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Team Building

"The team building process is the tool the coach uses to develop the
football concept, the style of play, as optimally as possible
with the aim to achieve success."
Rinus Michels

The world has changed tremendously in the past 30 years. With the advantages of labor saving devices, improved communications and the Internet, coupled with the increased demands of a rising population and a consumer and a litigation mentality the environment that children grow up in is not the same as their parents. Gone are the days when neighborhood kids would get together for hours on end and play games without adult supervision. This has been replaced in the child's world by structured adult demands and concerns over which they have no control. Many children's routine of school, homework and play has been replaced by something closer to the schedule of a corporations CEO of managed meetings and agendas. All under the watchful eye of the parent.

Soccer, at the highest level, has also undergone radical changes. The demands on the top players and teams have increased dramatically through improved defensive strategies, incredible commercial interests and the ability of players to move freely between teams and countries.

These changes have made the task of coaching much more difficult even at the youth level. Today children aren't as well suited for the increased demands as their parents were. Studies have shown an overall decline in the physical fitness of children while the opportunities to develop the mental qualities, (responsibility, dealing with failure, concentration...) needed to compete have decreased as well. This is at a time when the demand for these qualities has increased. The gap between what they need and what they have has grown.

Thirty years ago a coach had a whistle, a few cones and players with a higher level of interest in the sport, as there were fewer distractions. Practices were simple enough, mostly modeled on either the "Gym Class" style of structure and organization; lines, rules, taking turns, and an emphasis on technical execution. Or, it was just a big scrimmage with a few comments here and there. Unfortunately, these out dated pictures are still seen across many soccer fields today.

This vision of coaching is as outdated as AM radio. The reception is bad and it won't carry stereo. Children are never exposed to real problems or the solutions that they need to find in the game. Their development, and the development of the team, is actually hindered in this environment. Team building is the next step in coaching evolution.

Some key elements in the team building process.

- A clear understanding about how the team will play in order to achieve the desired result, (the plan.) This includes an understanding of the tasks and responsibilities.
- Support for the coach and the vision from the team administration. In youth soccer this includes the parents.
- The vision must be in harmony with the larger club culture.
- Age appropriate, realistic and functional training. The level should be addressed to the highest capabilities of the players. Don't dumb down.
- Training that links individual and small group tactics to team tactics. Training is not "filling time to amuse the kids." There must be relevance between an individual action and a team objective.
- A high level of communication must be developed inside the team.
- An understanding that team building is a process and not a thing. It is not a team bonding activity like a pizza party. Instead it permeates every aspect of the teams environment, both positively and negatively from the first practice to the final game.
- The benefits of team building are long term. They are not specific to a particular team or season. They can be carried along throughout a career.
- The ultimate objective of team building is winning. Development without winning is like reading without comprehension. It is the why that links the question to the answer. (At the youth level winning should be associated with performance. It is important that children develop their qualities to their highest level and this effort is what constitutes a winner.)

In his book, Team Building the road to success, (published by Reedswain) Rinus Michels goes into great detail on the subject:

All the facets of the team building process, including team tactics and psychology, are included down to the minutest detail. Also included is how youth talent, per age group category, should be developed. And finally, how to set up training sessions to achieve the best results. 6

Team building is a logical stage in the coaching process. Originally athletic teams were run by the players with the dominant one's taking the initiative. Games were played and run by and for the participants. The original "street ball." Then came the coach. Someone that stood outside of the field team structure to bring order and a plan. But today it takes a greater coordinated effort to get the best results as more people are involved and have a voice in decisions. This has changed the challenges faced by the modern coach and players. While some coach's have been using team building many more can benefit from a better understanding of the process.

Note: Coaching Soccer and Team Building can be viewed as two volumes of the same book with the former taking a nuts and bolts perspective and the latter a more global view. Both authors come from the same background, indeed the same association and the writings compliment one another. (Michels makes a significant contribution to Coaching Soccer.) While both stand on their own account, taken together they provide a most detailed and comprehensive look into the Dutch youth soccer education system.

Playing with the elements
The coach