"A Summer Meeting"
by Alan Maher
I learned to follow the little voice about answering letters; I have never won that battle. What people believe they continue to believe. No letter changes an opinion or frame of mind. Never.
The topic for today is difficult, not because of letters but because of my position on the subject or subjects.
"Let us go then, you and I,
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Let us go and make our visit."
A very dear soccer friend asked me to revise the book list for the coaches trained at a regional and national level. A new bibliography. (I am working on it, as I write.) That is part one of my story.
I have been coaching at the high school varsity level for the last three years with an old friend. I took him to Holland to see what there was to see...and hear. He really enjoyed the visit. I have also burdened him with three large ring binders of articles about soccer. Some are mine; some are Dutch, including a few in Dutch. We spend recent fall seasons together. And then we are on the net or the phone the rest of the year.
We met for lunch Always a mistake. Two and one hours with all kinds of papers being written on and cast aside. And saved. Both kinds.
My friend had two concerns. He was part of a group training a select team for games in New York State competition. And he wanted to prepare for the fall high school program. In a little more than two hours we covered both subjects. Perhaps not comprehensively, but we did our best given the time restraints. We had been together for three years, and bear that in mind.
The immediate problem was the select team. Forty players from all over the place, who were being trained twice a week. For my friend's first practice only three of the forty player showed up with a soccer ball. (They were all told to bring a ball!)
He outlined what he had done and what he wanted to do for the future training sessions. At this point I am always a good listener. He showed me drills that he had done; he showed me drills that he wanted to use in the future. I listened and took notes.
Then he focused on a drill that we had seen in Holland. Feyenoord/Rotterdam. The drill worked well and the kids loved it. Then he mentioned a small sided game that I had told him about years ago. That did not work. Well, one of two is not too bad. (I will get back to that.)
Then he started talking about the coming scholastic soccer season in the fall. The usual problems. Little preparation before the first game. A short season with little training between games. Players attitude. The need for more intensity in practice. Big concerns. And playing many new teams. Not familiar to us. Plunged into the void. Perhaps.
I mention all of this because I see problems. We spent more than two hours of rather intense conversation. Did we really cover the real subject? Somehow I suspect that the real subject was never covered.
The real subject is not drills or small sided games. It is about the player's attitude and the philosophy of the coach. It requires more questions that drills or games. Or books and periodicals. Attitude. How to approach training and how to approach the game. That is why I frequently refer to John Wooden. Not the transfer of a basketball drill to the soccer field, but the approach and attitude of the coach. To any sport. I have done this before. Stress on the importance of practice. Intense practice. We finally agreed after three years that the practice session needed to be more intense. Then the games are fun. There is a choice. The players make the choice. The coach helps them make the correct one.
To review some problems with the whole conversation.
I would tell the players who came without a ball that they will be sent home. They never forget their shin guards, so why forget a ball? It is a series of games for them. They get to flash the New York warm-up all over the place. Articles in the papers. And photo opts to be sure. Do you want to play in the games? Then bring a ball to practice. That simple.
The drill that worked; It worked for the wrong reason! It required one player at a time to step off the playing field. Then an other player would step on to the field. The purpose was to stress place changing, but the players thought that it was to give them a rest. (How about that for attitude!) I cannot accept something that works if it works for the wrong reason. Really.
The game that did not work, did not work because there was no buildup or progression to the game that needed to be played. Begin with a smaller numbers and begin at a two-to-one ratio. Three to one, four on two, five on two, six on two, then six on three. Then continue to add defenders and add rules to keep the thing going well. Movement and success. Attitude.
You do not need a book to do that. Forget the drill books and find one that gives a philosophy or attitude. I go to Holland every summer to get in the head of a great coach. I do not waste time flitting from store to store looking for the holy grail. The perfect drill book. There is no such thing.
Develop an approach or attitude to the game and practice. What I call a philosophy. Let the books fill in the details of your program and do not let the books become your program. Your program comes first.
"What we call the beginning is often the end
T. S. Eliot was my kind of soccer coach. He really knew the game. Read
again, slowly what he wrote:
So start where you want to finish; finish where you wanted to start. As my Dutch friend said, "Zo zimple!" And it is.
If you have any question for Alan let us know and he will answer them in our next issue!!!
Ask him about his manual (with many 'new' games) called,