Burnout Ahead?


By Jay Martin

The headline in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch read, “Top soccer players don’t have time to kick back.”  The story documented the summer of a number of Central Ohio soccer players, both boys and girls.   All told of the time commitment youth soccer requires.

  • Brandon Lacko, a senior at Westerville South High School: “Soccer is definitely an all-year-round thing. I do get tired every now and then, more mentally than physically, but love doing it. Basically, when I am not playing soccer I am relaxing and getting ready for the next practice.”
  • Steve Serr, coach with Premier adidas and Westerville South High School: “As soon as the high school season ends, the club season starts and runs through June.”
  • Annette Bonasso, a player at Ohio Premier and Dublin Coffman High School: “My freshman year we won the state championship and had club practice the next day!”
  • Maria Shipe of Bexley High School quit club as she entered high school to play softball. When she didn’t start on her club softball team, she quit softball, saying “I don’t see softball in my future, so I’m going to play soccer again. I see soccer as a way to advance into college!”

BurnoutWhat’s wrong with this picture?  Sure, soccer is a great game and it’s fun to play, but is this a healthy situation for our young soccer players? Ask any college coach about the number of soccer players recruited who left because of burnout. You’ll hear many horror stories. Why should a high school age girl have to quit softball to play soccer? The priorities of club coaches are way off. This country’s youth soccer situation is holding back the growth of the sport.

  • Coaches have fostered the belief that playing on certain clubs will enhance college soccer scholarship chances. This simply is not true. Very little soccer scholarship money is available.
  • The emphasis on wins creates a situation where kids are not prepared to play the game, but are coached to do what it takes to win. This leaves many young players at a disadvantage going to the next level. Many fast and strong players are never taught how to play in the clubs and are at a huge disadvantage in college.
  • The emphasis on tournaments creates a situation where kids cannot possibly learn to play the game the way it should be played. Tournaments foster “underwater soccer” and a total disregard for learning how to prepare to play. Soccer is a game that cannot be played more than once a day or even a weekend. No one can prepare to play when there are three games in one day.
  • The club system eliminates kids from playing. If kids cannot get into a club, they do not play “rec soccer” because it’s viewed as a lower level of the game; therefore, kids who need to play or who may be late bloomers are eliminated from the game.
  • There is well-documented conflict between clubs and high schools. Like all adult conflicts, this puts the players right in the middle, and they often are the losers.

Let’s start making decisions that benefit the players and not coaches!

Posted in Coaching Tagged with:

What is American Soccer?

by Dr. Jay Martin

American soccer has an inferiority complex.

We have been told for so many years that we are not good enough that we now believe it!!   We don’t have the technique of Brazil; the savvy of Germany; the awareness of France; the pace of England or the youth system of Holland. We really think we are no good!!

Maybe the week of February 26, 2001 will help dispel that notion and change some minds.   It was the week the US National Team defeated Mexico 2-0 in Columbus and lost to Brazil 1-2 in Los Angeles.   It was not the results that are overly significant – the results were great – but, it was the way the team played that is truly meaningful.    Here we begin to define an American style of soccer.   We found a way of playing that is – well – American in every aspect!

In Columbus the Mexicans found very cold weather AND a pretty good team.   A team that faced some adversity (after the top two players went out with injury), played very well together, defended well, worked extremely hard, did exactly what the coach wanted (and the team needed), and used athletic ability to win the game. These are all characteristics of American athletes! In fact, in the post game news conference,  Coach Bruce Arena said, “We thought the speed and quickness of Wolf would be a factor in tonight’s game.”  Aren’t these the characteristics of the American soccer player?  Aren’t these characteristics of the American athlete?   The US team used precisely these characteristics to play tough against a very good Brazilian team later in the week.

You would not call the style of the USA team that night Brazilian, German, Dutch or French. You would not say the American team overly possessed the ball, or that great technique carried the day.  But, you would say that the Americans earned three points and beat their biggest rival for the third straight game.  You would say the Americans worked hard, defended, used athleticism, were disciplined and used speed to score two good goals.

You might say the team won the “American Way”!

The same day the Germans lost 1-0 to France on an early goal by Zinedine Zidane. His comments? “It is true that it could have been a more spectacular game, but you have to win the game physically above all.  We stopped them from playing their game and didn’t give them much room.”   The French have their game, the Germans have theirs, is is possible that we finally have ours?

The Evolution of US Soccer

The History of US Soccer is that of imitation. We have tried to imitate almost every soccer playing nation at one time or another. We imitated them because we were not any good. Coaches from all over the world told us that we were no good.  It is true that the soccer playing world takes lessons from every World Cup.  Nations analyze the winning team and try to determine if there is something that will make them better. In many World Cup tournaments there is some good stuff (1958, 1966, 1974, 1998). In some World Cup finals there is not too much (1978, 1990). However, most nations have tried 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 as displayed by different Cup winners. But, most soccer playing nations have a very definable style within their tactical alignment. The classic documentary of the 1982 World Cup Gole clearly depicts these styles both visually and musically.  These nations never had to imitate each other!   US Soccer did because, well you know, we were not any good.

We tried to be Brazilians as we learned to juggle in the early seventies. We tried to be the English as Charles Hughes told us to direct four quick passes into the POMO (position of maximum opportunity!) in order to score. We tried to possess like Germany under the direction of Heddergott and Cramer. We tried to be Dutch and did Coerver moves so we could be comfortable on the ball. We tried to copy youth systems from everywhere.

Nothing worked!

In fact, most of these “soccer fads” hurt the evolution and growth of American soccer. Many of theses aspects of soccer (juggling, Coerver moves etc.) became and end instead of a means to an end!!  We spent all of our time discovering what we can not do instead of what we can do….which is very un-American!!

Soccer experts from all over the globe spent a great deal of time and money telling us why we are not good soccer players and what we could not do! We spent the 50’s, 60’s 70’s and 80’s changing methods, tactics and styles. We were actually surprised if we won an international match. We were no good. Our inferiority complex grew larger.

Even U20 coach Wolfgang Suhnholz in a recent interview on internetsoccer.com when asked about US player development said, “We went through a lot of stages here; we were trying to copy everybody.  Brazil was world champions and we tried to play Brazilian. Germany was world champions and we all looked to Germany.  We forgot that we have to create our own environment. We have to use our own players. We have to use the attributes of American players, and we have been doing that now for a few years. Success has shown.”

The fact of the matter is we are Americans. We are not Brazilians, Germans,
Dutch, or French. We cannot play soccer with the style of those countries. It is simply not possible.

It is impossible for us to replicate the Brazilian culture and society. The culture and society influence, no, dictate, how the Brazilians play.  The social, economic, political and cultural forces directly impact how any national team plays.   Nor can we replicate the club systems of England and Germany; nor the youth system of France and Holland.

American soccer is unique. America is unique.

We can and should learn from other soccer nations, but we should develop and play an American style. There is no question that there is a great deal to learn from other soccer playing nations. We should, however, take these lessons and use them in the context of an American style.

FlagThe American Style: A Definition

What is an American style? That is hard to define. But, the style is beginning to develop.   A recent and very unscientific survey asked the following question to over five hundred soccer people: What are the top three or four most positive characteristics of the American soccer player?  The respondents covered all aspects of soccer from a variety of countries; fans, players of all levels, coaches, administrators and journalists. The results were interesting and somewhat predictable.   Soccer people from near and far agree that the top four characteristics of the American soccer player are:

  1. Athletic Ability (speed, fitness, strength etc.)
  2. Attitude (competitiveness, desire, enthusiasm, toughness etc.) 
  3. Work rate (effort, aggressiveness, hustle etc.)
  4. Coachability

There were other characteristics mentioned such as teamwork, technical ability and goalkeeping, but the aforementioned are the top four in rank order. If a similar question was asked of Brazilian or German soccer players the results would be different.

These attributes are found in all American athletes not just soccer players.  The American athlete is unique. That should make American soccer unique.  And these attributes should serve as the common denominator for an American soccer style.

A recent ODP Region II Symposium addressed these issues specifically. When reviewing the performance of each regional team, the list included such attributes as listed above. One emphatic addition was a strong desire to play well and to WIN!!!   That is very American.

The Win v “Good Soccer” Dilemma

That suggests another American soccer problem…the win v (perceived) good soccer dilemma. At the upper level of soccer (college, club, international etc.) winning is the goal. In a recent article in Soccer America Paul Gardner describes the Brazilians as soccer’s standard because “They have done it on the field, with a record of (winning) world championships at all levels and versions of the game – from futsal and U17 World Cups up to the big one itself – that no other country comes close to matching.” He did not say HOW the Brazilians win…he said they win!!

Winning, then, dictates the how a team is ranked internationally!

Youth soccer should NOT emphasize winning. Hans Westerhof the Director of Youth Coaching at Ajax agrees “…from eight to fifteen is time to develop youth players… and only develop, but at sixteen you MUST win.” We do just the opposite. Win, win, win in youth soccer and then emphasize the way we play as the players get older!! Often losing is justified because “…we possessed the ball for sixty minutes” or “…we played better soccer, but were unlucky.” No other postgame comments in American sport are defined in that manner. Have you ever heard the Super Bowl loser say “…we really outplayed them and they were lucky to win”?

American soccer has searched for “good soccer” or “appealing soccer” or “internationally acceptable soccer” at the expense of winning. We have been apologetic about the way we play. But if Brazil sets the standard by winning, then winning is important. The national team beat Mexico using American strengths.

American soccer will earn international respect when winning becomes commonplace.

Away with Technique?

Does this mean we discard all technical work in training and have the soccer athletes run all day?? Of course not. The American player IS technical. The American player can compete technically with players from all over the world in the U12-U18 range.  The technical aspect of the sport is essential. But, we will never play technically like Brazil!  In order for American soccer to move forward, we must realize and accept this fact.

Euro 2000 showed clearly that soccer at the highest level is changing.  According to the FIFA summary; the speed of play increased, there were more long passes, physical demands increased and the build up is gone. The days when four backs possess and build up slowly against two front runners is behind us. Today soccer at the highest level demands that the ball is played forward…quickly and over a distance. This does not suggest that possession is dead. It has been replaced by “vertical possession” get the ball forward and possess in your attacking half!! This demands even better (quicker) technique not less technique. And, this is exactly what the men’s national team did against Mexico and Brazil. Americans are aggressive, we like to attack…let’s attack. In fact, the style of play that Americans have used in previous international competitions has been the classic defend and counter. As recently as 1998, the national team played a 3-6-1. Sit in and counter …this, too, is decidedly un-American. We did not play to our strengths. It is difficult for Americans to “sit in”. We are aggressive in all aspects of our culture. Where was the good old American arrogance? We are starting to see it now.

The Brazilians did possess the ball in Los Angeles against the national team. But the possession was most often in the back against the forwards. When Brazil went forward the US defense did a pretty good job containing one of the best teams in the world. And, when the US won the ball they went forward quickly. In fact the goal against Brazil was a classic example of the US team moving forward with possession and putting pressure on the Brazilians. Both Paul Gardner (in an internetsoccer.com article about how the French combine athleticism and skill) and Aime Jacquet (in a FIFA interview) concede that “…the new demands of the game (include), becoming more tactical and more athletic.” This is soccer at the highest level. American soccer should continue to improve technique, but also emphasize the physical/athletic. If Americans can match up physically/athletically first there is a chance to be successful. And, at the international level success means winning.

The Training Session

Possession is not gone. But, the possession “in the back’ with the slow build up is gone. Possession must be practiced moving the ball forward with speed. Possession must have a purpose! Training sessions should incorporate the following:

  • Improvement is all aspects and types of passing with emphasis on passes of twenty yards and more
  • Switching the field of play quickly and accuratelly
  • Possession in the attacking half. That means possession sessions should be closer to even numbers and not situations where the attackers outnumber defenders by as much as 2:1.
  • Continue to emphasize and develop American athletic attributes (i.e. attacking mentality, hard work, defending etc.)
  • Practice technique in tight spaces or by manipulating time and space to add pressure to the situation

American soccer is better than most of the so called experts think. It is time to eliminate the inferiority complex and begin to recognize and define an American style. Coaches should develop an open mind and understand that there are many ways to be successful (win) in soccer. When we listen to world class coaches like Carlos Perriera of Brazil or Roger LeMerre of France tells us about the Brazilian or French system, we must ask what can we use to make our players better…but, understand that the information will not make the players play like the Brazilians or French. The time is here to define an American style. Bruce Arena and the US National team have started the process. It is now up to each coach to continue the process!!

Posted in Mindset & Stragegy

Soccer Coach Versus Soccer Trainer

By Dr. Jay Martin

“If you practice badly, the only thing you will get better at is playing badly.”  

Dino Gradi

Johan Cruyff once said that England is a land of trainers and not coaches.   Which are you?  A trainer or a coach?

There is a difference.  Although Mr. Cruyff suggests that England has trainers and few coaches, the same could be said of the United States.

After over thirty years of coaching in college and watching youth soccer from afar, I made the step into youth soccer about one year ago.  I am the technical director for a local soccer club. In that role I work with our coaches and try to support them in their efforts. As a result,  I spent a lot of time during the last year observing youth training sessions.  These sessions were not only from the club I am affiliated with, but many other clubs in the Central Ohio area.

If my observations of coaching in Central Ohio can be used as a sample for all youth soccer coaching in the country, then we are in trouble.

It was disturbing watching the USA v Holland game in Amsterdam in March 2010.  The score was only 2-1, but the difference in how the teams played was enormous.  It was the little things in that game.  The Dutch did everything right and the USA didn’t – timing of runs, body position to receive the ball, possession of the ball, passes to teammates instead of knocking the ball up field, numbers around the ball, composure and the list goes on.  The players were the best we have, but they demonstrated a lack of understanding of the subtleties of the game.

So which are you, a Coach or Trainer?

A trainer can be male or female.  A trainer plans a session (or maybe not) and describes a drill or activity to the players.  The players then perform the activity for the prescribed time with the trainer offering nothing except the occasional, “Nice shot” or “Good work”.  If the players are executing the activity properly they may get better.  If not, they are getting better at playing badly.

A soccer coach can also be male or female. The coach sets up the same activity after taking some time to plan the session.  He or she watches the players execute the activity BUT the coach stops the play to make “coaching points” to the team.  Coaching points can be translated into explanations of the subtleties of the game:  timing of runs, weight of the pass, type of service required, etc.  A coach puts players in the position to learn how to play the game correctly.  Players can improve with coaching!  Not with training!

Let’s look at the practice activity illustration below.  There is a lot going on here.  Player A plays the ball into the coach and takes a shot.  Player A then shows to player B and executes a one- two to send player B down the line.  Player A and player C then run into the box to receive the serve from player B.  The players then rotate lines.  The activity is performed on the right and on the left.

Soccer Illustration

The trainer sets this up and watches for 15 or 17 minutes. The verbal communication is minimal and consists of motivating expressions. The trainer does not stop the activity to make coaching points.

And there are many opportunities in this type of activity to make coaching points.  How about: the angle of the pass(es); the weight of the pass, the type of serve, the first touch of player B, the runs of players A and C into the box, the type of serve, to name a few.   A coach ensures the players are getting a chance to learn to play the game – correctly!

How can you change from being a trainer to being a coach?  First, you can take a NSCAA course.  Most NSCAA courses will address the planning of a session and give you some information that will help you become a coach.

But until you can do that, allow me to make some suggestions.  Coaching points are the difference between the trainer and the coach.   Some thoughts:

Think:  Give some thought to the training session before you make the plan.  It would be best if you could think about training the night or day before the session as opposed to the drive to the practice session.  The day or night before allows you too change your mind and/or refine the session.

Set an Objective:  Each session should have a goal or objective.  Every activity in the session should address the goal and the end game should be conditioned to emphasize the goal.  One objective for each session should work.  The objective should reflect what happened in the last game or two, the time of the season and the strengths and weaknesses of the team.  If your team gets better at one thing in each training session they will be pretty good at the end of the season.

Plan it and Write it Down:  I am amazed at how many soccer coaches do not make a session plan.  Many walk on the field after little or no forethought about the session.  Some may read a book that offers practice sessions or activities and take them to the field.  Some may keep those “practice cards” in the car and pick three or four for training.  But most trainers/coaches do not give any thought to the sessions.  They may know about warm up, technical work and an end game, but to what end?  Why have these activities been chosen?  What is the goal of the session??

You have thought about the session and you have decided upon a goal, now is the time to plan the session.  There should be a good warm up and then a progression of activities that will (hopefully) address the goal.  The session should end with a game.  Now is the time to write down the training plan!! The best coaches in the world write down their session plan and bring it on to the field so they don’t forget anything.  It is easy to forget in the heat of the battle or when you get old!  So, write it down.

Coaching Points:  As mentioned earlier, the real difference between the trainer and the coach is found in coaching points.  Coaching points are the areas in an activity that should be emphasized to help the player learn the proper way to execute the activity or skill or technique.  The good coach writes down the coaching points for each activity in the session!!  He or she writes the coaching points on the session plan and brings it on the field.  This ensures that the coach offers everything possible to the player and does not forget anything.

For example, if the objective of the session is dribbling, the coaching points should look something like this:

  • Lean forward over the ball
  • Keep the knees bent and move on the balls of your feet
  • Relax the body
  • Maintain good balance
  • Keep the ball close, dot “kick and chase”
  • Use all parts of the foot
  • Use body feints
  • Be creative, create your own style
  • Change speed and direction when beating a defender
  • Keep your head up as much as possible
  • Use the body to shield/protect the ball
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. On average a player will beat a defender only 3 times in 10. Take risks in the attacking third!

These coaching points should be written on the lesson plan.  The coach should address each point at some time during the session.  Give your players a chance to get better!!

Evaluation:  All good coaches evaluate their session after its conclusion.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  Why?  Were the players confused?  Did the activity do what I wanted?   Can I tweak the activity to make it better?  How can I make the session better?  What should we do next session?  If you want your players to improve then you should improve as a coach.  Constant self evaluation will make you and your training sessions better.

Stop being a trainer  – start to become a coach!!!

Posted in Coaching

Ohio Wesleyan Names Athletic Facility In Honor Of Record-Setting Coach

From Ohio Wesleyan University News Release

by Cole Hatcher • October 29, 2012

Ohio Wesleyan Names Athletic Facility In Honor Of Record-Setting Coach DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University is recognizing legendary Battling Bishop men’s soccer coach Jay Martin – the winningest coach in all divisions of U.S. collegiate men’s soccer in history – by naming the school’s soccer facility in his honor.

The Jay Martin Soccer Complex, 249 Park Ave., Delaware, houses Roy Rike Field and practice areas used by the Battling Bishop men’s and women’s soccer teams. The university will begin using the new name officially for the 2013 season.

The decision by the university’s Board of Trustees to honor health and human kinetics professor and men’s soccer coach John A. “Jay” Martin III, Ph.D., through the naming of the soccer complex was announced during Ohio Wesleyan’s Homecoming Weekend. Martin and his 2011 NCAA Division III national championship-winning team were recognized during the weekend.

The team earned Ohio Wesleyan’s second national championship in December 2011 by defeating Calvin College 2-1 at Blossom Soccer Stadium in San Antonio. In the same game that saw the Battling Bishops claim the championship, Martin earned his 608th career victory, making him the winningest coach in the history of U.S. collegiate men’s soccer.

“Coach Jay Martin leads and inspires his players on and off the field,” said President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “He is the personification of leadership, sportsmanship, intelligence, and determination. Jay is a wonderful role model for all of us, and it is exceptionally fitting that our soccer complex be named in his honor.”

Martin came to Ohio Wesleyan in 1978 and is in his 36th year as head coach of the men’s soccer team. Besides coaching two Division III national championship teams, Martin has seen two other teams advance to the Division III national championship game. His teams have appeared in 32 NCAA tournaments and eight national semifinals. They have won 12 regional titles, including nine of the last 15 seasons that the NCAA tournament has included a regional format, and 23 conference championships. His teams have won 21 Stu Parry Awards, recognizing Ohio’s top Division III team each year.

Martin has been recognized by his peers as Regional Coach of the Year 15 times while at Ohio Wesleyan and as National Coach of the Year in 1991, 1998, and 2011. His teams won an NCAA-record 18 consecutive Division III tournament berths from 1978-95. He is one of only four individuals to receive Ohio Collegiate Soccer Association’s Honor Award since the association’s founding in 1949. He received the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Honor Award in 2007.

Martin earned his undergraduate degree at Springfield College and both his master’s and doctoral degrees from The Ohio State University. He is a tenured member of the Ohio Wesleyan faculty.

Learn more about Martin and Ohio Wesleyan’s men’s soccer program at www.battlingbishops.com. Learn more about the Department of Health and Human Kinetics at http://hhk.owu.edu.

See the article here.

Posted in Battling Bishops Men’s Soccer, Dr. Jay Martin, Ohio Wesleyan University

OWU Men’s Soccer Team Honored at Ohio Statehouse

February 15, 2012

OWU Men's Soccer Team Honored at Ohio Statehouse

The Ohio Wesleyan men’s soccer team, head coach Jay Martin, assistant coach Brandon Bianco, and senior forward Travis Wall (Columbus/Upper Arlington) were honored by the Ohio House of Representatives on Tuesday at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

State Rep. Andrew Brenner (R – Powell) presented four resolutions to the Battling Bishops, recognizing the team’s winning the NCAA Division III national championship, Martin’s becoming the winningest coach in the history of men’s college soccer, Bianco’s selection as Regional Assistant Coach of the Year, and Wall’s selection as Division III Player of the Year.

Watch the video below.

Posted in Battling Bishops Men’s Soccer, Dr. Jay Martin, Ohio Statehouse, Ohio Wesleyan University

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