This is the time of the year that is incredibly difficult to manage as a coach; not to mention the challenges as a family trying to prepare your player for the season.
April is full of hope, worry, excitement, and uncertainty. As part of LeftFoot’s mission to prepare players and families for success is the opportunity to be guides on the journey of youth soccer. If this is your first year through travel soccer or your fifth (U14 or U15) or maybe your last (U17/U18), April brings a host of challenges. My team asked me to sprout some wisdom as a business leader, youth coach, and family advisor to the generations of players that have some anxiety about the spring season and April. And since I’m coaching a U10 team again and “recycling” some tried and true practices I thought I’d share some ideas about how to approach this challenging part of the year.
Let’s start by recognizing that April is different for everyone and how we approach April will mean success or failure for the real results we’re trying to achieve. If we’re between the ages of 14 or 16 (U14-U17) April means everything to our soccer season. If we’re 10-13 (U9-U13) then April is completely different and how we get ready for July will depend on our approach in April. But this is fundamentally contingent upon age! Please don’t read this and apply one level of youth soccer to the other. If you do, you’re not understanding the real value of April.
Let’s start with the “elite” level and work backwards to the younger ages.
Elite: U16-U18 ECNL and some Premier players.
Your future choices are being decided right now.
Mostly Juniors and Seniors in high school. (You’re not elite at 13! – you’re just on the top team of your local gene pool/youth soccer club) Some sophomores are in this pool, but they are the 1% of their class.
April is the spring tour of colleges and the mid point of your season. At your level this is your regular season or “all-star” break. How you start your summer and spring will dictate the conversations you’ll continue to have in June and July. Will you attend the college camp after they’ve seen you play? Will you be attending a DI camp this summer or a DIII camp? Which camps you will be invited to this summer will be based on your performance this month in showcases and State Cup.
You’ve had a lot of strength and conditioning in winter to prep you for the spring tournament season and you want to come into April strong. This is ODP tryouts, State Cup prep, College Showcase season and then the end of the school semester. You’ve been training since December to show your talents right now! You are at the top of your game and getting even better. You are focused on being extremely efficient in time-management because you must be a student-athlete. Balancing the grades and the time of skills, strength, practice and extra conditioning is essential. Your future is everything in this month. You don’t get ready for the season in April. You are ready in April. Your conversations with college coaches, preparation for tournaments, and top fitness is demonstrated in April.
You cannot get injured right now. Beware meaningless games and scrimmages when you are already tired or fatigued. You must be ready to perform at the highest level. Goofing off and taking silly risks with your body will jeopardize your future. Taking up another high school sport will not get you in shape – it will just reduce your ability to perform at a higher level of performance. If you’re truly going to play Division I or II soccer you know how to prepare your body for soccer.
Your LeftFoot experience:
We’re sending you off to showcase your skills – we’ve been working out all winter and finishing our refinements and mentally prepared to take what you’ve learned into the showcases. We are not starting to work with you after six months of hiatus. We can’t get you ready for a tournament in one week. You failed to prepare if you’re looking for more than 2 sessions in April. We’ll see you for summer sessions. …Or if you’re part of the lucky few…your internship has just begun!
Premier/C1 – U13-16 – State Cup Tournament teams.
Winners get the chance to get better.
Your season is getting ready and how you’ve prepared for this month will dictate your summer experience as well. This is the time of the year that you’ll get distracted and fail to see how one game in April will ruin your summer potential. You need to be focused on learning and studying the rhythms of the State Cup process. You will be prepared for a long tournament with the chance to represent the state in regional competition. If you’re lucky enough to win State Cup you’ve succeeded in the opportunity to get even better.
State Cup winners get better than anyone else in their age group. Their eyes open to Regional competition and the demands of the higher level of play. There are many players that try but few who succeed in taking the opportunity to play at a higher competitive level and learning from success. Regionals are often in late June/early July and define a team. Your club team can leave a legacy within a club based on a successful Regional run. If you’re lucky enough to return to Regionals – your youth soccer career will be defined as a success. But a lot of talented teams never win State Cup because they get distracted in April – they lose focus. And as a player at this level…winning State Cup is everything.
Distractions. If you have early success in State Cup and ODP you get the chance to get better. Winners know how to win the games that mean something. Great players know the journey, study the rules, the processes and understand the tournament. They don’t lose games they “should have” won. Poorly prepared players take silly risks, parents schedule vacations that leave their teams without players, and coaches over schedule players that lead to burnout and stress.
Your LeftFoot Experience:
We’ve prepared you for State Cup success. Your shot and your touch are fast and game ready. We’re finishing Phase III of our Combination and Creative curriculum to get your driven and bent balls in top form. You are mentally ready for performing diagonal shots, taking balls out of the air and winning any aerial battles. We get to have some fun with you when you show up for one session this month to work out any kinks in your shot. But we shouldn’t see you unless its an emergency. If we do see you – you lost in State Cup.
If you lost – take a break. You’ll need it. We need to get you ready for July now. Tryouts for another team or another opportunity to win State Cup with a different team or club is essential. Take some time off – get ready for the MYSA season and review the Foundation Series steps. But rest…it will be a long 12 weeks to prepare for tryouts.
Foundation Series — Youth Academy — C2 – C1 –U11- U16
April is a laboratory of experience and experiments…
At this level we have very little in terms of meaningful experiences that dictate future outcomes. While ODP is an opportunity to practice and train with better coaches, it’s not essential before U16 when teams are selected to travel regionally and compete. Less than .05% of players statewide represent the State at the regional level between the ages of U12-U15. If your son or daughter is not the best player on the best team in the state save your money and get your player the skills and confidence to become the best player on the best team.
Aside from ODP– April is a petri dish of soccer skills. As a player we should see a complete difference in you. You’ve had a great winter beginning in October when you learned new skills, began trying them and refining them in December and January so that by April your skill set should be completely different. You should be dominating your team and rising up to new challenges in either a new position or more playing time in scrimmages.
You should have at least 4-5 new techniques that are being put on display. If you stay focused on adding more and more techniques through the off-season at U10, by the age of 16 you’ll have at least 25-30 techniques that are mastered and refined each April! Turns, cuts, ball strikes, flicks, — these should be refined in April and put on display. Try everything and get your experience testing out everything to beat your teammates. You’re about to start facing competition in games and league play – so April is like a dress rehearsal of your future season.
Injuries in other sports – or silly injuries. If you’re a soccer player, don’t go getting hurt playing softball with your friends and ruining your season. A 6-8 week injury in April will set you back for tryouts and you’ll be just returning to the field when everyone else is peaking. Be smart about what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. A lot of kids are stressed out in April and parents reluctantly don’t get it. More than seven “loads” per week can lead to injury. (A “load” is defined as any emotional, physical, or mental stress to the body) If you’re injured in April – make sure LeftFoot is involved in some way for your recovery to prepare you for July tryouts.
Your LeftFoot Experience:
Again, we’re unleashing you to your team – if they’re not practicing enough then, of course get in here and work on your skills, but you should be at all of your team practices and trying out everything we’ve been teaching you. Study! Start learning how to get good grades and still be on a soccer team by managing how and when you get your homework and individual practice into a day. You should be here maybe once every two weeks for a bit of refinement, but unless we’re finishing a One on One injury recovery process or doing a crash course in soccer skills One on One, then we shouldn’t see much of you. You should be fresh and energetic in all of your soccer sessions. If you’re tired, take a day off or get a break — you need to be fresh and engaged to be creative and experiment. Stressed out, tired players in April are not able to be creative.
April is the unusual break from everything else.
As a coach I use April to set the tone for the entire season. I should see who had a great winter and who just attended winter “skills” sessions. The players who truly got better will become the starters as they enter May tournaments and league play. The multi-sport kids will be rusty, but I have to make sure to lay in the basic technical skills in addition to the themes of the season to the April agenda. Coaching the basics for U10-U16 are essential at the Foundation Series and Youth Academy level right now. Getting outside and experimenting with player groupings, pairs, my defense and my best attacking group is all part of the game. I want to be outside every day to get my team ready which means as a parent on my teams, your players’ success is defined in April. Missing practice isn’t an option because I’m setting my lineups. I’m defining our skills. I’m laying in the playbook. But it’s April in Minnesota so it’s going to rain and or snow. I might call random practices just to get more touches. That’s okay. Getting more sessions in April equals more success in July – which is when we win trophies. (It’s all about winning, right?!)
Either way, if we win or we don’t, April is an important bonding and defining of a team. I’ve had a lot of player/clients that tried to escape to LeftFoot because they didn’t like their teams over the years. At a certain point I cut them off and learned that this is the inhale of a deep and long expression of productivity for our year. Our coaches have worked 26+ hours a week coaching on their feet – which is a lot more than any other programs. So they’re tired— I’ve learned to pull back (pun intended) April sessions and even into May to take a short vacation, get some time off and prepare for summer. You need to be at your team. You and I and kids need a break. Because June 5th we’re going to crank it up a full notch to get your players ready for tryouts and in-season performance.
Ironically, April is when I created the concept of LeftFoot Coaching Academy as a private coach: I had too many clients (8 at the time), two teams and not enough time slots for everyone to get enough training or coaching. So I proposed to my 8 clients that they pay a base payment of $125/month (they paid $135 for 2 one hour private sessions per month) and I’d meet them at the park every Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday. If they showed up, great…if they didn’t, okay, but I’d be there every Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday until September.
We’ve kept that same philosophy for six years now, and I think we’ve added a couple more nights for just a fraction of the price…(in fact we haven’t raised prices since!)
And so, use April as the time to get ready for what your journey calls for.
We should be finishing up our time with you by getting you ready and preparing you for success — and whether you succeed or fail in April we’ll be here getting ready for summer — so that if you want to change teams, change clubs, or change your skills we’ll be ready to prepare you for the outcomes you want beginning June 5th.
Be sure to say goodbye for the spring – we’re all invested in your success but prepare to book out the summer because once we’re back from our break – we’ll be ready to coach your journey through the next phase of youth soccer : Summer!
Dedicated to your success,