1. Be humble and willing to learn.
Most players are churned out of cookie cutter youth teams designed to take a teenager and instill a minimum of skills and discipline necessary to function as a member of a team. Don’t assume that any sort of training in any sort of team is proof of soccer competence.
2. The team is everything.
No matter how good you are as an individual, if you are a poor team member then you make the team worse. Your teammates are vital to your success and you to theirs. Your individual skills are only as important as they apply to making the team better. Great teams focus on the fundamentals, over and over again.  Being the best team is what makes you competitive. I’ve seen great individuals fail to make an even halfway decent team, and a set of misfits pull together, put in the time, and succeed as a group where they all should have failed.
3. Your impact.
Your individual skills and fitness matter.  If you are unfit you need to work harder, and smarter, to get better. How you pass, move, defend, communicate, and behave determine your worth to a team.
4.  Be flexible.
You are expected to play a position your coach believes will help the team perform at its best, and where you want to play isn’t even part of the picture. Get used to being able to play in more than one position and start thinking creatively about how you are going to make your team better.
5.  Perform under pressure.
The measure of a person, team, is how they handle themselves when they find themselves 0-2 down with 15 minutes to go. This is where good teams play with composure like they’ve trained what they are going to do, and bad teams will panic.
6.  Be positive.
You have a right to complain but don’t abuse the privilege. The best team you’ve ever been on is still going to have stuff to gripe about. If you have the energy to gripe, you have the energy to do something constructive.
7.  Trust your coaches.
You don’t see the bigger picture, and just because you naturally take charge doesn’t mean you have the skills, wisdom, or experience to lead well. If you don’t trust your coaches, find a different team.

Euro 2013 final prediction

Germany 2-0 Norway

Euro semi-finals predictions

Sweden 1:2 Germany, Norway 1:0 Denmark

Euro quarter-finals predictions

Sweden 4-0 Iceland, Germany 3-0 Italy, Norway 2-1 Spain, France 5-0 Denmark

Even Pellerud

Watching Norway’s performances in Sweden I cant help but be impressed with how shrewd Even Pellerud is. I have observed over the years, a top coach with a proven record of success, is often the critical variable to a team winning or losing a match or a tournament.
One of my mentors liked to say, and by no means were his comments original, that “there was one way to win and one hundred ways to lose a match”. The best coaches understand this simple truth and make more good decisions at the critical time in a match than their less successful counterparts.
I’m not saying that teams playing far above their competitive level will win because of the coach. What I believe is good coaches instinctively make better decisions during preparation and during a match and have innate skills to better communicate with the team than others. They have a knack for putting their team in a position to win by better anticipating the opportunity and taking action at the right time.
While that’s hardly scientific, I believe that a coach accounts for 25 percent of a team’s performance on any given day: He/she can’t do much with a lousy team, but he/she can help a good team win close encounters.
The best coaches know their players and team’s strengths and weaknesses. Some teams are better suited to play on the break, while others are better at pressing the whole time. Some players/teams are comfortable in pressure situations and can pass their way out, while others need more space and have to play long. A coach takes these factors into account and formulates/adjusts his/her tactics/strategy accordingly.
It goes without saying that good coaches also research the competition. They review videos, seek updates on their opponents performances then form tournament strategy and match tactics.
Finally, the best coaches understand their teams —they know how to keep teams motivated and calm, and get the best out of them in tense situations.

Dynamic Response Training

For many youth players training is the most difficult thing. Everyone wants to play, but not everyone wants to train.
The goal of training, one would think, is to make correct, effective soccer techniques a matter of reflex, so that players react correctly and effectively in match situations.
Competence, as the saying goes, leads to confidence.

Most players will perform under stress at about 50 to 60% as well as they do in training…and that is if they deliberately train 2-3 hours every day! If they only train 2-3 days a week that performance level decreases dramatically. Shooting, dribbling, passing communicating, organizing under stress and pressure are very perishable skills. Additionally players tend to practice and acquire the wrong stuff inadvertently. I put this in the classification of “practicing losing” but that is a topic for another day.
Practicing Dynamic Response means practicing under pressure. Physical pressure can be added by having, for example, forwards train regularly with weight vets/resistance bands while doing finishing exercises. Distracting noises during finishing exercises can also simulate psychological stress experienced during matches. Circumstances in a stress filled match are unpredictable and the more unpredictability coaches mix up into training the more player’ brain will be preparing itself for a real thing.

In real life, there are dozens of modifiers which impact the match circumstance, most not under your control.
Under all stressful situations players will absolutely revert to their training: the best players operate on complete autopilot. Their movement, technique, communication, execution are dynamic responses without ever consciously thinking about it.
Train, train, train and induce stress in all training.

Happy New Year Haiti!

Happy New Year Haiti WNT!
Compared to other nations, we lack in resources. Human, financial, technological. That’s our reality.
We don’t have to like reality…just accept it and overcome it.
Technological, scientific and tactical advances in women’s football should never be underestimated. The advancements of the last 5-10 years are impressive. A technology and scientific advantages cannot be overcome by someone who does not respect its capability. We have to respect our opponents, their strengths and advantages. That said, in the end, titles are not won and qualifications achieved with shiny gadgets alone. In the end, all competitions are decided by a primary driver; force of will.
Who has the strength of spirit to endure the longest? Who has the intelligence to outwit the technology and opponents. Who knows exactly what they are playing for and why? These questions decide triumphs, not analytical software, computers and resources.
Force of will. Wearing down the opposition. A Manchester United great Roy Keane called it the Law of Cumulation. “First tackle, first pass, first touch, everything counts. A lot of little things add up to the thing that matters: breaking the opposition’s hearts – but first their minds, their collective mind.”
No game is unwinnable, no qualification impossible. But you have to know the odds, prepare accordingly and be prudent.
In the past we have tasted defeat but defeat is a teacher. It shows what we are made of. It demonstrates whether we have what it takes to improve and to win. If we fail the tests of defeat, then we shall never be worthy of victory.
Force of will.
Happy New Year!

2012 Awards

While national team coaches and captains vote for the FIFA Player and Coach of the Year, this year I focus on best of everything else related to the women’s game.
My picks.
Top forward – Christine Sinclair, Canada.
She is a finisher and no other forward in the world is as important to her team as Sinclair and her goals are to Canada.
Top midfielder – Homare Sawa, INAC Kobe Leonessa/Japan.
Sawa just maybe the best all around midfielder of all time.
Top defender – Saki Kumagai, FFC Frankfurt/Japan.
Reads the game well, good tackler, one of the best if not the best passing center back in the women’s game.
Top goalkeeper – Hope Solo, USA.
It is difficult to identify another goalkeeper with Solo’s combination of athleticism, confidence and ability.
Most marketable – Alex Morgan, USA.
She will be bigger commercially than Hamm.
Most influential – Abby Wambach, USA.
Unmatched leadership and attitude.
Top team – Olympique Lyonnais, France.
Olympique’s commitment to sporting and commercial success, their performances and results are unmatched.
Top referee – Bibiana Steinhaus, Germany.
Despite ignoring a clear handball in the Olympic final Steinhaus is the standard.
Best FA – DFB, Germany.
Is there any other FA as committed to women’s football at grassroots, professional and international levels as the DFB? No.
Top TV network – Eurosport
Good coverage of the women’s game at all levels.

Women’s football keeps growing

Watching the Euro 2013 playoffs, one gets an indication that the technical and tactical sophistication of previously marginal teams such as Austria, Scotland, Iceland and others is growing. The work done with small player pools available in these countries is impressive.
Spain, which qualified over Scotland, looks to have loads of talent at the senior level. Coupled with their successes in the UEFA Women’s Under-17 Championship in 2010 and 2011, as well as their third place finish at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, it is apparent that when Spanish FA really decides to support the women’s game, it will only be a short time before Spain’s women duplicate their male counterpart’s international achievements.
Seeing the progress made in Europe by women with only a tiny fraction of the incentives their male counterparts routinely have, makes one wonder how far they would be if they received half or even a third of that level of attention.

The next two years, I believe, we will see women’s football transition into a third cycle of international development of the game.
Prior to the FIFA’s 1991 establishment of the Women’s World Cup, several unofficial world tournaments took place in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is 1991 that most fans of the game recognize as the beginning of the modern women’s game.
The growth of the game since 1991 is marked by three distinct cycles.
1991 – 2002 is marked by USA dominance and only minimal investment in women’s football by most national FAs.
2003 – 2013 is marked by increasing investment in the game, especially by UEFA member nations, narrowing the gap between the USA and other countries.
2014 – on, and specifically 2013 and 2014, I believe will be characterized by a growing competitiveness of the UEFA (aided by growth in the competitiveness, popularity and stature of UEFA WCL) and AFC member nations. These two years will bring the game closer to parity among the top tier nations.
There is a tremendous latent potential in South America, but it will require focused investment by CONMEBOL members to be unleashed.
The Caribbean and Central American regions have been very late in developing the game and are now playing catch up. Talent is there but the infrastructure required to move forward in big steps needs attention and focus.
Oceania is destined to be dominated by New Zealand for a long time.
The African women’s game finds itself where the men’s game was 20 years ago: an abundance of raw individual talent, still needing leadership and a better collective approach. However, as more and more Africans find their way to European leagues, their collective performances will improve.

There are clear challenges ahead when it comes to women’s football. Investment in women’s sport lags behind men’s and as little as two per cent of sports media coverage is devoted to the sport.
Attracting fans and media attention can only be achieved by having an exciting product with technically and tactically proficient players entertaining stadium goers and television audiences. To that end both UEFA and AFC member associations lead the way.

Growing women’s football in the CONCACAF region

With changes in the CONCACAF leadership afoot, an opportunity exists for the new President to present and implement a new vision for the game in the region. From 23 May, the new CONCACAF leader will have a rare opportunity to capitalize on the dormant, yet growing potential of women’s football in the Caribbean Football Union member nations as well as in Central America.
Traveling in the Caribbean in the last 2 years I have seen first hand the passion, commitment and individual talents demonstrated by many involved in the women’s game and the enormous obstacles faced by them to compete on equal footing with the US, Canada and Mexico.
With a virtual lock on WWC and Olympic places the three countries have been reluctant to help develop the game regionally and are unlikely to do so in the future.
The US in particular appears unlikely to actively participate in any efforts to develop the game as it tries to maintain its regional hegemony.
Any and all initiatives to take the game forward in the CONCACAF will have to be envisioned, presented and implemented by the Caribbean Football Union and Central American countries.
Improving competitive regional opportunities for players and clubs is a must. Referee and administrator training must follow.
Creation of a regional women’s club champions league would go a long way in aiding both objectives. The opportunity to compete against top regional opponents aids in development of players, coaches, officials and administrators. Improvements in referee training, media relationships, marketing must be high on the agenda.
As it is unlikely that near-term the US would be interested in such developments the burden of leadership will fall on Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica and T&T.
With total population of nearly 40M the future of Caribbean women’s football is bright.