Wednesday, April 25, 2007

And now for something completely different!

I was going to make you all do a "How well do you know me quiz", but this isn't MySpace, is it?

Anyway, we had a bit of a friendly today - my U/16s vs. the U/15s. There were 9 of us and 12 of them. Take a guess at who won. Then consider we played most of the second half with 8. Guess the score.

Well, we finished 4-0, not that they were spectacularly bad, we were outnumbered most of the time (but still managed to be competitive) and the main killer was a lack of subs - so the girls finished off knackered. There is a LOT that we need to fix up, and the most annoying thing is that my goalkeeper needs a lot of work, but I can't correct everything she does as I have to look after the whole team. It's quite frustrating.

Funniest moment of the day came when I overheard a couple of the U/15 parents... "I think we're going to do really well this year." I felt like retorting, "Yeah, if all the teams you play against have 8 players." Naturally I didn't, if I was a neutral I would've, but I don't want to be seen as a sore loser, especially since I didn't actually care about the result. How the girls played (or didn't play) was far more important.

There's so much to work on, I don't know where to start! Well, I actually do, because I'm naturally a defensive player - or like to build the game up from the back. But who's right at the back? The goalkeeper. Who I don't have time to fix. It's not just her physical performance that was frustrating to watch (she can't dive properly, take goal-kicks properly, lacks explosiveness and agility) but her decision making was awful! It's not something that can be easily corrected by training over and over and over again! And her talking. Ahhhh!!!!

A few moons ago I played at a club where I could not stand the coach. Loved the goalkeeping coach there, but the team coach drove me insane. One night at training he was trying to get the girls to push up immediately after that ball was cleared from defence. Not once the ball was safely at the feet of our midfield, but cleared from defence. Now, in my opinion, there were a few problems with this:
  1. the girls lacked the discipline to push out together as a unit, not forgetting to leave anyone behind,
  2. by pushing up you're risking not being able to quickly cover a ball if it's popped over, which could happen since...
  3. you don't know what's going to happen to the ball.
So you could have the girls running up the park to push up, and the other team could control the cleared ball and pop it over the defence who at that point are running the opposite way. A bit silly. Who in the end has to fix up the bloody mess in such an event? Me, and the odds would be against me. Anyway, that night he and I argued over it until he used some foul language at me telling me that I wasn't the coach of the team and so I should just shut up. I stopped arguing with him but I was still fuming. A few minutes later I had goalkeeping training, which was a God-send that night.

My goalkeeper does the same in terms of her timing of the "push up" call. It's really like she can't read the game and doesn't know anything else. So the defense is preoccupied with the ball being in their area, and instead of trying to help them out by calling out who's unmarked or ways to remove the ball from defence but keep possession she tells them to push up. I got a bit tired of this and ended up yelling at the defence to stay where they were and to the goalkeeper that there was no point pushing up if the ball was still in the immediate area. I'm finding this sidelines thing annoying, and am worried at the idea of being confined to a technical area.

So my current problem is how do I transfer all my understanding of the game to the girls? There's so much to learn, and it's hard to praise for one thing when they don't do the next bit right, and you end up praising but they don't really understand the next part unless I stop the game and actually go through it. Something that I can't do during actual game time.

Anyway, I need to make a long list of all that didn't work today, and a short list of what did.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Aahhh parents...

...enough said.

Meanwhile, I'm seriously considering striking Danny Vukovic from my swoon list. I cannot think of what on earth he was thinking... at all... can't think of any excuse for him! And nice to see Mr Yellow Card doing his thing for the national team - while he was captain. Leijer's a great player IMO, but his tendency to collect yellows and make rash tackles is letting him down. It's not something he needs in his game.

Short post, I know...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Maybe something did go in...

Sorry, I meant to write sooner, but uni needed some attention from me.

Last week’s training seems so long ago… so you might all be lucky and end up with a short post! Who would’ve thought?

Anyway, my plan for last week’s training was on solid passing and good control of the ball. Unfortunately my session was bit of a shambles as the head coach and the secretary of the club each wanted to have a few words with me. Add the parent who decided to hang around during the start my session and it was all a bit annoying really.

First I’ll start with how training works. Starting at 7pm, my group is one of the last to start training. So all the younger groups are there before us and tend to finish at around 7.30pm. Leaves lots of space for us. :) The group closest to us at the start of training is perhaps at U/13 or U/14 boys team. They have a young coach too, and I find him amusing. To laugh at, not with. I’m such a football snob at times, but I respect those who know something and deserve respect. If anything, I feel sorry for his team – actually I don’t. I dunno.

Anyway, during his session, a ball rolled away from his little area and closer to us, where I was starting to warm the girls up. Ah-ha, now some devious ball acquisition can occur! As our warm up continued, I noticed a second ball had made its way into the area. Two extra balls! I was getting quite cheery. Mind you, I had not touched the balls at all. Going through stretches with the girls, the parent who was hanging around approached our balls (and the extra ones). Shoo, shoo, go away I was thinking.

I wasn’t going to steal them, as the club knows exactly how many each team is meant to have. Plus, they’re all marked. But I wanted this coach to learn a lesson. He clearly did not respect the footballs, and consequently did not deserve to have them there when training started next week – I would return them next week and play dumb, “Oops, looks like they ended up with me! Maybe you should look after them better.”

Alas, such thoughts were just dreams as the parent who was hanging about noticed that two of the balls weren’t labelled for the U/16 girls. Parent came over while I was going through stretches and asked me about them. I confirmed that ours were marked as U/16 Girls, and perhaps those extra ones belonged to the other coach. I made up some excuse that I saw them roll over to our area but expected him to have noticed and collected them. I was too busy warming up the girls to notice… I think parent accepted my excuse. But I was still annoyed.

Before the ball incident I had the secretary approach me to confirm numbers. I then continued my warm-up. She interrupted again, and discussed some paperwork/registration stuff about the girls. Once sorted, I went back to training. Then the head coach came by. “Look, I don’t want to tell you how to coach,” he began… oh great I thought… “but I wanted to check how many girls you had.” Huh?!?!?! First, what did the first part of the chat mean if you just wanted to discuss numbers? Second, go talk to the secretary! And third, I rock up to training 15 minutes before I expect to start. Talk to me THEN, not now when I’m trying to correct the girls’ passing ‘technique.’

Grrr grrr stomp stomp.

I just lost so much time with the interruptions, I couldn’t really do much. Then the U/18s came over and challenged us to a match. They had six, we had six (four from last week plus two from that first Sunday). Alright we said, and off we went.

It was an interesting match, mainly because of the contrast in styles. There was also a bit of a difference between the four girls who came last week and the other two. The four would support each other a bit more, or at least understand when I told them to do so. Of the other two, one seems to drop back and help out a bit more – whether it’s a natural part of her game or she caught onto what the others were doing, I don’t know. Perhaps it was a bit of both – she saw what was going on and was able to adapt. It’s really difficult to try and help players when they’re in the middle of a match. I much prefer the mini-games where I can stop the play have a chat and continue. But it was good to play a slightly competitive game.

We won, which was nice – settled the girls a bit to know that they could at least play against the U/18s. At the end of the game I got them to warm down a bit and had a chat while they were stretching – I wanted to see if they understood why they had more or less dominated the game.

The conversation went something like this…

So, what did you think?
- I think we can keep on playing.
- I don’t feel tired at all.
- The others were getting really puffed.
- Yeah, we’re so much fitter than them.

Why do you say that we’re fitter?
- Because they were getting really puffed.

It doesn’t mean that we’re fitter.

Well, why do think they were getting puffed and not you?
[more silence]

What made them get puffed?
-They were doing a lot of running…?

Yeah, but why?
- Because they relied on those two girls up front to do everything.
- Yeah, they just kicked the ball up to them all the time.

But it didn't work, did it? What else happened?
[silence again]

Well, why aren’t you tired?

- Uhh… [gingerly] coz we did that uhhh... supporting thing
(Sigh of relief in my head – maybe something did go in from last week)
- Yeah, we passed the ball more than they did
- Yeah!
[general cheeriness at this revelation]

Yep! (So I joined in the chorus of yeahs and yays... I can see you rolling your eyes at me!) So what happened when we passed the ball around?
[silence again]
(Hmmm… I thought. Well, they got to the point, I’ll just talk about the rest, and proceeded to contrast our defence to their defence….)

Anyway, so the U/18s played what I call a kick-and-chase style of football. Heck, it’s not really a style. But whenever the ball ended up in their defence, their last player would boot it up the park. It was a short make-shift pitch (lots of width, not much length – almost square really) so the girl who I put in central defence would usually collect the ball. Sometimes she’d be under pressure from the opposition, but she’d almost always have a couple of options to relieve herself of the ball. Almost because the girl I put on the left tended to wander. The girl on the right was always available. So we’d play it out and pass it to each other, rather than blast the ball to wherever and chase it down.

When I set the formation up, I put the goalkeeper in central defence as I wanted her to start to get used to talking to her players and distributing the ball with her feet. I think when the time comes I might play the girl who I put on the right as the centre of my defence. She understands what I want, as does the ‘keeper, so I’m hoping she can hold the defence together. I haven’t yet decided what to do with the rest – I see things here and there which suggest to me that they would be great in certain spots. But I want them to be able to play anywhere on the park.

I’ll be working on passing and controlling again this week, might include throw-ins too. And I’m trying to introduce the concept of stepping on the ball to the girls. It’s funny how things that I like to do (I love moving sideways with the ball, shielding it with the side of my body and rolling it over with whichever leg is further from the opposition player) are completely foreign to the girls. Anyway, here’s hoping for no interruptions.

P.S. Watt, I was distraught with the signing of Kemp. I’m over it now, and I hope Merrick can teach him a thing or two. About Spase, as I said, I don't particularly care where he plays as long as he gets decent game time so I can swoon at his through-balls. Sure it’d be nice for him to come back to Melbourne, but whatever – if he plays and removes the recklessness from his game, I’ll be a happy girl.

P.P.S. There's more to this whole passing/supporting/not-so-much-running thing, but I should get to sleep. Perhaps this will come up at some point in the future.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The first 'proper' training session.

I'm regarding Tuesday as having been my first 'proper' training session because that very first Sunday was more of a kickabout/meet-and-greet than anything else.

So I had a plan for defensive work. I more or less stuck to the plan, although I didn't have enough players to step a 2 vs. 3 scenario while trying to keep everyone moving (I had eight on the night). What I wanted the girls to understand by the end of the night was the importance of providing the right kind of support and when the best time top tackle a player was.

Say you're the last defender. Generally I would expect the defender to hold off the attacker until:
  1. a back-up arrives in the form of a team-mate,
  2. the attacker makes an error so that the defender has a chance to win the ball, or
  3. the attacker makes a move where the defender has no choice but to be a bit more reckless in defence.
I want my players to hold-off an attack until back-up arrives. This implies that team-mates recognise the situation, support the first defender and talk to that defender so that s/he knows when the time to commit and make a tackle is. This support doesn't only occur in the situation of an attacker with the ball, but one scenario at a time. I'm also trying to get the girls used to talking to each other.

I think they understood the action of supporting, especially as they took it upon themselves to continue the drill after the first defender made their move. i.e. the first defender went to back up the second if the ball was not won. :)

An interesting part of the night came up when my players (strange to think of them as “my players” but I suppose they are. Also, I think “my girls” sounds weirder) noticed another group of women training at the other end of the fields. They asked me who they were and I informed them that the other group was the local senior team (one which I had played for on previous occasions and knew the club fairly as well). Had a bit of a chit chat and when it came to why I stopped playing with them, well, I couldn't find any nice way of explaining all the politics involved so I told them that the only way I would go back to that club is if things changed. And I told them that was all I was going to tell them.

Not to be mysterious, but they simply don't need to know. Later the ex-president (possibly the current president again?) came to say hello to me (I'd bumped into him numerous times after Victory matches on the train home) and suggested that if I didn't have enough players that maybe we could join up with some of the women's division 4 team. I'm not in any position to really say anything, so I told him that we'll see what happens. I'm not particularly keen on the idea because of the jump between open and U16 (alright, and because I don't like the senior club at the moment). When current/ex-president left our group we chit-chatted about it and I said I wasn't keen on them playing open because it's a far competitive and less fun environment. One of the girls had been training with a senior team and agreed with me, which put the rest of the girls at ease with my evaluation.

I think the most important aspect of coaching kids is knowing how far to push them. I don't know my players all that well yet, but based on the chatted from Sunday they're still quite carefree. I don't think they'd enjoy football if winning was the main priority. Sure, I'm competitive, but I'd be more satisified to lose knowing we played well that take a poorly deserved win.

Anyway, I finished the session with a mini-game, which I plan to do every training night. I do stop them quite a bit to explain what I want from them. I don't particularly want to play in these mini-games as I found it very frustrating when I was a player for the coach to do this. Often they'd end up doing everything, so how was I supposed to learn? Anyway, I found with these girls that after a few stoppages and some direction they understood why I want them to play with a support player behind the player with the ball. They may not have used it, but by understanding the reasoning behind it I could say the first step is accomplished. Whether they remember for next week is another matter...

About coaches playing during training, it was amusing that the email I got the next day from Fine Soccer was about this. I completely agree with the article and will link it once it appears in their archives. In the meantime I recommend that you sign up, even if all it does is refresh your memory about a certain aspect of the game or reminds you of a drill you haven't done in a while.

To answer some of my (two) readers' questions...

Firstly, this is my first time coaching. Luckily I have my dad watching most of my sessions so he points out things I could have done better and he sees things in players that I sometimes miss. Although I was defending a player after Tuesday because I think her head works in terms of football, but she's just missing the connection with her feet – the only reason I know is from discussing why she did something and the idea was good even if the execution, or rather, talking to team-mates wasn't. (She has a preference for passing the ball in front of a player, expecting them to run on to the ball. It's a style I prefer to play when compared to. a game that's always played to feet, and so I won't discourage her from playing that way. I know there's a place for both kinds of balls – but I like a fluid form of football, which can't really be achieved by passing to feet.) Anyway, in regards to my dad being there, it's good to get the kind of feedback that I won't get off players – I think I might be a little spoilt as a result, but I'm not complaining!

Anyway, Hamish - the only way I can think of trying to figure out your, “unlike you we have had very little experience” comment is that perhaps I haven't been as inactive as you as a player. That being said I more or less was assistant coach when my dad was coach of my team a few years ago – simply because I knew what my dad was on about and would try and ensure it happened during matches. I think it'll be interesting to see how we (incl. John) all go in our coaching mis-adventures.

Now to Watt with his more technical questions! I plan to structure my team on a spine-like basis. I want my central midfielder, central defender and goal-keeper to be my best players and hold the team together. Whether I'll have this luxury or not is another matter. In regards to losing the ball if passed backwards and the risk of the girls being discouraged – I've already found during training that the girls don't quite connect and they lose the ball quite cheaply. There are a few reasons – lack of talk, lack of touch (in controlling the ball) and poor passing. I find that they respond well when I applaud or congratulate a good idea and discuss why it didn't work and why it was a good idea.

While I like the idea of playing with a sweeper, I suspect playing with an outright sweeper would end up putting the other team onside most of the time. So I'm thinking of playing with a pseudo-sweeper, where I'll let my central defender know that I want them to sit back about half a metre to hold the whole defence together and still be enough of a jump on a long ball over the defence or through-ball. It will depend on how much speed the defender I have in mind is. I don't like doing running drills in training, I think ball time is far more precious but I'll need to figure out their speeds sooner or later.

Parents may be an issue. So far they've let me do my thing but I suspect match day may be something different. I will not tolerate parents giving instructions to players. Support your kid by all means, but telling them to go “all the way” is downright selfish and ignoring that football is a team game.

"One thing there is no doubt, if they do what you tell them they will play beautiful football." I hope they do. I feel a bit sorry for the girls at the moment because I think I overload them with information. I know I overload them, but I'd rather they started to learn how I want them to play now, rather than let them get away with things that I then have to change later. I've spoken to them about how perhaps I give them too much information, so they know that I don't expect them to remember every single thing I say and that I would not be surprised (or annoyed) if it takes a while for things to sink into their heads. Hopefully if certain situations recur in game situations they can start to identify what needs to be done themselves. Like so many things, it's going to take time.

Long post, I know, but a few things happened between the girls, my playing history and that the local senior women's team train at the same time is amusing. I'm not going to deny that I'm looking forward to the day that their coach decides to pay me a visit and I can tell him to bugger. off. Perhaps not in those terms exactly, but I know that I have some of the senior club on my side. ;)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Culture Shock

While Fozzie writes about how we need to change the way in which Australians generally play football, he overlooks that football is not part of our culture here. Sure, these days more kids are taking up football on weekends, but I'm not sure if they watch entire matches – rather than the highlights that focus heavily on goals. As a result, making kids play football isn't as easy as telling them to pass more often – because they don't have the understanding as to WHY it's an option to, say, pass the ball backwards. As I said I like possession based football, and it's the kind of football I would like the U16 girls I've taken to play.

Although the girls have the basic skills of passing (they use their right feet, but when I tell them to use their left no passes went wayward – so the ability is there, I just have to extract it and make it part of their game rather than an effort to use the left), dribbling and controlling a ball (provided it's a good pass), they lack the intrinsic nature of wanting the ball. On Sunday I had my first coaching session ever, and my biggest problem is the culture shock.

The girls turn up in dribs and drabs and start chatting. Alright, by all means chat – but you don't need your mouths to be free to kick a ball around. Ever since I started playing (at about 14 – it took a while for me to convince mum that it was ok for me to play, I can more or less thank Gary Cole for that) when the first person rocked up to training they'd play about with the ball on their own. Someone else turns up and they chat while kicking the ball about, and so on until everyone's having a bit of a play.

Other things that I noticed - only little, but their absence or presence said a lot about how they perceived football to be, and how much they wanted (or did not want) the ball. AFL has a strong influence on kids – I've seen junior goalkeepers pick the ball up with their hands in readiness to send it far, only for them to take a few steps backwards and concede a goal. Then I watch in a bit of bemusement as the coach tries to make the kids understand why it's a goal. This specific circumstance didn't occur on Sunday, but something similar did. They would control the ball, and find they didn't have enough space between them and the ball to pass it off. Rather than rolling or tapping the ball forward, their instinct or nature is to take a few steps back. Although I didn't see it on Sunday, I wouldn't be surprised that if I got them to turn around at a cone while dribbling the ball that they would move their bodies all the way around the ball rather than stopping the ball, rolling it and swiveling about of the ball of their foot. Also, not that I want them to be Riquelme-like ball hogs, but things like not claiming the ball when it goes out. I'm not expecting them to claim it when they did kick it out, but some enthusiasm in retrieving the ball if it's yours or putting your hand up and saying “white ball” or “coloured ball.”

Speaking of colours and whites – I didn't have any bibs on Sunday, so I split them up based on their clothes. I had three girls wearing white, two wearing blue, one wearing bright orange, one wearing a pastel lime green and another wearing pale pink. The pale pink was the least bright of the girls not wearing white, so I told her the move in with the white team. They were a bit confused as to how pale pink was white. So, while it's not really football related, I interpret their inability to think laterally (i.e. not understanding my good enough solution to the problem) as an issue when it comes to teaching football. i.e. All because the goals are in front of you, doesn't mean the ball always has to move forward.

All of these girls played last season - all but two at the same club, and the other two from nearby clubs. So, if they had never played before I'd be a little more forgiving about how their heads are working – but it's a bit of culture shock really...

I know girls are social, and they're pretty inquisitive as to what everyone does, so I did have a chat to them before I got them to warm up - talked about their interests, school, what sports they like (netball and footy were favorites, only one mentioned football/soccer), what I do (at uni, playing with bacteria) and they asked why I didn't play anymore, what position I used to play, etc. We probably had about a solid 15-20 minutes of that...

In terms of socialising, as I said most of the girls played together last year - one of the newer girls goes to the same school, and the other new one was completely new. I've already told them that when I say training starts at 7pm, that's when training starts. They can get ready and chat for as long as they want before training, but during training I want their full attention. They were happy with this when I suggested it, apparently it's what their old coach did too. We'll see how it goes tonight.

I think the best way for this group of girls to learn is through game situations. Most of training on Sunday was a mini-game, where I stopped them everytime I saw something was not working. It's funny, I see so many things that could be done better, but I'm trying not to nit-pick. One thing that stood out was the obsession with playing the ball forward. There's two things going on - they don't understand why they should play the ball to the side or backwards, and because no-one understands, the option isn't there to demonstrate.

I'm sure pure drill work won't do all that much for them as they won't realise when to apply it during a game. My training plan is to warm up, stretch, continue the warm up with a couple of light drills (dribbling, passing, jockeying, that kind of thing) followed by a bit more stretching. I plan to focus on one technique or concept per night, and develop it slowly into a game.

For example, this week I'm planning on focusing on defending. So first I'll make it 1 vs. 1, the work on 1 attacker vs. 2 defenders, 1 vs. 3 defenders, 2 vs. 3, and develop it into a full game. I may not have enough time to go through the progression I have in my head, but we’ll see what happens – I think it’s important for these girls to get as much game time as possible. I rather that they solved their own on-field problems, but sometimes they get stuck so I stop the game or move them back to where they were and talk to them about what did happen, what they could’ve done about it.

I absolutely hate it when coaches join in on mini-games to show how to play and then end up playing for their enjoyment, so I don't really want to participate in the games. With these girls however, I think I may have to to illustrate a point. I want the girls to understand what it is to support each other – playing square and always having a back-door option. It's the back-door option that i think they'll have more difficulty getting to grips with. So I plan to play as the last man for them for a bit so they see how much less stressful it is no have that support, and how play can be switched using the last man as pivot point. Hopefully they'll see the benefits and begin to incorporate it into their game.

One or two concepts at a time might take forever, but I'd rather they learned things properly, and truly learn them, rather than be told to do this, this and this and not actually getting used to it. I suppose we'll see how we go tonight.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

How I like my football...

In short, it's how I like my coffee. I like a long macchiato - no messing about (the long black is my morning coffee) but nice to watch (the foamed milk takes a bit of the edge off the coffee, what I order when I buy my coffee - too much of a fuss to make at home really.)

Over at SBS's The World Game website, Craig Foster has written an excellent article about football culture in this country, why we need to change it and how to go about changing it.

Foster's an interesting fellow from the point of view of a football fan. Some of us hate him and some of us love him. I definitely feel the latter. Not that I worship the ground that he walks on, but he brings some valid points and ideas about football in Australia. In his most recent TWG Opinion article, Fozzie discusses a “new” philosophy for football where possession is the key. Not all that 'new' to me, which I attribute to having parents from South American countries.

I have a particular style of play, which I will adapt to the situation and the opposition as necessary. If you've read (and paid attention) to past posts, how I like to see football played comes through, and perhaps you've figured me out entirely, which would make this summarisation post redundant!

I am a massive fan of 'fluid' football – where a team keeps possession of the ball, passing it around all the players. This fluidity is why I fell in love with Bleiberg's Queensland Roar, and later fell in love with the Newcastle Jets (I think everyone did this, they were great to watch). By playing a possession based game, the opposition will find it more difficult to win the ball (compared with a traditional English long ball style), you can control the game and choose when you want to up the tempo of the game.

Football is a team game, so it's everyone's job to defend. Do you hear me Archie? Likewise, I am keen to see a ball won by the defence to be played out to the rest of the team and thus begin the attack. It's far more enjoyable to watch than the ball simply being thumped up the field. Having said that, sometimes the long ball is the best option – it just needs to be known the the long ball is not the only option. And if the team's in trouble defensively, sometimes the ball needs to be walloped up the field or kicked out to buy the defensive team time to get themselves organised.

The final third is the one area of the pitch you do not muck about in. Ideally you shouldn't fall asleep on (or off) the ball anywhere, but doing so in the final third can prove fatal. It's vital that each player knows what to do with the ball before they get the ball. You simply will not have the time to think about the options once you have the ball – the opposition will be after you! When considering what your role in a game is you cannot assume that everything will pan out according to the plan. What if your goalkeeper parries or spills a ball instead of holding onto it? You need to be ready to be there. Similarly, you cannot assume the other team will complete all its passes. Putting pressure on a player can sometimes be enough to cause them to mis-time a pass or have trouble controlling it – and again you need to be ready for that opportunity to win the ball.

Finally, I like players to have heart. If I had to choose between the technically talented player who doesn't put any effort in (be it to win the ball for themselves, or to push their tired legs for another few steps, etc.) and the kind of player who wants to play and puts in a lot of effort, I'd take the latter - even if they're lacking in skills and ability.

Nothing new there really, but it's a quick summary of how I like football to be played and now that I'm coaching, what I expect or want from my players.

However, now that we've had our first coaching session I can see that this is not going to be easy...

Cue impending doom music.