There are many fundamental issues with talk of ‘style of play’.
I’ll state two (which are intimately linked):
1) You can’t ‘copy’ a style of play. (on the coaching front)
A ‘style of play’ is a specialty – like neurosurgery or cardiovascular surgery. Yes, it’s all medicine, and yes there are overlapping competencies, but one practitioner can’t just up and do the other with the same degree of expertise.
He essentially has to start from ground zero, spend years and years on it, and in all likelihood will never be as good as the guy who’s already dedicated his life to it. Not just because of the head start, but because of all the existing influences and habits developed.
And there’s the confortable allure of going back to ‘what you know’ instead of the suffering, sacrifice, and series of failures required in the transformation.
2) You can’t ‘copy’ a style of play. (on the player front)
How a player plays is tied to his culture.
How he moves, how he thinks about the game, how he executes on the field. It is why generally a Brazilian does not play the same way as an Argentine, who does not play like a Mexican, who does not play like an Englishman. It is why a player ‘fits’ or doesn’t ‘fit’ with certain teams and coaches.
Amateurs don’t understand this.
Especially number 1. Not really, anyways. They think problems are obvious, and solutions are obvious.
Amateurs seem to think because something is linguistically or intellectually simple, that there isn’t a glacier of complexity. Unless, they’ve been educated otherwise.
* If you’ve got an irreparable heart, the solution is simple; replace the heart.
But of course in matters of medicine, the layman – the amateur – has been ‘educated’ from birth that these things are not simple. That terrible complexities exist, and that they are not qualified to analyze them. Sure you have a god given right to your opinion, but it is not on par with those who have dedicated their life to the subject. And everyone accepts that. Everyone has been trained to accept that.
* Want to send a man to the moon? Simple. Build a big rocket, point it to the moon, and fire!
Why would this take decades, and the mobilization of an entire nation?
Many of these and other professions/subjects are pretty universally accepted as “hard”.
As such, it’s pretty wacky to think you know medicine because you were a patient or caregiver. Or that you can do orbital mechanics for a deep space mission.
You have been ‘educated’ to know it’s not simple. And you can envision your ignorant paralysis if you were given a scalpel or a differential equation.
Similarly, there’s a range of subjects and disciplines we’ve all been conditioned to view as easy.
* Flipping burgers at McDonalds is the prolific example.
Then of course, we’ve all got concepts of the occupations in between ‘rocket science’ and ‘flipping burgers’.
Somehow we got it in our heads that coaching soccer is simple.
Perhaps it’s because anyone can quickly become a coach?
Well, anyone can quickly become a parent. Is that simple?
Anyone can be a writer. Is that simple?
Anyone can give a speech. How simple is that?
But back to the simple view of coaching …
Meh … pick some drills from a book or the internet, have the players do them, scrimmage, and say a couple words.
Meh … pick 11 players, put them on the field in some formation, and off we go. Maybe you make a couple subs. The team with the better players usually wins.
Meh … just get the “best players”.
Meh … keep the players happy and motivated.
Now, now, of course many will say …
“No Gary, we know there’s more to it than that.”
And I know some people get that. But I also know they have no clue how deep the rabbit hole goes.
If they did, they would never think that a coach can simply ‘copy’ a different style of play after he’s specialized in his own. They would know it would require an enormous effort for many years to approach the success of a colleague already specialized in that style.
A successful change in style – especially a huge one – requires a departure from how you been training for say 20 years, how you’ve been managing games and players, and how you’ve been identifying the ‘best players’ for your style.
And the whopper: a cultural shift.
You can’t just flip a switch!
You will have to go through years of trial and error.
And it won’t be the same process as that of a newly minted coach either. You will have the added baggage of 20+ years of doing things the old way. Not to mention, your assistants and the circles you run in, have got the same baggage. You gonna change them to?
Now, there’s a ton of reasons for you not believing this, but perhaps foremost among them is that unlike other professions, you haven’t been educated in this one – in soccer.
And there’s a ton of reasons for that as well, perhaps foremost … demand.
You Won’t do it!
Whereas above I said: “you can’t copy ‘a style of play'”, now I say:
When you’ve been ‘successful’ with your product, do you tear it down and fix it? Even if evidence suggests or proves there’s something better or a changing trend?
You think Bruce Arena or Sigi Schmid are going to transform themselves?
Check out what Sigi said on January 16th, when asked about his philosophy on picking players in the draft:
“At the end of the day uh … you know best athlete …”
Only to immediately “correct” himself;
“or best soccer player, not best athlete, but best soccer player, is what we’re looking to pick”
Doh! Yeah, nice try buddy.
You think that college coach who’s won some things (or whose job doesn’t depend on winning) is going to change?
You think that youth coach with prestigious tournament titles, or a secure job, or doesn’t really care either way, is going to change?
But suppose one would like to. Let’s say a high level youth coach with 20+ years experience in jungle ball with an enormous trophy case has a coming to Jesus moment and wants to produce a product like ours.
Thinking he can match our expertise in our style is insane! We have decades of experience over him. Understand this: We are decades more qualified than Bruce Arena in our style of play. As he is in his (whatever that may be).
This is a major reason why Barcelona (and others) ‘share’ what they do. They know exactly what I’m telling you now.
You can’t just copy it!
You’re going to have to work on it for a long time. So the sooner you start, the better. And best if you get a mentor.
Noah Creagh says
The last post about Sigi there…Now wouldnt Caleb Porter be a good example of a guy who came through a jungle ball system..(I mean that basically has to be a good deal of what he was taught as a player) and sometime after his short pro playing career ended he kind of sat down and thought something like “there has to be a better way of doing things” you know a different way? I mean Ive read somewhere that Porter was known for his “aggressive playing style” when he was a player. So how does a guy like that suddenly sit down and have this epiphany and become the coach he is today? haha. That said, even he is clearly in the process of learning his craft. The most obvious area of question has been player selection, as evident with the Olympic qualifiers. It will be interesting to see who he offloads after this season and who he keeps on no? On a final note..Gary on you mentioning it takes years..again with the Porter example his learning process on building a possession based more tactical team had to begin sometime after college…so that would make him what..25 26 at the time? Hes nearly forty now and is still fine tuning his craft. I cant wait for the Timbers to come to Columbus in a few days. I will be working on field at that game and will be sure to try and soak in as many details as I can from close up.
In my opinion, Porter’s Olympic qualifying team, comprised literally of his selections, reflect the pool of players available. In the few months that he had, they did some great things. Recall “we broke their spirit” playing MX pro club 2nd teams, etc. I think he was tossed into the U23 team mixer with too little time, and the results reflected it. I think his results in Akron and Portland speak for themselves. His teams are not one dimensional, either.
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t think it “reflects the pool of players available”.
For instance, from my evaluation of the players he called into camp alone, apparently he disagreed with what I saw. He took others to qualifying and left what I judged to be the better players at home or on the bench.
Not to pick on you, but this whole thing about NT coach selected rosters “reflecting what’s available” is dangerous talk. The implication is that what was selected was actually “the best players”. And that’s simply not an accurate statement.
Good dialogue. Porter clearly knows how to identify and coach players, evidenced by his Akron years. I have never heard him make excuses, but my supposition is that Porter had no choice but to pick from the “national team pool” as it existed at the time of his promotion. Going out and identifying a totally new roster was likely not a realistic option in a short time, so he did what he could to introduce a new playing style with the same old “established” players. It nearly worked.
And Noah, sorry I didn’t mean to post as if I disagree with you. I just saw your mention of Porter and wanted to add to it.
Noah Creagh says
Oh no problem at at all man! I certainly think the amount of time he had was an issue for him as far as player selection. I think over the next couple seasons we will really see Porter’s grasp on player selection at the pro level you know? I am very hopeful so far with the current state of things in Portland. Keeping in mind not everyone on his roster is suited for high level possession ball..but he is certainly making the most of what he has and I can applaud that.
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t know the details of Porter’s experience. Who does?
Who knows what and who his influences were, and how he’s sculpted his philosophy and execution?
Can one come from a jungle ball system and still become a non-jungle ball coach? Yes.
But I’m thinking something or someone has to intervene and influence you. And I also think it takes a special kind of dedication.
We’re all fortunate someone like him (a massive upgrade) is now in MLS. I only hope his resolve in pursuing global quality soccer continues.
Noah Creagh says
Its over Gary. The Crew have proved it will never work in MLS …… 😉
Porter gave a great interview with Soccer Made in Portland (Episode 110) if you want to hear more of his philosophy for playing. He talks about formation, defending through possession, and training. At one point he talks about drills or Spanish “positioning games” that he uses for training. I felt more enlightened after hearing it, if you are interested you can find it at http://nasn.tv/2013/soccer-made-in-portland-episode-110/
Coach J says
Thnx for posting that Brian…….lot of good stuff in there!
Coach Cow Town says
This is great. Thanks for sharing.
You should read Taiichi Ohno’s The Toyota Production System if you haven’t already (relevant to how to do a lot of things other than manufacturing). Toyota is the Barcelona/total football of manufacturing — no one does it better, they are totally open about how they do it, they even had the joint manufacturing plant with GM in Fremont, from which GM learned nothing because they preferred the way they had done it for 60 years, even if worse. You can watch what Toyota is doing all you want, just like Barcelona, but unless you can incorporate the methods into your DNA you’re not learning a thing:
Gary Kleiban says
When I worked at Boeing, we had many meetings when we were changing to “Integrated Product Teams” on the engineering side. And I was hearing about Toyota case studies all day long.
Interestingly, since our ultimate products were spacecraft (each one is taylor made to customer requirements), there were disagreements as to the applicability of Toyota processes. Hmmm …
But for sure, I totally get your analogy!
Probably one of the best posts in awhile here. I do NOT have 20+ years of experience (but I played jungle ball), yet I shake my head when all of these so-called soccer “experts” poo-poo the possession game and do exactly what they’ve done for years. The “revolution” will NOT be carried out by them (save some brave souls like the aforementioned Caleb Porter)!!!
It will be carried out by those not indoctrinated, but again – as pointed out in the post – one can’t simply look at drills and think “that will work”. I’ve learned that the hard way, and find myself reverting to jungle ball days (note – I consider myself a “parent coach” – yes, I played, but I always point out – I stunk and I played jungle ball…that does not qualify me as an “expert”).
Last line of the post is what I’ve been so trying to find – a coaching mentor that understands the possession game. It’s elusive and either a) hard to commit (need to be local) and b) hard to convince one to take you on as mentor. I won’t give up, but at times I find myself discouraged.
My girls team really made a huge step forward. Passing / possession has improved 20-30% (my numbers, my estimate for whatever that means), but still kickball. That’s due to my limited experience in this style of play, so you get a hodge-podge hybrid.
I’m bloodied, but unbowed!!!
Gary Kleiban says
Keep going Rich!
We had no mentors either!
Rob A says
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Rob!
No standing O … ?
I kid, I kid!
I have to keep getting better at this writing stuff, and get stronger at overcoming my fears.
Griller Monsoon says
First time I’ve felt compelled to post on here. Excellent points in this post. The onion has many, many layers. Just as you get through one, there’s another one to deal with. Many, many variables. That’s why it’s just easier to play “jungle ball” ,as you say, with athletes. Much easier to leverage their “strengths” on the pitch & take home some tin cups along the way.
Gary Kleiban says
Get off that Twitter man!
We need you here even if I feel I’m going to be disagreeing with you a lot.
But yeah, “jungle ball” requires no work really.
Much of the world seems to work that way … most everyone looking to do the least amount of work possible.
Bottom line for me as to why youth coaches do not employ the proper techings is this phrase in the comment,
“And there’s the confortable allure of going back to ‘what you know’ instead of the suffering, sacrifice, and series of failures required in the transformation.”
Clubs, coaches, and frankly nations (especially can and us) are simply not willing to fail and wait in the course of changing culture, philosophy, style of play, etc…
Good article Gary.
I would add that most youth coaches also simply “do not know”. If you believe that 90% are “parent coaches” – they only know what they know, and are too afraid to ask otherwise. The top 5% (it is a bell-shaped curve after all!) are so-called “experts” that refute anything but what they know (because they know it all – sarcasm intended).
I’ve been a youth coach for 7 years, and I came across one team – ONE – that I ever saw possess with a purpose. That team was my younger daughter’s team (this is a team I do not coach). They are U9s that are the club’s “B” team (so allegedly not as talented…although Sigi Schmid’s words ring true here), and they developed so much possession skill that they would just pass around other teams. One “problem”, however – they didn’t win a game. That’s right – they went 0-10. Beaten by physically gifted kickball players. The pressure on the coach was tremendous that many parents revolted.
What a shame too – at U9 the pressure to win was so great that a wonderful exercise in possession soccer was flushed down the toilet. WIth that kind of pressure to win, is it any wonder that youth coaches play jungle ball?
Rob A says
makes me suspicious… a tangible possession style for a U9 B-team? Just passed around other teams but went 0-10?
No offense, but there seems to be a disconnect in the training. What was the goals for/against? If they lost games by one-goal margins, then I would be less suspicious about the training methods. Otherwise, it just seems like they’re learning to pass and receive to the detriment of the other aspects of their game and learning the true objective of the game (score more goals than the other team).
A lot of factors can sabotage a win-loss record: playing against too tough competition, poor goalkeeping, etc.
My point about win/loss is that it doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that the girls were developing. They were flighted too high, they didn’t excel at shooting, they aren’t as “athletic”, etc. – all contributors to the losses, but not relevant in my mind.
I was a dissenting voice – I feel at U9, win/loss is irrelevant…player development is paramount. The issue is that no one else agreed…so the team disbanded and development stopped. The children scattered to coaches that play kick and run.
And yes, I agree other areas weren’t developed (finishing for example)…they weren’t a dominant team, but almost every opposing coach remarked at how well they possessed / passed the ball.
Dr Loco says
“The issue is that no one else agreed…so the team disbanded and development stopped. The children scattered to coaches that play kick and run.”
Sounds like my story. I only get to work with non-athletes and sometimes I don’t have a full team but I am perfecting my craft. Perhaps someday my time will come so I can mentor others.
I do not like how people say the win/loss does not matter. IT DOES MATTER. The possession, circulation, patience, ball retention, collective movement ways are the best method to WIN. They are the toughest to teach so they are the least utilized (or incorrectly taught) methods. As the original post implies, it also takes instinct and the ability to constantly adjust, to develop a style of play…it cannot be dictated from a book and be expected to have it’s full effect. I believe in this style of soccer and am committed to a continuing education, not only in possession style’s, but all style’s of play. I am also committed to my instinct’s for this way to play the game, as this is the only way to truly see the full potential of a particular “style of play.” However, it is important to understand that this commitment exists due to the fact possession soccer is the best way to win. Winning does matter.
At U9 win / loss should not take precedent over development. In NJ, unfortunately, we have competitive leagues from U8, and go full sided by U11. In other states, they don’t keep score until later ages, and many don’t go full sided until U13.
We can agree to disagree, but at U9, winning is far less relevant IMHO.
I didn’t say that it took precedent over development. I just think it sends the wrong message to say that it doesn’t matter. My point was the style/culture should be there because it is the best way to win. I am hoping you want development to take precedent now, so that you can win later. So why would you say winning doesn’t matter, now? The style/culture should not be sacrificed for a win, but the win does matter.
“I am hoping you want development to take precedent now, so that you can win later”
Yes, agree 100%. I coach U13G in Fall, and winning matters, but falls very much in line with your statement. We develop to win.
In my younger daughter’s case – as noted they were not the physically gifted children. They were the “B” team, and all the stronger, bigger kickers went to the “A” team. So the coach decided that he would work on passing / moving / possession. I’m sure he wanted to win, but he acknowledged to me privately that they would have a tough time against the teams they were playing. They were flighted too high, and he knew it, so he focused on getting their skills to where they needed to be for coming year(s). If the team had played kickball, they still would have lost. Yet, all the parents complained that they weren’t winning – as if going to kickball would change it.
I can only gauge by my younger daughter’s development. She has improved immensely. Her touch is solid for a 9 year old, she dribble and pass, even breaks out a few moves (she can L turn, pull back Zico, etc). She is far ahead of her older sister (whom I coach) at this stage. I’d venture if she were a little bigger and more aggressive, she might have made the “A” team, but I’ll also say she doesn’t run in a pack because she has some idea of getting into space to receive a pass or pull defenders out of position. It actually made her look bad at the tryout because all the “A” players were running in a pack, while she’s out wide calling for the ball. Of course no one would pass to her because they were gunning for goal.
In any event, I couldn’t care less about A or B or whatever. I’m over the moon that she’s gotten to this point, but the fact that winning mattered too much, her team disbanded. Shame too, they would have been fantastic if they stayed together…
I think we are getting close to the end and are pretty much on the same page. I coach the 9’s/10’s A and B teams. Ideas are the same but one team has more success with them than the other and wins, in the chosen possession style, more than the other. I am quick to congratulate the B team on the successes they had within the game, aside from the final score. But, I never tell them that winning doesn’t matter. I think a child is fully capable of hearing that they did things well, but also didn’t quite reach the final goal of winning while playing the correct way. And don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in the individual development of my player’s, but I think the hunger to win is the driving force for all competitors. And to deny that that is true at young ages, as well, is a disservice to the kids. We need to teach them how to develop properly while also WANTING TO WIN. Teach them how to cope with the different outcomes (positives in a loss and negatives from a win). To me if they just hear “winning doesn’t matter,” they might start to lose that bad feeling in their stomach when they lose. Nothing worse could happen.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Mario.
We’re all kinda programmed to look at ‘return on investment’ with our decisions.
So … what “return” will coaches get with the “investment” required to do what needs to be done?
* Coaches with demonstrated expertise should be identified and selected for the ‘higher levels’. Promotion if you will.
But for this to occur, business models need to be changed.
Gary Kleiban says
I will add, however, that some coaches may simply pursue this challenge not necessarily for career advancement, but because that’s how they view football.
The “return” on their investment is simply pleasure.
The pleasure of creating something they can be proud of.
Coach J says
This is where I’m coming from Gary……I want to put a product on the field that is entertaining and a joy to watch. If my team “plays ugly” and wins, the win is hollow. But if we play beautiful soccer and do the things we’ve been doing at training, I’m happy.
I remember this past year we had been working on our Outside Backs getting forward in the attack and overlapping the Wingers. We had been rehearsing it at training for about 3 weeks but had yet to see it in a match yet. Well, we get into St. Cup and we’re in a really tough match against a strong team and with just a few minutes to go, my Right Winger gets the ball on a switch and starts up the field and without a word from me, here comes my Right Outside Back on a full sprint with the overlapping run to create a 2v1. My Winger perfectly lays it out in front of the OB who never breaks stride and makes a beautiful cross and my Left Winger makes the perfect back post runs and slides in to tap in the game winning goal.
I was smiling from ear to ear for hours, not because we won(although that part WAS cool 🙂 ), but because we did something in a match that we had been working on in training for awhile and they pulled it off perfectly.
Those are the moments that I coach for.
“The ‘return’ on their investment is simply pleasure.
The pleasure of creating something they can be proud of.”
Bingo Gary – that is exactly right.
Cracking-up about the sig video; live here in Portland and grew-up in primarily a jungle ball environment (to a certain extent including on my college team) where an English accent made you an expert . . . pinch myself when I think about what a joy the Timbers have been this year.
As to your point on the return on investment in playing the right way . . personally, have spent an irrational amount of time on the sport in my life (played classic, college, reasonably high-level amateur ball; coaches, reffed, served as a league president), watched the tough road it was for “pros” who played in the USL (generally lousy pay, traded or cut in a heartbeat, teams always folding), dealt with my own long-term injury woes, and had some ambivalence about my kids putting in the same amount of time into the sport I did, and have at times wondered about the ROI, but I did commit to one thing: if my kids play they will be skilled and know the right way to play.
So far my girls team is undefeated in 2 seasons of outdoor when they play at age (they have played up in futsal, against boys and up in one 3v3 tournament and generally gotten beaten) and team is skilled, passing in a way noone else at their age does. They benefit in part from the fact several of the players have older siblings that play (makes a big difference when they are young). But they are very young (just entering u8), the passing patterns I have introduced are very, very basic (and most of what they do they have invented themselves when I tell them they can’t score until they string 5 passes together); still prioritizing development of basic coordination (we still warm-up with lots of tag, sharks and minnows, tunnel tag w/ and w/out the ball), building block skills (fair amount of Coerver), and a positive attitude towards the sport.
All in all, not sure how I feel about my children committing to the sport to the extent I did, but if they play, they will play the right way and there is a real personal joy in watching them string some passes together that creates something.
. . . Slightly off topic, has anyone seen good pattern passing drills for 3v3 or 4v4 that are age appropriate for u8s? I would like to make more time for passing patterns this season in training . . .I think we will win most games whether we introduce them or not, but want to introduce more of those concepts (in Portland we play 4v4 at u8). Creating some in my mind based on some pattern passing from futsal, but also don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Certainly how to play out of the back (I played much of my career as a sweeper and defensive mid, so can see the patterns of passing fairly clearly in the back), but also some to begin to feel/see penetrating balls/runs (as a player/coach, don’t think I am as strong here). I rarely if ever have played or coached in a 4-3-3 system; generally played in a 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 (and occasionally in a 4-5-1), so don’t always visualize how the lanes for the penetrating balls to wings are created. Any thoughts welcomed. One other note on this – despite the girls being reasonably skilled for their age, still have challenges getting their plant foot correctly pointed when passing (or even shooting), and consistently making solid contact on passes (in my opinion it is easier for children to learn how to dribble at this age and it shows in the girls I coach), so the pattern passing drills need to take into account that are still mastering basic passing technique . . in fact I think even running backwards/shuffling to the right place as the ball is rotated is going to have be broken down.
“Individuals saw an ideal of perfection in the tasks they undertook, and they were willing to be judged by their fidelity…The old-fashioned virtue of loyalty to an ideal, which is honor.”
Richard Weaver (Ideas Have Consequences)
Some Coach says
Gary, you said Cultures have a impact on a style of play: “Brazilian does not play the same way as an Argentine, who does not play like a Mexican, who does not play like an Englishman. It is why a player ‘fits’ or doesn’t ‘fit’ with certain teams and coaches.”
Barca for example, being mostly a Catalans land, does their culture effect the way they played?
Brilliant Orange, the book, made me understand dutch soccer more and appreciate it.
All Good examples … But for US soccer, or culture in California is different than New York, different than Alabama, or Seattle. Is that related to why we have Jungle Ball system.. we are all over the place.
Gary Kleiban says
I don’t know Catalan culture. Meaning I haven’t thought about the link between its people’s way of life and how it’s expressed in their football.
On your second question about a possible correlation between “jungle ball” and the different cultures that exist in the US …
It’s possible it could have some influence.
But fundamentally? I don’t think so.
Given the fact that Cruijff is credited with introducing the tiki-taka strategy at Barcelona, we can only wonder how much Catalan culture influenced his philosophy but I don’t think it influenced it much. Add to that Pep’s statement that everything he learned about football (prior to management) was from Michael Laudrup it just show how cosmopolitan the club game is. Knowing a little about Catalan culture, in the culinary arts and design, there is a lot of experimentation and pushing boundaries. This is the case in the Bibao too. If this is creative mindset has been embodied by La Masia over the past decade then we have some interesting things to look forward to.
Eric D says
In all sports at all levels the clubs/ teams/ organizations that have a specific culture of play are more successful over the long term. Systems of play come and go, but its the development of culture and an identity of how one does things makes for long term success. systems are copied but culture is developed and nurtured.
Can you change a culture or “reset” it? The answer is yes, but it takes time, a plan and a group of people that buy into it. You have to be willing to cut the cancers/ the closed minded individuals that dont realize there are different ways to skin a cat.. The comment about having a mentor is huge as that “expert” in what you are trying to create must shorten the learning curve. A mentor is the best investment one can make, but the real unicorn is finding that mentor that fits what your trying to accomplish. There are so many snake oil sales men in this arena. This sport in this country is infested with them. There is so much money in the game and so many Americans are so clueless to the sport that they will throw thousands at any coach with a European accent.
Im not a systems guy- I’m a culture guy. Systems come and go, but if you develop a culture of play, find the type of player that fits what your trying to do you will have success over time. Develop and nurture your culture over a system and you’ll have great success.
Example- I come from a unique perspective as I have been a coach in both footballs. As a high school football coach I look at De La Salle. They have a culture of how they work, they have high expectations of all those that work within their walls and they know the type of players they want and its not always the biggest fastest kid. Its the player that is willing to work on their craft. Put many hours into training. They have a general system of play, but that is pliable based on the strengths and weakness of the players around them. They have even scrapped a system or two to adapt to the changing landscape of the sport. Coaches and players that cant buy into the culture are cut out quickly.
Dr Loco says
I found a pseudo-mentor at De La Salle. It did transform my way of thinking. It’s so difficult for me to find good coaching mentors in soccer so I looked to baseball, football, and basketball. There are real traditions and cultures in the US it’s just outside of soccer.
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you Eric!
Changing culture is a bitch!
Gary just buried 99.9% of the soccer coaches in their own grave. Then he gave us a teaspoon from which to dig ourselves out – “find a mentor.”
Dr Loco says
I mentioned a mentor months ago. Now I upgraded to a tablespoon. 🙂
I mentioned mentor to the NSCAA – everyone loved the idea, but no one wants to implement a program.
Seems like many of us here willing to learn. I have extremely limited resources and wherewithal to find one. I even did a Q&A with Becky Burleigh and while it was nice, a few minutes of time wasn’t enough (obviously).
At this point, I’d take just a bunch of non-narrated training sessions on video…something. ANYTHING.
Typical DOC should be the mentor in a club, but there are far too many egos involved. The bigger the club, the harder to change anything.
Gary Kleiban says
We all gotta start somewhere.
A “mentor” may be best, but “getting started” is the first and critical step.
Coach Cow Town says
Hi Gary. Brand new coach here- coaching a U11 girls bronze team here in Central California. I am a your stereotypical American soccer player. I played all my life in a kick and run environment and I topped out at a high school level. I currently play on an indoor team with some other guys. I love to play the game, but I never fully immersed myself into the culture- I was too busy watching my 49ers and Giants (which I also played growing up as well.) I have no children on this team, I coach because I genuinely like children and want to be a positive influence on those in my community (I’m also an elementary teacher). I give you all this background info just so you get an idea of who reads your blog.
Now I am also competitive, I want my girls to develop and beat the other local “silver team”. I want to beat them using possession. I want his parents to say “how are they bronze?” or “how can I get my girl on that team?”. I do not want to default to the ugly jungle ball to do this- in fact I don’t think it would work since they have the “bigger/faster” type players, and I don’t want to coach it, flat out..
I stumbled upon this site back in April and everything clicked with me. The questions, the deep introspective questions, the style of play, the talk of culture. I have read every article. Yes, I am a complete ignoramus in soccer tactics (set tactical work) but I am trying to learn. I am starting from ground zero. I have watched every piece of soccer on TV that I could record on my DVR. I purchased the MLS package to specifically watch the Portland Timbers. I have watched more soccer in the last 3 months- then in my entire life combined up to that point. I’m going to a Timbers game in a few weeks as well when they take on San Jose. I poured over the US Soccer Curriculum. I bought the Coerver DVD. I have planned out my season practice guides. Something in my mind is pushing me to a fanatical level of absorption that I am not fully sure where it is coming from yet. Competitiveness? A desire to help change the local landscape? I’m not sure.
I don’t have a mentor though. I want a mentor. I am willing to travel for a mentor. I have no idea where to look. Call up Caleb Porter? Call up Gary? Kidding. I stumbled upon a Deanza Force girl’s coach whose team plays a beautiful style. Shoot him a random email? Are people open to this?
Gary, I am extremely motivated. I want to do well. I don’t want to be jungle ball man. You are my mentor at the moment. Keep posting. Lol.
I really like this post. It shows the hunger for better soccer that is out there.
Coach Cow Town, That De Anza Force team you are referring to is CRAZY good! They play beautiful soccer the way it should be played and are very successful doing it. If you go on youtube and look up “De Anza Force Top Plays” you will find a ton of videos of this team. I have watched their videos and have gone to watch them play numerous times and I learn something new everytime.
Nobody is going to show you how to make your own team play like this team, but if you watch them enough times you can SEE exactly how they do it. Watch how they circulate the ball with their Back 5. Watch how the Wingers get wide and then the Attacking Mids ball the through balls between the Outside Backs and the Center Backs of the oppossing teams and the Wingers then make the diagonal runs onto the through balls.
All the 3four3 videos and the De Anza Force videos give you a blueprint of what it should look like. The trick is then being able to articulate and show your own team HOW to play in this manner. It sounds like you are very passionate about your coaching and wanting to teach an attractive style of play. Keep watching and learning and you’ll get there eventually….Good Luck!
Coach Cow Town says
Thank you! The 3four3 videos and the De Anza videos are on a constant rotation on my Youtube. My wife gives me funny looks. I then try to connect it to that one scrap of Set Tactical Work that Gary threw us (playing out of the back). I see the connections. I want to teach the connections to my players. There is a lot of moving pieces that I need to wrap my brain around and the context in which they occur. I would love to watch that De Anza team in action- it is a sick obsession that I have even learned some of the player names.
Just to make sure we’re talking about the same team- The 98G ECNL team.
That’s the team…..I could watch them play all day long!
If you want to see a couple of their full length games on video go to vimeo.com.
Dr Loco says
“You’re going to have to work on it for a long time. So the sooner you start, the better. And best if you get a mentor.”
The De Anza coach is actually from Gryphons SC born and raised in Barcelona, Spain and has been coaching the same girls for 6+ years. Get started early before it’s too late.
Coach Cow Town says
Nice write-up on coach and his team.
About starting young with his team-
“At younger ages, the team would lose, sometimes heavily, to teams taking a much more direct approach, while his group would continue to work on connecting passes, moving without the ball and building from the back, with the ball usually on the ground.”
Parent “buy-in” (something I am definitely worried about)-
“They have always bought into the concept of what we were trying to do with the players,” he said. “I had to work in setting expectations of course and to make sure they understood the path we were taking, and that we would have some tough times on that road. We were always playing a year up in our league, but we also have managed to win State Cups, Surf Cups, So Cal Blues Cups. I think they appreciated what we were trying to do.”
Our first practice is next week…anxious, nervous, excited, I have that “lets get this going” feeling all wrapped in one.
Dr Loco says
Right but he is also the Director and has created a large network to attract players from SF to SJ. It’s nice to get access to talented, athletic, and intelligent players. That along with proper coaching and ideal parents is a great recipe.
Dr Loco says
Amateurs don’t understand this.
You won’t do it!
It takes a lot of work every day but here is how their players started at the younger ages. Most (coaches, parents, players) cannot do it long-term.
De Anza Force 98G ECNL player:
Coach Cow Town says
Won’t do what, specifically?
Gary Kleiban says
Thank you coach!
Yeah, if you want, reach out to people. Why not?
You’ll get rejected a bazillion times, but guess what? That’s ok.
Most remarkable people I’ve read about have failed and been rejected more than they can count.
Well said – can’t hurt to try, worst is they say no. I’m totally with Coach Cow Town – I’m trying to consume whatever I can and implement what “works”. In NJ, I have yet to identify a comparable “DeAnza Force” team, if anyone has a lead… 🙂
I believe this club is in New Jersey and they seem to be possession oriented.
Hope this helps!
Rossi NJ says
First Touch FC Barcelona – Coach Junior might be the best in the state and has built his team around possession. Definitely worth watching live.
As U9s – http://youtu.be/8HY5hHO2NFo
As U10s- http://youtu.be/ts0GUrK5R9Y
The U10 game is especially interesting as BOTH teams are trying to play possession soccer. Where is this strange and wonderful place? lol
Good stuff – thank you!
Are you looking for a girls’ team like De Anza Force or more generally a possession focused club in NJ? Where in NJ? I can only speak for the upper half of the state. First, I think it is a difficult task because NJ is a case study in the above topic and many others Gary brings up….entrenched clubs/academies etc. in need of changes. The two mentioned above are good examples of smaller start-up clubs focusing on possession on the boys side (not sure they have girls teams). I know a former Ajax player sent his son to 1st Touch. Also, on the boys side if you are looking for a powerhouse like De Anza Force or Gary’s team then Cedar Stars Academy. It is the closest thing to the Barcelona USA club (both good and controversial) in NJ. On the girls side you may have to just cross the border into NY and look at the World Class club (same club shown in the above U10 video as 1st Touch’s opponent). Our boys played their U13G team and it was a bit like watching the De Anza Force girls videos above. They have some tremendous girls teams. I have seen Crush girls in Nj practice and they seem to play some quality style football. I guess the age matters a lot too because I think ultimately you are asking for the best coaches and that may be hit or miss from age to age even within one club depending on the coach. Also there is Gottschee, a NY based club that now has some NJ teams. Every one of their teams from low flight club team to academy team I have seen in the last few years plays possession or tries to more than others. I cannot think of another big club that shows that as consistently on the field across ages. Good luck and let me know what you find!
Thanks – I am looking for a team like De Anza Force 98G, but it doesn’t really matter if it’s boys or girls (prefer girls though, as I coach girls). It’s really about finding a coach that would be willing to allow me on the sidelines during practice or games as a “mentee” to learn more about best practices, implementing, etc.
I’m in Central (Shore area) NJ. My team has been playing for a few years, I’ve yet to come across any team playing possession oriented soccer.
Curious Larry says
FROM the “eyes” of an American born adult who played jungle ball in the 1980s.
This is a true story about my South American (i.e., Ecuador) friend & his 4 year old son ..
There are two boys w/ 1 soccer ball; one boy is 4 years old; the other boy is 8 years old. The younger boy has the ball at his feet; the older boy wants to play too & asks the smaller boy to pass him the ball. The younger boy declines passing the boy to the older boy; instead, the younger boy wants to dribble.
The father of the younger boy says nothing but just SMILES 🙂
Jack Matthew says
I was recently asked to help out a GU12 team that has a lot of individual talent but NO idea how to play correct soccer. I was working with the defenders and the holdng mid on how we should play out of the back. We were moving the ball around and one of the centerbacks asks me, “Why are we doing this? In the game we just launch the ball up to the forwards and they try to score.” I tried to explain that we wanted to keep possession of the ball and move the ball up the field so that we could create a good goal scoring opportunity instead of just belting the ball up the field and chasing it. She looked at me like I was speaking Russian to her. The concept of keeping the ball in our own half of the field was CRAZY in her mind. I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Teaching a possession style of soccer to a team requires that the coaches, the players and the parents are all on the same page. If you are going to do it, everyone has to buy in. If not, it’ll never work because eventually either a player or a parent is gonna yell “Send it!!!” when the defenders have the ball and the whole thing will fall apart.
Gary Kleiban says
What’s interesting is that it doesn’t matter what ‘style’ we’re talking about, it’s always best having everyone on the same page.
The way I see it, the problem is exacerbated with “possession soccer” for two main reasons:
1) The masses (ie your parents/players) aren’t educated in it.
2) The coach doesn’t have expertise in it. Hence, his win/loss record will suffer and he’ll lose buy-in from all involved.
Hence my point earlier about wins / losses not mattering…even though buy in is predicated on it. Until we lose that “win at all cost mentality”, we’ll struggle to get wide scale adoption.
Given the amount of money people throw around here in the States, it’s a wonder that there aren’t more “Spanish” influenced training facilities or trainers…
Don’t underestimate the intuitive intelligence of kids. Their instincts and “smarts” are often well justified even if they cannot voice why. She probably knows (can’t articulate, but KNOWS) her team cannot put together more than a couple passes w/o losing the ball and if she loses it near her own goal then her team will lose. She is right. It is also why kids aimlessly boot it 30yds upfield right before losing possession. Better to lose it there rather than nearer their own box or goal. What she does not understand is that sometimes they will be pressed and have no option to have the keeper punt it up and they MUST learn how to play it out of the back. It is your job to teach her that there is a better option entirely she has not considered. Learn not to lose the ball! It may take some time and mistakes, but the good thing is once that skill is developed then the team can handle more aggressive, higher pressing opponents and eventually her own team may learn to use that skill in other areas of the field like in attack! She sounds smart. I’ll bet she gets it and buys in pretty quickly.
My u15 side have only been trying to play a 4-3-3 passing style of play for a few months now and at times the odd long ball is used because they are not fully relaxed and comfortable on the ball yet but they are getting there and the structure of the formation itself is making them realise that this is something worth doing . As their coach i am buzzing with excitement and ideas especially because on a weekly basis im am begining to see them realising themselves how good this style of play is .
This doesn’t have to do directly with your post. But, I was curious, how often do you use questions to guide your players to discovery? Do your players tend to ask questions about what your working on in the sessions? If either is true, how do you foster that kind of environment?
Or, perhaps your style differs from the Socratic method. In any case, I am trying to get your input on the role questions play in your sessions, if any.
I am particularly trying to hint at how you might make your players curious about understanding the game and techniques, aside from their natural affinity for the game.
Barcelona coaches will ask 25 questions before they give a kid the answer. I watched Brian run a session and besides words of encouragement, there were a number of questions to the kids (individually and as a group).
If you have the kids engage in the practice and require them to think, this is part of your culture. It takes time, but you’ll see it working. They enjoy it more, the parents appreciate it more (most anyway) and its much more fun.
I ask the kids a question, start off with a general question and then try to ask more specific questions, if they don’t answer right away. If they have the “deer in headlights look” ask another player to help the. This does 2 things – gets other players involved in the QA and creates a culture of helping each other… we are a team, we support and rely on each other. Culture (society, club, team). The development of team culture (my interpretation) of what a lot of Gary’s themes have been on this blog.
This also sets expectations around thinking, being involved and creates an environment where it is ok to be challenged and held to a high standard. But, as a coach, you have to come prepared because you can’t expect the kids to approach soccer physically, intellectually and emotionally, if you as a coach don’t.
Thank you Tyler. Your response is very reasonable and on point.
Thanks Tyler. This is such a small comment that will get lost in the fold, but I am guessing this is a HUGE point? 99% of coaches would never do this and I suspect their team(students) will never learn the lesson or understand why they just did what they did. I have all kinds of bulbs lighting up in my head right now! I suspect a lot of the coaches don’t really know why either. Q&A is a great, simple learning technique so rarely used on the field(classroom).
Gary, I didn’t know where else to put this but what about the statement made probably mostly unnoticed by the Atlanta Silverbacks! Three midfielders from Wynalda’s from Cal FC group and they won the first half NASL title with Richie Menijvar Pablo Cruz and Danny Berrera. Finally someone does something different and it paid off. With them leading the NASL and what Porter is doing in the MLS this could hopefully be the start of a turnaround.
You could not be more correct. People do think that coaching soccer is easy, but a lot of this idea comes from US Soccer. They make getting a coaching license extremely simple, and therefore diluting the talent pool of the professionals coaching on the sidelines. Ask these same coaches about their vision on developing their team and they look at me like I just spoke in a foreign language. It is especially disappointing when coaches of a pay-to-play system do not understand set tactical play…It is sad.
I currently am teaching possession soccer to a U9 boys team using Gary’s premise for possession soccer. However, the boys I have make it impossible to copy exactly what Gary is doing, but that does not mean progress is not being made.
Great work Gary. Keep up the brainstorming.
Coaching is difficult if you don’t have knowledge AND passion. Having done this for a few years at just a club level, there are times where my sheer love of doing this is what keeps me going.
However, I don’t agree with “diluting the talent pool”. Unless there is a massive scaling back on the number of teams (not going to happen), you currently have a dearth of coaches, so dilution is not because it’s easy to get a license. It’s diluted because there are far too many leagues, teams, and clubs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually for the proliferation as more kids get to enjoy the sport. To me, the proper approach IS to facilitate learning for the coaches with less experience. US Soccer, NSCAA, USYS, etc. caters to the more hardcore coach ( you may not agree with that, but in my neck of the woods, I’d say less than 5% of the coaches have anything more than a State “F” license). The challenge is getting the parent coach to pursue it – if you make the requirements too rigorous, no coaches. Make it too lax, crappy coaches.
While on that subject, I know coaches of high level, nationally ranked teams that I think suck. They think they know the game, but select the most physical, athletic kids with less skill, they don’t know how to communicate with a child, they fuel their own egos by winning at all cost – I could go on. These coaches would never consider change and look at people like me with disdain.
Back in the days of tradesman, children would “apprentice” to learn a craft from a master. It’s a concept that has existed since the early days of society, and I think it merits consideration now. Unfortunately, too many close minded people will look at a guy like me and say “he can’t do that”. It’s that mindset that needs to change, and you won’t do that on the backs of the experienced only…too many teams, not enough coaches.
Gary, love this post! I have been searching for more coaches like Brian for quite some time in my region of the States (have found very few here unfortunately). Having a quality mentor, I believe, is so valuable in developing and/or re-tooling your coaching philosophy.
Would Brian allow coaches into his training sessions? I am always looking to explore and expand my own coaching philosophy…
Gary Kleiban says
Yes. Anyone can come watch sessions.
Gary, looks like I will be buying a plane ticket out sometime soon!
El Memo says
Don’t be surprised when I “show up at your doorstep.”
On a related note, will you ever upload a session? Again, I’m not searching for a silver bullet and know I will not know full context. But you’ve got to start showing the how for those that think they know the why. (I don’t necessarily count myself in the group.)
Coach Cow Town says
A little update-
I’m three weeks into practice. Our first tournament is in 2 more weeks. This is HARD- people are kidding themselves or just ignorant if they think it is easy. I have U11 Girls Bronze, their parents ALL come out with their lawn chairs and watch practice. I already have the girls asking if they can be forward (10/12 girls want to be forward). This “club” team has a girl who just flat out sat down in the middle of practice while doing full team shadow play in their positions. I want to implement my plan but I feel like I am already bumping into that first ice sheet: the parents yelling during practice to boot the ball down field, the mom telling me all about how great her daughter is at whatever position that she is not currently practicing at, my buddy (who coached for 10 years and won two state cups- not saying this makes him a great coach by any means, just experienced with Club stuff) coming to “help” practice and not liking or flat out disagreeing with my my possession drills, not because they were too advanced for my girls- but because I was teaching them dangerous passes across the middle. To make matters worse he wants to help out more, and by that I mean assistant coach.
Do I plow through this fall season and learn from the experience? I’m sure he’ll have some decent technical progressions I can learn from. Am I kidding myself? I already want a reboot. I want to pick my team (I was handed this team last minute, I never selected any of them), I want to educate my parents better BEFORE practices/payment takes place, I don’t mind the advice from an experienced coach/buddy but our philosophies don’t line up- but don’t volunteer yourself and start taking over my practice.
I know I can work with him, and he has already been open to my different style of what I want to implement. I don’t see him buying in completely. I am extremely inexperienced, so I don’t want to flat out shun him just yet.
I am staring at the “YOU WON’T DO IT” right in it’s ugly face. You won’t get the balls to coach possession. I want to though. I can cut/retain/and recruit at will starting in January. I can do proper parent education, I can tell my buddy to stay at home or get back to coaching his own team. I can evaluate how mine and my buddy’s coaching progressions worked and tweak from there.
I will do it, damn it. It’s not easy.
As a parent, I would like to stir up a discussion on “parent education”. In my opinion it works best as a two part process:
1. the “what”-team rules ie no coaching from the sidelines, no approaching coach right after games, clear delineation of coach responsibilities regarding frequency of communication to parents.
2. the “why”-if you can educate parents on the “why,” #1 will fall into place much easier. The why consists of the coach’s philosophy-which has been discussed extensively on this site. For me, getting a team email from our coach with a link to the Barca-USA u11’s youtube was a turning point in understanding what he was trying to achieve with the team. Your parents/players all want to play forward because they think the “mission” of soccer is to score goals as directly as possible. You need to open their eyes that there are other ways to play and score in which every player at every position is a part of the sequence leading to a goal. AND that THAT is “the beautiful game.” Someone earlier cited youtubes from a De Anza Force girls team-that may get your particular demographic better.
P.S.-ditch your buddy’s “help.” He is the equivalent of a helicopter parent at your elbow-you need to learn how to do this yourself.
Coach Cow Town says
I know the right thing to do is to ask him to step back, that’s my intuition. The fear/inexperience is saying you can pick up some useful items this fall and go full bore starting in the spring. I feel it from two ways- my complete lack of coaching experience, and that the parents have paid 500-600 bucks for their girl to be on the team.
One example- yesterday a parent came up to me and asked what drills his daughter could work on at home for the keeper position. I really did not know what to tell him (inexperience, I never played the position, but always had a pretty damn good one back there- just no clue what their extra training really entailed. My buddy was quick to step up and offer some skills to work on. Situations like this I can learn from him being there.
I am a school teacher, so I can tell myself this is my student teaching season and I can learn from my buddy. I can learn both what to do and what NOT to do. He is trying to step up and be a mentor, just in the jungle ball kind of way. Could this fall season with him there helping hurt more than help if I am aware of what I still want to fully implement in the future?
NoVa Mike says
He will hurt more than help. Inconsistent messages from 2 coaches on the same team will destroy what you are trying to do – especially when your “assistant” will have much more credibility in the eyes of the parents and players since he is telling them what they already think they know is the right way to play. After all, it is what most youth soccer coaches teach. “Never pass across the goal”. Right.
Yes, he probably does have some things that you could learn from (technical corrections, certain drills, exercises, etc…) but the best way to do that would be for you to go and help during his practices, not the other way around.
ASO’s advice on parent education seems important to your situation. Teach them the same tactics and philosophy that you are trying to teach the team. Tell them you are doing so because you know how hard it is to be on the sidelines and not have a clear idea of what the coach wants your child to be doing in a given situation. Give them the what and the why, but not necessarily the how (i.e. – don’t invite discussion on your practice methods).
In addition to the sources mentioned above, I always find this article to be very effective in making the case (the “why”) for building from the back: http://www.zonalmarking.net/2011/11/25/goalkeeper-short-passing-distribution/
But how do you know that your buddy gave the BEST drills for your goalie? I have greater respect for the coach/teacher who says “I don’t know, let me research what would be best for your child” than the one who can shoot out a glib answer.
Coach Cow Town says
Good point, thanks for the insight.
Coach Cow Town says
I forgot to mention, I will definitely be showing the De Anza clip in the future to my parents. The visual would really help them. Thanks for the advice.
Without relegation and promotion, the next best thing could be to eliminate the MLS draft completely. I don’t know how many drafted players actually impact a club, but automatically getting the rights to a quality player is a reward for teams that suck. If an MLS club knows that the makeup of their 1st team is on them, they would have to boost youth development. Scouting is an area that would also have to improve, since it would be an advantage to find and develop players from an early age rather than wait till someone else does it and then draft “the best athlete” and start the development process. The parity model of MLS probably doesn’t fit with the whole concept of free market for free agents but players might benefit from being able to pick the club they want to play for as well rather than the club that “owns” them.
Acad Dad says
Parity (except for LA and NY) is a huge issue that artifically limits the free market. But the MLS is not a free market. The league, not the clubs, approve transfers and allocate DPs. MLS = sporting socialism. And with MLS going to 24 teams, watering down of already watered down product. Why so many mediocre foreign players filling out roster spots? Just go with home grown or D1 grads and work on developing the American player and national team pool. I dont’ watch MLS and with 24 teams coming, definitely not going to watch.
Well, last night was the proof in the pudding that just getting the best players together is not enough to create coherent play let alone beautiful soccer/football. Don’t let the hordes of enthusiastic fans fool you into thinking that we support Sigi. I was there last night (even got to hold a black plastic square in the tifo!) and there were plenty of fans dropping the f-bomb around me on the quality of play. Many support the Sounders as a Seattle institution-not as a quality club. Even the youth coaches tell kids to go to game only for the atmosphere, NOT the quality of play. If anything, for kids, the games become a useful exercise in the “what should that player have done” vein. It will be interesting to see what happens at the next GM election in three years if Sigi is still there. Timbers equally disappointing. Can it be all chalked up to loss of composure in the face of the screaming masses?
Simon cooper says
Hi Gary, would it be possible. For myself to attend the coaching clinic in Barcelona in October? I would really Appreciate it if possible as I am a big fan of what you and Paul have achieved in the US and it would be good to hook up with you guys.
Would appreciate if you could e.mail me
El Memo says
It works so well in other sports, it should apply to soccer (being sarcastic).