<![CDATA[ The Coaching Journey - Blog]]>Sun, 18 Feb 2018 19:00:30 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[It's Time to Have the Real College Recruitment Conversation]]>Wed, 14 Feb 2018 01:40:36 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/its-time-to-have-the-real-college-recruitment-conversation
In the wake of the Larry Nassar trial and subsequent conviction, I've spent some time thinking on the power dynamic between coaches and players, often-times children. In fact, every time I've thought about the heinous abuses committed by Nassar and many others, my thoughts keep returning to the college recruitment process.

Every day on social media, if you browse long enough, you'll see a post similar to any of the three tweets to the left. In fact, any given day will feature a number of posts, tweets, and comments from coaches on how players must act if they want that elusive scholarship, or even a spot on that team's roster.

I'm tired of it. It's time for coaches to have the conversation that actually needs to happen. It's time for players, most often young boys or girls, to begin to realize that the power dynamic isn't skewed in the way coaches make it seem.
I've always found the above image fascinating. Can you imagine being lectured on business ethics by Enron? Yet here we have Penn State and SMU lecturing children on personal ethics and social media. I don't think I need to link to Penn State's most noteworthy "social media presence" of the past few years. When I think of Larry Nassar I think of a power dynamic that makes children be grateful for the opportunity they get, and they better be grateful to even be considered, or so they're told. I think of the fact that we are molding children into fitting into the exact boxes desired for a place on a college team, and wondering why we have robots that possess no shred of individual critical thinking or personality.

We are grooming children to be the perfect college recruit, and in that process we make sure that they become accustomed to jumping through each coach's specific hoops. When we hear that other child athletes are being groomed by predators and feel helpless in saying no, can we question whether or not the power dynamic that is being created within college athletic recruitment has a part to play in all of this?

When you see the above message from a coach, what do you think? What is this message when we expand it on a larger scale, with regards to a dynamic we create with adult professionals and child athletes? We have created a power dynamic in the college recruitment process in which only one party is expected to act respectful, prompt, and courteous, and it isn't the 45 year old with 20+ years of coaching experience. We are in a time now in which children are expected to act as mini-adults, and oftentimes held to much more stringent standards than the actual adults who are recruiting them. I would ask any coach that agrees with the above sentiment to let me know how many players they're actually brought onto their college program from that "crucial" College ID Camp that only costs $799 for the weekend. How many are prompt in replying to high school athletes, or do they need several emails from the player and a few from the school and club coach before they finally get around to it?

If we want to truly work with and develop good people both on and off the field, then its time for us, as coaches, to live up to the same standards and expectations we hold for our current and potential players. Children follow the example they see, not the example they're told. If you want that team culture you keep selling on those recruiting trips, then you and your staff need to be THE examples of it.

Players. It's time for you to hear what the social media gurus aren't telling you. You are all incredibly talented and unique individuals. You are still children, and you're going to make mistakes. Your mistakes don't define you, but how you react to those bumps in the road will. Understand that the relationship between you and the potential college coach is not one in which you're lucky to get the offer.


Understand that they are interested in you. They want you. And because of that, they are lucky if YOU choose to join their program. That's the secret that some programs already accept and preach, but not enough. It's time to move past the disastrous environment in which we have young athletes thinking that if they jump though all the hoops, they may be lucky and get graced with an offer. The power dynamic is not one in which the coach is the officer with the last life boat on the titanic. If you run into a coach who treats you like that, be grateful that your decision was just made easier. And remember that. It's YOUR decision.

Always remember that the game doesn't happen without the players, and the players have the power to choose where they go.

Research the programs you are interested in. Research the coaching staff you are looking to potentially spend the next four years of your life, in a crucial foundational period, with. Are these adults, or is this institution, fulfilling the values that you have as a person? Are they representing the person you hope to become? When you visit the school and the team for a day, or a weekend, is that culture you keep hearing about actually present, or does it seem like you're being told a lot of things that you'll experience "once you sign?"

I'm tired of coaches instructing athletes on how to get recruited, but never instructing their colleagues on how to improve the process. It is time for us, as professionals, to accept that this power dynamic we continue to perpetuate is a factor in these stories we keep wishing we didn't hear on the news. It's time for us to WANT a parent that is scrutinizing, and a player that asks questions that cut right to the middle of things, rather than people who will sign a check for an ID camp they never had a shot at in the first place.

It's time for us to change the conversation and bring some humility, and class, to our side of this relationship.

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<![CDATA[Opposed vs Unopposed Technical Development and the Death of Nuance]]>Thu, 19 Jan 2017 01:07:00 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/opposed-vs-unopposed-technical-development-and-the-death-of-nuanceWhen people speak in extremes, it almost offers a sense of comfort. It is easy to be told that something is right or something is wrong. It's easy to process this mentally, it's easy to accept this and to project this. Right or wrong. Black or White. Two options, as simple as flipping a coin.

In the world of youth development, the battle for ideological supremacy reigns supreme in which both extremes argue back and forth, and yet we fail to see that nuance is dying a slow, and unfortunately painful, death. Nuance may be the most important word for the 21st century, especially in a time where social media is becoming rampant in its destruction of contextual discussions, replacing it with 140 characters of smug confidence in being absolutely right. We are in an age where a long-form discussion on a topic is boring, because who wants to read that article when that celebrity I follow on twitter can just call it "Stupid" and save me the read.

Recently, I have seen a debate about the battle between opposed technical development versus unopposed technical development, and it's one in which the soccer world has decided to forget the grey, and focus on the black and white. Remember that in almost all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and those that speak in absolutes present a great red flag for you to spot and run away from. The irony in this, of course, is that I've just presented an absolute in saying that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Never say never, eh?

Proponents of only opposed technical development argue that unopposed practice doesn't present any similarities to the game, and therefore there is no skill acquisition that can transfer to a game. It's "useless" or "ineffective" or even, if you're feeling daring, "a disservice to your players."


This is normally the part where I add pictures, something to add some light and separate the paragraphs to help the readers. However, I've spent some time thinking about the times we live in, and decided that I'm going to talk in long-form and accept that this won't be for everyone.

We have to consider several factors when it comes to unopposed vs opposed technical development. First, the argument can and should be made that given some context, team environments should present players with scenarios most closely related to the games. Especially when training time may be limited, it's important to create cues for our players in which the game is represented. Team sessions, in my opinion, should focus the majority (a word I have chosen subjectively given my own context) of training on opposed scenarios. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, why do we deride those who want to work individually on unopposed technical work?

There is an idea amongst certain clubs and educators in which we want to create automatism. I say "automation" rather than "automatism", and the idea is simple. Can we train a player in which certain habits become instinctual. The goal is to put players through repetitive actions and motions at which point their muscle memory takes over and certain technical actions are able to take place without any additional thought. If you constantly practice with a ball and a wall and practice receiving the ball with different parts of the body, eventually you are going to become unconsciously competent at this action. When you've picked up the cues upon which you know how and where to receive the ball, this allows you more time to process your immediate area as well as decide upon your next action in advance. Can we create automation through unopposed technical development? My thought is yes, we can.

Here is the important next step, though. Anyone can train to receive a ball off their chest automatically. The same goes for doing a cruyff turn, or playing a sixty-yard pass. The next stage in the development process is applying that in a game-situation and turning technique into skill. That is to say, the functional technique is now applied at the proper time and place in the game scenario.

So, the question we have to ask ourselves is can creating technical automation assist when we then enter a team environment in which we now have to develop and work with cognitive technical development? If you are "technically: competent at an action, will that aid in your cognitive development when the team environment is turning that technique into skill? Again, my thought is yes.

People may deride this and say this is anecdotal, in which case it certainly is. I am speaking from my experience, as well as my experience in observing and learning from other coaches and clubs. There is an idea out there in which research is the be all end all, and anecdotes are to be ridiculed. Research is an integral part in any walk of life, and as the game develops, we want to be sure that we are constantly putting our methods to rigorous scrutiny under scientific methods. The problem however is that we forget that not all research is created equal, and there is power in experiential learning.

It may be very easy to produce a research paper on best teaching methods for 5th grade mathematics, however if you speak to teachers in Philadelphia, or the Bronx, or Glasgow, or Los Angeles, they may all have different takes that adapt or tweak from the "proven" research. It is necessary to remember that the player is the syllabus, and the demands needed for one player may be different for another. We very quickly fall into the trap of reading what one theory and data set presents, or what one club presents, and assumes that is the gospel. Again, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Can we find effective ways in which we can help develop our players, understanding that while certain activities may be more effective than others, they are not mutually exclusive.

This leads into the last point. There is the idea in which if opposed technical development is proven to be more effective than unopposed, then what's the point in wasting time on the less effective option. This is where the holistic approach to development comes in, realizing that prioritization does not mean removal of all other parts. You can prioritize when and where you can institute your activities that bring about opposed skill development, but also accept that players can find time on their own to bring about unopposed individual development. You'd be foolish to lambast your player for playing with a ball and a wall in their backyard, yelling at them for not making things more realistic. At the same time, you can structure your team environment to one in which you prioritize what is most effective for your team and players.

This is about 10% of what's in my head currently. It's long. It's not a quick read, and it certainly isn't 140 characters with some emojis thrown in.  Trust me, it's easy to write in absolutes and say that one method is right and one method is wrong. It's simple, it's quick, and unfortunately its very effective. If you want to develop yourself as a person, and a coach, however, you will need to delve into the grey area and bring out some nuance to the discussion.

Do yourself and your players a service, and bring nuance back from the dead.

- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA[Are Participation Trophies the Problem, or a Convenient Excuse for Coaches?]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 05:00:00 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/are-participation-trophies-the-problem-or-a-convenient-excuse-for-coaches"Millenials." "Participation Trophies." "The 'ME' Generation"

These have become buzzwords that elicit angry responses from anyone above the age of thirty. "If only those kids knew how to work hard and didn't expect a trophy for waking up in the morning" or something like that. In fact, evoking an angry reaction towards participation trophies is the easy way to now go viral, lambasting the current generation of youth for "not being prepared for life." A few weeks ago, the Louisville Head Women's Basketball Coach, Jeff Walz, went in on the participation trophy generation and boy did people go crazy for it. Walz was a "savior," and he was "telling these kids how life really is."

Unfortunately for all involved, they couldn't be further from the reality of the matter.
Most people watched the two minute segment in which Coach Walz talks about the younger generation needing participation trophies, but they didn't actually watch the longer version of the press conference. I would encourage you to watch the video above, and listen to his message. In a clip that lasts 10 minutes and 45 seconds, it isn't until 9:06 that Coach Walz reminds everyone that "It's on me. I recruited these kids. It's on me." Accountability.

The video opens up with a discussion on his team lacking focus and concentration. The discussion then turns towards participation trophies and losers, the usual suspects in a conversation that comes up once every month or so. This is where people stopped watching the video, walking away with righteous indignation of a generation of athletes who they deem "softer" than back in the "good old days."

It's good to remember that Coach Walz is in his 10th season with the Louisville Women's Basketball Team, and in his capacity as head coach, I would make the assumption that he is aware of the recruits that his staff is bringing in every year if not being heavily involved in that process. These players weren't handed to him right before this fateful game, nor was he thrown into this game with his team without having a single practice with the group.

Our goal isn't to put down Coach Walz, but this article is going to focus on the conversation that should have happened thanks to the door that he opened for us. We have to ask ourselves whether or not participation trophies are the real problem, or have they become a scapegoat for coaches at all levels?

I have never encountered an eight year old in charge of planning tournament trophies, nor have I encountered a ten year old who decided the budget and allocation on end of season awards. It's important to remember that the "participation trophy" generation wasn't the group that decided to receive these trophies in the first place. Parents that wanted validation for their money and (sometimes) time spent with their children on the soccer field asked for these trophies.

Culture, environment, these are things that can make or break a child's development into a good person most importantly, and a good soccer player after that. Participation trophies or getting orange slices at half time CAN be contributing factors to a child's development environment but they are not the only factors. We have a responsibility as coaches and educators to create an environment and development culture for our players that is most conducive to their growth, while also accepting that we cannot control every outside factor that the player may encounter.

I cannot control whether or not my players eat fast food regularly, as I don't live with them. I can control my ability to educate players on the necessity of a hollistic approach to development that makes nutrition and rest a necessary and integral part of the development process. The real question we have to ask ourselves is have we used participation trophies to explain why our environment wasn't good enough to create intrinsically motivated individuals.

The idea that this current generation of players is a "participation trophy" generation is a laughably lazy generalization that forgets the fact that as the modern game continues to progress, players are training better, taking care of their bodies better, and having a much better approach to development as coaches and educators and the individual athletes are able to offer and practice better methods and standards as our knowledge base continues to grow.

As a coach, what is the environment you're creating for your team? You can have participation trophies present as an outside factor and still create a winning culture, because the issue is not a black and white argument. You can prioritize certain aspects of your development environment that limit the effect an external factor may have, but you have to work continuously towards creating that development culture.

As I have worked with youth players, the focus was never on any end of season trophy. The focus was always inspiring a love for the game and, just as important, a love for self-improvement. We need to create an environment where people are failing their way to success because the message has to be very clear from the start, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone to improve. You have to go through trial and error to get better, because nothing ever grows in the comfort zone. We can create a fun and challenging environment in which players are focused on their improvement because it's enjoyable. Even better, can we convince them that challenging and pushing themselves is what's really fun. Reaching new heights, achieving previously unimaginable objectives, these are life lessons that we need to foster intrinsic motivation in our players.  The trophies, the cookies after the game, all of these are mitigated by the environment we are cultivating in training and games.

You can have a U10 player in a professional club and a U10 player in a grassroots club and in both cases you can create a competitive, fun, motivating environment in which players push themselves because THEY want to, not because they want a trophy. When you begin to accept that you cannot control every aspect of a player's life, especially a very young child, you begin to focus on the aspects you can control for their benefit. You have control over the session you deliver, over the words you use in your interactions with your players. You have control over whether or not you choose to inspire your players or be the standoffish coach who is hard to approach. You have control over the message you transmit to your teams and players through your body language, through your actions on the weekend.

Focus on the process and empower your players to prioritize what is important in their development as a person and as an athlete. Forget the participation trophy. Work hard each day in developing young men and women to work hard, to understand that nothing is given to them freely, and to believe that with focus and hard work, anything can be achieved.

The Maryland team that beat Coach Walz' Lousiville team came from the same group of recruits. The same ladies that would have also received participation trophies as an eight year old. These are not women who were created in a secret lab, but rather they were athletes who were educated on what is important in their personal growth and development.

The next time you throw a tantrum about a participation trophy and use that as an excuse or a generalization, look inwards before you look to assign blame outwards. I am reminded of an old African proverb. which says "If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm." Likewise, if you can create the right team culture, participation trophies aren't going to derail your train.

- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA[The Ex-Pro Myth in Modern Coaching]]>Wed, 21 Dec 2016 03:18:19 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/the-ex-pro-myth-in-modern-coachingPicture
(Check out our podcast where we continue the discussion of this topic by clicking here!)

With the modern game constantly evolving, being brought to new levels by managers such as Guardiola or Bielsa, there remains a prevalent myth that seems as strong as ever. There remains to this day the idea that in order to manage at a high level, you have to have played at a high level, and it is still the biggest myth in modern coaching.

The argument is presented that someone with no professional playing experience can't “truly understand” the game at the highest levels. How can someone who hasn’t played in the Champions League, or the World Cup truly know the intricacies of the dressing-room dynamics? How can a non-pro truly empathize with players who are playing for their country? Can the non-pro understand the nuances of the game? The subtleties of the tactics they are attempting to bring to their team? All good questions, until you realize they are backed by little to no foundation.

Indeed, the idea that high-level playing experience is a necessary pre-requisite towards high level coaching is one rooted in misunderstanding and a “jobs for the boys mentality.” It’s important to remember that playing experience, especially high level playing experience, CAN help in a coach’s formation. Who wouldn’t love the chance to play for Guardiola and learn? Just as he played under and learned from Cruyff and Lillo, the knowledge he actively acquired offered him a head start from the average person. Yet, for every professional who is engaged in their own development as a coach by utilizing their playing experience, there are quite a few who are not, and it’s only natural!

It’s important to remember that being involved in a given field in one capacity does not translate to success in another capacity. There are several tangible examples we can use. I have been involved in science classes for the majority of my life, and after 15 years or so of said classes, I would not be qualified to teach the subject (by my own admission). However, to be a biologist, I don’t need to have parents who are biologists, nor do I have to have a pre-requisite understanding of osmosis from the womb. What is needed is intense personal engagement with the material being taught, in order for me to learn. We don’t demand our lawyers be personally sued before they can defend a client, nor do we demand our doctors break their own arms in order to “truly” understand how to mend a broken bone.

What we do demand is intense study and preparation. Theory and practice joined together, working with mentors and educators, trial and error over a period of time in which we can develop skills that seemed impossible only a few years ago. Coaching remains one of the few lines of work where this idea of “unteachable knowledge” comes into hand. Imagine telling a brain surgeon he has to have a tumor before he can truly understand how to treat a patient with one! It’s always good to remember the words of Arrigo Sacchi.

In the business world, there’s the idea of the Peter Principle. The principle states that “the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate's performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and "managers rise to the level of their incompetence."” Here’s a simple and real life example of the principle in action. You work as a car salesman, and you are the best salesman in the state. You know how to sell cars, and eventually the general manager of the dealership is promoted, creating an opening. Being the best car salesman, your record for the company gets you promoted to general manager. What is forgotten, however, is that managing a car dealership requires a much different skill-set than selling the cars themselves. Your ability as a car salesman got you promoted to a position that has little to do with selling cars.

How often do we assume ex-pros are going to be fantastic coaches because of their playing experience? However, do they have the required knowledge of psychological or physical development? Do they understand the stages of development for a ten year old compared to a fifteen year old compared to an adult professional? I can assure you, being in shape does not guarantee a deep understanding of physiological training, nor does playing for Guardiola guarantee a tactical nous similar to Pep’s. We look to former superstars because of their prowess on the playing field but forget that coaching is a different matter all-together with a much different skill set. For every Guardiola, there is a Maradonna.

One aspect that is often overlooked is that while many argue a former professional will have an easier time empathizing with players at the highest level, it can often-times be the opposite! There are many cases in which top level players cannot understand why someone cannot do what they’re asking them. In fact, what they did as a player came so naturally that their ability to actually break down the technique or the idea and explain it and transmit that knowledge to the player or the team can be non-existent. Michael Jordan could never understand why players couldn’t do what he did for years in a way that seemed effortless, and perhaps that’s why he didn’t take away years from his life by becoming a coach after his playing days were over.

The game at all levels is dependent on the ability to manage relationships and to transmit knowledge into individuals and team and show them that you know what you’re talking about. These things are not mutually exclusive to soccer, nor are they things that must be learned by playing. Arsene Wenger, when describing his approach to managing relationships with his players, doesn’t attribute his success to his time at Strasbourg, or his early coaching stints in France. Instead, he attributes much of it to his time growing up in his family’s pub. As he says, “There is no better psychological education than growing up in a pub, because when you are five or six years old, you meet all different people…From an early age you get a practical, psychological education to get into the minds of people.” Practical knowledge that can be applied to coaching in the game can come from all parts of life, not just the field.

Understanding the game itself is not dependent on playing at a high level. Being immersed with the game at whatever level, studying the game, watching the game at all levels, and learning from coaches and other mentors is critical in developing knowledge for the game. Studying pedagogical methods, understanding different tactical analyses or systems of play, these are things that can be learned given focus and time. Study and practice, trial and error, developing your own ideas and offering them up for scrutiny. Being a student of the game, learning from contemporaries, and testing your ideas and methods with teams and players is how one continuously learns about the nuances and subtleties of the game. The good news is that anyone can do this. Having the capacity to do something, and having the drive to do something, are two very different things however. Einstein was not always a world famous physicist. He was, however, someone who dedicated himself to learning and studying his craft.

Jose Mourinho discusses his difficulty in moving from his identity as simply the “translator” at Barcelona into a coaching role. Here was a man who hadn’t played at a high level, now working with the best players in the world. As he argues, “When you coach players of this caliber, you learn about human relationships…Players at this level don’t accept what they’re told simply because of the authority of the person who’s saying it. We have to show them that we’re right.” Players buy into a coach when they begin to see that the coach knows what they’re talking about. Playing experience, at a very high level, may buy you the first five minutes, but once the training session gets underway, what you know is going to be evident very soon. Pro or non-pro, your ability to translate your knowledge of how you want your team to play is a learnable skill and one that will win over your players at any level for the long term, not your playing CV.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, is there truly any knowledge within the game that can’t be learned? Why do we hold the nuances of the 4-3-3 in such high regard and yet we accept that astrophysics is a learnable subject? The game itself is shifting to a place where many analysts and coaches haven’t played at high levels. What they have done is spent years and years studying, learning, and practicing their craft. All too often, former professionals are given cushy jobs in big clubs but they haven’t spent any time actually preparing for a role off the pitch. At the same time, there are many professionals out there who ARE actively studying the game. They are taking in every training session and beginning to create their own ideology and methodology for coaching, whether it be professional or youth. Top level playing experience CAN be a huge asset, but it is not a definite asset, and we must not fall into that line of thinking.

There is another group of coaches out there also. These are the non-pro’s who haven’t been offered opportunities right off the bat. The years they might have spent playing have been spent at university, with clubs, with coaching mentors and getting their badges. Their lack of experience on the pitch has forced them to work that much harder because they understand they are going up against a player who has a national team cap or a champions league appearance and has been fast-tracked through the UEFA badges. There may be players who have a head start with their knowledge and understanding of the game, but it’s by no means an impossible journey to reach that level.

I didn’t play at a high level. I know several players who have been offered positions at very respectable college programs with little to no experience or understanding in actual coaching or management. I’m glad I’ve had to fight to get where I am and where I’m going, because ultimately it has given me the drive to continue to learn and get better every day. Each session is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge and ability as an educator and coach to your team, regardless of the level. Players are intelligent, and in this day and age they are questioning things more and more. If you understand the game and haven’t played, what you know is going to win them over in the long run compared to the former professional who has some great YouTube clips and some horrible training sessions.

The idea that there are certain aspects of coaching that can’t be learned, except on the playing field, is one founded in misunderstanding. You can choose to accept it and assume that this isn’t for you, or you can choose to put theory and practice to work and focus on improving each day at a time.

- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA["Club Soccer and High School - A Changing Environment." - NSCAA 30 Under 30 Live Discussion!]]>Thu, 15 Dec 2016 16:41:56 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/club-soccer-and-high-school-a-changing-environment-nscaa-30-under-30-live-discussion
I was recently given the opportunity through the NSCAA 30 Under 30 Program to speak in a live webinar about the relationship, and sometimes battle, between Club and High School Soccer. It is a facet of development that almost all players will go through, and the great discussion navigated this topic as well as looking at areas such as challenges incorporating both into a players schedule, training to game ratios and what the ideal spot is, as well as "Elite" players and how the Development Academy plays a part.

I was joined by Jeremy Hurdle (@JeremyHurdle) a Anne Schafer (@ASchafe), and the moderator was Matt Dorman (@Coach_Dorman) .

Check out the video below, and be sure to also check out the main NSCAA Youtube Channel as well as following them on Twitter @NSCAA
- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA[The USMNT Just Won The World Cup!]]>Mon, 21 Nov 2016 22:24:55 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/the-usmnt-just-won-the-world-cup
We did it! We won the world cup! We developed several world class players through an actual world class development academy, not the façade of one. We crushed the competition in qualifying and were the first team to go through an entire world cup without conceding a goal. After winning the final 3-0 with a Michael Bradley hat-trick, there was little left to do until the USMNT decided to tackle global poverty and world peace.

Well, the pipe-dream was nice while it lasted. In fact, all we did was fire Jurgen Klinsmann. The sheer elation in the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann continues to point to the fact that we solved a problem on the surface level, but most haven’t even begun to identify the real problems behind US Soccer and the US Men's National Team, let alone solve them.

We fired Jurgen Klinsmann, and yet there is little to no mention of the fact that we have a “World Class” Development Academy in which players are constantly being priced out from playing the game they love and the game they could potentially contribute to on a larger scale. When the DC United Academy Director (reminder, this is a professional club within Major League Soccer) was asked about whether or not he would want to stop charging youth players in a professional academy, his response was: “No. I think it’s healthy for these young players to invest in their club…I think it’s healthy for these kids to look at this and say, ‘this is my club and I want to be a part of this club’” That’s an MLS academy director equating player investment in a club not with their effort on the field but with their pocketbook, and we wonder why some of our MLS academies continue to struggle. But have no fear, we fired Jurgen Klinsmann!

We have a professional league in which investors have to pay over $100 million dollars simply for the opportunity to play in said league. Not $100 million for players, a club academy, infrastructure, coaching, but the ability to play in a league. We have a professional league in which old, fading stars are payed in some cases 100X more than their teammates, and yet we wonder why this isn’t the league of choice for emerging talent. When those “stars” get tired of the league and decide to return to a more competitive environment, journalists instead spin and laud the fact that MLS was “too hard” for them. We don’t question how a league that rewards mediocrity with draft picks and allocation money can truly prepare players for top competition. We don’t ask whether parity increases development and competition, or creates a sense of complacency. Don’t worry though, we fired Jurgen Klinsmann!

Bruce Arena is being touted as Klinsmann’s replacement. This seems as good a time as any to remind everyone that this is the man who said a few years ago: “Players on the national team should be American. If they’re born in other countries, we aren’t making progress.” On the bright side, with this clear ideology it won’t be hard to convince Abby Wambach to join his backroom staff and head up the new US Soccer House Committee on Un-American Activity! But, we fired Klinsmann so stop complaining!

Ultimately, as we said 13 months ago, and as we are saying again, the nonsensical idea that firing Jurgen Klinsmann solves THE problem with the USMNT is as wrong as thinking Klinsmann has done no wrong. People now celebrate Sunil Gulati’s “courageous” decision, but don’t ask the deeper questions of the system that has allowed for Klinsmann to stay in so long, or that has entrenched Gulati in his relatively secure position.

The country faces a huge issue with stunted investment in a professional game in which monopolies exist only because “that’s how sports are in the United States.” We suffer from a youth development issue in which the majority of players have dropped out by the age of 13. And there’s about ten other issues that we face as a soccer nation that deserve numerous articles on each one.

And yet, in a 1000 word article, I’ve only begun to look deeper than surface level and yet we’ve covered real issues that US Soccer faces. Removing a figurehead that served as Technical Director and National Team Head Coach could certainly be a step in the right direction, and yet when most people have celebrated Klinsmann’s dismissal akin to winning a world cup, you have to worry that perhaps people are still missing the larger picture.

Nuance is hard. It’s easy to think that Klinsmann is THE issue. I would hope that I wouldn’t have to write this article in 10 minutes because it seems that most writers are still busy sending those tweets they’ve saved celebrating Jurgen’s firing. We fired Jurgen Klinsmann, and we are at a pivotal moment in which we could continue to ask questions and put pressure on those who are making decisions for US Soccer, or we can enjoy all those funny gifs of Bruce Arena snarling at press conferences and get that nice, comfy feeling of the pipe-dream coming again.

- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA["Best" Means Nothing]]>Tue, 02 Feb 2016 04:23:17 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/best-means-nothingContext. It may be my favorite word, but even then it would require more context! I had a wonderful conversation not too long ago with Sefu Bernard, who is a professional and youth basketball coach as well as coach educator. Some of our discussion centered around this topic, and in fact Sefu has written a great article about some of what we discussed which you can check out here!

I often hear youth clubs proudly proclaim that they place their best coaches at the youngest ages. Man, talk about something that sounds really progressive and forward thinking. Surely, these are the people that get the development process! Or do they?
What does best even mean? I use it, and then I catch myself using it because the term means nothing. It lacks context. Context is key!!!

Why do you put your “best” coaches at the younger ages? What is the purpose? If your “best coaches” are coaching the younger ages, who is coaching at U11 and above? Or maybe U13 and above? Are these your “average” coaches? Should I assume your “bad” coaches are the ones who coach your MRL, ECNL, and Academy level teams? 

After the players develop and get older, once they have passed your “best” coaches, do they leave for the club that places their “best” coaches throughout? How does that work?

The secret to a successful club is putting your “best” coaches at the level in which they are “best” at. Pep Guardiola may be the “best” coach in the world, but for all you and I know, he could be a lousy U9 coach. You have to delve deep and learn what “best” means for every coach in your club or on your staff. If you hire that successful college coach, are their skills suited for a U11 team, because they just “get” coaching and can work with any age group? Your “best” U8 coach can have a completely different knowledge base and skill set from your “best” U13 coach.

When clubs talk about how they put their “best” coaches at the youngest ages, it screams of misunderstanding. If you have an A License coach who is best suited for U16-U18, why would you put him with U8-U10? If you have a coach who excels with the U7 and U8 age groups, and does a fantastic job, do they get promoted into older age groups where they actually are less qualified for?

In fact, our licensing system with US Soccer does a great job of bringing the Peter Principle to life (Note, that is not a good thing). For those wondering, The Peter Principle is a concept in management where the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role.

E license coaches get the basics of working with younger groups, and each license above caters to older ages and more advanced curriculum. Our entire coaching system seems to be based off this idea, where a successful U7 coach gets promoted into coaching the U12 group and is out of his or her depth. The quality U16 and U18 coach gets the job as the Director of Coaching even though their skill set is founded in coaching and not necessarily managing.

Coaching placement can be difficult. It’s easy to see an A license and assume that coach fits anywhere. The college coach may not work at the youngest age groups, simply because the differences from psychological, technical, and physical standpoints between a 6 year old and a 21 year old may not be suited for that coach’s knowledge base.

We need to accept that going up the coaching ladder creates coaches who are “average” at coaching all levels, but few become masters. There are few Foundation Phase master coaches. There are few U8 master coaches, simply because our first inclination is to promote these people or put them in different roles. Mastery requires understanding the psychological, technical, social, physical, and tactical aspects of a 7 year old and how best to coach them. Or a 14 year old, or an 18 year old. Mastery requires a devotion to coaching that group, and not a “best practices” method in which we can put on a few sessions for any age group.

It is important for a coach to be well-rounded to a certain level. To have a knowledge base that allows for an understanding of the entire development spectrum, a comprehensive understanding. But, there also comes an important point where a coach must understand where they are best suited; where there passion truly lies and where they want to invest their coaching career in. On the coaching carousel, well-rounded has morphed into average at all age groups, and mastery has fallen by the wayside.

Can a coach change their mind about the area in which they feel a calling? Of course, but it is the act of deciding that will help the coach reach a new level of personal development. We have to identify the coaches who know where they make the biggest impact and let them flourish.

“Best” means absolutely nothing unless you delve deeper. Place your “best” coaches in the ages in which they are “best” suited for: The ages in which they have a passion and a deep knowledge base for working with.

Before you parade around that tried and tested statement, “Our best coaches work with our youngest players,” add some needed context and really put development at the forefront of everything you do!
- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA[The Hidden Price to Multi-Sport Development?]]>Wed, 27 Jan 2016 04:33:07 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/the-hidden-price-to-multi-sport-developmentOver the last few years, articles, talks, and presentations on multi-sport development have skyrocketed. In fact, as more and more people have come out to criticize the “dangers” of single-sport participation as an extreme on the development spectrum, multi-sport development has become the panacea that everyone has looked for! It’s easy to find articles that talk about the hidden dangers if your child only plays one sport growing up, but for some reason articles questioning multi-sport development seem to be much harder to find.
This article is not one that advocates either/or, because ultimately neither address the issue. All this article aims to do is present a side to this story that never gets talked about.

Parents are now told that if their child doesn’t participate in more than one sport, this young boy or girl is somehow missing out. In order to fulfill athletic and general development, different activities and different experiences are necessary, lest the child experience burnout. It sounds great on paper. It sounds even better when you stand in front of a room full of concerned parents and help assuage their fears! Unfortunately, it’s just like more generalized statements. It lacks CONTEXT!

The player is the syllabus. The CHILD is the syllabus. What works for one might not work for the other, and what works for some definitely won’t work for others.

A few months back a young girl had joined our “youth academy” at the club I coach at, and before she left the car she was hysterical! All the young boys and girls were having a blast, with a smile on their face, but this young girl seemed to cry more as the practice went on. Finally, the parents came up to us and asked us for our advice. They explained that their daughter loved gymnastics and asked to be signed up for it over the Fall, but they decided it would be better to put their daughter in a completely new sport.

This girl’s first experience with the sport many of us love was one of emotional terror, simply because parents listened to a nice talk on development rather than their own daughter’s desires. The multi-sport development route leaves little for context. If your child doesn’t play three sports, are you even doing your job as a parent? Are you doing the best you can for your child? It has become such an extreme that is has taken the other end of the development spectrum, when its original intention was to combat the “extreme” of single sport participation.
Just as there can be downsides to single-sport development, there are downsides to multi-sport development. I have seen countless players who play two sports a season and now have to make only half of the practices and games for each sport. The ideas of commitment and giving your all to something are losing out to an idea that can fail our children just as much as single sport development can. We have an environment in which players are growing up realizing that they only need to show up for games on the weekend because they practice a different sport during the week. Or that it’s ok to only go to half the games each season because they’re just simply busy with other things.

I know of some of my younger players who consistently ask where their teammates are every other practice. People figure out very quickly, and the idea of who is committed and who is not is one that sticks for even a young player. Those missing the practice think the same thing, as they begin to lose that connection to the team as they are torn between three different groups. Can they ever really establish themselves over the course of a season and form those bonds with the group they are a supposedly a part of?

We worry about burnout, which can be a legitimate fear, but we seem to forget that with more sports comes more practice. A child who only plays soccer, who only wants to play soccer, and has two structured practices a week is at more risk of burnout than a child who has baseball on Monday and Wednesday, Soccer on Tuesday and Thursday, and Lacrosse, Soccer, and Baseball on the weekend? Interesting.

We have an environment where on a Saturday or Sunday players are finishing their soccer game only to be whisked away in the mini-van to their flag football game, followed by their baseball game under the lights. To argue that this is better than single sport development is foolish, because both are just generalized ideas not suited for individualized plans.
Credit: Aspen Institute, "7 Charts That Show the State of Youth Sports in the US and Why It Matters."
The biggest price with Multi-Sport development isn’t hidden at all. The PRICE to have your child play numerous sports a year. The hostile environment we have created in which parents aren’t doing their job if their child doesn’t play two to three different sports a year fails to understand that many people in this country can’t afford sports bills in the thousands of dollars each season. I coach in an area where some families can afford $1000 uniforms and some families cannot afford $150 to play soccer for an entire season. Think about that. Youth sports are a business, and it’s an even better business when we parade around the idea that if your child doesn’t play hockey, baseball, and soccer every 12 months, then you aren’t doing your job as a parent. It isn’t fair to generalize and shoulder the burden on a large portion of the country that shouldn’t have to fork over tons of money to play in all of these sports.

The business model is one that doesn’t address the real problem. The panic culture that has been created is one in which we do a disservice to families by making them think they are less than if their child only plays in the sport he or she wants to. What’s the difference between this and buying baby Mozart CD’s in the hopes that a child becomes smarter, but never giving them a book to read?

The answer is right in front of you. It’s simple. It’s easy, in fact. It’s right under your nose and you don’t need to read this or a fancy Ted Talk to understand. The answer is your child. If your child has a passion for playing multiple sports, encourage the passion. They may never choose just one, and you know what, that’s ok. You still should instill the values of commitment and hard work as well as focusing on the task at hand. If it’s within your means and you can make it work, then go for it.

If your child wants to play only one sport because they have a deep passion for it, then let them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to try new things, or encouraging them to try new things, but they should have ownership of the process. It isn't that multi-sport development is wrong, or single sport development is evil. It's that your child deserves the unique path in which they can develop to their needs.

More often than not, they are trying to show you the path they want to take. Close your mouth, open your ears, and let them show you the way.

-Paul Cammarata
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<![CDATA[Do You Really Want to Master Your Development?]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 16:13:31 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/do-you-really-want-to-master-your-developmentDo you know what World Class really is?

We have become accustomed to describing things as "outstanding," "world class," or even "the greatest." In fact, the terms come most often when discussing players or teams. This 15 year old is world class, that U10 team is outstanding.

This morning, I watched a video that claimed "soccer players need several hundred to a few thousand touches each WEEK to be OUTSTANDING." Read it again, let it sink it. It couldn't be further from the truth. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that this was part of a marketing video that promoted a product for moms and dads to buy their aspiring young players.
Soccer players need those numbers each day! In fact, Jon Townsend promotes the excellent 10,000 touches a day workout, but understand that there aren't any gimmicks or frills, simply hard work and dedication.

We have become a culture so accustomed to getting what we want that we have ultimately lowered the bar on what world class really is. We have decided that mastery should be easy, that getting to the top should simply require an average level of commitment because otherwise why should we bother? It is in the watering down of words like world class, outstanding, and excellent that we get products each year that try and tell us we can be outstanding if we do this or that.

"You can be world class" if you buy that nonsense contraption that has a string attached to the ball. "It works on your touch!" They exclaim as they simply keep kicking the ball, never stopping it. Working on your touch? Or working on kicking a ball endlessly.

"You can be outstanding if you buy our soccer dancing DVD that will teach you 40 new moves,"  none of which you will master and thus be able to use effectively in a game, but it will look great in your backyard!

"You can be a professional if you buy our book of 10,000 soccer drills." That one may be my favorite.
The pathway to mastery, whether as a player, coach, or anything requires deliberate repetition, hard work, and focus. We have appraised our own soccer ability so highly that we assume we are above the basics. People are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on contraptions that don't focus on the basics, when a ball and a wall is free.

Mastery is not easy. Mastery is the hardest thing you will EVER do, and that's if you even manage to try. I don't know this because I have mastered something, I know this because I am trying to. I have been encouraged by the works of people and groups like 3Four3, BeastMode Soccer, and HupTVC because they don't advertise gimmicks. They promote a dedication to their craft that requires insane amounts of hard work. Check them out, and don't be scared by the work that's required. Be encouraged that you're one step closer towards mastery by accepting that it is going to be different than anything you've done before
As a coach, are you interested when you find a book containing 10,000 new "drills" that don't even relate to each other? Or are you interested in developing your coaching philosophy, playing style, and then developing core activities that relate completely to your philosophy for development?

As a player, are you interested in 30 new moves by the YouTube Skills Gurus? A jack of all trades but a master of none? Or are you interested in mastering two or three moves that will give you the time and space to dominate the pitch?

Mastery is not easy. I'm not even 5% of the way there. But I can promise you this, mastery doesn't require contraptions that make fun Christmas presents. It requires hard work, constant practice, focus, and determination.

It's simple, but it certainly isn't easy.
- Paul Cammarata

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<![CDATA[The Ban on Heading and the Questions That Need an Answer]]>Wed, 11 Nov 2015 13:28:36 GMThttp://thecoachingjourney.org/blog/the-ban-on-heading-and-the-questions-that-need-an-answer There has been positive and negative uproar over the past couple of days regarding the new initiatives recommended by US Soccer. If you somehow missed it, they are as follows:
  • Improve concussion awareness and education among youth coaches, referees, parents and players 
  • Instill uniform concussion management and return-to-play protocols for youth players 
  • Modify substitution rules to allow players who may have suffered a concussion during games to be evaluated without penalty
  • Prohibit heading the ball for children 10 and under and limit the activity in practice only for ages 11 to 13.
The first three are excellent, welcome changes, while the fourth has the medical backing to be a good decision, but questions still remain.

Some are outraged over what they (wrongly) lament as the country going soft. Others are exuberant over a positive solution to a serious problem. They have gone so far to credit this move with enhancing our technical development and style of play. Let's look at this claim, and then delve into the questions that are raised by this suggestion of a complete ban.

I am not a scientist, nor am I well-versed enough in the science to pass a different judgement than the one handed down by the medical committee of US Soccer.  By all accounts, repetitive contact to the head with anything is probably not good. Allowing for a free substitution made for a head injury/concussion is a very welcome change and a forward thinking move.

But what does the ban really do? Is it a ban at all?

Bear in mind that these initiatives are only enforced in the USSDA and national team setups. Otherwise, US Soccer has said that they're guidelines, but not mandatory as of yet. 

A spin-off argument has been made that banning heading will help develop a "proper" style of play. It's optimistically naive. 

Go to the park and watch a U7 game of what amounts to be kickball and tell me how often players head the ball. They don't. In fact, most players at younger ages are absolutely frightened of the ball hitting their head. This doesn't stop them from booting the ball.

Why does this ban mean that players won't play long ball, route one soccer? The country is already held hostage at the youth levels by teams that successfully play kick and run soccer, and heading isn't the reason. The reason is because the fast player plays up top, the "big kicker" plays at the back, and everyone else gets to "enjoy" the show.

The ban doesn't address the education aspect of a first touch, the idea of controlling a ball rather than kicking it away. It doesn't address that educating coaches and players that passing on the ground is a critical stage in developing a players technical ability that is as important as developing moves and confidence to want the ball to beat defenders.

Coaches gaming the system, however, is out of our control. Good initiatives can be taken out of context and distorted for other purposes, but it bears reminding that this ban doesn't automatically transform a playing style.

This initiative from US Soccer may address concussions and head injuries but that is it. 

There are teams out there who are trying to play the right way, possessing the ball, and there are teams out there who are playing the developmentally wrong way. That was before the initiative and it will remain after, because people always find a way to get around rules, especially when they're only suggested rules.

This article started as a way to address the idea that this initiative will act as a panacea for the "win at all costs" youth coaches that think possession is a useless buzz-word. It has turned into one just asking questions that don't have easy answers.

The ban raises questions. I have questions, and I haven't been able to find the answers in a suitable format. Today's article is more about helping find the best way to maximize player safety and development, and that involves all of you!

Does this prohibition merit comparisons to abstinence only sex education? We are a culture that bans, prohibits, and puts in zero-tolerance policies whether it be for things at the national level or within our own local schools. It almost seems as an easier way than incorporating a middle ground of proper education IN ORDER to limit, if not eliminate, the use of heading amongst our younger age groups. States who practice abstinence only sex education have higher numbers of STD's and pregnancies than those who ensure sex-education EDUCATES while also providing the resources necessary for the safety of the person if they engage in these actions on their own time.

At the youngest ages, heading is not a developmentally appropriate skill to hone, but is completely ignoring it the answer? Does this zero-tolerance, zero-training policy (at the youngest ages) really help educate players especially when they're on their own, in an unstructured play environment? Can our prohibition on heading become an education on heading and the dangers? Which is more effective? Perhaps only time will tell.

Should younger players not be taught the basic technique of heading, if only using a beach ball or balloon, silly as that may sound, just to understand the best way to protect themselves if situations arise when they're playing with friends away from coach, mom, or dad's eyes? 

You can agree with it or disagree with it, but the initiatives raise questions. My asking these questions doesn't mean I am against the initiatives. Asking questions doesn't make you old-fashioned, or anti-player safety. Asking questions ensures that players safety remains the priority, because assuming that an initiative solves every problem is just as silly as thinking that banning heading will ruin the game of soccer. 

What are your thoughts? I think the idea at its foundation has well-intentions but the questions I have, I don't have any answers for. Is this a black and white issue? Is there an appropriate middle ground that maximizes player safety? Or is a zero-tolerance policy the only way to ensure player safety?
- Paul Cammarata

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