young player. In short, REST STARVES THE BEAST, and when the time is right, you let the beast eat again.

Let me explain… I hated taking time off from playing soccer. I had to be pulled kicking and screaming away from the soccer field. I would even go as far as to sneak out to play or lie about where I was going when leaving the house with my friends (sorry mom). My coaches and my mom constantly encouraged breaks and stressed they were necessary, but I was a kid who loved the play and I did not care about what was “necessary” or “good for me”…. I just wanted to play.

I had a coach that finally got me to buy into the “rest” concept with the “Starve the Beast” approach. Simply, he explained that you have this beast inside of you who loves to play and feasts every time you step on the field. He will always eat and he is always hungry, but he can only eat so much at time. He told me that I needed that beast ready to eat every time I step on the field. When I rested, or when I starved the beast, he could eat a whole lot more.

It is not easy to starve the beast. The urge to let the beast eat and go play is strong and it takes discipline to ignore it. But when done right, and at the right time, when I stepped on the field to play again, the beast was hungry to eat more than he was before. In other words, the “beast” was willing to work harder, for longer, and break through any barriers that stood between him and his food. After a break, I learned that my level of play and level of training drastically increased.

As a kid, I did not care or really relate at all to the idea of stopping burnout or overuse injuries. Why? Because I was a kid! Those things did not mean anything to me, and I did not feel it was something I would have to deal with no matter how much I played. Although I could have been negatively affected by those things, it was not going to stop me from playing and training. When this coach explained the “starve the beast” concept, it made more sense to me.

Of course I saw myself as “the beast” (what kid does not want to be a BEAST), so it became something I bought into because I understood it and I related to it. After a break, I noticed the difference in my effort, attitude, and level of play after a break. I recognized how the BEAST responded when I got back on the field. When I stepped on the field, I wanted to show everyone what the BEAST could do, and I wanted to let the beast EAT.

When you have a passionate kid who loves something and pursues it relentlessly, parent and coach request to take breaks is not going to convince the kid to put the soccer ball away. It just does not make sense to the child to do that. The equation is simple… I love something, doing it makes me happy, so I am going to continue to do it. The starve the beast approach is not just fun, it acknowledges the kids passion and drive to continue to do it. It says, “I know you want to play, I know you’re a BEAST, but watch what happens when you cage the beast for a bit and then let him loose when he is rested and HUNGRY.”

My parents made it fun. When my break was up, the question would be asked, “Are you ready to let the beast eat?” I would always answer, “Oh, he’s ready to eat.” Then off to training I would head. Normally to one of my best training sessions I had in a very long time.

Make sure your child takes time to “starve the beast.” Not only will it help prevent injuries and burnout, but it will also set your child up to have more success on the field in the future. In short, breaks are good. They are necessary. BUT, you need to find a way to get your child to accept the need for a break. Just saying, “you need a break” may not do the trick. It may just cause frustration or resentment. Try the “starve the beast” approach, or something similar, and make the time off away from the game something they will welcome.

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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A “Sometimes” Player

By Tony Earp

With over 15 years of working with players, regardless of ability, I have found the most distinctive difference between players is whether or not a player is an “ALWAYS” player or a “SOMETIMES” player. Always players are exactly what they sound like. No matter the day, time, activity, game, or any other circumstance, they ALWAYS give a maximum effort. They do not take breaks or choose when to compete and work hard. There is no compromise or variability to their approach to training or games. It does not mean that every performance is their best, but they always give their best effort.

Then, there is the “SOMETIMES” players, and they are exactly what they sound like. They give their best effort and work hard sometimes. Not always, but when it is usually the easiest or most convenient for them. Or even worse, only when they are certain it is in their own best interest.
Here are some situations where “SOMETIMES” players shine, and the different approach of the “ALWAYS” players:

“It is Fun”

Of course. It is easier to give a good effort when we are having a good time. To work hard when it is not your favorite thing to do, is much harder. Ironically, the things we enjoy doing the least, often are what benefit us the most. I have trained players that completely change their work rate and attitude as soon as the training session consists of something they find fun and enjoy.
In contrast, an “ALWAYS” player does not require it to be fun for the effort to be given. Although they like certain things more than others, they do not let that affect their drive to play or miss an opportunity to improve.

“They Can Do It”

These players love to show people what they can do, but are scared to be seen struggling at anything. When they can do a task and do it very well, then they are willing to give a good effort. But, when something is hard or just out of their reach, they stop working hard for it. They find it easier to believe they could not do it because they did not CARE TO DO IT. Not that they were not able, but they just convinced themselves it was not worth it, it was below them, or just marginalized the importance of the activity. This approach helps them feel better about not being able to do it, and does not make them look vulnerable struggling to learn it.
On the other hand, “ALWAYS” players like the opportunity to do things they do not know how to do. They embrace the struggle and will not be discouraged or embarrassed by failure. They have learned that for each moment of struggle comes a lifetime of rewards.

“They Will Win”

These players play hard and with confidence when they are NOT in a fight. When they know they can easily walk over an opponent and get the result they want, you can see their energy level rise and often this is when they are at their best. On the flip side, when the opponent is tough, or they are completely outmatched, they shut down. They disengage from the game, begin making excuses, blaming others, faking injuries or fatigue, or anything else that excuses them from taking responsibility of the result. Often after or during this type of situation, the player will seem apathetic about the result or his performance.
The “ALWAYS” player always tries to compete at his best level. Although he will have “off and on” days, it is never an excuse for a drop in effort and his competitive level. Normally, as the opponent gets tougher, this type of player uses it as fuel to push beyond his current level or drives him to train harder in the future. He learns from the experience, does not make excuses for himself or others, and does not blame anyone. Not even himself. He just goes back to work so he can fight even harder next time.

“Playing with a Friend”

There is a social aspect of the game and it is important. Although it is a lot of fun to play with friends, there will be times when that is not possible. I see this a lot in training sessions. If certain players are not paired with who they want to play with, their effort drops considerably. If they do get paired with who they want to play with, then their level of play is much higher. When they are not on their friend’s team, the body language changes drastically, head drops down, and I know the players is going to give half the effort he normally would.
An “ALWAYS” player may prefer to play with certain kids, but he never lets it show. No matter who he is playing with he will do everything he can to support and play with the other players on the team. Regardless of level, this type of player gravitates towards being a leader on the field and knows success is a group effort. He relies on the other players and they rely on him. He knows not giving his best effort is an insult to his other teammates on the field.

“Coach/Parent is Watching”

For me this is the most common example of the “SOMETIMES” player but the most subtle form of it. When a coach or their parents are nearby, I can see a distinct increase in their level of play and energy. For people watching, this looks like an “ALWAYS” player, but if you can sneak peaks of these types of players training when they do not think anyone is watching, that is when the “SOMETIMES” is exposed. This can be the most self-destructive form of the “SOMETIMES” player. When kids learn to only work hard when people are watching, it will be very hard to achieve anything, on or off the field. Most of the things earned in life are worked for when no one else is around or when no one is asking you to do it.
An “ALWAYS” player does not care who is watching or not. Often, their effort is even higher when they are alone. They are not doing it for anyone else. It is not about pleasing or gaining approval of another person. It is about making sure they never let down themselves or others who rely on them when the whistle blows. They have set an unbelievable expectation for themselves to meet. Higher than anyone else could ever put on them. They hold themselves accountable to never falling below those expectations.
“SOMETIMES” players grow into “SOMETIMES” adults. “ALWAYS” players grow into “ALWAYS” adults. This is an important lesson to teach kids from an early age as it will play an important role in the rest of their lives. When we help players become “ALWAYS” people, they not only have a better chance of succeeding in soccer, but in even more important aspects of their lives.

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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