Coaching to Win: Here’s how to do it at practice, even all winter long

WendyLeBolt-HeaderNow that the fall season is complete and winter weather is descending, it’s finally time for a holiday break, a time to recover and re-assess. After all, too much of anything, even a good thing, is not good for us. And if it’s not going well, it can be really, really bad for us.

If you could make a wish, maybe ask Santa Claus, for a few things for your team this year, what would they be? Come on, how hard can it be? The line to sit on his lap wraps around in three whole loops at the mall, and those kids have no problem telling Santa EXACTLY what they want for Christmas.

+READ: LeBolt: Are national team players born or made?

The USWNT trains at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. on Oct. 19, 2012. Photo by U.S. Soccer.

What about you? Go ahead. You’ve been good this year. What’s on your list? I’ll confess, here’s a snippet from mine:

  1. I’d like forgiveness from my family for all the time I have spent planning practices and coaching games, but not getting paid a cent.
  2. I’d like to be nominated for ‘coach of the year.’
  3. I’d like my team to win every game.

Can I ask for these? Heck yeah — everything can go on the Santa list. In fact, it feels kinda good to get this off my chest, because everything you read and hear these days chastises coaches who are “too much about the winning.” Develop the players, the college coaches say, and let us worry about the winning.

Honestly, I have a hard time with that; thank you, Santa, for helping me admit it. I do want to develop these players, but I also like to win. So, now that I’m rolling… Santa, if it’s not too much trouble, can you bring me:

  1. A forward with blazing speed.
  2. A striker who can send a half-volley into the upper 90 under pressure.
  3. Five players who never miss a PK. Make that 10.
  4. A center midfielder who wins balls in the air.
  5. Three players who can score from distance.
  6. An outside back who makes attacking runs.
  7. Two dogged defenders who never let opponents turn with the ball.
  8. A goalkeeper who doesn’t hesitate.

Sound like a winning team to you?  Just making my list has me thinking. I’ve got the winter season to develop this stuff.  Instead of workouts and “conditioning,” what if we spent quality time focused on:

  • Sprinting with good running form (Have them hold paper towel rolls in each hand to help them drive their arms and prevent upper body rotation.)
  • Half-volleys and quick strikes (Try the hop and volley drill.)
  • PK shootouts with intra-team competition (Practice the pressure.)
  • Partnered jumping with physical challenge (Jump balls with a soccer ball develop courage in the air and provide the opportunity to coach body position in the challenge.)
  • Ball strikes on target (Most inexperienced players are aiming “over there.” Everything done with the ball should have a target and an intention.)
  • Speed with the ball (Running suicides may build character, but they don’t make you any faster with the ball.)
  • 1v1s in a large space (Tight spaces develop technique. Larger spaces develop endurance and build patience.)
  • Steal the bacon (Really)
  • Imposed silence (That one’s for me. Too much verbiage will ruin a great practice plan every time.)

USMNT-Manaus-trainingSo, if winning is politically incorrect, training this stuff is totally socially acceptable. Nothing wrong with training to win. Then, on game day, they can just play for the fun of it. And when new players come inquiring and college coaches come looking, they’ll say, “How refreshing to find a youth coach who isn’t all wrapped up in the winning!” I’ll just smile sweetly and nod, like I’ve been practicing.

Who, me? Play to win? You betcha. I just do it during practice.

I’ll wait here for the coaching nominations to come rolling in. After all, I spent the winter developing my players so they could spend the spring winning. I deserve a little something in my stocking, don’t you think? I’ll probably have to rely on Santa to bring the forgiveness.