Soccer Articles

Control Defined

Coaches talk to players a lot about their control of the ball and how to improve it. It is probably one of the most common things a player gets feedback on during training and games. “Better first touch” or “keep it close” are both examples of what a player might hear from a coach when the ball gets too far from the body and possession is lost. The coaches want the players to keep the ball closer to the body so they can protect it from defenders, while at the same time, be able to execute their next decision on the ball. With that said, is that really all that “control” is when it comes to handling the ball during a game? It is just keeping the ball close to the body? Yes, these are parts of what control of the ball entails, but it is not the complete picture. So, let’s define control….

Control is defined as “the power to influence or direct.” Throughout the game, a player’s ability to influence and direct the ball is the foundation of being able to play this game. So, control is not just keeping the ball close to the body. No, a player who has real control of the ball, can make it do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and wherever he wants.

A player with great control is a player who can consistently have the ball react to the body exactly how the player anticipated. If the player wanted to go left, the player went left. He wants his touch on the dribble to move the ball three yards from him, the ball moves three yards or somewhere very close. With any part of the body the player can legally use in the game, the player can direct and influence the ball to do exactly what was intended with little need for corrective touches or adjustments.

When we talk to players about “controlling” the ball, it cannot only be in the context of keeping the ball close to the body. It needs to be applied to every aspect of the game. Whether it is dribbling, passing, finishing, or trapping the ball, the player must have that element of control.

Dribbling does not just require a player to keep the ball close to the body when moving with it. Instead, dribbling requires the player to be able to make contact with the ball with the appropriate part of the foot, on the correct part of the ball, with the proper weight, and at the right time in order to successfully maneuver the ball around pressure and into space. The slightest miscalculation in any of those areas usually results in a loss of possession or a lost opportunity due to the player needing extra touches or time to get where he wanted to go.

When you watch a player handle the ball, does it look like he knows where the ball is about to go or does the player look like they are reacting to every touch? In other words, do they look surprised by the direction or distance of their touch? A player with good control is confident in where he is directing the ball with each touch. Whether he is trapping the ball, passing the ball, finishing, or dribbling, the touch taken on the ball looks intentional and with purpose.

Keeping the ball close is also not always the goal for a player. There are times in the game when a larger touch on the dribble ,or with the first touch, is needed to get away from pressure or quickly move forward into space. If a player is running with the ball, and has plenty of space, the player is faster the less number of times the player needs to touch the ball while running. The player needs to manage the distance of each touch to make sure nobody else can get to the ball before he does, but a touch may need to be farther from the body to allow the player to accelerate faster into the space before the defender can get there.

When a player receives the ball, to keep it close to the body may hurt the player’s ability to keep the ball. It could trap the player in pressure making it easier for a defender to close the player down. It is necessary in the game to be able to take a first touch away from the body into space versus keeping it close when appropriate. This allows the player to escape pressure or take advantage of space before the defender can close him down.

In both of these situations, the player must be able to direct and influence the ball to determine where it will go next. A miscalculated touch a little too far right or left, too soft or too hard, can quickly cause the player to lose possession of the ball. The more control players have of the ball, their influence and direction of each touch, the more likely they will have success.

Control is directly related to a player's ability to strike the ball to pass or finish from close or farther distances. A player with great control knows how hard and where to hit the ball to get the desired result of the strike. By using the correct part of the foot and proper follow through, the player can get the correct pace and texture to the strike. All of this is “control” because it is the player’s ability to influence and direct the ball. Players with great control are usually tremendous at passing and finishing, especially in regards to putting different types of spin and loft on their strikes.

Control of the ball directly correlates with a player’s ability to control the body. With great body control and positioning, the player puts himself into a better situation to get the desired contact with the ball. When a player is off-balance or out of position, it is difficult to get the necessary touch on the ball. This is why foot speed, agility, and coordination work is important for players in training. When players are deficient in these developmental areas, it is harder for them to be successful with the ball. Improved body awareness gives the player the ability to control how they are making an impact with the ball. Being able to direct and influence the body allows the player to more easily direct and influence the ball.

Again, control is not only keeping the ball close to the body. A player can trap a ball or dribble with it close to the body and still have a considerable lack of control of the ball. Control is about total influence and direction of each touch on the ball. A player with great control has few limitations to what he can make the ball do. As a result of that control, they not only can influence and direct the ball, they tend to be the players that can influence and direct the outcomes of games.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Tue, 16 Aug 2016
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Change is Coming

In Ohio, most teams are winding down their spring season and have tryouts approaching at the beginning of June to select teams for the Fall season. Tryout time is an anxious time to begin with, but this year will add a new level of anxiety and uncertainty with many of the changes taking place for next season. With the change to move to birth year to organize teams and a change in platform for many age groups (4v4, 7v7, and 9v9), there will be some significant differences next year for players, coaches, and parents.

Now, this article is not about taking a position, arguing in favor or against any of these changes. There are plenty of articles and information about that, and I would be adding nothing new to the discussion on whether or not there is validity and/or need for the changes. What I want to focus on is something more important, and what all of us should be really directing our attention to in preparation for the changing landscape of the youth soccer experience.

In my view, coaches and parents have a tremendous opportunity with the upcoming season, and it is an opportunity that is critical for each child’s development so we need to take full advantage. Change is a part of life, and with change often comes a lot of frustration, fear, discomfort and uncertainty. It often drags us, kicking and screaming, into a foreign place where we do not think we will be happy or want to be. Although, if we look hard enough and adjust our attitude, it is in these moments that we find significant opportunities for growth in character, perseverance, and ability.

Every coach and parent should not be looking at the coming changes through the lens of fear wondering how this will negatively affect their child or players. Instead, we should be guiding and preparing the players on how to properly handle the upcoming changes in a way that will help them be better… not bitter.

We have a “teaching moment” ahead of us that we can use with the players affected by the change. A moment that does not come around often. Although most kids wish things would stay the same and their teams would stay together, it not a reality of next season (or life). The life lesson that this situation can be used to teach is a powerful one, and maybe one of the most important for kids to learn. When change occurs that they are not happy about, which will happen often in their lives, how will they respond? Will they get bitter and complain about fairness, try to find loopholes, or ways to prevent the change from happening or letting it affect them, OR will they be able to respond in a better way… a more positive way, the way we hope they will respond to similar situations later in life (when it is much more important).

It is fine not to be happy about the change, or change in general, as there are many times change happens that we wholeheartedly disagree with. Dealing positively with change is not avoiding it or ignoring it. Dealing positively with change is analyzing it, and understanding how it will affect you, and what you need to do to NOT let it stop you from continuing down the path to your goals. Again, change will move us out of our comfort zone, whether we like it or not, forcing us to adapt, learn and develop new skills to deal with the change. But, the consistent “silver lining” is those new skills learned stay with us once we have weathered the adjustment, and we are better for it.

For younger kids, this can be an opportunity to help them prepare for situations they will have to deal with as they get older. If the family moves to a different city, the player will be more comfortable playing with a new team and making new friends. When a player goes to high school, it will make the transition of playing with older players and in a new environment easier. For those who play soccer in college, there will be less fear and discomfort when confronted with the most challenging playing environment experience up to that point.

All of these are moments of change for youth players. The “small” changes coming up this year can begin to help players learn how to deal with the bigger changes coming their way in the future, both on, and off the field.

As kids head into this tryout season, we need to help them look ahead with uncertain optimism. Not being completely sure how everything will end up next season or how the players will be affected is ok as long as the players understand how to deal with the change and focus solely on the things they can control. They need to see the upcoming changes as an opportunity to be challenged as a player and person, an opportunity to play in a different environment with new players, and opportunity to make new friends, opportunity to learn new ways of playing the game, and an opportunity to learn how to deal with change.

Our primary responsibility as parents and coaches is to guide our kids and teach them how to do that. It is not to get upset for them or try to shelter them from it.

Change is coming… there is no stopping it now. How we react to and handle the situation as adults will impact how the kids handle this change and learn how to manage change positively in the future. Do not miss this opportunity, an important “teaching moment," that does not come around often. Make this moment about helping your kids learn valuable lessons and life skills. Do not make it about short-term, unimportant things, that really will have little effect on the rest of their lives.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Sat, 7 May 2016
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A Letter to Me

by Tony Earp, Executive Director

Dear Tony,

Hey, it’s me (or you), Tony, 12 years from now. Yea, this is going to be a little strange, but bear with me. You are probably getting ready for your first practice of the first team you get to coach, the Grandview Middle School boy’s soccer team. Take a quick break from planning your session for their first practice to read this letter.

Also, on a side note, you are going to get lost on the way to training and miss it anyway, so you would be better off getting a head start on the apology note to the players and parents you will need to write...ok back to why I am writing this letter.

Well, you are not going to believe this, but this “coaching” thing becomes a little serious in the future for you. Although you are studying to be a teacher, which will come in handy, you will only spend a couple years in the school system. No, you do not get fired, but you make a pretty gutsy decision to leave the classroom for the soccer field (a bigger classroom).

Now, I want to give you a few quick tips to prepare you for the path you are going take. Don’t worry. You made a good decision, but I want to share some things I have learned over the past 12 years with you that are important to know.

Learn as much as you can about the players you coach.

You will continue to study and learn more about the game and new coaching methods, but it is the knowledge about the kids you are working with that will be your biggest asset and make you a better coach. In show business, it is often said, “Know your audience.” This is true in coaching as well. “What” and “how” you are coaching are only as good as they are appropriate for your audience (the players). You will design fantastic sessions that will fail, in epic fashion, because they were not appropriate for the kids of that age or level. You will get mad and blame it on the kids, but with experience and moderate wisdom, you will realize it is your fault, not theirs.

Parents are your ally.

You will be around a lot of coaches who tell “horror stories” about parents and their involvement in their child’s soccer experience. While some are true, and you will witness some firsthand, the vast majority of parents want to do what is best for their kid and support you as a coach. Do not let a rare few paint the entire group in a negative light. You will learn very quickly that your job is much easier, and enjoyable, the more you engage parents in the process. Communicate, communicate, and communicate…. and when you are done...communicate some more. Have the tough conversations, do not leave things open to interpretation, seek feedback, provide feedback, agree to disagree respectfully, and be open minded. You will become a parent one day, and when you look at your daughter, and get the sense she is even slightly being mistreated, you will understand where a concerned parent is coming from. Lastly, even the parents you will never find common ground with are the ones you will learn the most about yourself and your coaching philosophy.

Make it fun.

You will find as an adult you have a different agenda than the kids when you arrive at training. You will be overly serious about getting things done a very specific way, and expect each player to be focused on getting better, winning, and having success. Yes, you will want players to be focused, get better, and be successful, but making the game too serious too fast will do the exact opposite. Do not forget what you were thinking about when you arrived at training as a player. Did you really show up and say, “Today I am going to improve my first touch and ability to pass and move.”

No, you did not. Sorry, you cannot lie to yourself. When you showed up, you were just excited to see your friends and get to play. You were lucky to have coaches who made the game fun and taught you how to play the game. It is going to take you some time to remember that because you want to be the best coach you can be, but once you do, you will find the kids will respond much better to your coaching style, have more fun, learn more, and have more success. They are there to have fun. It is why they signed up to play to begin with...just like you.

It is a game. Make sure you keep it a game, and not make it into a job for them. Your goals are different than their goals, and most are not overly serious about the game. Remember, you always played because it was fun, and it never really got “serious” until you were in high school.

By the way, I know you think you want to coach in college one day. Turns out, with this slight change in approach, your favorite age groups to coach will be the younger players. Sorry for the bad news, but look on the bright side. If you do your job well, you are going to help a lot of players stay in the game long enough to get to college one day.

Learn, but don’t copy.

You do a great job seeking out other coaches to observe in order to learn new coaching methods and training activities. You will attend conventions and coaching schools, spend a lot of time on YouTube, and all will be an invaluable resource for your development as a coach. Make sure you never stop doing that!

BUT… here is something you will learn overtime. Learn from the great coaches around you, but do not try to BE the great coaches around you. By trying to do things the way they do them, to coach the way they coach, talk the way they talk, you will become frustrated and fail. Do not copy what you see, instead, adapt it to the type of coach you want to be and the players you are working with. By doing that, you can take what is great about every coach and use it in a way that works for you. You are unique in your style, like all coaches, so you need to do more than just see and copy. You must see, dissect, question, build, adapt, and integrate into your pedagogy.

Evolve...changing your mind is ok.

It shows wisdom, not uncertainty, to change your mind as you gain more knowledge and information about the world around you. In time, those whom you were impressed with by their ability to “stand their ground” will seem more ignorant and intolerant to change, child-like in many ways, than being confident and an expert in their field. Although, always be in awe of those who stand by principle based on current information and will do what is right in the face of adversity without a consensus of the masses. Be weary of the, “back in my day” people who refuse to accept new information that proves the old way maybe was not that great, or really never worked.

You will stand strong on a lot of issues, and then come to many crossroads where you can stay on your current path, stubbornly, ignoring what you have learned, or you will choose to do what is hard, and adjust your approach in light of what you know, admit you were wrong, and change course. To be honest, you will be stubborn at times and take the wrong course of action, but your proudest and toughest moments of your coaching career will be when you evolve. Changing your mind is ok. Do it often. As soon as you stop changing your mind, it means you have stopped thinking. If you stop thinking, you will no longer be an effective coach.

One last thing…

Remember that bitter is one letter away from better. Things will not always go your way, and you will be frustrated often about what you see happening around you in the youth soccer world. You will want to scream at the rain and punch at the wind when you see what some people deem important and unimportant. You will feel like you are making progress by impacting the game and culture in a positive way, and then you will witness actions of coaches, parents, and those entrusted with governing youth sports that make you seriously doubt that real, lasting change, is even possible. You will struggle with being bitter or being better. If you really want to make a difference always choose to be better, not bitter. By doing that, you can do your very small part to make the game you love something others can love as well. You really like quotes, so always remember one of your favorites:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” - Mead

You are lucky enough to work with such a group of people, so take advantage of the opportunity.

All the best,

Future Tony

P.S. - You are not going to believe this, but you still live in Ohio.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Thu, 14 Apr 2016
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Be the Best Part of the Day

by Tony Earp, Executive Director

When I was student teaching as part of my requirements to earn my teaching license, I had the opportunity to work in different schools across Columbus and learn from some of the best teachers in the classroom. With all I learned in my time student teaching, there was a defining moment for me one Friday afternoon when I walked into a middle school classroom to do a lesson I prepared. That moment has been the foundation for the way I approach teaching and coaching.

As I entered the room classes were changing, and the kids of the class I was about to teach followed in behind me. It had been a rough day before arriving at the school to teach the class. I woke up late for work that day, and got an ear full from my boss earlier that day. On top of that, a friend who was suppose to be coming in town to visit cancelled at the last second, and I was not feeling well. I had a pounding headache, and I just wanted the day to end. Teaching this class was the last thing I wanted to do.

I guess I was noticeably unhappy by my facial expression, body language or the way I “gently” dropped my bag on the desk. The teacher for the class came over and asked me if everything was ok. I brushed her off with a quick, “I’m fine” and got ready for the lesson as the kids started taking their seats.

As I started class, there were a couple kids in the back of the class taking their sweet time to sit down and get their notebooks out. Although they were probably taking the standard amount of time it takes a teenager to do anything, my current mode was expecting military type precision to my instructions. With the first snap of the last straw of my patience, I screamed, “Sit down.”

Before I got to continue with what was about to come out of my mouth, the teacher quickly stood up and asked me step outside with her. Obviously, this was the last thing I wanted to deal with and was ready to snap on her as well. As soon as the door closed behind us, she changed how I would approach my job from that point on.

She got to eye level with me, and simply said this, “I do not care what is wrong with you, and those kids do not deserve anything less than your best when you step into that room. Leave all the other **** out here. Do not bring it in there with them. This could be the best part of their day, and you can never let yourself be selfish enough to take that from them. Now, you be the adult, and make this a great day for them. Deal with ‘your stuff’ later.”

She was right, and probably why she is one of the best at what she does. I made a promise to myself that I would adhere to what she asked of me, not just while student teaching in her classroom, but each time I have the privilege and opportunity to teach, or coach, a child.

Her point, which she did not make very subtle, was two fold:

  1. We cannot be certain what each kid deals with throughout each day. It is possible that a child’s hour with me could be the only positive part of their day.

  2. It is up to me to make sure that I do everything I can to make that time the best part of their day, NO MATTER WHAT, without exception.

I have modeled my approach to coaching with this “be the best part of their day” as the foundation of what I do each time I run a training session for a player or group of players.

Before you start to think that I am all about ice cream and skittles during my time coaching kids, that is not the case. I believe you can establish a learning environment with a high level of discipline AND enthusiasm. Any high level training environment requires both of these at all times.

All this means, is that when I step on the field with kids, they always have my undivided attention and I will be focused on helping each kid feel important, empowered, and confident in their ability to learn. They will know that I care about them. I care enough about them to not make the session about anything else except them, and helping them improve.

When you are having a bad day, and you are about to step on the field, although difficult at some times, you need to leave the “bad” in the car before you get out. A player, a child, does not deserve to have their practice spoiled by a coach with a short fuse and irritated demeanor, or a coach who will have less than normal patience or rip into a kid mainly just because he is having a bad day.

All kids fight battles either at home, school, or with friends, at some point throughout the year. Other kids are in a constant battle, some much worse than others. Many of these situations we are not aware of, some we are are, and for those kids, their time at practice or playing a sport is their one place of solace. It is their escape, for a short amount of time doing something they love, from what they are forced to face the rest of the day.

By making a player’s time with you the best part of the day, it does not just make it a great experience, and possible refuge, for the kid, but it also makes you a much better coach. This is a key characteristic of the best coaches. They are fully engaged and committed to each player to make sure they are challenged and enjoy training and working towards a goal.

I think back to my best coaches, and teachers, and it was very hard to ever tell what type of day they were having at any given moment. There was a steadfast consistency to what my experience was going to be like in their classroom or on the soccer field. There were very few, if any, shocking moments for these teachers and coaches that were completely out of character. It is what made their classrooms and training sessions “safe places” where I wanted to be, learn, and work incredibly hard.

In the end, to be the “best part of the day” for the kids you teach or coach is a simple, but powerful, philosophy and approach to the most important profession. Teachers and coaches, at times, spend more time with kids during the day, than anyone else. By taking this approach, not only will you make an incredible difference in more kids’ lives, but the kids will learn more, work harder, and have a terrific example to model their behavior after. As this is an important approach for teachers, it is something we should all strive for when it comes to those we interact with each day… friends, family, and even complete strangers.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Tue, 12 Apr 2016
tags:

Classroom Management

by Tony Earp, Executive Director

When I was in graduate school studying to be a teacher, classroom management monopolized much of the curriculum and the focus of study. From the beginning, our professors and teachers who worked with us said, “everything begins and ends with classroom management.” Meaning, no matter how skilled a teacher, how great the lesson plan, it did not matter if there was a lack of classroom management. From the moment the students step into the classroom to the end of the class, everything that happens is important. This is true for coaches. As teachers, in a bigger classroom and a different topic, the focus of “classroom management’ is just as critical. Without it, a training session will never reach its potential to impact the players’ learning and development.

Let’s take a look at how classroom management can be applied to your team’s training sessions:

When the Players Arrive

I have seen two types of teams. One in which when the players show up for training, their bags are thrown all over the field, and the players are all doing something different. Some are shooting at the goal, others are running and chasing each other, some might be wrestling or squirting each other with water, while others just sit and watch the chaos. The second type of team, the players arrive and all place their bags in a designated area (normally lined up), and then the players are all engaged in the same activity. They might be partner passing, juggling, playing keep away (rondo), or getting right into a small sided game on their own.

Which team do you think will have a more productive training session?

The second team is going to be ready to start training when it is time, and is already in the proper mindset to get the most out of the training session, while the first team will probably take much longer to get focused and be ready to practice.

The activity does not matter as much as the understanding that there is an expectation of what should be done by the players upon arrival. Think of the coach of the first group, and the moment he tries to start practice. How long do you think it would take him to get the group organized and focused to start training? With all the players disorganized and running around, there will probably be a lot of wasted time getting everyone “settled down” before training begins.

Coaches with good classroom management have set clear expectations with their players about what is expected upon arrival and how training will begin. With all the players already participating in the same task and on the same page, when practice begins, it can be set up to be a smooth transition into the first activity (we will talk about transitions later).

Another benefit to this is when the coach is running late or coming from another training session that ends when the next session begins. Many coaches either work another job full time or have other teams they coach. Often, it can lead to coaches running late, or arriving just as practice is scheduled to start. A team that knows what to do when they arrive, will not waste any time and can utilize all of their practice time. It is impressive to watch a coach arrive a couple minutes late to training and their team is already warming up, or playing a rondo, until the coach is ready to start. It is a much better use of time than the players standing around not knowing what to do.

Flow of Activities - Transition

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a student teacher from a mentor was to eliminate “dead time” in my lesson plans. He called it “dead time” because nothing would be going on, and those were the moments your lesson plan was most likely to be “killed” by losing the kids’ attention. Progress made during the class can be stalled or even reversed. When nothing is happening, the kids will fill the time for you, and you might not like their choice of activities.

When moving from one activity to the next in a training session, transitions need to be:

Quick - 2 minutes at the most (much less with younger players) Active - there needs to be direction in what kids are doing during that time.

The more time you give kids to find distractions during activities or get themselves into trouble (for lack of a better term), the harder it will be to get the next activity started in a timely manner or have the players’ full attention. Often, when too much time has past, the first moments of the new activity are spent dealing with behavior or focus issues versus the substance of the activity.

Any break should have clear expectations of the players. The players may be instructed to get water, and then collect all the soccer balls in a certain area, or assist in moving cones/goals. I have seen some coaches have the players get water, and then “juggle” until called back on to the field. Again, no downtime. No opportunities to “check out” of the training session.

Coaches can assist with this by the setup and flow of their activities. When designing sessions, as it is taught in many coaching schools, layout the final activity first and then build down into the first activity. Ideally, coaches only need to remove a few cones or add a few cones for the next phase of training to be begin. Coaches should try to avoid situations that everything needs to be picked up and then reset again for the next activity. This usually causes a much longer pause in the training session, and even players who have been instructed to do things during the break, will lose focus due to there being an excessive amount of time between activities.

The kids want to play. Most behavioral and focus issues for players are born out of boredom from too much down time during training.

Proximity

To help with focus and attention during training, it is important the coach finds a way to move between the players and give individual attention to each player. When coaches tend to just stand in one spot, leaning up against a goal, talking to other coaches, checking their phones, and simply not fully engaged with the kids, there will be a significant lack of focus and effort among the players (on average).

Players pick up on when coaches are not really paying attention to what is going on, or seem to not particularly care. This tells the players what is currently going on is not that important. I am going to use a classroom example. Often when students are working on an activity at their desk quietly, teachers use the opportunity to sit at their desk and get work done. Understandable as free time during the day is limited, but it does send a clear message to the students about the importance of the activity. I found when I would walk around the room and stop at students’ desks to ask questions or assist, not only did the quality of the work improve, the students showed more of an interest in what they were doing. As they saw me walking around, they were more likely to raise their hand or stop and ask questions than when I would be sitting at my desk.

Same is true for coaches. As kids are training, by getting around to all the players, not only does it help significantly decrease behaviors and focus issues, but it sends a clear message that what they are doing is important. You are engaged, interacting with the players, and they will be engaged and interact with you (and each other).

Demeanor

The leader sets the tone of each training session. What type of tone? This is up to the coach, but demeanor and approach sets the tone for everything. As the leader, the attitude and approach that you bring to a training session will permeate through the session.

If you are expecting a very high work rate and focus on very important items in training, then starting out the session in a loose or “laid back” manner way may not be appropriate. If you are joking around with the players one second, and then try to quickly transition them into a serious issue, you may find it difficult.

Your demeanor should be similar each session. If the players do not know if a clown or a drill sergeant is going to show up to practice to coach, it makes it hard for them to understand what will be expected of them each session. The trick is:

Finding a good balance of the clown and drill sergeant (depending on age/level of team). Making your tone, approach, and demeanor synced with what you want to accomplish during the training session. This is where a teacher or coach can move skillfully along the spectrum between a clown or drill sergeant without getting too far on one side or the other.

Expectations

Instead of having rules and consequences as the foundation of behavior management, have a firm set of expectations for both the players and yourself (the coach). These expectations should span the scope of how players talk to each other, to the coach, being prepared, being on time, eye contact, body language when speaking to or listening to another, and how to properly and respectfully approach others when there are disagreements.

Ask the players what they expect from you? Adhere to those expectations that align with your coaching philosophy and clearly explain to the players if some of their expectations are not possible. This process should happen in reverse as well. Ask the players what you should expect from them and what they should expect from each other.

Although this does not eliminate behavior and focus issues that can slow down or halt a training session, it can provide quick and clear actions to address and correct these issues. Often, players will begin to hold each other accountable for them, relieving the coach of some of this burden. When the coach is required to correct the action or behavior, it is more of a reminder of the agreed upon expectations than a punitive action.

This is a better process than no one knowing what the expectations are and your practice is congested with an excess of “don’t do that” or “that is not acceptable.” All coaches accept or do not tolerate certain behaviours, so do not just “expect” your players to know what your expectations are for them at each training session. Also, do not pretend to automatically know what their expectations are of you. You may be surprised to hear what your players expect from you.

The Importance of “Why”

Finally, there needs to be clear purpose in everything you do with your players throughout each training session and the entire season. It is amazing the difference in the level of “buy in” from the players when they clearly understand “why” things are done a certain way. Especially, when the “why” clearly explains the way you run training sessions, the expectations you have set, the activities you use to train your athletes, and everything else you do to help make your players better, on and off the field, you will see a dramatic change in focus and behavior. Help your players understand “why” the little things are important, “why” paying attention to the small details makes a big difference in performance and success, and “why” trusting the process will help them get to where they want to be.

Like in the classroom, when you help kids understand why doing “A” helps them get to “B” which will then allow them to have success with “C”, it is a much more powerful tool to manage focus and behavior than, “Do it because I said so.” When players clearly understand your approach and reason for your actions, they know why complying with what is asked helps them achieve their goals.

The best teachers and the best coaches, not only have tremendous content knowledge of the subject matter they are teaching, but have great command of their environment in which they teach. The mastery and artistry of their craft is not just molding the child but also building a “learning center” that is conducive to growth and development. By being deliberate in how each moment with the kids is managed to support the intended curriculum, both you and your players will have more success.

Tony Earp
Tony Earp

Director Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University, is a State Certified teacher, and is a USSF C License coach. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. Tony's achievements included 2nd Team All Big Ten in 2001 and 2002, serving as Captain in 2002. Tony was named Most Inspirational Player in 2001 and 2002, as well as achieving Scholar Athlete status in those same years. Tony was a member of the 2002 MLS Draft Pool. After playing, Tony was a history teacher at Licking Valley High School in 2005 and at Dublin Scioto High School in 2006. In 2007, Tony Earp accepted a position at SuperKick as the Director of Soccer Training where he continues to serve as the Senior Director of Training managing programs, establishing training curriculums, and coaching athletes. Tony was the Head Coach for Hilliard Bradley High School boys soccer program in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Tony is a Director for Classics Eagles FC and is the Director of the SuperKick Classics Juniors Academy. With 10 years of coaching experience, Tony has developed a reputation of being a coach who motivates players to expect more from themselves and creates a training environment conducive to developing high level players.

Posted by Administrator on Fri, 18 Mar 2016
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