NSCAA Convention 2015 Blog

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We report from the largest coaching convention in the world, including interviews with the clinicians, details of sessions and whatever else is new in Philadelphia. Yes the turf/carpet really was grey! Were you there? If so comment below and we’ll add it to the write-up.

Thursday (January 15th) 

Scouting the Opponent at the Elite Professional Level – Joao Sacramento of AS Monaco

Joao walked through how Monaco prepare for their games by scouting the opponent the will play. He walked through the process from how they first look three weeks in advance, create a 30 minute video for the coach two weeks in advance then a 15 minute video for players a week in advance. Videos are heavily edited using advanced software and show a story of what the team do in five phases of the game (possession, transition to attack, transition to defense, defense, set pieces).  He showed examples of full reports that they write from watching games – including formations, tendencies of players, strengths and weaknesses, what they do on corners etc. Said that in the Premiership they tend to watch the most recent 15 corner kicks to establish what they will do. Goalkeeper coach there also is in charge of breaking down defending set pieces.

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Gave examples of how teams change though and “football is chaos” (andre villas boas) so you can’t prepare for everything. Marseilles under Bielsa play a different formation depending on how many strikers they are playing against. Teams with two strikers will face a back three from him, but teams with one will get a back four.

His main lesson was that everyone has a scouting department and can identify strengths and weaknesses. What makes them good though is creating a plan to exploit the situation. So they will work on specific moments in training to capitalize on the weakness they see in a particular opposition. For example, Benfica defend high but don’t pressure the opposing defenders in possession. So they worked on playing long balls over the top and having different players making runs into the space behind. They will work on getting players open in the middle or flanks depending on where they think they can exploit teams too.

Defensive Scenarios – Introduction to 11 Aside Game – Willie McNab of Glasgow Celtic

Next a field session from Celtic’s academy director Willie McNab, working on defensive shape from individual to group but helping young players make the leap to a back four in an 11v11 formation. Willie started with technical form of running backwards, adding in where to look, how to move, use of arms, “spooking” opponent with movement a the right moment, and how to correctly pivot. A nice transition was shuffling backwards then halfway across drop the shoulder and turn to sprint as if you were beaten over the top and needed to recover.

Willie talked about how Gary Neville recently said fullbacks need to “drop their ego” by at times allowing themselves to get beaten on the outside and recover to make predictable. How do they drop the correct shoulder and sprint to cover the ground as the ball gets in behind them.

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Transitioned to a 1v1 game but the grid was two triangles rather than the usual rectangle. Wide around the halfway line and narrow at the starting games. Encourage players to pressure high up where area is small and to their advantage. In numbers up or equal they must pressure the ball. When an attacker “shows light between the ball and their body” get in there. Talked about what to do if the attacker drops though also. It is all rules and understanding for players to learn rather than improvise. As a general rule, if the opposition sees the number on your back, you’re dead. Position yourself so they can’t see it. In a 2v1 find a way to be open to both, not turned back to one so they can wall pass around you.

Transitioned to game with goals and GKs with opposing teams of 3 playing 3v2. Defenders start with ball and give it away long, then have to transition to defend numbers down 3v2. Remaining defender who is out just stands on cone on halfway line waiting for them to become attackers in next phase. Drop your ego again and encourage the forward with the ball to take you on on the outside because it will make them predictable and easier for the two of you to defend as they are stuck only being able to cross it.

Final game added to be 5v5 with a back four and holding player. When they lose the ball the full backs recover to goal as first priority then team shape pressures together with holding player leading the way to pressuring the ball. Again the fullback on the far side has to keep so his number is not showing to the winger outside so that if a diagonal deep ball is played behind he is not easily beaten.

Willie would do this session for 5 weeks or more with a team so they begin to understand the rules and play in Celtic’s 4-2-3-1 system that they use for every team from U13 to first team.

Dynamic and Functional Technique – Finishing – Romeo Jozak, Croation Football Association

Romeo started with a discussion of whether the game is the best teacher or whether we should isolate situations. His opinion is that it is important to isolate and teach technical function rather than hoping players work it out themselves in the game. Young players need to isolate the technique and be corrected in order to improve so that they can then play in the game.

His session built around a central layout of two lines facing each other in the center of a large rectangle. Everything worked on one touch patterns combining strikers and later midfielders and other positions. Concepts started simple with two players passing, laying off and running with the ball at different diagonal angles, before practicing turning with the ball and laying passes off.

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Over time he added in more players and directions, but always focusing on players using the correct foot for their one touch pass and making the right turn for the situation. Players will hide their mistakes in games but in this environment they are forced to correct it and improve. The patterns were difficult for the players to understand at first but over time they got it and if this was something practiced every day it would be far more precise.

Eventually Romeo added in two center back defenders and built to 4v2 then 5v2 (with an outside fullback joining) to goal, working on specific combinations getting the ball wide after 2-4 passes and finishing as appropriate.

Dynamic Functional Technique – Structure and Analysis – Romeo Jozak, Croatian Federation

Following on from his field session, Romeo discussed passing and possession in a classroom session, looking at their importance and control over the outcome of the game. For example, in the Brazil 2014 World Cup, Croatia were low down in the total number of passes per game compared to other teams. Similarly Chelsea were way behind Barcelona in total passes when they beat them in the Champions’ League but the total didn’t directly control the result.

As a general rule, the more passes you have, the higher you finish in the league. For the Premier League in 2011-12 the top five passing teams all finished in the top 5-6, except for Swansea, who had the most passes but finished 11th. Swansea were top of the rankings for teams who passed backwards though and bottom of the ranking for passes into the attacking penalty area. Seems like it is more important to rate progressive passes than just passes anywhere. Croatia were 7th in progressive passes in the World Cup, despite being low in total passes. So passes in the attacking half of the field are really key.

Romeo talked about how in the US he gets questions about how to implement a 4-4-2 with a U9 team, which is wrong. People should focus on technique at a young age. The U16 team he had in the previous session struggled with technical functions that they should have mastered by 12-13. He said teams should be practicing 4-5 times per week at U9 to succeed, not the 2x that is common here.

He also talked about the process for receiving and passing the ball – how we often do the phases (perception, decision, control, action) in the wrong order, which causes delay and missed opportunity. Where you receive the pass dictates how much of the field you can see and, as such, how many options you have. Videos showed top class players receiving the ball facing the direction it came from and passing it right back, missing open options over their shoulder that they could have taken if they had opened to face forward. He recommended challenging players to open forward and have “eyes towards the depth” when possible.

Friday (January 16th)

Scoring Goals with Social Media – Jenna Sherlock, Jenna Communications

Unfortunately, choosing which sessions to go to at the convention can be relatively hit or miss when you haven’t had previous experience of the presenter. In this case what could have been a very important session was basically a big waste of time. The first 30 minutes were spent asking a couple of members of the audience what problems they had had, followed by a very quick run through a basic presentation and then a few more questions. The presenter didn’t seem to have experience with soccer or very much with current social media outlets (in particular she had no experience with Instagram or Snapchat). Her advice was to target teens on Facebook and mostly her answer to things was “you need to have fun with it” and “think outside the box” – neither of which were particularly helpful. She suggested several times posting a picture of your coffee cup in the morning, to humanize your feed. At this point we lost interest and decided to do our own research into the subject: –

According to Forbes, teenager use of Facebook declined from 75% in the spring of 2014 to 45% six months later. In its place, Instagram has increased to 76% from a position of not even existing two years ago. Kids leaving Facebook complained about the social burden placed on them and how many parents were getting involved. Should you want to target players and potential players we recommend targeting Instagram and Snapchat and looking to keep ahead of the curve for when these drop out of favor. Facebook is useful to target parents and Linkedin might be a good angle for potential sponsors and businesses. Twitter is limited in use because of its lack of pictures so many clubs will use it now for weather updates and links to Facebook stories rather than direct messaging.

Finally, in this presentation there was some talk about getting likes on the various platforms. We recommend not buying your likes because you tend to end up with pretend likes from bot farms in Asia, which will not give you any engagement. A better approach is to market outside of the internet in your local area, and through word of mouth among players and parents. Depending on your club philosophy you might be able to put in competitions and ask questions to make your posts interactive.

Crisis Management – Jacques Crevoisier, UEFA Technical Staff

After the garbage we saw in the previous hour, it made sense to learn how to deal with crisis when things don’t go according to the pre-made plans. Jacques is a great speaker who has been going to NSCAA conventions for several years. He is extremely well connected in Europe and his stories shed light on what actually goes on behind the scenes at professional clubs.

Discussion started with an assertion that football is 50% luck and 50% talent/skill. Jacques didn’t agree with the percentages but said luck does appear to have a decisive role at times. He gave a story of when he worked with Liverpool and they started the season 12 games without defeat. A draw or better at Middlesborough would have broken the record for the best ever start to a season at the time. They went to the game confident, played in terrible weather and in the last minute Gareth Southgate bundled in a corner with a foul on their goalkeeper, so they lost 1-0. It was 11 games before they won again. As a psychologist, Jacques didn’t know what do to but as fascinated by how quickly events can change for a team, based on one moment.

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Crisis in soccer comes from poor results, player rebellion, attacks from the media, board trouble, new owners, personal problems, supporter campaigns and loss of control. With so many factors it can be difficult to anticipate and be prepared for all of them. His advice was when it happens, don’t go crazy (same with winning or losing… treat them the same way). Take responsibility, stay positive, try to understand what happened, then allow for change.

Jacques gave a story of drinking red wine after games with Arsene Wenger of Arsenal. He said if they lost the atmosphere was definitely different (Arsene is renowned for not being the best loser!) but that after five minutes he had the capacity to shake it off and be positive, looking forward to the next game instead of dwelling on the defeat. We’ve read in other books that he takes longer to get over things but clearly with almost 20 years at the same club you need a strategy for dealing with things that keeps you level and able to keep going.

Interview with Romeo Jozak – We were lucky enough to get an interview with the Croatian Federation director – Romeo Jozak and will be posting it on the site in the next week or so.

Locating and Approaching Sponsors – Dave Brown, Whatcom Community College

Dave discussed how sponsorship can work for every club, if you have the resources to do the work required. Soccer in the US is high in public consciousness at the moment because of the men’s World Cup last year and women’s this year. Soccer families tend to have more income, be better educated and they are classed as consumers, which means they have lifestyle changes that vendors can take advantage of. The involvement includes parents, kids and grandparents too, which is attractive to businesses.

Dave talked about where funds can be applied and what you can attract sponsors to sponsor, and it was a very wide range – from websites to signage and clothing. This was all mostly common sense though. Next he got into the more important part, which was teaching us how to understand sponsors.

What is important is to realize that sponsors tend not to give things away without their own benefit. You need to create a strategic partnership that benefits both parties – WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). For the business it might enhancing sales, repairing or enhancing public image, boosting employee morale, or enhancing the image of the CEO or board.

One slide looked at which kinds of businesses are better to aim for, and that mostly meant ones you are connected to through club members or friends of club members, and specific sizes that aren’t too big or too small. The slide below shows the middle ones are roughly in what Dave called the sweet spot.

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He also outlined where to find businesses, through Linkedin, Facebook, business lists and other sources, and recommended finding out who your current members work for through there, and asking who their friends are at church groups and other activities outside of the club. Just remember that there is no cold calling success, do warm calls.

For the timing, he said most businesses set their budgets by January of each year but some do quarterly or more frequent allocations. Most gifts of more than 25,000 dollars are handled by national offices too, so you would need to apply there if you are aiming for large transactions.

Finally he outlined important terms to know, like CPM (Cost Per Thousand), Psychographics, Premiums etc that will help you speak the language of the industry.

Building out of the back using a back four vs a well organized opponent. Bernd Stroeber – German National Youth Team Coach and UEFA Instructor. 

Bernd ran a session with the same Union Academy players Romeo used yesterday and had similar problems with their intensity and following instructions. The session itself was slow paced and the first 20 minutes were just the warm up of players moving and passing in groups, working on the power of the pass and the direction of the first touch. His reasoning was that exercises aren’t important – the advice that you give players is key.

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He progressed to a flat back four across the field, passing and receiving a ball along the line. He worked on again the first touch and the quality of the pass, and had some trouble with the limited space in the convention center and the players on the field. This progressed to adding in passive opponents then he said he would have added midfielders on both teams if there was more space.

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