And So a New Season Begins….

This past weekend saw us out of town playing together for the first time. The weather was nice, great complex with super fields, and the competition was excellent. Overall, it was a nicely organized and well run tournament!

Let me begin with the statement that I really had no expectations going into this weekend other than I wanted to see just how the girls played together and how they faired on the pitch under pressure. What I came away with was a sense of just who they are, what they are capable of and what we need to address- all the things that one should expect to gain from an early season tourney.

So going into the weekend, there were numerous little things that could, would or might have conspired to put players off of their game, such as our keeper was not going to be present for the first couple of matches, our uniforms had not come in till the evening before the 1st game and then, there was some discrepancies with sizes, we were all in different hotels and areas, we had not had a chance to scrimmage to work out the kinks and get a feel for the new formation we wanted to play…small things but sometimes it is those little things that have the most impact on our game…

Saturday our first game kicked off with a fairly organized opponent and we were only 2 deep on our bench against their army of many legs and lungs. TBH- I was somewhat concerned as we were playing a bit outside ourselves and getting too far ahead of play to have any real impact on situational play. At halftime, we asked the players to calm down and think about their actions and how could we play where we controlled the tempo and pace of the game. The other team had one opportunity at goal early in the second half and capitalized on that chance. 

Having been with sides that conceded the match after 1st blood was drawn by the other team in the second half, I worried that we would take our foot off of the gas due to our mental state. Those fears were quickly put to rest as the girls put the petal down and went on to ring the bell 3 times to take the win.

Our next two games were to be a chance for us to hit a stride and start to discover who were are- we walked away from both contests with shut outs to put us firmly in 1st place (we were the only undefeated team in our division). However- the lack of subs and the fatigue from a soft preseason regiment soon took their toll on us as we went into the final game.

As the whistle blew for the final match, we struggled with fatigue and no respite or chances to recover as our opponent capitalized on having a full bench. As they sent wave after wave of fresh legs and lungs onto the pitch and played us with long ball, the out come was  inevitable. We tilted to them 0-1 but held them off until the 2nd half before they were able to hit the net.

As other coaches asked me about what I felt could have been done differently, I could only say that given all the circumstances we had to face going into that match, nothing. As we mature as a team, we will learn that we have to be aware of what is happening on the field- in this case, we matched their style of long ball play and just ran ourselves in the ground, instead of just playing simple possession to hold onto the ball. This match was a great opportunity for us to see where we are, where we need adjustments and why those adjustments are needed.

Yes, as I was driving up to the tournament, I was focused on all the aspects of the games except winning. Having 3 wins out back to back our first time out was a pleasant surprise. I am so proud of these girls and so thankful for the opportunity to share this season with them and see them grow in our sport.

till I see you on the pitch

 

j

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Almost Time

The fall season is almost here. We leave next weekend for our first tournament, and this will be our first look at how well we have come together and how well we execute under pressure. It will be a good opportunity for us to take stock and continue mapping out how we proceed with our season.

As with any new group of people coming together for a common goal, there have been things that we have had to sort out and I have been very impressed with how this group goes about it. They certainly make my work more enjoyable and it is rewarding to see them put the pieces together each session.

The team has set goals for themselves this season and as we go about the process of achieving those goals, it remains to be seen if the old adage of “nothing of merit ever comes easy” will be realized.

I ask the girls to push themselves, to hold themselves accountable for their actions (both on and off the pitch) and to make sure that they never have to look in the mirror and feel that they failed to give their best effort to themselves and to their team. We are constantly trying to help them connect with what they are doing right now so that the next thing is a natural extension of they just completed correctly.  I know it is contrary to what most of them have been coached but we are asking them to reduce their sense of having to play fast and replace it with a sense of purpose- it is in the manner that we will be able to play quickly. That is not to say that we  don’t want them to have a sense of urgency, but their play needs to have a reason for that urgency.

We had a good session last night where we able to give this a go and while the players were getting a bit frustrated at first because we would not just let them go all out, once they began to see the fruits of their labor so to speak, the tempo picked up, the ball found its purpose and the players slotted into their groove. At the end, they remarked about how challenging it was but yet fun. That’s what the game should be- always.

As a character on an old TV series used to say ” I love it when a plan comes together”.

 

till I see you on the pitch

j

 

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Work, Work, work

It has been about a month that the new team and I have been working together and we are coming together nicely. One of the nicest things about this group is that it always feels like a give and take where the more I put in front of them, the more they put into the session. Our session last night was a prime example of this- we got through all the individual components of the lesson plan and moved on to the team section and the work rate never dropped, never slacked up. At the end of the last session, every player was drenched in sweat and said how great the training was.

I know I may be biased, but I feel I have the best group of players that any coach could ask for. From their attitudes, to their willingness to put themselves out there and try new things, every session has been an absolute joy to work with them. I find that the harder they work, the more I want to do my homework and assure that their time spent on the pitch that the training has relevance and purpose and is time well spent.

Part of any program has to be evaluation of where we are, where we want to go and how we get there. We need to identify what we do well, and make sure we incorporate those things, we need to be honest in our shortcomings, and make a plan to support those areas. One of the things I am going to ask the players to do is to not only evaluate themselves as players, and as a team but to also evaluate me as a coach: am I putting the right type of work in front of them, do they understand what our objectives are, how can I improve so that our limited time together has the most impact on their game.

One of my goals for this side this season is to train well enough that we can play simple soccer. The old saying goes that soccer is one of the simplest of games but one of the most complex games to play simple. I think that is very true and hope we can discover how to keep it simple.

So our training has been simple exercises that build one upon the other and hopefully, we will carry them forward each week to grow and develop as a team. As we go forward, I look forward to seeing what this side puts together and how they define themselves as players and as a team. Exciting times….

 

till I see you on the pitch

j

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New Days Bring New Opportunities

 Training Day.  We often think of our training days as a chance for players to work on their skill sets and improve their game. As I was putting the finishing touches on the lesson plan for today’s session, I began to wonder if coaches see and use this opportunity to train them selves. I know a lot of you may wonder why a coach needs to train themselves, but the longer I am in the sport, the more I feel there is to learn and understand. Not just about the game but about the individuals that play out the drama of the match- refs, coaches, players and spectators are all actors on the stage of contest.

 I feel very blessed this season with the side I am working with. Each of these players have a deep commitment to the game and to themselves. They all put forth the effort and work every time they get the chance to work. It is such that I find I am making adjustments to our training so that it remains viable and contributes to the players’ growth each session. Every session is a continual cycle of evaluating each player, how they are giving and taking from the task they are working on and how am I relating to that process.

Each evening after our sessions, I have gotten into the habit of jotting down notes about the players and what I think I saw in their performance that session. I try to incorporate those thoughts into the next training to give the players the challenge of sorting out the difficult areas as well as having some success in other areas they may have been struggling with. So far, the dialogue has been open and a good exchange for our team. It is my hope that as we go forward, these discussions will continue to have meaning for our players and help us grow and improve as individuals and as a team.

We are still a month away from our season which is not that long, but it is rewarding to watch how the players are taking advantage of every opportunity to improve and are making their time meaningful to their development. May we each embrace every opportunity to grow whenever and wherever it presents itself.

 

till I see you on the pitch

j

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Been Away for a While…

The past year has been one of many changes for me, I changed clubs, left the high school soccer scene and basically took some time to reflect upon our sport and how I relate to it. Last season, I worked with a team that consisted mainly of players that were either rehabbing from injuries they received during their high school season or were not sure about making the transition from rec to club soccer. We had a decent season but I found myself living in a paradox of not having to coach at the same level of competition as I was used to and missing that very level of competition at the same time…

At the end of the season, I had about made my mind up to leave the sport and find other pursuits when I received notice that I was expected to work two camps this summer. After much thought, I thought that I would continue with “just the camps” only to discover that I really did miss the competition and watching players play the beautiful game.

After I got back from the camps, I was asked to do some sessions for a pretty solid side and to make short of the story, I am coaching this side this fall. For several of the players, it will be their last season on the pitch, for others, it may not be. Regardless, I am excited at the prospect of watching them grow and play- they have such a great work ethic and desire to get after it, I know they have a great season in front of them.

till I see you on the pitch

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The Paint is Faded, the Lights are Off, Time to Get Started Again

So our season has drawn to a close. We have the gear stowed, uniforms are put away and the paint is almost faded away on the pitch. Players are calling saying how they are sad it is over and parents are glad of the break for the time being. As a coach, it gives me a little bit of time to reflect on how things went during the season, how things ended and what I could have done differently to better prepare players for their future on and off the pitch.

This season was interesting, challenging and very rewarding in a lot of different areas. It was interesting to watch the girls come together as a team and share common goals, and help each other work through the challenges they all faced as players and as a team. The challenges were many, from the disparity of talent to our schedule of games, to time demands placed upon individuals. The rewards were numerous; from watching how we went from low skill sets to being comfortable possessing the ball, from moving from a very direct manner of play to being able to execute build up play, from shying away from contact to playing through contact, from conceding too much space to seeing where we could eliminate space and time in our play.My biggest reward was simply watching the girls go out and play the game they love and seeing the hunger in their eyes to improve and be better next time they got the chance to play.

We began our season with my asking the girls what they wanted out of their time on the pitch this year. Their answer was to be one of the most difficult challenges I faced in many years. They did not say that they wanted to win X number of games, nor did they single out a particular opponent to win against. No, their main goal for the season was 5 words- “We want to be better!” As a coach, these are the words we long to hear our players utter, but it is one thing to say the words, it is another to set process goals to make them a reality.

We decided that we needed 3 things to make our goal happen:            

1. Meaningful Training Sessions- we needed every opportunity to have real application to our game. We did not do many fun Fridays this season, but made use of every day on the training pitch to improve.

2. Clarity of Purpose and Committment to ourselves since we are a team, we needed to understand and embrace the simple fact that we are only as strong as our weakest link. We must lift each other up and motivate one another always and be fully invested in what we hope to achieve.

3. To use every game as a measuring stick for where we are and where we want to be- our performance in every match was our way of knowing where we struggle and what we need to work on. Only by helping everyone on our side, will we reach our goal of being better.

Our early games were not very fun to watch and possibly even harder to play from the players standpoint. But, the take away from each of those games was valuable and had merit for us as a means to break down our game into things we could work on. As our season went on, we continued to show improvement every time out on the pitch. We had a 5 or 6 game winning streak before we ran into our biggest hurdle of the season- 10 games in 10 days. Put simply, it was more than both their bodies and their mental focus could handle. To have expected them to be able to perform at the same level we had before heading into that 10 game stretch was unrealistic in my mind.

So, we finished up in a hard place but, the team had reached its goal- I feel they were each much better players at the end than they were at the beginning, that the team had improved greatly in their time together and that we learned how to be a team. My biggest hope is that each one of them was inspired by their own performance and the fire is now firmly ignited and they will continue to play and learn beyond their H.S. soccer season.

“We want to be better”, as I look in the mirror, I hope I am up to the challenge these young ladies have set before me as I know I have a long way to go to help them reach their goals in the future.

till I see you on the pitch

j

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I have been slack I know….

It has been a while since I posted. It was not that I didn’t have anything to say but rather my time has been occupied with doing and not talking. If you have been following, you know that being the masochist that I am, I decided upon two teams this season, again. Thank goodness for a good friend of mine willing to step up to the plate and take on the day-to-day training with the second side or I would be lost…still, the managing side has been quite interesting this season.

We have had a busy season in spite of the weather winning most of the coin tosses and teams dropping games for other reasons. With all of the interruptions, it has been hard to get into a groove and move forward with the usual pace I am accustomed to. Still, we have shown constant improvement (that is a good thing, right?) and I have been proud of the girls this season.

The next two weeks wind down our season and they are going to be busy ones making up rained out games, end of season tournament, and so forth. As I look backwards to reflect on what has worked well and what I need to modify as I move forward, the things that stands out most in my mind this season is this simple truth: We coaches feel like we are the ones pulling the strings and by our teaching, we are the ones enabling the players to reach their potential. That with good coaching comes good results and our motivation is the cornerstone of players’ success. I find that while all of these are components of the big picture, I no longer subscribe to their singularity. Instead, I have had the joy and the privilege this season of having players buy into the ideals, methods and instruction that I came to offer. The girls have done a very admirable job of taking our work on the pitch and breaking it down to the distinct areas we need to address and then mapped out a plan to do so. I have come to the conclusion that I have been allowed access into their world and that they have found some intrinsic value in what I came to do. It is a very humbling experience.

The argument has been made that we coaches give up so much in our pursuit of helping players find their potential, I would offer that exactly the opposite is true- players give up just as much if not more in their own pursuit and if we coaches are lucky, then maybe, just maybe we get to have a glimpse behind the curtain and share the journey with the players.

till I see you on the pitch

j

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