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Build a Strong Team Culture toCreate a Winning Environment
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
The Soccer Coach’s Blueprint
Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2018
All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including the translation rights. No part of this work may be reproduced–including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means–processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.
© 2018 by Meyer & Meyer Sport
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Member of the World Sports Publishers’ Association (WSPA), www.w-s-p-a.org
CHAPTER 1The Vision
CHAPTER 2Follow the Process
CHAPTER 4Practice Sessions
CHAPTER 5Game Day
CHAPTER 6The Roles of the Players
Academy Soccer Coach
To my wife Tammy. You have made me who I am today. You are the strength and rock of the family. You are the best wife, mother, and friend I could ever wish to have. I love you with all my heart.
To my children, Megan, Emily, Ryan, Quinn, and Ally. I try to be the best I can be. I try to teach you valuable lessons that will help you through life. I am so proud of you all and love you so, so much.
To my two sisters back in Bolton, England. We have gone through some tough times after losing Mum and Dad, but we have come together stronger. I love you both.
To all my ex-teammates. My coaching style has come from you guys. I have learned from every team member that I played with. A lot of credit goes to the Johnson Fold Strollers, a group of players that epitomized team work.
To all the staff at Preston North End FC, especially Gary Peters. You gave me the platform to fall in love with coaching and player development.
A special thanks to everyone at Foothills Soccer Club, Oregon. We implemented a blueprint and watched the players grow. I learned so much and it was great to see a plan come together.
As a child, I loved soccer. I would finish my homework at recess so that when I got home, I could have dinner and then get out on the soccer field. Rain or shine (it was mostly rain) I played with my friends or, if my friends were not playing, I would go out and kick the ball against a wall. I had a great imagination, and when I was kicking the ball against the wall, it was just like I was at Anfield, playing for the mighty Liverpool FC. My soccer imagination was a hindrance when it came to school work. All I ever thought about was the beautiful game. While studying math, English, and science, I was consumed by the thought of playing professional soccer. The time my mind was more at ease was during PE. We always played soccer or ran cross country in our PE classes, so I was way more focused when it was time to exercise.
I grew up in Bolton, Lancashire and became a loyal Bolton Wanderers supporter. My father was a Liverpool fan and was disappointed when I jumped ship to support the Wanderers. I thought it was the right thing to do to help my local team. It became an obsession. I had some great moments supporting the Wanderers. The one that sticks in my mind was the 1995 playoff final that the Wanderers won 4-3. Reading went 1-0 up after four minutes, Nogan with the goal. Williams made it 2- 0 within 12 minutes. Lovell missed a penalty for Reading on 34 minutes, and that was the turning point. Bolton scored a 75th-minute goal to give them hope and, with four minutes to go, De Freitas scored the leveler for the Wanderers. Bolton went 3-2 up in extra time, Paatelainen scored on 105 minutes, and De Freitas scored the Wanderers’ fourth goal on 118 minutes. The Reading player-manager Quinn scored a late goal to finish the game 4-3, and ultimately Bolton was promoted to the Premier League. I remember feeling so happy! I was also learning about persistence and teamwork. The Wanderers showed great character that day, and I remember thinking how the coach must be feeling. By this time in 1995, I had already had two opportunities to make a professional team. One was with Bury FC, and the other was with Oldham Athletic, and both times I was unsuccessful. I thought that if I couldn’t make it as a professional soccer player, then I wanted to be an expert soccer coach. When I watched soccer games on TV, I always got frustrated when the man of the match was always the guy that scored; he would do nothing all game and then score the winner. I thought the real man of the game was the central defender who tackled well, never lost a header, and barely gave the ball away to the opposition. The next day at work, all my colleagues would be talking about the goal scorer. “Rubbish!” I would now start a debate. “How can someone get man of the match when they only touched the ball twice?”
One of my work colleagues ran a local U11s team in Ramsbottom, Bury, and he asked if I would like to help. I was 25 and thought that even though I was still playing, I wanted to start my coaching career early so that when I finished playing soccer, I would already have about six years of experience as a coach. I had such a great time with the group. I then became a scout for Oldham Athletic. I traveled the northwest of England looking for players that could make the grade as a professional soccer player.
In 1996, I got my big break. Preston North End FC hired me as an academy coach. I was thrown in at the deep end, and I was assigned as head coach of the U16 boys team. I told the club I was not qualified to run the group as I only had my UEFA C license at the time but that I would like to be an assistant. “We don’t have anyone else to do it,” said the technical director at PNE, “It’s all on you.”
I thought it was unprofessional for a rookie to be coaching the U16 boys at PNE FC. Not only was I inexperienced, but I was also too young to be given a group of players that only had one year left before a decision would be made about them becoming professional soccer players. I was shocked at the lack of professionalism at the club. That all changed when Gary Peters took over. He was a great mentor for me. I approached him and asked about becoming an assistant coach. He placed me with Ged Starkey, an A license coach who was a good teacher with a great personality. Ged allowed me to have an input and also gave me opportunities to run some practice sessions. After the practices, we would talk about how the practice went, what I did well, and any improvements needed. I look back on those days with fond memories. Gary restructured the staff and the academy. He put together a group of faculty that were humble and authentic. We had one of the most influential youth programs in the northwest of England. After two years with Ged, I was ready to be a head coach. I’ll never forget the moment Gary spoke to me about it. He said that I had something that he wished he had: a great connection with people and the players. That was my strength; there is more to coaching than just getting the players to play.
Coaching involves lots of different aspects, and every coach has strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to learn as much as I could about soccer development. I studied the game every single day (and I still do). My obsession to play professionally had now moved to the coaching side.
I wanted more. I was learning a lot, but I felt I needed to understand the game even more. I wanted to travel and experience more cultures. Two opportunities presented themselves: one in New Zealand and one in the United States. In 2003, I headed to the US. I started off in Virginia. In a country where soccer was probably fourth in popularity behind football, baseball, and basketball, I came across lots of players that never really watched soccer on TV. Sure, the kids loved the game; they loved it for that 90 minutes of practice. After practice, though, youth in America have plenty of opportunities to do other things.
Their only improvement would have to come from three hours of practice a week and the game at the weekend. During my time coaching in Virginia, I coached at eight soccer clubs. I had no communication with any of the technical directors of these clubs. They never once came to me with a blueprint for the club. Nothing! In 2008, I moved to Oregon and started working with a local club. After coaching my team for a few months, I asked them about a development plan for their coaching staff.
Their response? “You don’t understand soccer in Oregon.” It was then that I realized that not many clubs in the US have a development plan—hence the reason for writing this book.
I hope this book will encourage you to create a culture of development and learning. This blueprint will take you on a development journey. I have remembered all my past experiences: I remember some of my old coaches that had no authenticity, I remember the practice sessions being fitness only, boring and unproductive. These thoughts helped me to become a better coach. Young players thrive on having an authentic coach. They crave structure, honesty, and fun. This blueprint works for all ages and levels of ability. We want to keep the most active child occupied. We want players to be at your practice sessions and to tell their parents, “I want to play soccer!”
The system is successful. We define success by development. We should not coach results. We look at performance. This book will improve your coaching style and your players.
The first part of building a culture is your vision. Turn your desire to become a great role model and leader into actions. You need to look at the long-term goal of your club or team. You need to focus on the performances both at practice sessions and at the games. When the environment you are in is committed to learning, then the winning will take care of itself. The vision can start with a mission statement, a statement that emphasizes your beliefs and goals. A mission statement is not merely a description of a soccer club by an external party, but an expression, made by its leaders, of their desires and intentions for the soccer club. The purpose of a mission statement is to focus and direct the organization itself. It communicates primarily to the people who make up the soccer club: its coaching staff and its members. It gives everyone a shared understanding of the club’s intended direction. Your mission statement and your playing philosophy are promoted within the club. You should also mention on the club website that you do have a development plan.
You will be able to judge your performance from the players’ (and parents’) reactions. Players can quietly let you know how they feel about your performance as a coach. If you start with twenty players at practice and in a few weeks it’s down to ten, then something is going wrong. There are many other ways to judge how you are performing—don’t be too quick to blame the players. More often than not, you are the one who picked the team and now you have to coach them!
I have worked with a few coaches that refused to follow any plan, and I can honestly say that their teams did not improve. The teams stayed in the same low division, and the players did not look like they understood the game. When you do not have a process on development, you will not see improvement.
When implementing a club blueprint, you need loyal, hard-working people by your side. When I sat down with coaches that wanted to join my club, I had an open mind. I took the club blueprint with me and was excited to talk soccer. While I was in conversation with a potential coach, I was thinking:
•Where can this person take me?
•Am I being inspired by listening to this person?
•Is this person capable of encouraging young players to give it their best effort?
•What is their body language when I show them the blueprint?
•How can I inspire them to commit?
•Is this person capable of following the plan and also adding some of their experiences to it?
Sample Mission Statement
Our goal is to develop well rounded children who will understand:
•The game of soccer – All aspects of the game
•Teamwork – Knowledge and awareness
•Work ethic – Speed and mobility
•Discipline – Courage and bravery
•How to win – Technical and tactical awareness
•How to lose - Mental toughness
•Fair play – Character
•Enjoyment – Kids who have fun in soccer try harder, perform better, and stay involved longer
Understanding your mission statement and following through on it are so important when building a team culture. Everyone involved has to share this vision. Your core values have to be included in your statement. You cannot just write something down because it looks good on paper. You have to really believe in what you are doing. As you can see, the above statement does not just include soccer skills, it also involves life skills. You can learn valuable life lessons from sports. Yes, you want to teach the players how to play the game, but you also want them to learn how to treat others and to understand work ethic. If a player is working hard and they feel and see their self-improvement, then the player will be on board with your teaching process. Players thrive on structure and guidelines. If the guidelines are not followed by the coach, then the coach will lose the respect from the players and they will feel cheated.
The game of soccer – You are teaching the players excellence. Yes, you allow them to play and learn from their mistakes, but you also have to guide them along. Times have changed. I became a decent soccer player by playing on the streets and with friends. If I had worked with a coach to learn more about the game, I would have been a much better soccer player. Game intelligence is key to building a club culture. Players need to feel like they are improving. If players do not get a sense of self-improvement, they will move to another team or sport. You will not be able to create a team culture if you keep losing players every year.
Teamwork – Picking the best players does not necessarily mean you will have the best team. The All Blacks—the most successful rugby team in the world—have a motto on building a team: “Better people make better players.” They recruit players that fit into their team. This is why Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots were (and are) so successful. Their vision of what a team should look like never wavered. If any player disrupted that teamwork, they were kicked off the team, no matter what skill sets they had. This book is similar to that approach. Before you kick a player off the team, try to find out about their background. Communicate with the player and let them know that your job as the coach is to help them. If they continue to work against the team philosophy, then you will have no choice but to let them go. The strength of the team as a whole is the decisive factor in determining the outcome.
Comparing the above professional teams to your team may seem like comparing apples and oranges, but when it comes to teamwork, you should be mimicking the process of the aforementioned teams.
Team building is a product of the coach’s credibility. The coach must be honest and must be a good teacher. He or she needs to communicate the vision to the players and have realistic targets while building for the future. For the coach to reach the maximum potential of the team, he or she may need to work on two or three priorities to get the group moving forward.
Good communication is a way of perfecting team building; it creates the right atmosphere for players to learn. In your practice sessions, you will communicate the exercise and demonstrate, then watch your players solve the problems.
There will be a pecking order within the team. The team leader must be one that is respected by all the players. They must also have a close relationship with the coach. Players do not necessarily have to be best friends off the pitch, but it does help. As long as they know their task when they are on the field and in the locker room, your team will be strong.
Work ethic – Once again, the coach sets the standards. The coach is always the first to arrive at practices and games. The players will be more likely to jump on board the development train if they see their coach working hard to make them a better player and a better person. Challenge the players to self-manage. Allow the players to be the disciplinarians of work ethic. Working hard does not guarantee a win; in the coach’s eyes it is a win, but not in the players’ eyes. You have to educate the players on the importance of work ethic.
I always tell my players, “Be the best you can be today. It may be different than yesterday, but get out there and give it your best effort. Have the mindset of can, will, and do!”
Your practice sessions will be competitive. Every action the players take will have a result. When your practice involves players winning and losing, be sure to watch the reaction of all the players once the exercise is over.