Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's not complicated: Play with 11 players!

cc licensed ( BY NC )  flickr photo shared by Mike
One of the most important things you can do on the soccer field is remain "switched on" while you are on the field, playing with all 11 players at the same time, not 4 players who are switched on and 7 players switched off.

Playing with all 11 is a concept that Bill Belichick, one of the best American football coaches, tries to instill in his players.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons he has been so successful, winning numerous championships.

Too often, if we are not in the immediate vicinity of the ball, we tend to relax, stop thinking, stand still and turn off. We start moving and thinking only when the ball is close.

Instead, we need to prepare for what is about to happen and move appropriately.

For example, if you are an outside midfielder away from the ball because the mid on the other side of the field has the ball, you should anticipate what will happen next.  If the opposite side mid with the ball receives pressure, turns their hips inside and plays the ball to the back on that side, you should immediately drop back down the line, anticipating that the back is going to pass to the center back and the ball is going to switch fields to you.

Another example: you are an outside forward and the forward on the opposite side gets the ball.  You should anticipate an early cross and be in a position to receive it.  If a ball isn't crossed early, get in the box and anticipate a later cross.

Thinking ahead is the key to success in this game. Always be switched on, moving constantly and anticipating. We must play with 11 in order to achieve the level of success that we want to achieve.

Switch on!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Level of Intensity

Most of the clubs we played against gave it their all in the first half.  When they found out they couldn’t dominate us, they lost their poise and character.  It’s not that we play harder in the second half.  We play the same all the way through the game.
--Ray Nitschke, former Green Bay Packer and Hall of Fame Linebacker

Sportswriters will occasionally write that a winning soccer team has the “killer instinct” or are “great closers.”  As proof of that, they’ll write about how the team turns their intensity up a couple of notches during the last minutes of a game to secure the win.

Nothing could be more misleading.

The truth is that soccer players win because they learn to attach the same level of intensity and effort to every minute of every game.  They learn to downplay the importance of critical moments and treat the game like the pickup game they played in the backyard as a little kid.  It’s the loser who tries to ratchet their intensity up and play the last half as if it was the most important half of their lives.

In my talks with different players, I’ve found that if you measured intensity of effort and desire on a scale of one to ten, most of them get their best results when their intensity is around a six.  If their effort drops too low, they tend to get sloppy.  They might not focus on their target or think too much about what is going on in the game.  But if their level of intensity and effort gets too high, they get tight and too negative.  About a six is just right.

Players tell me frequently how well they play when they’re doing some kind of noncompetitive event, such as, playing in the backyard, practicing, going to a tournament just for fun.  In this format, they play without worrying about the score.  If they make a mistake or two, they shrug it off.  Not surprisingly, they play very well, often better then when they are in a “real” competition.  They’d be better off if they could bring the attitude they bring to fun, noncompetitive soccer.

It is not always easy to get there because our culture trains people in some less-than-helpful concepts.  One is that if you are not succeeding, you have to “try harder.”  This may be useful in a sport like cross-country running.  It may be helpful to a student who needs to put more time into studying.  But it gives the impression that the right sort of effort is one that leaves you red-faced and panting, on the brink of collapse.

No one plays well if they are red-faced and panting.  You have to play with detached indifference.  You shouldn’t try harder you should try your best, try smarter.

For example, Mike Mussina is a pro baseball player who moved to the New York Yankees a few years ago.  At his first spring training with the Yankees, reporters asked him if he was ready to pitch for the Yankees, implying that pitching for the Yankees, in New York was much more difficult than pitching anyplace else.  They said, “Mike, Yankee Stadium is going to be different. They’ll be much more pressure that what you are used to.”  Mike told them that when he was a little kid and started pitching, his Dad painted a strike zone on the back of their barn.  Every day as a little kid, he’d throw at that strike zone, pretending that he was pitching in the big leagues.  Now, when he pitches professionally, he pretends that he is pitching to the strike zone on the barn.  Mike said, “It doesn’t really matter what stadium I’m in or what jersey I’m wearing, I just pitch like I’m in the backyard, throwing at the barn.  That’s what I’ve always done, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

Mike refuses to allow some outside force to affect the way he was going to play.  He knew the level of intensity at which he played his best.  He was going to consistently pitch at that level regardless of where he was or who he was playing or even what people said.

Soccer players have to be the same way.  They have to find their most effective level of intensity, effort and focus and stay at it, whether they are playing in the backyard with their sister or shooting a penalty kick to win the World Cup.

Thoughts to Play By:

* Most soccer players their best when their intensity and effort level is about a six on a scale of 1-10.
* Try your best, try smarter, don’t try harder.
* Find your most effective level of intensity and stick to it consistently.  Your intensity and effort level should not be affected by any outside forces or by anything that happens in the game.

adapted to soccer from Bob Rotella.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cool Like Eli

cc licensed ( BY NC SA )  flickr photo shared by Football Schedule
Early critics of NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning complained that Eli has been just too passive. He wasn't emotional and looked as if he didn't care a whole lot when he was playing.

Now, after 2 super bowl championships, the very thing that was viewed as weak, is now seen as his strength.  He is now the player who doesn't get rattled.  He is now seen as a quarterback who performs his best under pressure.  He treats the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl the same way he views the 5th or 6th game of the regular season. The quarterback who was seen as not having the fire to be able to compete in the NFL, performs brilliantly in the playoffs, putting his team in position to win, time after time.

"I think it comes from the fact I can only do so much,'' Manning said. "And I want to give our team every chance to win, and I want to give myself every chance to compete and to win. I control half the game, and even then I can't control one of our guys fumbling. So I have always had the attitude that if I do everything in my power to prepare, and then I have confidence that we've got a good plan and I know it's good enough to win, then I just go play and whatever happens happens.

"If we lose, will I be mad or upset? Yes. For a few days. But I think after some time, a few days, I'm not going to let it ruin my life..."

As humans, we tend to perform our best when there is no pressure, when the outcome doesn't matter.  When we are not thinking about how important the event is.  On the other hand, we tend to tighten up when the game is on the line or when the game means a lot or when we are playing our big rival.  I have seen it happen too often--my team playing well until it is time for the championship and then they play their worst.

Any athlete can learn from Eli's attitude.  Do your best no matter the game.  Treat each game the same.  Don't over emphasize any game but treat them all as a wonderful opportunity to go out and do your best.  Love the challenge.  Have a great attitude no matter what happens or what the event is.  Eli Manning made mistakes in the games leading up to the Super Bowl in both of his championship seasons.  He was hit hard numerous times.  He was sacked.  But, no matter what happened, he got back up and did his job.

Our goal in soccer is to approach games the same way, the Eli way.