Monthly Archives: January 2014

Develop Great Players – Tell Them Mistakes Are Required

Short version of this post:

Kids are afraid of messing up.  Make it OK to mess up.  Give them the power to brush it off using a Mistake Ritual.  Watch magic happen.

Longer version:

From my experience at U9 and lower, when I watch these kids train I would notice a few things.  Like how many would look around to see what the other kids where doing instead of paying attention to what they were doing. How some would half-try at a new move or try to loose themselves in the crowd of players and smile sheepishly when called out.   Maybe they would pull up unsure what to do. If you pay close attention to your players as they go through a session you’ll see it too.

While there could be a variety of reasons, but I’d put good money that there’s a very good chance they’re afraid of making a mistake.  It makes you look silly.  Will someone yell at you? It means you’re not smart enough.  It proves you just aren’t good at it.

What your players probably don’t understand is that you have to make mistakes to learn something new.  That’s why they call it a…

Learning Curve

As a coach, you need to make it OK for your players to make mistakes in practices and in games.  In fact, make it a requirement.

There is a small problem with this.  Nobody likes making mistakes.  When your players make one the negative talk will start in their head.  This will self-perpetuate and compound with every additional mistake they make.  So you need to give them them a way to mentally reset after making a goof – a Mistake Ritual.

The Positive Coaching Alliance teaches a lot of great things and this is one of my favorites.  It is a gesture your players use immediately after they make a mistake and put it behind them.  For example, holding up two fingers and making a “flush” gesture to represent flushing the mistakes down the toilet.  Another is flicking imaginary sweat off your forehead to represent “no sweat.”  Or brushing imaginary dirt off your shoulder to “brush it off.”

Here’s what I did and do for my young girls:

  1. At our first training session for the team I gave my spiel on how mistakes are normal, required and I hope I see a lot of them (means they’re trying real hard at something new).  Also explained the Mistake Ritual and let them vote on which would be the team ritual.  After the mortified/embarrassed looks and laughter subsided when I explained the “flush” it version, the team voted on “Brush it off.”
  2. Before every practice and every game I ask “Are mistakes OK?” and the team says “Yes” loudly in unison.  Then I ask “When you make a mistake, what do you do?”  The team answers “Brush it off!” and brush their fingers over their shoulders.
  3. I also remind them that this is not just for themselves, but their teammates as well.  If you see someone on your team make a mistake be sure to let them know it’s OK and brush it off.
  4. When one of my players makes a mistake, they’ll look over at me.  I do the ritual for them and they know what it means.  If they don’t look at me, I’ll call their name to make eye contact and do the ritual.

My whole reason for doing this is to create a mechanism for the players to quickly put the mistake behind them, reset and get back in the practice or game.  Otherwise they are more likely to start dwelling on it and negative thoughts feed on themselves.  It will help build their confidence, resilience and, without them realizing it, mental toughness.

So how’s it working?

During our Futsal game last Sunday, a player on the other team took a shot on goal from way out that probably wouldn’t have gone in.  One of my girls tried to intercept it, had a bad touch and the result was she practically scored an own goal.  I could tell she felt pretty bad about it and she started apologizing.  But our keeper looked at her and did our Mistake Ritual – brush it off.  Heard another teammate on the field say “brush it off.”  I also called to her so she can see me do the same ritual.  She stopped getting down on herself immediately and got right back in the game.


I’d say it’s working pretty well.

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Filed under Development Over Winning, Positive Coaching

What You Need to Know About the Magic Ratio

Don't let your players get flat.

Don’t let your players get flat.

As a coach your goal is to help your players get better.  That means letting them know when they do something wrong, how they can do something differently and generally how they can improve.  This is part of what you do.  The how you do it will determine if your players start to shut down on you are take it as the true opportunity it is – to learn from their mistakes.

For example, if you have your U9 girls team warming up with paired passing to start a session, what’s more likely to be your response to giving feedback?  Are the things you say likely to sound like this, let’s call it Style A?…

  • “Make sure your partner is looking at you and is ready for the pass before kicking it.”
  • “Don’t use your toes.  Use the inside of your foot.”
  • “Don’t kick the ball so hard until you can control your pass better.”
  • “I saw you use your toes again.  Remember – inside of the foot.”
  • “Focus!”

…and so on.  Or, are you likely to be more like Style B?…

  1. “Hey Suzie, that was a really strong kick there, “
  2. “, nice job pointing your non-kicking foot where you want the ball to go, “
  3. ” and I liked that you looked at the ball before making contact.”
  4. “The ball didn’t go where you wanted to go though, did it?  Why do you think that is?  Right! Kicking with your toes.  If you kick with the inside of your foot you’ll get it where you want it more often than not.”
  5. “I know you are a hard worker “
  6. “and you’ll get it the more you do it.”

The problem with Style A is that it will start to tear down your player’s self-confidence pretty quickly.  Especially kids who tend to think they either have talent or they don’t.  That is, most do not realize that talent is grown with practice and over time.  If you keep with Style A you are likely to have players who have lower self-confidence, are less likely to put themselves in positions to push themselves or take risks and maybe even dread practices.  Definitely not what you want!

Style B is taken from a principle from the Positive Coaching Alliance called the Magic Ratio.  Basically, the goal is to make sure you are giving your players 5 positive messages for every 1 criticism.  A ratio of 5:1.  This way you are constantly building up your players while you are helping them improve on the things that need work.

For some of you who might think this is a lot of fluff and it treats the kids too softly (they need to toughen up for crying out loud!), you’d be surprised.  On the contrary – your players will be able to handle adversity better.  In my book, Handling Adversity = Tough.  In addition, they will listen to you more and be more optimistic.  This is a competitive edge.  It also gives them the juice to handle adversity better off the field, and away from practices.  Better still!

There are two key things to keep in mind when using the Magic Ratio:

  1. The positive comments need to be specific.  Don’t just say “good job.”  Find specific things to be positive about.
  2. Bring your own style into – don’t be robotic.  And you might be the kind of coach where if you get to 3:1 it’s a big win.  That’s OK too – it’s the right direction!

So start paying attention to how your are giving feedback to your players and build up that ratio.  Guaranteed to see results and these are the kind of results that can last a lifetime.

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Filed under Coaching Tips, Positive Coaching

How to Save a Training Session Gone Bad – Have a Plan B

For the last week you poured over other club session plans, blogs, Twitter and if you have to spend another night combing through Google for a decent YouTube video on how to do a proper shoulder charge you’re going to scream! But that’s OK, because all that hard work has allowed you to put together the best training session for your young soccer players.  It flows, the progression is perfect and you have all the questions you’ll ask the players to have them tease out the key coaching points for the evening.


Of course, when it comes to the night of the session it doesn’t play out quite like you imagined it.  The players just don’t seem to be “getting it” and you spend a lot of time explaining it.  Or maybe what made perfect sense to you by the glow of your computer screen sudden has you wondering “how is this supposed to work” when you’re trying to do it.  There are lots of reasons why, but this will happen to you at some point and from time to time – the session is dragging, the players aren’t getting much out of it, and you feel what precious little time you have with the kiddos slipping away.


Very frustrating.

And totally normal.  It is going to happen from time to time.  From my experience, when this happens it is because the activities that I picked are too complex for the girls at that point in time.

The solution?  Have a Plan B.  Heck, having a Plan C will come in useful from time to time too. Here’s an example from one of the last sessions of the Fall.  I pulled the below activity from the FC Chelsea Development Center Booklet.

FC Directional

Looks like a good one!  Not too tough and teaches some good concepts – we were focusing on directional first touches.  I gave some very basic instructions, had the girls get started and started walking around.  What I noticed was a lot of confused 7- and 8-year-olds.  We started going from group to group to help give some extra explanation and tips, but I realized we were burning a lot of time explaining.

Not good.  I know by now that the longer I talk has a direct correlation to how not-so-good the session is going.  I want the girls to build confidence and learn new skills and this was achieving neither.

So I went with Plan B…


Same idea, but less cones.  Player 1 passes the ball to Player 2 who directs the ball with their first touch to the left of the cone where they pass it back to Player 2 with their second touch.  Player 1 then does the same thing.  They got it!  Just making it a little simpler did the trick.

Even though I was happy they were getting it, we spent long enough on the first that I could tell the girls spirits were still a bit down.  Plus it was really cold and they weren’t moving enough to keep warm.  Didn’t help with the moods.

Time for Plan C – I announced we would be scrimmaging for the remainder of the practice.  Cheers went up!  Mission accomplished.

Practices will not always go this way.  The good news is the more you do, the better you’ll get at picking the right sessions for your players and how to adjust on the fly.  Hey, even coaches with a lot of experience, and who actually get paid to coach, always have something on their sleeve because this happens to them too.

And, the more I coach, the more I realize that one of the things that makes  really good coaches, well, really good are because they can handle things when they don’t go well.

So buck up, don’t fret and come to your training sessions prepared.

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Filed under Coaching Tips, Training Sessions