Next Big Thing

One of my all-time favorite soccer articles written by Jon Akin. I have spent 27 years in the game of soccer playing at all levels – youth, high school, college and professional – and am now a head coach at the youth and college levels. Recently, I have observed some serious issues in the landscape of American youth soccer that need to be addressed. I have three children and they will most likely all play soccer. I know there is an epidemic growing that coincides with our American “give me options at every turn” lifestyle, and with the constant quest for “the next best thing,” but we can do something about it. I grew up in Pensacola, Florida and played soccer there until I graduated high school in 1995. This was back when your age group was your club, and we were the West Florida Hurricanes. Our rivals were Gulf Breeze — which was just across the bridge over the Pensacola Bay from us — Mobile, Panama City and Tallahassee. I stayed with the Hurricanes until I was a U-17 player, when I joined a team out of Tallahassee, North F.C. North F.C. was a TEAM (not a club) formed by PLAYERS from Pensacola, Tallahassee, Panama City, and Jacksonville who played together on the State ODP team. The team formed to counter the trend of South Florida teams pulling players from all over South Florida while players from the North all played with their teams from their hometown. We won the Florida State Cup in 1995 and played through to the regional finals before getting knocked out. I fondly remember intense games and tournaments against all those rivals when I was a kid. The main reason I remember that was because most of the players stayed on the same teams because that is what you did: You played for your local team. We had the same group of players from U-10-through U-17. We all went to the same birthday parties and soccer camps. Eventually, we were in the same Cotillion classes and went to the same high school parties. All of the players knew what was going on in each other’s lives in addition to the on-field drama associated with preseason and postseason workouts and winning and losing tournaments. We learned how to live as a group and play as a group. Well, those days are gone, and along with them our old-school soccer culture. I can speak specifically of metropolitan Atlanta in that respect. Our children will not have the opportunity to remember matchups and rivalries developed over years because everyone’s roster changes drastically from year to year. Let me tell you why: It is because there is an epidemic of parents and youth players looking for “the next best thing.” You see it day in and day out at the club level during tryout time. Parents and players frantically try to line up what they think is a better situation for the coming season – the one that might give them a chance to make R3PL or get more looks from college scouts or just bragging rights with the other parents waiting in the school carpool lane. And many people’s moral compasses, and their ability to see the big picture, go right out the window. Overzealous parents and coaches sell the opportunities that their club can offer over other clubs. They offer enticements like the big-name tournaments they will attend and their high-powered coaching staff (which you may or may not get because the coaching turnover is almost as high as the roster turnover). So every year during tryout time, players and parents are looking for “the next best thing.” It resembles a zoo: players go to three different tryouts on three different nights while parents set up different tryout times so they can showcase their kids. The kids are stressed, the parents are stressed and people often do some unethical things under the guise of “doing what is best for their children”. For parents who play these games, allow me to make an observation: you are doing your children a disservice. First, you are putting an undue amount of stress on your child. The game of soccer should be fun. It should be about working together and overcoming obstacles as a team. Second, you are creating an environment where your children are always looking for that “next best thing.” Instead of being happy where they are, facing the challenges and learning from that environment, you are swapping your kids around before they get a chance to learn anything. In my opinion, children in this prolonged environment could, later in life, learn to look for new jobs once a year in lieu of mastering one. They might change careers four and five times because one company offers an extra weekend of vacation or another doesn’t offer immediate advancement. Worse still, they may soon start to look for different boyfriends and girlfriends or, perhaps, wives or husbands, because one is better looking or has more money. These outcomes may seem extreme but they should also come with a measure of credence: if the child is taught the grass is always greener on the other side through their youth soccer experiences, what prevents them from taking the same tract in more impactful life decisions? Also, what about the time-tested, all important quality of loyalty that gets thrown out the window as we SHOP for a better deal for our children’s soccer playing experience. Teaching children loyalty will ultimately far outweigh the extra showcase that the new club is offering. Finally, when you drag your kid from team to team, you are depriving them of fond long-lasting memories of tight friendships – and intense rivalries — that are some big reasons why they will love the sport for a lifetime. I recommend you do a few things. Play with your local club. The time you save by not having to make a crazy, 90-minute commute to be on the team that’s “the next big thing” is valuable time that you can spend as a family. Or it will give your child an opportunity to eat at home instead of forcing down fast food and focusing on doing homework at home instead of distractedly doing it in the car. Don’t believe that you’re missing out by sticking with your current club. There are a lot of good coaches out there. The things that you should be concerned about when it comes where to play are simple: Is the coach knowledgeable about the sport? Is your child learning? Is your child being treated with respect? If a child is not being challenged, that is a good time to leave. But don’t leave just because your child is not getting enough playing time. Let your child deal with the situation. They will be a better person for learning how to deal with that adversity. And don’t buy into that old line that “If our U-14 team doesn’t get into the Upper Saskatchewan Mid-Winter Snow Frolic College Showcase, he/she won’t get the looks from scouts and will never play in college.” At the U-17 and U-18 divisions, it might be helpful for teams in the top divisions to attend some showcases, but having your child work the Internet and take a proactive approach in contacting college coaches about his interest in their school – and letting them get to know him — will get your kid just as far. Your son or daughter will most likely end up at the level of soccer that they deserve based on how much time they put into the game, which is a strong contrast to the belief that a coach or an environment will get you where you need to go. I’m not denying the fact that there are times to change clubs, but one should strongly consider the impact that making that change will have on your child before taking that step. As often as not, the “next best thing” is where your child is now. So think twice the next time the team manager has a plot to take half the team to the cross-city rival because he’s confident they’ll end up as the best team in the state. I honestly would rather that my three kids be on an average team with integrity than a state championship team without it! And, as a college coach, I look for that kind of character in prospective recruits. Let us all in the soccer community grow a garden of young players that are loyal and play with integrity and have fond memories of rivalries, not ones with a lot of trophies and blurry images of teammates.

The Great Ones

So…you wanna be a player? I’m lucky…I’ve been playing and/or coaching soccer for 40 years, and I think I can help you. Does that make me an expert? NO WAY. There are no experts in soccer. Does that make me more experienced than a lot of other people in the game? Maybe/maybe not…but here’s what I DO know. Players – it’s all about making a decision. It’s all about being the best. It’s all about either being cocky and arrogant, or playing and making an impact – on the field … at training sessions … and during games. I’ve seen and coached so many good players over the years. Here’s the difference. You’re good. Everyone tells you you’re good. You know you’re good. The parents know you’re good. Your teammates know you’re good. Your opponents know you’re good. Everyone knows you’re good! What do you do about it? The GOOD players work harder than anyone else. The GOOD players don’t have an attitude. The GOOD players don’t tell others how good they are. The GOOD players are the first ones to show up at the training, and the last ones to leave. The GOOD players are the ones that coaches brag about. The GOOD players don’t have to be told twice. The GOOD players understand their roles. The GOOD players let OTHERS tell them how good they are. The GOOD players play all day … and find another game or training session to join. We had a kid (9th grader), today… play a very physical EPYSA state cup game yesterday…show up at the complex to play with his HS team…then travel to ODP training…then come back to the complex to play another indoor game with his FC club team. Wanna be GOOD? There are no secrets. Shortcuts are out. You’re either getting better…or you’re getting worse as a player. No one stays the same. Until next time… (Mikes Soccer Blog)

Building A Winner

(1) Let your dream fuel you through defeat “…as long as everyone could put their hands on their hearts at the end and know they had given everything there was to give, that was all I could ask for.–Sir Peter Blake 2) Select people who are self-reliant, sacrifice, and who have been through hard times. “One of the key factors is that the sailors become, by process of natural selection, self reliant….they end up as late-teenagers competing internationally….who are independent, innovative, and self reliant…” 3) Do a “Needs Assessment” before you develop a plan. It is imperative that you do your research before you develop a specific plan. “I think possibly the keel was put on because it was sexy and full of excitement, and maybe people got carried away with the potential, as opposed to the reality of it.” 4) Everyday is a campaign. You must keep selling the plan and paint a picture of where you are headed. “…there was a lot of support in New Zealand, and he knew the value of ‘the psychological support and the boost you get from knowing the whole country is watching’ ….Team New Zealand realized that a peak performing, team-based organization would be needed to succeed.” 5) The leader should have a “collaborative style.” “Everything became team focused…..he is a natural leader….he doesn’t act arbitrarily ….if a decision needs to be made he will make it….but his normal way of going about things is to get people around him he has complete faith in ….he canvases opinion constantly, listens and then finds the right consensus.” 6) Knowing the importance of communication and playing “nice” with others. “There is a design language and a yachters language, so we had to work on communication…The design team would meet each morning all through the summer as the boat was being put together…constant interplay between sailors and designers.” 7) Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them. “It was important to learn from our mistakes….hindsight is a wonderful thing…having come so close….we just had not got every detail right…our collective knowledge was built into the boat….” 8) Never underestimate enthusiasm. “Enthusiasm is often THE important criterion. When we are deciding on a person, one of the key factors is whether they are compatible, so that everyone is a team player.” 9) Cultivate Trust. It takes a lifetime to build and an instant to lose. The gateway to trust is a command of your subject matter. “Every person’s input is valued, and all ideas are welcome. The finer details are outlined to everyone, because if you haven’t got TRUST you haven’t got anything…the chemistry has to be right, the attitudes have to be right, and people have got to be able to have fun, or they won’t give everything….” 10) Emotion is good. Specifically, the team must have genuine care and concern for each other. Coach Wooden would continually point out that concentrating on the process will lead you to a positive result, not the other way around. I would suggest even more important than that profound point: each team member must eventually become emotionally attached to each other and/or the cause. Think about this: if I am connected to another on a deep level then whatever hardships I must endure are so much easier to deal with; I, in turn, will give a greater effort once I understand this…no doubt! “Most of all the crew, the team, have to want to win more than anything, and be prepared to give up everything to achieve that aim…. everyone knows from the start that if they don’t perform they will let the rest of the team down.” (from Peak Performances, Ch. 10)

It’s Not Our Job

It can be really frustrating when ‘Christians’ attack ‘being gay’ over other sins, it’s not your job or mine to judge that, sin is sin is sin is sin is sin. We all fall short! Anyone that does opposite gives off a negative perception of the Christianity to the non-believer, if you want Christianity to be seen in a more ‘positive light’ via your school, in the media, your workplace, then WE ALL should try giving off a more positive light and stay true to the word. Matthew 22:37-40 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Your Excuse?

“Excuses are the tools with which persons with no purpose in view build for themselves great monuments of nothing.” Being a coach and involved in sports in various areas I see so many people and coaches make excuses, they look for anything to blame but themselves when something goes wrong. The goals were too small, ref blew that call, grass was too wet, forgot my lucky socks, two of my best players sick, fields too narrow, sun was in our eyes the whole time, sky was too blue.  Who really cares how you got there? its not success, rational, irrational, cheated, his fault, her fault, our fault, their fault, whatever… it’s still failure. A lot of the time we seek approval from someone else to feel better about the situation, we want someone to sympathize with us, tell us we’re still good at whatever we are and we want all of this to justify our own value. Thats really what it amounts to isn’t it? Coaches like myself and more importantly parents- lay the foundation for the way we handle failure to the kids we influence. What message are we sending out? Is everything fair and just in real life? how are we prepared to handle situations like that? I fall short MANY times myself, we all do, but the biggest thing I try to preach still is accountability: don’t make excuses, there are times the world will be against you and you have to still find a way to rise above adversity; when you aren’t successful- acknowledge it, forget it and move on; you can lose, but you can’t lose the lesson. One of the biggest things I learned working at the rec over the years about, something that helped me out big time in almost every situation or problem I dealt with at work or for life in general (because i’ve attempted/seen a lot of results trying both ways ha), is that people love other people that are honest and straightforward in situations where they’re wrong, late or just don’t get it done, basically if you admit you’re the problem, they more often times than not will sympathize or side with you, so long as you correct the problem going forward. As an example: A parent who you told a week earlier they would have game schedules on Monday comes to you on the following Wednesday and asks: “Where are our game schedules?” Response 1: Well the guy at front desk was supposed to print out the initial copy and we just found out last night that the printer is out of ink, somebody was going to go today and pick some up and he should be back already, I tried to call him but he won’t pickup or call me back. He also has the paper so whenever he gets here I will call you it shouldn’t be longer than a few hours. Response 2: I have been busy and completely forgot about doing them and will today, I should have given it to you by now and it’s my fault, I apologize. I promise you I’ll get on that tonight and have them to you in the next day or two. One you are thinking what? and you’re probably mad/annoyed with everyone. The other you are probably thinking, man he’s got a lot on his plate, I’ll just tell my parents he said he forgot and we will get them soon. Neither response has a schedule ready, neither person got what the needed, but the outlook going forward changes pretty drastically. Why do most of us side with people that admit fault? because we all have been in that situation. It’s honest. Everyone is lazy or a slacker or Does wrong… EVERYONE. So I think people see that in themselves.; instead of thinking “That kid never has anything done he always has a reason why and it’s never him…” They think… “He works hard he has a lot going on, we get it soon. It took me a long time to learn this though. The key to it all is that you make corrections and don’t repeat mistakes twice, grow and learn from experiences, otherwise it looks like other people or something doesn’t matter to you, and at that point more than likely it probably doesn’t. The scenario above actually happened many times to me, once I had gotten to the dark late and it was threatening rain and one of those really awful situations where if I cancel I’m going to get- “why didn’t we know sooner, it’s not even raining, we’re already here, get more organized” and if I don’t (and it rains) I’m going to get “why didn’t you look at the radar, you knew this was coming, you gotta get more organized”. It’s a lose-lose that you encounter a lot making decisions like that, because people will be split 50-50, even if I had gotten there really early and make a decision sooner, half the people will still be upset and whiny. One guy sent me an email… ‘Very ill done today. Decisions should be made more than 20 minutes before the start of the first games, especially for people like my family who had family driving an hour and half to watch them.’ ‘You are right, I apologize for the delay. I had intentions of keeping them on until I saw that other band of storms coming, but I should have seen it sooner…I will make a point to make those decisions to give everyone sufficient notice next go round…thank you’ ‘Thank you Josh, I understand your point of view and I feel you do a good job. Thanks for the concern and consideration. I have been and was a coach and understand how it can be hit or miss and you are the bad guy either way. I did not mean to be an ass, it was just that my parents rarely, if ever come to see my step-son play. I apologize for being irrational. Soccer is ran a heads-above the basketball this past year. Thanks for being a heads-up guy. You showed me you have what it takes to run a program by your response.’ So basically the parent went from ragging my decision-making at the start, to praising me for the job I had done in the end. It was a simple incident, but something that really changes your perspective on things, we as coaches can never forget that. As I said earlier, I am not saint, I fall short plenty… but how I act and the image I portray will forward on to my players, to my team or to my program. In short, win or lose it can become your identity. Success breeds success, failure breeds failure, and it’s our job to decide if we would rather justify our failure playing the blame game, or step up and rise to the next occasion. Learn to make these things a positive now and you can breed a positive culture, a brand of success and identity of excellence. Not only on the sports field, but in life. I’m still learning and trying to get better at this every day.