Good advice for coaches and parents of soccer players from 3Four3 podcast

In this podcast, John Pranjic describes the importance of setting a culture for your team.

He describes an important first moment with the team (bold mine):

It’s the moment when you meet with your team for the first time. It’s your first opportunity to establish a proper team culture. It’s when you set the tone for the work that you will do together. And it’s a moment that becomes a reference point for you to come back to whenever necessary.

Having that reference point is great advice. But, what should you reference?

Quoting Brian Kleiban, a successful 3Four3 youth coach:

Brian introduced the players part of the deal. The two things that he says are non-negotiable. Two things that only they can control.

Players don’t control the quality of the field. They can’t control the actions of their teammates. They can’t control their opponents.

The only thing players have total control over are themselves. More specifically, players control their own level of focus and work ethic.

Just like the players cannot control the quality of the field – the coach cannot control the amount of effort a player puts into training. Only the player can.

This is an important reference point to set with parents, too.

Some parents work hard to find ‘great’ and motivating coaches, but fail to encourage their kids to put in the effort.

They think the coach will mold their child into a star, not realizing that how much effort the kid puts in is the biggest factor in that.

Coaches, like schoolteachers, can only do so much. The best teachers have had their share of C and D students. The best coaches have also had their share of flame-outs.

I also recommend setting the following reference points with parents:

  1. Questions about your child’s position and play time should sound like, “What does my child need to do to earn more play time/the chance to play a different position?”
  2. If you’d like to discuss subjects not related to your child — e.g. other players, what we work on at practice, team strategy — let’s first discuss how much effort your child puts in on and off the field.

For every conversation about a child’s effort, I’ve had 20 on other topics where more could have been accomplished discussing their child’s effort.

These reference points will help keep players, parents and coaches focused on the number one factor that will help the players — their own effort and work ethic.


Top-down v bottom-up: Part IV

Going back through my old posts, I realized I didn’t write the fourth installment to this set up of posts on top-down vs bottom-up.

Now I don’t have to. Nassim Taleb has written about it in his latest book, Skin in the Game.

In short, bottom-up systems work better over the long-haul because decision-makers have more skin-in-the-game for their decisions, which helps the system self-correct.

They pay the consequences for making poor choices and enjoy the benefits for making good choices.

That doesn’t prevent disasters. It’s not perfect. But, it’s better than a system that doesn’t self-correct.

It’s as simple as buying a cup of coffee. If you don’t think it was worth it, you try something else. You self-correct.

Top-down systems separates decision-makers from the direct benefits and costs of their decisions and often provides unrelated benefits for those decisions.

These systems don’t self correct as well as bottom-up systems.

Public schools are a good example.

Parents pay the price when schools are run poorly. The local politician who promises to ‘fix the schools’ by ‘giving them more money’ may enjoy the benefit of winning the election, which is unrelated to the benefit or cost of giving the schools more money.

The real cost of giving more money to a group of people responsible for a failing school is borne by the parents of the children at the school and the children themselves.

Giving more money to the people responsible for a failing school is like continuing to buy the cup of coffee that you don’t like. It’s not likely to self-correct.

The problem is, many parents may have voted for the politician promising more money for the schools because that sounds good. But, if they directly paid for schools, like they do for a cup of coffee, rather than give them more money, they would have opted to find a better school.

The money question: How much would you pay for a private Facebook?

If you thought your information was private, I have a bridge to sell you.

In yesterday’s Today Show interview with Savannah Guthrie, Savannah asked FB #2 Sheryl Sandberg what it would take to give folks the option of a fully private Facebook.

Sheryl said, “Well, that would be a fee-based option.”


So, how much would you pay for that? That’s the money question.

If your answer is ‘very little’, that demonstrates how little you value your privacy and you don’t have much room to complain about Facebook using your data, as every other ad-based company does, to target messages to you.

BTW, I thought it would have been funny if Sandberg had pointed out Guthrie’s hypocrisy, as The Today Show is also for-profit program that makes its money selling ads and uses as good of data as it can get its hands to attract advertisers and target their messages to its audience — exactly what Facebook does.

I wouldn’t be surprised if The Today Show or NBC also spends a fair amount on Facebook ads that use your information to better target its ad messages.

Seth Godin discovers the powers of exit and voice, but gets something gravely wrong

In this blog post, Seth Godin discovers the powers of exit and voice.

Coming to understand those powers is one of the inspirations of this blog, as you can read in the About section, where I explored why my parents chose to move to a different school district (exit), rather than try to change the one we were in (voice).

But, Seth goes off the rails here:

Capitalism ceases to be an efficient choice when those served have no ability to exit. For-profit prisons, for example, or cable monopolies. If you can’t exit, you’re not really the customer, and you are deprived, as a result, of voice.

Cable monopolies is not capitalism. They became monopolies through government regulation, which is not capitalism.

There may have been good reasons for that regulation (to keep right-of-ways from being clogged with cables) or not (that may have just been a convenient excuse cable companies used to limit competition).

Or both. See the Bootleggers and Baptists.

Whatever the case, we know the result. We were not happy with having just one cable provider, because that cable provider has little incentive to make us happy and frankly, can’t make us all happy, no matter how hard it tries.

Even with the most well-meaning folks running the company, it’s just tough to make everyone happy.

Enter the reason for competition. Competition gives us choices to make us all happier.

Folks seem to understand this when it comes to cable providers, but do not translate the lesson to things like schools, which have problems for the same reasons.

They often believe sending more money to schools will help solve those problems, but would bristle at the thought of sending more money to the cable monopolies to solve its problems.

In turns out, their bristling is the correct reflexive reaction in both cases. The answer isn’t more money. The answer is more power of exit, or competition.

Thankfully, through capitalism, technology is finding answers to provide more power of exit from cable monopolies, which are quickly starting to look like the Blockbuster Video of the twenty teens.

It’s also helping some with the school problems, but more can be done to lessen the school monopoly’s grip on their markets.

Folks don’t understand that the cable company problem and school problem are the same problem

I don’t understand Seth’s comment about for-profit prisons. Who does he think the customer is in that case? The prisoners?

The customers are the the government-entities that contract with them, just like when they contract with for-profit construction companies to build roads, sidewalks and buildings. The representatives of those entities have a right to exit if their needs are not being served.

Frankly, I think we need to look past the strict definitions of capitalism and government and think more in terms of top-down and bottom-up, as I wrote about here.

The ‘knives, forks and spoons’ basics of soccer

As a soccer coach, I see players and parents struggle with knowing which fundamentals to work on.

Parents and players see elite players do a scissors move and assume that’s what makes them elite. So, their player learns the scissors and wonders why she isn’t promoted to A team.

They’re missing the other 95% of what makes an elite player elite. It’s easy to miss because that 95% is the boring, simple basics.

It’s not flashy and doesn’t stand out, except to a knowledgeable eye.

What makes players eligible to be elite is the high level of consistency they’ve developed in recognizing and solving the game’s most basic problems.

Long ago, knives, forks and spoons solved a vast majority of basic food eating problems.

Many coaching manuals recommend letting kids figure out the game. This overestimates their ability.

That’s like hiding silverware from kids and hoping they will reinvent them. You’ll end up with teenagers eating chicken soup with their hands. It can be done. But, it’s dumb.

The authors of these coaching manuals see young players in soccer-playing countries learn the games on the streets and assume they ‘just figure it’ out by playing.

They miss that these players are taught the “silverware” basics of the sport by other, usually older, siblings, friends, parents, cousins, neighbors and by emulating the pros and local first teamers that they idolize.

That shouldn’t be a surprise since that’s how we learned a lot of what we know about baseball, basketball and football as kids. We didn’t just ‘figure it out’ without outside influence, just like we didn’t reinvent forks.

Our parents gave us forks and showed us how to use them, and through practice, the fork became a natural extension of our hands.

We also didn’t learn everything from playing organized sports. We learned some things from that, but I  learned more than 80% of what I knew about the sports above outside organized play.

So, what are the ‘silverware’ basics of soccer?

Adjust to receive ball, across body with inside of both feet, cleanly and can do a variety of things with that touch ranging from stopping the ball dead to playing in a 360 degree radius that is safe from oncoming pressure.

Pass ball in any direction with inside of both feet, with deception.

Use inside/outside/bottom of feet for dribbling, cuts and pulbacks to keep the ball close to them (a touch on the ball with every step) when they dribble and can move, turn and change speeds with the ball without thinking about it

Defend/tackle the ball, get between attacker and goal and stay there until ball is won, pass is made or partially covered shot is taken.

Protect the ball by shielding it with body and turning, moving away from pressure, dribbling laterally and diagonally instead straight at the goal

Talk — specifically, call for a pass and let teammates know if they have time or are under pressure.

Get open for passes.

Basic directional shot.

Basic directional drive/long pass.

Understanding basic roles of positions, options in those positions and their roles in executing basic patterns (e.g. switch through the back, play out of the back) and basics of ball movement (e.g. out away from goal in our third, to the middle in their third) and basic attacking options (e.g. direct, cross, through and give-and-go).

Anticipate what comes next.

I play soccer every week. I’ve developed the habit of going down this list to help me remember things that happened in the game that I need to work on.

I should also point out that these aren’t the only things necessary to be elite. These are basic table stakes.

For example, you also need to develop good first touch with outside, top and bottom of feet, thighs, chest and head.

But, those surfaces are used 10-15% of time combined, while you use inside of feet 85-90% of the time.

If you’re shaky on such a knife-and-fork skill, it looks to a soccer person like you’re eating chicken soup with your bare hands. You will hurt your team more than you help and won’t be near consideration for the A-team.

A-team coaches don’t want players who eat chicken soup with his or her fingers. That just creates a sloppy mess that someone else will have to clean up.

Attn: Soccer clubs/leagues — Simple alternative to participation trophy

I found this on Twitter recently and really like the idea. This is something ALL soccer clubs can start copying NOW!

In 2014, I wrote some thoughts about participation trophies. I still agree with that.

I would add a few things, now.

Participation trophies were meant to build self-esteem and keep kids playing sports whether they won or lost.

The intentions are good.

But, the best way to build self-esteem is to encourage players to build competency and mastery in the skills needed to play.

The best way to keep kids playing, whether they win or lose, is to teach them how to deal with wins and losses, while maintaining a competitive spirit, and use the feedback to improve.

Participation trophies have the unintended consequences of rewarding bare minimum effort and ignore the feedback provided by winning and losing.

When the time comes that winning and losing matters, they will be far behind and won’t know how to to deal well with winning or losing.

Here are a few more thoughts on what to do when giving out the Size 2 balls:

Give the balls out on the first day, not the last.

Set expectations with parents.

  • Tell parents how much time and effort it takes for the kids to gain skills. Consistency over the whole year is important. Be thinking in terms of months and years, not days.
  • Convince them to let their children play with the ball in the house.
  • Show them what their children can work on that’s fun, builds good skills and won’t break things — basic dribbling movements like Tom Byer suggests, 1v1 take-away, etc.
  • Sell them more balls. The more the better. Tennis balls are good, too.

A girl, her ball and a wall

From Be Like Ronaldinho by Lieke Martens (current Best FIFA Women’s Player):

My first memory in life is of my mum taking me to see my older brothers play. I couldn’t wait to run out onto the pitch myself, but I had to wait until I was 4 years old. So I’d take a small ball with me to play on my own. That’s how people in the village came to recognize me: the little girl who was always running around kicking the ball.

And when I say always, I mean always. When we got home from school at three o’clock, and my friends would go play with their Barbies, I’d play football with my brothers and their friends. They were all older than me, but they always let me join in. We just practiced and had fun. Even when I had nobody to play with, I still had my beloved ball — and a special companion.

A wall.

Good advice. HT: Tom Byer.