Soccer Articles

If it is Important to You

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

How do we prioritize what we do each day? All of us have things we are forced to do, and all of us have things we want to do. With limited amount of time in a day and so many things to do, it is impossible to do everything. I came across a quote by Dan Gable which I think helps put things in perspective on how to prioritize:

“If it is important, do it every day. If it is not, do not do it at all.” – Dan Gable

I am sure we all have something we tried for a little while and then stopped doing. We told ourselves, “I am going to do this every day.” It was probably something we thought we would enjoy, make us feel better, be healthier, or improve our lives in some small or large way. When we stopped, normally the excuse is that there is just not enough time. There are too many other things that need to get done. In truth, that is not the reason.

When something is truly important to you, you will do it every day (or most days). If it is not important, then there is no way you will stick to it. Honestly, if it is not important, than why waste your precious time doing it?

Applying this to soccer, this is an honest question all players must ask themselves. If soccer is something that is very important to you, then you should practice it every day (in one way or another). If it is not that important, than that is ok, but that has to be something you are honest with yourself about. You play the game, but you cannot overly concern yourself with your level of play, which team you play for, or your overall success on the field. Why? It is really not that important to you, or it is at least not important enough to take up that much of your time. That might sound like a bad thing, but it is not. It is just how you have decided to prioritize your interests.

Yes, I am sure everyone is concerned about their performance and obviously want to do their best, and any player can give their best each time they step on the field. How important that is to you will determine if you do what is necessary to actually impact your level of play and chance to be more successful on the field. Soccer is a sport, a great sport, that is fun and helps keep you healthy and fit. It challenges the mind and allows kids to be part of a team. These are all awesome reasons to play the game, and frankly, the only reason any kid (or adult for that matter) needs to play the game. This is the main reason why most kids will play the game.

But some kids may have dreams and aspirations to play soccer at a more competitive level or be the next “Messi” when they grow up. For those kids, the game is more important to them. It is not more important to the parents or their coach. It is more important to the player. The player wants to do more and wants to see themselves get better. Maybe the game becomes important enough that they play or do something in regards to soccer every day. This is usually true about the people we read books about and watch movie portrayals of their lives, not just in sports, but all aspects of life (business, art, science, music, etc..). These people had a slight obsession with something and it became something important enough that they would do it every day devoting a large portion of their lives in pursuit of their dream. Many more people who we do not know about do the same thing, but never reach their dream or get to that desired level. Despite falling short, I like to believe that they still enjoyed the journey and spending the time doing what they loved.

As an adult, with so many responsibilities, it gets harder to stick with things that are not very important. For example, I really want to learn a second language. I bought Rosetta Stone and made a promise I would spend an hour a day working at it. Not a long time, but I lasted for about two weeks, and at this time, I have not spent anymore time on it. Frankly, I have to make a decision if learning a second language is that important to me or not. If it is, there are no excuses and I need to find an hour a day and stick to my plan. Or perhaps my goal of an hour a day was too lofty, and I set myself up to not reach it. Maybe I should have started with a more moderate goal. Spending 15 minutes a day may have been more manageable and perhaps I would have stuck to it.

One thing nice about being a kid is the average kid does not have as many responsibilities as an adult and probably a little more free time. With this free time, a child can have many “important” things they do every day to explore new ideas, develop new skills, and stretch their ability in any area desired. I am the last one who would advocate for a child only playing one sport at an early age. I think kids should play many sports, try different hobbies, and explore many interests when they have the time to do it. What is important to them will change with age and will change a lot, but that experience allows them to have a better idea of what will be important to them later on. As they get older, their time will become more and more limited and they will need to begin to choose which activities are the most important. What will they later in life that makes up a part of who they are? There will not be enough time to do it all, and if they try to do it all, how well will they do any one thing? Normally, when stretched too thin and there is too much on our plate, something will suffer and not get the needed attention.

In the end, we all need to find the important things we do that makes us happy and help us grow as people. We do it because it makes us feel better and we do it because we want to be better at it. It can be anything. For players who aspire to play soccer at a high level or just play because it is fun, soccer may be one of those things. Soccer is something they want to do as it makes them happy, not only when they are successful, but simply because they get to do it and like how it makes them feel.

Posted by Administrator on Wed, 23 Apr 2014
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Can you Keep the Ball?

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

It is the number one question. A player must have the technical, tactical, physical, and psychological ability to keep the ball when a pass is not immediately available and under pressure. Keeping the ball can be done by dribbling into space, turning away from pressure, shielding, and being able to move the ball quickly between both feet to never allow the defender a chance to touch the ball away. A player must have excellent control of the ball under pressure, tremendous foot speed, and use their body efficiently to protect the ball from the defender and create space from the defender. Simply, if the defender cannot reach the soccer ball, the defender cannot take the ball.

Composure (being relaxed) is very important with trying to keep the ball. When players panic, they rush and make bad decisions with the ball, normally trying to FORCE it through a defender or into an area of the field they have no support. Instead, if the player is confident on the ball, the player can quickly move it comfortably between both feet, and use their body to protect the ball, the player can give themselves more time and space with the ball to make decisions and find a good option. Doing this allows the player to maintain possession of the ball, and a teammate time to get into position to support the player with the ball before it is turned over. As soon as a player has the ball, it is easy to tell how comfortable the player is with the ball. Does the player tense up? Stand too upright? Lose their balance? Look rushed or unsure of what to do next? Does the head go straight down and stay there.

Being able and willing to play in any direction at any time is another key to keeping the ball. Players need to be able to change direction while moving with the ball using different parts of the feet. Often players play in one direction; directly to goal! Although I love the desire to get to goal, straight ahead is often not the easiest way to get to goal as defenders are taught to defend the “dangerous” area of the field which is normally in the middle of the field. This requires a player to be able to move in any direction with the ball at a moment’s notice. If a player feels limited and has to go forward, it is much easier for a defender to win the ball. When moving away from pressure, the ball needs to be cut into an area the player can protect the ball with their body and ideally to the other foot farthest from the defender (similar to dribbling a basketball). This is often when players will lose the ball. Although they change direction quickly, the ball is cut into an area that the player cannot protect it with their body and the defender is able to step between the attacking player and the ball. Players tend to dribble with their dominant foot even if it is closer to the defender. The ball must be put in an area where it is difficult for the defender to reach it.

Here is where the player must be effective at using their body, especially with their arms, to hold a defender off their body and away from the ball. It is critical the player on the ball stays low, keeps their feet shoulder width a part to provide good balance and making it hard to push them over while keeping the ball on the foot farthest from the defender. The attacking player needs to use their body to keep the defender away from the ball to prevent the defender from physically being able to reach the ball. When players shield the ball, they should keep their hips lower than the defender’s hips, use their arms to make themselves bigger, to control the defender, and to try to create space from the defender to turn as soon as they can.

It is hard to keep the ball when under direct pressure with little room to play. Players have to be exceptional at protecting the ball with their body and continuously move to hold the ball for just a couple of seconds. With this in mind, players need to be more physical while trying to keep the ball. Often, playing aggressive is only thought about when a player is on defense, but being physically aggressive is just as important when the player has the ball. My challenge to players is can they physically control the defender and not allow the defender to push them off the ball. Can they be just as physical on the attacking side of the ball? Being a physically tough player on the ball can frustrate a defender very quickly. This frustration can cause a defender to lunge at the ball or give up an unnecessary foul. Both of which make keeping possession of the ball easier.

There are physical and technical differences in all players. Some will be more physical or technical than others. Players need to figure out, based on their strengths, how they can protect the ball from a defender while working on improving their weaknesses. Bigger players will be able to hold off defenders with more ease and may not have to move the ball as quickly, while smaller players, who are not as strong, need to use their bodies very efficiently and keep the ball moving quickly to avoid a long physical confrontation.

In a game, a player rarely has to try to hold the ball for an extended period of time, but being able to hold the ball briefly provides more time to make a good decision on the ball to help avoid losing possession. The more players think about moving in all directions with the ball versus just straight ahead and use their body efficiently to protect the ball, the more success they will have keeping possession of the ball in games.

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Diamond Dribble Play Video

Posted by Administrator on Wed, 23 Apr 2014
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Youth Sports Reality Show

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

Like many people, I enjoy sitting down and watching The Bachelor when it is on each year. I feel fine admitting that I watch that show, as I know exactly why I find it so entertaining and baffling. It is ABSURD! It is that absurdity that makes me set my DVR each week to make sure I do not miss a second of the ridiculousness that is sure to unfold. From the people, comments made, fights, “problems” and just about everything else, it is very far outside of the realm of anything that could even be mistaken as real life. The thought I have all the time while watching is… When would this be OK in ANY other circumstance? One guy openly dating multiple women who A) know about it B) live with one another and C) act like they like one another (sometimes) would NEVER happen outside of this television show, and that is ok, it is TV so it is expected and fun to watch.

For some reason though, youth sporting events can turn into their own version of the Bachelor or have the feeling of a reality show because it seems some people tend to lose a grip on reality, perspective, and what is really suppose to be going on during a game. You watch and get that uncomfortable feeling when you really want to change the channel or look away, but you cannot stop watching the spectacle that is unfolding right in front of you.

People’s actions, which seem to be tolerated and accepted as normal at a youth sporting event, would be seen as immature, irrational, delusional, and borderline dangerous in most other social situations. Why do certain people seem to step into some type of warped alternate universe when sitting on the sideline of a youth game? An alternate universe when it is ok to scream at the top of your lungs irrationally at a kid. An alternate universe when it is ok to degrade another adult with constant badgering of their job performance. An alternate universe where the result is a life altering event for all involved. An alternate universe where self respect is a distant second to winning.

When I am at youth sporting events and I watch the behavior of some parents on the sideline and some coaches working with the kids, I often have the same thought I do when watching the Bachelor. When would this be tolerated in any other circumstance? Are these people really like this all the time? I feel like that would be an exhausting way to live. Flying off the handle anytime something does not go your way and deciding the only way to resolve the issue is by screaming at another adult or a child. Is this how these people are at work or around the house? When they go to the grocery store, do they rip into someone who accidentally bumps into their cart? Are you serious! Open your eyes! I am never coming here again!

At home or at school, would it not look a little strange, and probably be frowned upon, to constantly bark instructions to kids as they do any task? Picture a kid walking to their class and an adult following them yelling,

“Walk faster. Hurry! You’re going to be late. Get a drink at the water fountain. Hurry before that other kid gets there! Oh, come on you could have gotten there first! Do you want a drink or not!? You got to want it more! You’re faster than that kid. Ok, find your seat! Really, that is where the teacher has you sit?! That’s not where you can do your best. Get your pencil out! Look, the teacher is writing something on the board. Write it down! Faster! That word is spelled wrong! You know the E is silent! Erase it! That is not how you erase! Raise your hard! Answer the question! Seriously, that was your answer?! You know that was not correct, we went over that last night for an hour! You need to focus!”

Again, this is something I would expect to see on TV as part of show, but would be pretty shocked to witness it go on in real life. Although, you will commonly hear a very similar chain of dialogue from the sidelines at a game from an adult directed to a child.

Sometimes at youth games I look around for a camera crew half expecting to see one. At times, I am convinced a reality show is being filmed and the more theatrical people are, the more likely they will be renewed for one more season. If Toddlers and Tiaras can have a show, why can’t we?

I am just waiting for TV executives to figure out that sidelines at youth sporting events may be some of the greatest undiscovered entertainment out there. Friday Night Tikes may be just the tip of the iceberg. If you have some time, check out YouTube for adults behaving badly at sporting events and you will be amazed, or sadly maybe not, by what you find. Honestly, it is pretty entertaining (not for the kids or adults who had to deal with it). You will be watching and thinking the same thing as me, “This can’t be real?!” Hopefully your reaction is not, “I do not see why this is a big deal. Clearly the official missed that call.”

While kids are competing and trying to enjoy playing a sport, adults cannot be allowed to take over the game with behavior that would not be tolerated in any other circumstance. To this day, I have never seen or heard of a situation where a parent or coach lost control and it was justified. After all is said and done, no one is ever standing around saying, “You know I am glad that parent constantly screamed at the referee. The referee would have continued making the wrong calls if that parent did not speak up!” or “I am glad the coach was screaming at the players the entire game. It made the game more fun for them.”

My college roommate would always say, “Win with pride and lose with dignity.” He played this way on the field and expected others around him to approach the game the same way. From his teammates, coaches, and his parents, he believed any game should never turn into anything other than a competition decided on the field. Some things are out of our control, but we are always in control of how we respond and act. Since we are in control, we need to hold ourselves accountable for how we respond. As an adult at a youth sporting event I would judge my actions based on the following question: Are my actions making this a safe and fun environment for the kids to play?

There are so many awesome things that can be done in sports that cannot be done in other circumstances. When was the last time you did something and everyone huddled around you cheering? When was the last time you made a mistake and you had an entire team of people tell you, “You’ll get it next time.” How often do we get to work hard with a group of friends to try to accomplish something you could not do on your own? These are the things that should be celebrated at youth sporting events. These are the things that are uncommon in our everyday lives that do not get to happen very often. It is the break from reality that the kids DO NEED. Our only job as adults is to make sure the kids get to experience those things all the time, as in the future, when they are older like us, it will not be something that happens every day.

So in the end, maybe youth sports should be an escape from reality, but for the kids, not the adults. As adults, we have the responsibility to live up to our responsibilities while letting the kids get the opportunity to experience being a kid. Let us leave the “crazy” for the reality shows we see on TV where the people are paid to lose sight of what is really important.

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Push Pull Forward Back & Pull Side to Side – Single Foot Play Video

Posted by Administrator on Wed, 8 Jan 2014
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Let the Players Coach

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

How do you know when you really understand something? It is said that when you really understand something, you can teach it to someone else. If this is true, then an easy way to check for understanding in your players is to have them coach. Sounds strange? Yes, it would be very weird to walk up to a training session and see the players giving instructions and explaining a technical, tactical, physical, or mental skill of the game. Although it may be strange to see, it would be a pretty amazing display of understanding by the player. For a coach, it would be affirmation the player understands that part of the game. How else throughout a practice, or a season, can a coach really check for understanding?

One of the biggest mistakes I make as a coach is saying to players, “Does that make sense?” Of course, most of the time everyone says “yes” in unison, and then everyone takes the field and it is immediately clear that what I said did not make sense. One of the techniques coaches use to avoid this is to ask the kids questions versus just telling them the answer. By asking a question and having the player tell you what they could have done is a great way to check for understanding. Based on the player’s response, the coach will know whether or not the player understands what the coach wants them to do.

Could we take this a step further? While asking guiding questions during a training session to check for understanding, could you ask a player to lead an activity or part of a training session? Just as an example, by asking a player to lead an activity on 1v1 attacking, the player would have to explain a single part of 1v1 attacking, but review all the important “coaching points” with his teammates. The player would have to, with the coach’s help, coach the other players on the team in that skill area. Would that not help develop understanding of important principles and skills, that in the long term, would help the players learn those skills faster, and more importantly, understand how to apply them to the game?

As a teacher, I used this approach in the classroom all the time. I would ask the students to teach the class on certain sub-areas of a major topic we were discussing during that time. The students would create a presentation, lead the class through the presentation, and then provide an examination for their classmates to check for understanding. The students really enjoyed this process versus me standing in front of the room and just talking about the topic while they took notes.

They had to work with the material and know it well enough to teach it to their classmates. In terms of long term understanding and comprehension, and the skills of how to process information and use it, were the invaluable benefits to this process for the students.

A side benefit was that students felt empowered, like they were the adult (teacher) for a little while, and they had control over what happened in the classroom. It gave them complete control of their learning and their classmates.

This is something as a coach would be easy to bring to the practice field and gain the same benefits. With the players studying different skill areas or tactical focuses and trying to teach them to their teammates, they will gain a deeper understanding and take ownership of their development as players. Again, like the kids in the classroom, all of a sudden the kids are empowered to be the adult (teacher) for a little while and get to learn how to speak in a group setting, teach a skill to another person, and the confidence to lead a group of people to complete a set task.

The benefits of this approach are endless, but it would require coaches to give up a little control by giving the players the freedom to lead parts of the training session. Of course, like in the classroom, you need guidelines for the kids to follow to ensure that part of the training session is productive and meaningful for all involved.

I like to think of the playing field for kids as an extension of the classroom (because it is). As we look for different approaches to make a meaningful impact on our players, it is appropriate to look at the best practices of teachers in the classroom and think a little bit outside of the box with our strategies for our players to learn. Depending on age and level of the kids you coach, you can make the opportunity appropriate and something that will not overwhelm or underwhelm the players.

If you really watch kids, they love to teach each other what they know. It is a way for them to display a skill or something they learned. You see it all the time when kids play video games or play sports in the backyard on their own. Thinking back, many of the “tricks” I learned as a kid was taught to me by teammates before or after practice. Kids would go home, work on a new trick, and once they had it perfected, they could not wait to teach the rest of us.

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Push Outside & Roll Across Play Video

Posted by Administrator on Mon, 14 Oct 2013
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Creativity

by Tony Earp, Senior Director

Why do players need it? Why do so many lack it?

What is the difference between good players and great players? Good players can make good decisions on the ball if given enough time, space, and options, but great players can make good decisions under tremendous pressure, in very limited space, and create options when none exist. Great players have the technical skill, but more importantly, the creativity to make something out of nothing and are dangerous every time they touch the ball. These players play without fear and possess a great passion for the game!

Creative players have an attribute a lot of players lack because of a fear of losing the ball or being criticized by a coach, teammate, or parent. Creative players are not afraid to take on opponents and try to make great things happen on the field. If they fail at first, they will try again and again until they get it right. They play to win and are having fun in the process. Games are fun and are seen as opportunities for them to showcase their newly learned skills and try things that are difficult in the hopes of getting better and helping their team win.

To be clear, creative players are not necessarily “fancy” players who attempt difficult moves with the ball each chance they get (although they can be). By creative, I mean the player knows how to improvise and can problem solve on the field quickly and without hesitation. Sometimes the most creative solutions to a problem are the simplest. Creativity does not always mean complex or difficult movements with the ball. Most of the time, it is very simple but just not expected. Unfortunately, most players are not placed in an environment that nurtures creativity which is crucial to enjoying the game. Often, players are trained in an atmosphere that has strict rules that must be followed. This is a place where the coach’s word is law and things should only be done the coach’s way. Practices consist of activities that do not require players to think outside the box or problem solve, but rather they are forced to only do things directed by the coach. Compounded by the fact that players rarely play soccer without a coach or parent directing them, players struggle to develop the creative intuition needed to develop into a high level player.

What kind of comments do players often hear from coaches & parents? Maybe something to the tune of:

  • “Stop dribbling!”
  • “Pass the ball!”
  • “Never do that!”
  • “Just kick it!”

The last one is my favorite (“Just kick it out!”). I never understood the logic behind that comment. A coaching friend once said to me, “In what other sport would a coach yell that to a player? If you are a basketball coach, do you ever tell your point guard to just throw the ball out of bounds when under pressure?” It is a simple point, but I think it hits on something very important. Coaches need to be very careful about what they are encouraging and discouraging young players to do. The undeniable truth is coaches can create players who play scared and timid. Players who are scared of losing the ball, letting down their teammates, disappointing their coach or disappointing their parents will do only what the coach asks for fear of being lambasted for his or her actions. For many players, a lot of the pressure to perform comes from this fear. It is this fear that hinders players from being creative and often cuts players’ careers short because the game is no longer fun for them.

How do we help build creativity?

With the amount of pressure put on kids to reach lofty expectations placed on them, it is not hard to understand why players are scared of doing anything that might make them look like a “bad” player. Expectations are good, but as coaches and parents it is important that we have the PROPER expectations for youth players. Expect the players to make many mistakes and LEARN from them on the field. Expect the players to try something new everyday at practice and in games without fear of failure. Expect the players to be creative and find solutions on their own with the understanding they will struggle at times.

As Thomas Edison once said about creating the light bulb, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.” As coaches, we need to allow players to find out what works and what does not work. For that to happen, they need to be encouraged to try new skills and find new ways of performing those skills. Remember, like Edison, every time a player fails, they are one step closer to getting it right.

To remove fear from players, coaches and parents must promote kids to be creative and have fun during training sessions. Our expectation needs to be for the players to learn and try new skills at practice and in games without a fear of failure. It is important to teach players to play simple and make good decisions on the field, but it is critical to allow them to take risks by taking on players or trying difficult moves without being scolded if they fail. Players should be applauded at a young age for trying things that are difficult and taking chances. Allowing players to take risks on their own and be creative will permit them to fail or succeed on their own and they will learn over time what works for them and what does not fit their style of play. Often failure is a much stronger learning tool than success. Alongside proper teaching and mentoring, a player learning in an environment that fosters skill development and gives the freedom to discover their strengths and weaknesses will likely become a dynamic and creative player over time.

Playing simple, playing safe, and taking a limited amount of touches are great tactical skills for a player to learn, but without a creative side that breaks these rules at the right time, a player with these tactical qualities will never be better than average. When is the right time to break away from these rules? That is learned by the player through years of playing experience, failure, success, and a coach’s guidance.

Continue to encourage your child to try new moves, take risks around the goal, shoot when given the opportunity, and never be afraid to take on a player with the ball. This is the age that this foundation is laid. It is very difficult to do it once they players are older.

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Stop & Lift Over Cones Play Video

Posted by Administrator on Mon, 7 Oct 2013
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