Porter Novelli

Just in time for the World Cup, I had a soccer/PR epiphany.

I coach a team of 11-year-old girls. At this age, you can begin to build strategic understanding of the game, so our activities during practice are designed to help them understand the importance of things like field positions, getting open for passes, and why sometimes you hold and sometimes you pass the ball.

Last week, we spent the first half of practice on a combination of defensive and offensive drills. When I brought them together for a water break, I opened a conversation about our last game, using the approved Socratic method of soccer instruction (this is actually true, you are supposed to get them engaged in thinking of solutions rather than lecturing them).

“So,” I said. “Tell me about our game Saturday. What did we do well?”

“We passed!” several of them screamed. “We hustled back on defense,” some others yelled. (Did I mention these are 11-year-old girls?  They’re quite loud.)

“But we lost,” two yelled back in return.

“So tell me about that,” I said. “What happened?”

“The other team scored more goals!” they chorused.

“Why do you think you’ve been doing the drills you’ve been doing today?” I asked. “Is there any relationship between our game and practice today?”

At this, there was silence. This whole strategy thing is a work in progress at this age.

I tried a different tack.

“What should we do differently than the other team next week?”

This was easy. More yelling “We’re going to score more goals than them!” (grammar also a work in progress)

“Well, yes.” I said. “But scoring goals is your GOAL. What are the strategies you’re going to use so that you DO score more goals?”

Silence (again). While quite pleasant for a change, it made me realize this was a teachable moment. They were engaged, they didn’t know what to say, and they were blessedly quiet.

“Strategies are the way you accomplish your goals. So if your goal is to score more goals, you might do that by making sure the other team doesn’t score goals. That’s why I have you working on getting first to the ball on defense. That’s a strategy. Another strategy would be to shoot more accurately, so that more of the balls go in. So that’s why I’ve been having you work on controlling the ball before you get your shot off.  Get it?”

They actually nodded. Then I went a little too far. “So now, in addition to knowing what you need to do next week, you all know the difference between goals and strategies. Your future employers will thank me for that some day.”

We were back to blank stares, so I set up a scrimmage with reminders on putting our strategies into practice.

And there you have it. If you’re ever confused, here’s a simple new device to get you back on track:  think soccer.  A goal is a goal. Strategies are how you get there, like better defense and a more focused offense.

And now the discussion point:  What strategies does the U.S. National Team need to employ if they are going to accomplish their goal of getting out of group play?  Based on what I saw in their friendly versus Turkey, they’ve got to get organized on defense.  And prayer might be wise.  But anyone else want to weigh in?