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Articles from the Club
Redefine Your Limits
Kristin Englehart, Girls DOC
The teams that I have coached know all about “training on your own.” This is one of the first lessons that I teach my teams.
I made my first premier team (Santa Rosa United) and fell in love with soccer when I was twelve years old, although the only reason that I made that team was because of my speed. I was way behind the curve compared to my teammates who had grown up as one-sport athletes, training year-round and preparing for premier soccer. I remember my first team practice like it was yesterday. We worked on passing patterns, and I was so focused on my first touch that I wasn’t able to remember the patterns. Since I had decided that I wanted to go as far as I possibly could in the sport, I had A LOT of catching up to do. So began the next ten years of training on my own.
Our Technical Director, Dan McAllister, has already posted some amazing resources under “Technical Training” on our MFJ website that you can use to help plan your individual sessions. I highly encourage you to use these resources. I think it could be helpful for you to get a glimpse of what this may actually look/feel like on a daily basis.
Quite honestly, none of the games, tournaments, practices, lectures or team meetings taught me as much as I learned through training on my own. Based on my own experience, here are some tips for training on your own:
1) Know WHY you’re training. Your long-term goal will be the only thing that gets you out there some days.
2) Make a plan for your training and stick to it.
3) Don’t make excuses. I trained before school. I trained in hotel parking lots when we were on vacation. I trained on Christmas day. Every day counts!
4) It’s not glamorous. I worked on dribbling cuts and turns in my dark and dreary garage on winter days. I would reach for that last touch when juggling, and the ball would knock my dad’s tools off the wall, crash into trashcans and land behind bikes and lawn mowers. I once did a 25 minute training in the corner of an airport terminal while waiting to board a plane!
5) Push yourself. Set goals during the actual training session as well. For example, I wouldn’t allow myself to go back in the house before I broke my juggling record. I had to hit a certain amount of targets when working on shooting and finishing, or I would run sprints.
6) Use a wall! This was the BEST thing that I did for my game when growing up. You can use a handball court, a racquetball court, a garage door or a brick wall. Work on 1 and 2-touch passing, receiving balls out of the air, turning with the ball and more!
7) Lastly, of course it’s hard. It can be boring, repetitive, even painful. The trick is pushing past that. You’re working toward your goals and dreams!
‘The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when no one else is watching.” - Anson Dorrance
The Benefits of Playing Futsal
Jeff Merritt, Boys DOC
As we enter our first winter training sessions as the Michigan Fire Juniors, I wanted to take a minute to e
xplain whythe Soccer Leadership Team has chosen futsal as the vehicle for developing youth players in the winter.
The game finds its origin in Uruguay and the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil in the early 1930’s. The game was played on a small hard court, with a low bounce ball, with each team consisting of 4 field players and a goalkeeper. Futsal began as a version of soccer played in the YMCA’s of Uruguay, but it quickly became popular throughout South America. It is now considered one of the most effective tools for young soccer players to develop technical skills and futsal has become the standard for indoor soccer worldwide.
The benefits of futsal as a developmental tool are widely known. The game has been credited with creating some of the greatest players of our time including Messi, Robinho, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Ronaldinho just to name a few. Most would also concede that futsal has played a critical role in the flair and creativity that so many of the world’s best players display on the ball.
There are many reasons futsal is such a great developmental tool. The first of which is the game is fun to play. Another reason is that futsal is much safer to play than indoor (boarded) soccer, or the 11 aside game. The rules of the game prohibit physical play. It is really soccer in the purist form. In addition to these reasons, according to a recent FIFA study, in a 40 minute futsal match each player will have roughly 80-90 touches, and in a 90 minute 11 v11 match a player will have roughly 30-40 touches per game.
The additional touches play a critical role in the player’s ability to develop improved skills. Futsal also provides its players with numerous goal scoring chances which will allow all the players on the court to practice finishing versus a live goalkeeper in a game setting. Futsal is a game that has all of the elements of the 11 aside game, close control and good technique are required, and because the game is on a small court, players must play quickly to survive, and players are under pressure constantly so they must react and think the game at a much faster pace. We are very excited to see this change in programming pay dividends for our club.
Reflections on the Fall Season with Girls DOC Kristin Englehart
This fall season was my first real opportunity to look at our club through a wider lens. For the past six years or so, I had a much narrower perspective of our club because I was solely focused on the team(s) that I was coaching at the time. I must say that I am incredibly proud to be a part of this club. It has been my absolute pleasure to get to know so many of our players and families this season. I see so much potential. I know our players and teams are going to develop and improve because they love the game! They are also motivated, hard-working and coachable. I believe that our parents and families will help them in their development because they are supportive, positive and committed. In addition, I think our club will achieve great things because of our coaches.
I spent a ton of time observing our coaches in practices and games this fall. You can see that our coaches share their passion with their players and teams. It was not uncommon to see Coach Ashley Parkinson celebrating his U9 girls’ goals in practice by running up and down the field, arms outstretched like an airplane.
Our coaches do everything they can to develop the individual player. Coach Kristen Schwenk offered small-group training (in addition to two team trainings) every single week for her U11 Girls White team.
Our coaches inspire their teams. Coach Marcus Voss designed countless activities, awards and team bonding events throughout the season in order to motivate and unite his U14 Girls Premier team.
Our coaches lead by example. I watched Coach Amber Bloem run a practice session for her U13 premier girls. Her positivity is contagious. These seventh grade girls are now coaching each other in a positive way, communicating constantly and supporting each other because of the example that Amber has set for them.
Our coaches do so much more than yell. I can tell you from my experience as a player and a coach that yelling is not the answer. We do have some coaches that are more vocal than others, but I know that our coaches understand the need for balance. We need to provide instruction during the game, but there is a difference between that and yelling just to yell. Screaming at a player in a game might very well result in a goal or even a win for a team, but is that player learning how to motivate herself? Is she playing for herself and her team or is she playing just to please the coach/parents? Does she have the opportunity to solve problems on her own and learn from the game? Is the team truly working together on the field – staying engaged, reading the game and moving for each other – or are they just reacting to the yelling?
I read a lot of coach’s biographies and one idea that has stuck with me came from Phil Jackson’s Sacred Hoops. I don’t want us to hide that we’re competitive and that we care about winning, but we can also show our players and teams that we believe in them. We can let them play.
“When players practice what is known as mindfulness – simply paying attention to what is happening –not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned with each other. And the joy they experience working in harmony is a powerful motivating force that comes deep from within, not from some frenzied coach pacing along the sidelines, shouting obscenities into the air” – Phil Jackson
“VISA – It is everywhere you want to be!”
By Dan McAllister
Vision – The speed at which a player can play the game determines the level at which every player will be able to play at. There are four types of speed in soccer:
- Physical Speed
- Technical Speed
- Tactical Speed
- Mental Speed
Vision is the prerequisite for Tactical Speed and Mental Speed. The ability to see the game as it develops, anticipate things before they develop, and create things so they develop are paramount to the highest quality of play. Vision is partly acquired at birth, it is God-given. However, players can develop excellent habits in their training in order to maximize complete development of Vision for the game. The vast majority of players are “Ball-Watchers” and simply do not see the game. Players need to be acutely aware of this fact and constantly focus themselves on watching the game, not the ball.
Intelligence – The intelligent player can analyze the game as it happens and determine a variety of scenarios that are likely to result. A famous quote from the “Wall of Fame” at the world renowned Liverpool Academy asks the question: “How good of a player are you, when you don’t have the ball?” Soccer intelligence does not simply happen! Players must be students of the game. They need to study different systems of play, styles of play and when/how to apply them, tactical options, and become masters at identifying key players and key faults of their opponents. They must also develop an acute ability to predict play. They need to understand that the game is a game of opposite’s and their reaction to opponents play should be easy to predict, and easy to counter. Understanding when to press a team, when to low-pressure or high-pressure, when to overload a side and then sneak someone in the backdoor, and on and on it goes. Many games have been won or lost because of the presence of soccer intelligence, or lack of it.
Skill – Technical ability at speed and under pressure are critical to players ability to advance their game. Far too many players either are unwilling to work hard enough and/or often enough on their skills development, or they concentrate on the more flashy kinds of skills not commonly used in the game, specifically at pace and under the intense pressure of a quality defender. This is one of the most controllable elements a player can improve in, yet difficult to convince players of the necessity of hours of repetition on the games more basic skills.
Attitude – Attitude includes important elements, such as coach-ability, mental toughness, positive team attitude, respect for coaches, teammates, and officials, commitment to individual and collective improvement, training focus, and relentless work-rate. This kind of attitude, while last in our acronym, is the fuel that drives the other three. Coaches looking for players who can “make it” will always want to seek these characteristics first in a player, because without them, the others will never develop to the level desired.
A Message from our Boys DOC
Jeff Merritt, Boys
September of 2012
Successful youth soccer clubs have a proven track record of player development. The players in the club are given the proper training, are provided with a stimulating soccer culture and are given opportunities to play at higher and higher levels. The Michigan Fire Juniors, as stated in my last message, is committed to providing a systematic developmental program for all of its players. This program will involve an emphasis on Coerver Method, outstanding technical and tactical training, a winter training program for all teams, and opportunities to play at the next level.
All of our coaches have been prepared to train their players in the Coerver Method. For those who don’t know, Coerver Method is a systematic approach to technical skill developed by Weil Coerver, the former Technical Director of the Royal Dutch Football Federation. After the 1970 World Cup and the dramatic display of superior skill from the Brazilian team, Coerver set out to duplicate that level of skill in the Dutch player. He went about this task by spending two years observing the Brazilians and their training methods and then he created a systematic method for training Dutch players subsequently called the “Coerver Method.” Others have tried to copy this method and give it their own shiny new cover, but the fact is that the entire world develops its players with this method. As you observe the Fire coaches conducting training, you should see a good portion of the training dedicated to Coerver Method for all ages 12 and below. Great care and attention should be paid by our coaches to developing dribblers and players who are at ease taking on defenders 1v1 (tactical). The Coerver Method provides players with the skills needed to become dribblers and 1v1 stars.
Another tool that was discovered, as the Brazilian method of training was dissected, was futsal training. If you are not familiar with futsal, it is a small sided version of soccer played on a hard court with a low bounce ball. The game itself is, perhaps, the greatest tool we know of for developing skillful soccer players. In a recent announcement from the United States Soccer Federation, they will be expanding their National Academy Soccer Program to include U13-14 boys. The centerpiece of academy training at that age will be a winter futsal program. As the fall season comes to an end, our attention will turn to winter training, and futsal training will be our centerpiece as well. We are hoping to begin training in January and immerse ourselves in the futsal world for the three months that follow leading up to the spring season.
Finally, it is well known that the path to growth as a soccer player (or any other endeavor) is to continually stretch oneself as a player by playing at a higher and higher level. Until now, it appears as though there has not been an emphasis in the past on the value of playing Premier soccer. This, I believe, was a significant error. Premier soccer is a higher level of soccer than select soccer and it is a gatekeeper program for any player who aspires to play at a high level be it Olympic Development soccer, college, professional, or national team soccer. Any player who is serious about the game must eventually take that next step at the U13 level. At the U12 and under levels, the key as a club, is to place teams in divisions where our players will be stretched. This means, perhaps, a division where they will win only half of their games. If we are losing all of our games the division may be too competitive for that particular group of kids, and if we are winning all of our games the division may not be competitive enough. In the end, as a club, we will continue to take great care in how we make these decisions so that our players will continue to grow as players.
As I observe our coaches training sessions, and as I think ahead to the potential of this club, I truly believe we are heading in the right direction. It will take time and patience for us to become a top club, but we are on our way.
Technical Precision becomes Key!
Dan McAllister, Club Technical Director
September of 2012
Technical Skills are the foundation for every player and are likely the biggest single area that will affect every player's opportunities to advance throughout their career. Technical proficiency is an ongoing process of first learning the proper technique of a skill, then the much longer process of perfecting it. In an article by John Rennie from Duke University entitled "Taking it to the Next Level", John writes: "I view skill as receiving and playing balls under the pressure of defending players. A player must demonstrate skill under pressure in order to play at the collegiate level. Success or failure in this situation determines further evaluation." WOW!! If you CAN play with skill under pressure, then you have a chance for further evaluation. If you CANNOT play with skill under pressure....WOW! Players must be constantly working on technical precision, or what I like to call "Ball Mastery."
The Michigan Fire Juniors, through the curriculum and guidance of the Chicago Fire organization, are committed to the technical training of our players. As the Technical Director, I have spent much of the past two decades studying what so many successful professional clubs are doing to develop their youth players. I have had first hand exposure to our own Olympic Development Program at the state, regional and national level and have paid very close attention to what our national team coaches are asking us at the youth level to focus on and why. I have had in depth exposure to some of the world's most renowned youth development programs such as the Liverpool Academy. A huge amount of their focus is technical development.
Many of our US players do not get the opportunity to advance to the next level because of the inability to play technically fast with technical precision to match. Recently, my Cornerstone University Women's Soccer Team played the Haiti National Team. In assessing the play of their national team players, we determined that in virtually every element of the game, the Haitians were "faster" than most of our players. Their technical "speed" allowed them to maintain possession under our fierce pressure, dictate the flow of their attack without hindrance from us, and control the ball more than we were able to.
Another important element of skill development is the focus on ball mastery of the basic skills, as opposed to the entertaining "tricks" with the ball that we all enjoy watching. While these are fun to learn, they typically have little to no application in the game, and even when they are attempted in a game, they rarely do anything to positively affect the game. The most dangerous element in the game of soccer is Speed. However, it is not simply physical speed of the players that affect the game. Technical Speed, Mental Speed, Tactical Speed, and Vision are the key contributors to overall speed of play.
Our focus at the Michigan Fire Juniors in terms of technical development will be the foundation of our overall philosophy of Player Development. This year, with our U10, U11, and U12 teams (boys and girls) we are offering an in-season supplementary Technical Training session each week in order to further develop these young players' technical skills. We have developed a skills monitoring program where we will offer testing at least 3 times per year in 21 different skills to any of these players who choose to participate. We believe this will give every player a good measure of where they are in terms of technical skills, an ongoing measurement of improvement, and a central focus on the most prominent skills the game demands from our players. We have also developed a "Skills Workout" package which is available on the Michigan Fire Juniors website under Technical Training. All of these resources are openly available to all MFJ's players, regardless of age or ability, and all players and parents are encouraged to use them in their own development..
If you want to see someone special in terms of mastery of the ball, check out Messi here!
Leading the Evolution in Youth Soccer
Jeff Merritt, Boys DOC
August of 2012
As we enter our first season as the Michigan Fire Juniors, the Soccer Leadership Team will be working to offer you, the parents, and your children an outstanding soccer experience. With that said, we realize that there will always be some areas where we don't get things quite right, but our goal is to get close. To be an outstanding club we, as a leadership team, will be focusing our attention in the year ahead on the three pillars of successful clubs. The pillars are player development, education, and management.
Coaching & Poaching
Dan McAllister - Technical Director for the Club
May of 2012
It is truly an exciting time at the Rangers, soon to be renamed the Michigan Fire Juniors. With the affiliation to the Chicago Fire Juniors program, we become part of over 6,000 children playing around the United States under the banner of the Chicago Fire Juniors. So what's so exciting about that? Tons! Far too much to fully present or to absorb, but here are a few highlights.
The Chicago Fire Juniors Player Pyramid of Player Development has been a guiding model for the CFJ's programs since their inception. The reality of that model is now in full bloom, and the future for players throughout the nine affiliated clubs is now real.
Chicago Fire Staff Coaching options allows CFJ's clubs the option to hire coaches from Europe who have been fully profiled and confirmed by the Chicago Fire in terms of experience and credentials. These coaches, of which our Michigan Fire Juniors will employ two this fall, possess extensive coaching experience, exposure to arguably some of the best youth coaching academies and models in the world, and are committed to the Chicago Fire curriculum, philosophy, and player development mandates.
Player advancement for the better players within all CFJ's clubs is evident in many ways such as their Fire ID Camps where these players are invited to attend, train, and prepare for one of two Fire college showcase events planned for August, 2012. This is available for both boys and girls. The Emerging Talent Program offer several layers of opportunity for CFJ's players to excel beyond their own club with the Club Talent Schools, Regional Talent Schools, Elite Performance Centers, and the National Talent Center. In addition to these very exciting programs, CFJ's recently announced an unprecedented program for US players in their fully funded Youth Academy Residential Programs.
Coaching education, the Fire "Branding" where the use of common curriculum, philosophy and resources will bring continuity within our club, and coaching mandates such as ongoing player evaluations so all players know what to be working and focusing on, will continue to make coaching a central focus for the MFJ's programs. The Chicago Fire are truly leading the evolution of youth soccer in America, and I for one, am truly excited to be a part of it, and to see it coming full speed into West Michigan.
And then, there is the other side of my article title, poaching. For those less familiar with this word, basically going after players from another team or club, including asking players and/or parents to leave a club in order to go to another club is poaching, and there are strict rules against such activity. I currently coach at two different clubs and it would be illegal, not to mention unethical for me to ask, encourage, expect or in any way promote those players/parents to come to the Michigan Fire Juniors. I have chosen to make the move to the Michigan Fire Juniors for many of the reasons listed in the opening part of my article. I believe this is an amazing program from the Chicago Fire, and I want to be a part of it. However, I have not and will not talk with my players or parents from either team from the two other clubs I currently coach about making the change to the MFJ's. That was my decision, and they should make their decision completely without any input from me.
While I know this kind of illegal activity does go on in the soccer community, I have never wanted my reputation to be tarnished by choosing to join in practices I know are clearly wrong. I encourage players and parents to call anyone out who is "recruiting" you to another team or club. I realize parents will talk about each others thoughts or plans for next year. But to have coaches from other clubs, or perhaps worse yet from within a club who currently employs them as a coach recruiting players to move, is simply wrong. Many resort to making promises or "selling" players/parents on just about anything in order to "make the sale." Do your own independent due diligence as you search out your options. Verify what you are being told about the team or club. Realize that coaches recruiting teams such as yours may be just as capable of recruiting players to replace your child even if he/she is telling you "you're in." What if you show up for tryouts and find out there are more players that coach "invited/recruited" and now your child is not asked to play? Do you really have reason to trust someone who is willing to break the rules on poaching, that he/she will always act in your child's best interest? Is that person displaying the kind of character elements you hope your son/daughter will adapt into adulthood? As for me? I like my eggs poached, but not my players.
Choosing where you want your child to play is your decision. I realize that not everyone will find the Michigan Fire Juniors to be the right place for them. I hope they will make that decision for personally legitimate reasons and not by false pretenses presented by others. I believe in the historically earned reputation of the Georgetown Rangers, the Chicago Fire Juniors Program, and the newly appointed Soccer Leadership team I am privileged to work with at the Michigan Fire Juniors. In terms of player development, person development, and the upward mobility through the player development pyramid for players to advance, it is just like the 4th of July. The FIRE-Works!
Girls DOC Kristin Englehart Shares her Passion & Vision for the Club!
April of 2012
One of my main goals as the Girls Director of Coaching for the Michigan Fire Juniors is to have excellent communication between our players, families, coaches and club leaders. I have found this to be so important with the teams that I have coached over the years. When a coach communicates consistently and honestly with his/her player, the player feels empowered and encouraged to continue working. When a coach communicates well with his/her team, the team is more likely to achieve its goals and work toward a common vision. I am hoping that by sharing on a regular basis, I will be able to help our club feel like a larger team or family…so that we feel connected and inspired to achieve even more together.
I have been involved with the sport of soccer as a player, a spectator or as a coach for almost my entire life. I obviously love the sport and the thrill of competition. More importantly, though, I love what this sport teaches us. In soccer, in order to succeed as a player and as a team, character counts. Work ethic goes a long way. A positive attitude matters. Responding well to defeat and adversity is critical. Teamwork is hugely important. The game of soccer, with its unique mental and physical challenges and its dependency on a strong team effort, is an ideal medium through which young women can learn some of the most difficult and valuable lessons to be learned in life.
As the Girls DOC, I want to make certain that our girls’ program develops elite female soccer players and teams that win at the highest levels. More importantly, though, I believe in a girls’ program that focuses on the aforementioned values and develops the young woman behind the player. I believe it is absolutely essential that our club focuses on these values at every level of the game. It is not just about the MRL teams, the Premier teams or the most talented players in our club. Every member of our girls’ program will become a better version of herself by playing soccer for the Michigan Fire Juniors.
In short, my vision for the MFJ girls’ program is to ensure a meaningful experience for every player and every family at every level. With the Michigan Fire Juniors, you are more than just a number and this is more than just soccer.
Best of luck to you and your team in these first practices and games of the spring season! I look forward to meeting you and to seeing you on the soccer field. Go Rangers/Michigan Fire Juniors!!