Tuesday, March 24, 2009
This past weekend the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Championships took place here in Frisco, Texas, at Pizza Hut Park. The fields were great, the weather was good and the level of play was high.
Along with the Championships, Dr. John Thomas, Coach Dave Rubinson and I conducted a Coaches Connection symposium. The symposium included two class sessions, match analysis of three of the ODP matches and a training session run by Oscar Pareja, Director of Player Development for FC Dallas and his U-16 boys' team. Plus the coaches, administrators and players got to watch the FC Dallas versus Chicago Fire match. In all it was a great soccer weekend.
John Thomas, Dave Rubinson and I watched all of the US Youth Soccer ODP Championship matches over the weekend. All of the matches were good quality and the final for the 1993 Boys between Cal South and Oklahoma was riveting! As the three of us watch the players in the matches we also look at the coaches. We observe how they handle warm-up, bench management, substitutions, tactical adjustments, halftime talk, injuries and cool-down.
One crucial coach and player interaction stood out for us – communication. The state select team coaches at this event were models of professional standards in this regard. There was none of the constant yapping from the coach as is heard around so many soccer fields. By and all there was no micromanaging of the players on the field and there was little chatter from the coach to the referees. So while a good standard of match coaching was displayed it can still go up another notch. In this regard for many coaches a new skill must be learned.
The information that coaches gave to the players during the run of play was appropriate, at the right moment and just what the team needed for the game situation. Halftime talks were mostly a talk by the coach or coaches and only a little bit of response by the players or small groups of players discussing with the coach the second half game plan. The information given by the coaches at halftime was again right on the money, but tended to be a monologue and not a dialogue. So here's the point. To improve understanding by the players in the team plan for the next half or during the flow of the match and for the players to buy into the plan they must have a hand in devising the plan. Certainly these players of high caliber, good experience and 15 to 17 years old are quite capable, when given the chance, to contribute to the game strategy. After all it is the players who must execute the game plan. If they are just passive receivers of the game plan, as opposed to active co-designers of the game plan, then the likelihood of consistent execution of the game plan diminishes.
As an example while watching a 1993 Girls match with Virginia and Minnesota a corner kick was taking place. The coach of the attacking team called out to the players on some positioning adjustments to help keep good team shape in case of a counterattack from the corner kick. The information he gave was good, the players adjusted and the timing of talking to the players was right. However, the players simply followed orders called out by the coach. Instead the coach could have asked a key defensive player to fix the positioning of the team. Then the player takes over commanding teammates and adjustments are made. In the end this is far more efficient and quicker as the players will be able to talk to each other and make adjustments without waiting for information from the middle man, the coach.
As these talented players move up to even more competitive levels of the game with large crowds watching and the players unable to hear the coach from the bench internal team communication is a must.
With halftime the talks should be a dialogue from the get go. Ask the players for a defensive adjustment they think the team should make, discuss it and the coach sums it all up for the team. Then do the same for the attack. Now the players and coaches have jointly come up with the second half game plan. By involving the players they are now thinking tactically and the plan will be much clearer in their minds, which means execution of the plan will improve. When players are accustomed to this approach the coach will find that the players are talking about what to do in the second half as they walk off the field from the first half. Their mental focus on the match will improve.
The new skill coaches must learn is to take a player centered approach in training and in matches. Both training sessions and matches are learning opportunities for the players and coaches. The coach will need to learn a bit about the use of guided questions in matches as a continuation of guided discovery coaching in training sessions. The final objective is to give the game over to the players!