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Soccer Team Depth Charts

Icon of a clipboard showing a page with a soccer strategy.

A soccer team depth chart is a critical tool for any soccer coach at any level (kids recreational to professional). A depth chart essentially shows the ideal starting line-up for your team formation. If you have more than one formation or system of play option for your team, then you need a depth chart for each of them. For information about soccer systems of play, click Soccer Systems Of Play

To illustrate, below is a recently published potential depth chart for FC Bayern Munich. You can download the PDF version: Depth Chart Bayern

The example shown is for the 4-2-3-1 system of play. A depth chart has several purposes:

  1. Game management
  2. Team development
  3. Player development
  4. Player recruiting

Using the FC Bayern example chart, let’s review each of the above points:

Game Management

The player at the top of each box is the ideal starter. So this 4-2-3-1 would start with:

Neuer-Alaba,Hummels, Boateng,Lahm-Thiago, Vidal-Ribery, Müller, Robben-Lewandowski.

The player named below the starter would be the first choice to replace the starter in case of injury or poor game performance. The goal is always to have the best eleven player for the given formation on the field. But it’s not as easy as simply replacing a starting player in the same position with a player from the bench. Let’s look at a simple example for the Bayern chart.

Let’s say Lewandowski gets injured in the first half. According to the depth chart he is replaced by Müller. But Müller is the starting central attacking midfielder. His first back up choice is Thiago. But Thiago is the starting left holding midfielder. His first back up is Kimmich. Kimmich is not a starter. So Lewandowski would come off, Müller would move to the striker spot, Thiago to central attacking midfielder, and Kimmich would come off the bench as left holding midfielder. In the stadium it would be announced as Kimmich coming on for Lewandowski. Spectators and viewers might wonder about that move, especially if Costa and Coman, who are attacking players remain on the bench. Only if you understand the depth chart will this substitution make sense. On TV you would notice Kimmich coming on and giving all the position changes to Müller and Thiago.

Now imagine if Lahm were injured or suspended and Rafinha started on right defense. Rafinha gets injured and must be substituted. Kimmich would be next to replace him but he just came on as left holding midfielder. According to the depth chart Kimmich would now move to right defender and Sanches would come on as left holding midfielder.

These depth charts are helpful at all levels. For recreational youth coaches they help you shuffle your line-up if some players don’t show up for a game, regardless if you play 11 v 11 or 6 v 6. Or if you substitute at fixed intervals for equal playing time. As you approach the professional model with limited substitutions and more complex game strategies, the Munich example becomes real.

Team Development

As alluded to in the introduction, you will need a balanced depth chart for each formation. Suppose you play a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2. The starting line-ups change dramatically. Using Bayern as the example, you now need two strikers and at least one back up striker. So Lewandowski and Müller might be starting strikers, but they don’t have to be. The 4-2-3-1 depth chart doesn’t translate to a different formation. The best partner for Lewandowski might be Ribery.

This means that your team needs to practice all different formations with starters and back ups in all their possible positions. You can imagine that this takes time. Now inject a coaching change and you can see that teams can struggle to find their stride. Sometimes a new coach can get quick improvements if he/she intuitively sees a more optimal formation, starting line-up, and depth chart than the predecessor.

Player Development

There will be many players who have to learn to play different positions, and they must learn it to be very close in effectiveness to the starter. Looking at the Bayern depth chart you will see that Lewandowski, Ribery, Robben, Vidal, Alonso, Boateng, Lahm, Rafinha, Neuer, and Ulreich only need to know one position in the 4-2-3-1 system. Müller is the most versatile player needing to know four positions. This is a challenge for players and places value on versatility. Now add to this that these players likely play on their national teams, in different positions and systems, and it becomes clear that besides having soccer skills and being fit soccer professionals must be intelligent thinkers.

Player Recruiting

The depth chart makes it clear that smart recruiting isn’t about acquiring a start player, it is about strengthening the line-up for all contemplated formations. If you have a strong starting line-up that will be with your team for a while, then recruiting to strengthen your depth in key positions may be the right move. If some starters might be a flight risk or just aren’t performing, then you may need to recruit a new starter. The human, communication and contractual aspects of player and team management become important.

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Soccer Performance Metrics

In today’s information age and the availability of “Big Data” enabled by camera and on-body sensors, more data than ever are available to soccer coaches. Each player in each game and each practice can be measured and data can be aggregated to the team level. To illustrate: distance run in a game can be measured for each player and team distance can be aggregated by adding all of the players’ distances.

There are software packages that manage all the data for coaches and generate any number of analyses and reports. As a trained soccer coach and professional engineer I understand that it is not the amount of data you get, but the appropriateness of data. The purpose of data is to identify areas for improvement and to enable the development and implementation of improvement plans. A wise person once said: “Tell me how I’m measured and I’ll tell you how I will behave”.

I have sifted through a lot of the metrics collected all over the world, some of which are reported during live broadcasts on TV. The scope of this review is game performance and improvement. This therefore excludes medical, physiological and any other individual or team health data. The idea is that if you have data that relate to your team’s performance, then you can identify what areas need to be improved and structure your soccer practices accordingly.

Possession %

This measures the amount of time a team controls the ball as a % of game time. Usually camera systems track the seconds each team is in control of the ball. Analysis has proven that possession % does not correlate to winning games. This metric is therefore only useful if your game philosophy and strategy is to dominate possession. Then you should establish a target of possession % (say > 65% +) and practice how to play a possession game.

Scoring Chances & Shots Taken

Shots taken is what you see on TV and it is a simple measure. Any shot from anywhere deemed to be in the direction of the goal counts as a shot taken, regardless of whether or not it actually hits the target. So a shot going up into the rafters counts as a shot taken. There is very little subjectivity. The metric is to count the number of shots taken by the team during a game.

Scoring chances is more subjective, but in my opinion more relevant. A scoring chance is defined as a play that offered a good chance of scoring a goal, even if the final shot isn’t taken. The metric is to count the number of scoring chances your team generates in a game.

To illustrate the difference between these two measurements:

A shot taken from 30 m out that goes 5 m wide of the net is counted as a “shot taken”, but wouldn’t qualify as a scoring chance.

A cross into the box to an open player 5 m in front of goal is a scoring chance, even if the player slips and never gets their foot on the ball – no shot is taken.

Shots on Goal

This metric goes with both of the previous metrics – scoring chances and shots taken. You count the number of shots on goal. A useful statistic would be to calculate the % shots on goal as a percentage of shots taken AND as a percentage of scoring chances. A low % of shots on goal  indicates that shots taken need accuracy improvement or scoring chances need finishing improvement (determination, timing, etc.).

Ultimately goals scored as a % of shots taken or scoring chances generated gives you an idea of the efficiency and effectiveness of your team’s attacking plays.

Getting By Opposing Players

This is a more recent metric. There are two ways to get by an opposing player – a 1 v.1 move or a pass. Furthermore it is of significance which players you get by, any player or defenders. So the metrics are, for each player and aggregated to team total for a game (or practice drill)

  • getting by any opponent in a 1 v. 1
  • getting by an opposing defender in a 1 v. 1
  • getting by any opponent with a completed pass
  • getting by a defender with a completed pass
  • receiving a completed pass past any opposing player
  • receiving a completed pass past a defender

You can also analyze these results by position and set some goals for your team. For example if you encourage your wingers taking on defenders 1 v. 1 to generate a cross and scoring chance, then measure the number of successful and failed 1 v. 1 moves by your wingers. By wingers I don’t mean only the designated wide players in your formation, but anyone who happens to be in the attacking third on the wing, such as an overlapping defender. You can count these for each player and later aggregate the numbers for individuals, positions (defenders, central midfielders, etc.), and the team. You can further accumulate the data for each game and the sum of games played to date.

Summary

There are many more metrics but if you consider those presented, you could easily formulate a vision/strategy for your team. For example:

“We are a fast attacking (not possession) team generating at least 10 scoring changes per game and scoring at on at least 20% of scoring chances. We generate these scoring chances through two touch soccer, quick and accurate passing past opponents, with a final cross or a vertical pass into the penalty box.

Then pick the metrics that are meaningful to the strategy, correlate the data to goals scored, wins, points and formulate improvement plans.

I should mention that I have illustrated offensive metrics. Defensive metrics for your team are the exact opposite. Track the same metrics for the opposing team.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Team Staff Requirements

African american soccer coach holding a soccer ball. You are on your way to becoming a better coach.

Coaching a soccer team of any age group or competitive level requires human resources. Typically one thinks of only the coach as she/he is the most visible on the field and in the media. And when young volunteer parents start out coaching their children, they are often the sole coach of the team.

In my opinion, one coach is not enough to effectively guide a team through a season, regardless of the roster size, age of the players, or level of competition. I will walk through progressive scenarios of soccer teams and outline the ideal team staff requirements.

Recreational Children/Youth Teams

In quite a few areas of the world organized children’s soccer starts at U3. And even for this age group we recommend two coaches. It is always a good idea to name one person as head coach and the other as assistant coach. This isn’t to create a hierarchy or make one look more important than the other. Rather it designates who the key contact person for the team is when it comes to communicating with parents, game officials, and club/league administrations.

So why two coaches? The most important reason is for back up. When one coach cannot make a practice/game, then the second coach is available and it is a person who understands the direction of the team and/or the program. The children will have seen the person on the field and should be comfortable with them. It provides more consistency than turning practices or games over to well meaning parents. It is also possible that a coach will be required to provide first aid for an injured player or deal with a child in case the parent/guardian has stepped away. Again, a second knowledgeable person can take charge of the team at that time.

I advocate that soccer practice drills are run with small groups. So even if you only have 8 players on the team, you may want to run drills in groups of four. With two coaches each group will have the undivided attention of one coach. The younger the children the more attention, instruction, and organization they require.

Lastly, in recreational soccer the principle of equal playing time during games is paramount. This requires frequent substitutions to ensure all players get the proper amount of time. At the same time players need a lot of help while on the field. Most common in-game instructions are around tactical issues. With very young players it could be constant encouragement not to bunch up. As teams mature positional instructions are added as well as reminders such as passing the ball, shooting, movng up, etc. It is difficult for one person to watch the game and instruct the team while trying to manage substitution requirements, including looking for kids who have wandered off (bathroom, parents, friends, playground, etc.). I have always advocated that one coach manages the on-field game and the other all off-field activities.

Competitive Youth Soccer

Competitive soccer, also known as rep or travel team soccer, typically starts at ages U8 to U10. The key differences to recreational soccer are:

  • typically competitive teams train and play together for twelve months, vs spring/summer for recreational teams
  • with practices and games teams may be together 4-6 times a week (vs 1-2)
  • teams travel outside the immediate city/town (vs playing locally)
  • it costs more to run a team, needing to pay for team wear, equipment, tournament costs, travel costs, etc.
  • parents invest more time and money and expect more from the coaching staff
  • coaches should develop a season plan to develop each player and continually improve team play. Scouting opposition, game analysis, etc. are additional demands on the coaches.

The two coach scenario still applies and it is important that the coaches work together to develop the season plan. I reviewed season planning in previous posts and you can search for them on our site Soccer Coaching Insights.

Most coaches are not trained goalkeepers, never mind trained goalkeeper coaches. This makes sense since only 10% of soccer players on a team are goalies. Some coaches try to develop their keepers by involving them in drills and that is good for training game situations or reaction/reflexes, if the drills are in a small area. But that isn’t sufficient to develop technique or to correct problems observed in a game or practice. So I recommend to add a goalkeeper coach, at least on a part time basis. The goalie coach can take your keepers for part of the practice or before/after practice to develop all goalie skills. We have an excellent book full of goalie soccer drills and practices to help: Soccer Goalkeeper Practices. Remember that goalkeepers require their own unique pre-practice/game warm-up routines.

Most coaches do know and have learned about physical fitness training, which includes speed, endurance, flexibility, strength, etc. I recommend to incorporate physical fitness exercises with a ball into your practice, which is what we have done in our books. And just like goalkeeper training, if you’re not expert in fitness training, have a fitness trainer on your team staff. They are also an excellent resource for injury management.

Because of travel requirements and increased equipment needs, competitive teams require more funding, travel planning, and administration. Some even require purchasing expertise and have team bank accounts. Coaches don’t want to be distracted from player and team development and I have found a team manager quite helpful.

So here is the team staff I recommend (and have personally assembled) for competitive youth teams:

  • head coach
  • assistant coach
  • goalkeeper coach
  • fitness trainer
  • team manager

When individuals work well together team staff develops into its own little team and lots of joy and fun can be had. It typically depends on the leadership skills of the head coach, who ultimately is in charge.

I have seen other models in which specialists are added to work with particular functions, such as strikers, defenders. Some teams have a fundamental skills coach for all players. The key is to decide what can’t be covered easily or competently by the coach and assistant coach and add that skill to the staff.

University/Professional Teams

I lump university and professional environments together because the competitive requirements and pressures are similar. Also coaching staff is typically paid and therefore is subjected to performance measurements. In both cases the specific team is part of a larger organization whose goal it is to win and to be publicly recognized for success (or failure). These larger organizations can offer shared resources or provide dedicated resources to the team.

Once again the minimum of coach and assistant coach is dedicated to the team. Goalkeeper coaches, fitness trainers, team administration could be a shared resource. Additional services are often required in these environments:

  • video technicians
  • statisticians
  • medical staff (therapists, doctors, psychologists, chiropractors)
  • nutrition experts
  • media & community relations

In these cases leadership/decision making requirements of the coach are much higher and in professional soccer and some university situations coaches and assistant coaches are full time employees.

I encourage you to assess your future coaching situation and determine who the right people might be to help you along the way.

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Soccer Parents

This summer I coached my grandson’s U7 recreational team, watched my granddaughter’s U12 competitive practices and games, and attended some local games of various age groups.

It gave me an opportunity to work with as well as observe the parents on the sidelines. I realized that nothing much has changed since I started coaching 25 years ago. In talking to some coaches it turns out that they are experiencing some of the same emotions I did as a young coach. Fortunately, through years of professional and soccer learning, I am hoping to offer some advice on how to deal with soccer parents.

I’ll start with the positive case – the supportive parents. These are the ones who are committed to bring their child to games and practices, communicate about their planned absences, remember the schedule you gave them, stay during practice and games and cheer on the team and their child. They are positive and engaged, they volunteer to help, and they occasionally tell the coach that they’re doing a good job. Utopia? No !! A certain percentage of any team’s parents are like that. And this is the key. No matter what group of people you deal with in life, they cover the spectrum of good and not so good.

Parents Motives

Coaches must understand that the reason they have a team to coach is because parents register their children for the sport. Their motivations are many. Some want to enhance their child’s social life, some want their child to be physically active, some want their child to be a soccer pro in the future, some live out their failed soccer dream through their child. Whatever the reason, the parents want their child to be there. And that is a good thing. At very young ages the child may or may not want to be there. Typically by age 10 kids have a say in the decision to sign up for soccer, they’ll voice their opinion of what to do in their free time.

Parent’s Role

The role of the parent is often described by a club in a document called “conduct” or “fair play rules”, or “code of ethics”. In it you will find the following expectations of parents:

  • bring your child to the event on time
  • respect the players, other parents, the coaches, club officials, and game officials
  • ensure the safety of their child by dressing them properly and providing appropriate nutrition before, during, and after games and practices.

Seems simple enough, but a certain percentage of parents just doesn’t get there.

Parents as special interest groups

To start with, parents mostly care about their own child, they want what they consider best for them. That’s ok. BUT, how do they know what is best for them from a soccer coaching and game perspective? If you have 15 children on your team you are really dealing with 15 special interest groups, with 15 parenting styles, and likely with 15 levels of understanding the game of soccer. Let’s look at some examples.

Supportive Parents

These I described earlier, they do exist and are a pleasure to have on your team.

The Disengaged Committed

These are the parents that drop their child off at practice or game and then leave. In a way they may consider soccer as a child care service. From my perspective I feel bad for the child, but as a coach these parents are easy to deal with because you likely don’t have to deal with them at all. But you can plan practice drills and game line-ups assuming the player will be there.

The Disengaged Uncommitted

They also leave their child with you, but they are random in their attendance and don’t communicate. So you never know if the child will be there or not. Plan your practice and game assuming the child will not be there. If they do show up be ready to slot them in.

The Coach

You will have parents who for some reason or another believe they know how to coach better than you do. They’ll approach you during or after practice, during or after a game and give you unsolicited advice. The advice ranges from how you should treat their child different to how you should coach the entire team and season different. Youmight feel criticized and the first reaction might be to react – telling them you’re the coach and they should leave you alone, in whatever diplomatic way you can.

BUT WAIT. Think about that parent first. Perhaps they do know more about coaching than you, especially if you’re a novice coach and know little about soccer. In that case, consider their attitude. If they seem helpful and genuine, and their communication is positive, consider asking them to help out. Find a way to involve them without giving up control of the team and the program. Ask them to run some drills and seek advice for game formations.

If they don’t know more about coaching than you do, or their approach is confrontational, find a polite but firm way to thank them for their interest and explain to them that you know what you’re doing and that you require no help.

The Obnoxious

We have all seen them, usually during games, not so much at practice. These are the ones who stand at or pace along the sidelines during a game and yell and scream at anybody. Often it is at their child for doing something wrong. Certainly at the referee every time they disagree with a call. They yell at players on their team to shoot, pass, run, or whatever. They yell at the other team for any foul. They will mutter and grumble about you to others because they don’t agree with your strategy. But will they ever come and talk to you directly? Not likely. These are the tough ones to deal with. There is no choice, you need to stop the behaviour as it is destructive to the team and embarrassing to their child. Try and talk to them outside of practice or game time, perhaps at a coffee shop. If they aren’t interested or don’t change behaviour, involve the club’s administration.

Coaching Tips

Remember that your goal as coach is to develop each player and the team as it relates to the four pillars of soccer coaching:

  1. Technical ability (skill)
  2. Tactics
  3. Physical Fitness
  4. Mental Aspects

As long as you are prepared in all of these you have a solid basis to deal with any parental situation. Engage in some self reflection and examine how much you really know and how prepared you really are. Our web site and practice books are excellent resources to help with this process.

And remember that you are not every child’s parent or caretaker, you are their coach.

Parents are essential to the sport and coaches need to be prepared to manage them. In order to ensure an enjoyable season I recommend that coaches are proactive, humble, and communicative. The following suggestions will go a long way to engage parents positively and to prevent the “not so good” parents from engaging in bad behaviour:

  1. Develop a plan for your season. Refer to our previous blog posts on season planning.
  2. Meet with the parents before the first practice or game, even if it is just at the beginning of practice. Take 15 minutes to go over your plan for the team and your expectations of the parents. Leave them with a hand out which should include your club’s code of conduct. Ask for feedback.
  3. Be early for practices and games and greet the parents and children as they come in. Have a bit of small talk to get to know them. Establish a relationship. Engage them during practice as appropriate. They can retrieve balls, participate in a scrimmage, or help with a drill. Stick around after practices and games and socialize.
  4. If appropriate, plan a team party mid-season.
  5. Send e-mail updates as the season goes, at least monthly. Comment on the positive, the challenges, and explain some decisions if you think necessary.
  6. Most importantly, give parents feedback on their child. Stress the positives, the improvements. If there is a particular emotional issue with a child, talk to the parent. Let them know you are aware of it and that you have a plan to deal with it. The plan is not about changing or correcting the child, it is about treating them like every other child, integrating them in the team, but with some extra communication and special consideration.
  7. Thank everyone at the end of the season for having been there.
  8. Solicit feedback.
  9. Never take criticism personally
  10. Enjoy the positives and don’t let frustration get a hold of you

Happy Coaching

 

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Women in Coaching

Female coaching talking to a kids team of 6

My name is Colin Finkle, and I am writing a guest article as Coach Tom Sauder is in Germany this week. I am taking this opportunity to learn about and share about something that is near and dear to my heart: female representation in soccer coaching. I didn’t know what I would find and what I researched wasn’t good.

It’s hard to find women in professional soccer coaching. In the last women’s world cup, only 8 of the 24 group stage teams had female coaches. On the for male professional teams, there are no female coaches in MLS at any level, head or assistant coaches. I can’t find a national mens team that has a woman on their coaching staff.

It’s just hard to find women in professional coaching in any sport. The NFL just tied the NBA for the lead in women coaching. Jen Welter became the first female assistant coaching intern in the NFL. And recently, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the league’s first full-time female coach. Yes that is 2, count-em, 2 professional female coaches, and that is enough to tie them for gender diversity for mens professional sports leagues in the USA.

But that is the tip of the iceberg, what about the college and university level?

The number and percentage of female coaches in collegiate athletics has been dropping. Soccer is one of the sports where female coaches are least represented. A 2013 study found that only 25.3% of head coaches of soccer teams are women in big colleges in the United States.

Fourty-three years ago in the US, 90 percent of all women’s teams in all sports were coached by women, according to Acosta and Carpenter’s Women in Intercollegiate Sport study. The NCAA puts that number at 40% today. There are less than 2% women coaching men’s teams at the collegiate level… basically a rounding error.

Where did it go wrong?

In 1972 and earlier, women’s sports teams were unfunded. The US equality law, Title IX, forced colleges to fund women’s teams if they were going to fund the equivalent mens team. The number of women’s athletic teams more than doubled — from an average of about 2.5 teams to 5.6 teams per post secondary school. The coaching of women’s teams became paying, high paying in some cases with salaries between $100,000 and $2,000,000. Men started competing for these jobs.

Title IX is a US law, but similar laws and societal changes have been happening throughout the world. Women’s amateur, college level, semi-pro and pro teams are getting more attention and funding. This is a great thing for female athletes. A 2008 study found that there were more female athletes than male athletes in 6 of the 10 most popular collegiate sports in Canada, soccer being one of them.

This attention and funding has a negative effect for women in coaching roles. The higher salaries and visibility of coaching positions for female teams seems to attract male applicants and discourage female applicants.

This is unfortunate, because having women in coaching roles has benefits to society. One, female coaches help assuage the societal belief that men should be in leadership roles. Two, young women seeing female coaches will more likely go into coaching themselves: a virtuous cycle. And three, the presence of female coaches reduces the chances of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault against female athletes. There are many more benefits I could go into.

So how do we solve it? Some say we should focus on getting women back into coaching positions on female teams, but that is just trying to reinstitute the sexist past. The real problem is that female coaches do not consider and are not considered for coaching male teams.

To find an example of hiring female head coach, you have to look to tennis. Amelie Mauresmo coaches Andy Murry, the only top 50 tennis player with a female coach. And this is because Murray actively supports women in sports.

“I’ve actually become very passionate about getting more women in sport, giving women more opportunities. When I was younger, I wasn’t thinking about stuff like that. But now I’ve seen it with my own eyes, it’s quite amazing how few female coaches there are across any sport.” -Andy Murray

Do we need such an active approach to have women coaching men?

Yes. And the often cited reasons for this (lack of talent, lack of success stories, and inability of women to command respect from male athletes) are simply sexists. Gender of the coach and / or athlete does not matter for any of the strategies and tactics for a coach to make a winning team that Coach Tom Sauder has talked about on this blog. A female coach can perform as well as a male coach in preparing, growing players and running effective practices. The only way of combating this stereotype and societal norm is through active finding, grooming and hiring of female coaches by soccer team management.

Youth football should provide the breeding ground for future coaches. No wonder, then, that Moya Dodd, a Fifa executive committee member and chair of the women’s football taskforce, has initiated a stipulation that all teams at next year’s Under-17s World Cup in Jordan must include at least one woman on the bench, and on the medical staff. (Anna Kessel, The Guardian)

Change is not going to happens overnight. It is going to have to start with the lower levels and work it’s way up. It works on two levels: 1) young, up and coming athletes will see women in coaching roles and it will be the norm for them, and 2) it will grow the pool of female candidates.

The other place it is going to have to start is in the minds and wills of women out there. They are going to have to actively push against prejudice both in society and in themselves. Women are clearly feeling that it is hopeless to pursue careers in coaching: the glass ceiling is clearly defined, and very low. But every woman who gives up on coaching is one less opportunity for it to get better for every female coach, and that is tragic.

Be part of the solution. Whether you are a man or a woman, an athlete, a coach and especially if you are in team management, you need to be an active part of the solution. Encourage and support female coaches when you see them.

Sources:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/college/2015/02/23/women-college-coaches-title-9-ix/23917353/
http://www.cehd.umn.edu/tuckercenter/library/docs/research/2012-13_Decline-of-Women-College-Coaches-Report_Dec-18.pdf
The Cost of Not Hiring Women Coaches
http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/jun/27/womens-world-cup-coaching
http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/it-only-takes-two-women-coaches-for-the-nfl-to-be-no-1-on-gender-diversity/

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Managing Soccer Families

When you are coaching kids or youth soccer you become a manager of 8 – 20 families. You’re not just coaching the team or individual players, you are dealing with the families behind the children. We know, or should know, the technical coaching aspect well. But how often do we think about the bigger picture?

Chase & CoachA simple example is practice and game attendance – is the player there or late? Often coaches have rules that penalize a player that are late or no shows, but is that fair? Typically players rely on parents or older siblings to bring them to the event, and their schedule or time pressures are out of the child’s control. So punishing them isn’t fair at all. Being upset or frustrated with the person responsible could also be unfair. I know of a case where the coach expressed their displeasure at the child always being late. Until the single father said that due to work schedule and fighting rush hour it was quite a feat to make it at all. So understanding the circumstances is important.

Another major factor is that the families you’re dealing with are mostly concerned with their lives, their well-being, and their child’s success. They are not necessarily concerned with the team or the coach. On the surface that doesn’t seem fair. A coach makes a commitment and has to be there and ready every time. Coaches are service providers, usually volunteers. Families on the other hand are the customers, they  pay money for their child to participate. Without one or several players missing or late, the practice and game goes on. Without the coach, there is a problem.

Some, if not all, families are their own unique special interest group. They care about the playing time of their child, the position the child plays, how the coach treats the child. From their perspective, the coach must meet their interests only. They don’t see the bigger picture of the other families or the coach.

I hope these illustrations show that coaching a soccer team is much more than running practices and games. It is about building relationships with many families. And a successful season means building many successful relationships. How do you do this? I have found that communication and engaging the families right from the beginning pays huge dividends. Have a meeting with the parents at the first event and explain your approach to the season. Offer a hand out and follow up with an e-mail. Try to give the parents opportunities to get involved. They can organize bringing snacks to games (not the coach assigning dates), they can monitor playing time, help with drills at practice, etc. One effective and fun way I have used is to have a game of team vs. parents/siblings at the end of practice. I encourage coaches to be at practice and games early and leave late. There will always be some parents around and it’s a great opportunity to chat and get to know them. Invite parents to tell you any circumstance that might impact their availability and see if you can help. For example some people don’t know that they don’t have to stay fro the practice or game – they can look after other children or tasks. If you don’t tell them they may not bring their child. Provide frequent feedback throughout the season, on the team, on your observations, on a particular point about their child. It will be appreciated. If at all possible, see if a team social can be organized half way through the season.

The more you communicate, the more the families will be engaged and the more you learn about them and they about you. The more you learn the easier it will be to mitigate issues that arise. It’s a little more effort for the coach but the payback is tremendous. Happy families make fun seasons.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Player Ideal Performance State

Soccer coach going over play on writing boardThe ideal performance state of an athlete refers to the combined mental, emotional, and physical condition that allows an athlete to perform at their best. Each player has their own ideal performance state. Soccer coaches often think that all players get to game readiness the same way, they don’t. Some perform best when they are anxious, others when relaxed. I had a player who played her best and most composed when she was angry. Finding the ideal performance state is a process of self reflection. We have developed a simple check list to help. Part one is to ask the athlete to remember the best game they ever played and answer some questions of why it was the best game. Part two is a tracking process in which the player records over several games their performance and emotional, mental, and physical condition. After a few good games, the analysis of the data should allow a player specific game preparation program that fits within the context of the team program. Download the checklist, click

IPS CHECKLIST

Coach Tom

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Scouting Opposing Soccer Teams

Coach talking to two star soccer playersThis article is for the serious soccer coach to whom getting the best out of the team is important. For the competitive team coach the goal is to win the championship. For the recreational league coach there may come a game that you’d like to win, perhaps to go undefeated for the season, to come in first, or to end on a high note after an otherwise disappointing year.

In this article we will review one aspect of serious season or game preparation: scouting your opposition.

Scouting is more than talking to someone who has seen the opponent play, it is more than watching them play yourself. Scouting is about collecting valuable data that will help you develop a game strategy for playing this particular team. The data and the strategy must be shared with your team to get their acceptance and to give them the tools to implement your strategy.

There are two ways to get the data. One is to go and watch the opposition play, and if that’s not possible, get a video from the game and analyze it. I believe personal attendance is still the best. There are small things you can see that video may not capture – goalkeeper warm-ups for example. If you can afford to see the game in person and bring someone else to get the video, or obtain the video through other channels, go for it.

I suggest you keep careful notes of your observations. Below is a link to a scouting template we have developed that is fairly comprehensive. It covers team formation and strengths/weaknesses of each part of the team – goalkeeper, defense, midfield, attack. We have filled out the template with some examples so you can see the type of information you need to record. Use this template as is or use it to get you started on your own.

Imagine the coach’s advantage from knowing the weak spots of your opponent and being ready to exploit them. Happy Scouting.

Soccer Team Scouting Template