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A Look Back on NorCal’s Summer Coaching Education Series

Throughout its existence, NorCal Premier Soccer has always gone by the philosophy that better coaches make better players.

And one of the best ways that coaches can improve to help make these aforementioned better players is through continued opportunities for education.

Which is exactly why over a seven-day period this summer at Las Positas College in Livermore, NorCal hosted two different coaching events, bringing some of the top minds in the world to California that over 350 coaches attended and learned from.

“Every year we like to improve and evolve,” said NorCal Coaching Education Coordinator David Robertson. “We’re already thinking about how we can do better for next year.”

The first of the two events was the June 29 – July 2 Summer Coaching Symposium, where NorCal brought in coaches from all over the world such as former Dutch National Team Goalkeeper Coach Frans Hoek, Mexico U20 National Team Coach Marco Antonio Ruiz, and former Real Madrid Academies of Mexico Director Javier Lopez.

Despite having some of the top international instructors in the game, it was local coaches who made a big impact early, with San Francisco Deltas Head Coach Marc Dos Santos drawing rave reviews in particular.

The Montreal native used his lecture to speak about the unique opportunity and challenge he had in starting an entire club from scratch.

“What do you do as a coach when you don’t have history in your club, you don’t have identity, you don’t have a past?” Dos Santos asked the audience before explaining his philosophy, which was rather simple: “If we’re going to prepare players to play soccer, they have to play soccer.”

Dos Santos expanded this by using legendary guitarist Carlos Santana as an example.

“If you want a team to play a certain way, you have to train a certain way,” he said. “I always use the example of Carlos Santana. I’ve never been to his house. I’ve never met him personally. I don’t know what he does outside of playing guitars. But if I went to his house, I bet it would be filled with guitars. He’s not (playing with) drums. He’s not jumping over pianos.

“I bet he plays guitar.”

Also speaking that day were former Dundee United Manager Gordon Young, U.S. U-20 Women’s Head Coach Jitka Klimkova, and the NorCal Premier Soccer Women’s Committee.

Day two brought in the tireless Lopez for the first of his many lectures, followed by Fit For 90 founder Dr. John Cone, former Stanford head coach and Positive Coaching Alliance instructor Bret Simon, and Las Positas Women’s Head Coach Paul Sapsford.

Sapsford’s lecture focused on what he calls the “fixed mentality.”

“It’s crucial that we don’t communicate to younger players that hey, you’ve got immense natural talent,” Sapsford said. “That’s a mistake.”

Instead, Sapsford instructed coaches to encourage players to make mistakes and go outside of their comfort zone, using the following quote from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden to back up his example: “The team that makes the most mistakes will probably win. The doer makes mistakes, and I want the doers on my team — players who made things happen. Players who are afraid to make mistakes generally do not take risks and do not make things happen.”

In closing, Sapsford then touched on the impact that the self-esteem movement has had on players, generally deciding that it wasn’t all that positive in developing people or players.

“We have to be careful in the way we communicate players — we have been somewhat misled by the self-esteem movement,” he said. “If we tell kids they’re wonderful, they’re amazing, they’re great, that will give kids confidence and that confidence will lead to better performance. But the thing I found about Dweck is that that actually creates a culture of entitlement.

“If you keep praising kids, they’re just going to keep expecting more and more praise.”

Day three finally brought in Hoek and Ruiz, whose presentations are embargoed for public repetition based on their associations with the Dutch and Mexican national associations, respectively.

Also on hand was two-time defending national champion Stanford Head Coach Jeremy Gunn, who gave a lecture about the Stanford way, as well as an attacking functions field session.

He followed it up in day four with the inverse: defensive functions, an aspect that some coaches and players may be too quick to forget about.

“We all talk about attacking, we all want to see attacking soccer, everything’s attacking, attacking…but the game goes both ways,” Gunn said. “I’m not saying we’re the best in the world, but [we play good defense] and it works for us.”

“Some attackers only come alive when you’re in possession, and you know what? That’s illogical, because your best chances come when you don’t have the ball,” he added.

Attended by well over 300 coaches, the event made sure that everyone from NorCal took something back to the clubs that they returned to following the weekend.

“I truly believe the level of this event was amazing, with a lot of different views of the game and a lot of different philosophies,” said San Juan Soccer Club Director of Coaching Zeca Neto. “It’s always good to come in and get the level that we’re getting here and get a different perspective of the game.”

One week later, it was time for something different as NorCal welcomed in La Liga and US Club Soccer for the first United States-based La Liga Formation Methodology Level 2 Course, one year after offering the Level 3 Course.

Much of the presenting at this event was done by Gari Fullaondo, who reached the top level of the game as the Director of Methodology for Athletic Bilbao before recently being hired by La Liga.

Throughout three days, Fullaondo diligently worked with his brother, Zunbeltz, and Hugo Blanco to provide a high-quality learning environment that focused on asking questions of those in attendance.

Fullaondo and La Liga’s philosophy is that coaches and players learn better when they figure out the answers to problems themselves, rather than just being handed them.

“What’s more difficult, to create or destroy?” he asked the coaches in attendance. “It’s to create, of course, so let’s focus more [training] time on the things that are more difficult.”

“The most important thing, is don’t always give solutions [to your players],” he later said. “We used to always give solutions to players: ‘go here, pass here.’ No, let the players find their own solutions.”

Once Fullaondo explained the criteria for the methodology, he advanced the lecture to key into how to manage said methodology and the sports area of the club, again drawing on lessons from his time at Athletic Bilbao.

Fullaondo focused on three different principles of management during this section: adaptation, progression, and continuity.

He explained: “Adaptation — we need to adapt everything to the level of the guys. If we do things that are too difficult, they will not get it. But if we do things that are too easy, it’s no good.

“Progression — We need to progress. When they learn something, we progress.

“Continuity — If my daughter is trying to learn how to ride a bicycle, and then waits a year, she’s going to need to learn how to cycle again. But if I teach her each day, she’s going to know how to cycle in a year. Without continuity, they’re not going to learn.”

For three days, the trio expanded on these ideas, running a series of lectures and field sessions, but it was the final message from Fullaondo that really left a message in the minds of the participants.

The Basque native ended his talks by showing a video that depicted parents acting in a negative way in any way of life, from failing to help a woman pushing a stroller up the stairs to simply yelling at referees.

The point the video made was for the audience to understand that when parents, or adults, model poor behavior, children mimic it.

“A lot of times when I see this video, I want to cry,” Fullaondo said. “This is not soccer. This is life…it’s the collective. We are an example for the guys…If I love soccer, my players love soccer. If I respect the referee, my players respect the referee…this is the life, and you are coaches.

“You are not soccer coaches, you are life coaches.”

With that, the wise and exhausted Fullaondo had but one more lesson to leave the stunned coaches with.

“This is your role, to be coaches, to spend time getting better,” he said. “This is your role, to spend time with them in matches, to make them better players.

“But never forget: who we are, where we come from, and who we represent.”

Note: videos from the Summer Coaching Symposium can be accessed here or on our YouTube channel.