Friday, July 16, 2010

How To Teach Falling

I've had a very full soccer week this week, and while I'm slightly exhausted, I'm also full the brim with enthusiasm. It was a good week.

On Wednesday I picked up an extra keeper training session for the club I'm working for, and it was great fun working with two 10-year-olds and a 14-year-old keeper. The 14-year-old is going to be something special, that's for sure. She's only been playing keeper for a year and she's so brave it's ridiculous. A little raw, but the instincts and the natural talent is right there. Very exciting. 

On Tuesday and Thursday I did keeper training for Stu. I worked with four keepers, the "A" team starter and back-up,  the "B" team starter and a potential "A" team player that is a year younger, but just as talented. It's always interesting to work with these girls, because they represent several different stages of development for young keepers.

"A" Team Starter -- a good solid keeper, has all the right skills, all the footwork, all of the base understanding of where she needs to be and what she needs to do, but her attitude just stinks. She has a tendency to be lazy and a little sloppy because she KNOWS she is number one right now. However, at the end of the session on Thursday, she said something to me that really frustrated me.

"I know I am losing my starting spot."

I pulled her aside after the session and had a little heart to heart. I told her that she had everything it takes to be a great keeper, but she had to find the heart for it, and she had to show me that she wanted it. She then told me that she "puts herself down so she'll work harder".

This floored me. I made her look me straight in the eyes, and I told her that putting herself down was not the way to become a better player, that she had to build herself up to become better. Instead of saying "I suck" or "I'm playing so bad" that she had to think "I am better, I will be better, right now" and keep working harder.

I told her that if she didn't have the confidence in herself, then her teammates and coach wouldn't have confidence in her. I told her she had a week to think about it, and I really hope she comes in next Thursday and blows my socks off. I know she can do it, if she can break out of her self-depreciating mood. Then again, she is a 13-year-old girl.

"A" Team Underdogs -- There are two of them, and they're both spicy little players. They're tenacious, they're tough, they go in and put in one-hundred percent in every drill I tossed their way.

They made my day on Thursday. Seriously. I was so pleased with them. Not only with their effort, but the fact that they were respectful of me, they listened to what I was saying and applied it, they pushed when I asked them for more, and they did everything with a smile.

After practice was over I sat down with them and told them what a great job they did for me, and I told them that if they kept it up they'd be pushing for that starting spot. We also talked about how important it is to support each other, and for the goalkeepers to stick together in their own little 'team'. I was so impressed and encouraged by their maturity and I'm really looking forward to next week. They still have things they need to work on, for sure, but if they keep up their current work ethic and attitude they will go really far, not only on the soccer field, but in life as well.

"B" Team Starter -- it's funny, because I see so, so much of myself in this girl. She towers over her teammates, and is practically the same body-type as I am, so I can really relate to the mechanics of her body and the training she needs to excel. I was pleasantly surprised on Tuesday by how quick she was on her feet in the ladder drills, but I knew the hardest thing for her would be getting down quickly. We worked on that on Thursday.

I had to push her pretty hard, and I felt like that I was trying to break her down. She was so hesitant to lay out for the ball, and I literally had to teach her to not be afraid of hitting the turf. Now that I'm reflecting back on that session, I realize that she wasn't necessarily worried about hitting the ground, but she was afraid to fall.

To fall down, to fail, to stumble, to screw up. It's a fear that's in all of us, isn't it? None of us want to feel that vulnerable or that low, but sometimes, in order to learn, you just have to let go.

I kept telling her, "Just go for it, I don't care if you miss the ball by 100 miles, I just want you to dive."

And eventually, she was, and boy did she make some great saves. I knew it was in her, just like I knew it was in me so many years ago. But I was afraid to fall once, too, and only when someone gave me permission to jump off the edge, did I truly understand how to be a great goalkeeper.

I pushed her hard yesterday, but she took it so well, and she kept going, even when she was tired, and her shoulder was aching, and her elbow was bleeding, and even though she may not be up to the level of the other girls in regard to speed and quickness, she has them totally beat when it comes to her presence in the goal. She's going to be great, I know it. Similar to "A" Team Starter, she just has to dig down and believe it.

My team practice was canceled on Tuesday because of a thunderstorm, but we gathered last night for our second team session. I had nine girls this time, and we worked on lots of different skill sets, things I like to call 'Soccer 101'.

We started out by dribbling in a grid, and I had them doing pull back turns, Cryuff turns, scissors, and then fakes. It was so funny because they kept coming up to me when they were practicing fakes and asking if it was okay to do a fake then a Cryuff, or a fake with a pull back. I had to laugh, and I told them all, "soccer is about being creative!"

It's so, so true.

After the dribbling exercise we moved on to two and one-touch passing, just to work on those little techniques, then a passing drill that I was taught in college. I was really happy with the way they came together as a team to beat their time in the passing drill, and it's definitely something I'll be doing with them again.

We finished the night by scrimmaging, and their enthusiasm got the better of them for the first 5-10 minutes, but as the game went on, they started making great passing sequences. They ended the game with a brilliant goal from our central defender.

This group of girls is such a blast, but I'm going to have to find creative ways to contain their endless enthusiasm, because they certainly like to talk! I noticed that the more I keep them moving, the better they are, so that will be a goal for my sessions from now on, not so much down time.

All in all, it really was a great week of soccer. I still find it unbelievable that I am getting paid to teach something that has been such an influential part of my life.

Monday, July 12, 2010

And So It Begins

I write so much for work that sometimes I have to step back and write a little for myself. Whether that's penning a few random lines of poetry (which I really don't do much of anymore) or a few thousand words of whatever book project I'm working on (which needs to happen more often!) or writing in this blog, sometimes letting words flow freely helps me re-motivate.

Motivation has certainly been lacking in my life lately, though its no fault of anyone or anything. I've found that occasionally I stall out and need a re-charge, and with all of the added stress I've been carrying lately, that was certainly the catalyst for my recent case of the blues.

However, I'm pretty certain that I'm finally climbing out of that hole, whether it's the fact that Steve is finally moved in, or that practices have started, or that I've finally taken a deep breath, I'm not sure, but I'm definitely in much better spirits lately.

As I mentioned, I finally started my team practices last week, and I feel like the first one was a success! I started out by showing the girls the warm-up I want them to do every day, and of course, broke the ice by tripping in a hole and face planting. Way to go.

I laughed it off, but secretly I was totally mortified.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the girls, since I'd never seen any of them play, so I focused on ball skills for the first half of practice. Some of them had good skills, some of them need some work, but that's what the summer is for, so we're going to keep working on those skills as much as possible. One thing I noticed is that they really need to work on the concept of field spacing and passing.

Of course, I have to remember that these girls are only 11, and that soccer is supposed to be FUN. I tried to keep the practice as positive and fun as possible, and considering the girls were smiling the entire time, even when we were doing 'conditioning' work with ladders, I think I did okay.

I have two practices this week, in addition to two keeper training sessions, so I'm looking forward to that. Keeper training is easy for me, the team practices are definitely a challenge, but I'm new to this, and I'm learning all the time. I'm excited for my coaching clinics in August, that should definitely help me along the way.

As far as my own playing goes, I played in a tournament this weekend down in Spotsylvania. We lost all three games, but it was a lot of fun to camp out on Saturday night. I played okay, definitely not my best games, but I was happy with some of the offensive runs I made up the field. I love playing that left defensive position and taking the ball up the wing. In the second game I definitely had some great moments, and if only I had a left foot I might have had myself a goal or two.

I've finally gotten to the point that I'm confident taking people on, which is something I've struggled with my entire life as a player. I've just never had the ball control. I'm happy that I have it now. I'm never going to be able to totally school people, but I definitely have one or two good moves up my sleeve.

The third game was a bit doomed from the start, and considering I was pretty sore from the first two games, including a swollen ankle from getting railed on in the second game, I felt like I did okay.

We lost all three games, but that's soccer for you. Sometimes you can't lose, sometimes it's all you can do.

On another note, I'm a little sad that the World Cup is over. It was so fun to see so much quality soccer, especially the goalkeeping. I really think that the goalkeeping this WC was stellar.

Of course, I was pulling for the Dutch to win, but after their abysmal play and the insane amount of yellow cards, Spain was the rightful winner. Not only that, the goal was one of the most perfect side volleys I've ever seen. What a strike!

I'm sure I'll have more updates this week, considering it's packed with soccer. For now, though, the creative juices are flowing, and I've got a story to write!