A Captain on Every Play

Wherever the ball goes, the best teams create “mini-teams” of 3 or 4 players to dictate the outcome of as many mini-duels that happen through-out a game, whether they be 1 vs. 1, 2 vs.1, etc. The more times these duels are won, the more chance of a final victory. To make this a reality, a coach needs eleven captains to organize, encourage and influence the play. One captain alone cannot do it unless they are wearing a big “S” on front of their shirt. Nor can Superman’s dad, resplendent with cape and kryptonite shin-guards, help as the all-seeing, all-knowing coaching expert on the side-lines. They are often too far away from many critical plays. This is why coaches must educate their players to create a “captain/coach on every play.” The nearest player to their teammate who is involved in the “eye” of game action becomes the captain/coach for that vital moment. They have the best seat in the house to coach and should advise their teammates in making effective decisions to win that particular duel.

The more times you put verbal oil into the team engine, the smoother the team performs. Quality information “in” creates quality play “out.” However, just screaming it at the last moment will probably have the reverse effect. So develop the art of reading the play early and prepare your teammates for the action coming up. Get ahead of the play and coach “your players” to win these 1000 or more duels a game. Good players are like detectives, spotting clues to outwit St outsmart their opponents (visual cues, body language and habits). Often, their last look is often their first choice play (as it was the last mental picture of the game they took in the game). Such a clue for a “savvy” defender might determine how they would defend. For example, as the opposing player winds up to pass the ball, the passer’s head goes down. This infor-mation allows the nearby defender to get ahead of the game by planning his move – to maybe intercept or contain. At that very same moment the nearest teammate will be alerting/ coaching them with concise advice.

The “real coach” must educate their players into this winning mode of thinking by:

  1. Playing small-sided games where it’s easier to spot and have many opportunities to “captain” each other.
  2. Playing one on ones with a 3rd. player on the outside coaching one of the players.
  3. Going to pro or college games. if possible, be ball-boys/girls.

It’s vital for the coach to highlight good examples and correct the “non-coaching” efforts of the players. A team of captains, coaching each other, is like facing a team that’s playing with 24 players – it intimidates. As one coach said after his team had lost to Liverpool, “I’m certain they cheated as the Mighty Reds (Liverpool) seem to be everywhere with never ending pulse to their support play and verbal enthusiasm / coaching. To play that way they must have had 2 teams out there!” Such was their energy level. Great teams know the power of this constant knowledge and enthusiasm zapping through a game- coaching each other and the constant encour-agement to play brilliantly. This is par-ticularly necessary when things are going against your team. Too often youth or high school teams tend to clam up when the going gets tough. Potholes, red lights and conceding goals are part of life’s rich canvas. The teams and players that can rebound from these setbacks with renewed vigor are the ones to stay away from, as you know they are go-ing to compete to the final whistle. They are mean and dangerous.

When is the best time to start this black hole topic with youngsters? The earlier, the better! And keep the adults far away. How can a child learn to be a captain / coach if a dozen parents are screaming 20 pieces of “expert advice” per second. We have had a genera-tion of subservient, non-talking players because of this assault. Who can blame them, being that the parent has been their verbal life support system since infancy. You know the picture is wrong when parents are the dominant vo-cal forces and the players are verbally invisible. Sadly it should be the other way round.

For proof go out and LISTEN or probably NOT listen to a couple of games. Another indicator is watch-ing/hearing a high school game. Most of these youngsters have played for nearly a decade and yet cannot read nor coach nearby teammates. What have they been doing all these years? It’s almost as though they play in their own bubble or world. In fact, trying to correct this fault in older teenagers is almost impossible, as their habits are for the most part set in stone. Therefore one cannot over emphasize the need to start to acquire this verbal intelligence at pre-teenage years.

To help to understand the learning process these are the 3 main cancers fighting the development of skillful players. They are:

  1.  Fatigue. Players simply don’t learn when they are tired.
  2. Verbal Interference. Yelling names like “Carlos” as he receives the ball is of little use. Being a high school player hopefully he’s learnt his name by his teens. However, what he does need is simple, vital information to help him and the team to retain the ball – “man on,” “time.” Giving misinforma-tion or poor advice or worse still no verbal help whatsoever are other major soccer crimes! Trying, to paint an analogy of watching a teammate about to be tackled hard, one coach stated – “It’s like watching your girl friend or mom about to be mugged on the other side of the street. Don’t you have an opinion? Don’t you care! Can’t you even shout “Man On”?”
  3. Coach Dependence. Where the coach dictates every play and shouts constantly. The product is non-thinking-robots that tradition-ally get their speed pass and sprint out of the sport as fast as possible, probably to skateboarding where adults can’t get to them.

To help you get into this new world its worth remembering this saying that has been used by pro’s for generations – “PASS the BALL, Pass a CAL!” When you are making a pass give the receiver verbal information, e.g., “man-on” or “time” or “turn.” As you can see these verbal skills allied to “soccer savvy” are like secret weapons which very few players or coaches understand or use these vital verbal tools. Can your team be the first in your area to create eleven captains on the field? If so, you have excited a squad of individuals to mold into a real team. Do that and you deserve a new Superman uniform for the play-offs! Go for it!!!

Learning Road to Barca

My Learning Road to BARCA was via several stops as far afield as Wolverhampton, Toronto, Maryland, London,Sao Paulo and television.

Stop #1 – Wolverhampton,U.K. in 1960. Like today BARCA and Real Madrid were the cream of the soccer crop with Wolves being the dominant British club of the day just like Man.Utd today. With several friends we went to watch the 2nd.leg of the European Cup between Wolves and Barca. It was a great game with the Spaniards running out 5-2 winners after winning the first leg 4-0. Two great sides with Barca playing in a way we had never seen before where possession meant possession with guile, like watching a clever boxer jab away with passes to wear down his opponent. This excellence was underwritten by the Messi of his day, Kubala.(Check him out on YouTube).

Stop #2 – Ladislav Kubala – Toronto,Canada- 1967. I was lucky enough to play against the great man for a half before he was subbed due to the humid heat. Even as he approached the end of his career he still could play and it was an honour to be on the same pitch with this soccer god.

Stop #3 – Don Howe – London – 1996. Don was Terry Venables #2 for EURO’96 and he shared VHS video on Romario and his attacking ideas. Most of the examples were with Romario wearing a BARCA shirt.

Stop#4 – Dr. Zdenek Sivek – Maryland 1990’s. Zdenek was Technical Director of the Czech
Republic FA. and he had spent a couple of weeks at BARCA studying their training methods. That knowledge came into Maryland for two of the best soccer weeks ever held by the Association.

Stop #5 – Sao Paulo – 1995. I took a U.17 Bethesda team down to Sao Paulo, reputely one of the top teams in the USA in their age bracket. We got buried 8-0 and I didn’t know whether cheer or cry as on the one side my team was getting roasted and yet both the players and I were getting an education. This to this day it was the finest youth team I have ever seen. Speaking with their coach later he was telling me that BARCA were one of the inspirations to creating the play we had just endured.

Stop #6 – “Mangled United” – 2009. This was after Man.United had been schooled by BARCA in the UEFA Champions Final. It reminded me of SPFC’s play a decade earlier, where we chased, and chased to where even when we won possession we would panic and instantly give it away again.I knew exactly how Sir Alex felt. He called it getting on the BARCA carousel ! To my boys it was more like getting twisted and turned around like being in Sao Paulo’s spin-dryer as you lose your focus, discipline, ownership of the ball, the game and finally the result belongs to your opponent.

Stop #7 – “Education vs. Results” – Terry Venables made a telling remark about why Barcelona dominate and that’s because BARCA cherish education as opposed to the majority of clubs at many levels where its results and quick fixed based mentality or you could say its “coaching” versus “poaching” mentality. Their choices were coaches of vision – Rinus Michels, Johann Cryuff and carriers of their flame – Koeman, Rijkaard, Rexach and now Guardiola. Whereas the vast number of clubs, s chools and schools are into the ” hire and fire” academy of management. The majority of programs are into their umpteenth manager/coach & all suffering from the same disease these clubs want it NOW or sooner.

Stop #8 – “The Time Carousel” – Come back in another 40 years and it will be the same story like Wolves in the 1960’s vs. Man. United of the present day. At least Fergie sees it and understands the real problem but time is his enemy. The rest will have a couple of minutes of glory and that Barcelona Express will be coming through with a new Kubala or Messi amiid a new generation of home grown talent will keep on cruising into educating/winning another generation of real excellence not of the fake version where everyone gets a trophy.

Graham Ramsay
Executive Director
The Soccer School(est. 1969)
ramsaysoccer@yahoo.com (c) 2011 Graham Ramsay.
216 Richard Drive, Chestertown,MD. 21620.
(1-410 778 0175-House) (1-240 422 4924-CELL)

From FIFA interview with Pique:

That selection capped another wonderful year, during which you and Barcelona won almost every competition you entered. What was the secret behind all this success?
Pep Guardiola. Ever since he came back to the club, he has kept us at the very top thanks to the way he sees football and the way he motivates us. We won virtually everything last year, which makes me very proud and satisfied. Particularly because I’m doing all of this on my home turf, at my hometown club and the one I’ve always supported.
Staying on Guardiola, can you give us a little more insight into what makes him such a special coach?
On one hand, he sees football in ways nobody else does, and then he explains it better than anyone. Lots of coaches just tell you to move right or move left, but he gives you the reasons why, which means you clearly understand why you’re doing something. And so, without even realising it, you learn more and more every day and start to make your own decisions out on the pitch. On top of that, you have the way he motivates us. Loads of teams have won a lot of titles but then started losing their hunger, whereas we’re getting hungrier all the time. We want to have that feeling of pleasure, when you feel like you’re the best, again and again. Pep doesn’t let us take our foot off the pedal. He’s always on our case and trying to get the very best out of each one of us.
When we spoke to Guardiola himself, he told us how important it was to treat players like adults and make them responsible for their own actions…
He makes you feel like a professional. It seems like he gives us more freedom, but in fact what he does is give us decision-making power. It’s as if he were saying, ‘Do you really want to make a living doing this? Do you want to be the greatest and win lots of trophies? It all depends on you.
I’ll let you spend the night before a game at home, doing whatever you like, but you should know that if you don’t play well, you won’t start the next match.’ This makes you much more mature as well as making you feel you owe him something, so you feel like you have to perform out on the pitch.