As a long time coach and specialty skills trainer, I have used my passion for the sport to be a disrupter in my local market. I have trained thousands of players from 3 years old through college as a coach at every level from volunteer to paid professional. I have been a volunteer, sat on several boards, a club founder, a club trainer, club director, club Executive and coach. I have obtained multiple licenses and certifications and have coached from the grassroots to the top regional leagues. The purpose of the quick resume is not to thump my chest but to provide a background of the unique perspective that I bring to the table. Perhaps the most important perspective that I will mention is that I am also a Soccer Parent of a player who has played Rec, Club, Regional ODP, Trained Internationally, and is currently in the USSDA System.
I was not only compelled to write about this topic but also to act, at least within my sphere of influence. I am taking a stand on something that which I can control.
As I sat in the stands at a local high school soccer game, I saw a notification on my phone of a tweet. I checked it out and saw an announcement for upcoming winter skills training programs from a local soccer club. Curious, I read further because my company Runfast Jumphigh Soccer is in the same business. What I could not believe when I looked into the details was how out of touch this Organization seems to be with the local market and the needs of the players. The structure of the age groups, the number of training sessions per program, and the age groups that the different levels of the programs offer seem to be in alignment. What is not in alignment (in my opinion) is the cost for the players to participate. While I absolutely take issue with the fee structure for the older players, I just can’t accept the fees that they are trying to charge the youngest players.
So I was compelled to respond but rather than respond to the organization, I thought that I would lead by example. I will be offering an 8-week winter training program this winter for 4 and 5-year-olds for $25. I had previously decided to reduce the fees for our fall programs because players are paying club fees or league fees. Even after researching several other organizations’ fee structures for similar programs, I have decided not to raise fees and in several cases will reduce fees on all programs for the foreseeable future.
Having trained more than 3000 players in our programs, we have received continuous feedback that players have really enjoyed our programs and parents have said that the quality of programming is among the best in the area. While we were typically on the lower end of the pricing scale, we will ensure that we will now remain the lowest cost option for players for the most unique training programs in our market. We could justify a premium for what we offer, but that would not be very disruptive, and it would not encourage change.
Here is a table resulting from research on other Local Training offers for the fall/winter. Some are certainly in alignment with the market, but not all, at least in my opinion.
|Runfast JumpHigh Soccer||8||$25 – $125|
If you are a parent, I encourage you to take a stand, before registering for specialty skills training, consider the quality and the value that you will receive for the investment.
If you are a coach who offers this training, reconsider the model to ensure that you are covering your costs and receiving compensation for what you offer that is unique, but consider how much of a premium you are charging and ask yourself the tough questions that justify your opinion of premium.
If you are a coach who is looking to recommend a program to your players or to validate a program for your players when asked, consider having an understanding of what is being offered before you respond.
I hope that others are compelled to do their part in their community to continue to provide solutions to solve some of the issues that youth sports are currently facing while at the same time, providing solutions that move the game of soccer forward.
Feel Free to share this article with others that may find this to be of interest.
If you are interested in learning more or registering, check out http://www.runfastjumphighsocccer.com
In soccer, in sport, and in life.
CoachRich8 aka RFH8
And after 25 years as an enterprise software sales executive, I have heard the phrase “Hope is Not a Strategy” on numerous occasions from various sales managers and leaders. The commentary around hope is not a strategy typically refers to reviewing a large opportunity or looking at a large business challenge and asking about the plan. In order to be successful, you have to have a plan. Plan the Work, Work the Plan. There is a common phrase that is attributed to Henry Ford that says “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Saying hope is not a strategy really means that you hope that you’re going to win the business or solve that business problem but may struggle to articulate the plan to turn that challenge into an expected outcome. The same is true of all areas of life and especially youth sports.
In a very short period of time over the next couple of weeks, several schools are going to start their tryout cycle for fall sports including Soccer. At the same time, club sports will begin. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard players say “I hope that I make the team” or “I hope that I start this year or play that position”. I hear similar comments from parents except that it is “I Hope that my Son/Daughter…He/She better make the team/start”, etc.
What I find surprising is how when I ask questions about how they have prepared or how they plan to approach the Tryout or Beginning of the Season, there is seemingly no clear path to contribute to their desired outcome. Put another way, there is excitement, anticipation, and Hope, but no real strategy. Sometimes I get blank stares or a shoulder shrug. There are are also players/parents who rattle off the list of camps/clinics/private training or even a resume of past performances and experiences.
Depending on the situation and the size of the school, the makeup of the team, etc. some players have an easier time than others. I typically hear either complete confidence or rationalization and defense in the event that they don’t make the desired team trying out for. The comments range from, “well I/He/She made it last year or have played with that group of players for years” to “The Coach Always” or “The Coach Never” yadda, yadda.
There are multiple ways to prepare to increase the likelihood or provide the best chance of success. The real intent of this article is not to suggest what has to happen to put an athlete in a position to be prepared to have a successful tryout or result when team selections are made at the beginning of the season; but more a reminder that preparation in general, will provide a higher likelihood for success.
It is not too late to start and even a basic approach is better than hoping for a result. Here are some super simple things an athlete can get tighter on:
- Nutrition – check the diet to ensure that the body is properly nourished from the perspective of fuel for the training as well as recovery.
- Hydration – proper hydration will also support the tryout process but is important for all athletes, all the time.
- Sleep/Rest – being an adolescent or teenager takes a tremendous amount of energy just to grow, say goodnight to the friends playing Fortnight and go to bed earlier.
- Touches – get touches on the ball, alone or with friends. Get the rust off now instead of waiting for the first few sessions.
- Move – just move the body and sweat. Going into the tryout fit is a much better option than trying to play into shape the first few weeks of the season and will also help to prevent injury that results from the sudden increase in heavy-duty activity.
As implied above, there is no magic bullet or secret sauce although there are plenty of coaches and trainers that will take a player’s money to help them prepare. Starting something now will not only help but may also put an athlete in the right frame of mind and provide the motivation to work even harder. The key is to do something and create some type of plan to be prepared.
Just as in business, if you want to be successful, if you want to solve a problem or win a big deal, you have to be smart about your plans. So parents, If your child wants to make the team, play the position that they desire, etc. you can and should encourage them to start now. Whether that’s participating in camps or clinics, getting private training alone or with teammates, put them in position to have a strong tryout and/or beginning of the season. Hoping that they will make the team and use the beginning of the season to get fit and shake the rust off will limit the ability to achieve the desired outcome. If you are a player, get out there and Do The Work!
So, as we get closer to the tryout time or beginning of the season over these next couple of weeks, ask yourself or your son/daughter what has been done to prepare? If the answer is not much, there is still time to start working to give yourself or your son/daughter a better chance of success. Just waiting to see what happens and hoping to make the team, is not a strategy for the long term.
Good luck and have fun, and try to remember that after all, this is still in fact, a game.
In Soccer, In Sport, and In Life!
I’ve been working with enterprise software for over 25 years. I had the fortune in late 90s to work in the.com era with a bunch of really sharp guys who Launched a CRM Solution. The funny thing was it was such early CRM that it wasn’t even called CRM when I first started . We called it TCM, or total customer management which was integration of sales, service and marketing in a single customer database.
During that time there were software companies popping up all over the place, and plenty of funding available from VC Firms. It seemed like they were IPOs every week and some people made as much if not more money Day-trading tech stocks as they did selling software.
I remember converting a bedroom in my home to an office and being the one guy in the state of Ohio building a territory like it was my own franchise. It was amazing at how busy I was and how after one or two meetings,we were able to get contracts. It was nothing unique about me or the company I was with but more to the state of the economy at that time. There was also a change in technology away from the main frame as well as the impending year 2000 and the potential impact on computing. If anything, We had a lot of really smart people that could understand our customers business and share relevant stories of similar customers that we were able to help. The biggest challenge was awareness so it was all about evangelism. This was way before social media and 1:1 email marketing tools so it was email, fax blasts and a lot of phone calls. Once the meeting happened…magic.
So how does that compare to today. About three months ago I went to a less than two-year-old company to help build out the sales organization all around Microsoft cloud technology. The company has hired very senior resources and build a business with 3 Practice areas all around the Microsoft Cloud. The 3 Practice Areas include Modern Workplace, Azure Data and Governance and Custom App Dev/Dynamics. Similar to my experience in the.com era, This company, called Applied Cloud Systems aka ACS and has a lot of really smart people and a lot of great stories about how we have helped companies move to the cloud.
What seems crazy to me and what reminds me about the.com days is just how many companies are either migrating to the cloud or are asking for help now that they are in the cloud. It is not uncommon for me to have 5 to 6 meetings per week where I walk out of meetings and immediately start drafting a proposal or contract. I see so many similarities between what I am experiencing right now and what I experienced almost 20 years ago in terms of the level of anticipation for new technology, the desire to transform, and the limited resources available to do so. Just like in the days of the late 90s, where This company I worked for was seemingly able to scratch the itch, Microsoft cloud technology and ACS are seemingly having a similar impact for customers embarking on digital transformation. Much like the dot com days, I find myself evangelizing in an effort to let people know what we are all about. Guess what, with the really smart people that I get to take to meetings with me…we get into the room…magic. I say that somewhat tongue and cheek but we seem to have cracked the code and are delighting customers and creating real value which is leading to lasting partnerships. It feels very similar to those days in the 90s.
There are 2 other times in my career that I have had this much fun, the dot com days before the bubble and when I helped to launch Dynamics CRM to the Enterprise as an incubation business for Microsoft. This is quickly rising to the top for me.
As a parent of two teenagers, I will tell you that I want the best for my kids. I want to provide for them, to protect them, and want them to succeed in every area of their lives. I am quite certain that I am not alone in that mindset as every generation seeks to make things better and easier than their generation had it. This societal ideal has created quite a challenge in competitive youth athletics. It manifests itself across playing fields and courts all over the United States, on a year round basis. For me, in my role as a coach and administrator for a youth soccer club, summer is the time of year that I see it the most and the time when emotions over logic often prevail.
I happen to live in a market which I am sure is similar to a lot of other areas in the country where there is so much access for those that can afford club sports (different topic for a different day). There are clubs competing for the same players literally a few miles apart and in our area there is a huge “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality that clubs are expanding with satellite groups in different geographies in an effort to grow. What happens in reality, is a further dilution of the player pool and the creation of more “Elite” or top teams. If a player tries out and does not get invited to a top team, they can easily zip to another nearby tryout and in the hopes of making that top team AKA “Elite”.
So what does this have to do with the subject line anyway? The preceding commentary was really to provide a bit of a back drop about the landscape. That environment also creates this “Grass is Greener” and club exodus every spring. See, as soon as things don’t go well for a player, whether that is positional or playing time which could be the result of a number of factors, there is a culture of secrecy, rumors and schemes where parents and sometimes groups of parents begin to plot their course for their next move. Instead of speaking with the club or the coach, they choose to seek out other options.
Our club has tried to create a progressive development model that would allow for multiple teams per age group. The idea behind it to create tiers of teams that compete at the appropriate tier and have success. It seems to be working so far in that 25-30% of our Regional Eligible teams have advanced to Regionals at their respective competitive tiers. There are a few other larger clubs like ours that have had similar experience.
From a player perspective, the idea is that a player can move up or down at any time throughout their career based on where they happen to be developmentally. Whether they got a late start and need to be in a development environment to build a foundation or perhaps a player who is early in the birth year and enjoyed a size, strength and speed advantage early on that suddenly finds themselves surrounded by players that have caught up. Of course there are the late bloomers that sometimes do better in an environment where they can build more confidence and return to individual success.
While well intended, it appears that not all people agree with the model especially if that means that their son or daughter does not make that coveted “Elite Team”. Refer to the second paragraph. Every year, every club seems to lose players to other clubs due to either playing time or team placement. Often, the response to less than desired playing time is that perhaps that player would be a better fit for different team in the club where they may be able to have a larger role, play in their preferred position, rebuild or develop increased confidence or even develop leadership capabilities. The unfortunate part of that is in a number of cases, that conversation does not always happen as some folks are already in search of the next opportunity. Times have certainly changed since the days that most of us participated in sports.
Below are 3 examples from the past that illustrate where taking a larger role on a “Less than Elite” team worked out for the player.
Over 35 years ago, when I was 12 years old making the transition from 6 Little League teams to 2 Pony League Teams, I found myself in new territory. In little league, I was the lead off hitter, played shortstop, second base, center field and pitcher. When I went to Pony League, I was very small and had a June birthday which meant I was also young. I was somehow selected for the “A” team as a backup center fielder. I batted way down in the lineup and played only sparingly in Center Field. The next year I asked the coaches if they thought that I could play shortstop if I played on the “B” team. Imagine that, I rode my bike to the fields without my parents and spoke to the coaches myself. That same year, I was the lead off batter and primarily played short stop. I also pitched and played second base, third base and center field on occasion. I had a lot of fun with my teammates and made the all-star team. For me, it was more important that I played than the team I was on. I had friends on both teams and quickly became friends with the players that I just met. It was only recently that I even recalled having done that, likely because as kids, we rode our bikes to the park or carpooled in a big wood-paneled station wagon and the parents didn’t seem to be as involved. They knew that if we were playing on a team, or in a game, that we were probably not getting in trouble.
Mark Kelso is a member of the Western PA Sports Hall of Fame, and Played 8 years for the Buffalo Bills in the late 80s/early 90s. Mark chose playing time over status and it resulted in 4 Super Bowl Appearances and a great NFL Career. According to Mark, he was looking at two things when selecting a college. “I wanted to be sure that I received a great education first. Second, I wanted to be developed as a football player and go to a school where if I worked hard, I would be able to play as a Freshman. I didn’t really want to go to a big school and be what the coaches called a 2 year player.” Mark had some offers from some bigger schools but attended William & Mary where he started as a Freshman, earned Academic All-American honors, and a 10th Round Draft Pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. He ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills as a Free-Agent and played his entire career with that one Team.
Only 3 years ago, I coached 2 U11 Boys Teams, Blue and White. As we were moving to U12, I had a player that was a little quiet, small in stature with developing skills and nice vision. I felt like he may be overshadowed a little by some of the big personalities on his current team. With a full roster, each player essentially played 1/2 of every game. I approached his father at tryouts and shared the potential that I saw in him. I suggested that if he played on the white team, he would get more playing time, could play and more prominent position and possibly develop leadership skills. The father said to me and I quote…”You are the expert, if you think that is best for his development, I trust your judgement.” It is a less than typical response and we proceeded. That next year he developed as a central defender and never came off the field, each week you could see him becoming more of a leader and his confidence grew. After that year, we had a large merger of two competing clubs as well as the age group change from school year to birth year classifications. Despite the bigger player pool at tryouts with the merger, he made the clubs’ regional team and has remained there ever since.
In all 3 cases above, players were willing to participate on teams where they would see more playing time over the name brand or title of the team and therefore, accelerate their development. The challenge for parents and players today seems to be as much about status of team as anything. There is a tendency and desire to “manage” the situation. It is only natural to want to what is best for their children and the key is to examine what is best for their overall development both as a player and a person. If you are a coach or a player finding yourself in this situation, consider having a conversation about the both the “why” and the development opportunity. If you are a coach, be open with the player and do it early so there are no surprises. If you suspect something as a player, talk to your coach. Let these be life lessons that your child can learn from. It is not a bad thing to develop leadership skills or confidence and learn how to manage and hopefully overcome adversity. So, if your son or daughter is destined for a different team in the same club, know that they will still have something to strive for so consider that before jumping ship and starting over in a different club.
Perhaps these are a bit “Old School”, perhaps not. Let’s try to remember what is was like back in the day when we all had to to walk to school in 2 feet of snow, uphill, both ways. Back in the day, players fought for playing time and there seemed to be fewer questions and challenges to the decisions of the coaches and administrators. Maybe times should not always need to change.
“There is nothing wrong with setting goals for yourself to achieve at the highest levels, and working as hard as you can to realize them, even if you fall short, you will learn a lot about yourself.” – Mark Kelso.
There are a plenty of life lessons to be learned here both from positive outcomes and disappointment.
I saw the following memory today on my Facebook feed as several teams in my club prepare for their finals in the State Cup while almost every soccer family in Western PA is carefully planning and plotting their schedules for tryouts this coming week for the next playing year.
This is a perfectly timely memory for that day and something that all parents of young athletes should pay attention to. This picture is from the 2009 Soccerfest when these boys were 7 years old and U8. That same event is happening on those same fields today. As I look at this team that was full of talented little athletes with bright futures, I see absolute statistical evidence about youth sports. Only 2 of these players are still playing soccer and 2 others are successful playing other sports. This is not an indictment on this group at all but just a simple illustration of how things change as kids get older. The attrition rate in youth sports is real and this evidence is displayed in this simple Facebook memory. These kids could remain athletes, become teachers, physicians, artists or musicians, who knows but the bottom line is that they were all at one time…athletes.
These boys are now 17 years old. For all of my friends with kids in sports….Please…enjoy this time now and don’t be in such a hurry to take them to the National Team, listen to your coaches and club administrators.
Don’t discuss the game, the coaches or other players in the car, this is about your child and not you. Enjoy the games, leave the referees alone. Don’t try to over manage your kids’ careers. Let them “Play” the “Game”. There are so many great lessons and life skills to be learned from athletics and it is our responsibility to allow our children to live the experiences good and bad, themselves.
All people end their athletic careers at some point for a variety of reasons and it goes by really fast. I really hope that players leave their sports and athletic careers enriched and satisfied and not because of pressure, burnout or lack of fun.
I have several players on a team that I coached since they were 8,9 or 10 who will be playing in their last Club Soccer Game this afternoon. They have only played for one club and I am happy to see that these boys have been able to experience a team, and a sport full of ups and downs, failures and achievement. My sole wish is that these experiences shape the men they become.
If you are a parent, coach or Administrator, you have a direct impact on the experience that youth athletes have. Let these kids participate on their terms, let them fail, watch them succeed and let the experience be theirs.
I have been a long time technical trainer of youth soccer players. As a trainer, a skills instructor, and as a club director and coach, I have had the opportunity to work with close to 2000 boys and girls from the ages of 3 to 18. I have developed an affinity to teach technical skills to younger players. I leverage a lot of methods and techniques from a popular skills training program and host one of the areas largest camps every summer. There are tons of systems and techniques out there that essentially focus on the same things for individual skill acquisition. I am not advocating one system over another because I use a lot of content from a few different systems. Almost every system that gets results includes ball mastery and 1v1 moves. Ball Mastery is important to get the player comfortable on the ball with every surface of both feet. Moves are important to give a player more time and space to take a shot or find the next player in the progression to pass to.
There are no shortage of coaches that are offering technical training both in their local community and on-line. Some of the videos that I see on Instagram and youtube lately are concerning because they are less and less relevant to the game. Sure it looks impressive to see a player getting a gazillion touches in a tight space around cones, training dummies through ladders, etc. What is it that you are teaching? I am seeing more and more players that can demonstrate the moves but they simply don’t know how to use them because they are not being instructed properly or in a way that translates to the game.
Lets talk about the use of equipment first. Cones are good visual cues to establish markers for boundaries or distance, they are even good as a ladder or agility course but I see a lot of over use or cones being used for the wrong intent like as an actual defender. Agility ladders are great tools for teaching fast feet, agility, balance and coordination and can be used effectively with a ball but it should be purposeful. Re-bounders are nice because they can make up for not having a player available to return a pass. On their own or in combination, they can be very effective but once again, I find myself seeing video after video and I just scratch my head. Sure, for a parent or young player, it looks impressive to see a player rapidly progressing through a pattern, around a bunch of cones, through a ladder, off a re-bounder and the rip a shot top bin, but break that down and you can see why that is cringe-worthy. People that are teaching this way are reinforcing too much time on the ball in my opinion.
Consider Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar. Go back a bit further and consider Ronaldinho, Pele, Maradonna, Cyuff, and Matthews. What do you notice about them? They are all very smooth, they use incredible moves and then explode behind or past a player, they cover a large area in a short time. Now go back and watch these 1 on 1 training videos. I am not trying to compare the average player in one of these clips to one of the greats but what I want you to notice is how choppy, erratic and almost spastic some of these players look. I get that as a trainer, you may be trying to demonstrate speed but to me it just looks too forced and not natural. So look again at the most skillful players, how often after a move do these great players shoot or pass the ball? Now consider some of these promotion videos, touch after touch, a prescribed pattern with lots of touches, turns, maybe a pass against a wall, bench or re-bounder followed by a shot. Looks good on the video but it does not translate to a game.
Think about how many times you see young players with great foot-skills beat a player, not advance the ball, beat the same player again and then again. It happens everywhere, sure they have great skills but they end up dribbling in the same small area and typically don’t go very far. Also consider when the player is in the box, they take on one player, two players, etc until they eventually get smashed without ever taking a shot. The next thing you know those parents are paying you to work on their shot when it has zero to do with their technique and everything to do with their decision making. Coaches, you are actually conditioning these players to hold the ball for too long. They are memorizing patterns to get repetition and by doing so are failing to recognize when to shoot or pass.
Sure, ball mastery improves first touch and builds confidence on the ball, a ladder develops quick feet and a re-bounder is useful as a training partner when there is no one around but when you put them all together and sell it as an advanced program, you are conditioning the player to a pattern, to holding the ball for too long, to try to emulate speed of play with frantic movement and removing decision making from the equation.
Consider this instead: use ball mastery as a way for the player to get a lot of touches in a short period of time as a warm-up, conditioning or homework. Have the player explode into space after making a move and shoot or pass the ball. Use a re-bounder to work in repetition and passing technique. When you are working with the player on passing activities, work on their movement into space after the pass instead of near static repetition, let that be homework. Use equipment in the right way and incorporate it for a specific area like first touch by having to regain balance as the ball is coming to their feet.
Individual training can be both technical and functional but if your training activities make for a good youtube clip because of all of equipment that you can fit in a 4×4 grid, ask yourself how that applies to the game. Teach the individual skills so that they can do them on their own and create programs to use those skills to set up a pass or a shot and apply those skills to a game like situation not for an instagram ad.
Bring on the hate!!
In 20+ years of coaching youth soccer, this has been a prevailing theme. My talk track about the benefits of training over games in terms of time on the ball, touches and overall technical development is almost automatic especially under 12. Every year the same or similar conversations happen with the newest crop of parents with their first born children who are new to organized club sports. I have go-to metrics and case studies on things like how many touches a player gets during training vs. a game and how if there is a conflict between a game and a training session, that it is both more beneficial and the club’s preference to make training a priority over the game.
I have an almost equivalent auto response when asked what I thought about the game, the refs, that one player, those parents, etc. Response is typically this is one of a gazillion games that is part of the long term process and how you (the person I am speaking with) are probably more happy/upset than than your kid that played the game, both immediatly following the game and for a longer period of time after. Further, I mention that I am nearly positive that this game will be long forgotten and probably close to meaningless a year from now, 5 years from now, by the end of their playing career, etc.
It doesn’t matter how much evidence or best practice guidance we seem to provide, the message is mostly lost because the parents love the games and are very serious about the competition. Parents of 7 and 8 year old players often ask why the u17 and u18 teams travel all over the country but they don’t. When does our team go to Vegas, Disney, etc? The intensity and drive for results seems to start earlier and earlier every year.
So, here is where I know that it is not just me and it is not a lack of education either. I think that it may be generational thing because more parents than ever have played soccer. Even if they played bad soccer with bad training and coaching conducted by their high school shop teacher, the bottom line is they now have a persective of having played the game. The discussions of this generation are seldom “I never played soccer but…” and instead start with “well I played soccer and we never…or we always…” The other part of this is that I am coming to realize that both the players and the parents LOVE the games and the competiton and it rarely matters what evidence you can provide to suggest that it is both a barometer of progress and intended to be fun. So that is just fine, enjoy the games. The problem is the intensity of the sidelines and the improper etiquette that is frequently exhibited. That intensity reveals itself in the way of coaching from the sidelines, questioning the officials, calling out players or coaches and anything else you could imagine.
If you don’t believe me that there is a concern in the sport about parent enthusiasm associated with competition and how that impacts the experience, do a quick web search on parent sideline behavior. Organizations like Proactive Coaching, Positive Sports Parenting and tons of others have made their mission to educate the fans on proper support during competitions. Coaching Education has been created to engage the parents in the process and to help educate the parents. Entire Leagues like the East Coast based EDP and national bodies like US Club have announced official policies for sideline behavior. State Associations like South Carolina are implementing silent sidelines. I one had a manager proactively hand out lilipops before a rival u15 game a few years ago as a subtle reminder to our parents.
So here is my simple challenge because you never know who is watching. We tell players all the time about the importance of effort, honoring the game and sportsmanship every time they step on the field because they never know who could be watching. The same holds true for the spectators. I have been in more than one college recruiting presentation where the coaches have mentioned that they often evaluate the parents as much as the players when they are scouting. So to that end, my challenge is for you to schedule a meeting with your boss sometime after your childs next game. During the game, point the video camera on you so that when you meet with your boss, you can share and discuss that video with him or her. Does that make you think? Its not only for the kids benefit but for yours as well. What if a perspective employer, business partner, customer, physician or other happen to be on the other side of the mid- line watching their child play?
Does that make you think? I hope that it does and I hope that if you are reading this, you can have a sense of humor in all of this but also realize that this is a game and it is being played by kids. I recognize that the Development over Results conversation is becoming less and less acknowledged, so if you are going to prioritize games and competition, at least consider who are the adults and who are the kids.
In support of the beautiful game…
As a Club Director and Coach, I find myself and fellow coaches to be at the time of year where player feedback in the form of evaluations is needed. Feedback and evaluation are an important part of the development process but often very difficult to get right. The balance between training/development and competition/results puts the process under scrutiny from the start and communication has a direct impact on the outcome.
We are now close to half way through the seasonal year having completed the fall outdoor training and playing season and just over 1/3 of the way through winter training. Providing an assessment of where each player is at this stage of the year has a lot of benefits. There are several points of view about the timing and frequency of evaluations. For me, I have found that the mid-year is a good time because enough time has passed and each player has a amassed a solid body of work in training and games. There are arguments both for and against more frequent evaluations and the point of this is not to infer that our approach is the right one and that others are not, it is merely a statement to set the background.
There are multiple tools and templates available that have been created and widely used by clubs at all levels. I have leveraged on line systems, checklists, MS Word and MS Excel based documents, etc. Nearly all of the systems, programs or templates provide very similar evaluation criteria including: technical, tactical, physical, mental and social. While it is certainly not Rocket Science, it is also not as simple it would seem. There is often a breakdown between intent and interpretation, regardless of the guidance provided to the evaluators as well as the explanations provided to the parents about the purpose and intent of the evaluations. I have not seen a tool or system that remediates that risk.
Purpose vs Interpretation
Number system – What does it mean? What is the standard of measure? Is it a Stack Rank? These are common and obvious questions. The purpose of the numbering system is to evaluate players on a numerical scale. 1 to 5 is typical. In some cases, coaches interpret 1-5 in relation to where that player compares to his or her teammates. Some may consider that 1-5 is based on where they should be based on their age developmentally, while others may consider it based on where the players should be at their age compared to the standard at the regional events they participate in, like leagues, tournaments, ODP, etc.
Stack rank – Many of the systems calculate the numbers and create a hierarchical ranking for the players based on how they were scored on the various Attributes. Even though the intent is for Clubs and Coaches to keep that information for their own internal use and not share, my experience has been that many parents get to that question almost immediately upon receiving the review. Further, parents also want to ask where their player ranks in relation to the rest of the team or specific individual players. As a coach, it is common knowledge to not talk about other players when talking about one child’s evaluation and it is best practice to refrain from comparing performance, attitude, attendance or otherwise. It is just a natural question that is influenced by our current society.
Games vs. Training- At younger ages, and in particular in under 12, everything you read as well as what most clubs do in terms of player development, is focus on individual player development, technical skill acquisition and training over games. One would think that if the ratio of training sessions two games is 2 or 3 to 1, that player evaluation systems would give more credence to training than games, yet almost every evaluation that I’ve seen or used has a much greater emphasis on game performance. So, if the message to the families is to emphasize training, what benefit does a performance or competition-based evaluation really provide?
This brings me to my next point in regards to age specific curriculum – age specific evaluation. A lot of these systems evaluate things like vision, field awareness, decision making, as well as physical attributes like speed, power, Etc. In reality, while that is all very important, it should also be given different priority at different ages. The evaluation systems should be based on the age of the players and what is developmentally appropriate.
So, you can see the dilemma that most coaches have as well as clubs when it comes to evaluating players. The idea and the intent are to provide the parents and the players with some feedback and guidance on how they are progressing, what they should be working on, and provide a general overview of where that player is at that snapshot in time. And while most parents are anxious and eager to see them, I have found at least, that there is so much room for interpretation, and it seems that there is a lot of concern or defensiveness, as well as an interest in the justification by the coaches, for the scores that they provided. It is often a much more tense and anxious process than most people anticipated when they sought to evaluate players in the first place. I have learned directly and from other coaches and administrators, that like everything else, clear communication and expectations are the cornerstone of an effective evaluation cycle.
Guidance for Club Directors
Be sure to communicate the intent to the coaches, and set some clear guidelines to ensure the evaluations are approached from the perspective of developmental priorities based on their current age. The evaluations should support your methodology and curriculum but should be influenced by best practice guidelines on a national and worldwide standard.
Guidance for Coaches
Be clear about the intent, take direction from the club. If you have more than one team at that age group, be consistent across all teams. If you employ a staff at the age group level or have team-based staff, be sure to coordinate and collaborate with the other staff to ensure that everyone is consistent with the scoring system etc. If and when you review the evaluations with the players, focus on the positive, point out the area of focus. Be sure to encourage the parents and players to maintain regular attendance which demonstrates commitment and to train on their own, outside of the team activities. Avoid discussing other players and refrain from answering questions about comparisons with other players. Focus on that player only.
Guidance For parents
Seek to understand the intent. Use the evaluation as a tool to capture feedback and validation. Recognize that this is about player development and the purpose is meant to drive positive outcomes. Avoid the urge to challenge the evaluation but do have a healthy discussion. Avoid the questions about other players and minimize the comparisons with other parents about their and instead focus on your child.
Overall, it is a very important part of player development and the relationship between player and coach, player and parent and coach and parents. Communication is key. If communicated properly, executed consistently and discussed openly, player evaluations can be a very helpful tool for everyone involved.
Feel free to comment and share feedback, and good luck with player evaluations.
I recently participated in a pretty elite tournament in Maryland and left the weekend more disappointed in the environment surrounding the event than the games themselves. The way some coaches treated the officials and the way some players acted towards the referees without consequence from their coaches was baffling. Parents routinely yelled obscenities towards the referees all weekend. I have to say that I was happy with the way the players that I coached responded and was (mostly) happy with their parents but overall I felt like it was an ugly weekend for youth soccer. I recorded this synopsis on the way home, it is unscripted and a bit raw but it was the essence of what I was feeling about the disappointment of the weekend.