Sunday, October 26, 2014
Long before summer’s first heat wave, temperatures were running hot among the parents of some Indianapolis, Indiana 8-year-olds. A series of gaffes by the young teenage centre official was perceived to have had undermined the credibility of the coach of what was “apparently” a gifted-and-talented program for young footballers. This in turn forced families to hang fire over their first-graders’ athletic fate. Then, just as that problem seemed close to simmering down, a parent of a player on the other team became irate at the absence of a “no call,” claiming the official was biased, causing more reactions and rousing the ire of both sets of parents and coaching staffs.
Like any system that creates an elite benefit and doles it out to a lucky few, the youth football developmental program in its current form in the United States is a lightning rod for anxiety and resentment. Alongside some 700,000 roster-spots on standard-track, general, run-of-the-mill club teams the Developmental Academies, National Leagues and ECNL all offer only a small fraction of those seats on the bench within their elite programs, which originated to serve the small percentage of young footballers whom are so brilliant that they are at a disadvantage on a normal team. Within each major metropolitan are certain football clubs maintain ‘elite’ teams open to the ‘gifted’ players. In addition, a handful of ‘truly elite’ clubs are open to ‘truly elite’ players from anywhere. To qualify for either type, kids either are evaluated at tryouts or are straight up “recruited.”
At first glance, the system looks highly selective, but the numbers are misleading. For example, a player who is ranked in the 99th percentile is not better than 99 percent of their fellow footballers but only a mathematically generated hypothetical football population. Twenty percent are in the “97th percentile”; 40 percent are in the “90th,” etc…
What was originally conceived of as a special curriculum for developing the truly exceptional youth footballer has come to be seen by many as more about providing a shot at a high-quality alternative to the often-unimpressive mid-tier clubs kids are otherwise assigned to by default. In other words, elite training is nothing more than the Chihuahua pulling the semi-trailer out of a ditch.
At least it is something. For most in the successful-but-not-affluent middle class, Youth Football has become a real-life reality show in which every year more cohorts gets voted off the island. Along with a bevy-of wins, the crest of an elite club emblazoned upon our children’s gear is one of the handholds that let us hang on for a little bit longer. Personally having experienced this from all sides of the equation; as well as being away from the youth game in the States for long spells, all afforded a new perspective on things.
There is a constituency, then, for keeping elite training participation and competition opportunities broad, even if doing so defeats one of the main benefits of the elite environment, to create an environment for players where everyone is as brilliant as they are. This drawback is baked into standard-track, general, run-of-the-mill club programs, which are numerous enough that hyper selectivity is never really the point. The truly elite programs, on the other hand, offer such an extremely limited number of roster spots. However, even there, so many players qualify that entire pools of potential players are formed as opposed to one single set on a roster. The players might as well be selected by lottery.
US Soccer has tried to return elite player development to its roots with the introduction of Player Development Academies and while there have been some successes, the drawbacks and pitfalls can be argued to have thus far greatly outweighed them. Yet, the question begs if it is a new combination of clubs, teams and structures that would presumably be less susceptible to dilution, which many proponents of the PDAs believe has become endemic.
Never the less, parental pressure seemingly forced their hand when it came to the issue of club vs. high school soccer and the ever growing “decision”…or unwritten ‘mandate…to choose one or the other. Then, as high-school programs saw their numbers diminish and key elements of such programs tilt the way of the “evil club system” the high schools called “balk” leaving the clubs to deal with the situation all alone. Therein lies part of the problem; there is no organized structure or pathway for youth development in the United States. There is no road-map to follow when such situations’ arise…no GPS coordinates to punch-in…thus leaving youth soccer to fend for itself with the ominous horizon of “darned if I do and darned if I don’t” leering.
As a matter of politics, US Soccer could raise their level of involvement in an attempt to fix the error, but not diminish the philosophies that they stand. Yet the number of roster spots for elite-players has consistently ballooned. This is great for footballers who want and even need experience at the next level, but for players who truly are exceptional; this change only waters down their already slim chances of getting the real developmental experiences they need. The daughter of one of my mates, for instance, excels at the elite-level when given the opportunity. If there was a structured pathway for players like her to move up and through the system (as there are in other nations such as Germany, Netherlands and even lesser known footballing counties such as Australia) she may already be capped based on pure performance. Unfortunately, because the current system has little forward unless you “know’ someone, have a “name” or represent the right club her odds of getting the all-elusive, yet potentially deserved “cap” calculate out to about one in twelve.
…and so, my mates daughter, in an effort to continue playing at the highest possible level she could, took her wares to a club team in another city three hours away and one where she would choose to not participate in high school soccer; at least until she had an idea of what direction her young football career was going. That is when the s***-storm erupted on soccer blogs and internet soccer forums. My mates decision to support his daughter’s choice to leave public-school football on tenterhooks also enlightened other aspiring parents who were finding themselves in similar muddy-waters who then chose to make similar decisions and thus leaving the high-school football system on hold, public and private alike, because they shut down the usual summer long game of musical chairs that is unofficially dubbed “who returns what, who and where,” in which parents, fans and coaches alike get their kicks out of debating which high-school has the best chance at winning the State-Title based upon the number of ‘elite-level’ club players a particular school rosters and so on. This domino effect can run well past the start of the school season even in the best of times. All these problems just prolong the agony.
People were saying terrible things about my mate who was freshly becoming one of the most hated football dads in the Indianapolis, Indiana metropolitan area. A sample of comments that he and his daughter received: “The guy is deranged;” “Really embarrassing herself” and “What a self-serving A-hole.” He did not back down and neither did his daughter. It is like mathematics, it is either right or it is wrong. You have to do what is right and not get caught up in the numbers. The current identification and evaluation system just is not accurate enough in its current form to rank one player over another.
For the parents of these players; those who received placement offers, they had only a short amount of time to respond, after which the club will see who is next on the list and then send out another round of placement offers, most likely in the same-day and even within the hour. How the allotments will play out after that, nobody knows, but many parents will likely find their anxiety smouldering on through the next 48-72 hours.
For his part, my mate says he and his family plan to sit tight. He is considering putting his daughter in a private school. Meanwhile, she is pressing on with her footballing dreams. “The decision has been made, so it’s not going to affect my kid,” he says. “But there’s a value in finding the truth.” He is not too worried about the public scorn either. “You don’t want to be politically correct,” he argues. “You want clubs to provide the right development to the players who really need it.”
Thursday, July 17, 2014
How Phenomenal Futures lip- lopped when they fell into a Free-Fall from Being Forced to ace Football Failures.
Professional football is one of the most emotional and complex environments I have ever experienced. Football is an international game, but its roots are in the dirt streets of our cities ghettos and barrios. One example in particular, is how it has become such an integral part of Brazil’s culture and heritage. Another example is how Mexico’s passion for the game is often hard for others to understand or even appreciate!
Football may have initially been played recreationally, but it soon came to epitomize the “pioneering” spirit of one’s country. The passion, the toughness and the competitiveness that was deemed necessary to explore and develop a new land (with its rugged terrain) became part of “the game”….
To this day, passion, toughness and competitiveness are considered fundamental requirements of the game. Add in these volatile elements: increasing speed, bigger and fitter players, better equipment, huge competitive salaries, passionate public and media interest and the oldest most cherished sporting trophy (The World Cup) and the mix becomes “dynamic” to say the least! Certainly the dynamics have changed since Botterill previously wrote about “Sport Psychology and Professional Football” several decades ago in 1990.
Appreciating and understanding the world of professional football is not an easy task. There is a “subculture” to football that is different than the “culture” of other sports. Rooted in the early pioneering spirit - being obsessively competitive was often seen as necessary to thrive and survive. Being tough, persistent and able to defend one’s self was seen as essential. Given these “cornerstones,” a “win-despite-cost” and an “eye-for-an-eye” value system often prevailed!
In the hierarchy of moral functioning, “win-despite-cost” and “eye-for-an-eye” are not considered very mature nor are they considered to be advanced values or behaviors. Perhaps they were “fundamental” in pioneering, because they seemed to become part of “the code” of the game in its early stages of development. When passionately exaggerated, these outlooks can be very destructive to the game, its participants and supporters (the “cost” can clearly outweigh the benefits—witness Luis Suarez [biting], Zinedine Zidane [head-butt] and the ‘Hillsborough Disaster of 1989’ incidents). The inability to officiate this passionate, dynamic game in a consistent and “just” way during its earlier days resulted in “enforcers” on early teams to enforce the “olde code” and ensure justice or advantage “at any cost."
Built into this subculture is a fierce allegiance to the “team”. Players are expected to support one another in all circumstances and in many instances are even expected to “play hurt” if necessary to help the team. As a result, injury dynamics can often be complex with players sometimes risking long term health and capability for the team’s short term ambition.
Having described this history and subculture, it is also important to point out that many of football’s better players and persons of “character” have demonstrated higher levels of values and functioning. Certainly Pele, the greatest player ever to play the game, seemed to epitomize a “positive rivalry” approach to the game. His humility, respect and love of a challenge provided a refreshing improvement in football perspective and moral functioning.
Even some players who excelled at the “olde code” (i.e., George Best and Diego Maradona), brought character and growth to it. The little Italian, Gianfranco Zola grew up on the streets of Rome, so he knew the code. He was also part of a strong caring family and he knew the value of humility, respect, hard work and team work. These were all impressive “transition” players, who knew and lived the olde code, but had the attributes to bring positive rivalries, teamwork and emotional preparation to the game.
Today, Sir Bobby Moore (former England Captain) may be the best known example of a player whose perspective and attributes reflect the full spectrum (olde and developing codes). Is there progress?? Hopefully a higher level of moral and functioning code is developing. More severe penalties for violent acts and the emergence of high quality female footballers have both helped. It might be pointed out that female football at times also regresses towards the “olde code.” Hopefully, continued strong monitoring and a continued demand for a better product will enable the female game to continue being a “leader” in these aspects. We must remember, though, that subculture effects can be pervasive! Anyone working in football needs to understand how culture affects the passion and the transitions that are a part of the game….
The mix of subculture and competitive effects in professional football make it a difficult environment to “read”. A perceptive coach, however would quickly notice that trying to improve the “psychological effects” in the environment (or the reaction to the psychological effects) is the first priority! Psychological skills may be part of the recommended strategies, but psychological effects (which are often very dynamic) usually need attention first.
For example, supporting the physio (who may be tired, overloaded and stressed) might be the best initial investment. The physio has so much contact with players, coaches and staff. It is often critical to help them cope and optimize the psychological effects that are around them. Similarly, other staff coaches, equipment personnel, massage therapists, strength coaches, etc… periodically need reinforcement and feedback on the important role they play in optimizing psychological effects (or affects—they are almost always emotional).
Head coaches (re: Managers), administration, scouts, team managers and travel assistants can also benefit from feedback and suggestions on psychological effects. The psychology of management and administration should also be considered more often. Perhaps the most important people affecting psychological effects with players are their spouses, partners and family. Efforts to make spouses, partners and family feel informed, part of the “team” and supported in their activities, can dramatically improve psychological effects.
For players; a good team discussion which addresses “psychological effects” can be very helpful. Sharing priorities and commitments with their teammates can actually help improve psychological effects for individuals, as well as the overall team. Sometimes, however, individual players will have personal psychological effects that will require individual personal attention.
For example: a player wrestling with the dynamics surrounding an injury they’ve suffered; such as their role on the team and their desire to do what’s right, may need to work on their “perspective,” get a medical assessment and learn to relax in order to optimize recovery. Another example is the player whom is receiving limited playing time. They may need reminders on how to optimize preparation, readiness and contribution regardless of how many minutes they are receiving. Imagery such as “playing your position in the boots of the player out there” can help improve psychological effects and perspective. The player who starts to “fear their performance environment” is the same player who will eventually need help with emotional preparation and will also need reminders on how to stay in the “want to” and not the “have to” ‘perspective’ within their own orientation.
I’ve hear the word, “Perspective,” mentioned several times from various people through various medium via various topics over the years all as part of a solution. Certainly it is important in the dynamic world of football - and when we “lose it” we really notice the difference! Perspective is part of “fundamental” psychology. We often neglect our “fundamentals” - and when we do, it’s very easy to find ourselves getting off track and straying away from the direction of what is best for us. When we feel strong about our “perspective,” our psychological effects and skills are much more efficient.
What is “perspective”? A study by Dr. Brian Matthews in 2010 that involved in-depth interviews of England’s top “character” athletes identified three basic components that seem to play a role in strong perspectives. The first core component Matthews identified with perspective was “identity.” People with great perspective know they are much more than a football player or an athlete. They remind themselves they are also a spouse, a brother, a son, a friend, a hobbyist, a teammate, a student, a community member, etc… Realizing (and valuing) that many roles and attributes are part of “who you are” gives you a strong multi-dimensional identity. Matthews also found that it was clear how “self-acceptance” was much more important than self-esteem to these people who possessed a great perspective!
The second core component Matthews uncovered when looking at perspective was “support.” People with great perspective know where their “unconditional support” is - people who love them for “who they are,” and not “what they achieve.” Positive, fruitful nurturing relationships with these people (family or not) can be great for one’s inner peace and perspective. Mathews also found that Emotional Acceptance and one’s ability to express themselves are invaluable assets in life.
The third component he discovered tied to perspective was “values”. People with great perspective know “what they value” and “how they want to live and compete!” Their values enable them to find “meaning” in their experiences; whether it’s in adversity, in opportunity, in movement, in being part of a team, etc… Appreciating “positive rivalries,” realizing “what’s within ones control” and valuing “team” “work” and “persistence” are often part of this concoction. Values provide one with “authentic” guidance through the tough times….
There are things that can cause us to lose “perspective.” Things such as over-analysis, obsessing, lack of recovery, dysfunctional emotions and outlook shifts (e.g., responsibility vs. privilege) are just a few examples of the many barriers that footballers deal with on a daily basis that can hinder their ability to maintain their proper perspective. However, on the other hand, a strong perspective can help prevent these things from being problems. Working on “foundational” psychological elements is a good investment for anyone seeking health, happiness and high performance. In the volatile world of professional football, putting in quality work on these psychological elements is “fundamental” to having success with psychological effects and skills. What Maslow said more than 50 years ago still rings true today when he stated back in 1962, “A good ‘perspective’ helps us deal with basic human needs and helps us see the world in a more effective way. By seeing the ‘big picture’ more clearly, we are able to focus better on the task at hand.”
What Does It Take?
What does it take to thrive and survive in professional football? Probably the two most important attributes are possessing a strong “perspective” yourself and having an “understanding of the football subculture.” Without these two attributes, there would seem to be little chance of being successful! To truly succeed one needs to be “authentic” and “rational” in what is often an irrational world! Without the frame of reference that one’s own strong perspective can provide – you become vulnerable to some powerful, dynamic and complicating forces. Also, understanding the subculture of the game is just as likely to be critical to one’s credibility and effectiveness as is the ability to cope with (and deal with) powerful and dynamic emotions and feelings. Professional football is NOT an environment for the faint of heart!
“Honesty” and the “ability to nurture trust and respect” are also of vital importance. Football players “see through” people quickly, so it is critical to be “authentic”. In 2003 Botterill and Patrick said this about the authenticity of professional football: “Football is a ‘team’ sport and authenticity, respect and trust are essential to becoming a ‘real’ team as opposed to a ‘pseudo’ team.” Obviously good listening and empathy skills can be quite helpful, but when it all comes out in the wash football players want “No B.S.!”
The ability to be “open” and “flexible” are two other essential traits that are vital to succeed in the world of professional football. It is not unusual to go in to a Team Meeting and be presented with as many as 7 different intervention options - only to discover that an 8th option is better! Being a professional football coach requires tremendous “professionalism” - one needs to be “ready for anything” (including what you haven’t considered)! It’s also important to be flexible regarding when you are available. The best timing may be “on the road,” “on short notice,” by e-mail or phone or at a different time than you might have thought!
“Openness” is also critical in how coaches interact with players in football. Football players are proud and often independent in their nature. The key is to help them discover what is best for them, rather than assume you know. The response from each player is usually much better and this approach keeps the coach learning and growing from every interaction with every player.
Professional football is “tough turf” for even the most seasoned football persons! Only a select few thrive and survive for lengthy periods at this level of the game. It is, however, a great test and a rich learning environment if one does gets the opportunity.
Perhaps the best place to start in an organization is with their “Academy”. Developing players are usually keen regarding anything that can help them make the step towards first-team professional football! If one does a good job at this level, the word spreads from those who advance - and receptiveness may be enhanced with the first-team.
Even if one is working with a major pro club, mixing in work with the second-team, reserve team and the Academy is probably a good idea. Not only can it help these teams, but it can also be a good experience for you and the players coming up through the system. It affords these players an opportunity to garner a feel as to what you’re about (which will make them more comfortable and more likely to fit in and contribute). In the long term, this role can pay big dividends to the organization….
Interaction with the scouts in an organization can also make a lot of sense. Young talent is a hefty investment for the organization. Individuals with great “perspective” and character attributes are much more likely to reach their potential. Spending time with scouts and helping them identify these key attributes, as well as helping them develop strategies for the proper “field validation” of the same, can help ensure good decisions when it comes to player signings.
Sometimes the management and office staff of a club are keen to work on the same team building, focusing and preparation skills as the players. This is an exciting way to improve team dynamics and performance within the management team. It can be very motivating and bring the staff closer to the team as they share the collective pursuit of excellence!
As was mentioned earlier; support for spouses, partners and families is essential. Families relocating from all over the world is a part of most teams daily reality, so skill in cultural differences is something that will make one an even more valuable asset. Also, the spouses, partners and families of the team’s support staff (who put in long hours; often away from home) can be a forgotten group who can also benefit from support services.
Being an Assistant at the professional level “is more about player management than player development.” The ideas involved can help people in any field, or any aspect of the organization. The astute professional stays alert regarding places they can help with optimizing psychological effects and skills.
Emotions to Be Ready For
Every possible emotion has been experienced in the world of football! However, a shortlist identified by Valet Rellatand in 1984 is a good one to start with. These Seven Basic Emotions have regularly tested individuals and teams in Football: Anger; Fear; Happiness; Interest; Sadness; Surprise and the Guilt/Embarrassment concoction. These seven emotions are often part of everyday life in the game of football. Those who are most ready for these feelings usually perform the best!
For starters, let’s acknowledge that emotions are powerful, dynamic, situational and spontaneous. The best we can do is learn to “manage” them better - it’s impossible to totally “control” them…. Two ideas, Emotional Preparation and Emotional Management seem to have merit in the world of football.
Emotional Preparation involves imagining a feeling or an emotion and rehearsing an effective response. It’s a form of “emotional inoculation” which dramatically improves one’s readiness and response when the real feeling occurs. It can also be a big help in keeping one’s emotions functional in the volatile world of football. It’s valuable for players and coaches both, as well as all members of the club’s staff….
Emotional Management is also an important complementary idea due to the tremendous schedule demands of professional football. It is one thing to be emotionally prepared, but it’s an entirely different thing to be emotionally rested. If players don’t “process” their feelings effectively (on and off the pitch) it is easy to get stressed out and emotionally exhausted. The key idea in Emotional Management is learning to “accept” feelings and “process” them rather than to let them drain you. Good friends are huge in Emotional Management! Being able to share feelings, have feelings “accepted” and get help interpreting these feelings enables most of us to process emotions and channel our energy constructively. Taking pride in Emotional Management can help a coach handle demanding schedules and circumstances while staying emotionally healthy.
The Three Basic Emotions that are most often talked about are Anger, Fear and the Guilt/Embarrassment concoction. Like all emotions these three have functional value. Fear’s function is preparation (let’s get prepared). Anger’s function seems to be to mobilize (fight for what you deserve), while the concoction of guilt/embarrassment seems to motivate (to do things for loved ones). If we prepare for these emotions and process them well - they are likely to stay functional and enhance our performance. If we don’t, it is very easy for them to become “dysfunctional” regarding both health and performance.
“Surprise” is another emotion that we need to be ready for; as are “happiness” and “interest.” Most of us want to live our lives ‘happy’ and ‘interested,’ but strong positive emotions can also cause us to lose focus if we are not ready for them. The 7th Emotion is “sadness” - it is a “recovery” emotion (and the only one that doesn’t produce energy). It’s about “grieving” and when we grieve properly we end up grateful and interested again. On the other hand, in high performance environments sometimes we have to be “prepared” to work through these feelings and “process” them at a later time, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be….
In the wild and crazy world of professional football, Emotional Preparation and Emotional Management give one a chance to stay healthy while realizing their potential. It’s important to “CARE—SHARE—PREPARE—DARE” to realize one’s potential.
Going Deep: The psychological aspects of Professional Football!
More so maybe than any other position within a football organization, the Assistant Coach is almost entirely all a mental position. Even the best sometimes panic when a match is going badly and by nature, most coaches find it difficult to rebound mentally after offering ill-advised information.
Some coaches struggle with the mental aspects of the game and find it difficult to keep their head and control their emotions when a match is going down the tubes.
“The issue that cuts across the board for me with coaches in football is self-confidence and sustaining confidence through the good times and adversity,” said Dr. Joey Phails, director of the Sydney-based Center for Sport Psychology. “I work with coaches on positive self-talk, or how to relax their body language or be more aggressive in their body language if their focus is starting to fade.”
“Confidence is the foundation mental skill to allow a coach to be at the best of their ability and shake off a mistake when they make one.”
Phails, who has worked with football coaches from the professional ranks all the way down to the school-boy level, says the perfectionist mentality that the best coaches possess is also the trait that ultimately eats them up.
“I try to work with coaches on the difference between striving for perfection and being a perfectionist,” Phails said. “If you’re the latter, it can eat you up and make it hard for you to let go of a mistake.”
Here are some tips from Phails to help coaches deal with some common issues:
1.) You tend to beat yourself up over mistakes and have a hard time rebounding after you make one:
Phails: “Have a game plan of things you can say or do to help yourself relax and let go of a mistake. Yes, that’s a lot easier said than done.”
2.) Your team is playing horribly and you find yourself starting to get frustrated:
Phails: “One has to be able to shake that off and channel frustration. It’s taking frustration into determination. I would never say ‘don’t get frustrated,’ but instead advise one to work to channel that determination and stay focused as opposed to finger-pointing”. . . . When I’m working with athletes, I tell [them] to get all those emotions on the table and help the athlete develop a plan to handle those emotions: You’re going to get frustrated, how we do handle that? We’re not machines and we’re all going to get upset and we all have emotions, but if you know how to handle those, you’re going to do better.
3.) You get intimidated when you have to make a key in-match decision:
Phails: “I’m a big believer in those types of situations where you have a mantra or a key word to relax yourself. See, in those situations, you don’t want to think too much. A key word can serve as an anchor for your thoughts and calm you down. … I also use Imagery and visualization. If you can picture yourself in that situation and see yourself performing successfully, you’ll feel like you’ve been there before and you’ll feel more confident. Then your natural talent is going to come out a bit more so you’re calmer and more confident.”
4.) You find your mind wandering when you face long periods of inaction when the ball is at the other end of the field:
Phails: “When you’re engaged mentally and watching the match and taking it all in and assessing the players, that will help you sustain your concentration.”
Football is an amazing world…. It has been a vehicle for my growth and development as a person and it is a game many children love and enjoy. It regularly brings out the best and the worst in people. I once heard it said that: “The great thing about sport is that it enables us to care passionately about something that really doesn’t matter!”
If in any way this is the case, then football is the ultimate example! In the range of global priorities, football surely can’t be very important…BUT the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Japan winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and Mexico’s 2012 Gold Medal in football at the London Olympics are all fervent examples of how much the entire world cares. As perhaps the most passionate sport, football generates powerful emotions. Unfortunately, we don’t always manage them well! However, if we learn and discover better ways of functioning, perhaps all the world can benefit. For now, enter prepared and be part of the growth.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Friday, July 11, 2014
To read the rest of the training session/article please click here: http://www.coachingsoccertactics.com/5v4-defending-in-defensive-third/