Where are the skills?

Have you watched a youth soccer practice or asked your 5th grader about their soccer unit for gym class lately?  What are your observations?

I have, and as a lifelong soccer coach it scares me.  What I have been seeing in the classroom and on the soccer field is an emphasis on playing games at the expense of time spent on individual skills.

Now we all know that the kids, when asked what they want to do, will say enthusiastically “PLAY.”  Not surprising is it.  Playing is FUN, and that is why soccer is such a success with youth in and out of the classroom.

As I survey the soccer landscape for U10 and above (3rd through 8th grade) I am encouraged by the standards that are set for our Physical Education teachers while being equally discouraged by the standards seemingly set by our own soccer governing body in the USA – the USSF.  Let me explain my observations.

In education, the teacher is required to present a comprehensive lesson plan for each gym class module they teach.  Daily the teacher must prepare a learning plan which includes, but is not limited to, the following:  safety and equipment checks, integration of other core academic areas into the PE class, plan your time together to encourage engagement, prepare warm up and cool down activities, a presentation of basic skills and strategies, structured time for grouping students into teams to work out their basic skills and strategies, check for understanding and correct misunderstandings, and offer closure by reviewing key concepts and points.

WOW!  For me that sounds like a very well thought out soccer training session.  That was also the method I was taught to use when taking my USSF and USC coaching and diploma courses.  The problem is though, that most PE teachers are not versed in basic soccer skills.  So they will gloss over the presentation of basic skills and strategies and move right into playing games – which the students love!  The teacher is happy because the students are happy and they have a lesson plan that addresses most of the items they are asked to address.

In USSF driven soccer, the coach is being asked to take some educational courses which is good.  But the reality is that only those who have “heard the call” to coach soccer are driven enough to take the courses.  The course offerings now have also glossed over the presentation of basic skills in favor of a system where the players will (it is hoped) become well versed in the skills needed to succeed in the game simply by playing the game.

Where are they?  Where are the basic skills taught these days to our young soccer players?

Basic soccer skills is the cornerstone of MOTI.  Seeing the disconnect in education, we have developed a comprehensive soccer unit for Physical Education teachers.  Our Teacher App fills in the gap in their lesson plan by providing age appropriate skills that can easily be taught by even the novice PE teacher using visual and auditory aids.  Seeing the disconnect in USSF and their Play-Practice-Play model, we have incorporated age appropriate skills into their Play-Practice-Play practice plans.  All of this was done by Alan Merrick himself, so you can trust the content and the motivation.

And for those “new to the game” parent coaches, we have a wide variety of story book games for the younger players to advanced rondos and small sided games for the older players.  All designed to work with our basic skill techniques.

Where are they?  Where are the basic skills taught these days to our young soccer players?

They are here!

Kindergarten Cop and Coaching

There is an old Arnold Schwarzenegger film called “Kindergarten Cop.”  In it, Arnold becomes a substitute kindergarten teacher who barely made it through the first day!  He felt totally overwhelmed and under prepared.

That is how many of us begin our coaching careers – feeling overwhelmed and under prepared.  That anxiety can lead to fear, even before you take the field for the first time with your team. 

“It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.”  Mandy Hale

I am here to tell you that you need not fear! You, because you have volunteered, already possess the most important characteristic of a great coach . . . LOVE!  There is no fear in love.

It is your love for the kids that has driven you to coach, and it is your love for the kids that will drive you to become the best coach you can be.

“To make a difference in someone’s life you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect.  You just have to care.”  Mandy Hale

Now the great adventure begins.  Increase your base of knowledge, and not just about soccer.  Get to know your players and their parents.  Do a little research on how to teach kids at the age group you are coaching.  Consider bringing into your time with the players some of the core values that will help them develop as young persons.  You are the teacher.  Soccer is the vehicle.  Make your time with the kids count for more than just playing a game.

The parents will immediately pick up on your heart for their children.  It is exactly what we, as parents, are looking for in our teachers and coaches – someone who cares about the development of our children as much as we do.  You need not fear the parents for they know your heart lies with the positive development of their child.

And it gets even better!  Think outside the box a bit and try to have something a little crazy and fun at each practice.  Have you ever played Super Soaker Soccer?  It’s the best way to end a practice when it is really hot out.

So let your imagination go!  Be creative.  Learn.  Teach.  Love.  And hey, have some fun out there!

First Touch Is Still King

Jϋrgen Klopp is a hot commodity these days.  You see him interviewed all over the internet.  He is a great interview, loves the camera and most importantly has some excellent advice for us novice coaches.

He was asked to give some advice to players and coaches.  Here is what he said, “The more you do with the ball – the more you play with the ball – the better you will get.  Nobody should think that any world class player recognized when he was 10 (years old) ‘there’s a ball.’  That makes it quite easy then for youth coaches, because we have to start with technical things . . . The first touch for example.  (If) the first touch is perfect – and everyone can train the first touch – then you have time to see what’s around you.  If you take 5 seconds to control this thing of leather (the ball) then everything has changed around you.”[i]

 I am a High School Boys Coach.  Our season is just beginning.  We have a mix of 9-12 grades with skill levels varying from “premier” club players to “I haven’t played since I was 8 years old.”  So where do I start?

I pair up my seniors with my freshmen and juniors with my sophomores.  Everyone has a ball.  And we begin – simply – on controlling the ball.  I yell out, “4 touch lateral motion” and they execute it.  The freshmen may not know it, but the seniors do and they teach the freshmen.  “Drag back turn.”  “Outside hook turn.”  And on we go.

This year I tried something a bit different.  Two weeks before training began I sent all of the players (or their parents for the incoming freshmen) an invitation to download the MOTI app with the foundation, advanced and premier soccer skills preloaded for them to view and work on at home.  I sent them an email to encourage them to check out the skills on the app and practice them before our training began because we would be working on them all season.

On the first day of training, at the first practice I pulled out my cell phone, talked about the MOTI App they all were invited to join and started calling out skills.  “Dribble at your partner.  Now show me your drag back turn with your right foot and dribble away.  Again, this time show me your drag back turn with your left foot.”  On we went.  Right through the foundation skills.

The next day we started the same way.  We went over the foundation skills and then added some of the advanced skills.  By the end of the week all of the foundation, advanced and premier dribbling and passing skills had been introduced and practice in a fun way with the novice players learning not only from the App but also from the veteran players.  Great skills.  Great team building.

Now here is the clincher.  I took a look at the analytics before the first practice.  Less than 20% of the team had looked at the skills on the App, and those were primarily my captains, coaches and senior leaders.  At the end of the week almost 80% had viewed the skills on the App.  Then I looked at the number of uses.  They guys who were really trying to make varsity had a ton of uses.  They guys who really didn’t care that much about making the varsity but just wanted to be a part of the program – at least for this season – not so many views.  And the non viewers where mostly the freshmen who did not have the invitation sent directly to them but to their parents!  Hum.

It shows on the field too.  Just like Jϋrgen said, it is all about the first touch.  Now my players have another tool to help them improve their first touch and I have another tool to help me evaluate my players desire to play at the highest level in my program.


[i] Soccer.com (2017) Jϋrgen
Klopp shares his secrets to coaching success [Video] Retrieved August 21,
2019 from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RENQCfI-EGg

US Women’s National Team Has Fun!

Watching the US Women’s National Team win the World Cup was a joy for me.  It was not just the victories nor the celebrations by the players and the fans.  It was the tremendous skill seen by player after player, all executing at such a high level and at such a pace.

It was Morgan’s Cruyff move for a goal verses Thailand or her laces volley verses Japan, Heath’s fake shot to the outside and goal verses Sweden,  and  Rapinoe’s inside of the foot no panic pass to the back of the net verses England that I loved to see.

And then on the biggest stage, the World Cup Championship Game, to see Lavelle sprinting at pace from the top of the center circle, executing a perfect scissors, fake right, goes left, hits an inside of the foot shot from just inside the box to the lower right hand corner side netting.  Awesome goal.

I wonder how all these National Team players learned to develop the basic skills necessary to play at this high level and at the pace they perform.  What do you think?

It is our belief at MOTI that the fundamental skills of the game can be learned by anyone, at any age, simply by seeing the skills, hearing the correct coaching points and practicing them in your own back yard or playground. 

Once that firm foundation is built, who knows what heights a player might reach.  Most importantly though the game becomes fun.  The confidence grows.  And who knows, there you might be some day on the biggest stage of all executing a touch or a move that you learned while playing sharks and minnows for your U6 recreational team, in your back yard or playground during recess.

Coaching is a GREAT adventure!

My first coaching job was as an Assistant High School Soccer Coach.  Our local high school was beginning soccer as a club sport.  My best friend and I applied and both got the jobs.

We were both graduates from this high school.  He played soccer in college.  I had never played the game, although I had played many other sports.  This was going to be the start of a GREAT coaching ride for both of us.

We got together in the summer before our first season to discuss why we are coaching.  Up until then, I had never put much thought into it.  Here are some of the questions we asked ourselves to help us think through the kind of coaches we wanted to become.

Think back to your former coaches and teachers.  They are our role models, and you will become a role model for the next generation.  HUM?  Never thought of that, did you!

  • What did you like about them? 
  • What did you not like? 
  • Did they know their stuff?
  • How did they try to motivate you?  Did they yell, encourage, or a bit of both?
  • Did they “practice what they preached” when you saw them in action or away from the sport?
  • Did all players show improvement over the course of the season?
  • Where practices and games fun for everyone, regardless of skill level?

WOW?  Now I was not so sure that I even wanted to be a coach.  The responsibility of molding young lives for the future became, for a moment anyway, a scary thought.

Then we put some action steps into our observations and, over time, massaged it into the way we coach.  It looks like this:

Mission:  To provide players, parents, coaches, and referees a fun atmosphere to enjoy the game of soccer.

Focus:  Fun, fitness and skill development.

We will help each player improve during the course of the season by:

  • Providing a safe environment for players to play and enjoy the game of soccer
  • Playing everyone equally (except on Varsity – all Varsity players will play significant time each game, but it may not be equal.  Certainly though, none of this “put them in for the last minute.”)
  • Building self-control, which builds character
  • Encouraging through positive reinforcement to achieve positive self-esteem
  • Providing skill development at our practices and games
  • Showing respect to yourself, your opponents and the referees
  • As adults, providing a positive model from our lives
  • Having FUN!

Our game philosophy then became simple. 

  • Commit first to doing your best, second to team loyalty and third to the highest total on the scoreboard.
  • Respect the contest, yourself, your opponents and the referees.
  • Determine to enjoy the competition; doing whatever it takes for you and your opponents to have fun at what you are doing.

It’s been 40 years since we first sat down to figure out what we were going to do that initial fall season.  We started as a couple of guys who had a heart for teaching kids and a desire to help positively advance into adulthood.  We chose to coach soccer as the vehicle.  We continued our education (both of us are USSF “B” Licensed Coaches) so we could be the best soccer coaches we could be.  But I think the key was molding our time together with the players in such a way that they knew we were more concerned about them than anything else.

You may just coach for a season, or a few seasons as your child grows up, or coaching may become a life adventure.  Wherever you are at, we all begin the same.  Take some time to consider, now that you are a coach, what your coaching philosophy will be.

Coaching is a GREAT adventure!

It’s Game Day!

Here are a few tips from a seasoned coach:

Have your players arrive 30 minutes early (15 for younger players who are already cleated up, 45 minutes if they tend to be late).  The older players like to chat.  The younger players just want to run and play!

Use your time before you take the field to have your players get their technical touches in.  They can also do their stretching.  Remember to do everything as a team!  Build your team spirit.

You can use our MOTI Game Day Warm Up Plan as a template for your pre-game warm up.  It includes the off the field technical touches and stretches along with three on the field tactical drills:  passing in threes, a 6v3 rondo and a shooting drill.  For older and competitive teams I like to group my players according to position.  I will have my strikers pass together, my midfielders pass together, etc.  Have them warm up with the players they will be playing with on the field.

Rotate your captains for each game.  Have your captains for the game lead the stretching for the team.  This is a good way to build leaders.

Do a lot of building up and encouraging during your pre-game warm up.  Get their confidence high!

If you are playing with a keeper, then you or one of your assistant coaches should warm them up while the rest of the team is doing the passing drills on the field.  Remember that you are trying to build the confidence of your keeper, so be a good server of the ball to them.  You want all your players to have success.  Confidence and success in the warm-up leads to success in the game.

As you set your line up, make sure that your groups when you substitute are about equal in ability.  It will be much more fun for the kids.

Having said that, put the players that can handle more pressure in the middle of the field.  Put players who are new to the game on the flanks where there is less pressure.  Everyone will have more success.  The sign of a good coach is putting players in positions where they can succeed.

For the kids it is important for them to think of themselves as “starters.”  So, make sure you rotate starters every game.  Let them know that everyone on the team is a “starter.”  They all will feel better about themselves and you will see it in their performance.  Keep looking for ways to build them up!

Make sure everyone is playing equal time – or as close to equal as you can make it.  I can guarantee you that the parents know if their child is not getting the same amount of playing time as others 🙂 This will make your life easier with the parents.

If you are really into the competition part of soccer (even if you are not keeping score :), here is how I like to set my line up.  I think backwards from the end of the half.  I try and have my strongest group at the end of the half and at the end of the game.  Those are the times when most goals are scored.  So, if you have the opportunity to play around with your line ups (probably because of a shortage of players for a game), try working backwards and see what kind of results you get.  I think you will be surprised.  It also works in well with the “All Players Are Starters” philosophy.

Do you have a team manager yet!  You should 🙂 The kids love orange slices or watermelon at half time, or something cold at the end of the game.  Kids and food are always a good combination!  Ask for a Parent volunteer to coordinate this for each game.

When you talk to your players as a team, make sure you are the one looking into the sun rather than the players.  You will keep their attention better.  Also get down to their level so you can keep eye contact with them.

If you have team rules (like no swearing, no cut downs – only build each other up, be responsible, etc.) and you have someone break a rule DO NOT use running as a consequence.  Soccer players LOVE TO RUN!  It is a major part of the game and players should be encouraged to run.  Instead be creative with having them do something else that is quick and gets the point across – like 5 push-ups, 5 burpees, etc.  I like to stay away from sit up and crunches because their core is also such an important part of the game.  At the High School level, we do those along with running as part of our training.  For younger players though crunches are a good exercise for them to know and get used to doing.

Most Importantly . . . Have Fun!

Parents – help your children have success

As parents we all want our children to succeed.  We want them to have fun.  We want them to make new friends.  And we know the importance for their development to participate in extracurricular events like sports, music, theater, dance, chess club . . . whatever it may be.  A child’s social life is as important as their academic life for their development.

It is well documented that extracurricular activities increase self-esteem, improve social skills, lead to better grades, expand their worldview, promote the use of both sides of their brain – creative and analytical and more (https://www.theeducator.com/blog/role-extracurricular-activities-students-development/ Nicole Jackson, April 18, 2017).

Sports like soccer can be a key component in the development of your child.  Well done parents!  Getting your children involved in soccer is a great first step.

One of the many reasons I chose soccer over other sports and extracurricular events to coach is because the game is full of little victories.  When we look on as parents, we may see a ton of mistakes.  Ugly touches and questionable decisions abound.  But as a coach, what excites me is when I see a player successfully execute something in a game that we had practiced on.  And I make sure that all the players hear me as I praise him or her.

In soccer, the game begins and ends with simple touches on the ball.  Everything builds from there.  But if the foundation is not set, neither the players nor the team will feel like they are having much success.

Like anything worth attaining it takes time and practice.  But practicing the correct way is key.

My grandson chose to play the trombone in school.  The first year it was enough to just be able to play a few notes kind of right.  Getting the beat down was more important for him!  If he hit the right note it was a bonus. 

That thought for him carried over into his second year.  The beat was all important, not so much the notes.  Now, in this third year, he is starting to realize that it is a combination of playing the right notes at the right time.  As he does this, along with his section mates, his section and the band are coming together to make sweet music!  It is interesting that some of the band members practiced correctly from the start emphasizing playing the correct notes while some others, like my grandson, took a bit longer.

Children develop at different ages.  Teaching them correct fundamentals in whatever they are learning helps them in their development.  For soccer, you as a parent can help your child develop the correct fundamentals simply by spending time with them using the MOTI APP.  All the basic touches are there in a fun 3D motion capture APP with expert coaching points.  Your child can play around with the APP, see the skill, listen to the coaching points and practice it right there in your back yard or basement.  You can also see the skill and praise them at home as they smooth out their touches.

Then when you watch them practicing with their team or playing in a game, you both have something to look forward too.  Watch and see if that awesome touch you worked out in the back yard shows up in the practice or game.  And when it does, which I guarantee you it will make sure there is plenty of excitement and praise from the sideline! 

It’s the little things done correctly that make this game so much fun to coach and watch.  And who knows, when the stars align and enough good touches and thoughts happen, a goal might be scored:)