Space Invaders

So this is an “in between” post inspired by recent retail encounters. I’m not Claustrophobic (fear of tight spaces) or Enochlophobic (fear of crowds), I simply enjoy a modest amount of personal space and respect others personal space.

We’ve all been in a line and felt the person behind us breathing on our neck or been cut off or forced off course by a passerbyer while walking in otherwise open space. I call these people space invaders! I swear some people do this consciously, others unconsciously; regardless it has the same annoying effect. I’m not talking about navigating a packed school hallway or the mosh pit at a rock concert, I’m talking about the truly unnecessary violations of space.

What the heck is wrong with these people? For crying out loud, this is Canada, we have a population density of 3.5 people per square kilometre, it’s not uncommon to drive more than 100 kilometres between gas stations on a road trip and 95% of our land mass is uninhabited! We are not wanting for space! So where does this obsession/compulsion come from?

Admittedly I can be somewhat of an antagonist when the mood suits. Next time you’re standing in a line and you want to piss off the space invader behind you, try one or all of the following. Leave lots of space between yourself and the person in front of you. I like to exit the realm of personal space (1.5 – 4 feet) and venture into social space (4 – 12 feet). Within seconds the sighs and moans are audible and if you maintain that space long enough, the really brave might even ask if you’re waiting in line. A classic is the drop and hip check. Purposely drop something at your feet and quickly bend down while taking a step back to pick up your item making sure to drive your butt/hip into the space invader in the process. A personal favorite of mine is dominos. Take a step backwards ensuring you step on the top of the space invaders foot. Using your body to knock them backwards off balance quickly step off their foot and watch the dominos fall.

Sound extreme? Perhaps. So is the extreme annoyance caused by inconsiderate people. If you are or think you may be one of these people, please take a moment next time you’re in a line or walking in public to not just be cognisant but respectful of your surroundings. In doing so, you not only help yourself but everyone else around you. Consideration of others, and by extension their personal space, is a lost act of civility but when exercised has the ability to affect far reaching positive change. Give it a try!

Recharge the Batteries

“The reason [I left] is tiredness. If it wasn’t, I would have liked to continue. […] I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries.” Pep Guardiola (25 May 2012)

“I have taken a decision to return to coaching, but beyond that no decision has been taken. I don’t have a team to go to, but I would like to go back to coaching. I will receive all calls with pleasure, but for the next [few] months I have to recharge my batteries and my mind. I will be ready [to return] if one club wants me and seduces me.”  – Pep Guardiola (7 Jan 2013)

Sound familiar? Many coaches experience this feeling at some point, even the world’s greatest professionals. The lucky ones recognize when it’s time for a break before it’s too late. They recharge their batteries and rekindle the passion through rest and rejuvenation while the unlucky wait till it’s too late and risk losing their passion forever.

There are three different kinds of youth soccer coaches in Canada: (1) the well intentioned community servant guilt tripped into coaching or risk program cancellation, (2) the coach with a vested interest, be it personal, professional or financial and (3) those who coach out of passion for the game, often but not always includes the former. Coaches of this group are the ones most likely to experience burnout sometime in their coaching life.

Officially I began coaching my son at U4 in 2006. Technically he had been training and I coaching him in soccer for two years already before that. As registration drew near I began reflecting on my own soccer path and the coaches that helped shape me growing up – I quickly concluded that my kids needed and deserved better! All my coaches were category one or two, I question if I ever had a legit category three coach. My coaches were not bad people, on the contrary they were great people but great people don’t always translate into great soccer coaches. Much has changed in the Canadian soccer landscape since I began playing in 1983; nevertheless, some 23 years later it had not changed enough for me to trust the early stages of my sons development in the hands of someone guilted into or unqualified to do the job. Thus another category two coach enters the system… or was I?

I volunteered to coach so that my son and his teammates could learn from someone who had grown up playing the game, who understood the game and who had the knowledge to get them started out on the right foot. I remember getting my roster and attending a brief “coaches meeting,” looking around I knew not one of those parents had ever played the game at a reasonably competitive level. I suspect most were likely learning the basic laws of the game at that nights meeting. The community centre gave us each a bag of balls (not even one for every kid), a whistle, a timer/stopwatch, four cones and said “bring it all back in two months.” If while reading this you find yourself shaking your head then we are likely still on the same page. I thought to myself, was this really going to be these young boys and girls soccer experience? Suddenly memories of confusion, contradiction and thoughts of “what could have been” came flooding back from the 80’s and 90’s. I didn’t want anyone to reflect on their soccer days and feel they could have been more if not held back by anything other than their own lack of effort and ambition. I knew I was only one of many coaches these players would work with over the years and a lot could go right or wrong for them along the way but I wanted them to reflect positively on their time spent working with me.

It takes several years of practical coaching experience before encountering and learning how to deal with the many issues youth sports coaches will inevitably face. Over the past eight years of coaching I have learned a lot, much of which cannot be found in the training manual of any coaching badge. Did I make mistakes along the way? Hell ya and still do. Beware the coach that claims to have all the answers, they are only kidding themselves. I’ve borne the brunt of the occasional angry parent but without those experiences I would not have grown as a coach. Every club members “two cents” of advice, every complaint, every compliment, they all have something to offer you; how you interpret and handle it will have significant bearing on the coach you eventually become. Becoming a coach isn’t about completing a series of badges, it’s a lifelong journey filled with experiences.

So I told you why I began coaching but not why I continued. I realized my passion for coaching was equal to my passion for playing, I continued because it offered me a connection back to the game I fell in love with 30 years ago. I always knew I would have to let my son go with another coach eventually, if not because I’d reached the limits of my abilities, because I knew kids benefit most learning from a variety of teachers with different ideas and methods. I took the difficult decision to take a break from coaching last fall while my son trained full-time at a top academy in Manitoba. It was a nice break to watch him play from the other side of the pitch, to really focus on and enjoy the talent he is becoming. But as I sit and watch, as nice as it is, a part of me is missing. The game … it’s calling me back.

Upon reflection, I honestly believe the vast majority of players I have had the pleasure to work with will remember our time together positively and for those who don’t, I am deeply sorry to have failed you. Today I enjoy friendships with many of the players and parents I have worked with in the past, particularly in the 2002 and 2003 age groups. Now as I repeat the process with my 4 year old, hopefully a much wiser coach, educated by experiences, I am forming new player and parent bonds with a group of 2009 and 2010’s.

Managing player, parent and club expectations while providing real player growth and development is a demanding science you will not find explained in any national curriculum. Ironically it is the passion of those coaches to which all these things matter that leaves them mentally, emotionally and physically drained over time and in need of rest; and it’s the same passion that always keep them coming back to the game they love!

GIS and Soccer, an Unlikely Comparison

I’ve put a lot of thought into the theme of my inaugural blog. In my previous introductory post I noted that I expect to write a lot about my profession – Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and even more about my passion – Soccer. So while thinking about which topic ought to kick start my blog, I never dreamt that both could occupy the same subject. Why would I or anyone else for that matter, they seem so radically different. One is a high intensity, physically demanding sport, the other, a professional office job predominantly spent in front of a computer or some mobile device. The reality is both interests have a vast, multifaceted base but strip the layers to their very core and you will see they both share two fundamental principles – Time and Space.

The general definition of a geographic information system (GIS) is “a computer system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data.” The definition tells us all we need to know. It tells us that a GIS involves components like computer hardware, software and people. It also tells us a number of processes are involved such as capturing, storing, manipulating, analyzing and managing data. Lastly, there is an output, the presentation of the data in some format be it a map, chart or table to be used to better understand relationships and make decisions. The components, processes and outputs in a GIS can vary but nothing has a greater functional effect on the output’s raison d’être then the data itself. Spatial data are representations of real world phenomena. Take for example maps, they are a snapshot of the earth’s surface and their data (e.g. points, lines and areas) represent real world features that occupy space at a given point in time. Assume you have two maps of the same town, one before and one after five years of rapid growth. Regardless if the components and processes change or remain the same, the new map looks very different from the original. Not because a different technician created it on a new computer with new software, or because a different colour scheme was chosen or the map layout has been updated; the new map is fundamentally different because the time and space of its representation is different.

The “Beautiful Game” can be tremendously complicated if you let it. Like a GIS, it too is a system of components, processes and outputs. Too often we get bogged down in over analysis of the human components and the intricacies of the tactical processes behind team formations and styles of play. True, after 90+ minutes of play a combination of the two lead to an output – the match result. So how then does Time and Space transform the output of a soccer match?

Last fall I enjoyed a great discussion over coffee with the Technical Director of my son’s soccer club. Of the many things we discussed, player development was the hot topic. Inevitably the Canadian men’s national team and their abysmal world ranking came up as a talking point for our overall quality as a soccer nation. He told me the margin of technical skill and tactical prowess between Canada and other ‘soccer nations’ was much smaller than many believed. He explained at the national team level, our coaches are proficient, our men and women are physically fit, they can pass, shoot and dribble as well as any but we are lacking in our speed of play – specifically, our mental speed of play or decision making. Dribble here, pass there, drop into this supporting space, cut off that passing lane, break that line with a run into space; knowing how to do these things isn’t our weakness, inability to think several seconds ahead of the play and do these before our opponents makes the difference. At first, the gap in the speed of decision making is small, maybe fractions of a second between Canadian kids and their European and South American counterparts. But, as they age the gap widens, potentially to as much as several seconds at the senior level. Over a 90+ minute match, seconds become minutes of mental lapses and lost opportunities. In an otherwise technically, tactically and numerically balanced match, those minutes can open up a great deal of time and space giving your opponent the advantage needed to tip the balance and alter the result. Boil the game of soccer down to its simplest form and the winner will always be the team that exploits and commands time and space most advantageously.

While studying Geomorphology at university one of the themes that resonated with me was the ubiquity of time and space and their effects on everything in the natural world. Far from an elite soccer player and fuelled by my desire to understand these relationships, its not surprising I was led into the world of GIS, a profession built on the study of temporal and spatial relationships within and between phenomena. As a result, I subconsciously approach everything in life with a priority to understand the unique situational relationships with time and space for guidance. This of course extended to my coaching youth soccer. Forgive me for using the beaten to death cliche “Work smarter not harder.” Of course neither aspect ought to be ignored but if this is your mantra, it’s a pretty important part of the formula for developmental and team success. Every soccer fan in the world has watched a team be utterly dominated from start to finish only to pull off a divine upset. But that match winning one goal difference wasn’t divine intervention, it was the product of one or more players thinking half a second ahead of their marks and commanding the space resulting from their opponents mental lapses to create an opportunity that they seized. Smarter not harder.

I make maps everyday at work and I could certainly map a path that leads my players to much match success but that isn’t my job! My job is to help provide them with the map making tools they need to map their own time and space to success.

Coming soon…

My name is James Kellough. Welcome to my blog. As you can see it’s empty and under construction. I’m new to blogging but hope to learn the ropes quickly and be posting content in the near future. I have created this blog to share this, that and all things in between of personal interest. Expect to see a lot about my profession – Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and even more about my passion – Soccer. If either or both of these topics and the occasional random in between are of interest to you, check back soon.