Posts About ‘soccer’

How a Simple Approach to Coaching Won a World Cup for Japan

Monday, August 1st, 2011

What struck me the most about the Women’s World Cup Final Championship Game recently was a subtle yet sophisticated coaching technique that many never got the opportunity to witness or truly appreciate.

What many saw and took away from that game was an American team that dominated for long stretches, missed numerous opportunities, yet pulled ahead twice with dramatic goals.  Many also witnessed a Japanese team that never gave up, never panicked, and capitalized on the U.S. team’s mistakes.

What was not surprising was how unsophisticated the main stream press has been covering this Championship.  Most references were made to the so-called ‘choke factor’ after the US Team missed three penalty kicks, rather than a simple but effective coaching technique that was visibly shown just prior to the start of the penalty kicks.

As the two teams prepared to take those critical kicks, the US Team huddle around Head Coach Pia Sundhage, who did a fantastic job directing this team throughout the tournament, and you could see the concern on the team’s faces.  They were uptight, most likely still filled with thoughts that they twice let the game ‘get away’ from them and shouldn’t be in this situation.

On the opposing side you had a strikingly different appearance of emotions.  The Japanese Team, led by their Head Coach, Norio Sasaki, displayed a technique that was brilliant.  Sasaki was laughing, smiling, clapping his hands, demonstrating to his team that he & the team should “enjoy the moment”.  By employing that technique, Sasaki in essence was telling his team, look what we’ve done, feel the excitement of the crowd around us, this is the moment we’ve dreamed about, don’t worry about it, go out and enjoy it!

What’s often missed in coaching at all levels is the fact that sports are full of stressful moments for athletes. Rather than allowing the stress of a critical moment worry your team, and at times almost physically and mentally paralyze it, a coach should be lightening the load and actually encouraging everyone to have fun!  The US Team as a result most likely carried self-doubts in their minds, they were tight, not enjoying the moment.

The Japanese Team were free of doubt, because they were focused on the moment, you could see it on their faces, they went out to have fun.

In an earlier article this year titled “Taking Fun Seriously“,I wrote about how the world’s best Snowboarders, Skateboarders, Motocross, BMX riders, etc all mention “fun” as an integral part of their performance.  They explanation is, if there not having fun they’re not going to perform well.  When your having fun, you’re relaxed yet focused, and more apt to perform to your utmost ability.

Digital Dads Week in Sports: Gamecocks Two-Peat College World Series

Friday, July 1st, 2011

I know not everyone can be as big of a baseball fan as I am. I love every aspect of the game, from the pitching to the hitting to the defense and strategy. I love the statistical depth to the analysis of the sport and hell, I love watching it. I know that’s tough to swallow because at times it can be boring, but if you were watching the College World Series from start to finish, it wasn’t boring at all. There was all the drama of a full series, even though it was a double elimination bracketed tournament. South Carolina became the first team to go undefeated in the tournament since Miami in 2001. Dating back to last year’s CWS, they were on a 16-0 playoff streak.

This might not be impressive to some, but the final in this years College World Series was against Florida. Florida has shown strong offense all year long, which is what got them to the series in the first place. They never seemed to falter against strong pitching, but seemed to have trouble against the Gamecocks in the final, especially against Michael Roth in game 2, as he was in clear control of the game. The standout was second baseman Scott Wingo, who was named most outstanding player. He had the winning run earlier in the tournament against Texas A&M, and made absolutely outstanding defensive plays in the extra innings game one against Florida, saving the game for the Gamecocks.

“We might not be the most talented team, but I wouldn’t play with any other people,” said Wingo. “We’ll straight up fight you, and for you to beat us, for somebody to take our title, they’re going to have to take it from us and just beat us. They didn’t do it. Everybody turned it up a notch. It’s awesome.”

It was awesome, and exciting to watch. Roth echoed the sentiments felt by Wingo about it being a team effort, even though at times it did seem singular. “We’re not the most talented team, and we don’t have the best players position for position,” Roth said, “but we go out and stick together as a team. We battle. I can’t describe it. We’re a bunch of average Joes and love each other and come out and battle.” For the record, Wingo has been drafted by the Dodgers, an 11th round pick.

What’s most interesting about the College World Series this year, aside from the brand new TD-Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha, was the new bats. The new bats are deader than they used to be, so they have less pop. College uses aluminum bats, and they tend to make the game feel like slow pitch softball. The new design made the game a bit more like baseball should be as far as the contact and hitting. This is evident from the drop in batting average during the regular season, from .305 in 2010 to .282 in 2011. Home runs were down almost half, and scoring was down as well. This is a good thing for college ball though, as it was more of a hitters game, than a pitchers game. The series was all pitching. Even though Florida lost both games, excellent pitching along with run support brought them to the championship game.

Congrats to the Gamecocks, and I look forward to next years series. If you have a college near you, make sure you go check out the baseball games. It’s usually pretty cheap and makes for a good weekend afternoon with the family.

U.S. Women Start off with a Bang

Probably the only women’s sport that I’ll watch besides beach volleyball (for obvious reasons) is the FIFA Women’s World Cup. While I haven’t had the chance to watch any matches this year, as it’s being played in Germany, the women are already off to a good start. By that I mean the American team of course. While the Men’s team struggles in North American matches, the women’s team still manages to make the men look like chumps. They started off the tournament with a big win over North Korea, blasting them 2-0.

The game opened a bit sloppy, but the Americans were able to get their shit together and put two goals in the net. There is no reason to think that this team won’t be contending for a third world cup championship, as they are a strong team with a veteran foundation. The key for the women is going to be keeping their emotions in check – go figure – throughout the tournament. Once they get a lead, they tend to get a bit cocky, and the opposite is true when they are playing from behind. This team plays best in tight matches, when they can better control the pace of the game.

Part 2: Lack of Athletic Creativity = A Missed Opportunity to Excel

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Last week I wrote the first of a series of blogs on “Athletic Creativity”.

It stirred many responses and comments, while many liked the article some thought I was criticizing team sport athletes for their lack of creativity. I can assure you I was not criticizing team sport athletes. My point was, youth team sports need to do more to develop creativity in our young athletes. This is a sentiment that many high level college coaches have expressed to me over the past 5 to 10 years. Many college coaches consistently spend too much time trying to deprogram incoming freshman to become less robotic and command driven, and more open to experimenting with what they’ve learned.

Last week I wrote: “Creatively there is no question that a young action sport athlete has a tremendous advantage over a young team sport athlete. Unfortunately, unlike action sports, team sports don’t emphasize improvisation, where freestyle execution of skills are frowned upon and often not allowed by coaches. Action sport athletes have the freedom to learn and develop on their own, through their own style and creativity. Team sport athletes are robotic, waiting to be told what to do, stymied through a right and wrong way to execute skills.” This week let’s look at several different ways to incorporate the development of creativity into team sports.

One of the main reasons kids struggle with their athletic creative development is the fact that they spend less time outside with their friends playing, experimenting, and replicating or mimicking great athletic plays they’ve witnessed on television, the internet, etc. Many of us did this growing up, you’re in the driveway by yourself, and there’s 3 seconds left, you pull-up beyond the 3 point line, you shoot ….. IT”S GOOD!!! If we’re not giving kids enough time to go out and play with their free time, then it’s time to bring that to organized practices.

Simple Examples to Develop Athletic Creativity


A drill I use to conduct with my little league team when we’re working with outfielders to track and catch balls hit into the gap was a simple but fun QB/WR Drill with a baseball and gloves. After practicing the fundamental basics of catching a routine fly ball we have players go out for passes into a large marked end zone, entering either from the right or from the left. Points were achieved for every ball caught in the end zone that they chased down. If they caught a ball while diving for the ball they received bonus points. The magic behind this drill was that it was fun, kids wanted to do it repetitively, and it forced them to execute catching a ball outside their comfort zone of a routine catch. They also had to creatively adapt, they improvised and free-styled their way into catching the ball. They were preparing themselves for any type of situation that may occur on the field, while building their confidence that they could successfully make dramatic and difficult plays.


The process in the drill just described above is one that skate and snowboarders use all the time. They work on the basic fundamentals while also mixing in fun challenges that increase the degree of difficulty and force themselves to visualize and think through how to best execute that skill or trick. The same can be used in team sport athletic skill training. Let’s take for example a soccer team working on their shooting skills. The team begins by working on some basic shooting drills and the fundamentals of correctly striking a soccer ball. Then in order to raise the level of difficulty and enhance the interest of everyone practicing the drill, you ask the team to attempt to bend the ball around objects, in order to hit a target. The next progression would involve moving the players to a position between a goal and the corner kick spot on the field but slightly behind the end line. Though this type of shot would never be allowed in a game, it presents a challenge that emphasizes the need to bend the ball into the goal, forcing them to visualize and think through the best execution of how to achieve bending a shot. After a player successfully places this type of shot into the goal you move that player 3 to 6 feet further back and away from the end line. Each player continues to move back, with the player who scores from the furthest distance back winning the competition. Then repeat from the other side.

Though maybe considered an unorthodox drill, it is the type of creative challenge that captures the imagination of an athlete and reinforces the skill into their muscle memory and can be pulled up much easier when the time comes to execute the skill of bending a ball around a wall of defenders or a goal keeper.

These are only a few examples of creative methods to apply to learning fundamental athletic skills. I will continue to provide other examples as this series continues over the next several weeks. I would also love to share creative drills that you have used, you saw a coach use, or you experienced when you participated.

Solving the issues in youth sports needs to be a conversation that we all participate in as we witness and experience different things that happen on our children’s playing fields. I look forward to hearing more of your great insight into this subject as well!

Digital Dads Week in Sports: I Didn’t Pick Her Up at No Playground

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Ochocinco met Real Madrid and got the soccer bug. (Image: MLS)

So after being lazy last week with only posting my NCAA picks, you are probably wonder how I did? Well, in a poll with a bunch of school teachers and my 10 year old, I’m dead last. He’s in sixth place. Really though we’re not too far apart, but my final four is already busted. Ah, such is life. Thankfully the ten year old didn’t get them all correct, because I told him that I’d give him $100 if he got every single one correct. I don’t have $100. C.C. only pays me in week old corned beef sandwiches.

Whose Jersey are you Wearing?

According to sales of MLB jerseys, Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer have the most bought and worn jerseys. This is easy to believe due to the popularity and consistency of both players. It’s no mystery that the Yankees would find themselves at the top of jersey sales. Even down here in South Florida, there are generally more Yankees fans at Rays games than Rays fans. Kind of sucks, but that’s the way it is. The best part of this list is that the next three best selling players are all Phillies. Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee round out the top five. As for Lee, his Rangers jersey accounted for a portion of his total.

Here’s my theory on jersey’s and why I only have three. I have one Indians jersey with no name on the back, which is the best kind of jersey. Aside from that I have two Carl Crawford jerseys. One classic Devil Rays jersey, and one new one. Hopefully I’ll be burning those soon as he is now playing for the Boston Red Sox. The point is, with free agency it’s hard to buy a jersey and keep it for more than a year. Which is probably why most of the best selling jerseys are from players who have been with their team for a while. There is nothing worse than buying a jersey (say a Brady Quinn Browns jersey) then seeing that player leave the next year. These things aren’t cheap, not by a long shot. Even the cheap ones aren’t cheap. Which is why I suggest just buying a no-name one for your team.

Aside from the jerseys, officially licensed MLB merchandise reached an all-time high in 2010, up over six percent the year before. This is good news for MLB as a whole, who is still regaining fans that were turned off within the steroid era – as it’s now referred to. However, I’m still not spending hundreds of dollars on an article of clothing anytime soon, especially for the Rays who dumped half their staff last year. Sure, I could go out and buy a David Price jersey, but will he even be with the Rays next year? Who knows?

Speaking About Steroids…

This just won’t go away. A much thinner looking Barry Bonds is currently dealing with his perjury trial, you know, for the lying. Well, a star witness has testified that he saw Barry Bonds and Greg Anderson (trainer) coming out of Bond’s bedroom carrying a syringe. Witness Steve Hoskins, a childhood friend of Bonds, claims that his testimony and the recording of conversations was only to help Bonds, who he was truly worried about, even at one point contacting Bobby Bonds about Barry’s steroid abuse. As a baseball fan who followed Barry’s career from his skinny years with the Pirates to his shoulders on shoulders years with Giants, the dude was using steroids.

Proving it is going to be the problem, proving he lied about it is going to be even more difficult. Sure, Anderson walked out of the bedroom holding a syringe, but perhaps they were just doing heroin. Or maybe Anderson was feeling a bit diabetic. Plus, rich people do weird things. If I was rich, I could totally see injecting pure caffeine right into my bloodstream instead of drinking coffee. Actually, I’d probably shoot for straight up opium. The point is, well, I sure hope that this testimony helps convict Bonds. He was a steroid abuser for sure, and should serve as a prime example as to why steroids are bad. As if the testicle shrinkage isn’t enough proof.

Ochocinco Plans to Actually Play Futbol

This week Ochocinco has been hanging out with Sporting Kansas City, the Major League Soccer team based in Kansas City. Obviously. With about ten times the normal press expected at a MLS tryout, Ocho was a bit winded after practice. Chances are, he’s not going to make the team as he’s not in the right kind of shape for futbol. He’s a sprint runner, running fades and sprints in short intervals, not the whole game. 45 minutes with no rest might be a bit much for the NFL veteran. However, if he does make the team, he said he’ll play for free. Here’s the thing, whether he makes the team or not, they should bring him on anyway. Sure, it’ll keep some young kid from making the team but can you imagine what it will do for attendance? Merchandise sales? It would be a freaking boon for the team. Plus, it’s MLS and as it is, this is the most anyone has cared about MLS in quite a long time.

Upsets Abound in NCAA Tournament

Let’s talk upsets in the NCAA tournament. Really, it wouldn’t be March Madness without the madness part. While my brackets weren’t busted, they certainly were bruised because I picked very few upsets. It started over in the Southwest bracket with Richmond upsetting Vanderbilt in dramatic fashion, and Morehead State tossing Louisville aside. Then, USC beat Georgetown and went on to beat #3 seeded Purdue to work their way into the Sweet Sixteen. How about them apples? Over in the West, Arizona beat Texas to advance to the sixteen. While not a major upset, it still was surprising to a lot of folks, especially those who had Texas winning it all.

My final game is Ohio State vs. Pittsburgh. So when Pitt got bushwhacked by Butler, I nearly crumpled my brackets up and aimed for the trash can. Notre Dame losing to Florida State was also a bit of surprise, but it wasn’t completely unexpected. It’s something I can deal with. So now we come to the Sweet Sixteen, where teams like Richmond are in for a rude awakening. Sure, they could keep rolling, but they are going up against Kansas. Do you really think Kansas is going to roll over for Richmond? I don’t think so. However, it’s March Madness. Anything could happen.

LT Now a Sexual Predator

Lawrence Taylor, one of the greatest players to ever grace the NFL, has managed to completely tarnish his legacy. You think Brett Favre’s dick pictures were bad? LT is a sexual predator. You all know the story, but what does LT think about all this?

“I didn’t pick her up at no playground. She wasn’t hiding behind the school bus or getting off a school bus. … That’s not my M.O. I’ve been around kids and people all my life. I’m not the cause of prostitution. And sometimes I make mistakes and I may go out there . . . This is a working girl that came to my room. And I don’t know what her age was. I asked her age. She told me she was 19. It is what it is.”

So the hooker you picked up was underage. Yes LT, that makes it 100% better. All this bad behavior by ex-stars of the NFL, NBA, MLB and so on, and yet Pete Rose is still not in the hall of fame. What the hell?

The Worldwide Trouble with Youth Sports: Apathy, Poverty, & Soccer

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

(photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images)

As I traveled through the United Emirates, South Africa and Cairo, Egypt I found several striking things that they all had in common as it applied to youth sports: a sense of frustration, poverty, and soccer.

South Africa is a beautiful country that exemplifies the best conditions for an outside active lifestyle. The weather is warm, the sun shines often, and they take their sports seriously. Though I witnessed many kids playing outside, many residents told me they play only a select number of sports due to their lack of access, or introduction to a wider variety of other activities. Their sports of choice are soccer, rugby (for some), tennis, & water sports.

Egypt, a country steeped in ancient history, unfortunately has 90% of it’s population living in poverty, leaving little opportunity for a majority of kids to experience a quality active lifestyle. Their dominant sport is soccer, played by many in the streets, with little access to many other sports or activities due to the expense and lack of exposure to other activities.

United Emirates love to watch all types of sports from soccer to golf, tennis, motor sports, horse racing, cricket, rugby, etc., yet they participate in very few. The majority of active participants are “foreign transplants”. Many I talked to claimed it was the heat that prevents kids from being as active as they should be, therefore they stay inside. But a closer look unveils that it is quite pleasant 6 months out of the year.

The three most common reasons I believe such a large number of kids are inactive worldwide is as follows:

All three areas of the world that I traveled had a high percentage of inactive kids. Many people in these countries are critical of the younger generation’s “laziness”, a subject that frustrates older generations and leads to apathy. Like our parents, we often approach and attempt to solve our children’s problems without sometimes fully understanding the contemporary world kids are growing up in today. We must respect their fast paced world of information flow, and technology, in order to fully understand how their minds work and how they’re motivated to play and be active.

All three countries have an issue with poverty, but no one quite has it like Egypt. Many Egyptians explained to me that children would love to play different sports yet they cannot afford the equipment, or access other activities (such as the water/beach, lessons, equipment etc.). The poorer areas of both South Africa and United Emirates made similar claims.

Now I do believe that soccer is a great sport to play. I like soccer, and have nothing against the game. Outside the United States the love & obsession for the game, and the easy access to play anywhere, have made the sport the most popular in the world. At each stop along this Middle East and African tour I found dozens of soccer games on television throughout the day. They live & breath soccer, but there lies the problem. The love and obsession they have for the game of soccer has actually harmed each generation that has grown up with the sport. Many people in every country I visited pointed out that “There’s too much soccer, that’s all kids play.”

One of the main reasons I’m in these countries is to introduce kids to athletic development through different sport disciplines. If soccer is one of the only sports and athletic activities that you partake in, it can create generations of one dimensional athletes. When you ignore the development of the upper body and how it coordinates with lower extremities, you create generations of imbalanced athletes. And from a kid’s viewpoint, if you don’t provide the experience of variety, or options to participate in other activities, many lose interest in remaining active for the rest of their lives.

Now solving these issues would involve the large undertaking of changing lifestyles and culture. Something that won’t happen overnight. However if these countries ever want to reverse obesity, and turn kids into active individuals, they may seriously want to consider introducing individual type sports.

(photo by Indigo Skate Camp)

One sport that comes to mind and has limited expense, can be accessed in many different places, and develops many important athletic/movement skills, is skateboarding. If you have pavement or a hard surface, and can access a board, helmet and pads, you can skate on the streets for years learning tricks, developing agility, balance, coordination, strength & stamina.

The other sport that balances the athletic development of the upper with the lower body is tennis. The access of tennis rackets and balls would allow kids to again play on any hard flat surface, and even small space areas against walls. The tennis industry would be well served to introduce the sport in the same manner soccer has throughout the world in small spaces on streets worldwide.

Different cultures around the world need to leave their comfort zone and the familiarity of what they grew up with and try new things if they want younger generations to lead healthy, active lifestyles. The same holds true for the United States. We must expose kids to many different sports and activities, then provide access through our schools, communities, and at home.

The shoe cables a repent reward near the visible.