Strengthening Your Midfielders

Trial and error has taught me a tough lesson: to have a successful team you have to have a strong midfield. Maybe you’ve always known that truth, but I’m a slow learner. One year I had a couple of great strikers and expected to win a lot of games. We didn’t.

Despite trying a mix of strategies and formations, we rarely could get the ball to those strikers often enough to score more points than our opponents. We lost to – or barely beat – teams with far less talented strikers. It wasn’t that our defenders were weak, the other team simply got a lot more opportunities to score. Sooner or later they’d find ways to put the ball in the goal.

So I started rethinking my approach, focusing on developing agile midfielders who knew how to control the flow of the ball. Bingo!

Here’s an excellent ezine article that delves deeper into this approach by the blogger at soccerdrillsreview.com, which I encourage you to check out.

Crossing the Line

By now surely you’ve seen the videos on TV and YouTube of fired Rutgers University men’s basketball coach Mike Rice running his practices like a psychotic drill sergeant. If not, here’s a link to one of MANY articles and blog posts about his recent dismissal.  And this post echoes the message in much of the coverage.

The writer calls it “a clinic on how not to coach,” and while there’s no arguing that obvious point, I find myself vaguely annoyed, perhaps just because the point is so obvious. And the incessant righteousness of the media coverage unwittingly provides us coaches with a get-out-of-jail-free card.

We watch Rice bombard his players with verbal abuse and with basketballs, and we feel downright pure. Compared to him, we are paragons of high-minded leadership! Unfortunately, the actual line between being a “tough coach” who motivates players to take the game seriously and one who disrespects his players is far hazier than the Rice example would lead us to think.

At the youth sports level, leave any type of tough-love approach at home. The kids don’t need to be “coddled” as some tough-love proponents often suggest, but they don’t need to be berated either. A dignified, straight-forward demeanor will make the point just fine.

Okay, that’s my two cents on the subject. I’m in no way defending Rice’s actions. I just think there’s a natural human tendency to point in horror at such actions and then walk away feeling high and might when, in fact, we need to be conscious of the hazy line whenever we assume the role of “coach.”

 

Tips for Youth Sports Parenting

Coaches see them all the time. Parents who drop their kid at practice and show up just in time to pick up the kid and zoom away. They don’t even need to turn off the car engine.

Sometimes these parents show up for the games; sometimes not. When they do, they don’t pay much attention, instead talking a lot about how darn busy they are. Always rushing here and there, no end of things to get done.

As if everyone isn’t in the same boat! It’s hard not to feel as if soccer practice is some sort of babysitting service for them – a brief respite from their duty as mom or dad. They have little to no sense of how well their child is performing, how well the team is playing, which other kids their kid has befriended.

They wear their whirl of busyness as their red badge of Good Parenthood. But other than driving to and from, they’re in no way involved with an important part of their child’s life. As a coach, I find in-game sideline comments from these parents especially annoying, but that’s my own issue and won’t bother you with it.

Now, I understand that some families have multiple kids in various activities. They need to drop off Suzy at soccer practice and then rush Johnny to his karate class and Jimmy to his guitar lesson. There’s no way they can stay for practice. They’re ear-deep in shuttle-service mode. But I find it hard to believe that parents sometimes can’t split the kid duties and show up for a few practices over the course of a soccer season.

I didn’t realize this was such a pet peeve of mine until I read this thoughtful list of tips for youth sports parents on parentmap.com. The article offers a dozen tips, all of them sensible and worth reading, though odds are you’ve seen or heard many of them already. But when I read number four – don’t use sports as a babysitter – I was pleasantly surprised. This “syndrome” is rarely mentioned in lists of this type and is more prevalent than many people realize.

Parents guilty of breaking this rule probably aren’t aware of it. They feel they’re being supportive and involved. But ask yourself what part of practice your child enjoys most. Which part does he or she enjoy least? Who is your child’s best friend on the team? What do they think is the funniest thing that’s happened at practice this season? What part of their game do they feel they’ve improved most.

My guess is that if you’re reading this blog, you know the answers to these questions. You’re engaged enough in your child’s youth sports experience to be actively seeking ways to do it even better. So I’m preaching to the choir. Well, we all can improve, so take a few minutes and read the article and let me know your thoughts. Which of the tips impacted you most? Does it speak to an aspect of sports parenthood that you can improve? I’m interested in hearing what you think.

Saving on Soccer Gear

Even more than the fractured schedules and constant driving to practices and games, parents tend to dread this aspect of starting a new youth soccer season: buying gear. It gives a whole new meaning to “they grow up so fast.” They grow out of their gear even faster. If you have younger ones trailing behind, at least you can hand down the gear that was so shiny and new (and expensive) not all that long ago.

If you’ve had kids in sports for a while you’ve likely met other parents in the same position. Talk to them about trading used stuff to avoid having to buy new again. You also might try calling your coach or league organization to help you find parents willing to trade/sell/buy, which can save you money and let the equipment get its full use.

Here’s a post from Yahoo that offers some other helpful tips on choosing the right gear without breaking your personal bank. Written by a mom who has learned the lessons of youth soccer parenthood, the article covers the basics with a fun “I’m no expert” tone that makes this bitter (b)ill easier to swallow (and pay). She covers buying cleats, shin guards and soccer balls.

Check it out. Maybe you can save some money this season. Of course, we know that the price we pay is worth it in the end, but having a few extra dollars for post-game ice cream is always a good thing.

 

Bullying in Youth Sports

Have you witnessed an incident of bullying at a youth sports game or even at practice? Most of us probably would answer yes. Not that it’s prevalent on most teams or organizations, but it does happen. In the heat of competition, some folks lose their cool – and their judgment.

Whether bullying is more common now than 10 or 20 years ago is hard to say with certainty. The outcry against this type of behavior, however, is definitely growing louder. Here is an article about a group founded last year in Pennsylvania called Parents for Pride that is adding its voice to the concern.

These parents want to restore civility and proper behavior to youth games. The state has anti-bullying policies in place, but these tend to focus on schools, ignoring other areas of life, such as youth sports, where bullying occurs. And, let’s face it, bullying can take many forms, from blatant to subtle to insidious. It’s tough to legislate against it.

But these parents are taking a stand to protect kids as well as the sports that offer so much to their kids. At Coach Hub, we’re happy to hear their call for good sportsmanship.

Goalkeeper Communication

Your goalkeeper needs to be a special kid – one of the leaders on your team. Like a catcher in baseball, your goalkeeper has a view of the field no other player possesses. And to improve teamwork, the goalkeeper must communicate with teammates.

Therefore, your goalkeeper should be a kid who is comfortable telling other kids what to do. He or she must be a commander of sorts. Of course, as the coach you need to teach your goalkeepers what to say. When should they be shouting directions and when should they let the play unfold without interference.

One of the best posts I’ve seen on this subject comes from active.com, by Todd Hoffard. What I like most is the emphasis on simplicity. The writer targets ages 10 to 15 with his advice, and even at the higher ages in this group it’s important to focus on the basics. As you’ve probably seen many times, a kid can seem to master a technique in practice and then flub it in the next game. The heat of action creates adrenaline, which can interfere with clear thinking. Emphasis on simple instruction and execution pays off during game action.

Hoffard suggests focusing on five basic commands to communicate. He also notes that the timing of these commands is crucial – it’s not just what you say but when you say it that really matters.

Check out the post and then gather your goalkeepers at the next practice and get them started. I think you’ll find your team executing better and your players working together rather than competing for the ball and getting in each other’s way. Let me know how it goes.

 

Youth Soccer Position Basics

In the previous post we covered a basic list of the things you’ll need to bring to practice. Today let’s review the basics of player positions. If you’re coaching at the youngest levels, your biggest challenge will be to get your kids to understand and play those positions. At that age, kids have a tendency to chase the ball like a swarm of bees, forgetting the roles in the offense and defense that they’re supposed to fill. Your job will be to remind them constantly to support a certain area of the field rather than dashing goal to goal, getting in each other’s way.

I found an excellent post on coaching-kids-soccer.com that provides a nice overview of the soccer positions, with commentary on the skills each position requires. You’ll find the commentary especially helpful as you begin running your preseason practices and evaluating the skills and weaknesses of each of your players. The observations you make will be key to your team’s success, because you’ll have slotted your players in the positions that make the most of their individual skills.

The post covers goalies, defenders, midfielders and forwards (strikers) and offers a short, insightful analysis of each position. Check out the post and start thinking about your roster. Which kids will work best in which positions? How do their physical skills and personalities match what you want them to do? Then you can start building your team.

Preparing for Practice

Now is the time of year when parents find themselves thrust into a new and sort of scary role: head coach of their child’s soccer team. In fact, most of us got into coaching in exactly that way. We became the coach because nobody else agreed to do it. And we found we liked it – a lot.

But in that first season we find ourselves acting a whole lot more confident than we feel. Some of us played the game as kids and remember the drills our coaches used in practice, so that’s what we use. No problem.

As for riding herd on a pack of spastic kids and and trying to teach them how to play soccer, well, that might be a different story. Coaching a team takes time and organization and planning and patience – all things that probably are in short supply in your life, with a job and family and home to care for.

As you get ready for the upcoming spring season, you’ll have to handle all of that as best you can. In preparing for practice, here’s a very useful list of things you’ll need, from an article on soccerxpert.com, a site that rewards regular visits, especially for coaches just starting out or ones looking for new ideas to keep their practices fresh and interesting for the kids.

Some things on the list will seem like no-brainers; others might surprise you. Most all of, the key is having a list. When you’re racing home from work to gulp down dinner, grab the kids and head to practice it’s easy to overlook some necessities.

Your practice sessions always will be better if you’re organized and prepared. I know some coaches say they prefer to wing it, and sometimes that approach works, but sometimes it doesn’t. Being prepared always works.

Now, check out the list, take a deep breath and go get ‘em coach.

Sports Parent Cautions

In my daily surf for interesting stories to pass along to you, I found a good one on a site called parentinggoddess.com, which was new to me. It’s written by a mom who is a self-described “expert parent coach,” but if that bit of branding strikes you as a tad hubristic, do read on. She offers some smart tips on the pleasures and perils of being a youth sports parent.

In the linked post, she delivers five pieces of advice, based largely on her own experience with her three kids, including a daughter who suffered a serious injury in competitive gymnastics. Though you probably have heard these tips before, the writer’s candor about the trials she and her daughter have endured are affecting and memorable.

She pulls no punches on the advantages and drawbacks of youth sports. Check out her post and let me know your thoughts about her cautionary tale.

Getting Ready for Spring Soccer

Tis the season to get ready for the upcoming spring soccer season. If you live in a warm climate, you’re probably already underway. Up north, we’re sticking our pinkies into the still-cold air and trying to think about warm afternoons with fields full of kids kicking around soccer balls.

Unless your kids are involved in basketball or some other winter sport, they’ve likely been sedentary for the past few months. They need to start getting ready to get outside and knocking the rust off their soccer techniques. A lot of parents, however, aren’t sure how best to prepare their kids – a question I hear quite often.

Here is a useful guide from Livestrong.com that helps provide an answer, titled, appropriately, “How to Train for Soccer Season.” Of course, the focus of your child’s training will vary according to age of the child, and there are several conflicting theories about which approaches work best. But the five general steps outlined in this article should apply to any child preparing to play youth soccer at any level.

The steps cover exercise, diet, skill preparation, teamwork and mental attitude. As a parent, your biggest challenge could be the last one. Just like adults, kids sometimes struggle to establish a routine. They’ve gotten into the habit of coming from school and heading to their favorite computer games after finishing homework. Even kids who love the sport will need a little time to get back into the swing of it. Be patient and persistent. Once they start kicking the ball around in the backyard, their interest in the start of a new season will come back.

If you’ve developed any parental strategies for jump-starting preseason preparation, please share them with the rest of us. We all can use some help.