Winning Over Player Development? [Basketball Video]

Yes, a basketball video – because the content is completely in parallel to soccer. Besides, sometimes we have to change our view to improve our vision. Stan VanGundy from the Miami Heat discussed the importance of skill development in our youngest players. No matter the sport, the principle remains the same: at our youth stage, we must focus on player development and fundamental skills. This is the only way to ensure players will be able to compete successfully at the higher levels of the game. Sometimes, hearing the same message from a different voice or another context really brings it home.

Take note of how animated Stan gets at 1:58 of the video. His point is well taken. And think about the takeaway challenge at 2:40.

What’s your decision?

Off Season Conditioning for Any Soccer Team

Offseason soccer training
Keep your Players Fit! (ZalgiriSoccer)

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” As a coach, this quote readily dissects the work you do with your team after the season is over.  For your team to truly be competitive, you must work with your athletes year round. Soccer fitness, playing, and even team-building are important aspects of the game which should be approached with enthusiasm and effort. Of course, the details of what type of conditioning you run will vary somewhat depending on the level and the age of your athletes. For example, you will need to push the members of a professional or collegiate soccer team harder than the members of a U-12 rec soccer team. Nonetheless, any team can benefit from the right type of off-season conditioning.

Unfortunately, your players may not all necessarily be thrilled by the prospect of extra workouts. To help keep your players enthusiastic and motivated, try structuring some of your workouts as a game or competition. In fact, one easy way to help your team improve their conditioning during the off season is to enroll them in an indoor league. Since the field used in indoor soccer is surrounded by walls that keep the ball from going out of bounds, the pace of the game is faster, forcing your players to work harder without even realizing it. Of course, playing indoor soccer also helps your players develop their teamwork, strategy and ball handling skills. Keep in mind that since only six players are on the field at a time in indoor leagues, you may wish to enroll two separate teams in the league depending on the size of your regular team.

Having your team play futsal once or twice a week can also be a very effective way to build your team’s conditioning, as well as improve their skill level. Futsal is very similar to soccer except that it is played on a hard court instead of a field with only five players at a time. A futsal ball is also smaller, harder and heavier than a regular soccer ball. This helps develop your players’ power and control during shooting, passing and ball handling.

Of course, not all off-season workouts will be quite as exciting to your players as indoor games. They also need to do the old-fashioned work that few players actually enjoy – work like jogging, sprinting and lifting weights, depending on the age and level of your players. Try keeping a white board in your locker room to mark down the top performers at each drill. For example, point out the person who correctly dead lifted the most weight at the last workout, or the person who completed a predetermined number of suicide drills the fastest. Another great exercise to track can be elliptical and treadmill races. Tracking how far players run on the treadmill or elliptical in a given amount of time can spark their competitive nature to get faster and push themselves more. Also, running on  high resistance can be great ways to get players’ legs ready for outdoor training.

If you wish, you can keep track of each player’s standings for each drill over the entire off season. This encourages players to push themselves to boost their rankings. Some coaches find that dividing their players into pairs that work together in these competitions helps them stay accountable and motivated to work harder. Whatever you decide, pushing your players to compete out-of-season will only help them improve during season.

Keep in mind, however, that every player still needs some recovery time during the off season. Remember to give them some rest periods to allow their bodies to heal. Otherwise, your players could begin to exhibit the symptoms of over training, such as unusual fatigue, decreased performance during workouts and even weight loss, according to Rice University. If you notice the onset of over training symptoms, a few days of rest should be plenty to restore your players’ energy levels and heal their bodies. That will help them stay fresh, motivated and enthusiastic about the start of the next season.

Out of season training is an important part of any sport. Keeping your players up to speed in their skills and sprinting ability will only make their transition to outdoor play easier. Remember that indoor leagues and futsal are great ways to mimic the motions of the game, helping them to better their ball skills and pace. Running, cross training and lifting are also intricate parts of an athlete’s speed and strength training. Incorporating all of these methods in cycles will help your players stay in shape and be enthusiastic to return to in-season play, making your job easier and more fun!

Managing Volunteer Turnover (Part I in a 2 part series)

Volunteer turnover is a problem in almost every youth sports organization.  Most youth sports leagues are 501 (c) 3 non- profit organizations and rely heavily on volunteers to handle most mission critical tasks ranging from registration, communication, team building, board members and the list goes on.

At Blue Sombrero, we work with thousands of youth sports organizations across the entire country and we’ve seen so many of these volunteers come and go, most of the time leaving in their wake panic and disarray as their replacement scrambles to make some sense of how to keep things a float.

Over this two part series, we will discuss some tips and easy to implement strategies to help reduce volunteer turnover and to make the transition easier.  We will answer the following questions:

  1. How to define your volunteer positions.
  2. How to Recruit.
  3. How to set your club up for success and encourage and reward your volunteers.
  4. What to do when a volunteer leaves.

In this article, we’ll focus on the first two.

Understand the Reality

The reality is that volunteers don’t stay forever.  They are under appreciated and over worked.  Most can only work nights and weekends.  Board members change year to year.  Despite all of this, the club (youth sports organization) continues to provide services to its membership.

Define your positions

Create a quality job description for every role at your club.  Don’t use buzz words or corporate double talk.  Describe in real words what the position is responsible for and list out what the volunteer does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  Explain how many hours they are expected to put in, when and where they have to complete their tasks.  This will help not only to clearly define each position but also to recruit new volunteers when the positions become available.

Here’s a snippet from a job posting for Blue Sombrero for a Marketing Manager to give you some ideas on how to write a good, quality job description:

(This is just a Sample Job Description)

Marketing Manager

Blue Sombrero is a leader in online registration and web design for youth sports. Since its founding in 2002, we have worked hard to create a service that will enable youth sports organizations to focus their attention where it matters most, the kids!

We are a smart, young and motivated group of people that works hard for our customers. We have been at the forefront of our industry, starting with soccer and expanding into all youth sports.  We are an extremely fun and creative group that is passionate about soccer and youth sports and the services that we provide. We continue to invest in our product and provide the highest level of customer support in the market. Simply put, we are proud of what we do and we consider our customers our partners.

Here’s who we are looking for:

  • You are fun, positive and motivated
  • You are creative, hard-working and willing to take on projects big and small
  • You are outgoing and sociable
  • You love soccer and youth sports
  • If you are a master at corporate double speak and smoke and mirrors, this is not the place for you!

If you were working for us, here are some of the things you would have done in the past few weeks:

  • Created an email marketing campaign for a new service we just launched
  • Edited articles for our company blog
  • Created a new video collage for our Meet the Team section of our website
  • Organized and executed our annual Admin of the Year contest and awards
  • Began to organize our 2012 Convention strategy
  • Managed the importing of contacts into for our sales team
  • Sent out communication to our customer base for scheduled maintenance and for Tips of the Week.
  • Coordinated with our PR firm for news releases and other marketing items

Here’s Some Other Things You Might Do:

  • Check in occasionally with customers to gather feedback
  • Help CEO with projects (no telling what that could be)
  • Coordinate lunch and office visit for occasional visitors, board members, etc.
  • Organize company night out, Braves game, Group Karoake, Sloppy Joe day, Finals of Champion’s League
  • Play some Fussball (aka Foosball), Nerf basketball free throw competition, Soccer Tennis and nerf “PIG”- we like to have fun and compete!

How to Recruit Volunteers

Communication is important when recruiting for volunteers.  Remember that your volunteers are coming from your membership and the more aware they are of all that you do on their behalf then the more open you are to their feedback and the more you recognize and reward your volunteer staff, the easier it will be to recruit new volunteers. Sounds pretty simple, right?

  • Communication: Create a consistent communication plan to keep your membership informed of what your staff is doing on their behalf.  Keep them posted on how often you meet, what you talk about, the decisions that you make, etc.  If you tell them, your membership will appreciate all that you do!  We recommend email as the best way to keep your membership informed.
  • Creating a feedback is important:  Your membership should feel that they have an outlet for their concerns and that they are being heard.  A frustrated membership will provide slim pickings for volunteer recruits.
  • Recognize & Reward your staff:  We recognize our best coaches and our best players frequently, so why don’t we recognize your best staff?  Recognizing and rewarding your volunteers publicly will go a long way in instilling a volunteer culture at your club and help make your volunteer positions more desirable.

Armed with a quality job description, quality communication, a feedback loop and an organizational commitment to recognizing and rewarding your staff, your club should have plenty of willing and able of volunteers to pick from.

Next in our two part series we’ll explore some more operational tips and guidelines and what to do when a volunteer leaves.

How to Know if Your Soccer Players “Get it”

Does He "Get It"?

As coaches, the only way we can develop players from stage to stage is if we can build on what they’ve learned. No matter if it is tactics or technical – we have to be sure before we move on. As we rush to put on our training sessions and move through our ‘session plan’, we have to be sure we’re not moving faster than our players. But, how do you know if they “get it”?

All of us have seen that look before: it’s blank with the head slightly tilted sideways. It’s a key indicator that the player might not “get it.” Or, you see a player perform almost right on the field – but not exactly. Or still, players chatting with one another and asking questions about the explanation, skill or demonstration. These may be a little bit harder to uncover that competence. And, if you see it in one player, there’s probably a good chance that others may need some further clarification.

Here are four simple tips to check in with your players to ensure they “get it” before you move on.

  1. Question: Probably the easiest way to see if they get it. But, also the easiest to fake on a player’s part. This is especially true at formative ages where social acceptance is critical
  2. Listen: How confident is the player in their response? Did you simply catch them not listening and in need of clarification?
  3. Observe: Can they demonstrate the topic and SHOW you they understand?
  4. Write: Coaching whiteboards are excellent opportunities for players & coaches to show understanding. (Hint: It’s very helpful if you don’t have one)

How do you ensure your players “get it” out on the field?

Mental Toughness in Soccer: Interview with Simon Hartley

The concept of “Mental Toughness” is a tried and true rallying call for most teams. Every coach wants players who are ‘mentally tough’, but really what does that mean? I had the opportunity to interview Simon Hartley, our resident Soccer Psychology Advisor, about this hot topic. Simon provided his thoughts in an earlier article about “What Does Mental Toughness Look Like?” and in this interview we delve into the next steps of understanding the topic.

Essentially, our conversation broke down into two key elements:

  1. It seems that there are many different ideas as to what mental toughness is. How can we actually see mental toughness in athletes? Is it chest beating and shouting?
  2. What do you see in a mentally tough athlete? How do they give themselves away?

Coach’s Questions

  • What is a mentally tough player in your mind?
  • What are some tactics that you use to cultivate an environment that produces mentally tough soccer players?
  • What questions do you have for Simon?

Soccer Formations: The options – 4-4-2

From the 19th Century, when Defense was virtually unheard of, to the superpowers of the modern game, formations and the shape of your team can and does determine the outcome of a Game, any Game, including yours. This article builds on the soccer formations overview article.

Of course, when choosing the formation and shape of your Team, you have to bear in mind the most important factor of all, your Players and their ability to both physically ( age specific ) and mentally ( age specific ) take on board your instructions.

But is it achievable ? Well, yes and no.

Of course every team needs a structure, for you Guys Coaching Kids from Under 12’s and upwards ( that have been playing the game for at least 5 years or more ) and feel that your Guys and Girls are ready for the next stage of their development, you might want to think about how you really want your team to play. Introducing soccer tactics at this age is appropriate.

Soccer itself is really just a Game of space and movement, like a Game of Chess, but with real people and a ball.

Once we understand this, we can start attempting to move around our Kings and Queens, our Bishops and Knights into areas that help both them as individuals and their development, as well as our team.

A general rule of thumb for the past 30 or so years has been of course a Goalkeeper, protected by four defenders, who would be shielded by a four Player Midfield, that are expected to help defend and support a two Player attack force.
This is the first formation that we are going to look at in this series, it is known as the 4-4-2 formation and it is thought of to be a safe, solid and dependable formation that is believed to cover the most important areas of the pitch with its basic set out.
The 4-4-2 has brought World Cup Winners, MLS Cup Champions, English Premier League Champions and has been the foundation to a whole host of successful Teams throughout the years.

The 4-4-2 was the formation that was used for the USMNT get to the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

USA 1-0 Algeria – Group C – Pretoria, South Africa – 06.23.10

The 4-4-2 was arguably mastered by the great AC Milan Team of the late 1980’s & early 1990’s, Coached by Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello.

Strengths of the 4-4-2 :

• Solid defense. A solid, organized four man defense will rarely be overrun by the opposition. A four man defense allows you to play in a man marking situation or zonal.
• The opportunity for your full backs to join in the attack and overlap in controlled situations and gain numerical advantages in important areas of the pitch.
• A midfield that can be played in a defensive or attacking sense that can also offer an excellent outlet with the width that the wide players can provide across the whole pitch.
• A pair of strikers that can work together and don’t need to wait for support from other areas allowing a more direct game if under pressure, or more than one option if building up from defensive and midfield areas.
• The 4-4-2 allows you to be competitive across the field with good representation in all areas.

The roles within the 4-4-2 at an advanced and intermediate level.

Like many formations, the base of the 4-4-2 is a four man defense. Two central defenders with two full backs, one left sided and one right sided. The full backs ( or full back ) can be encouraged to push forward when the team are in full possession of the ball. If one full back does join in with the attack, the other full back can be expected to come “ inside “ to join the central defenders, one of which may need to filter across to the side of the pitch that the attacking full back is to cover.

Below we can see the left back about to push on in order to help out the attack, with the now three defenders filtering across to cover him yet still keeping a compact defensive shape. This is imperative as playing against a team with a quick transition can see attack turn into defense pretty quickly when you lose possession of the ball. This of course can also be used in the reverse when the right back pushes forward.

4-4-2 Defence with LB pushing on
4-4-2 Defence with LB pushing on filtered.

When defending, the Midfielders are also expected to offer support in both wide and central areas.

Whilst it is important that the full backs look to push forward at strategic times, they still must understand that they must retain an element of defending to their game.

However it is widely accepted that pushing forward and giving the opposition players something to think about defensively is in itself a form of defense.

The central defenders should form a solid partnership and understanding in which disciplined defensive play is first and foremost in their responsibilities, going forward only in extreme circumstances as well as set plays.

The midfield area sees us with four players, these are generally utilized in the 4-4-2 formation with two central midfielders that are expected to be “ box to box “ type players, with two wide midfielders who are also expected to attack and provide crosses for the strikers as well as provide defensive cover for the full backs, as seen below.

4-4-2 with Defense and Midfield
4-4-2 Midfield

Variations of the 4-4-2 generally see changes in this area, the midfield. The Midfield diamond ( which we touched on in Soccer Formations – An overview ) is thought of to be a more attacking formation with one of the central midfielders playing in a more advanced attacking role being expected to be the link man between the midfield and the attackers. The other central midfielder is expected to be more conservative in his play with his overall positioning expected to first and foremost protect the defense. The shape is finalized with the right and left midfielders playing much more narrow and expected to give support to the full backs who need to attack and offer width to the overall shape of the team.

Midfield Diamond

The strikers in the 4-4-2 can be played in different ways. More traditionally the strikers were played as a pair with communication and an understanding of each others movement and thinking being key. Nowadays we have seen the introduction of the “ second striker “ or the role of the number 10 who is seen to be the more creative player as opposed to the number 9, who traditionally is seen as more of a target player. This player tends to drop into “ the hole “ where it is difficult to pick him and difficult for the defenders to mark him. “ The hole “ is the area or zone between the defense and the midfield, it’s a very dangerous area where if the right player is selected to play in it, it can have dramatic results. Creativity and excellent vision as well as technique are required to get the best results when playing in this manner.

4-4-2 Striker Pairing.
4-4-1-1 Striker in the hole

A front pairing gives you an excellent opportunity to both give defenders a lot to think about with little time being given to them when in possession of the ball.

Pressurizing defenders in this area of the pitch forms both an excellent base to start your defensive responsibilities within the team and also gives you a real chance to obtain possession of the ball in the final third of the pitch with the strikers trying to force the defenders into making mistakes.

Communication is key to a successful front pairing, no matter what style they are expected to play in.

An understanding of each other’s game comes with playing time which is needed in order for the strike partnership to grow and develop.

The “ Number 9 “ role gives a different option and angle of attack with the designated player enjoying more space with the freedom to be able to pass it short or long into his strike partner, dribble, make angled runs in order to receive the ball or bear down on goal directly himself.

Please note that although we try to keep the explanations of the various formations as basic and as uncomplicated as possible, we could go into much greater detail where many aspects are concerned but ultimately, it’s the Coach’s job to relay the information to his/her Players and give them a better understanding of this very important aspect of the game.

We hope with this breakdown of some of the more popular formations we see in the game, and with our continued help in answering any questions you have where possible, we can help you, your team and your individual Players make the transition into the World of Soccer formations and determining your teams shape, that little bit less daunting.

What Does Mental Toughness Look Like?

Mental toughness is a prized “possession” of athletes the world over. Parents talk about it. Coaches demand it. But, how would you know a mentally tough athlete? What traits would they exhibit? What characteristics would you see? How would they behave? What would they say?

What Happens When The Going Get’s Tough?

In my work as a sport psychologist, this is a topic that has always fascinated me. I’ve seen many athletes and teams who have crumbled when they’ve hit tough challenges. I have seen some teams that have imploded at crucial times during a game, or during a season. Some panic if they go behind. They seem to throw their game plan out of the window when they’re questioned. For many years, I defined mental toughness as the ability to stick to the game plan, no matter what. Obviously, I recognise that ‘the game plan’ needs to be flexible and adaptable. However, we should not abandon it completely and start panicking at the first sign of trouble.

I have seen many athletes that seem to shrivel up when they’re exposed to criticism. It is hard for some to take, especially if that criticism is very vocal and comes from 40,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, whilst working in a Premiership football club a number of years ago, the coaching staff developed a saying… “when the going gets tough, the tough hide under the treatment table”. We used to see the number of injuries rise (and take longer to heal) when we were struggling and the players were being booed by the fans. The players were actually using the treatment room to escape! Coincidently, our captain (who did the shouting and fist waving) was the most regular visitor to the treatment room if we lost at home.

The Flip Side Of The Coin

Over the years I have also seen many athletes and teams who displayed incredible toughness. Recently, I have also interviewed a range of truly world class people in some very diverse disciplines, so as to understand what differentiates them from their peers. In doing so, I have listened to some incredibly tough individuals, such as mountaineers, polar explorers, adventure racers, extreme athletes and special forces personnel. These people endure some phenomenal challenges, whether it is facing death at the top of an 8,500 meter peak, completing a solo crossing of the Arctic, finishing 66 ultra-marathons in 66 days after being injured on day 2, or running back into battle through a fire-fight to save an injured comrade (and then swimming 2 hours to a rescue boat whilst towing him).

After watching some truly tough people and listening to their stories, I have changed my definition of mental toughness to this…. “the ability to keep going, sticking to the task and not give up, even when every fibre of your being screams at you to stop”.

But not all of us will be at the top of 8,000 meter mountains, or crossing the Arctic Ocean, or running through a gun battle. So how can we see toughness outside of those extreme conditions? Is the tough individual the loudest? Are they the ones who run out of the dressing room screaming? Are they the one who is most physically dominant? Or, are they the ones who will push themselves the hardest? Are they the athletes that are willing to enter their discomfort zone? Are they the people who will venture into the unknown and take on new challenges? Perhaps, the tough athletes are the ones that take complete responsibility for their performance at all times.

Mental Toughness In Action

In 2006, a swimmer (Chris) prepared for the final of a major world event. He’s waiting in the ‘call room’ with the other 7 finalists. One of them, an Australian, comes up to him and rubs his knuckle on Chris’ head. He starts to try to intimidate Chris verbally and physically, he becomes unpleasant in an attempt to undermine Chris’ confidence. Chris sat, looked at him and smiled. He didn’t say a word in response because he didn’t need to. Chris knew that the Australian was in trouble. Why did the Australian feel the need to intimidate Chris? Did he not think he could win the race on his own merit? Did he have to pull Chris back in order to stand a chance of beating him?

Sometimes fear can be dressed up as toughness. Bravado tends to be a façade; ‘fake toughness’. Perhaps it is a sign of weakness rather than strength.

Chris knew that his job was simple. He had to swim 2 lengths of that swimming pool as quickly as he could. He’d worked incredibly hard in training and was as prepared as he could possibly be. He’d overcome considerable adversity to get there, which gave him a deep sense of confidence in his own ability. All he had to do now was to swim 2 lengths of the pool. If he swam quicker than everyone else, he’d win. If someone else swam faster than him, they’d win. If he simply swam as quickly as he could, he’d done his job. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

If we want to know what toughness looks like, we can learn a lot from this example. The tough athlete is not the one trying to dominate or intimidate his opponent. The tougher of the two is the one who sat calmly, smiled and looked his opponent in the eye. He’s also the one that remained completely focussed on his job, and refused to be distracted from it.

I doubt you’ll be surprised when I tell you that Chris won the Gold Medal that day!

Simon Hartley is the author of Peak Performance Every Time, published by Routledge.

Are you Soccer Tough? [mjpurpleaces]

It always cracks me up when I attend recreational youth soccer matches and hear parents yelling to five and six year old kids to “put on their game faces.” Don’t these well-intended parents know that these kids have no idea what a “game face” is on the field?

I came across an excellent article from Mike Jacobs this morning who was sharing his thoughts about soccer toughness. And, he included some toughness attributes from Jay Martin, Ohio Wesleyan coach who was recently named D3 Coach of the Year (Congrats, Jay!)

It made me think about toughness on a soccer field. And, when is it age appropriate to start thinking about toughness and mental toughness with  a soccer team. I may throw that question over to Simon Hartley, our resident Soccer Psychology Advisor, for some better clarification.

What do you think? What are attributes of toughness for you as a coach? When is it age appropriate


Here is the original post from Mike Jacobs, the head soccer coach at the University of Evansville:

I had the chance to visit with a high school basketball team yesterday, and in their pre-practice meeting, they were referring to an article that I had also once written about a couple of years back. The article had to do with toughness, which ESPN’s Jay Bilas has a pretty good reference point about.

Bilas has a great reference point when it comes to competing at a high level of sports – he played basketball at Duke University, and after his playing career ended, joined Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching staff; He has parlayed his playing and coaching career into a role as one of ESPN’s top college basketball analysts.

Elements of an article he once wrote on a couple of years ago ( still draws references today. I think the reason I still refer to it is that it hit on a topic that every coach stresses with their players – toughness.

I think I was shocked about how many coaches from different sports at all types of levels had read the article, and were able to draw from their own experiences when reading and relating to Bilas’ thoughts.

‘…in almost coordinated fashion, I would watch games and see player upon player thumping his chest after a routine play, angrily taunting an opponent after a blocked shot, getting into a shouting match with an opposing player, or squaring up nose-to-nose as if a fight might ensue. I see players jawing at each other, trying to “intimidate” other players. What a waste of time. That is nothing more than fake toughness, and it has no real value.’

I often wonder: Do people really understand what coaches and experienced players mean when they emphasize “toughness” in basketball? Or is it just some buzzword that is thrown around haphazardly without clear definition or understanding?’

Bilas referenced that where he came to college thinking that toughness was based on the physical, he realized that it had more to do with the mental. I was always taught that strength could be measured in a weight room, but that toughness was measured by what was inside of you – it wasn’t measured in your ability to kick someone on the other team, but in your ability to get kicked and keep playing; it was not whether you were knocked down, but in your resolve that allowed you to get back up.

Bilas also referenced that he thought toughness was a skill, and as a skill, could be developed and improved. He even created a list of items that he thought were a way that toughness was exhibited in basketball.

Soccer Journal editor Jay Martin had taken the lead from Bilas’ article and created his own list of items that displayed toughness in soccer. I thought it was a great reference point for players to draw from, and had even hung it up in our locker room at the University of Evansville.

Some of the key items were:

  • Talk on defense: A tough player talks and communicates with teammates while defending, and is so focused on winning that he/she is not only worried about the player that they are guarding, but on helping their teammates as well.
  • Play so hard, your coach has to take you out: Tough players work so hard that the coach has to take them out to rest. The toughest players don’t pace themselves. The first time I watched the University of North Carolina’s women’s team play, what I was taken back from was that when some of coach Anson Dorrance’s players came off the field, they needed to get oxygen because of how hard they were playing – you could actually see one of the girl’s chests expanding and contracting due to how hard she was breathing when she came off the field. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a player or team play as hard as that team on that day – they are a ‘tough’ team, and it is no coincidence that they compete for a National Championship on an annual basis.
  • Take responsibility for your teammates: Tough players take responsibility for themselves as well as others. If the bus leaves at 9:00 AM, tough players make sure that they are there on time as well as their teammates, too.
  • Get out of the comfort zone: A tough player knows that soccer is a game played when tired and sore. When tough players are tired and sore, and feel like they don’t want to run any longer, they run harder.
  • Take and give criticism the right way: Tough players take criticism without feeling they have to answer back or come up with an excuse. They want to get better. Tough players are not afraid to tell teammates what they need to hear.
  • Show strength in body language: Tough players project confidence and security with their body language. They don’t hang their heads; they don’t argue with officials.
  • Look coaches and teammates in the eye: Tough players never drop their heads. They always look their coach in the eye, because if the coach is talking, it is important to them.
  • Make every game important: Tough players know that every game is important regardless of the opponent. They know if they want to play in a championship game they must play every game like a championship.

Out of any of Jay Bilas’ toughness rules, the one that I thought this high school team (and their coach) truly embodied the most was‘Make getting better every day your goal’– We always try to stress with our players at the University of Evansville that their goal should be to make today better than their play yesterday. Tough players come to work every day to get better, and you could see by this team’s focus and commitment in practice that they bought into that theory.

Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo said that “Players play the game, but tough players win the game.” Look over this list, and gauge whether your team or children are tough – you can encourage toughness, and the best coaches and parents develop those attributes in their players and children.

Soccer Formations – An overview

“Football is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better.” – Bill Shankly

Formations, part of soccer tactics, are a description of how the players on the pitch are positioned. These formations are altered as and when teams are more defensive or offensive and are used at every level of the game from the greatest leagues in Europe to Kids soccer up and down the country in order to get a sense of organization and structure to a teams play.

Historically, the game of association football ( or soccer as we know it ) was a game that had little or no organization. It was a game in which a pass to a team mate was deemed “not the done thing “ ( who knows what Mr Guardiola would have thought of that? ) and a game that was just basically all out individual attack with little if any regard for defense or team mates.

As the years went by however, the game became more organized and teams began to use more structured measures in order to beat their opponents. Formations were used from the mid 19th century onwards and they were influenced massively by the attacking nature of the game in those days. It was common in those days to see teams set up with seven or eight forward players and with only one true defender.

But, as the game progressed so did formations and the 1920’s saw the first resemblance of formations that we can still see to this very day with Arsenal ( and Herbert Chapman’s ) “ WM “, a formation that consisted of three defenders, two holding midfielders ( as we now call this position ) two advanced central midfielders and three attackers which can be translated to today’s more modern 3-4-3 formation which is used at times by the successful Louis Van Gaal Ajax teams of the 1990’s, previous Barcelona teams and the Napoli team of this year’s Champions League. Other popular formations that be may be familiar with were the 1930’s Metodo formation which won back to back world cups for Italy in 1934 and 1938. This formation can be seen today in a loose translation when we watch Barcelona play, with its 2-3-2-3 set up. You’ll note that formations always start from the defense forward. A 3-4-3 would show three defenders, four midfielders and three forwards.

The WM Formation - Made famous by the 1920's Arsenal team.           The Metodo - The origins of today's Barcelona

The 1950’s and 60’s saw even more emphasis on positioning players in what was deemed defensive positions, or areas of the pitch that were not seen to be attacking anyway. The 3-3-4 ( three defenders, three midfielders and four attackers ) used by the double winning Tottenham Hotspur team of 1961 was regularly used throughout Europe, we saw it most recently with the fabulous FC Porto team of 2006 that won the Portuguese Championship under Dutch Coach Co Adriansse. Other systems that were common place during this era was the 4-2-4 formation which was first devised by Hungarian coaches of that era and this system is the roots of the modern day 4-4-2, with its four man defense, two central midfielders with advanced wide players, and two strikers.

We then started to see formations being used that we are more familiar with in today’s game let’s take a look.

The 4-4-2 which became increasingly popular in the 80’s and 90’s in both Italy and England, giving success to various Clubs both domestically and on the European stage. This formation has lots of variations within it including the diamond midfield ( 4-1-2-1-2 ) and the 4-4-1-1 which would see a “ target man “ playing with a support striker playing “ in the hole “ who would be intended to be a more creative player than his strike partner.

The 4-4-2 Diamond Midfield          The 4-4-1-1 - Second striker in the hole

The 4-3-3 used by the Argentinian, Italian and Uruguayan national teams of the 1950’s and 60’s that is used today by numerous teams including Chelsea and Real Madrid. Its variations include modifications to 1920’s Arsenal’s WM formation which we touched on earlier and converts one of the midfielders to a defender giving us a more familiar shape that we now see each week in games across the world. Another variation is the 4-3-1-2 which is a more narrow attacking option that focus’s on attacking play through the centre of the opposition, with a front pairing of strikers backed up by a link up man who would play in a possible “ free role “, this formation can also somewhat be interpreted as the 4-4-2 midfield diamond formation in its similarity. We can also look at the 4-3-3 formation in a defensive way by restricting the attacking responsibilities of the wide attacking players, giving us an essentially 4-5-1 formation when not in possession of the ball.

The classic 4-3-3 - See Chelsea and Real Madrid        The 4-5-1 - A 4-3-3 defensive variation

Over the coming weeks we will look into these formation and others in greater depth including matching up one formation against another to find out what strengths we can find by playing one against the other. We’re hopeful that this will help you Guys in finding the best formation for your players bearing in mind that it is the players that you have at your disposal that influences how you play.

We must remember that where soccer is concerned “ the game never stops “ so formations and the style of play we want to play are never an exact science as players are moving into different positions of the field at all times.

Teams will be successful when they correctly apply and execute how the coach wants them to play on the training field and NOT on the day of the game. If your players are not doing what you want them to do where systems and formations are concerned, then maybe you could look into your training sessions and the communication process during them as opposed to singling out specific players for criticism on the day of the game.

From a building perspective, if you don’t understand your player’s capabilities and your players haven’t developed the ball control skills, it would certainly be futile to try to explain formations and lineups to them. This would be like asking a child to write in cursive without first teaching the letters of the alphabet. First things, first.

How to Effectively Scout a Soccer Team – The Opposition

The first part of our “ How to effectively scout a soccer team “ edition saw us look at the benefits of what a good scouting system can offer you as well as looking at certain areas within scouting, specifically team shape. The second part covered practical tips for scouting an opponent.

This week we will look at defensive and attacking tendencies of the opposition and what we should look for within them.

Opposition: Defensive Tendencies

Soccer Scout (Photo:

The name of the game here is simple, we want to work out how we are going to score goals against our opposition and by looking at our opposition’s defensive tendencies, we might help our Team do just that by looking for ways to exploit and attack any areas of weakness that we see.

Some of the things to consider when looking at this part of scouting are:

  1. Preferred defensive formation both with and without the ball: Do they play with advancing full backs? Do the central defensive players play tight to the attackers they face or do they prefer to play in a zonal defense where they are more likely to be concerned about their positioning and a certain area rather than an attacker? Are the central defenders quick or do they rely on their strength? Are the full backs willing to come inside to a more central position to support the central defenders when the ball is on the opposing side of the pitch?
  2. Transition: How does the defense react and cope when they lose the ball? Does the defense organize itself well enough and quick enough with quick transition of the ball? If so, how do they do so?  Do they actively press in order to win the ball back? If so, where do they press, do they press in certain areas only, who presses and is there a noticeable trigger for their pressing?
  3. Distribution: Do they defense play the ball out from the back and start team attacks in that manner? Do they prefer to look for longer passes?  If so, are they to specific players and areas?
  4. Support? Does the defense get support from their midfield and attackers? Are more midfielders and attackers more defensive minded than others and if so, make sure you note which ones are. Also note the shapes and formation of how the defend in other areas of the pitch, do they defend in a different shape when rebuffing attacks than they do when attacking? Once again, make sure you take note of this. Do the attackers make any attempt to close down players on the ball? Do the midfielders track back and track their runners when required?
  5. Set pieces: Locate their aerial strengths. Who are they? Where do they position themselves? Why does they position themselves there? Is it to mark specific players or is it a specific area? If it is an area, locate and take note of what players are responsible for what areas or zones. Who doesn’t venture forward and how do they defend when they have attacking set pieces IE do they go 2 v 1, 3 v 1 etc defensively.
  6. Defensive patterns – Do they play with a high line? Do they look to play the offside trap? Do they defend deep? Are they willing and confident to pass back to their GK? If so, how confident is he where his feet are concerned? What foot is he more comfortable with? If not, it may mean that the GK nor the team are not very confident in the GK’s kicking ability.

Opposition: Attacking Tendencies

For all the good it does gaining information on a team’s defensive strengths and weaknesses, it is of course equally important to get a comprehensive understanding of what they do at the other end of the pitch.

Some of the things to consider when looking at this part of scouting are:

  1. Preferred attacking formation: Do they play with a front pair? Do they play with a lone striker who receives support from wide positions as well as midfield? How many players do they commit to the final third area of the pitch when they are attacking in a controlled manner and where are they positioned?
  2. Transition:  How quick do they try to break when they win possession of the ball? Do they counter attack in a direct manner or do they prefer to slowly build up controlled, strategic attacks?
  3. Attack preferences: How do they attack? Do they attack from the wings? Do they go through a playmaker who they look for to conduct their attacks? If so, what areas does he receive the ball from and from what players? Do they attack with a front pair who work in tandem, or do they attack with and use midfield runners who may get ahead of a lone striker and look to play off of him?
  4. Goals: Where do they come from? Who scores them? Identify the main threat, most teams have various sources of goals but there will also be a player that is there main goal threat, identifying that player and try to collate as much information as possible on him such as what positions he tends to take up, where he likes to receive the ball, how he likes to receive the ball IE to his feet, on the run, on his head etc.
  5. Set pieces: Who takes them? Where do they look to deliver the ball? Who comes forward and what positions do they take up? How is the ball delivered? Are in swinging or out swinging deliveries preferred? Who are the most dangerous aerial threats?
  6. Final Third: Be aware of any other things that you observe in the most critical area of the pitch, the final third. Any and all instances, patterns or attacking methods that you feel the opposing team is instructed to do should be noted where possible in order to be able to relay your report back to your team.

Remember, what you are doing here is to obtain and ultimately present information to help your players, coach and team as a whole. An effective Scouting Report will help the team and players to prepare themselves properly and improve their end results while helping them to understand the game and the different areas within it.