The Corona Effect - Part One
Updated: Apr 14
The current Corona Virus pandemic is a leveler, a brake and an exposer. The virus knows no borders and has stopped commerce and social constructs with frightening and neck-snapping speed. It has exposed the fragility of our societies, the frailty of our economies and our collective failure to prepare when preparation has long been possible. Tragically, thousands have died. More will die in the coming days and weeks. And as we shelter at home, hoping to return to a normal routine that really will never return in the same form, the most important thing we can do is recognize what has been exposed and fix it.
When the tide goes out, we see who's been swimming naked. - Warren Buffet
Like every industry, global football is not immune from this crisis. We are shut down. We've been forced to find new ways to connect with our players, sustain our clubs and organizations and remain relevant. The tide has gone out for us as well, and it has exposed many things - some good, but many bad. The bad things need to be fixed now. Over these past few weeks I have been in contact with many club leaders and coaches from professional clubs and youth clubs all over the country and around the world. We have been sharing ideas, observations and frustrations. We are collaborating and commiserating as we try to help each other today and plan for the day when we return to the field.
These conversations have been illuminating, humbling and motivational, but mainly humbling. We have been forced to confront the fact that many of the difficulties we are experiencing now so acutely, are things we've known about for a long time but failed to address. In this series of posts, I'll explore a few things that once were masked, but are now exposed due to the "Corona Effect" - some good, some bad. Hopefully, putting these issues on the table and confronting them, sometimes very directly and bluntly, will spark an even deeper conversation about what must change in order to improve the quality of youth soccer in the United States.
EXPOSED: Technologically Challenged Coaches
Social distancing and "stay at home" orders had an immediate effect on all soccer clubs. A collective sport was instantly reduced to a virtual existence dependent on technology to avoid isolation. Coaches quickly needed to find ways to keep young players engaged, connected and fit. Zoom video conferencing for team meetings, Youtube videos for technical training, watch parties for film study - these have quickly become daily tools for the proactive, educated and technology-fluent football coach. The importance of technology-fluent soccer coaches seems so obvious now. The technology-challenged coach is painfully spotlighted. We know who they are and they are totally lost. How did we not see it before? How did we not see that being proficient in the use of technology is such a critical job skill for a soccer coach. The reality is that we did see it, but we let it go. Non-pandemic times gave us the luxury of not dealing with that tech-challenged coach. We gave them a pass. We could afford to give them a pass. Now?
If you are not a tech-savvy coach, you've been exposed. You need to be honest about it and stop denying it. You need to accept it like the first step in a very important 12-step program. You've been avoiding it for years, relying on others as a crutch to get you by. Maybe you thought being a former pro or college player was enough or should be enough. Maybe you thought having a cell phone was enough tech. Or maybe you created a comforting illusion in your mind that real soccer coaches don't need technology to be good coaches. Well, you are wrong and you've been exposed in just a few short days of ”stay at home”. Now, what are you going to do about it? Seriously!
You can pretend no one has noticed your technological inadequacies. Believe me, we've noticed. It's pretty obvious. And don't tell me you don't have time. You are being forced to stay home! You've got nothing BUT time. Now is the time to learn! When we get back to the field, we won't forget. We won't forget that you were not able to use technology to communicate with your team and maintain a connection with them. We won't forget that you weren't able to use technology to create ways for your players to remain fit and engaged while staying at home. We won't forget that you don’t know how to connect a computer to Wi-Fi, upload and download files, work with a club intranet or create proper training session plans with software. We won't forget that you don't know how to film a match or training session, conduct a proper film review on your own or use technology to record important metrics from your player's training sessions and matches and communicate that data to your players.
If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more.- General Eric Shinseki
The youth soccer coach who is not comfortable with technology as a core coaching skill is irrelevant. I'm not pulling any punches here. Let that sink in a bit. If that's you, then you are irrelevant or soon will be. Maybe in the past you could skate by and fake it, but no more. The world and your entire youth soccer club operates on a technological level that is changing constantly and that you must constantly match. If you can't do it, you will be left behind. The Corona Effect has proven it.
You need more than just email, basic computer skills and a social media account. The modern soccer coach fluidly uses an expanding range of technology for communication, scheduling, filming, video analysis, performance data analysis, session planning, exercise diagramming, information sharing and consumption, video conferencing, online education and that's not even scratching the surface of it.
Let's examine a typical week in the life of a competent youth soccer coach in 2020 working in a high performance youth club environment:
Friday - Your team is playing tomorrow. You're ready. Your team is ready. You've reviewed match film from last week's game, used that film study to plan your training sessions for the week, created solid electronic training session plans and uploaded them to your club's intranet for review by your club's Technical Director, and all of your training sessions have been organized and effective. You've even collected important performance data on your players during the training sessions so you know their fitness levels and workloads. Now you need to create your lineups. You use BCoach to keep track of your players and lineups so you are ahead of the game. In no time flat you have the lineups and system ready.
You pull out your iPhone and quickly scan TeamSnap. All your players have RSVP'd and confirmed their availability for the game, except for one. You quickly fire off a Direct Chat message on TeamSnap to the player's parents to make sure the player will be there. You scan the team chat thread and see there is some confusion about the uniform for tomorrow's game. You quickly send a text to everyone confirming the uniform color. But how was everyone confused? You switch over to the TeamSnap event for the game and notice the uniform color was not specified. Time to fix it! You click to edit the event for the game and enter the uniform color. You mentally remind yourself to review all the future game entries to make sure that vital bit of information isn't omitted again. And yes, you do this all yourself without calling another coach, your parent volunteer or your DOC. You're tech-savvy. You've got this!
Now everything is ready, right? Have you charged the Veo camera you'll need to film the game tomorrow? No? Let's plug it in now. And what about the Playermaker system? Is that all charged up and ready to go? Get that one plugged in quickly.
Anything else? Check your emails and text messages for last minute updates from players, parents, your DOC or the league.
Alright, you're ready to go.
Saturday - Match Day! You arrive at the field one hour before the match and quickly set up the Veo camera, all by yourself. Yeah, all by yourself. Good thing you remembered to charge the camera the night before! You set up the tower, attach the camera, turn it on and then connect your mobile phone to the camera's Wi-Fi network. Yeah, all by yourself. Then you raise the tower to the right height and start organizing your warmup.
You've got your iPhone handy so you can keep monitoring TeamSnap. All players are confirmed and everything looks good.
Now you get the Playermaker system set up and ready for your players to put on once they arrive. Good thing you charged this up the night before as well! All the players have their sensors on and are ready to go.
Once the warmups are completed, you review the starting lineup with your players, to go over some tactical instructions you've diagrammed on BCoach. Just before your players take the field you remember to turn on the Veo camera to start recording. Now you can focus on the match. You quickly press the button on your phone: "Hey Siri, set a timer for 45 minutes." Siri replies politely that your timer is set. The referee blows the whistle and the match begins.
After the game, you quickly open the Veo app on your phone and stop the camera recording. Now you can focus on your team and your post-team talk. Afterward, you have each player remove their Playermaker sensor to the case. Once the players have left, you quickly connect the Playermaker to your iPhone's Personal Hotspot so the data can be uploaded to the Cloud (you know what that is, right?). Now its time to take down the Veo camera, pack everything up and head home.
Once home, you connect the Veo camera to your home's internet service and upload the game recording to Veo for analysis. After a few hours, the recording is ready for you. You remember to publish the finished video so your players can log in and watch the footage.
Next, you quickly download the video to your computer so you can upload it to Hudl for analysis. Your club uses Hudl and the Hudl Assist service to get detailed breakdowns of games. You then upload the video file and send it to Hudl Assist.
You check email quickly and see you've received an email from Playermaker confirming they've completed their analysis of your players' Key Performance Indicators (KPI). You log in to the Playermaker website to review the data. It all looks good so you download the individual performance reports to send to each player via email.
Now you can rest a bit. Wait! Who's reporting the match score to the league's website? You or your team manager? If that's your job, you'd better get on it. If someone else is doing it, you need to follow up to make sure it gets done.
OK, now you can rest.
Sunday - Your team is resting but you've got work to do. It's time to analyze the game film. Hudl Assist has completed its work so you have everything you need. You take a look at the Box Score and send it to your players via Hudl.
Now you settle in for the detailed film review. You'll be reviewing the film with your team on Monday in a Zoom video conference, so you've got to be ready. You watch it entirely a couple of times to mark important moments.
After a few hours, you've figured out areas your team needs to focus on in next week's training sessions. You've made digital annotations on the film to call out important moments of the game.
Next, you log into your club's intranet so you can review the Club's published Curriculum and Training Methodology. (What do you mean your club does not have a published Curriculum and Training Methodology available 24/7 to all coaches online??!!) You open an Excel file containing the Club's training session plan template so you can create your session plans for the week. Your team has two training sessions this week, so two session plans need to be created. And while you're at it, your Weekly and Monthly Plans need to be updated.
You've got an idea for a great exercise so you decide to create it. You can use BCoach, but you're also pretty good with TacticalPad so you decide to work with that application. You quickly diagram a few rondos and positional games and save the finished files to your computer so you can quickly add them to your session plans.
Once your Excel session plans are finished, you save them to your computer and upload copies to the Club's intranet so the Technical Director can review them.
Monday - No training today, just film study. You've got a Zoom video conference scheduled at 4pm with your team to review yesterday's match film. You've scheduled the meeting and sent all the log-in instructions to your players and created a TeamSnap event for your team with all the important details, so now you need to select all the game moments you want to show the team and get everything ready to go. You start the meeting with a short welcome, tell them what you'll be focusing on in your review and then "share your screen" so you can walk the players through footage. With all this behind you, the team is ready to go for the coming week of training.
Before you turn in for the night, you remember to plug in the Playermaker system so its charged up and ready to go for tomorrow.
Tuesday - Training Session! A quick check of TeamSnap confirms that all players have RSVP'd that they are attending. Before your players arrive, you set up your field and get your Playermaker system ready for when the players arrive. The training session is on-point because you were prepared. When training ends, you have each player remove their Playermaker sensor to the case. Once the players have left, you quickly connect the Playermaker to your iPhone's Personal Hotspot so the data can be uploaded.
About an hour later you receive an email from Playermaker confirming the data from today's session is ready. You log in to the Playermaker website to review the data. It all looks good so you quickly download the individual performance reports to send to each player.
Wednesday - No training today, but you want to spend some time reading through the Club's Curriculum and Training Methodology. You know these online tools are there for you to access easily, so you dive in and read all you can.
Thursday - Training session! Your session plan is ready and you are prepared. TeamSnap shows all players attending so that's taken care of. Your session plan is printed and you also have a PDF on your phone. The players start arriving and you have the Playermaker system ready. The players strap on their sensors and the session begins. Once again, when training ends, you have each player remove their Playermaker sensors to the case and once the players have left you quickly connect the Playermaker to your iPhone's Personal Hotspot so the data can be uploaded to the Cloud.
About an hour later you receive an email from Playermaker confirming the data from today's session is ready. You log in to the Playermaker website to review the data. It all looks good so you quickly download the individual performance reports to send to each player via email.
And so the cycle continues. For some coaches this level of technological understanding and involvement is beyond them. That is what needs to be fixed now. Are you the coach who begins sentences by saying, "Well, computers aren't my thing." or "I'm not very good with computers."? Just stop it. "Old School" is not good enough anymore, it's not flattering and it's not a pass. Its frustrating, annoying and a disservice to your fellow coaches and players who deserve better. You need to change and catch up or you'll be left behind quickly.
What I've described in this post is the current standard and expectation for youth soccer coaches, especially those in a high performance environment. Many coaches will undoubtedly disagree with this statement, perhaps because they don't feel such technology is necessary for coaching kids or because they've been coaching for years without it and think they are doing just fine. Just stop it! You are the only one who thinks that way. Don't let that sentiment lull you into complacency. NOW is the time to up your game. Seriously. Even if you coach at a level that is not quite “high performance, you need to develop these skills now in order to progress as a coach. Right now while you're stuck at home. You need to be reading, studying and exploring. Hit up other coaches who use this technology and try to figure out how to learn and use it. Take online courses, watch videos. Maybe there's a coach out there who will do a Zoom call with you, share their screen and show you step by step how to use critical technology to improve your coaching. Even if your club doesn't have access to all the technology I've described, you can still learn about it and explore it. But nothing happens if you aren't proactive about learning. The tide is out and we can see who's been swimming naked.