Month: August 2013

The Body Language of Losing

Last night I was at a high school football game, and this morning a U-15 soccer game.  At each game, I saw different examples of losing body language.   It is so important to be aware of your team’s body language and the role of physiology driving psychology.

In the football game, both teams started playing aggressive defense, running to the ball and celebrating every stop.  The body language was outstanding…..until one team took the lead.  Slowly, but noticeably the trailing team stopped celebrating, each stop became more relief than accomplishment.  Five and six players swarming to the ball became one or two.  Hands to hips, heads down, they were the picture of fatigue,  frustration and defeat. 

This was a team that has trained twice a day through the summer with great numbers, but looked lifeless early in the third quarter not because they were fatigued, but because they capitulated to the circumstance of the game.  The outcome may well have been different and the impression certainly would have if they had responded to losing with strong body language…heads up, voices loud, and physically connected to their teammates.

In the soccer game, the losing team did not drop their heads or shoulders, but simply continued playing seemingly oblivious to time and score.  Valuable minutes passed without any palpable urgency,  minutes that could have held an equalizing or go ahead goal.  In the last segment of play there was a change in body language and a goal followed, but too late to salvage a result.

Body language is an integral part of sports psychology, and must be trained as a muscle or tactical set would be to maximize it’s potential to effect the outcome of a game.

Soccer Brain by Dan Abrahams

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Soccer Brain is sports psychologist Dan Abrahams’ follow up to Soccer Tough, and mandatory reading for all coaches. Soccer Brain is focused on the coaching side of sport, and introduces Abrahams’ 4C Coaching Model for Developing World Class Player Mindsets and a Winning Football Team. The book is constructed in four sections representing each of the four C’s of his coaching model: Creativity, Confidence, Commitment and Cohesion. At 186 pages, it is a quick, but profoundly insightful read. Abrahams’ expertly connects basic principles and established studies of psychology with a varied array of examples from multiple sports giving the book a universal appeal belying it’s provincial title.

Each of the four C’s represents a distinct culture in the development of a World Class Mindset. The book opens with the Culture of Creativity which is fueled by an unrelenting dedication to increase knowledge of your sport, by breaking the game down to it’s constituent parts and building knowledge in each area whilst maintaining an open mind to see developmental clues from outside endeavors. It is from the accumulation of this vast wealth of knowledge from which creativity springs. Abrahams’ urges coaches to redefine talent to encompass mental talent as well as physical talent, and to seek 1% improvements in many areas through nudges and shifts to bring about overall player improvement.

The Culture of Confidence is based on the power of self-belief. The coach plays a lead role in building self-belief through philosophies of optimism that enable players to explain the different situations of the game in productive, helpful and positive ways. Confidence must be built daily in training through memory, perception and imagination to offset the mind’s inherent negative bias.

The Culture of Commitment builds a mental toughness through positive response. The mind responds one of two ways to a match. The positive response is a challenge and the negative a threat. Enduring mental strength is in the challenge state. The tools of the Culture of Commitment are power poses (physiology driving psychology) and match/practice scripts (keeping a player focused on components of a match over which they have exclusive control). An advanced aspect of the Culture of Commitment is mental contrasting which requires the athlete to picture what might go wrong in a match, not to dwell on a negative, but to strategise and rep a solution.

Finally, the Culture of Cohesion is team building by getting individuals invested in the team. This acknowledges that it is individuals that become a team, and they must be viewed and reflected on through different lenses. The team is introduced to the “Pelican Mindset” whereby the more work is accomplished more efficiently in concert. The team is scripted, much like the individual and stereotyped in a positive way creating a collective identity.

Soccer Brain speaks to my experiences as a coach over the last fifteen years, and how the profession has evolved. It is a mandatory read as it will affirm some of your beliefs and practices, while challenging others. The very job you should be doing for your players in this profession; building confidence while demanding growth.

Players That Get You Beat

The Unproductive Energy Guy

This player is generally athletic, plays extremely hard and puts himself in position to make a lot of plays, but his efficiency rate in completing plays is very low.  His physical gifts and work rate are fool’s gold as over time this player will eat up a disproportionate amount of your possessions without a sufficient return.  Benching or cutting such a player runs the risk of appearing that you are anti-hustle when in fact you are pro-winning.

The Practice Player

This player is skilled, intelligent and generally punctual making him useful in practice, but lacks physicality and/or competitiveness rendering his talents as they exist irrelavent in game situations.

The Emotional Burden Guy

This player offers talent, but is so rife with personal issues that he burdens the team and requires a tremendous amount of coddling to remain in anything resembling a productive mindset.  This player will always let you down in the end, and will have a high number of suspicious “injuries” that conveniently coincide with adversity.

The Specialist

This player posseses a single world class talent, perhaps at a level above anyone else on your team, but defines himself by that singular talent at the expense of bringing other aspects of his game to threshold levels of acceptibility.

The Grand Delusion

A player not without value, but so far detached in his own perception of that value as to be functionally useless.

The Selfish Playmaker

A player who defines himself by statistical accomplishments more than wins and losses.  He is the sort of person that such thoughts as “I haven’t shot in a while” and “degree of difficulty” become dangerous, and is likely to view everytime he touches the ball as a “chance to make a play”, even when there is no play to be made.  He passes the ball only when he has exhausted all other options or senses the degree of difficulty in the pass is sufficiently spectacular to warrant his effort.

The Empty Engine

This player may look the part, but has no capacity to run enough to put himself in position to play effectively creating a void in the team.

The Tony Graziano Memorial Tournament

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I never met Tony Graziano, but I played and won his Memorial Tournament yesterday at Red Bug Park.  Tony died five years ago, and while living played pick up soccer at Red Bug.  He apparently made quite an impression on those he played with, many of whom arrived in Orlando from other states and countries to find with Tony and others a place to play soccer and build friendships.

A few months back, I began playing regularly with a group largely composed of West Indians.  I was welcomed much as I suppose Tony Graziano would have welcomed me had I shown up during his playing days.  It was in this spirit of camaraderie that his Tournament was played.

I was invited to play by my Jamaican friend Paul, and donned the Jamaican National colors, while Paul noted our inflated roster and added himself to the roster of our first opponents.  I started the game on the bench and came on midway through the first half with the score tied at one.  I played right midfield and we snatched the lead with a goal in the final minute.  In the second half I played right back and had a solid showing.   After building our lead to 3-1, I went out of the game.  We win 5-1.

Our team did not have a keeper so I volunteered for the second game.  I kept a clean sheet thanks in large part to some terrific defending in front of me.  We won 4-0.  Our prospective opponents in the final left to hit the bar, and we were declared champions.

We lingered for a while amid the trophy celebrations in our uniforms and sweat hoping to extend our time as players and just as much as teammates unsure as Tony’s time just how many more days we may have like this.

The Fall of Pedro’s Posse

Failure is seldom a singular act or event, but rather the accumulation of surmountable acts and events that accumulate and conquer even the proudest of efforts. 

We lost Chandler Parsons to a prior commitment,  and Courtney Lee to a gash over the eye.  Our only available pro, Nick Calathes, was visibly under the weather as he led our five man team of Kyle Methany, Brock Blanchard, Alex Castillo and Nick Wolf to tip off against a team that featured two NBA guys Marquis Daniels and Dominique Jones.  Adam Allen would arrive at halftime to give us six.

Team Loyalty astutely picked up Calathes full court, but for most of the game our ball movement and shooting produced easy baskets while our sagging man to man kept the game largely in the half court to our advantage.   The game was tied at half, and again after three, but the accretion of adversity had taken it’s toll.  Up six at 60-54, we had two bad possessions, a charge when we had a drive and kick three and an errant transition pass that could have helped to maintain a working margin.  Our last lead was 69-68 midway through the fourth after an Adam Allen three, and in the final minute Nick Wolf had a tying three rattle out before we fell 85-78.

The team we put on the floor today played as hard as they could, but were not deep enough to overcome Team Loyalty.   Two possessions in the third, an in and out three in the final minute, Courtney, Chandler could have made the difference, but we had to accept who we were today and that was second best.  It was a horrible and unjust way to end the season.

Thank you to everyone who served the Posse this season:  Juan Bernal, Austin David, KTA, Courtney Lee, Brock Blanchard, Kyle Matheny, Alex Castillo, Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons, Kyle McClanahan, Adam Allen, Nick Wolf, Pat Calathes, Kyle O’Quinn, Jason Williams, Pausha, Austin Rivers, Kenny Kallina, and anyone I may have left out.  Great Ride Gentlemen!

3 v 3 Nationals: The Gun at a Knife Fight

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“It may sound funny, but remember who you are. You are ODP State Players, Region Team Players, DA Players. You are good.” – Mike Kemp

The Sharks entered Nationals with a talented six man roster of Mikey Lynch, Braden Kemp, Asyed Sanchez, Randall Congreaves, Bryson Pink and Danny Lynch, Mikey’s younger brother playing two years up in place of veteran point man, Eric Brody. Coach Mike Kemp’s words may have felt superfluous given that his team was reigning National and World 3 v 3 Champions and unbeaten in their last 16 competitive games, but they spoke to the simple, but profoundly purposeful manner of his coaching.

His players are good, very good. He expects them to play that way and let’s them know when they don’t. He holds them to the standard of their collective ability.

Collective ability…half of this weekend’s roster didn’t win National’s last summer with the Sharks, in fact two of them, Randall Congreaves and Asyed Sanchez were on the losing side of last year’s final. Randall and Asyed played with the Sharks full-side team along with the rest of the vanquished Lions, and before that final game Mike Kemp had both teams warm up together as brothers.

Asyed and Randall won Worlds with the Sharks in January. Mike Kemp sends an email after each tournament with his thoughts and praise. The final line of the post-Worlds email was not about winning, but about how the boy’s acted as brother’s all weekend.

It was this brotherhood that kept me at practice Thursday to hear the words that started this post. I had intended to leave ten or fifteen minutes in, but from the moment all six boy’s arrived, I was captivated by the sincerity of their brotherhood manifested in sarcastic comments and easy laughter. After practice, they ate lunch, watched movies, clogged a toilet and spent the night together.

“One v One….Two v One….backside….high pressure….step….up two…..up three….keep it.” – Mike Kemp

This is the language of 3 v 3. The clear and concise commands heard throughout each game that define the tactics, concepts and mentality of Mike Kemp and the Sharks. It is not invention as much as disciplined adherence to this language that is responsible for their success. There is genius in the simplicity of the game’s necessities that liberates the talented Sharks to play with uncluttered minds.

“I know one thing. I’m coaching in the final today.” -Mike Kemp

The semi-final pitted the Sharks against the Sharpshooters, who are also coached by Mike Kemp. The teams train together, share a passion for 3 v 3, but have their own identities. The Sharpshooters are slightly smaller in physical stature and seem to favor pranks over sarcasm. The game posed an interesting threat to the Sharks with the opponents being so familiar with one another. Kemp, of course, coached the Sharks in the semi-final, and won 5-1 in a tense match.

The Sharks won the final 5-1 as well to defend their National title and extend the winning streak to 22 games. For the weekend they scored 48 goals and conceded only 5 in six games. They scored at least give in every game they played. The statistics are staggering, but this weekend wasn’t completely about winning. Talent-wise, the Sharks had the only gun at a knife fight.

“This is so sad.” – Rodney Congreaves

We stood outside the House of Pizza in South Orlando trying to come to grips with our goodbyes. Randall and Asyed will be playing for Orlando City’s developmental academy, Bryson and Braden Orlando City’s U-15 team, Eric Tampa Bay United and the brother’s Lynch leave next Sunday for a year in Germany. At this point, it’s unclear if the Sharks will be available in any configuration to defend their World title next January.

“It’s only 3 v 3.” – Mike Kemp

I haven’t had a conversation about 3 v 3 with Mike that doesn’t include this comment at some point. On some level it is sincere, but it belies the passion he has to win and what 3 v 3 has come to mean to the Sharks and Sharpshooters he coaches. It is a family of playing brothers that he has masterfully raised.