A Little Girl, Oreos, and Why Coaches Get It Wrong

Category: Technical
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Maybe not the most nutritious choice, but certainly a popular choice for my little
girl. Like most parents, Chantal and I store the sinful snacks in high places. Our logic
is clear: less for them, more for us. I am comfortable with selfish.

However, when Tali conspires for cookies the game is on. A vision of bliss, leads to a
strategy to overcome height issues that leads to a tactic to climb, reach and retreat
victorious. All of this results in a chocolate covered smile if all plays out to
perfection. To be fair, chocolate covered smiles may very well be the definition of
bliss so who can really blame my tiny terror.

Vision is a purposeful image.
Strategy is a thought.
Tactics are actions to execute that thought.
Oreos are cookies.

What the heck do Oreos and foraging little girls have to do with coaching soccer?
Fair question.

As adults, we have botched this up completely. For too long we have been teaching
kids to execute without thought: drill after drill after drill. This approach has not led
to either bliss or perfection. And yet, we continue to blunder as we bark.

“Climb, reach, retreat. Climb, reach retreat,” we bellow. Drill after drill. Rinse and

Bypassing the vision: the WHY.
Avoiding the strategy: the WHAT.
Barreling straight to the tactic: the HOW.

Here is the thing about kids and cookies. Little girls do not just climb, reach, and
retreat repeatedly for no purpose. And even less so if I bark at them to do so.

My little girl employs the skill of climbing, reaching, and retreating as a tactic within
her thoughtful strategy. At six years old, tiny Tali labors coherently. She strives to
satiate that sweet tooth. And her sugary smile is well worth that effort.

“In the absence of vision, there cannot be a strategy; In the absence of a strategy,
there cannot be any coherent tactics.” – Pragyan Mishra

Vision. Strategy. Tactics. In that order.

“Behind every kick of the ball there has to be a thought.” – Dennis Bergkamp

Kicking a ball is not enough. If our players can pass a ball but have no idea why,
what have they really accomplished? How long will they continue to kick that ball?
Probably until 13 years old it turns out. That is when 75 % of children drop out of
drill-based soccer and flee from barking coaches because they stop having fun. Can
you blame them?

If I asked Tali to climb a chair, reach out her hands, and retreat with nothing, she
would drop out of Daddy’s training session as well. Skills become functional when
placed into context.

When she employs that same technical action with the goal of recovering two
chocolate wafers with cream inside, she does so with deep motivation. (and a
delicious reward for her efforts) Desire, an idea, an action, satisfaction.

I do not want to get seduced by semantics. However, I do want to appeal to your
sense of purpose.

  • Playing is a positive and pleasurable vision.
  • Exploiting space to outplay a rival is a competitive strategy.
  • Passing a ball is a tactic to exploit that space.

Or to put it into little Tali’s terms…

  • Devouring a treat is a positive and pleasurable vision.
  • Overcoming a ratio of height to cupboard access is a strategy.
  • Climbing, reaching and retreating are technical actions used as a tactic.

Of course, we can all retreat to our own coaching cupboards and stick to the way it
has always been. Many do and many will. Drill, rinse and repeat fruitlessly. Bark at
the bored.

Or we can take lessons from a little girl craving cookies. We can embrace the WHY,
explore the WHAT and execute the HOW.


I am partial to Oreos and the lessons learned from pursuing them.


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