Does Experience Matter?

 by  Dr. Jay Martin,

Editor NSCAA Soccer Journal

What went right? What went wrong? How could I have done better?

Those of us involved in sport talk about “experience” all the time. Soccer players (and coaches) who have been in the game a long time have “experience”. Players and coaches who have played in a championship game or championship competition also have “experience”. We all agree that experience is very important and can impact the outcome of any given game or tournament. Does past “experience” really have an effect on a game played today? We think so. In fact “experience” in all aspects of life is also important for us. It helps us live effectively and efficiently? It prevents us from making the same mistake(s) over and over again. “Experience” matters…a lot.

How does a player or coach gain “experience”? By osmosis? Is just being at a championship game or going through qualifying enough to help players and coaches gain “experience”? Does the fact that I have been a college coach for 37 years mean that I have “double the experience” of a coach who has coached for only 18 years? Did it make a difference that 17 players on the 2013 OWU team played in a national championship game (it did not seem to make a difference)? Is the MNT gaining experience by going through the qualification process? Does the Academy player who plays against “better” competition have the advantage of a more quality “experience” than players in the leagues in the lower level?

Does experience really matter?

For both the player and the coach experience can make a big difference – positively or negatively. But experience is more than simply having participated in games; or being at a championship game; or playing players at a higher level. Obtaining experience takes an effort, obtaining experience just does not happen.

Players today play too many games that are meaningless and they just play too many games. The games become meaningless and come in bunches. The tournament sin youth soccer can pack 5 or 6 games into a weekend…if it’s 2pm it must be Vardar!

Do the players today think about games after they are done? Do players today “take experience” from each game? The answer is no. Without thinking about the game and assessing their performance, players will gain no experience at all. After each game players must ask themselves: What went right? What went wrong? How could I have done better? After answering these questions the players have a chance of gaining experience…only a chance. If they can think through situations that happened in the game – after the game, they might be prepared for the next time that situation arises. It is part of the job of a coach to ensure that his/her players make use of the experience and actually gain playing experience!

In the late 1980’s Terry Orlick, a noted sports psychologist, published a book entitled, Psyching for Sport: Mental Training for Athletes. In the book there are many instruments that coaches and athletes can use to measure a number of psychological variables. One of them is called Competition Evaluation. It is designed to ensure that the player gains some measure of experience from that game.

The player completes the instrument as soon as possible after a game or event. The questions included, but are not limited to:
• How did you feel about your performance?
• What was your on-site focus?
• How was your level of determination, anxiety, task focus, commitment, confidence, physical preparation, mental preparation, etc.
• What were you thinking about immediately before the game?
• How was your concentration during the game?
• When you were playing your best, what was your focus?
• Did anything unexpected happen? If so how did you deal with it?
• What should be changed or adapted for the next game?

The idea is to have the athlete assess his/her performance. If it was a good performance, how did you prepare? How did you feel? Can replicate that for the next game? If it was a bad performance how did you prepare? How did you feel? What can you change for the next game? The instrument forces players to “get something out of the game – that’s called experience”.

In another instrument, Dr. Orlick asks the competitor to think about his/her all-time best performance (or all time worst performance). After these performances have been identified there are a series of questions that the athlete answers to help him/her remember how he/she felt; what were the thoughts? What was the preparation like etc. The idea is that the athletes should be able to replicate their feelings and their preparation that occurred before a game they played well. And avoid the feelings and preparation used when they did not play well.

This is how athletes gain experience! And they need your help.

What about coaches? How can we gain useful experience? How can we gain experience that will help us improve and do better the next time? It is not easy, but it does not happen by osmosis. Like players, we have to work at it. Coaches must undertake an honest and critical assessment of the program and find ways to make it better…and to make themselves better! It just does not happen.

Coaches should reflect critically on the process, methods and variables they use in the program and evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Here are some ideas:

• Do you have a practice plan? Do you assess its effectiveness after each practice? What worked well? What did not work? What can we do next time? You should then save the plan so you can use it as a reference later.
• Do you keep a log of every game? It is a good practice to look back at the game and see what worked well, for example substitutions; warm-up; mental preparation; playing style; formation etc. From this log, you can determine what has to be done in practice to correct certain things. From this log you can “re-think” game situations with a cool head and assess your actions – good, bad, indifferent?
• Do you and your team set goals? Set values of the program? Create a sound team infrastructure? Do you involve your team in the creation of the infrastructure? It is their team!
• Have you assessed your recruiting practices lately? How do you identify prospects? How do you evaluate the recruits? What does a recruit do upon arrival on campus? Is the yield what it should be?

These are just a few of the questions that a coach needs to ask himself/herself to assess the program correctly. When reflecting upon the effectiveness of a program, the coach needs to consider the following four questions:

• What was planned?
• What actually was completed?
• What were the outcomes?
• How did these outcomes compare with the desired outcomes?

This is a tough process. The coach must “bare his/her soul” and take a deep look at the program. No one can predict the yearly outcome of a soccer team with pinpoint accuracy. Even the best coaches run into unforeseeable problems. But, to keep doing the same things over and over and expecting different results just makes no sense. However, without using some kind of an analytical framework the coach will not be able to accurately assess the program and get better. Incorporate some of these suggestions into your program and see the improvement. That’s experience.

What went right? What went wrong? How could I have done better?

Dr. Jay Martin-
Editor NSCAA ‘Soccer Journal’
National Soccer Coaches Association of American

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