Observations Over The Last 30 Years … And 30 Minutes

I started my two-year soccer run back in 1977, when my oldest son started playing U8. Having moved from Nebraska to California, I had no idea what soccer was about. After watching one season I thought, What a great game — players play, coaches coach, parents give encouragement from the sidelines and referees control the game!

So, after working my way through the CYSA "F", "E," and "D" licenses, and completing the National "C" License course, I felt fairly confident that I could do more good than harm instructing players. I coached U8 through U16 ODP, but found working with younger players most rewarding because of the tremendous improvements that each player could make in a single season.

Early on, I found that players were receptive to receiving "points of refinement" and would take great effort to change a weakness into a strength. Maybe not right away, but with a little experience and confidence, change was made.

Lately, however, I have found that players are more inclined to act like there is only one way — Their Way. They ignore "points of refinement" and are unwilling to put any effort into changing their playing abilities.

Case in Point! A player believes the way to move a ball down the field is to kick the heck out of it, run15 yards to catch up, and kick it again. I call this "passing to yourself," rather than good ball control. While that is sometimes successful, I had to ask these players, "How is it possible to change direction, pass or take that shot if the ball is not within playing distance?" The ball should, ideally, remain within a single stride, or at least several strides. I can't tell you how many shots have not been taken because by the time that gap was closed, the defense had also closed.

In the past, I could point out this weakness and it was assured that the player would work on correcting it over a period of time …but, no more! Somehow, players have gone from wanting to learn and getting better to, "I'll just do what I want."

That takes me to the 30 minutes prior to the start of the game that, to me, can be the most important 30 minutes of the week.

I know of coaches who use what I call the "Point & Pray" approach to assigning positions on the field on game day. I have learned it is best to pre-plan the night before. I often spend a few hours with a magnetic clipboard to determine this week's game plan by asking myself some of the following questions:

  • Do I have strength down the middle?
  • Are too many strong/weak players bunched together?
  • Are my left-footed players at right back or left forward?
  • Is everyone scheduled to play at least half of the game?
  • Am I reinforcing what we learned in practice this week?

Those precious 30 minutes give me the time to make changes to my carefully crafted game plan. It is also my time for last-minute changes because of field conditions, weather and, of course, player availability.

Those precious 30 minutes are also used for the all-important warm-up and stretch period. In order to develop lifelong habits and prevent injuries, players need to prepare themselves both mentally and physically for the game.

In the past, players would be at the facility long before I even arrived, many times watching the game prior to ours. I don't know how many times I had to ask parents to stay with their child if they brought them to the field that early. Having the players arrive 30 minutes, or earlier, before game time was at one time a tradition.

Today, the precious 30 minutes have become a "How Far Can We Push the Coach?" time period. One is lucky to see any players at the field 30 minutes prior to the game. One is fortunate to have half of the team at the field at 15 minutes before the kick-off. And having players show-up as the whistle is blowing for kickoff is no longer a rare occurrence.

To me this is just plain disrespectful to the team and, especially, the coach, who has worked so very hard to prepare for the game.

Have we come to the point where players don't listen and parents don't care? Can we please have our game back?

Play hard. Play fair. Play on.

Note from Karl Dewazien: Dennis Dergan will no longer provide the CYSA Instructional Staff with "points of refinement" because he was recently taken away from us. He is and will be direly missed, but we are positive that he is diligently working on his magnetic clipboard beside some heavenly soccer field!