Month: July 2013

SOCCER BRAIN – An insight into the latest book from Dan Abrahams

The Coaching Family

Dan-Abrahams-Soccer-Psychology-FootballYou are the coach. You are the leader. You are responsible.

You stand in front of them, eyes transfixed on you, minds’ set for your instruction. A match of significance, of high stakes. A win and your position safe, a loss and the exit door looms.

Your words will travel with them into this game – what you say has to have impact. You can see they are nervous, as are you. But you can’t show them that – heart rate steady, stay composed, a still, rational mind is best.

Pre match simplicity: nothing new now, just reinforcement. Start with a soft voice then raise the tone – now lessen the volume as the room intensity sizzles. Calm minds are a must, no headless chickens.

These are the first few lines from my new book Soccer Brain. It’s a follow up to my debut football book Soccer Tough, however this…

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Two Nights in Late July With Pedro’s Posse

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Pedro’s Posse answered the bell in back to back games this week to stand atop the table at 11-1 in the Orlando Pro Am, but as with all things Pro Am it’s the story behind the numbers that matters. Our fearless leader, Juan Bernal, missed the opening game while working a Juco Camp in Las Vegas, but we had the good fortune of getting Chandler Parsons back from Las Vegas where he was playing in the USA Basketball Camp. Tough trade, but we’ll take it. Monday also saw the return of Austin Rivers, Kenny Kallina and Pallas, a young Nigerian women’s basketball player destined to play division 1 college basketball. Without Juan, I was acting head coach.

The return of Austin Rivers and arrival of Courtney Lee coincided with the start of the game, and forced me to field a starting line up featuring only two of my four available NBA players (Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes). Austin and Courtney coming off the bench had nothing to do with discipline, just stretching. We started slowly against a team featuring UCF star Keith Clanton. Clanton pounded us in the post, but that didn’t come close to the abuse we received from a dreadful officiating crew determined to figure prominently in the outcome of the game. Both teams shot a truck load of free throws in a disrupted first half.

We trailed by 2 at the break, and I offered the motivational plea…..”You guys are in the NBA and they aren’t. Let’s go win.”

We did by eight, but not before getting two technical and losing Nick Calathes to fouls in the second minute of the fourth quarter. It was an ugly game, but a testament to great players stepping on the gas when they needed to and Kyle Methany hitting all four of his three point attempts. The game was covered by the Orlando Sentinel’s Shannon Owens, who was extremely pregnant, and a thoughtful camera guy who asked my name and wrote it down during play in the second quarter. By game’s end there was a buzz in the gym with several kids, and adults approaching our bench for photos with our Pro’s.

Juan returned for tonight’s game, and faced a fabricated coaching controversy before the game when his leadership was questioned as the team was 2-0 under my steady hand. Austin and Nick were unavailable, but Adam Allen was called to active duty for a big game against TeamRich in a battle of 10-1 teams. We enjoyed a dream start shredding TeamRich with ball and man movement par excellence. We were active defensively and led 60-38 at the half prompting Kenny Kallina to call for a throat slitting gesture and formal declaration the game was over. This, however, is Pro Am basketball.

Despite our encouraging pleas to maintain a high defensive work rate and keep the ball moving on offense, we sucked. TeamRich scored on 18 of 20 possessions at one point as we failed to stop the ball or close out to shooters. On the other end, we lapsed into ball-stopping isolations and miserable midrange shots off the bounce. With three minutes left in the game we were down 7 and close to death.

Chandler hit a three to cut it to four. We got a stop and cut it to two. We got up one, then down one when Brock Blanchard, Pedro’s Posse’s all-time leader in games played, drew a dubious over the back call. Brock, who had shot well all night, calmly sank both free throws for a one point lead with 13.7 seconds left.

We considered fouling so we would have the ball last, but decided to defend. We got a trap, a deflection and a steal. Chandler hit both free throws to put us up 3 with 2.1 seconds left. We contemplated fouling, but decided to defend again surrounding the three point line on the top side to force TeamRich to throw it inside where only two points could be scored. We failed to react to one of their players moving above the three point line where he caught the ball and shot from forty feet, right on line…..but short off the front iron. WE WIN!

Post-game we were reminded of the arcane two assistant coach rule as our staff had swelled to seven with Kallina, Bondo and Matt Hixenbaugh. Local news camera’s rolled and a line of kids and women flooded our bench to take pics and shake hands with Chandler and Courtney.

Just another late July nigh with Pedro’s Posse.

Brian Clough and Damned United

Last night, I watched the movie Damned United. It is the story of football manager Brian Clough’s 44 day run at Leeds United. Clough had turned second division Derby County into first division Champions in stunning fashion, and took the Leeds United job when Leeds manager Don Revie took the England job. Clough deeply disliked Revie and his cynical, but successful approach to the game. Prior to his first training session with the new team Clough did a television interview trashing Revie and arrived to meet with the Leeds United board offering these unforgettable words.

Board: I hired you to do this job because I think you are the best young manager in the country.

Clough: Thank you. I am the best old one too.

Board: I also did so under the assumption that you would be coming here wanting what’s best for this club. For the city of Leeds. So why do I get the feeling this is all about you and Don?

Clough: Of course it’s just about me and Don. Always has been. But instead of putting frowns on your foreheads, all you elders of Leeds in your blazers and brass-fucking-buttons, it should put big white Colgate smiles on your big white faces. Because it means I won’t eat, and I won’t sleep until I’ve taken whatever that man’s achieved, and beaten it. Beaten it so I never have to hear the name Don-fucking-Revie again. Beat it so the only name anyone sings in Yorkshire ale houses, raising their stinking jars to their stinking mouths, is Brian Clough. Brian Clough uber-fucking-alles! Understand?

Though Clough was out in 44 days, he would go on to win the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest. His brand of bravado and passion ultimately proved best suited for sides lacking his confidence be it personally or institutionally. His belief in himself his signature and his gift was imprinting that signature on those he managed. Leeds was a failure because the audience of hardened professional with laurels, accolades and a hard-earned belief in themselves did not need or appreciate Clough’s gifts. There is a component of talent in the context of joint venture that requires compatibility.

A Tale of Two Games

My Sunday featured three possible games.  Two soccer matches and one basketball game.  I was able make two of the three with mixed results.  The soccer match featured FC America’s Super Y team against Kendall, who won last year’s rain shortened game 1-0 on the synthetic turf of South Miami.  Today’s game had much on the line as FC America stood atop the Super standings with Kendall and the Florida Fire tied for second.  Only two of the three will advance to Nationals in December. 

The game started evenly, but took it’s first eventful turn about eight minutes in when FC America scored and quickly added a second when Asyed Sanchez strip Kendall’s center back and beat the keeper.  FC America dominated the next several minutes of play and the match seemed on it’s way to a 3 or 4-1 statement win.  FC America lost it’s stranglehold quickly when it’s keeper swung and missed on an innocuous back pass.  Kendall followed with a superb equalizer on the volley, and FC America lost center back Randall Congreaves to a leg injury shortly thereafter.  The teams were tied at the half, but FC America’s defense was irreparably damaged.

The second half saw about five minutes of even play with half chances on both ends, but a lack of defensive cohesion was readily apparent.  Moments later, Kendall entered the FC America box due largely to defensive incoherence and were unjustly awarded a soft penalty to take a 3-2 lead.  As is often the case with a poor call, the self-conscious and insecure official followed with two or three dubious calls against FC America over the next five minutes which flummoxed the troops.  During this passage of play, Kendall added a another goal to lead 4-2.  FC America pushed and pressed unconvincingly for the remainder of the game, and could only pull one of the goals back.

The game featured three significant swings in momentum signatured by two goal outbursts highlighting the importance of not allowing one mistake to become two or three. If either team could have arrested the mistake-making at one goal, the game could have played out much differently.   Great teams have a capacity to minimize the damage of their mistakes as though the mistake itself calls for an immediate increase in focus.  Neither team shown themselves great in this regard.

Later in the day, I made my way to the Downtown Rec for my debut as head coach for Pedro’s Posse.  Founder/Head Coach Juan Bernal was in Atlanta hustling, and turned the reigns over to me based on my understanding of the nuances of Pro Am basketball.  Our team for the night featured Courtney Lee, Nick Calathes, Pat Calathes, Brock Blanchard, Kyle Methany, Alex Castillo and Pausha.  We started brilliantly with active hands and feet triggering a withering fast break.  I was able to rest all of our players during the first half whilst maintaining a  double digit lead that peaked at 21.  We entered the fourth quarter up 73-60, and things got dicey.  Pausha started the fourth, but our active hands and feet had given way to a mixture of fatigue and indifference forcing me to re-insert Alex Castillo earlier than anticipated.  Pat Calathes, who had been very active from the tip and was our only legitimate big was running on fumes and no longer defending the rim.  Our lead eroded to a mere two points, but I refused to call a time out for several critical reasons: 1)  I did not have a play or defensive adjustment to draw up and run, 2)  a part-time coach yelling at professional basketball players to play harder didn’t seem very effective and 3)  I had three professional basketball players on the floor, who were well aware that they had let a lead get away and needed to make a few plays down the stretch to avoid an embarrassing loss.  We hit a few shots and got a few stops to win 89-84 as I deeply believed we would.

The lesson of game two was that professional players have greater self-awareness of circumstances, and could on command raise their level of play to meet the challenge of the moment to prevail.  This is why they are professional players, and while FC America and Kendall are not, it is a mindset they should collectively aspire to in distinguishing themselves among their competition.

The Analytics of Killing

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In my beloved game of basketball there is in full flow a movement toward advanced statistics,  or analytics.  Analytics are used to distinguish what is happening on the floor from what we think or feel is happening,  a sort of empirical reality check.  Through analytics we now know that certain combinations of players score or defend at outrageously productive levels and vice versa, and the corner 3 is the most efficient 3 point shot in basketball because on average it is hit about three percent higher than 3’s from any other spot on the floor.  Three percentage points higher….and the game has changed tactically on both ends of the floor.

The statistic in the photo above, even if off by three percentage points, is stunning and  horrifying,  but reflective of American justice.  It demonstrates over a large sample size the disparity of results in murder cases along racial lines.  This is not a one off result that can be dismissed as much, but requires a deeper look into the soul of who we are for not just an explanation,  but a change.

In 2008, Barack Obama became the first African-American President in the history of our country with a campaign slogan of “Change”.  In the immediate context of that time “Change” spoke to a frustrating war and a collapsing economy, but his victory transcended politics because “Change” meant that we could elect an African-American President.  For many I suspect, that may have prematurely signaled the death of racism, but racism is an insidious societal cancer that persists in our perceptions of others on a subconcious level and effects in subtle ways our behavior toward people of a different color or creed then we ourselves hold.

Individual cases like George Zimmerman have peculiarities that can for some justify the result, but stepping back from the trees to see the forest reveals a profoundly unacceptable and inexcusable reality.

System Failure

“Not Guilty.”

With the exception of poor Mike Tyson, that has been the verdict in damn near every high profile criminal trial in recent memory…OJ Simpson, Casey Anthony and tonight George Zimmerman.   It is no longer surprising, but it is wrong and erodes the authority of government and credibility of judicial process.  A process predicated on the platitude of “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Words that are thrown and twisted about by prosecution and defense alike to dull
-eyed jurors imbued with a false sense of purpose as purported servants of the community.   It is this partisan process that render the results we abhor and won’t change until we do.

Why do we retain jurors with no background beyond holding a driver’s license?  Are these not the same people who stop short in front of us, change lanes and speed whimsically and otherwise impede our motorized progress?  What do they know of legalese?   Supposedly they bring a common sense to their service, but when the case is big enough, we sequester them from family, friends, resources and habits….the very things that make them common.

In this abnormal condition we subject them to dark art of trial advocacy.  Each side constructs a story that bolsters strengths, conceals weakness and convolutes the truth. It is transparent, dishonest,unbecoming and unproductive as it does nothing to seek the truth of the actions purported to be criminal.

Then there is the component of time.  There is a provision in the law for a speedy trial originally conceived in the notion that a trial should occur forthwith so as to clear the name of anyone falsely or wrongly accused of a crime.   In all high profile matters, it is waived ostensibly to prepare a proper defense, in reality to distance the accused from the dead body in their wake.  Dead men don’t talk.  Criminal defendants don’t usually talk, but they certainly start wearing formal clothes, change their hair, comportment and in all manner possible reconstruct themselves as something other than what they were in the moments that brought them to this place.

The final toxic component is the media, who in the moments immediately after Trayvon Martin was killed ran fast and hard with a picture of a pre-pubescent 12 year old in a hooded sweatshirt, instead of a photo of a 6′ 3″ 17 year old.  Then talked the case to a minutiae driven death that obscured the reality that a tall black 17 year old with a hooded sweatshirt was walking through a neighborhood recently subjected to a string of criminal activity while an overzealous and armed wanna-be cop took it upon himself to police his neighborhood in the face of a direct instruction not to proceed.

A physical altercation that never had to happen ensued, and unarmed Trayvon Martin died by gunshot wound.  I am confident that given a second chance hr would have handled the situation differently, but he will not have a second chance, and I am equally assured that if George Zimmerman stayed at his house with his gun locked and let the police handle the matter Trayvon Martin would sti be alive.

George Zimmerman needs to be accountable for his role in the events of that evening, and our society is diminshed by failing to make him so.

Some Endgame Notes

I coached two basketball games today, and won both in the final seconds in very different ways.  The two endgame scenarios and how they played out illustrate the mixture of tactics and luck that determine close games. 

Early in the day my AAU team fell behind 16-1 in the opening minutes of our final game of group play.  We showed great resilience fighting all the way back to hold a 53-52 lead in the final minute.  We committed a foul that tied the score at 53 and couldn’t score on the other end.   Time out.  In an act of virtually unforgivable stupidity, I misread the scoreboard and thought we had committed only four fouls in the half meaning we had two fouls to give with 13.9 seconds left.  I instructed the team to commit a non-shooting foul of we had the opportunity.

We did at 9.4 seconds left, but the foul was actually our 7th and put them on the line shooting 1 and 1.  By the grace of God, they missed and after a scramble we secured possession and called time out with 4.9 seconds left.  We drew up a play anticipating that our opponent would be up on the ball as we inbounded at 3/4 court.  Our opponent played off the ball, but we through over the top anyway and appeared to have lost the ball.  We got a deflection, a fortuitous bounce and Elijah Grooms hit a 35 foot three at the buzzer to win.

Fouling was not the smart play, and it was done because I did not know the team foul situation, but it put the ball in our hands to shoot and win the game.  We needed toany things to happen…a missed free throw, a rebound, recover a loose ball and hit a bad shot at the buzzer.  It all worked.

In our Pro Am game this afternoon, we crapped away a 17 point 4th quarter lead and held a 3 point lead with 21.9 seconds left.  With that much time left, we decided not to foul, but to run them off the three point line.  It worked as they scored a quick two and fouled again.  Alex Castillo hit both to restore a three point lead.  Time out with ten seconds left.  Again we considered fouling, but opted to run them off the line.  They took the bait and drove to the basket to take the two, and we nearly fouled creating a potential and 1, but the shot rolled out and found it’s way to the corner for a wide open three as we lost out match ups in the chaos.  The open corner three rattled out, we rebounded, and made two free throws clinch the game.

In opting to defend instead of foul, we kept the three point shot in play and conceded an open look, but got lucky with a miss.

The best we can do in these tense moments is to believe in each other, commit to and execute our plan of action and accept the result.