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Teaching from the Sideline
Teaching positively, encouragingly, enthusiastically and loudly from the sidelines is an essential and vital component of the Legends philosophy.
In games I raise my voice to the degree necessary to be heard by the player I’m trying to help. My tone is unfailingly positive, instructional and encouraging.
In Daniel Coyle’s great book “The Talent Code” he says, “A few years ago a group of American and Norwegian researchers did a study to see what made babies improve at walking. They discovered that the key factor wasn’t height or weight, or age, or brain development or any other innate trait, but rather, (surprise!), the amount of time they spent firing their circuits, trying to walk.”
The Legends have applied these findings to games. This will come as no surprise…when soccer players attempt lots of very difficult dribbling fakes during matches they learn quicker. When our Legends coaches are quiet on the sidelines the number of creative, deceptive dribbling attempts drops significantly. If, at the coachable moment, we demand that our players attempt a brave, creative solution to every possession, we see a massive increase in “skilled” efforts, and gutsy, risky, out of the box solutions. We’ve tried silence and vocal encouragement. When we don’t shout “skill” our players use very little creativity, when do shout “skill” we get an abundance of creativity. However, despite using the same word, i.e. “skill”, each player’s skilful attempt is different in significant, or subtle, ways.
In all learning the key is the moment of process. I call the moment a player receives the ball, the “Moment of Truth”. Learning occurs in all moments. If the “Moment of Truth” is wasted in fear induced kick ball, the child learns to fear and react negatively. If the “Moment of Truth” is answered with a pass to a teammate, the child learns to use an average skill to give the responsibility to someone else. However, if the “Moment of Truth” is challenged with a brave, creative, skilful move, followed by a penetrating pass or shot, the child learns to take the full responsibility to lead the team using the most difficult skills. This child is accepting the most frightening of responsibilities, in the most publicly criticized forum for children…youth sports!
If at “The Moment of Truth” a child is left to choose either: 1) kick ball, 2) an easy pass play, or 3) a very difficult skill option, which do you think will be chosen most often? If you answered “1)” you are correct. Even when we continuously ask our players to play skillfully, many possessions are kicked away with no attempt at skilful brave, creative, leadership.
When I go silent the number and the degree of difficulty of “Moment of Truth” attempts plummets drastically. If my players are to achieve greatness I have to encourage big plays, praise gutsy attempts, enthuse about effort, cheer when an honest mistake is made, boost confidence, escalate expectation, stretch limiting visions and expand horizons.
When I stay silent the polar opposite usually occurs. Most kids will choose the easy play, chicken out, give less effort, avoid risk, stay in their comfort zone, set easy goals and fail to see the big picture. But, when we raise our voices with positive encouragement, and expectation of a skilful play, kids flourish. They become braver, more creative leaders. They know that if they pick the gutsiest possible option and lay it all on the line, in our eyes they can’t fail. Over time this approach turns introverts into extroverts and shy kids into kids who love center stage. Once a kid has enjoyed center stage success, in the highly criticized and frightening arena that Legends soccer provides, he or she will find other life leadership challenges much easier.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his great book “Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” says, “A good creative person is well trained. So he has, first of all, an enormous amount of knowledge in that field. Secondly, he tries to combine ideas because he has the judgment to say, “This is good, I’ll pursue this further.”
When Legends coaches demand “skill” from the sidelines we do not remove meaningful choice. We only remove negative choice e.g. kick ball or simple, comfort zone plays. As Mihaly says a “creative person is well trained”.
Anders Ericsson has done extensive work on, “Skilled Memory and Expertise”. He confronts the paradox of expertise and claims that people not only acquire content knowledge as they practice cognitive skills, they also develop mechanisms that enable them to use a large and familiar knowledge base efficiently.
Legends players transition their deceptive dribbling and finishing skills into the live game quicker than any soccer program I have yet seen. We make this quick transition by first insisting that our novice players attempt a brave, creative deceptive dribbling play, followed by a penetrating pass or shot, on every possession. Once our players have learned the most difficult option well we give them the option to choose the simpler route to goal. We first teach players to do the most difficult, (e.g. shooting), with a certain knowledge that the easier tasks, (e.g. passing), will be learned simultaneously.
We have been accused of encouraging kids to make mistakes all of the time. This could not be further from the truth.
Mistakes are not OK all the time!
For example: In the Legends club the mistake of not giving 100% is educated out of the player. We educate players to give continuous 100% effort by asking them to gauge and publicly vocalize their effort at regular intervals in practice. We teach them what 100% looks like so that they understand how to give it and assess it.
Kick Ball is not OK. That mistake is a cardinal sin. We don’t shout clear it, (to clear it is to fear it!). We don’t shout, “Get It Out”. We encourage our players to make mistakes with the right attitude.
Only by making brave, creative leadership mistakes will each child become a talented brave, creative leader.
Richard Branson made a successful business career based on risk, mistakes and having another go. He’s wealthy but he doesn’t make money the first priority. He’s taken some of the most daunting personal risks, (One of the books I would recommend to anybody is “Losing My Virginity”), but he’s had one heck of a ride and provided many thousands of people with meaningful daily passion, vision and mission opportunities.
He’s now spearheading the private enterprise “Race to Space”. I love the long-term “go for it” example the guy sets to those poor souls who seek short-term instant gratification in life.
If the process is good and right, mistakes are a key component of optimal growth. Mistakes usually occur at the ragged edge of further skill and character acquisition. It is these mistakes that the Legends club encourages vocally, enthusiastically & frenetically.
We push the, “Edge of Chaos”, because only then do our kids learn to conquer chaos and take life to a whole new level.
In our society sporting leadership is revered. Legends players quickly become soccer leaders. Their exceptional soccer ability builds peer respect and self-belief. In this way Legends players develop the character and desire to be brave, creative, lifelong leaders in society.
If we constantly and vocally encourage this “try something difficult that you’ve never tried before” attitude from the sideline, every child will quickly learn to be a team leader.
In our society sporting leadership is revered. Legends players quickly become soccer leaders. Their exceptional soccer ability builds peer respect and self-belief. In this way Legends players develop the character and desire to be brave, creative, lifelong leaders in society.
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The Legends Approach – For Children, Parents and Coaches
Be a positive life force. Empower people, especially children, with your example and your teaching. Be determined to live each moment of every day to its fullest. Grab the fruit of life and squeeze every last drop of juice from it. If it’s worth doing, do it well. Do it with an open, honest frenzy and fervor that others will admire and wish to emulate. If you fear it, you have the greatest reason to attempt it. Step beyond your comfort zone to the greatest degree possible. In so doing you will push the edge of your abilities further in your lifetime than you ever imagined. Others, especially children, will see your power and follow your brave, creative example. In your mind’s eye see yourself as omnipotent; as capable of reaching for, and achieving, the highest goals and ideals. Work with a reckless passion at everything worthwhile. Fill your seconds, minutes, and hours only with important things. Live your life fast and frenetically. If you teach, or coach children, leave nothing in your tank when the lesson, practice, or game is over. Give, give, give and give again. Then give more. Give until you collapse exhausted into a deep, untroubled sleep with a smile on your face at the end of each wonderful day. Find a career you love and never retire…not at 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 years of age. Keep amazingly busy in ways that challenge your body and mind to its fullest extent. Go where you have never been before, and when you get there, change it for the better.
Abandon the sofa and the TV, for the classroom or sports field. Work, travel and embrace diversity of race, religion, gender and preference, with the certain knowledge that most people are good, and can be trusted.
Crucially, make a huge impact and difference. Improve yourself while challenging others to grow and flourish. Build your own wings, while helping others to fly. Soar to the highest heights, and laugh at the lowest lows. Do so in the certain knowledge that you bring your own weather with you. Understand that storms are in the mind. Believe in your “one of a kind” indomitable spirit. Laugh at those who tell you that the goal of life is security. These are the people who will never really live.
Be the first amazing you. Not the second, and poorer version of anyone else. Shock and surprise everyone with your unique talents, love, and intensity. Bring these talents to the party of life and make it better! Live totally in each precious and dynamic moment. Embrace everything, in such a way that you show those you influence a vision of how to focus on all worthwhile things. Trash any notion there are limits to what you can achieve. Only the weak see opportunity and rewards as limited. Believe in abundance. Make it happen, and along the way, share it with everyone. Avoid the fear of scarcity. Your energy is best spent passionately in the pursuit of shared spiritual wealth, not hoarded against some imaginary danger.
Always remember that a great life is made by the go givers not the go getters…a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet…never judge a book by its cover…no person is so tall as one who stoops to help a child.
Trade security for love: suspicion for trust: misery for laughter: rest for passionate hard work and money for priceless riches of the spirit.
Moment by exciting moment, make your life the most stupendous it can possibly be.
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Legends Soccer is Modern Society’s
Best Way to Develop Great Character
For decades CardiffCollege had been the elite Physical Education school in Wales, a small and beautiful mountainous country sharing a border with England. In September of 1981 the raw recruits of Cardiff College’s new intake of trainee Phys’ Ed’ students sat down for their first “Philosophy of Sport” lecture. The participating students included athletes, (many youth internationals), from a wide variety of British sports e.g. rugby, field hockey, soccer, swimming, netball, badminton, basketball, squash, cricket, cross country, tennis, golf and track & field. Every popular British sport was played at a high level by at least one of the students present. Lecturer Vernon Mills launched into his regular annual freshman project. For many years his goal had been to get the freshman students to discuss the merits and values of sport in general and vote the “best” sport based upon the priorities they had identified. The argument was always passionate to the point of furious. The students each wanted their sport to be the one identified as the “best”. For the purpose of the study the students first argued the merits of sport in general to identify the most important common components i.e. those that would determine the value of participation. As a group the students identified 15 major developmental and participation benefits of sport as follows:
Speed & Power Fitness
Coordination, Balance & Agility
General Character Development
Equality/Democracy/Flexibility: As related to the degree of genetic physical capability required and number of possible permutations for practice and play
Overall Health & Vibrancy: The generation of positive energy and attitude transfer into life
The students evaluated a full slate of the most popular sports in the British school system. After much passionate discussion, during which each individual fought hard to justify a high ranking for their favorite sport, each sport was ranked by vote, best to worst, for the degree to which it involved each of the above components. When the scores for all the categories were tallied and averaged soccer earned the number one spot in the rankings. For many years the result had been the same. Soccer, (“Association Football” in Britain), always won. Not only was it ranked number one, but there was large gap between soccer and the number two sport. The group concluded, (much to the disgust of the large rugby contingent), that soccer was the most beneficial all round sport. This goes a long way toward explaining why soccer is the most played and watched of all the world’s sports. For many years the conclusion of the study had been that traditional soccer is the sport that challenges and develops a greater cross section of human needs.
This clearly illustrates that, even without the unique benefits bestowed by the non-traditional Legends methods, soccer is the best all round vehicle in the modern world for developing character. However, when we add the brave, creative, leadership optimization of potential guaranteed by the unique Legends coaching method, soccer becomes far more positive and powerful. When children are taught the Legend’s way soccer stretches its lead as the #1 child character developer in the sporting world to such a degree that the second best sport is far behind.
This is because the Legends method has been designed and refined to speed up and deepen the acquisition of exceptional brave, creative, leadership character and “Special One” soccer ability.
The above Cardiff Phys’ Ed’ College story shows that soccer is already the most diverse and beneficial character training environment in all of sports. Coached the “Training Soccer Legends” way a childhood soccer experience will be vastly more rewarding. This book will help you understand how the “Training Soccer Legends” philosophy utilizes and enhances the major developmental and participation benefits of sport to maximize your child’s character potential.
What follows is an expansion on the CardiffCollege study. It’s a description of how the “Training Soccer Legends” philosophy enhances the beneficial affect of the 15 major developmental and participatory components of sport identified in that project:
To be a leader a child needs peers to lead. Because individual sports involve very little teamwork they don’t develop this essential quality of successful character. Of the “team” sports soccer is the leader in equality and complexity of leadership opportunity. When a soccer player has the ball he/she is the equivalent of the American Football quarterback. The key leadership difference between soccer and American Football is that during a soccer game every player has the ball and the opportunity to lead to a somewhat equal degree. However, traditional soccer coaches often reduce the leadership training value of the opportunity because they restrict the creative options of their players. For example they may only allow their players to attempt one and two touch, “get it, give it”, “hot potato” passing plays. This approach quickly passes the responsibility to another player but does so often at a time when that receiving teammate is tightly marked resulting in a loss of possession. In American Football the best quarterbacks are capable of faking and scrambling until their receivers are open or running for a touch down or first down. Legend’s players are taught to “scramble” under pressure until their deceptive dribbling skills are honed to an elite level. This trains every child to be an exceptional leader. When a child becomes exceptional their peers give them deep respect. Respect is the essential core of leadership and fulfilling one’s leadership potential.
All team sports have a varying degree of democracy or equality in the allocation of team responsibility. In American Football the quarterback is usually the MVP of the team. The “Wide Receiver” is usually next in the pecking order of team importance. However, from top to bottom there is a massive difference in the value to the team of the QB versus the lowly lineman. While all positions and responsibilities in soccer aren’t equal there is far less of a leadership divide between the goalie, defenders, midfielders and forwards in soccer than the QB and lineman in football. In soccer the premise is that each player is used to a fairly equal degree to advance the ball and score or defend the ball and deny scoring opportunities. In football each player is used to a massively different degree to achieve the same goals. In traditional soccer teamwork opportunities are allocated more democratically and fairly than in any other team sport.
In Legends soccer team responsibility is elevated to an elite level. Legends players are expected to learn how to hold the ball until a fantastic team play becomes possible or, better still, to create the circumstances for a fantastic team play. Traditional soccer coaches don’t spend enough time on teaching children how to become exceptional team players. Legend’s coaches first focus on developing individual brilliance because it is the hallmark of every great team player the world has ever known. Eventually Legend’s players are able to hold the ball under immense pressure until they can make a superlative team play (e.g. score or assist). Players trained in traditional coaching methods aren’t capable of holding the ball until the perfect opportunity becomes available. They become limited positional players who can only make marginal team plays that often lose possession. Legends players are trained in the skills and tactics to hold the ball until the perfect time to release it. Eventually Legends players and teams dominate ball possession to an immense degree and by doing develop a wider margin of team and individual greatness in every game or practice they participate in.
IQ testing, the most widely accepted measure of human intelligence, measures a broad range of problem solving abilities. Therefore logic dictates that for intelligence to be optimized we must expose children to the broadest possible range of problems and solutions they are capable of handling at each stage of development.
The situational variables in soccer are more numerous and varied than other sports therefore demand faster assimilation, computation and selection. This demands tremendous concentration and teaches the ability to work out best solutions at lightning fast speeds. Unlike American Football, soccer is a totally fluid sport with very few pre-planned situations. Therefore, nearly all actions depend on improvised split-second analyses of constantly changing circumstances. In soccer the variables to be taken in account are all the more numerous because there are 11 opponents and 10 teammates to be tracked and considered.
Furthermore, players must react to stimuli from all angles and heights because soccer is one of the few games contested on both the ground and in the air through a three hundred and sixty degree spectrum.
Another aspect of soccer that adds to the number of variables to be considered is the engagement of multiple senses. In soccer players are subjected to numerous visual, sensual and audio cues during play.
As an outdoor sport soccer is significantly more complicated by changing circumstances. Every decision involves a myriad of environmental variables e.g. weather, surface conditions, temperature, etc.
Lastly, because the range of possible skills is the greatest of any sport, there are a myriad of technical options available with which to solve the problem.
“Skill, intelligence and confidence are an unconquered army.”
The combination and interaction of the above factors creates the need to assess and compute more variables in a rapid, constantly changing, dynamic equation, where every player must analyze and decide from a greater number of available options, with less time to think, than in any other sport. The “Training Soccer Legends” approach adds to these challenges by creating the most difficult game and training circumstances and expectations possible. The Legends curriculum imposes ever more complicated conditions upon players as their abilities grow. In practice, Legends players learn to assess situational variables, make choices and perform the techniques selected much faster than they will ever have to in a game. As a direct consequence of challenging players to overcome more situational variables and make quicker decisions than other coaching methods, the “Training Soccer Legends” approach nurtures and rewards greater levels of functional intelligence. Because all of life’s environments are interconnected intelligence built during Legends soccer practices and games carries over into most of life’s other arenas
Speed & Power Fitness
Soccer stresses and develops the primary anaerobic fitness system, i.e. the ATP, (Adenosine Tri Phosphate), system for short bursts of speed and power, (0-10 seconds in duration). The “Training Soccer Legends” approach maximizes the usage of the primary anaerobic fitness system because at the core of the second and third stages of Legends training are highly pressured 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 progressions that involve a high degree of short burst, high intensity, energy sapping actions such as tackling, rapidly accelerating and decelerating, sudden changes of direction, dynamic fakes etc. The high intensity, Legends competitive soccer cauldron does far more than traditional methods to challenge and nurture the body’s plyometric, (the rebound capability of connective tissue), capabilities.
Soccer also develops the secondary anaerobic fitness system, i.e. the lactic acid system. This is the system utilized during intermediate length power activities. This system sustains the player for intense periods of activity ranging from 10 seconds to 2-3 minutes. The “Training Soccer Legends” system incorporates a 2-5 minute round robin competition structure that demands a combination of maximal and sub maximal high intensity effort. The stressful effort needed in 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 trains a tremendous degree of secondary anaerobic capacity by gradually training a higher anaerobic threshold, i.e. the point at which the involuntary shutting down of muscle function begins.
The “Training Soccer Legends” approach also develops the aerobic system for athletic endurance. This system encompasses sub-maximal, non-overload type activity from 2-3 minutes upwards in duration. Legends players enjoy between 45-60 minutes of this hard physical aerobic activity in each 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 practice. This builds greater relative stamina and endurance than other, more traditionally coached, programs. And it’s more fun than running laps!
“Hard training easy combat, easy training hard combat.”
Important Fitness Quick Note: The concept of “fitness” involves more than physiology. In the best programs fitness is trained in multitasking ways that also enhance the psychological, technical and tactical potential of the growing child. The “Training Soccer Legends” approach utilizes all three physical systems to a high degree in all practices while also optimizing skill performance, decision making and attitude. It provides a well-rounded, yet intense, program of speed and stamina development but players love it because they don’t have time to think about the pain they experience while they are absorbed with a myriad of complicated, optimizing, enjoyable technical and tactical challenges. As a consequence of the “one of a kind” Legends training system players experience greater physiological development while simultaneously fulfilling other potentials, e.g. game specific skill, speed and clarity of thought, intensity and motivation. Most of these components are ignored in training fitness without a ball.
Coordination, Balance and Agility
The various situational and positional challenges in Legends soccer combines the quickness and total control of a dancer, the toughness and resiliency of the martial artist, plus the adaptability and creativity of the gymnast. Legends soccer demands split second body position adjustments in contact situations. This develops elite coordination balance and agility. No other sport has soccer’s “head to toe, total body” range of technical challenges. The unique deceptive dribbling and goal scoring Legends focus develops and challenges coordination, balance and agility in ways that programs with a greater focus on passing and receiving can’t. The Legends approach teaches incredibly complex, world class, moves and shooting techniques. These are the most difficult neuromuscular actions in all of sport and, in the Legend’s system, have to be performed constantly under ever greater and more intense defensive pressure. Achieving successful performance of these fakes and moves under such conditions is perhaps the most comprehensive and difficult single sporting scenario in the world. At every level of soccer competition, deceptive dribbling and shooting situations demand amazing degrees of coordination, balance and agility. The “Training Soccer Legends” philosophy focuses intensely on these two “money skills” in the “clutch”. Because of this the Legends method is the very best in the world of sports for optimizing each child’s coordination, balance and agility.
No other sport uses as many of the body’s parts in direct contact with the ball. Soccer players use their feet, thighs, chest, head and hands, (for goalkeepers). Furthermore, these areas can be used in many different ways with endless permutations. The “Training Soccer Legends” approach maximizes the development of all-round physical ability by focusing on the two most difficult skills i.e. deceptive dribbling and shooting. These carry over or “transfer” into the other 3 most commonly used field skills of the game i.e. passing, receiving & tackling. By focusing on the two most difficult and decisive skills five key technical areas of the game can be developed in a fraction of the time it would take to teach all five separately. This “5 skills for the time cost of 2” benefit makes Legends trained players far more technically astute than children taught in other ways.
“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.”
It is a terrible mistake to prioritize tactics over technique. For the young player to eventually realize their ultimate potential technique must come first! Soccer’s is the world’s most “open” team sport. “Open” is defined as “Having the greatest number of variables”. Traditional soccer combines and demands the greatest variety of variables and complexity of decisions. You have to take into account 11 opponents, 10 teammates, field conditions, weather and a constantly changing 360 degree environment with few breaks in the game. Friend and foe alike are all running in different directions and shouting for the ball. One opponent is usually snapping at your heels, pushing, shoving and sometimes trash talking. The traditional soccer coaching approach is tactical “Chess on Grass”. Traditional “Chess on Grass” soccer coaches try to get their payers to play “controlled” soccer. They attempt to create an environment where their players have ample time to make a considered decision, Legend soccer coaches recognize that for a player to be a tactical genius at the highest level of soccer and life we have to create a crazy, complex, morass of competing physical pressures with immense cognitive dissonance.
The Legends approach throws a whole bunch of big and little tactical wrenches into the complex traditional coaching machine. Each Legends player is expected to learn a wide technical repertoire of very complex fakes and shooting skills. As a consequence the variety and number of tactical options that have to be considered on every Legends play are far greater than in the traditional “passing” method of play. One of the key stages of Legends soccer is where every player is expected to make a fantastic dribbling play, (“use a move”), followed immediately by a great pass or shot. In this way every player is taught to combine the biggest team and individual challenges at every moment of every game and practice. The Legends approach optimizes the number of tactical decisions and level of technical brilliance expected at each stage. This “Edge of Chaos” Legends process develops child exceptionalism. The number and quality of tactical decisions in Legends soccer are far greater than taught or expected in more traditional approaches to education. This multitasking perspective to soccer has excellent positive transfer to decision making for life. Legends soccer teaches your child to make great tactical decisions under pressure and has a tremendous long-term benefit in the most important daily environments.
General Character Development
One of soccer’s major benefits is the development of important character traits for life. Qualities of perseverance, individual responsibility, application, drive, leadership, controlled aggression, concentration, teamwork, self worth, courage, creativity and confidence are all developed to a tremendous degree by soccer. The “Training Soccer Legends” approach demands and enhances these personality traits to a greater degree of refinement than any other approach. This is because the difficult circumstances necessary for the attainment of these characteristics occur more often in the Legends methodology.
“The greater difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”
Some of the character maximizing circumstances, inherent within the Legends approach, are as follows:
Constant need for 100% mental and physical effort
Extremely demanding situational challenges and expectations
Great emphasis on individual responsibility
Complicated fast changing situations
High level of safe physical contact
Elevated emphasis on communication
Numerous transitions from offense to defense
Crucial teammate support (in the 2 v 2 stage)
Greater opportunity for personal/individual feedback and accomplishment
Mandatory attempted performance of difficult creative skills
Soccer both helps develop and reward confidence in social interactions. Legends soccer is extremely beneficial for improving social skills in serious, meaningful environments where individuals are interacting under both high pressure, (during game or training), and low pressure, (pre or post game), conditions. The “Training Soccer Legends” method creates an atmosphere of resourceful problem solving under far greater stress than found in traditionally coached programs. The ability to interact positively with a wide range of people and personalities is possibly the most important social skill. Spending significant time interacting in highly stressed team environments will have the greatest positive impact on, and transfer to, success and leadership in other later life environments.
“Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
Harry S Truman
Equality/Democracy/Flexibility as related to the degree of genetic physical capability required and number of possible permutations for practice and play
The all round physical requirements of soccer allow individuals of a great many shapes, sizes and genetic characteristics to develop excellence and become valuable team members at elite levels of competition. Because leg and foot coordination are the major factors in attaining soccer proficiency even the smaller and physically weaker player can participate on a somewhat equal basis with bigger and stronger individuals. You do not have to be 280 lbs. or 6’8″ tall to achieve professional soccer status. Any form of soccer has an unusual equality of leadership opportunity. Equality of opportunity optimizes developmental potential for all children because those with superior genetics do not enjoy the massive advantages in soccer that they do in less diverse sports. This greater diversity and democracy of opportunity in relation to physical ability is better for the genetically gifted individual because soccer is less likely than other sports to reward pure natural athletic talent. The ability of those with lesser genetic gifts to compensate and compete with those with better athletic genes forces the soccer player with greater natural talent to optimize his/her talents through hard work. The “Training Soccer Legends” style goes the extra mile. It enhances the integral fairness of the sport with equal and fair treatment of each player. In this method all participants are expected to learn and perfect the most difficult, innovative skills of the game. Legends soccer combines equality of opportunity and the pursuit of creative excellence for children with a wide range of genetic ability in ways alien to conventional coaching schemes and methods. As a consequence a greater cross section of players can experience positive reinforcement, success and genetic optimization. In traditional coaching, where players aren’t as skillful and playing time is allocated unequally, the influence of pure genetic potential and physical prowess plays a much larger role.
Because soccer uses a round bouncy ball, even one person can enjoy such activities as juggling, dribbling or rebounding off a wall in a very limited space, (e.g. garage or basement), without a partner. When partners are involved the permutations for practice and fun with a soccer ball become endless. The “Training Soccer Legends” approach is the most effective at accommodating any number of participants while involving them in very specific and creative techniques for excelling at the highest levels of the game. In other conventional “pass and receive” philosophies the coach needs a specific minimum or maximum number of players at practice if he is to pursue a viable team agenda. With the Legends approach any number of players can improve their skills and be entertained while doing so.
By nature, soccer is a game of constant action with very few breaks in play. This keeps both the player and spectator entertained, captivated and absorbed for long periods of time. The “Training Soccer Legends” system teaches all players to master crucial creative and vital destructive aspects of the game, in the clutch, to the greatest possible degree. This method demands more repetition of complicated and creative “big play” offensive and defensive actions than any other coaching system in the history of the sport. Because the action is so creative, all players are constantly involved and the skills are so entertaining the Legends approach is extremely enjoyable and motivational. When players and spectators are part of an action filled, entertaining experience the actual and perceived value of Legend’s style soccer is far greater than for traditional soccer.
The objectives and rules of soccer are simple. The object is to score in the opponent’s goal and stop them scoring in yours. You can propel the ball in any direction, at any moment. Even the very young can understand soccer quickly, thereby making participation in organized training programs possible at an earlier age than in most other team sports. The “Training Soccer Legends” philosophy is very easy for kids to understand, yet optimally challenging at all stages of development. After the technical training stage where each player has their own ball or shares a ball between two for virtually every second of practice, each practice involves transitioning between two closely spaced goals. Unlike conventional coaching philosophies incorporating passing games in grids, servers outside the grid, sections of the field where some players can’t go etc, the Legends approach allows each player to go anywhere on the small, crowded practice area, while challenging him/her to use the most creative offensive or effective defensive techniques and tactics under pressure. The concept is so simple that the average 3-4 year old understands it. However, the challenges provided by the environment and layered Legends curriculum conditions are so perfectly gauged that even the accomplished 17 year old has to give 100% in order to be consistently successful.
When compared to other sports the cost of involvement in a soccer program is usually very reasonable. Essential personal equipment is limited to soccer shoes, shin-guards, socks, shorts and shirt. This makes soccer uniform provision possibly the cheapest of any team sport. In the Legends approach we focus to a far greater degree on practice than games. During the year the Legends schedules significantly more practices than other premier programs. We believe that the thousands of extra touches that our players will inevitably receive in these additional practices will make them far more skillful players than those trained by other methods. Extra practices, over and above other traditional programs, are offered at no extra cost to the players and families. This is possible in part because of the higher ratio of players to each coach that is necessary to create a really challenging dribbling and shooting environment. As a consequence of the unique Legends method, players develop far better abilities and enjoy more practice opportunities, with a similar financial outlay, than players involved with other less progressive, less creative and less effective premier soccer training programs.
Soccer involves reasonable physical contact. Excessive contact is penalized within the rules, therefore, contact injuries are minimized and tend to be less severe than other team sports like football or flight oriented sports like gymnastics. The low incidence of injury provides the ideal forum for long-term participation and allows the more mature or less fit individual to participate for a greater length of time than most other contact sports. The acquisition of greater skill, agility, flexibility and opponent awareness inherent in learning to be a great deceptive dribbler, guarantees Legends trained players the ability to recognize and avoid injury to a greater degree than players trained in a conventional “pass and receive” methodology. Players who are quick on their feet and exceptionally perceptive can feel a dangerous challenge coming. This elite perception allows them to leap over, or change direction away from, dangerous tackles a fraction of a second earlier than those without these capabilities. Furthermore, players who have spent a significant part of their youth career in the crowded Legends practice environment can predict and avoid the approaching danger to a far greater degree than those trained conventionally.
Overall Health & Vibrancy: Positive energy and attitude development transfer into life.
In the Legends program it doesn’t matter if the child has the potential to play for the U.S.A. or has “Down’s Syndrome”. We have worked with both the severely physically challenged and the phenomenally physically gifted, and optimized the soccer and life potential of both! Everyone can and should be an “Athlete”.
Athletes in general have a vibrancy and energy not common to the general population of non-athletes. A significant body of research has clearly demonstrated that most athletes have a greater level of personal dynamism and levels of responsibility than their less active counterparts. At the bottom of the fitness pile are those people who have neglected their fitness to such a great degree that, because of bad nutrition and/or a lack of training, die early because of a self-induced heart attack. The old adage is “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind”. Intelligent physical development programs constantly improve upon the existing levels of physical and mental fitness of their participants.
The Legends program improves on fitness in four key areas…physiology, psychology, technical and tactical.
1) Physiologically the Legends program with its intense focus on fakes and moves, demands a far greater range of plyometric strength. Consequently, it optimizes the rebound capability of ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones (all the major connective tissues). With its intense demands on the primary, secondary anaerobic and aerobic systems it also refines the musculo/skeletal and cardio-vascular systems to a far greater degree than traditional/conventional soccer coaching methods.
2) From a psychological perspective the “deceptive dribbler/goal scorer” has to be a braver and more creative leader than the “passer”. The Legend’s approach builds a leadership mentality by putting the child on “center stage” while doing exceptionally difficult things, in the fires of public competition. Legend’s players are also targeted to a greater degree than passers because they are “Special Ones”. The extra attention they receive from opponents, coaches and spectators causes them to develop a much braver, creative attitude towards soccer and life.
3) Technique is the foundation all of life’s key skills. The Legends method teaches and hones the difficult and risky techniques of the “Special Ones”. Legends coaches guarantee to teach and develop players who are able to carve open defenses and score great goals. Because Legends players are exceptionally skillful they feel incredibly good about their ability to influence all their soccer teams, (e.g. club, school, ODP), in unique, positive ways. This high self-concept stems from the immeasurably different and better technical foundation common to great deceptive dribblers and goal scorers.
4) Tactics. A wide variety of creative technical ability creates a plethora of tactical options. The Legends player is so adept at deceptive dribbling that good passing options are numerous. The Legends club teaches every player to be a great deceptive dribbler and ball striker. When everyone on a team has the deceptive dribbling possession skills necessary to hold the ball until the time is right for a pass, offensive choices are far more numerous than for those individuals and teams who are incapable of dribbling successfully under pressure.
Important Quick Note: From a fitness for life standpoint soccer coached the “Training Soccer Legends” way has a greater positive affect on a wide range of character attributes than any other single environment in society. Legends trained players develop greater speed/power, strength/endurance and aerobic capability than those trained in traditional ways. The creative dribbling and shooting based curriculum also builds tremendous coordination, balance and agility. Additionally the deceptive dribbling and precision ball striking demanded of each player grooves great skill at speed. Intelligence is both fully utilized and developed by the ever changing myriad of variables. Most other facets of good character are honed because of the greater challenges, frustrations, fatigue and physical abuses that players have to overcome on and around the ball in the Legends method. The Legends way also demands greater communication and creative problem solving at higher speed under pressure. These are two of the most essential life skills. Furthermore, the Legends approach offers the smaller, slightly built, and the bigger, more muscular individual, an equality of opportunity and better chance to optimize their talent than more traditional coaching philosophies. Because of the constant action and involvement Legends players are engaged and motivated for the whole practice. In addition the unique 1 v 1 & 2 v 2 Legends system can be adapted to accommodate any player permutation at practice. A further advantage is that the “Training Soccer Legends” concept is comparatively simple. In the Legends system great players can be developed without unreasonable cost because the program is oriented more towards the practice environment where, if the curriculum is good, most true learning and development occurs. Last but not least, the curriculum’s emphasis on deceptive dribbling in crowded conditions builds a higher level of intuitive awareness and a sixth sense for choosing the right option under extremely high physical and mental pressure. All this develops a refined radar for danger, an elite ability to problem solve, and a superior quality of connective tissue that makes Legends trained players less likely to suffer serious setbacks in soccer and life.
Even when coached the traditional way soccer is the world’s best sport for building great character. Taught the “Legends Way” soccer is the most rewarding, enjoyable and beneficial character building environment in modern society
“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
William A. Foster
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The Crucial Nature of Mutual Trust
Child psychologists have realized that children who demonstrate trust in others have sunnier dispositions and better attitudes than kids who are suspicious. We enjoy people who trust us and embrace them as pals. We hear those who trust us and embrace their input. Therefore the best group leadership circumstances are when all team members, including the coach, exhibit deep trust for each other.
Players respond very positively to trusting coaches. Role models who trust others are seen by others as trustworthy. The downside is that coaches and players who don’t appear to trust others are seen as undeserving of trust. During my 37 years as a youth coach it has become glaringly obvious that coaches from the old and unfair “command and control” school of coaching have the lowest personal credibility. Why? It’s simple. Highly controlling and unfair behavior loudly and clearly communicates a lack of trust. When coaches show that they don’t trust us, we give the same back i.e. we don’t trust them. Trust is the crucial component of credibility. Win focused, unfair, controlling coaches lower player and parent respect every time they break the rules, watch over, check up on or control others.
A player’s perception of whether she can trust the coach affects their relationship. Even when a coach is good to one player a lack of fairness in the treatment of another will undermine the trust of numerous team members and their parents. If we believe that a coach is untrustworthy or, worse still feared, we mat feel that we have no moral obligation to be truthful with him. Players and parents often justify lying, cheating and similar behaviors as self-protective in response to a coach they perceive as untrustworthy. They suspect that if they told the truth, they or their child would be benched or otherwise punished.
Because of a lack of trust or the fear factor, the coach as an example of trust and fairness is more critical than that of any other person in determining the level of trust that develops in a team. High trust, (in comparison to low trust), is strongly correlated with fairness, unity, recognition, innovation and autonomy. To trust the team and club, parents and players must be confident that the organization, and especially its coaches, will offer two -way communication and the opportunity to participate. Children need to know that they will be dealt with fairly and supported through risks and mistakes. Praise for the effort without regard for the outcome builds player trust and parent support. When honest errors occur the use of guilt, shame and blame in player/coach interaction is to be avoided at all cost. There is a significant correlation between trust in ones leader and subsequent satisfaction with that person’s overall leadership effectiveness.
The Legends program fosters extreme trust between players and coaches. It also builds great depth of trust between parents and coaches. The Legends player knows that her coach makes optimizing her individual development his highest priority. The Legends parent loves that the win is clearly a secondary consideration behind his/her child’s development and best interests. Legends club policies include a high risk focus on learning and using elite deceptive dribbling and shooting techniques (The “Big Play” skills). Legends teams show their players trust and respect by playing equal playing time. All players are expected to play like creative forwards regardless of where they are on the field without any consideration for the statistical outcome of the game. Legends players are encouraged to take charge and to self-determine the skills and tactical methods used. They are challenged to do everything a little faster and more skillfully on each and every play. The Legends program is high risk, creative and process based. Long-term positive outcomes are the logical result of pushing the edge of chaos with no fear of or regard for negative short-term results.
The amazingly trusting and unselfish Legends coaching approach can only produce a vastly more mature, trusting player who intuitively understands the core elements of great leadership. After experiencing the Legends method he or she will be a vastly braver, more creative leader for life.
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The Edge of Excellence is Learned on the Cusp of Chaos
As a young man I was regaled with fascinating stories of “football” in Ghana. During the Second World War my father “George Barney” served in the British Fleet Air Arm. He was stationed in Ghana, West Africa. He played “real football” for the Fleet Air Arm against the other branches of the African Allied military machine. During the war his team finished as runners up in the “Africa Cup”. This was quite an honor because Britain’s pre-war pro’ players made up the bulk of each divisional team. As a young man I heard many stories of “football” in Ghana. He told me that every evening after the daily war work was done the British servicemen and the local Ghanaians would gather for their evening game of football. I particularly remember my Dad waxing lyrical about a young local Ghanaian called, “Spitfire” by the warring Brit’s. Spitfire was a “ball wizard” who played barefooted while the Brit’s played in traditional “boots” with a leather sleeve above the ankles. “We couldn’t get the ball from him,” my Dad said. “The only way to slow him down a bit was to kick him or stamp on his feet.” My Dad joined the armed forces when he was 17. He spent most of the war in West Africa. He went to war with a traditional British soccer perspective. He came back with a tremendous admiration for deceptive dribbling skill in the Ghanaian fashion. From this point onwards he loved the entertainers. Fifty years later I was to have a Ghanaian experience that, in its own special way, paralleled, reinforced and elevated everything my father set in motion fifty years before to a whole new level.
This family experience was further enhanced by my colorful “Uncle Vic”. Vic, Dad’s older brother, played youth soccer with the famous, World Cup winning coach Alf Ramsey. They were a part of the, “Fanshawe Old Boys”, a dynamic youth team of precocious talents from London’s “rough and tumble”, working class, East End. Later alumni of the “Fanshawe Old Boys” were Rodney Marsh, Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables, (the latter also an England coach). Uncle Vic was the first Englishman to play for famous Italian Serie A Italian side Napoli, (Diego Maradona’s old club). He was perhaps the first ever Englishman ever to play in Italy’s top league.
As a result of my family’s experiences and love for the creative game I grew up listening to stories of Stanley Matthews, Ferenc Puskas & Garrincha. During the sixties, as my love for “the beautiful game” flourished, we would sit together and idolize dribblers/goal scorers like Pele, George Best, Jimmy Johnstone and Eddie Gray.
My own personal Ghanaian story is set against the background of the Ghanaian U17 World Cup dominance during the 1990’s. In the 1990’s five completely unique and different Ghanaian U17 teams achieved a level of world dominance in soccer that may never be seen again. Ghana won the U17 World Cup in 1991 and 1995. They were losing finalists in 1993 & 1997 and placed third in 1999. What makes this achievement all the more impressive was that each of the five successful Ghanaian squads was 100% different from the one before. Unlike full National sides where many excellent players appear in multiple World Cups, (Pele appeared in four World Cups winning three), not one player from each successful Ghanaian U17 squad was selected two years later.
Here’s the link to the record of Ghana’s amazing run of success:
Why was Ghana, (a country with a population of only 23 million people), able to achieve this outstanding, (best ever in one decade), level of world soccer success? Even Brazil with a population of 192 million people was only able to manage three Final Four appearances in the 90’s. Why was such a young soccer country that didn’t get a professional league until 1956 able to achieve such youth dominance? Read on…!
In the summer of 1993 I took my 1979/1980 (U13) KC Legends team to the Manchester United Football festival and the Arsenal Cup. This talented American youth team won the prestigious “Arsenal Cup”. The same team ultimately won 3 National Indoor Soccer Championships and placed second in the 1995 U16 USYSA Final Four. This Legends team had been coached for many years to play a “Brazilian” deceptive dribbling and goal scoring style of soccer. However, integrating their tremendous individual dribbling and finishing ability into the team concept was proving difficult and frustrating. This was also the case with the other six KC Legends teams I was coaching at the time. All this was about to change as a result of what I saw in Manchester that summer!
Here’s where the story takes another twist. In 1992 and 1993 Manchester United’s youth team won the 1993 FA Youth Cup and finished as runners up in 1993. International players David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Phil and Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Robbie Savage & Paul Scholes, were all key members of the Manchester United youth team in those years. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we were watching the most successful youth system in the history of the World versus a team containing British players who would later distinguish themselves as some of the world’s best professional players.
The game was fast and furious. The Ghanaians had intuitive deceptive dribbling, quick passing and finishing skills. Every African player had an ability to play “silky skilled” soccer at speed with great intensity and finesse. Manchester United played hard nosed, disciplined, high work ethic British style soccer. One would have thought that such a game would be a close and competitive one. Not so! The game was no contest! The Ghanaians won by a couple of goals but the two teams were World’s apart. The final margin of victory didn’t reflect how unbelievably superior the Ghanaians were.
What was the telling difference between the two sides? The Ghanaians had a wider repertoire of strategical solutions and demonstrated an instinctive understanding of the best tactical options stemming from their greater range of creative technical skills. Because of their phenomenal skill and tactical speed it seemed as though their team consistently had an extra yard of space to work with. As is usually the case with teams containing a plethora of deceptive dribblers they were frighteningly unpredictable. To defenses such unpredictability is both confusing and unusual. The Manchester players never quite got to grips with the range of skills the Ghanaians exhibited or the constantly changing ways in which they were able to penetrate.
I left the game in awe! It was a youth soccer epiphany! How had the Ghanaians developed such skill and tactical speed? What was it that was happening in Ghana that wasn’t in Britain? Could it be identified, quantified, adapted and incorporated into a structured youth club curriculum?
A day later I attended a Ghanaian training session. The session was already in progress as I walked towards the field. As I approached the training pitch my lifelong biases and patterning first led me to reject what I was seeing. The Ghanaians had every member of their playing squad in one penalty area. They were playing multiple simultaneous games of two v two soccer in unbelievably crowded conditions, where space and time on the ball were virtually non-existent. What I witnessed was the equivalent of playing small-sided soccer in Grand Central Station during a New York rush hour! As I watched more intently, this “Bats in a Cave” soccer scenario morphed into a soccer experience of outstanding beauty and creativity. Each of the 2 v 2 mini games was an offensive war of deceptive dribbling, quick combinations and pinpoint finishing through a crowd. On the defensive side of the ball every player had to deal with opponents who each had a diverse technical arsenal of moves, passes and shots. What’s more these players had learned to use these devastating weapons in vastly more difficult, complicated and highly pressured live conditions than they would encounter in an 11 v 11 game situation.
Every few seconds one of the Ghanaian players or 2 v 2 teams would produce a world class individual or combination play, in a crowd, under incredible pressure. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw one great 1 v 1 or 2 v 2 move after another bear fruit in amazingly difficult and complicated circumstances.
After the training session was over I spent time quizzing the Ghanaian coaches on their unique methods. Their responses confirmed my suspicion that the whole ethos in Ghana was vastly different from the British game I grew up with, and the heavily European influenced game here in the U.S. The exceptionally talented Ghanaian youth players had been recruited from local village and city communities by the professional clubs in their region. These young men had developed their skills on hard baked dirt soccer fields and back streets. In these hard, dry and dusty play areas, where no seed could ever hope to germinate, the roots of Ghanaian soccer were fertilized and watered with magical consequences. Every community produced a number of talented deceptive dribblers and goal scorers trained in crowded, complicated conditions. The most athletic and talented dribblers and goal scorers were recruited to their local pro club. The very best of these were selected to play for the national team.
Here’s where the Ghanaian story takes a different road. At this point in the process even the most creative and famous soccer countries i.e. Brazil and Argentina take the creativity and athleticism of the players they select and restrict some of these qualities by training them to adhere to a “system” in which they do certain pre-defined things such as 11 v 11 team play, set plays and pattern plays. The less creative coaches from countries such as the U.S. and England often destroy the creativity of the players by demanding that a system designed primarily to win the game takes precedence over optimizing the potential of the individual. However, Ghana chose to train their players by constantly playing 2 v 2 in a crowd; a unique approach that maximized and optimized individual physiology, psychology, technique and tactics simultaneously. While this approach was less structured and safe than the system based approach of the English and Americans, it turned out to be a masterstroke of soccer genius because it optimized the genetic talents of the individual while training every player to play brave, courageous, fast and efficient team soccer at high speed under massive pressure. In the opinion of the Ghanaian coaches it was this system that resulted in the unique World Cup success of their national youth team.
It seems counterintuitive but, by developing and creating an environment that strengthened each and every player’s creative skills and tactical speed in a crowd, the Ghanaian coaches built great 11 v 11 team strength. In traditional coaching systems coaches are forced to decide whether to focus on team tactics or the creative ability of the individual. The Ghanaian approach optimized both simultaneously. The 2 v 2 in a crowd practice environment combined the maximum number of tactical decisions with the highest possible range and ratio of deceptive dribbling, shooting, passing, receiving and tackling techniques. In doing so the Ghanaians invented the best way to develop these talented and athletic young players into excellent team players while optimizing their deceptive dribbling and finishing skills.
Who among us can argue with any credibility against a coaching method that produced 2 World Champions, 2 losing finalists and one third place team in a decade? This achievement is the most incredible and praiseworthy performance ever at the international level! In the light of this evidence the groundbreaking Ghanaian 2 v 2 system must be a central component of the ideal developmental blueprint of the future? Unlike the Ghanaian method most education focuses on the comfort zone not the “edge of chaos” where “special ones” are created. This is especially true in team sports where most coaches focus on wins but in the process discourage creative risk because it threatens possession and, in the short-term guarantees losing.
I’m reminded of a British friend who, after much discussion, agreed to give my high risk approach a try. After just three short months of training the high risk Legends dribbling and shooting skills and encouraging his players to use them in games, he abandoned the experiment. To justify his backward step he explained that his team was now losing to opponents they used to beat and the some of the parents were making noises about moving to another team. When I asked him if he thought that the kids were more skillful, better on the ball and enjoying the new approach, he said they were but they and the parents were frustrated at losing and he needed the coaching money.
We can see parallels in other aspects of life. Many people harbor a dream of changing careers to do what they love but they never do it. They never do it because what they already do provides them and their family with a monetary statistical win. Their current career pays them enough that they sacrifice the challenge and personal fulfillment that their dream job would provide for the safety of a regular paycheck. Even though that “safety” forces them to do many things they wouldn’t do if they could write their own job description.
Soccer coaches fall into this trap while attempting to coach possession. The concept of possession is one of ownership. Ownership implies safety. There is a “comfort zone” in the knowledge that something is exclusively yours. We like to know that no-one can take away what we think we own and need. In soccer we think we must keep possession of the ball. We know that while we have the ball the other team can’t score and we can. Because of this basic and indisputable fact we work hard at creating a mobile comfort zone within the game. In doing so we often achieve the polar opposite of what we are attempting to. We develop players who play “safe” instead of the big play makers and game winners who can beat opponents and score great goals.
To develop total confidence one has to take risks. To feel comfortable under extraordinary pressure one has to embrace new and ever more difficult challenges. Soccer is a microcosm of life. It can be played safe for a short term result or played risky for long-term optimization of skill and character. In the short-term we can ask our children to clear the ball so that the other team doesn’t score or encourage them to try a move, (and quite often get scored on), in order to develop the long-term ability to use elite dribbling skill in any circumstance to keep possession.
There are many examples of short-term thinking that hurt long-term bravery, creativity and leadership. Here are a few:
1. Most coaches encourage their players to “clear it”. To clear it is to fear it.
2. Most teams pass the ball whenever the opportunity occurs. To always pass the ball is to sacrifice the opportunity to learn how to beat an opponent 1 v 1.
3. Most coaches want their team to trail out of a crowded area and switch the play to the open side. To trail and switch is guaranteed to sacrifice the opportunity to learn how to penetrate through a crowd.
4. Most coaches spend significant practice time with numerous players and few balls. To do so prevents every player from developing incredible ball handling ability.
5. Most coaches encourage players to pass quickly to the star player. To do so limits the ability of the rest of the team to think for themselves and make their own choices.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that coaches make is the 11 v 11 practice scrimmage. The coaching theory is that players who play the “real game” more often will learn how to play the “real game” well. This theory couldn’t be further from the truth. Three decades of intense research into the backgrounds of all the great players in world history has turned up zero evidence that their developmental years contained numerous 11 v 11 scrimmages. The opposite is true! The world’s best players share one thing in common…they played an extreme number of small-sided games in tight spaces with an intense level of 1 v 1 and 2 v 2.
In the late 80’s I worked with the U19 Women’s National Program. As the coach of the USYSA Region II U19 girl’s team and one of 5 National Team selectors it was my job to train and evaluate the four USYSA U19 Regional teams that the USSF had flown in to the Marquette Olympic Training Center in Michigan for a training camp. The ultimate purpose of the camp was to select the U19 National team. Anson Dorrance (National Women’s Team Coach) and Hank Leung (U19 National Team Coach) gave us strict instructions to select a team based upon each player’s “Margin of Greatness” quota. They explained this as “the player’s ability to do something great in crucial moments that could decide a game.” Every player selected had to have the ability to do something very special in the clutch.
What I took away from that experience was the certain knowledge that only by developing players capable of making big plays in the clutch would those players be able to make big plays under pressure…plays that guarantee selection to higher levels of play. This was a turning point in my soccer education. Until then I had believed that playing practice scrimmages with numerous players and one ball was the best way to develop the team strategy and individual tactical understanding needed to win games.
As a result of experience, intense study and numerous “out of the box” experiments the current Legends coaching program now focuses on the most influential skills and tactics in a way that accelerates learning for soccer and life to an incredible degree when compared to other, more traditional, coaching methods. Because we focus intensely on deceptive dribbling and goal scoring the Legends curriculum is also more enjoyable and motivational than traditional methods. Anson Dorrance, (the most successful NCAA DI coach in the history of all college sports), defines the Legends curriculum as teaching “the margin of soccer greatness”. In order to optimize learning and develop greater talent in the same time available to other teams and clubs, we have refined the soccer learning process to the core elements that contain all of the most important physical and mental skills and tactics. These “core elements” are taught in unique ways that simultaneously develop great technique, tactics, physiology and psychology for soccer and life. The Legends approach is a “Less Is More” philosophy. One where the end result of developing expertise in the team leading skills, (beating players in the 1 v1 & 2 v 2 and scoring goals), carries over into great passing, receiving, defending, all round team play and deep character. In club, ODP, high school and college Legends trained players can easily fulfill their team role but can also make the “Big Plays” that decide games.
According to Sir Alex Ferguson, coach of Manchester United, “in 2010 there were 115 Brazilian players in the Champions league and only 15 British”. Why is this? The truth is that many talented young Brazilians can perform most deceptive dribbling moves before they leave pre-school. It is their creative skill with the ball that enables great tactical speed in highly pressured receiving, passing and finishing situations because the talented dribbler can master the ball by feel leaving his/her eyes free to see the field for refined tactical decision making. One of the glaring contradictions of soccer, where sharing the ball is ultimately very important, is that great team players are first great dribblers i.e. “ball hogs” or “hot dogs!”
Only when we truly know that each player is able to beat their opponent or dribble deceptively out of pressure will Legends coaches teach the team game. It is very difficult to be patient in this impatient world, but we must be willing to teach and encourage individual brilliance before focusing on the “team” game. Incredible teams are made up of incredible individuals. Developing an incredible individual takes years of teaching, encouraging and rewarding high risk, creative attitudes towards deceptive dribbling and goal scoring. If we are patient and supportive of the process necessary to build incredible dribbling and finishing skill our children will reap the lifelong character benefits that go with brave, creative leadership. They will also be fantastic soccer players!
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As I’m reading today’s Guardian article I am struck by the contrast between what I see too often at traditional practices and what the above article describes that Barca and Spain has done to achieve world domination at both the club and international level.
Competitive youth teams play over 50 competitive full-sided games per year in leagues and tournaments. Why would we take additional and very valuable practice time to practice with one ball between 12-30 players when we can use practice time to develop players who are exceptionally skilled and tactically intuitive by using crowded practice scenarios with one ball between 4 players. Do we care more about whether we win the next game? Or do we ensure that each player leaves every practice more capable of dominating his/her immediate opponent under the greatest physiological, psychological, technical and tactical pressure?
When small-sided games are the proven method for making Barca and Spain’s excellent fully fledged pro’s the best in the world shouldn’t they be even more necessary and essential for American kids who attend an average two practices per week (if we’re lucky).
Food for thought!
The following quote is the crucial heart of the article:
Still, the 5ft 7in detail resonates, given that is the height of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva and Lionel Messi, the players who have guided Spain and/or Barcelona to world domination. Francisco Filho, the coach who was instrumental in establishing Clairefontaine before moving to Manchester United in 2001, is adamant that La Masia, the training facility that is the heart of Barcelona’s youth system, follows similar principles to the French academies: drilling technique, playing constant small-sided games, having players train constantly with the ball rather than running laps or shuttles or working in the gym. The difference seems to be that it, and the Spanish game in general, is more prepared to give smaller players their chance. Seven of Spain’s starting XI against Brazil in the Under-20 quarter-final were under 6ft.
It is a simplistic theory, but perhaps, particularly at youth level, smaller players have to think more than their larger opponents, and so they develop football intelligence earlier. (England, I note with a shudder, had the tallest squad at the Under-20 World Cup). Since the heyday of Clairefontaine, the offside rule has been radically liberalized, something that has had the effect of stretching the effective playing area from around 35-40 yards to around 60, creating more space and allowing smaller players to play. It could be that French football, quite aside from issues of attitude, was simply bypassed by the evolution of the game.
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The modern slavish dedication to tactics and systems has allowed us to manipulate statistical results and control players in restrictive ways to their detriment. This is a fact that becomes clearer each day as creative development dies and our players fail to achieve their potential. Indeed by disconnecting us from creative license traditional win/profit oriented coaching has led us into actions so inharmonious with developmental reality that a character catastrophe seems inevitable for our players if we stay the course. Win-oriented coaching methods, far from telling the truth about how we develop character are myths meant to feed our fading fantasy of ego based coach power and control. If we dare to move beyond our fear of losing to practice coaching as a form of creative character development we will abandon our illusion of control and enter into a partnership with parents in developing truly brilliant humans with spectacular character. We need to teach more clearly the actions that are life-optimizing and in the process participate more fully in establishing human destiny and the destiny of the world than we do in our quest for control, winning and profits. This relational way of coaching, in which creative character development trumps fear and optimal self-determination replaces control, is a way of teaching that can help us develop phenomenally capable young men and women with the capacity for elite leadership, deep inter-connectedness and truly great team cohesion in life.
Society is both more disconnected and connected than at any time in history. I can talk on a local phone number with a Legend’s alum in Bucharest, Romania, but I hardly know my neighbors. In our intellectual, high tech culture we have refined individual and team disconnectedness to an extreme of separation yet we communicate with more semi-strangers than ever before. Because of the Internet each of us is able to specialize and separate to a greater degree than previous generations but because of the new imbalance between individuality and teamwork we are in danger of losing our ability to interact closely with a diverse cross section of society. Life should be a balance. We need to meld facts with feeling, rigid technique with creative license, objective with subjective. Personal fulfillment comes partially from close relationships with others and part from feeling special and unique. Because of this the best sports teams and systems need to develop, recognize and reward the most creative individualists while simultaneously creating an elevated unity of interaction and mutual respect. Traditional soccer coaching has “unbalanced the scales” horrifically in the direction of team and winning to where psychological abuse of children is accepted as a “necessary character building” component of the youth sports environment. Kids taught this way learn that it’s acceptable for the coach to cheat and abuse another child if the team wins. They are taught to expect their mentors to allocate playing time unfairly, pigeonhole players for the purpose of winning, demand fear based actions when in danger of giving up a goal, etc. They therefore grow up thinking that these sanctioned abuses are ones that they can repeat with their own children. As a consequence they follow the established pattern and fail to develop their children into creative, courageous leaders and mentors. A child will not perform to potential when he/she perceives threat or unfairness, whether it be fear of risk-taking, being wrong, being benched, fear of losing, the esteem of peers, being mocked, etc. Feeling threatened, to whatever degree, creates negative stress; this type of stress does not promote optimal learning. When this occurs the result is yet another generation of humans who undervalue and restrict the incredible potential of the very people they profess to love and honor the most…their own kids!
Training young people to be creative leaders and mentors is a neglected discipline. Teachers who demand rigid learning of factual knowledge are in danger of developing rote robots. Teachers with a “laissez faire” attitude who excuse and sanction poor technique do so at the cost of individual responsibility. Very rare is the teacher who educates great character along with creative license and in doing so trains the truly great parents, coaches, leaders and mentors of the future.
“The AnimalSchool” written by educator Dr. R. H. Reeves:
Once upon a time, the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “New World,” so they organized a school. They adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer, all animals took all the subjects.
The duck was excellent in swimming, better in fact than his instructor, and made excellent grades in flying, but he was very poor in running. Since he was low in running he had to stay after school and also drop swimming to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school, so nobody worried about that except the duck.
The rabbit started at the top of the class in running, but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup in swimming.
The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustrations in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the tree-top down. He also developed charley horses from over-exertion and he got a C in climbing and a D in running.
The eagle was a problem child and had to be disciplined severely. In climbing class he beat all the others to the top of the tree, but insisted on using his own way of getting there.
At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well, and also run, climb, and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.
The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to the badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.
Leaders and mentors have to “stand out”. Environments that encourage “Gray or brown conformity” discourage the qualities that are universally accepted as necessary for creative leadership. These qualities should be at the heart of any educational environment.
In youth sports should we be focused on winning the game? Or would it be better to develop creative, courageous, intelligent, moral, determined characters for life. In the Legends program defining our true objective as brave, creative, leadership for life, has helped us develop the most effective character optimizing curriculum. “You either win or you learn”.
Life is an ever changing dynamic. Mature and intelligent humans are capable of switching between and combining all of life’s influences in a positive and productive manner. Life is a math equation, chess game, spiritual conundrum and field of battle. In the majority of group activities there are multiple pupils, pawns, worshippers and low rank soldiers. There are a number of teachers, intermediate Chess pieces, church officials and officers. However, there are very few school principals, chess queens, church leaders and military commanders. “Legends For Life” shows how the “Training Soccer Legends” curriculum uses the platform of the world’s most popular sport to develop a combination of the “Head of School”, the “Queen of the Chess Board”, the “Spiritual Leader of the Church”, the “General”, “Squadron Leader” or “Admiral”. It is a cutting edge, peerless approach designed to develop every player into a tremendously creative and brave leader for life.
Over the years the unique Legends philosophy has been credited by many extremely intelligent and worldly-wise parents with developing an unusual degree of very positive life character attributes in their offspring. Many of these character attributes are very different from the traditional benefits of team sports, e.g. risk orientation, willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty, balance of science and art, logic and imagination, emotional intelligence. Many are already commonly accepted e.g. teamwork, work ethic, rule adherence, organization of time, commitment, recovery from negative events, conflict resolution, etc. It seems as though the longer a player spent with the club the more the parent and child felt that they gained a very unique and positive perspective on life as a result of their “Legends” experience. As a bonus accepted positive character traits of sport of sport, (e.g. work ethic and perseverance), were developed to a greater degree than normal due to the challenging and creative “Training Soccer Legends” approach. Much has been written about the traditional benefits of the team sports experience. However, my intent is to illustrate comprehensively and conclusively that a properly structured soccer training curriculum can foster desirable character attributes for life in a way that more traditional team sports environments cannot. The goal is to show how the “Legends for Life” approach develops cutting edge personal characteristics that enable alumni to welcome positions of leadership and mentorship in life along with the inherent challenges of those positions.