A guest article written by Bernie Koestlmaier: Coach of the RFC Lions who Played Better last year to support the British Columbia Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Disclaimer – I am not a psychologist. I am a coach: one with three years’ experience. The following are my observations from my house level soccer team.
I’ve played soccer at a reasonable level for all of my childhood and into adulthood. Even before I played, I was surrounded by the game. My father was heavily involved with a local men’s club that played in our area.
Three years ago, my oldest son wanted to get back into soccer at the age of eleven, because of my passion and knowledge of the game, I had grand plans for teaching tactics and instilling an attacking culture on my team. It was going to be a great year.
I showed up to our first session, and well, half of the team couldn’t pass, shoot, or dribble, and all of my master plan went out the window. It was back to square one. Start with the FUNdamentals. Proper technique was stressed, and reinforced. Kids were pulled aside to work on striking techniques. Eventually we were able to spend some time working on game situations.
The months passed and by the end of the season my kids were starting to get totally mentally rundown, something you’d expect at any level.
For example, I had a defender who would routinely end up on the opposite side of the field, at the opposition’s corner flag. The play would switch, and he’d look at me. I’d have one question for him. “What position are you playing?” Boom! He would take off like a shot, and manage to get himself back into position to make the tackle.
This same player would also consistently knock the ball out of bounds when he received it at his feel. I continually had a conversation with him in regards to this, “can we keep the ball if it’s played out for a throw in?” “Can we attack the other team if we play the ball out?” “How can we turn the play around?” “Can we score if we don’t have the ball?”
He answered me with a question a few times, “What if I give the ball up?” Answer, “I will never give you grief if you’re trying your hardest to play the game the right way. If it’s execution, we’ll work on it in practice, but as long as you are focused on playing to keep the ball, I won’t give you any grief”
He continued a similar pattern for the last third of the season. Come the next fall, he came back with his same energy, but watching in the initial scrimmages, all of a sudden I noticed him making tackles, and chase the ball down to keep it in play, and look for an outlet. If he had time, he’d take the space before playing it. I was amazed at how he turned around. His play on and off the ball had turned around. Focused runs, smart plays on the ball, what changed?
Well I’m pretty sure that in his spring/summer layoff he didn’t play any organized soccer. I don’t think he even watched soccer. He had a break from the game. In this time away his brain had a chance to digest all the lessons learned throughout the long season. When he came back he saw the game from a different perspective.
My second example is from another player on my team last season. He was one of the few kids I had that actually took a ball to the park and worked on skills by himself.
You could clearly see it. His turns and cuts were great, albeit a little slow, as he was working on these things unopposed. This player could strike a ball well too! But when it came to passing, his technique was lacking, and in game situations his head was buried at his feet and he’d routinely dribble into the opposition, much to the dismay of his team mates.
We’d play lots of two touch games and rondos’ at training sessions, but when it came to game times, it was back to head down watching the turf as he’d dribble into defenders. It got to the point where in our final league game of the season, I put him on two touches. This was to mess with him a little, and to challenge him. It worked that game. He struggled at first misplaying a few passes, but eventually the ball came to him, he took a nice first touch and played the ball to his teammate with his second. It was brilliant, and he even earned his team $5 for the Playbetter fund too! He was proud! I was proud of him.
Fast Forward to last night. Our preseason, Super Soccer Let’s Get Acquainted Scrimmages. This same player had missed the first few session because of camps and such. Anyways, he joins the group, and we get ready to scrimmage. I quickly have a little chat with the boy, “you know where I’d like you to play?”
“Striker?” He says with a big grin on his face and nodding.
“Nope, I want you in center mid. I want you to be the engine, the driver. Control the game.” I replied.
So we started the scrimmage, and low and behold this boy goes for a run, that involved three differing 1-2’s to dissect the opposition. They ended up scoring, but it wasn’t about the goal, it was about the growth this boy showed on that one play. This is a boy on a U14 house team and he showed some amazing growth in the understanding of the game. Again this was after some time away from it.
Both of these examples in my mind show that a simple rest, or layoff from sports is crucial to the development of our young athletes.
I’m alarmed at the number of 12 month a year 365 day programs that are out there. And parents seem to eat that stuff up ferociously, without considering that our kids may just burn out.
Give the kids a break! Let them recharge! Even subconsciously, they have a chance to digest what they’ve been taught during the long season.
Take these two examples for what they’re worth. I don’t claim to be a doctor, but these are the observations that I’ve experienced as a coach.
Give the kids a break and they’ll Play Better,