A must-listen to podcast for soccer parents and players

Gary Kleiben and John Pranjic nail it in their latest 3Four3 soccer podcast on the 5 components of player development.

I wish I would have had this 10 years ago when my child started soccer and I started coaching.

They identify these 5 components:

  1. The household/parent/family influence.
  2. The playing on your own influence.
  3. The pickup game influence.
  4. The structured club training influence.
  5. The personal training influence.

I just wanted to transcribe a few awesome nuggets from this podcast for posterity.

Pranjic says that parents without soccer backgrounds “are easily impressed by coaches with all kinds of cones, flags and sticks for kids to dribble around and jump over — that looks very professional. When you see kids out there all in unison doing all these step overs, dribbling through the cones it looks like there’s work being done. But, as a group of 15 or 20 kids, as a team, that’s not what they should be focusing on for those 1 to 1.5 hour sessions. I don’t know if that’s been talked about enough.”

It’s not talked about enough. I spent years as a coach in this conflict and many coaches know this is a huge selling point for parents.

He continues, “What should a parent be expecting from this structured training environment?”

Kleiban responds, “You can look at it as development curves. Everybody’s going to develop and get better with more and more touches on the ball. That’s obvious.”

I’d say that’s not obvious to many folks with and without soccer backgrounds. That’s why they fall for the trap Pranjic described and think of the club as nearly 100% of a kid’s soccer identity.

“What might not be obvious is an appreciation for who you are up against. If you’re doing all these technical drills in the club environment and not learning the team game, compare that to somebody who is learning the team game almost exclusively within the team environment, and then doing the technical work on their own. You’ve already lost. You’re falling further and further behind the curve.

You want that situation inverted.You want in that team environment having your player learning the team game, with a sprinkle of individual skills, and outside the team environment, learning the individual skills stuff, on your own, with personal training, with your family and friends.

And then you’re set up to properly compete and move up the competitive levels.”

In my experience, most parents and kids without soccer background and about half with soccer backgrounds, expect the club environment to develop all the skills and team aspects.

Kleiban then describes in more detail the aspects of team play: “Tactics are about how are you going to play as a team and an individual player being able to understand how they fit into the team collective and what their decision-making is supposed to be.

When we talk about a style of play, each individual on the team has a specific role and what that means is that there is a set of correct and incorrect decisions for a particular position, and that player via communication with the coach needs to understand what is a correct decision for this style of play for that position and what is an incorrect decision, depending on the context of the situation that the player finds themselves in. So, if you’re right back and we are on the attack with the ball on the left side of the field, what should his or her position be like and why.”

I’ve seen coaches tell players that they need to work on their decision-making, but then do not give them examples of correct and incorrect decisions and why those are correct or incorrect. That, to me, is as useful as a coach yelling, “Play harder!”

Pranjic: “I hope what people take away from this is that soccer is not random. If your team is focusing most of its time on technical aspects, then in the game you’re watching is random soccer.”

Here’s the main reason I stopped coaching — the players would not do the work on their own. We’d train on team play, but they could not execute because their technical skills were so low and they did not care to improve it on their own. Then, we’d train on technical skills, but then they couldn’t consistently make good decisions and they’d play random. And it became apparent to me that if the kids wouldn’t do their part on their own, then the parents were just hiring a babysitter.

Regarding the topic of speed of play. “In the U.S. that phrase is interpreted to how fast the players and ball move, but what it really means is how quickly decisions are being made and how far in advance.”

One example from my coaching days was that kids would receive the pass, get it under control and then look up and start thinking about what’s next and anything and everything was an option. By the time they made a decision, they were losing the ball.

The team framework should move them to the place that they already know their 5-6 correct options before they receive the ball, in context of their position and the situation, and use the time they have to evaluate and execute the best one, while adding some deception to throw the other team off a bit.

Regarding playing on your own vs. “opposed playing”: Kleiben: “Let’s say you’re a 13 year old and going to the wall or the racquetball court and spending time with the ball, it’s almost a meditative practice where it’s you and your own mind. And it’s you developing your own mental fortitude in a different sort of way and saying hey, I’m going to improve X, Y or Z in my game without anybody else around.

If you want to improve your left foot, what better way than to be by yourself and doing a thousand different touches against a wall or more than a thousand and then grinding away and seeing every repetition as a success or failure as to how you wanted to stroke it, I think it’s just crucially important that you can’t get in a pickup, team or personal training environment.”

Bang for your buck: game time vs play time

Continuing with the theme of my previous post, if you see organized game time as the main way for players to improve, you’re making a bad investment.

You are making this investment if you ask your child’s coach, “How is she supposed to improve if she doesn’t get enough play time?”

Is a piano recital the only place a piano student improves?

Is a math student the only place to learn math?

You will get more bang for your buck to see piano recitals and math tests as ‘top of the pyramid’ exercises.

‘Top of the pyramid’ moments are meant to motivate effort in the middle and base layers of the pyramid to foster mastery.

In piano, lessons are the middle layer and self-practice is the base layer. In math, class is the middle layer and self-practice is the base. Without the base, recitals and math tests don’t go so well.

In soccer, games are the top of the pyramid, with practice in the middle and self-practice/play as the base layer.

Most kids who might miss a few minutes of their equal game time, get zero play time at home.

The best way to earn more game is with more play time.

Bang for your improvement buck: soccer and cycling

In my bicycle racing days, we giggled at newbies who showed up to a time trial with their shiny new top-end bikes that cost 5 times our entry level racing bikes.

Why? Because they didn’t yet know that 90% of your performance was determined by your training and 10% by your equipment. The best investment you could make was getting your butt in shape. That was worth minutes in a 10 mile trial, while the best equipment was worth seconds.

I see the same mistake made in youth soccer when parents want their kids in the best clubs but don’t think about the thing that’s about 10x more valuable: developing a love for the ball.

The best team will make a player 10% better. Developing a love for the ball will make them 100% better or more.

Bicycle racers are known snobs, but at least we let the newbies in on the secret after their dismal showing. Many responded by training their tails off and closing the gap.

It might help if more soccer folks were like snobby cyclists. Thinking back, I’m amazed that when I was a newbie soccer player in adult leagues and couldn’t trap, dribble or pass worth a hoot, not one soccer snob suggested that I go spend copious amounts of time with the ball.

Key message: Parents, if your kid doesn’t spend much time outside of team stuff working with the ball, don’t expect much. It’s not the club’s fault when they don’t become rock stars. Help your kids focus on the activity that has 10 times the return than just showing up to practice. Put that first, club second.

The most surprising thing about coaching kids soccer

Many things surprised me. But one really stood out.

Crazy parents? Poor refs? You can win so much by playing so wrong?

Those were surprising, but something even surpassed those.

I think it needs to be fixed to improve the quality of soccer in the U.S. all around and the top.

Okay…maybe I’m laying the BS on a little thick. But, I do think it would help.

I was surprised by how much gets in the way of kids improving.

I was even more surprised by how kids are their own worst enemies. Stupid me, I thought kids would want to get better. Nah.They want to be good already.

Kids avoid direct comparisons and overestimate their ability. “Yeh, Johnny can score goals, but I can take the ball from anyone!” They hear “good pass” as “you’re the best player on the team!” Egos are powerful and misleading.

That’s why crystal clear feedback should be the goal.

Our soccer system mucks up the feedback, too.

In this post I wrote about how pickup culture provides better feedback than organized teams, and strong soccer countries have a tightly interwoven pickup culture.

Here I wrote about how the sports clubs in strong soccer countries provide good feedback to kids in ways that our clubs do not.

Crystal clear feedback doesn’t mean telling kids they are terrible. It means giving kids a glimpse of where they should head, letting them know how far along they are and how they can move further. The posts above describes how pickup and clubs in other countries do just that.

Come to think of it, it bugged me as a coach how uncommon it was for the kids to praise or correct each other. They didn’t learn to do it in pickup and on a team, they figured that was the coach’s job. Yet, another area where they didn’t get the feedback they need.

Are you a gatekeeper or competition enabler?

If I were hiring a business manager, I would ask candidates to explain whether they view their role more as a gatekeeper for the organization or an enabler of competition?

Gatekeepers decide what the organization does and doesn’t do. They view themselves as the judge of the competition and their ideas usually win, at least in terms of what the organization does, not necessarily in the marketplace.

Competition enablers are open to let good ideas come from anywhere. They create systems that try more ideas and let the best ideas earn their way in our out.

They understand that customers are the best judge of this competition.

Leaders of highly innovative companies like Google, Amazon and even McDonald’s have tended to be competition enablers.

Mature businesses that struggle to stay relevant, tend to have gatekeepers in charge.

Think of Blockbuster as Netflix offered to partner with them. Blockbuster leaders could have easily said, you know this doesn’t seem like something customers would want, but let’s try it and see, because we could be wrong.

Instead, they acted as gatekeeper and said no, customers don’t want to wait for their movie to arrive in the mail. They want to be able to come in on Friday night and pick one out.

By the time they realized they were wrong enough, it was too late.

A common comeback to that is, but that Netflix deal was probably one of dozens of decisions Blockbuster faced and the rest didn’t work out. How would they be able to predict that this one would?

That’s the beauty of being a competition enabler. You don’t have to say no and worry about picking right or wrong.

You just have to ask, how can we try this so we can find out? Can we do it in a small test?

It’s a lot like picking stocks. You can do a lot of analysis and invest all your money in 2-3 stocks and hope for the best. But most folks learn that strategy banks more on luck than skill, because no amount of analysis can turn up information that simply isn’t known, yet.

A better strategy is to spread the bets out more, knowing you can always be wrong.

And, for every example that you can give of someone who did well picking 2-3 stocks, I can give you 10 more who did not.

I’ve worked for several mature businesses that struggle to stay relevant. The Board never realizes the root cause is that they keep hiring gatekeepers instead of competition enablers.

Another thought on the 1-in-10 chance of success

On Naked & Afraid, participants who take a lot of pride in their experience at fishing or hunting think they can beat the 1-in-10 odds of getting food. They might believe their experience and know-how improves their odds to the 1-in-3, for example.

In the business world, managers think they can similarly improve their chances of succeeding with their smarts and/or experience.

Neither are good at assessing odds.

Both are correct that their know-how does increase their odds, but it improves it to 1-in-10.

Someone without the same know-how might have even lower odds of succeeding, maybe 1-in-20 or worse.

How to succeed in a 1-in-10 world

In this post, I explained why I prefer business managers with a ‘1-in-10 innovation mindset’ over those with a linear innovation mindset.

Having the right innovation mindset is just the first step. Managers must also have strategies that translate that mindset into actions that result in growth. Asking about such strategies is fair game in an interview.

Another concept Adams introduces in his book, How To Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, is to favor systems over goals for everything in life like diet, exercise, investing and innovation.

For example, a good retirement investing system is to automatically invest 15% of your income. That beats a goal of, “I want to save $1 million for retirement.”

That can be applied to everything. Feel like you are stuck in a rut with the restaurants that you frequent? Make a system where you try one new restaurant per month. In a few short months, you are likely to discover new places to add to your rotation.

Innovation strategies in 1-in-10 world

The Bain & Co article I linked to in the original post, Navigating the Route to Innovation, offers some clues. Companies with more avenues for innovation grow more.

Ironically, the title of that article brings to mind the linear innovation mindset, as managers with that mindset tend to think of themselves as Clark Griswold plotting his family’s route to Wally World, in the movie Vacation.

But, the content implies a 1-in-10 mindset. In the following chart, from the article, it shows the percentage of experienced and new innovators that use various forms of innovation, with the experienced innovators having superior growth.

It’s clear that experienced innovators use more avenues to innovation and are much more active in incubators, ecosystem partnerships, grassroots innovation, venture capital, joint venture and accelerators than new innovators.

When interviewing business managers, I’d be looking for them to demonstrate their 1-in-10 mindset and that means building systems that increase their trial base of innovation and rely less on them for their ‘strategic visions’.

One way is to have multiple avenues for innovation, like the companies in Bain & Co’s article.

But, there are many more.

A long time ago, 3M famously gave their employees the freedom to pursue side projects and their hunches on company time, that resulted in successful products like Post-It notes. That’s grassroots and that’s a system.

Harvesting natural experiments is another way. I’m struck by how many people don’t notice the giant laboratory of variation that are naturally built into their businesses. Too often, they try to stamp out that variation, even when it doesn’t make sense, just because.

Often hidden in this variation are silver mines on ways to improve the business. They may not be gold mines that produce exponential growth for the firm, but can be filled with actions that make steady improvemenst that evolve the company in relevant directions.

I worked in HQ of one national chain where I rolled out a few of these ‘silver mines’. I mined them from the variation in field. When I visited the field, I often heard I was different than others from HQ. “They come out and tell us what to do. You ask questions.’

Others from HQ mistakenly believed that HQ’s plans were right (even the unproven sound-good edicts from executives) and felt the need to drive those plans into the field operations for consistency.

I often visited areas that were particularly good or bad at something. I visited to see if I could discover why and I often did. That system gave me a steady stream of ideas for tweaks I could make to systems and training within my control and even some things outside of my control. A couple resulted in successful national marketing programs, for example, even though I wasn’t a marketing person.

It also made me a valuable resource to folks in the field as they discovered that when they called me to solve a problem, I often had good ideas that I had harvested from others and had put under the microscope to see if there was something to them.

It worked. And, it was pretty simple. The biggest barrier to this approach are the many mindsets that work against it.

As I found over the years, people can reject productive ideas for a number of reasons. I’ll explore those in a future post.

To recap, if I were to hire business managers, I prefer folks with a 1-in-10 innovation mindset and those with good thoughts on how to build systems to find successful actions given those long odds.

Scott Adams should speak with Thomas Sowell

On his recent Periscope, Scott Adams offers basic strategies for success in life:

  1. Get a useful education
  2. Stay out of trouble
  3. Stay away from drugs
  4. Don’t become a parent too soon
  5. Build your talent stack
  6. Be useful to others
  7. Favor systems over goals
  8. Understand basic risk management

He hypothesized if we could categorize the population by people who follow these strategies and those who do not, and ignore the standard demographic categories like race and gender, that we’d likely see the difference.

In his book, Black Redneck White Liberals, Thomas Sowell (among other places) makes the same claim. I wrote about that back in 2013. I highly recommend the book. It changed the way I see the world.

1-in-10 vs linear innovation mindset

I’ve worked with a few companies that have the same problem that constrains growth: management overestimates the odds of innovations succeeding.

They tend to see innovation as a linear, strategically planned process that relies heavily on their, or a small group’s, expertise and keen eye for innovating the ‘right stuff.’

This vision constrains the efforts of their organization to about a tenth what it needs for sustainable growth, because innovation has a 1-in-10 of succeeding, no matter how smart or keen the innovators are.

1-in-10 is not exact. It might be 1-in-50 or 1-in-5, but the idea is understanding the order of magnitude of the odds you’re dealing with.

Some with the linear innovation mindset pay lip service to the 1-in-10 chances, but think they can improve on those odds. They might think good innovation is as simple as following the data or they simply forget their failures well and overestimate their chances.

In this post, I likened the 1-in-10 innovation mindset with the chances of obtaining food during the TV show Naked & Afraid’s primitive survival challenge.

Participants who understand their chances of getting food is 1-in-10 appear to do better than those who fall into the same traps as managers with the linear innovation mindset when it comes to getting food.

They might think their fishing skills, for example, will help them beat the odds. “I know the right places to fish.”

While they cast one hook at a time in the ‘right spot,’ the 1-in-10’ers set 10 hooks and check them each day.

Others lend support to this idea.

In the article, Navigating the Route to Innovation, Bain & Co says companies with a variety of innovation approaches grow more than companies that rely on fewer approaches.

In other words, the more ways a company opens itself to innovating, the better the chance of finding their 1-in-10’s.

Scott Adams, the Dilbert Guy, wrote in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, that we live in a reality where the odds of something new succeeding are 1-in-10. He uses his life as an example, writing about the many failures and a few successes that made his career.

I found it interesting that Scott’s “1-in-10” term is the same used by used by the successful Naked & Afraid participants about getting food, “I have to keep trying to get my 1-in-10!”

If I’m hiring a business manager, I’d look for someone with the 1-in-10 mindset.

In the next post I’ll use another one of Scott’s concepts, Systems vs. Goals, to illustrate how someone with the 1-in-10 innovation mindset can achieve sustainable growth.

Why do they hire people who do the same things as the people they just fired?

Honest question: Why do the folks who hire managers for mature companies hire people who do the same darned things as the people they just fired?

Does the hiring committee ask them what they plan to do?

If so, when the candidates answers, does anyone point out that the five predecessors did the same thing? Does the committee think they will do it better?

I think it may be because many on the the hiring committee know how to play politics, but don’t understand how business works.