Thursday, August 9, 2007

Let's Rank Coaches Instead

Dear Jay,

Soccer Dad got me thinking more about the issue of ranking youth soccer teams in his comment to the post I wrote called My U13s are Ranked! My U13s are Ranked!!"

The big problem I have with ranking youth teams is not necessarily what those rankings do to the kids, but what they do to the adults. I think we should rank the coaches. Every time they lose perspective, they lose points. Each time they sacrifice their "record" for true player development, they gain points.

Here's why ...

I know a dad whose son played on a replacement team in a US Club tournament that is billed as "Nationals." Ok, we know it's not a national championship. How can it be if it takes replacement teams? But it was a well-run, competitive tournament with teams from all over the country. Anyway, this team finished fourth of six in their age group, and the dad started telling people the team was "Top-5 Nationally." They were a second division classic team which means they weren't even top 10 in the state. It's all so unrealistic.

But here is the worst part. If rankings exist, coaches use them as a criteria to measure the jobs they are doing. That feeds on itself and soon the coaches are using it as the main criteria. So if they win major tournaments, they are a good coach. They also start picking tournaments (usually too many and too much travel) to further enhance their ranking. "We have to get into WAGS or our ranking will fall," for example. When rankings are a goal, or the goal, coaches start coaching to win. They develop players to get a result, they stiffle creativity to play safe, they keep kids on the bench who can greatly benefit from game time against strong opponents, they put too much pressure on kids to get what is actually a meaningless result in the long-term.

I spoke to a coach last year. He was trying to decide if his U11 team should enter the Classic Festival. He said, "If we don't win it, can we still get into Jefferson Cup?" First of all, you can't win the Festival, there are no winners. Secondly, if I ever start worrying about that as a coach, shoot me.

I love tournaments. They are a blast for me, but as I've mentioned before, a little perspective is needed.

I remember Bob Gansler, former US National team and Kansas City Wizards coach, telling me once, "When a coach tells you how many wins he has or how many trophies he's won, ask him how many players he's developed."

When I think of more, I'll write.

You know who

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My U13s Are Ranked, My U13s Are Ranked!!!

Dear Rob,

I hope you see how ridiculous that sounds. Some of my parents asked me one time how not winning a certain tournament would effect our rankings. In my mind, I answered by saying, "Are you seriously asking me about our ranking at U12?" Out loud, I said, "I don't know. It's not important."

So, I had some free time today (big shock) so I went to Gotsoccer's rankings and checked it out. Yep, we're ranked. Pretty high too. Now, I completely understand what a crock these rankings are. Ranked below us (way below us in somce cases) are three teams that finished ahead of his in the league last spring. We beat two of them and tied one. Ranked below us but pretty close is a US Club team that 6 of my players played for, so some of my girls have the distinction of being ranked on two teams in the top 15.

There are also a collection of Challenge teams ranked ahead of Classic teams because they won their groups in tournaments against Challenge teams when Classic teams didn't win their groups against Classic teams.

I will admit the top 5 looks pretty accurate, based on my experience playing against them. Maybe they should stop there. Better yet, maybe they should stop ranking U12 and U13 teams altogether. What's the point? It gives parents something to get all worked up about and gives the players a false sense of their ability.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tournament Time

Dear Chris,

I have this weekend off. It's my last weekend without a soccer game until Nov. 17. Coaching two teams means I have three tournaments back-to-back-to-back before the season begins. Then 10 straight weekends of league games with a midseason tournament thrown in.

I love tournaments. I guess it stems from the brief period of depression I go through at the end of each game I coach. Win or lose I'm sad when games are over. But there are some games that I feel like I just need to escape quickly before the ref changes his mind and tells me I actually lost. In tournaments, there is always another game right around the corner, either that day or the next morning.

Players love tournaments, too. They love playing a game, hanging around with their teammates and then playing again. Parents enjoy them as well, those that get a kick out of watching their kids compete anyway. You always have the whiners who complain about the heat or what they are missing by being there. I tend to ignore them.

I have to be careful, though. I have to clearly define the purpose of each tournament in my mind beforehand. Then, I have to be absolutely sure I remember that purpose throughout each half, each game, each day and each weekend.

The most important word in preseason tournament is "preseason." Remind me of that if I ever look like I am forgetting it. The purpose is to get the girls used to playing with each other, try some people at different positions, work on our shape in two different formations, and most importantly give all of them a lot of playing time. If I approach the tournament to win the trophy, I will forget most all of that.

There will be some teams that have come to win it. That's fine, I guess. If that's what they want to do, who I am to suggest otherwise? But even if you don't enter with the goal of winning the thing, you can still get caught up in the excitment of that close championship match or that do-or-die group match. If I replace a weaker player with a stronger player in that situation, please just smack me in the head.

Okay, all that sounds great, but in one of our preseason tournaments we will most likely be playing a team that is considered the best in the state. They probably are, and if they aren't they are in the top two. I am going to use that game as a measuring stick -- our best against their best. I am fascinated by devising ways to beat teams better than us. I absolutely love that. I can't help it. And I don't get paid that much, so that will be my little gift to myself. Afterall, one game won't destroy the development of a player, will it?

So just smack me now and get it over with.

When I think of more, I'll write.

You know who.

Why Soccer Parents Are The Way They Are, Maybe

Dear Nomar,

Let me say up front that I know all the good things soccer parents do. I understand the financial and time commitments they make so their children can participate. I'm fully aware of all that. But, too many are out of hand, and I've come up with some reasons.

1. Moms missed out on a lot: Let's say the typical soccer mom is between 30 and 50 years old. So they were ages 10-15 in the 70s and early 80s. If their son or daughter is exceling in soccer, chances are pretty strong mom was a good athlete. But mom didn't have the opportunities to advance in a sport, any sport. Certainly not soccer. So, like any mom who loves her kid, she wants her child to do things she missed out on. So she is intent to push her child to acheive things she never did.

That's all well and good. However, there is an abundance of moms who had some opportunities but did work hard enough for them. And they are just now figuring that out. Those are the scary moms. For whatever reasons -- usually cultural circumstances that involve their own parents -- they bowed to the social stigma surrounding girls and sports in their era. They may have been a tremendous athlete, but didn't pursue it because girls didn't do that.

Listen to Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly for a bit and they will use the same phrase -- "No one ever told me I couldn't do something because I was a girl." That's the important message, not "Don't make the same mistake I made, we paid for that personal trainer so you need to work harder."

2. The many faces of soccer dads: This is a little bit broader topic. There area many kinds of soccer dads. But generally speaking, the amount of overthetopness soccer dads display is directly related to their athletic experiences growing up.

First, you have the non-athlete, peripheral sports fan. They are generally quieter, less intense and successful in life. They make sure their kids' lives are balanced and they probably lean more toward academics than athletics. Their kids will miss practice and sometimes games for academic-related activities. I like these people a lot.

Then there is the sports fan dad. They probably played some sport at a pretty high level, maybe even collegiately, albeit on the bench. They listen to college football and basketball games on the radio at soccer games. They understand sports and can relate soccer to others sports in ways that are useful and hard to argue with. However, they also don't always understand the technical side of the game and the requirements needed to play. That makes them impatient and dangerous. They will say things to coaches like, "You need to have a practice where you teach the kids to get their heads up." Well, you can't do that because half the kids have an awful first touch and they spend three touches chasing the ball, so of course their heads are down. Or, he'll say, "They aren't hitting any through balls. Tell them to hit through balls." Well, let's back up and teach them to first recognized where opportunities exist for through balls and teach them the runs to make to create those opportunities and the supporting angles needed. The worst is, "We need to work on throw-in plays." Well, that's just stupid.

Then there is the high school superstar, usually the big fish in a small pond. More accurately, the biggest goldfish in the tank. They know it all. Their kid will probably play for three different clubs by the time they are 15. Then they will quit altogether. No coach will be good enough, and they will be very vocal on the sidelines. Their kid will be a yellow card magnet because of his/her mouth and the dad will think every ref has a vendetta against his child. They won't listen to professionals who have 20-30 years experience, but they live their lives according to Dean Smith, Coach K or Bill Parcels.

And usually, their kid isn't all that good.

When I think of more, I'll write.

You know who

The Source of Soccer Injuries

Dear Kathleen,

Remember when you were at cross country practice and got hit by that car. We still laugh at that. I’m not sure where this originated, but I found it on the NC Soccer Forum. Just goes to show you … don’t ever do anything.

* Sunday December 5th 2004. Playing in the Swiss league, Servette midfielder Paulo Diogo scored against Schaffhausen, then jumped into the crowd to celebrate. On the way, he managed to catch his wedding ring on a fence and tore off the top half of his finger. He was booked for excessive celebration.

* Arsenal vs Chelsea, Saturday 6th May 200. After scoring Arsenal's (and his) second (and winning) goal, Thierry Henry went to celebrate in the corner of the pitch and required treatment after hitting himself in the face with the corner flag. ArseWeb reader Joel points out that Marco Tardelli (Italy) did a similar thing in the World Cup final in Spain, 1982.

* Perry Groves was on the bench for an Arsenal match. They went one-nil up and he jumped up to celebrate only to hit his head on the roof of the dug-out! He knocked himself out and needed treatment from physio Gary Lewin.

* Sometime in the 70s, Norwegian International defender Svein Grondalen had to withdraw from an International after an accident which happened while he was out jogging. He collided with a moose.

* David Seaman once broke a bone reaching for his TV remote

* Another time, when already out with an injured knee, Seaman went carp fishing and put his shoulder out while reeling in a 26-pounder.

* Carlo Cudicini is also said to have damaged a knee reaching for a remote control. Could be that one or both (see David Seaman in the entry before last) is urban legend? Or that there's something about goalkeepers that makes them prone to this injury?

* In 1970 the career of Chic Brodie (Brentford keeper) was ended by injury following a mid-match collision with a dog that had invaded the pitch.

* In 1975 Man United keeper Alex Stepney screamed so hard at his team-mates that he broke his jaw.

* Brazilian star Ramalho was in bed for three days after swallowing a suppository intended to treat a dental infection

* Milan Rapaic once missed the start of Hajduk Split's season after sticking his boarding-pass in his eye at the airport.

* Not so funny perhaps, but where else are we going to tell you about it?..... Indonesian star Mistar, 25, was tragically killed by a herd of pigs that invaded his team's training pitch before a Cup fixture in 1995.

* in 1999 Portsmouth's Johnny "Lager" Durnin, playing a round of golf with Alan McLoughlin, crashed his buggy into a fairway hollow because he was admiring the view rather than watching the ground in front, and dislocated his elbow putting him out for 6 weeks.

* In 1993 keeper Dave Beasant was kept out by a foot injury caused by a falling jar of salad cream. Yes, he fumbled it, and because his hands were full he stuck out a foot to stop it hitting the floor!

* Barnsley's Darren Barnard slipped in a puddle of his new puppy's pee on the kitchen floor. The resulting knee ligament damage kept him out of action for five months.

* Wolves striker Robbie Keane ruptured his knee cartilage in 1998 after stretching to pick up his TV remote control (cf Seaman & Cudicini, above).

* Steve Morrow broke his collarbone after falling off Tony Adams while celebrating the 1993 League Cup final win.

* David Batty's return from an Achilles tendon injury was put back when he was run over by his toddler on a tricycle.

* Allan Nielsen of Spurs missed several matches after his daughter poked him in the eye

* Republic of Ireland star Alan McLoughlin, John Durnin's golf-partner (see above), ruptured his right thumb picking up daughter Megan.

* Alan Wright, Villa's little full-back, needed treatment for a knee strain caused by stretching to reach the accelerator in his new Ferrari. 'It gave me grief,' said Wright, who swapped the car for a Rover 416.

* Arsenal legend Charlie George never fully recovered from cutting off his big toe with a lawnmower.

* Lee Hodges of Barnet slipped on a bar of soap in the shower, wrenching his groin

* Alan Mullery missed England's 1964 tour of South America after putting his back out while brushing his teeth.

* Reserve Liverpool keeper Stensgaard once injured himself in an incident with an ironing board. We don't know if he was ironing at the

* Rio Ferdinand of Leeds damaged his knee in January 2001, while relaxing in front of the telly with his feet up on a coffee table. He had to go for scans on a tendon.

* Former Arsenal keeper Richard Wright, was warming up in the goalmouth in preparation for an FA Cup tie against Chelsea for his next club Everton, when he twisted his ankle. He did it landing on a wooden sign instructing people not to practise there.

* Spain (and Valencia) keeper Santiago Canizares was ruled out of the 2002 World Cup finals after a bottle of aftershave dropped on his foot (by himself, we assume) caused cuts and serious tendon damage.

* David Beckham needed stitches above his left eye following a dressing room incident after Arsenal's 2-0 FA Cup win at Old Trafford on 15th Feb 2003. The injury was caused by his manager Sir Alex Ferguson kicking a football boot at him.

* Crystal Palace keeper Alex Kolinko was hit around the head by his boss Trevor Francis in October 2002. Kolinko was on the bench, and Francis took offence when he laughed at their conceding a goal. The FA fined Francis 1000 pounds over the incident.

* In 1996, Grimsby manager Brian Laws broke midfielder Ivan Bonetti's cheekbone after the Italian threw food at him in a dressing-room row. Laws escaped punishment, but they both were forced to make public apologies.

* Shaun Goater injured a foot while playing for Man City against Birmingham in the autumn for 2003. The injury was sustained when he kicked an advertising hoarding in celebration of a goal by Nic Anelka. Goater had to be substituted.

* Also in 2003, Villa striker Darius Vassell injured himself while attempting DIY surgery on his own foot. He had a blood blister under the toe-nail on his big toe and was using a power drill to drill through the nail and drain the wound. Drilling to drain such blisters is not an uncommon procedure, but normally it is conducted by a qualified person under sterile conditions. Vassell made it worse, picked up an infection, and had to have half the nail removed.

* Stalybridge Celtic keeper Mark Statham missed a game in 1999 after trapping his head in a car door. We presume that his absence was caused by a resulting injury (rather than that he was still stuck in the car at kick-off) but we don't know what the injury was.
* Halifax defender Dave Robinson put his shoulder out falling off a kid's slide

Soccer in Newspapers: Why it is and Why it isn't Covered, Part I

Dear Aaron,

I just read an analysis on Climbing the Ladder, detailing soccer coverage in newspaper. It listed the amount of space soccer articles received. Someone made a comment about the great job the Washington Post does covering our sport.

I agree completely. If you look closely at papers, you'll find that it's usually one person at that paper who drives the soccer coverage. In the Wash Post case, it's Steve Goff. He's done a great job for years. It takes someone like him to speak up in editorial meetings and sell soccer to the editors.

When Jerry Langdon was the sports editor at USA Today (I guess more accurately, Gannett News Service), soccer was covered far more than it is now. You'll find people like Frank Del'Appa and that other guy (I'll think of his name soon) in Boston, Grahame Jones in LA (if he's still writing), Jody Meachum in San Jose (not sure if he's still there) and others around the country that have parlayed their love of the game into a nice career covering soccer.

Much of the time, papers have Olympic Sports writers. Not only do these people cover major soccer events, but they cover things like gymnastics.

These guys form a nice little group in soccer pressboxes around the country and around the world during major tournaments. Unlike the rest of the "reporters" that fill the rest of the seats in soccer pressboxes, these guys care about soccer and do a good job writing about it.

The rest of the guys ... I'll write about them later. But one comment I'll never forget. "The best thing about soccer is you don't have to pay attention to write about it." That will give you an idea about the people papers send to cover soccer.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Dear Carla,

I've always been interested in leadership. The qualities of leaders, the character needed, the way leaders' minds work -- that's all very interesting to me.

Over at And Again, a soccer coaching forum, they are discussing leadership qualities. Among the more interesting posts is:

We also have our own leadership philosophy that we explain to them. "You take care of everyone with your actions, not just yourself." and "The first person that you lead is yourself." Simple and straightforward, it makes it very obvious to everyone who is really a leader, and who is after the status of being a leader.

They are also talking about different leadership qualities and styles of girls and boys. I could go on forever about that, and will someday. Until then, here's some good info:

For girls, I'm looking first and foremost for the dominant personality. Girls have a pecking order, although it's a little different than how guys do it. Then I start having conversations with her about what it means to lead. Probably the biggest thing with girls is that they're constantly picking on the negative and never reinforcing the positive. If you can convince this individual (sometimes there are more than one) to be more positive than negative, the girls will begin to respond to her. Then you have to make sure she's on your side about things like paying attention in practice and working hard on drills and doing your homework, etc, but that usually follows with this particular kind of personality. Then, when you have a good example, when someone else asks to be captain, you ask them whether they're willing to do what it takes to be captain: Work the hardest, pay attention, keep others in line, take responsibility, encourage others, etc.

Most times, the response I get is "oh." lol.

What are your thoughts on leadership? Do you need captains? What authority do you give them? Are they effective?

When I think of more, I'll write.

You know who