By Greg Bach
During her soccer coaching days Renee Lopez always made sure that whatever the team was working on was done in a competitive – and fun – environment.
Now, that required some creative thinking.
And during this particular practice years ago with her U14 girls soccer team, a purple dinosaur named Barney, too.
“We were working on shooting and placement and where we needed to strike the ball to place it in the corners,” recalls Lopez, who has more than 15 years of experience coaching soccer from the youth through collegiate ranks and is the author of Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider’s Recruiting Guide.So one day I asked them what cartoon did they absolutely hate and despise and they came up with Barney, the purple dinosaur. So, I bought some Barney toys that sang that song ‘I love you, you love me’ and I placed them in the four corners of the goal. The song was quite annoying and the only way to get Barney to stop singing was to hit the ball into those corners. It was all about placement and teaching them to use the inside of the foot versus striking a ball for distance.”
That practice resonated with the kids.
And still does nearly two decades later.
“I still keep in contact with some of those players and they will always tell you all these years later about how they remember the Barney drill,” Lopez says. “That day they probably got 50 reps each striking a ball because they just wanted Barney to stop singing.”
The practice achieved exactly what Lopez was aiming for: players upgraded their skills in a key area of the game – and they had a terrific time doing so.
“At that U14 age level you really have to find something fun and relate to them,” she says. “I wanted to find something that motivated them and sparked their interest.”
These days Lopez does consulting with high school families, coaches, athletic directors, and guidance counselors; is a frequent keynote speaker; and runs a popular blog on the college recruiting process for high school student-athletes. We caught up with her to talk coaching kids, recruiting, and more:
SK LIVE: How did you deal with negative body language and getting players to move on from a mistake?
LOPEZ: We used the terms flick it or flush it. The idea is how do we teach them that the next play is the most important and it’s not dwelling on what you just did or what mistake you just made. The mistake is OK as long as we bounced back from it and that begins with your body language. We would have a physical sign that they would actually utilize to brush off the mistake. For some it was readjusting their shin guards; for some it was pretending like they were flicking a bug off their shoulder; for others it may have been adjusting their ponytail. But the idea was they needed a physical activity to do really quickly and then jump back in.
SK LIVE: How can coaches create a culture where kids pull for each other?
LOPEZ: We use the term kaizen (the Japanese word for improvement). It’s about continuous improvement, getting 1 percent better every single day. We would all want to help each other become 1 percent better every day. So not only do I want little Susie to get better with her left foot in striking the ball, but I also want to make sure that she’s also helping little Sally over there with her goalkeeping skills, or whatever it may be. The idea is we need to create an environment where everyone is working on getting 1 percent better each day but overall, we are also working on being better teammates and becoming better people through sports.
SK LIVE: What led you to write Looking For A FULL RIDE?: An Insider's Recruiting Guide?
LOPEZ: So many people are uneducated on the process. They watch the movie “The Blindside” and they think that’s how the recruiting process goes and that’s just not realistic for about 95 percent of the college recruiting process. So I really wanted to help families on the recruiting process.
SK LIVE: For kids who have a genuine chance to play a collegiate sport what is a common mistake parents make?
LOPEZ: I think it’s very important for parents to understand that they should take the role of helping to support their child, but they should not be the one doing all the steps because what that shows to a college coach is that the kid either doesn’t really want to play and the parent really wants them to play; or the kid is lazy; or the parent is going to become a helicopter parent, which of course college coaches do not want in their program. And so the parents have now hurt their child’s chances all because they had really good intentions but they just didn’t put themselves in the coach’s shoes. It’s definitely a learning experience for parents to understand their kids need to market themselves. The parents shouldn’t be looking to market them – the kids actually need to do the marketing and they need to send emails to college coaches.
SK LIVE: What is your goal when you consult with a young athlete?
LOPEZ: I help walk them through the process of what they should do. We want student-athletes who have actually researched a university and believe that that may be a good fit for them as opposed to a mass emailing that really takes place with a lot of the recruiting services. The reality is that most of them aren’t going to play beyond college, so we need to prepare them for the real world and let that sport be a part of their experience of college but not let it drive every decision. I want to make sure that kids actually balance out the academics, the athletics and the social aspect. We use the broken leg test: if you break your leg or tear your ACL in the first week of the season is it still the right fit for you academically and socially?
If you wish to reach out to Coach Renee, contact her at email@example.comRenee Lopez Soccer Coaching