A Note To Mikey

Death. There is nothing more difficult to deal with or understand. There is nothing someone can do or say to make another person feel better. People will react differently and there is no right or wrong way. Unfortunately- this is not the first time I've wrote these same words.

I had the privilege of coaching a great kid, Miguel "Mikey" Hernandez, while he was at Righetti High School. Mikey was part of the soccer program and part of the most remarkable season in school history. The season the boys racked up twenty-six wins with just one loss and one tie. A season the boys went on a crazy unbeaten streak including a perfect league record of twelve wins and zero losses. Mikey was a huge part of that. So huge that he was a player that I never once removed from the field. Not once. He remembered that and wrote about it in his "Farewell Class of 2009 Speech" that he presented in his Senior English class just before graduating. 

He wrote: 

"I will always remember my senior soccer season because this team has gone farther than we have ever gone in the history of Righetti High School. I will always remember being the first team winning the undefeated league champions title ever in the Pac-7 league. I will remember never getting out all season even if I was hurt. I always did my best and I always took down the biggest guy on the other team each time." 

You might be wondering how I can quote one of my players speeches from almost six year ago? It's because Mikey wrote something so touching that his English teacher felt that it was necessary to place a copy in my school mailbox. Because of the time of year, I didn't receive it until after Summer break, and after Mikey had already graduated and moved on. 

He wrote: 

"This next person I think has made a great impact in my life. I met him my freshman year and at first I disliked him because he had some anger issues and it always seemed as if he was going to knock one of the players out. His name is John Pranjic. At first I thought he just had problems, and only made people work hard to make him feel better about himself so he can feel like he is the boss of everyone. So I would always hate when he made us run because it seemed like we ran forever but as the years went by I matured and took the things that I do more seriously. So for my final year here at Righetti I got a chance to play for him on the Righetti Warrior soccer team. After all those hard years of running and working out the drills he made us do was easier but a still a challenge. 

I know now that in order to become good at what you want to do you have to work hard from the beginning. So in the end I liked the way he pushed the team to go one hundred percent every time in practice so that when game day came around, it would be a breeze because we were more self-confident and ready to go play our game. I am proud and glad to have had a coach like him to teach me how to be a real team player and a leader that wants to get goals accomplished. For that I give him all my respect and hope we still keep in touch in the future." 

Mikey was a coaches dream. He was there to do his job and do it the best he could. He was always eager to learn and always eager to help. I am never going to forget one of the smallest kids on the field having one of the biggest hearts. He fought and fought and fought until he couldn't fight anymore. And I hope that is the memory that we can all keep of Mikey. His hard work and dedication to his team will never be forgotten by me or anyone else involved with the program during his years at Righetti High School. 

I'll miss you, man. Your smile literally lit up the room. Seeing you so happy around your teammates is a memory engrained in my brain. Not to mention how polite you were to everyone you encountered. I still remember you just waiting so patiently in line at team dinners and always having a smile on your face when you got to practice... even if you were running late because you were with your girlfriend after class! 

It is with a heavy heart and many tears that I write... R.I.P. Miguel "Mikey" Hernandez. 

Destination Europe- With Jack Gidney

Jack Gidney gives us some information about the process of identifying youth talent and placing them in a top level academy. We also touch on some items that are having a profound effect on young players here in the United States and also the day to day life of young footballer in Europe.

Jack is based in Southern California now after growing up in England. He took time out of his holiday to chat with me for an hour. He is very interactive on social media and would love to connect and answer more questions. Give the podcast listen and follow up with him or I on Twitter. Check out Jack's blog for a more in depth look inside the U.S. Youth National Team set up and other rants and raves.

@Jgidney88

https://howsyourtouch.wordpress.com/ 

Enjoy!


Soccer Reform- A Chat With Ted Westervelt

I knew very little about Ted Westervelt before chatting with him today. I can assure you of one thing, though. Ted is at the forefront of the American soccer revolution. Twitter is his preferred battlefield and extremely well-crafted one liners are his weapons.  

Ted is the leader, the voice, of a grassroots movement here in the United States aiming to "change the way American club soccer does business." Plain and simple. Ted uses words like captivity, isolation, and entitlement to describe the current professional league format here in the United States. He's an American soccer history buff with knowledge of current happenings as well as details from our two-fed system of the late 1800's.

I've been a follower of Ted on Twitter for awhile now, and agree with what he is saying, but I have never taken the time to do the massive amount of research that he has done. I wanted to reach out and have him explain some of the issues to me and share our conversation with you. If you're a youth soccer coach, you must begin to understand how the United States Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer are making an impact on you and the players that you are training. We briefly touch on subjects that could be discussed for weeks. I encourage you to follow Ted on Twitter and search through his archives of Tweets, YouTube videos, and blog posts, and follow some others like him to get a better understanding of the biggest problem in American soccer.

https://twitter.com/soccerreform

https://twitter.com/bwfast

http://soccerreform.com/

https://www.youtube.com/user/soccerreform

Without further adieu... I give you Ted Westervelt.


Understanding Possession Soccer [PODCAST]

This podcast series, if you haven't figured out already, is a bit different than your typical morning talk radio. This isn't locker room gossip. This isn't transfer news. These are real stories from people on the front lines, whether it be grassroots training in Chicago, or in today's case, Senior level in Spain.

Originally from Glasgow, UEFA A licensed Coach Kieran Smith now resides in Madrid, Spain. In this podcast he tells us a little bit about his journey and how he arrived at where he is at today as a professional coach at the Senior level with AD Parla 'B'.

Kieran recently wrote an article titled "How To Coach Possession Football" which sparked me to reach out and pick his brain. While it's nearly impossible to encapsulate all aspects of possession soccer in a one hour phone call, Kieran does help us understand a bit more about possession soccer by discussing some major themes in developing a team to play this style via the use of pattern play, rondos, and even a little bit about how him and staff approach the daily, weekly, and monthly planning for the squad.

You can find Kieran on Twitter: @KieranSmith1

His presentation on rondos can be found here: How To Use Spains Secret Weapon



It Can't Be Done Overnight [PODCAST]

The title for this post is something that you'll hear coach Paul Holocher say during our talk. And it's true. So true.

Paul is coach with a well-documented past. A former NCAA player who also played professionally here in the United States and in Europe, who then turned to coaching when he retired from playing around the age of 30. Former head coach of the University of California- Santa Cruz and most recently head coach at California Polytechnic University- San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly-SLO), Paul is now preparing himself for a move to Hawaii to take on a new role and help build the youth club Maui United.

During my interview with Paul, he tells me about his recent experiences in Europe, mainly in Spain and Holland, not as a player, but as a student of the game as he began taking annual trips just several years ago. He spent time studying at La Masia in Barcelona and stood beside Dutch assistant coach Frans Hoek in Holland.

He explains to me why he decided to start taking these trips, and how he took what he learned and implemented a new style of play with his Cal Poly team. Although it was not easy, and it did not happen overnight, Paul believes in this style of play, and believes that it's worth it.


Coaching Littles [PODCAST]

Ken Sweda got his first taste of coaching in 2007-2008 when he took charge of his daughters recreational team. From there, Ken has been on a path of discovery, seeking out multiple opportunities to learn and grow as a coach. He has spent time working as an instructor for the official FC Barcelona Escola camps in Chicago, as well as owning and operating his own private skills training company.

I chose to interview Ken because he offers a very unique perspective. Ken specializes in working with young players at the grassroots level- fancy talk for he's a rec coach. A damn good one though! Shaped by his childhood memories of the Dutch national team of 1974, and it's component parts (Ajax) and descendants (Barcelona), Ken believes teams, and clubs, should have a well-defined philosophy and clear cut style.

Ken has successfully implemented the 'gold standard' methods of training at the recreational level. How did he do it? His approach is to build a team in phases, just as a team would play in phases during a game- from the back with an involved goalkeeper, playing through the midfield, looking to be incisive in the final third, by manipulating the opposition through ball and player movement, recognizing when to proceed forward and when to recycle. 

And he did all of this at the lowest levels of U.S. Soccer.

Listen to Ken and I talk about his coaching journey.

Find Ken on Twitter: @Zone_14


Slipping Through The Cracks [PODCAST]

Sean Monaghan is a youth soccer coach in Oregon, by way of Southern California, with a very different and progressive outlook on our domestic game. Sean has had many life experiences that have helped shape his view. In this podcast, Sean and I discuss a variety of topics, although our intention was to focus on players (and coaches) slipping through the cracks of the United States soccer set up.

There is a lot more that needs to be said about this topic. Here are some of the major takeaways from my conversation with Sean:

-What does the pipeline of player development and progression really look like here in the U.S.?

(Rec -> Club -> Academy -> YNT -> NCAA -> Professional)

-What is your clubs goal for it's players? Are they done as soon as they leave your club? Are you sending them to an academy? Or to the professional ranks? How has your club defined this path?

-What is the underlying problem preventing us from setting up a clear and defined player pipeline?

While Sean and I hit on a bunch of different things, I'd like you guys to focus on what you or you're club are doing to help your players get through the pipeline and not fall through the cracks.

You can find Sean on Twitter: @futbolconlapausa



Exploring the Development Academy [podcast]

**DISCLAIMER** This blog is my way of exploring the world of football. I'm here to question things and facilitate conversations that spark progression. I don't know everything.

With that said, today I conducted a Skype call with fellow football enthusiast Jon Townsend. Jon was a decorated youth player here in the United States and spent time at the IMG Academy as well as playing Division 1 NCAA soccer. Jon also in played youth soccer in Europe.

Jon and I briefly, and I mean briefly, touched on some topics revolving around the Development Academy, as well as some other things in USSF, NCAA, MLS, and even talked about our Canadian neighbors to north for a minute.

Jon is a football writer. Connect with him on Twitter by searching: @jon_townsend3 or find his work on thesefootballtimes.net (@thesefootytimes) or his own blog farpostfooty.com.

Here's the podcast:


Implementing a club-wide philosophy [PODCAST]

Implementing a club-wide philosophy was the topic, and title, of youth soccer coach Christopher Cramer's first blog post. It was only fitting that I interviewed Chris and used that subject for my very first podcast.

Christopher Cramer is the Director of Coaching of TFA Barcelona in Oregon. Christopher also holds a B.S. in Exercise Science, and is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Teaching. He has traveled to Spain on multiple occasions to study FC Barcelona and their youth academy. Christopher has also coached at the collegiate and high school level in addition to the club circuit in Oregon.

What you're about to hear is Christopher explaining his reasoning behind changing his entire clubs identity. You'll hear him explain some of the non-negotiable factors when it comes to instilling this new style club-wide. Most importantly, you'll hear about the benefits, for both players and coaches, and why having a common philosophy and methodology throughout the entire club is so important.

Please note- Christopher is a little hard to hear at times. You may need to increase your volume slightly to catch all of his excellent points. I apologize for the audio quality. This was a test run, but the content was too good to just toss in the trash.

Thank you, Toph. And good luck to you and your club!

www.thisguytoph.wordpress.com

Twitter: @thisguytoph



It's Better When It's Real [Video]

Real training.

That is what we need more of.

Real training in the sense that the activities we use at practice must help us win the game on the weekend, not the game on the practice field.

What I am about to tell you is not a secret.

In order to accomplish any of your goals as a coach, you must narrow your focus and concentrate your efforts on perfecting one, or maybe two, things at a slow pace. Do not move on until your players are REALLY ready.

Over the last couple of months I have been leaking videos which show how my outside backs move forward. This took us three seasons to get to. It didn't happen overnight. And it was a long, long process.

We were finally comfortable enough moving the ball across our back line that we could start working on midfield movement. Once our midfield was moving quite well, we started working on forwards/wingers. And once we had worked on all three levels, we could finally begin to tie everything together and get creative.

When you watch the video, the obvious run of our right outside back stands out. She casually jogs down the far side line and receives a pretty decent ball from our left center back over a crowded midfield.

I'd like you to go back and watch a second time though. This time I want to watch what happens at the bottom of your screen. Most of it happens off camera unfortunately, but I can paint a picture for you.

Our left back (#6) is in the frame from the start, along with our left sided attacking mid (#3) and our left winger (#11).  If you hit play and then pause the video really quick, you can see them forming a triangle around the football fields number 30.

If you hit play, we win the ball from their keepers goal kick fairly quickly. Hit pause again around 7 seconds. This is our regular attacking shape. We played 4 defenders at the back with a midfield 3 triangle.

Let it play for a second and you'll see the ball begin to switch from one side of the field to the other. Our attacking mid #3 leaves the frame at 15 seconds, but knowing where she is at is crucial for this explanation. She leaves the frame 30 yards from midfield but dead center. Our outside back #6 is beginning to back pedal and provide width, until she notices that our left winger #11 has taken her run inside. So our outside back realizes her centerback has time and space to either- 1) play direct or 2) dribble forward- so she takes off down the line. Our centerback (#22) begins to dribble forward and you see #3 reenter the picture quickly replacing the outside back who vacated that space.

Needless to say, there was a lot happening right there in a short amount of time! So much happening that EVERYONE on the far side of the field lost track of what was happening around them and that our allowed our far side outside back to just go for a stroll down the touchline. Unfortunately for all of those players moving around on the nearside, they didn't get the ball.

I cannot stress to you how hard it was to want to ALL of this at 100mph from day one.

It was layered. Slowly. Very slowly! Swinging the ball from side to side with our back 5 was step one. We worked on it relentlessly. Every practice, even if it was only for 10 minutes. We still did it. And we still do it. All the time! Even if it's only for 10 minutes.

But why did we choose to use that exercise and not something else? Because it translates perfectly to the real game. We morphed that exercise into 10 others, but they all built off the same principles. Spacing, talking, awareness, receiving across your body, patience, precision.

And when it came time to design activities for the midfielders, we did the same thing. What was realistic? And for the forwards? Same thing. And what happened we worked with a full 11? Yep, same thing. We kept it as realistic as possible with rules and guidelines that didn't help us win games on the practice field... we were using drills that were helping us win games on game day.

 

 

 

THE LEARNING NEVER ENDS

This week I had the opportunity to attend a youth soccer camp in Downtown Los Angeles. The camp was put on by Celebreight F.C. which is headquartered in Barcelona, Spain by Danny Lederman.

Danny's son, Ben Lederman, is well-known in many serious U.S. Soccer circles. He is the first American to ever be invited to play for F.C. Barcelona's Youth Academy. And not only has he played there- he has excelled.

During his time in Barcelona, Danny has fielded many requests for training and other opportunities similar to Ben's. That is part of the reason why Danny started Celebreight F.C.. Another part is to spread a message. A message that there is a better way of doing things. There is more to soccer than being a superb physical specimen. Soccer can, and should, be played with the brain.

The camp I attended featured all boys, most of which were under the age of fourteen. The players participated in two field sessions that day and coaches focused on different themes in each. In between each field session was a very unique experience. The coaching staff- two young, energetic, and intense guys from Barcelona- brought the boys into a classroom setting and gave their brains a workout. They discussed different types of support while in attack and how to properly mark your opponent when out of possession. The kids were engaged and asked to interact verbally, but also by taking notes in the booklet provided by Celebreight F.C. which had the same visual examples of each slide being presented by the projector.

All said and done it was money well spent. It wasn't your typical daycare drop off type of camp we see provided by the local universities or British Invasion tours. This was a serious camp geared towards serious players. It gives players, parents, and coaches an insight as to what is being taught at the highest level by the worlds top coaches.

I must add that this camp was not meant to be open for public viewing. A post on Twitter by one of the dad's at the camp caught my attention. Him and I exchanged a few messages and before I knew it he had gotten Danny's approval for me to come down and take a look. I ended up bringing my assistant coach down to L.A. with me (on his birthday). While I was there, I posted something on Twitter and shortly after another coach, a follower of mine, arrived and asked for permission to watch. Danny welcomed him with open arms. He even let all three of us spectators sit in on the classroom session.

Thank you, Danny! And thank you Celebreight F.C. for providing these young American players, and a few American coaches, with an opportunity of a lifetime.

[Danny, and his coaches, were nice enough to let me ask them a few questions and be recorded. Here are a couple clips from our conversations.]


YES OR NOT?

I’ll start with a story.

The first math class that I took in college was taught by an older lady with a thick German accent. Numbers were confusing enough, but not being able to fully understand my teacher made the class pretty tough.

(Side note: I was raised by a Croatian father who doesn’t speak very clear English.)

The teacher would write an equation on the board, solve it herself with her back to the class, and then turn around and ask us (in a thick German accent), “Do you understand? Yes or not?”

A friend of mine would laugh every time. He would frequently raise his hand and say, “Not!”

Since passing the class nearly ten years ago (shit, I’m getting old!!!), I’ve adopted her question and have continued to use it quite often. I use that question much more than the algebra that she taught me. Most people probably assume that I am imitating Borat, though. Which I suppose is fitting considering the context that I usually use it in.

Anyways, I thought I would it be fun to play a game called: “TACTICS: YES OR NOT?”

The majority of the American soccer community has a hard time understanding what tactics actually are. Let’s find out where you stand.

Common Situation #1: Blue team is down 2-1 at halftime. Coach makes a switch from their normal 4-3-3 formation to an unfamiliar 4-4-2 and quickly instructs his team to play a little more direct. Blue team battles back and wins the game 3-2. TACTICS: YES OR NOT?

Common Situation #2: Red team spends most of their training sessions working on ‘possession’. The coach comes up with a new type of keep away game each week to keep practices fun and interesting. The red team gets pretty good at keeping the ball away from their opponents during training and, more importantly, during games. It is safe to say that the red team is good at keeping possession. TACTICS: YES OR NOT?

Common Situation #3: Green team is getting ready to face one of the best forwards in the league. The forward leads his team in goal scoring and assists. Right before the game, the coach of the green team tells one of his players to ‘man mark’ this dangerous forward and shut him down. The coach says, “Don’t let him breathe! Stick to him like white on rice!” TACTICS: YES OR NOT?

So… are you ready for the answers?

Not. All three are NOT tactics. Why? Continue reading…

All three are examples of doing something in order to obtain a certain outcome. Sure. But, when it comes to soccer, what makes something an actual ‘tactic’ that these common situations lack? Well, to name a few…

Details, specifics, planning, understanding, training, rehearsing, perfecting, executing. And then repeating.

Switching to a new formation at half time is definitely a change that can effect the end result of a game, but making that change midway through without going over the details and coming up with a clear plan and having time to train and perfect everything makes it a guessing game. But hey- it might work!

And working on keeping the ball away from opponents is great. It is definitely worthy of a lot of time during training sessions. But is it a tactic? Is playing keep away in a 30×30 box really going to translate seamlessly into a game situation? Is that specific enough? Do you rehearse anything while playing keep away? Not really.

So here is what you take away from this:

Tactics are not spur of the moment changes. Tactics are detailed, well thought out plans of how you want to do something. Think of tactics as blueprints, road maps, or designs. Tactics are things that need to be meticulously taught by coaches and understood by players. Tactics need to be trained and rehearsed until players can do things blindfolded and backwards. In other words, the execution of something needs to be perfected. And once it is perfected, it needs to be repeated over and over and over again so that it is not forgotten.

Teaching actual tactics can be a grueling process. Especially if you’re just starting out and learning what is right and what is wrong (like I am). You and your players will love it when all of your hard work gets rewarded, though. Trust me.

SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN

Neither is word vomit.

There is a war right now.

One side believes that coaches should sit quietly during games and let the players demonstrate what they learned at practice during the week. The other side is vocal during games. Who is right? I don’t know…

But riddle me this…

A team practices twice a week and plays one game on the weekends. That is approximately 4 1/2 hours of total supervised soccer each week. But if you subtract 90 minutes from that, the 90 minutes that a coach is supposed to sit quiet on the sideline while his team plays, you get about 3 hours worth of supervised soccer during which the coach interacts with players and gives instruction. Now, if you’re anything like me, there are brief moments during practice that you aren’t barking orders. So that 3 hour estimate is actually pretty high, but we’ll stick with it for the sake of this example.

At the end of the month a team will have had approximately 12 hours of supervised soccer in which instructions were given. The team also played 4 games which equals about 6 hours worth of time the coach was watching, but not instructing. So the total time of supervised soccer is 18 hours, but during 1/3 of that time a coach is ‘supposed’ to be quiet and let his team attempt to display what they learned during the limited practice time they had during the week.

That makes no sense. Why would anyone waste 1/3 of their time just watching their team?

We need to change the way we view games here United States. Yes, they are games, but we need to treat them like extra training sessions.

Now, word vomit is not the golden ticket, but complete silence, in my opinion, is just wrong! What you say, how you say it, when you say it, who you say it to… those things are all part of why coaching is an art. You should not be trying to reinvent the wheel during the game from the sideline. You should be giving instructions that your team are familiar with. Your team should have a good understanding of the tactics and what they are expected to do. You need to know what to watch for in order to have an idea of what you should be saying.

Me? Well- I have my own style. My style is a loud, projected voice that echoes throughout the empty high school stadiums that my teams play in. The content that I relay always has substance and almost always relates to something my players already know. And if you’re thinking that because I am ‘telling them’ what to do during the game means that they wouldn’t do it without my help, you’re wrong.

Here is an example. Turn your volume up…

An organized press executed to near perfection in our very first game of the season last year after the very first kick off. I’m ‘telling my team what to do’ the entire time. But watch and listen again. Do you really think they are doing that just because I am telling them at that very moment? Or is it because they’ve been taught what to do and have worked through that situation many, many times before? My girls demonstrate a perfect press again around the 2:20 point in the video. Again, you can hear my voice.

Around 1:40 you can hear the other coach yell ‘Come on, White!’

DON'T JUST STAND THERE. DO SOMETHING!

Layering your coaching content can be a very difficult thing. If you get it right, or even partially right, you’ll see some pretty cool results.

A few years ago I set out on a mission to transform an already winning and dominant team into a freaking powerhouse. I started with baby steps… and continued with baby steps… all the way until the very end. The hardest part was usually waiting to teach certain things because the TEAM was not ready for them yet. The team hadn’t come close to mastering the previous step, so there was no point in moving onto something different.

The first year we focused almost entirely on possession… ball retention, circulation, and retrieving it once we lost it. Lots of small rondo type drills and lots of bigger keep away games. We started to introduce patterns, but not too heavily. In my second season with the team we introduced ‘losing your man’ in a couple of simple passing exercises coupled with lots full field patterns that backed that theme. We also damn near perfected our short goal kicks that season. You could tell everything was sinking in. But It wasn’t until the third season that we really got to start doing some fun stuff.

The basic principles of our possession based system had been hammered home and the team was ready and willing to learn more. Because we had kept relatively similar themes at each and every practice throughout the first two years, the girls were extremely familiar with everything, even after taking time off to go play with their club teams (most of the girls played for me during club season) and because we did things in baby steps it allowed them even more time to get comfortable with everything and let it really sink in.

When we revisited and began to hammer home ‘losing your man’ in our third season… we saw progress pretty quick. Most of the focus was on our wingers. It was their job to lose their marker and receive the ball under little or no pressure, or even better, going towards goal. The second or third game of our third season was basically a clinic on how to make the other teams outside backs spin in circles. We ended up winning 6-0 against a team that was in the division finals the year before. That quick progress allowed us to eventually move on and introduce movement from our outside backs.

We’re all pretty familiar with defenders who just stand near midfield and don’t do anything besides kick the ball when it comes near them. I don’t think mine have ever been like that, but until this third season, we never really gave them a ton of details about getting involved in the attack and starting their runs from near midfield and ending up going towards goal or putting in crosses.

So I introduced a couple of different things:

1) When the holding mid received it and was facing forward… outside back(s) take off and go full speed while the winger checks away and then back towards the ball.

2) When the center backs received it under no pressure with time and space and took touches forward… outside back(s) take off and go full speed while the winger checks away and then back towards the ball.

The first challenge was getting them to recognize these moments and when they should take off. They picked up on it pretty quick though. The second challenge was getting them to recognize these moments 2-3 seconds before they would even happen. Recognizing when to stop back pedaling and expanding towards the sideline and to turn their hips and start sprinting up the field. And then recognizing when it’s not on and to get back in the right spot. That was a big challenge. They did okay with it.

Not going to lie… It was pretty cool to see it happening in games. I was going through some videos of our third season and stumbled across some moments where you could actually see the wheels turning with our outside backs. That sparked this quick post and video clip.

I’d like to dig deeper in our footage someday and show off some other moments of the girls executing this. Who knows if I’ll ever get around to it though. For now, enjoy these quick clips and ask questions, make comments, and critique!