The New Season…

The technical aspects of my U12 team have improved over the years so this season more focus can be given to the tactical parts of the game.

What the hell does that mean?

Ahh, a new season. A new Spring season. Even better. Spring is where all the bigger clubs in the area move up their best players to another age bracket and leave the dregs to fight with the smaller clubs. Well, actually, the U11 kids get moved up aren’t all bad but…

Anyway, the progression in a soccer players growth involves the leap in ability that appears when they have not played soccer harcode for 4 months. It’s weird. Kids who could only get air on the ball in the Fall by channeling the spirit of Lou Groza and using their toe show up for the first practice being able to chip. It’s cool how their brain works.

To get back to my first statement, heading into a new season, a coach needs a plan. The above statement is my plan in coaches speak. What does it mean?

It means my U12 team can trap and pass relatively well (technical abilities) so now I can focus on how they play the game (tactical abilities). I can help them move beyond the idea that they start the game on the left side of the field and they need to remain on the left side of the field. We can talk about switching positions, overlaps, confusing runs, acting like they are tying our shoe in the middle of a corner kick… lots of things that will help them learn to play the game beyond just trying to score.

Sure, I’ll still work at least once a week on some technical skill, but I’ll also add in a more technical aspect. My fall back is when one player tosses the ball to another player and they trap it and pass it back. This season, we’ll do that, but the player will be moving in various directions with other teammates involved.

And yes, I have worked on tactical ideas before. This season will be epic on the amount of knowledge I will try and transfer to them. Sure, some of it will stick and they’ll perform it to the confusion of their parents in the game. And some of it… well, it won’t stick this season, but in the Fall…

The girls will be practicing 3 times a week with a possibility of a optional scrimmage on a 4th night. They will be playing in 3 tournaments which they should be favored to play more than the three game minimum. It’s going to be a good year.


Types Of Coaches

As a young man, my soccer coach was an angry Italian. He spent most of the game yelling… in Italian I think, because I don’t remember a thing he said.

I was busy. There were ten players on the other team trying to get the ball away from me while the ten players on my team were moving, waiting, and yelling. “What to do with the ball?” would be in my brain, eyes would be dialated so I would see shapes, color, and movement – it’s the only thing a player sees when they have the ball.

“Man on” is the only phrase I would really listened for.

“Pass it to Donnie. He is open on the left wing about around midfield. There is a sandwinch in the car for you…” a phrase longer than 2 or 3 words was immediately ignored.

I’m playing here. Any complete sentence was deemed cheering, and I barely heard that.

Today, when I coach, I rarely yell. And if I do, it’s a players name and only when the ball is out of play. When I went for my D lisecsne, the instructor said something intelligent.

“You coach during practice. The game is not the time to coach.”

He was basically saying that during practice, I can yell, use complete sentences, and explain the details of the game. During the game, if I coached correctly during practice, the kids should be able to apply what they learned in practice and should be successful.

Here is an example. Last year we gave up a free kick just outside our penalty area to the right of goal. The goalie quickly screamed wall. My centerback ran up to the placed ball and stood 3 feet from it. Three other players joined her. The ref back them up and the other team took the free kick.


Although the parents on the attached video will say other wise, we practiced this. The players were coached for the situation and took the appropriate action.

I coach during practice; but, like parenting, there lots of ways to coach. Below are some other styles and my thoughts on them.

1) The Bench Warmer – This is a coach who sits in a chair or on the bench and displays not much interest in the game or the players. Usually, this is a professional coach who is subbing for another coach and has not learned the girls names. I really don’t like this kind of coach. Not only are the parents wasting money for a ‘professional’ coach, the kids are being shown how much the game doesn’t mean to their coach.

2) The Joystick Coach – This is the coach who tries to control the game via yelling exactly what the player with the ball should do. Most of the time this is a new coach in the younger age groups trying to install a tactical system on players who don’t know how to trap a ball. Eventually they get exhasberated at the lack of player control and either shut up or start to yell louder (yeh, more cheering!). I laugh at this kind of coach.

3) The Questioner Coach – “Can we find our shape?” “Can we make a connection?” “Can we score a goal while stopping the other team from scoring a goal?” I see this alot with young professional coaches and it’s better than the joystick coach, but as a player, I’m not listening to rhetorical questions.

4) The Conversationalist Coach – This is a coach who likes to have a conversation with a player while the ball is in play, maybe even within their reach. Often times, they will demand eye contact. As a player, I would find this annoying. As a coach, I think my team has an advantage… a distracted player.

5) The Yeller – He yells at the ref. He yells at his players. He yells and yells and yells. Sometimes props like towels are brought in; sometimes large demonstrative gestures are displayed. This is Bobby Knight with a gym chair wanna be. I hate the Yeller. I’ve never seen a ref being yelled out stop the game and say to the coach, “You’re right. I am an idiot. Penalty kick for your team.” Fortunately, Yellers are usually good at keeping english explitives out of their vocabulary. I said english expletives.

As I said above, there lots of ways to coach. I prefer to coach during practice, and let the kids show what they learned in the games. I may enhance their understanding during the game, but I will only do that at half time, or when I have subbed them out. When the ball is at their feet, it’s no time for me to coach.


Monster Players from U12

So I got a text a couple weeks ago asking to see if Vitoria, my U12 team, could come play in the Frozen 4 Tournament in Ankeny. I thought, “That would be fun.”

But now to find a team. I only needed 4 players, but when most of your team play basketball during the winter, 4 may be too many. I quickly went to our website, sent out an email, and waited.

X was going to play so I was a quarter to my quota. I got another email real quick. Halfway home.

Then nothing.

A couple days passed, so I decided to email individual players to get a yes or no. A few emails later, I had 4, then 5.

Practice starts March 6th and it’s unfortunate that this will be the first time all winter that half of Vitoria gets to play together. Anyway, I’m hopeful that we will be competing against real U12 11 year olds. If we are playing against the U11 team that we played in the Fall of 2011, this could get ugly.

I remember signing X up for futsal in West Des Moines a couple years ago. She was put on a team with kids a year younger and a year less developed. Her teammates were playing up. She was playing her age.

She hated it.

The only thing her teammates would do is pass her the ball and let her score. Since she was playing against other kids who were also a year younger… it wasn’t pretty. I’ve seen X scored hundreds of times. There is more to soccer than that, and she likes the competition. Not a regurgitated U6 experience,

Anyway, hopefully Vitoria will be playing against kids who are the same age, skill level (or higher) and size as X’s team. Either way, I’m bringing the kids player passes. Just in case the other teams parents dispute our monster sized U12 girls.


Path to High School

My path to being a four year Letterman in High School was very different from how today’s players will get there.

My path goes a little like this. Back in Ohio in the mid 70’s (yep, I am old), my mother signed my brother and I up for soccer. She figured it would be a good use of all the energy we had.

I remember my first soccer experience. The coaches had lined us up on a full length field, 11 on each side. We had a goalie, we had positions, we had a ball. When the coach blew the whistle, the majority of the kids raced to the ball. Bee hive soccer at it’s best, but completely different than what the U6 ages group plays. Did I mention we were playing on a full field. Yep. One hundred and ten yards long, 60 yards wide, 8 foot tall goals that were 24 feet wide.

I enjoyed the experience fully and my mother loved the fact that after soccer, I would be wiped.

As I got older, and soccer became more popular, I began playing on football fields. Myself and my teammates almost fit those fields, but we practiced once a week, played games on the weekends. When we were not at practice, some of my teammates and I would be at a local park, playing soccer.

I went to one of the first Akron Zips Soccer camps. There they taught me what juggling was. I went to a Cleveland Force camp and learned I hated playing goalie.

As the years wore on and my experience grew, I learned from my teammates I had something good going on. I had a knack for the sport. By the time it was time for me to try out for the High School soccer team, I was skilled but tall and skinny. I made the Varsity, played coming off the bench my freshman year, and started the next 3 years.

Now, my path would be completely different. It obviously starts with the age appropriate size of the field and goals the kids play with today. But it also is one of greater competition. Soccer is every where. There are thousands of kids who play soccer in Iowa. I can’t tell you how many parents have told me that they did not even have soccer when they were growing up (all of them way younger than me).

Also, kids, and parents have options. Beginning at U9, kids now can play in Academy programs. These are pre-select programs where kids get professional coaching and are, in general, playing with kids who have shown a knack for soccer at a younger age.

They can then move onto the select program when they are U11 and start to do tournaments or play in the IPSL against other kids who have grown up through these player training programs.

And of course, they can play rec. Rec is a good option and there is no reason not to believe a child can’t play high school soccer if their experience is only rec. I did it.

But, yes, there had to be a but. But, when a rec player gets to high school and go to their first practice and see the kids who have played in the select program, played in at least 16 games a season, been coached by professional coaches, played with teammates who focus heavily in training, played the last 4 years against players of similar skill and desire, the rec player will see a difference. And it may spark a new fondness to the game, a new challenge to overcome. But, for a select player, it may just be playing soccer as they have learned since they were 8.

I know I could have been a contender if I had had this opportunity.


Why Select Soccer

“If you pay more for it, it must be better” is true when you’re talking about sushi, but when it comes to your child’s soccer experience, there are lots more that comes into play than the age of the tuna.

Select soccer, generally defined, is soccer played between teams where the participants needed to try-out for the team and were selected. Based on this, the cost for participating on a select team is more than it would be for a rec team.


There are a couple reasons.

1) Coaching fees. The coaches for select team usually have either licenses or certifications, or have professional experience. Because of their gained knowledge, they are pricier than a dad who picked up a “Soccer for Football Player” book.

2) Tournaments. Select teams are made for competitions and one of the best way to test a teams ability is to spend 2 days playing at least 3 games against competitive teams. Some of these tournments require over nighht stays.

So what do I get for my money?

Professional coaching. The coach will have had multiple years of experience as a player and coahincg which will help focus your child’s growth. Sure, some rec coaches have had similar experience, but there are other things that add to the select experience.

Tournaments, especially away tournements. Nothin is funner for a kid than to spend time in a hotel pool with their friends and teammates.

The level of competition. Other select teams are competitive by nature and thus the teams that your child’s team will play will be better. Kids learn more by playing against better competition and there is no comparison between select and rec teams. I’ve noticed that rec soccer almost seems polite. The girls on my select team I would not characterize as polite. They are agressive and technically sound and they will do anything legal to get the ball, control the ball, and score.

Practice. Because of the extra expense, the kids that make up a select team are more committed to soccer. They are more likely to show up to practice in the frame of mind to get better and spend the time focused. Also, select teams practice 2 or 3 times a week and some of the kids practice on off days with other soccer realated activities.

And practice is important for another reason. Unlike rec soccer, not every player needs to play at least half the game. I’ve had no problems sitting a player for the majority of a game due to their practice habits.


Ok, I am a select coach and I have been playing for more than a couple decades. What I have seen on the rec side is a hit or miss when it comes to the quality of the coaching. I’ve seen rec teams which don’t seem to know that soccer was supposed to be played with a midfield, or that the goalie actually doesn’t need to punt the ball all the times. Even the basic ability to kick a ball is a technique that some rec coaches can’t fathom. Yes, Susie can kick the crap out of the ball when she uses her toe, but she just put out a window in the parking lot. Select soccer gives your child, or any child, the opportun ity to grow as a soccer player and have experiences beyond just showing up for an hour of practice once a week and a game on the weekend. It’s an experience.


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