Traveling with Your Team: Barker's Thoughts from Costa Rica
NSCAA Director of Coaching Education Ian Barker will be a part of a coaching staff and a team of 18 boys from US Youth Soccer ODP Region II in a training trip to Costa Rica, February 4-11.
During the trip, Barker will provide NSCAA.com readers updates during the trip, including his coaching thoughts and what the team focuses on each day. Other member coaches accompanying Barker will be Adrian Parrish, state director of coaching for the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association, and Jim Launder, director of coaching for the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association.
The team will include boys from eight different Region II states. In addition to three games, the squad will also participate in five training sessions, a community service project and other local activities.
The reason we consider trips like so important is the opportunity they provide for players to have a unique training and playing experience. In representative soccer, the players are challenged to adapt quickly to new coaching and team mates in an environment very different to their domestic club one. Also, the international nature of the experience requires the boys adjust to different climatic and training conditions, styles of play and officiating, as well as a 24/7 exposure to a different culture.
An exciting challenge for the coaches is to try to pull the group together as a team, with a team tactic in a very short period of time and then compete with the top youth teams of Costa Rica’s top club sides.
The squad arrived at their hotel at 10 p.m. last night to be met with a full meal of salads and pasta. Not an ideal time to eat, but certainly welcome. A 22-player and staff travel party came into Atlanta from 15 different Midwest airports and all managed to make the connection to San Jose, Costa Rica.
Wednesday marks our first day of competition. Previous trips to Costa Rica have had common elements: we will play in the main stadia and those surfaces are large and synthetic. We are typically asked to play between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. which can be the hottest parts of the day. Our Tico opponents will not necessarily be of a consistent age, as we would expect in the U.S. Costa Rican playing styles tend to be based on strong, individual, 1 v. 1 skills, and noticeable speed of play, both physically and technically.
What this all means is that we typically approach the challenge somewhat conservatively as to how we will try to defend. None of our players are playing outside soccer in the Midwest currently. Additionally, their fitness levels will vary greatly as no single preparation conditioning protocol has been established.
Certainly individual 1 v. 1 defending discipline is stressed, as well as team compactness. In possession, it is a key for our teams to keep the ball and value periods of sustained possession. Also in terms of finishing at the good level of play we expect the importance of taking chances, that maybe, infrequent is a theme.
All said though, we are primarily focused on our group and pulling it together quickly. We have a good sense of “self” as Region II and value cohesiveness, tactical understanding and discipline, and consistency. At the same time the Region II teams do include “special” players for whom the role of the No. 10 or lone striker, or out and winger is embraced. We expect to be competitive and would rather see three matches of very close score lines than anything else.
The post-travel mental and physical challenge for the players is one that is met in collaboration with the staff of coaches and the trainer. The players are given significant support in training, off the field, and with attention to hydration and nutrition.
Physically training sessions will include a lot of “activation” in the early stages through movement activities and typically non-static stretching. Small-group possession activities should increase heart rates and help players get familiarized with the ball, new teammates, and the surfaces. Training will conclude with some bigger tactical themes that are not as physically demanding and more of a cognitive challenge and possibly some light technical exercises.
Establishing the group identity and individual and group confidence is important. Learning a little about each player through formal and informal communication quickly eases the stress on 14 and 15-year-old young adults. Certainly the environment is a supportive one. At the same time the players have identified themselves as committed and talented players seeking out higher levels of competition. As such individual and team goals are set that are deemed achievable.
Certainly head coach Adrian Parrish and assistant coach Jim Launder are sensitive to both the physical and mental needs of the players and plan accordingly on a near hour to hour basis.
The trip was arranged through NSCAA preferred service provider Costa Rica Soccer, a high-quality soccer tour service dedicated to providing players opportunities to travel to the country and develop themselves both on and off the soccer field.
Visit the Costa Rica Soccer website for more information.