The first English soccer player dies of CTE. Kevin Moore was in his 40s when he showed signs of brain disease.

Mandy Moore still winces as she recalls how it often was for her late husband, Kevin, after so many of his 623 matches as a professional footballer. “He had stitches and scars around his eyes,” she recalls. “There were times when he could not even remember parts of a match after taking a kick or an elbow in the head.”

His friend and former team-mate Iain Dowie says that they would stay behind to practise heading. “Maybe 100 balls a day,” says Dowie.

And then there were the shuddering match incidents. “I don’t know how many times Kev – God bless him – got concussed,” says Dowie. “But I remember an incident as the ball dropped in the box. Kev slipped and the lad was about to smash it in. Kev put his head between the ball and him. The lad kicked his head and [the ball] went for a corner.”

Moore was 39 when he retired in 1996 after a 20-year career. This was not an elderly player struck down with a devastating form of dementia, but a defender from the Premier League era who had been a Southampton team-mate of Alan Shearer and Matthew Le Tissier.

He is the first known Premier League player to have died of dementia and was only in his mid-40s when his family noticed changes.

He unexpectedly lost his job as Fulham’s safety officer and training ground manager. He became forgetful, unsteady on his feet and had minor car accidents. He started making rash decisions.

A diagnosis of Pick’s Disease – a rare form of dementia affecting the front of the brain – was made in 2007 and his decline would be cruelly rapid.

For his daughter, Sophie, a gap of 10 months between visits when she was living in Australia was startling. “I was left shocked,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t recognise him as my dad.”

Moore eventually needed full-time care and died in April 2013 on what was both his wedding anniversary and 55th birthday.

“My abiding memory was him scoring at Wembley in the Zenith Data Systems final in 1992,” says Le Tissier. “It was the only time I’ve seen a guy head the ball downwards into the top corner.”

Although former England striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 from brain disease that both a coroner and neuropathologist attributed to playing football, the link was not then being widely made.

There was a sad irony in that Moore had been sufficiently concerned while he was still playing to have discussed it with Dowie and a doctor. They raised the issue with Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Mandy Moore also wrote to Taylor following Kevin’s diagnosis and received a reply. There were no words of sympathy and, even though she says there had been no request to cover care costs, the letter stated that the organisation would be bankrupt within a year if it paid care home fees for members. Taylor estimated in the letter, written in 2008, that 1,000 of his members required such care and that the annual bill would be about £15 million.

The Moore family were taken aback by the letter’s tone and, while grateful for the wider help Kevin received from the PFA, felt a huge difference in how they were supported by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, where Moore was also a member.

Dementia caused by head trauma has since been identified as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and, while definitive diagnosis can be made only by examining the brain after death, Moore’s symptoms were consistent with the disease. “This is not about banning football or heading but getting research done so that players know where they stand and risks are mitigated,” says Mandy.

Dowie agrees. “I feel sure football did play a part – there is no doubt in my mind,” he says.

Brain injury from heading the ball – growing evidence from England

U.S. Men’s Soccer: What Happened?

I’m sharing the full text of an excellent Oct 11 Wall Street Journal article on the state of U.S. Soccer following elimination from the Word Cup. Here goes:

“A failure of imagination and player development ultimately cost the Americans a spot in next summer’s World Cup.”

And now comes the reckoning for U.S. men’s soccer.

A day after a decade’s worth of mistakes came home to roost, the U.S. federation now needs to clean up a program that for too long clung to aging talent and false hopes.

Or at least that’s what is supposed to happen after the debacle of Tuesday night, when in the space of 90 minutes, on a soggy field in a sleepy stadium in Trinidad, the Americans lost to a last-place team with nothing to play for and were denied a spot in the 2018 World Cup.

Whether the U.S. has the resolve to confront its problems, however, remains unclear. Tuesday’s defeat illuminated all of the deeply entrenched issues that close-watchers of the team have long complained about.

There was the failure of player development that left the team relying on a core of 30-somethings left over from two World Cup cycles ago.

There was the failure of imagination that caused the team to return, in the middle of qualifying, to a manager, Bruce Arena, it had fired a decade before.

And finally, there was the tactical naiveté that caused that manager to misjudge bottom-of-the-group Trinidad and Tobago and send Team USA out with an unsuitable plan and vulnerable in the most obvious places on the field.

“It was all there for us. We have nobody to blame but ourselves,’ said captain Michael Bradley, who, at 30 years old, is unlikely to get another chance in the world’s most popular sporting event.

In any other soccer country, the protocol now would be clear. The first order of business is firing the manager. The president of the federation occasionally resigns too, just as the Italian coach and federation president did in a wild news conference after the Azzurri’s exit from the 2014 World Cup.

Then, the federation orders a review of its development practices from the ground up. England, for instance, likes to call this “root and branch reform.” A parliamentary inquiry might even be in order.

It has yet to work for England, but versions of that thinking have paid off elsewhere. After the twin disasters of the 1998 World Cup (knocked out by Croatia) and Euro 2000 (eliminated in the group stage), Germany redrew its entire youth soccer structure, invested massively in facilities, and realized that a primary failure was in educating youth coaches. This wasn’t a quick fix. But in 2014, with a generation of talent grown in the new model, it won the World Cup.

How U.S. Soccer got here is a long tale of a broken system.

At the grass-roots, good young players are treated vastly differently in this country than virtually anywhere else in the developed world.

Everywhere else, a young player with promise joins a local club and is trained and cultivated throughout childhood by the club itself. In the U.S. a good young player joins a travel team and his parents are told to foot the bill for coaching, travel, uniforms, equipment and any additional training.

“We have to get to point in the U.S. where, when you are a good young player interested in the game, the first thing you get handed isn’t an invoice for several thousand dollars,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said two years ago.

The U.S. Soccer Federation invests millions of dollars each year to increase participation and train coaches, and Major League Soccer’s franchises have in recent years begun to open youth academies. But those efforts are a pittance compared with what happens in so many countries, where local athletic clubs view raising the next generation of players as both a civic responsibility and an investment, because one of them just might turn out to be the next Lionel Messi.

The U.S. has failed to cultivate even a couple of true international stars over the years—something that probably should have happened almost by accident given the size and wealth of the U.S. It’s been 40 years since Pele landed in New York and jump-started the soccer boom.

When Jurgen Klinsmann took over the national team in 2011, his scouts began combing rosters, especially in Europe, for players who might be eligible for an American passport and a spot on the U.S. national team.

Klinsmann’s teams relied heavily on German-Americans, players who were often the children of former American servicemen who had spent time in Germany. One third of his starting lineups were reliably German, with players like Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams and John Brooks, none of whom were in the lineup Tuesday. He left Landon Donovan, arguably the best player the U.S. has ever produced, off the U.S. roster for the 2014 World Cup in favor of the unproven 18-year-old Julian Green.

Klinsmann urged every player to flee the U.S. and try to break into the top or even second-tier leagues in Europe, where the quality of play is far more challenging than in MLS. U.S. players, many of whom had spent their late teens and early 20s playing collegiate soccer, would only improve if they faced better competition, he preached.

Just as Klinsmann was pushing for U.S. players to fight for roster spots in Europe, however, MLS teams generated enough money to sign the top U.S. players to lucrative contracts.

Clint Dempsey returned to play for Seattle. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore returned to play for Toronto. Alejandro Bedoya left France for Philadelphia. Matt Besler eschewed opportunities in Europe for a rich deal in Kansas City. Striker Jordan Morris blew off Germany for Seattle.

Few of these players have improved since 2014. And they don’t face the weekly challenges that 19-year-old Christian Pulisic and striker Bobby Wood face in Germany, and defenders Geoff Cameron and DeAndre Yedlin confront in England.

After five years, Klinsmann’s criticism of the U.S. players wore thin, and the bulk of the team began to tune him out, leading to a series of poor results that culminated in several losses to open the final qualifying tournament.

“I had no problem with Jurgen challenging Americans to be better,” said Alexi Lalas, the former U.S. international who is now an analyst for Fox Sports. “But it began to feel more personal. Combine that with his results and that is where the problems came.”

When Arena was brought back in November, he seemed like the perfect antidote—a prideful veteran of U.S. soccer, who believed strongly in the value of MLS, having won its championship five times. But Arena’s conservative approach made the Americans vulnerable, especially on the road when Concacaf opponents felt emboldened to attack.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard, 38, looked every bit his age, getting beat from the flank 40 yards out on Tuesday’s winning goal.

Now, there are no quick fixes, and the U.S. will likely spend the next year and a half completely turning over its roster. They have to hope their next generation that is trying to break through in Europe continues to improve. These are players like 21-year-old Emerson Hyndman of Bournemouth, 22-year-old Matt Miazga of Vitesse in the Netherlands (on loan from Chelsea), and 19-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers of Sheffield (on loan from Tottenham).

“It’s not going away anytime soon,” Bradley said of the disappointment of this year’s failure. “It’s not something you just forget.”

Thank you Matthew Futterman (matthew.futterman@wsj.com) and Joshua Robinson (joshua.robinson@wsj.com) for the research and writing.

Disgraceful – time to cut the BS!

This is my first post in many months – I’ve simply been too busy at work and with family. But Tuesday night’s US MNT elimination from the World Cup jolted me into posting again.

I have not felt this angry in a while. This is a national disgrace, an international embarrassment.

Let me be very blunt: what a joke of a team and coaches. USSF lacks leadership that understands this beautiful game deeply enough. The quality of soccer in the MLS is poor and the incentives in that league are not aligned with developing players to compete internationally. And don’t get me started on college soccer.

Time to stop the BS and start with a complete and deep revamp of how we teach, play, and organize the beautiful game here.

We need to hold our coaches more accountable and support only those that truly understand the game and how to teach it. This also means that we as parents and the leaders of our youth clubs educate ourselves about what it means to learn and play futbol properly.

In contrast to pretty much all soccer powerhouses such as Brazil and Germany and Spain, we’re paying our coaches and clubs a lot of money, right? So if we have a pay-to-play model here let’s at least demand a service that can justify these cost.

This applies to all levels of coaching – national, pro, college, and youth. And it applies to US Soccer leadership as well as us parents.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you know that this doesn’t come as too big a surprise to me, but I still feel angry about it.

We have inmates running the asylum and it needs to stop.

In contrast, tiny Iceland (pop 335,000) qualified for the World Cup yesterday in first place (!) in its European (!) qualifying group. And remember their recent remarkable European Championship performance?

That’s a country only about one-third the population of the City of San Jose here in NorCal.

Let’s do that again: 335 thousand people with limited resources on an icy island in the Atlantic ocean near Europe perform better than 335 million people living in the wealthiest country in the world with unbelievable facilities and resources and brainpower and a deep and pervasive tradition of sports.

When will there be enough evidence to finally trigger deep changes in how we train and play this beautiful game in our country? Have we finally reached a tipping point?

I’ll leave you with these three clips to reflect on:

#ussoccer #soccer #futbol #usmnt #mls #ussf

One pro player’s traumatic experiences with head injuries

My teammate and I were standing outside RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. It was April 2003, our first home game of the season against the Chicago Fire. It was my first official appearance as a professional soccer player. It was a dream come true.

“Let’s take a picture,” he said. “I feel like this is a day we definitely want to remember.” He handed someone his digital camera, we posed together and smiled.

[Click here for the original article @ThePlayers’Tribune]

I was a 20-year-old rookie — picked No. 1 by D.C. United in the MLS SuperDraft just a few months prior. I hadn’t played against Kansas City in our season opener, so I had made sure to bust my ass in practice that week.

A few days before the game, Coach had even pulled me aside to let me know that he was going to try to get me some minutes. So I put the word out to family and friends.

My parents drove down from New Jersey, my cousin flew in from L.A., some friends came up from the University of Virginia.

But I don’t remember seeing anyone at the match. I don’t remember my name being announced over the loudspeaker. I don’t remember the roar of the crowd and the bright lights.

I don’t even remember stepping onto the field.

Shortly after I came off the bench in the 65th minute, I found myself on the wrong end of a major collision while jumping for a header. I got undercut, flipped over and landed on my head.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the first game of my rookie season was the beginning of the end of my professional soccer career.

The photo we took two hours before the match would be the last thing I remembered until I ended up at the hospital later that night.

I was told that after the game, my mom and dad were waiting outside the locker room for me, but I walked right by them. I didn’t even acknowledge their presence. My team doctor had to explain that I had suffered a head injury and would be heading to the hospital to make sure my brain was not bleeding.

You know when someone claps their hands in front of your face to snap you back into reality? Well, an hour or so later, out of the blue, that’s what I felt happen as I suddenly became aware of where I was. I looked around and noticed my family and friends beside me in the hospital waiting room.

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

“He is still pretty out of it,” I heard my mother tell my father in Armenian. Her voice, and then seeing my family and friends gathered around me, are the first things I can really remember since taking the photograph.

But I still had no idea what had happened.

“Alecko, you hit your head,” the doctors told me.

After a few hours of tests, all the scans on my brain had come back negative for any major brain injury. The only outward sign that anything had happened was the cast on my hand for the three fingers I had broken in the collision.

As for my head, I was told to go home and get some rest, and if there were any problems, to call my team doctor immediately.

I didn’t have any idea how bad the fall was until I got to practice two days later and my coach pulled me into his office.

“Have you seen the video?” he asked me, his voice cracking and eyes welling up with tears. “You’re lucky to be walking, son.”

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He showed me the tape. The slow-motion replay of my entire body weight crashing on top of my head and neck made me nauseous. It wasn’t until then that I also realized I had actually stayed in the game.

I didn’t remember any of it. I just thought, I never want to see that again. And I wouldn’t for the next 12 years.

The crazy thing is, I still didn’t really understand the damage it had done to my brain.

Besides the doctors in the hospital, nobody ever mentioned the word concussion. And after a week of rest, I was back out playing and training with the team. Bullet dodged.

That is how my nightmare began.

Soccer brought my family to this country. My dad, Andranik, grew up an Armenian Christian in Tehran and became one of the best defenders in the history of the Iranian national team.

After playing for Iran at the 1978 World Cup, he was selected to the World All-Star team that played an exhibition game at Giants Stadium against the New York Cosmos.

Immediately after the match, the Cosmos offered him a contract. Despite interest from other top European clubs, my dad decided moving to the U.S. would be the best thing for our family.

So my parents moved with my older brother to New York, and a few years later I was born, more or less with a soccer ball at my feet.

Not a single day went by in my childhood where I didn’t play soccer. Whether in our backyard, or in our basement, or at the park down the street from our house, or with my dad and his teammates — Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto, Hubert Birkenmeier, even Pelé. To me, they were just friends who were always ready to kick the ball around with me.

Soccer was life for my family. In my elementary school yearbooks, my classmates and I had to write what we wanted to be when we grew up. Other kids wrote the usual: doctor, astronaut, police officer, and so on. Next to my name were three words, “Professional soccer player.”

Even off the pitch, soccer was an integral part of our lives. In 1982, Hubert had opened up Birkenmeier Sport Shop, one of the first and only soccer shops in the U.S. But in 1985, as the Cosmos roster went through a major upheaval, Hubert and my dad both got traded and had to relocate to continue their careers.

My father had a different idea – he would instead choose to retire from pro soccer, buy the shop from Hubert, and plant our family roots in New Jersey.

The shop became my second home — and the place where everyone came to talk soccer. Almost every serious soccer player from northern New Jersey — including men’s national team stars Tony Meola, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Gregg Berhalter, and Giuseppe Rossi — grew up coming to the shop.

Sure, Dad’s store sold the newest cleats or kits, but mostly people would come by to talk soccer with my dad and Hubert, who had returned after finishing his playing career.

Meanwhile, I was busy following in my dad’s footsteps as a player. I was New Jersey’s high school player of the year in 2000 and won the Hermann Trophy as the top player in college soccer in ’02.

By that time, I had already represented the U.S. in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. In ’04, I led the U.S. in scoring during Olympic qualifying. Despite getting my own trials with several European clubs, I knew that I wanted to be close to my family. After my junior season at UVA, I decided to enter the MLS draft.

My first game in MLS was supposed to be one I would never forget. Instead it was one that I cannot remember.

I was fortunate that Carlos Bocanegra, a defender for the Fire in that game, was looking out for my well-being. After I stayed on the field following my injury, he and other players actually alerted the referee and medical staff to get me out of the game.

I’ve since been told that I was saying things that did not make any sense after the collision, cursing at guys, saying we were in San Francisco even as I was standing on the pitch in Washington, D.C.

Most people don’t really think of soccer as a contact sport, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the game has gotten more physical, and players have gotten faster and stronger, collisions have become more violent. The number of head injuries has been growing rapidly.

Still, most don’t realize the seriousness of head injuries, how to identify them and most importantly, how to treat them.

 

EARTHQUAKE DC UNTED

After getting knocked unconscious in my first game, I was back on the field in a week. All I needed to hear was that I had been cleared to play and that was enough for me.

It was the same story the following season when I was hit in the back of my head after a scuffle broke out during a match. “Just take a week off to get some rest,” our trainers told me.

Once again I thought, As long as I’m cleared then I should be fine, right? That certainly seemed to be the way it worked out. I scored 14 goals that season, made the All-Star team and was named MLS Cup MVP as we won the championship. I was called in to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Everything was going according to plan. Or at least it seemed to be.

What I didn’t know, however, was that those two hits had done lasting damage to my brain. So when I suffered my third concussion less than a year later in 2005, it had an immediate and devastating effect.

With no more than a couple minutes left in a match against the New England Revolution, the knee of their goalkeeper slammed into the side of my head.

It felt like getting hit with a baseball bat.

And then everything went silent, except for the throbbing and pounding inside my head. It was as if my heart had replaced my brain and all I could feel was it beating inside my skull.

“Esky, are you alright?” I heard the referee ask as he stood over me.

“No,” I muttered. “This isn’t good.”

My trainer took me straight into the locker room and for the next few hours, it felt like I was drunk. Time seemed to slow down and my balance was unstable.

As I did after the first two concussions, I took some cognitive tests, and just like the first two times, I passed every one.

But something was different. This time, I felt a pressure in my skull that I had never felt before. Our team doctor noticed my concern and made sure a friend drove me home.

I thought that — again, just like with my first two head injuries — if I just laid low and got some sleep I would feel better in the morning.

But this time I didn’t.

When I woke up on Sunday morning, it felt like there was a cinder block in the back of my head, like blood had just pooled there overnight. The throbbing was still there, too.

I met with a neurologist on Monday. More tests, more passing, more reassurances that everything would be O.K. More instructions to just take it easy and to take some Tylenol if the headaches persisted.

And a week or so later? Cleared to play.

Alecko Eskandarian

But I still felt that something wasn’t right. The pain, the pressure, the weight in the back of my head — they just wouldn’t go away.

I returned to training, where all my coaches and trainers and teammates knew that doctors had cleared me to play. So the mental warfare began. Do I just suck it up? If I’ve been cleared I must be fine, right? No athlete ever wants to be “that guy” sitting out. Ever. Especially for “headaches.”

I felt like I had no choice. I began playing again. I had never before depended on painkillers, but suddenly I needed them badly. After training, my symptoms would get even worse. How many Tylenol am I supposed to take before the pain goes away?

The locker room was not a good place for me to vent my frustration. Every guy in there was playing through some sort of injury. Any mention of my discomfort and the ribbing would start.

Man, you’re sitting out for that?

Oh, trying to get another vacation day?

I wish I could get a day off every time I had a headache.

Nobody understood what I was going through. But I was determined to beat this thing. I focused all my energy on sucking it up, getting back on the field — for my livelihood, for my career. After missing games for three straight weeks, I was back training and finally set to return to the starting lineup.

But a few days before the game, as I was driving home to my Georgetown apartment after practice, I suddenly experienced a headache so sharp that I could actually hear it. You know that sound when a microphone screeches? That terrible, piercing ring that keeps rising?

I had to close my eyes. I swerved across three lanes of traffic. How I didn’t end up in a car accident I’ll never know.

I immediately called my trainer and asked to meet with a new neurologist in order to get a second opinion. The next day at the doctor’s office, I told him everything I had been through, starting with the collision in the first game of my rookie year. He just looked at me in disbelief.

“If you play soccer and you get hit in the head again, you might die,” he said.

He told me that I would have to be shut down for a minimum of two months, until I was completely symptom free. No physical activity — nothing that would raise my heart rate until the headaches went away.

For the next 10 months, I was a ghost.

20161031_sm_alecko_232b

I stopped answering the phone. I stopped going out with my friends. I used to be the happiest guy in the locker room, always ready to share a story or play a practical joke.

Now, I would sit in my apartment and watch the hours go by. I struggled to eat more than one meal a day. It was torture to go to games at the stadium to support my teammates. The atmosphere at RFK — which I had once thrived on — now triggered headaches.

The thing I loved most in this world had been taken away from me and I didn’t know what to do.

I just felt isolated and helpless. And honestly, I was terrified about not knowing what was going to happen. If I was going to recover, or if the depression was going to consume me.

The worst part about my recovery was that no one was able to see what I was going through. To the naked eye, you would have thought I was fine.

I wasn’t. I didn’t know if the headaches would ever go away. If I’d ever feel like myself again. I didn’t know if I’d ever return to the field.

Most people thought I was done. About a week before one of the last games of the season, I got Facebook messages from members of the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava, two D.C. United supporters groups.

“At the next match just make sure you have a good view of our supporters’ section in the 11th minute.”

That weekend, I went to the match and looked to where the Screaming Eagles sit. At the 11th minute, they held up a huge banner.

 

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I got pretty emotional about it. I mean, of course it was an incredible gesture from the fans to let me know that they hadn’t forgotten about me —but it was also like, Holy shit, it’s as if I’ve died.

At that point, it actually felt like I already had. I was pretty much ready to risk my life for the game. I was only 22, and I might have been romanticizing things a bit, but more than once I had thought to myself, I’d rather die on the field than never play again.

It all sort of reached a boiling point when I went back home to New Jersey for the off-season. I’d always been close with my parents, but because of everything I’d been going through, I was not a pleasant person to be around. When I was living in D.C., I had grown increasingly frustrated any time they would call to ask if I was feeling any better.

“No, I still have headaches. Every day is the same. Please stop asking.”

Being back home, I had family support to lean on, but I rejected it. I started to feel sorry for myself, and with the holidays around the corner, I became annoyed about how cheery everyone was.

I thought, My life’s work is being taken away from me. I have no idea if I’ll ever get better, and you want me to buy presents, put up Christmas decorations and sing carols?

I knew that I had to start digging myself out the hole I was in — not just to play soccer again, but to have any sort of life period. I set up a treadmill that my brother and I had gotten for my parents and started running.

Two minutes without a headache. Next day, five minutes. The next, 10 minutes. I started doing crossword puzzles to keep my brain active. I made sure my brain was at full rest for a certain number of hours a day — no TV, no reading, no straining whatsoever. I basically re-calibrated my entire life.

Soon, the weight and the pressure in my head started to subside, and life felt more … normal. And when preseason rolled around in February, I had been symptom-free long enough to rejoin the team.

We took things easy at first, but eventually, I found myself back on the pitch at RFK Stadium for our season-opener — and scoring off a left-footed volley.

I knew there were still uncertainties with my head, but I made the All-Star team again that season, and was one of the league’s top goal scorers. I even scored in an exhibition game against Real Madrid in front of 70,000 fans. I was back. My teammate Josh Gros started calling me “the Truman Show.”

“Your life couldn’t be any more scripted,” he said.

I have to admit, everything felt so surreal. I thought, Am I still concussed and dreaming all of this? I played every game and celebrated every goal like it was my last, because I knew it could have been.

LA Galaxy v New York Red Bulls

And four years later, on July 19, 2009, I did play my last game. Call it piss-poor luck or a heartbreaking twist, but I suffered my fourth concussion while playing for the L.A. Galaxy when an opposing defender inadvertently cleared the ball into my face.

Once again, everything went black. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was swallowing my tongue. I had broken my nose and started spitting out blood. My old symptoms had returned. This time, worse than before.

I tried to convince myself that I could pull off another comeback. But this time, my doctors and coaches weren’t willing to take the risk. I wasn’t cleared to play.

“If you were my son, I’d tell you to stop,” my coach at the time told me.

I went from living in paradise in Hermosa Beach to once again being consumed by depression — steps away from the sand and the ocean, but confined to the darkness of my apartment.

I tried to fight it as best as I could. I kept myself busy and started doing some TV broadcasting work. I started taking business courses. I was making new friends. But none of it helped me escape my reality.

I could feel myself spiraling downward and I knew I needed change. So I moved back to Charlottesville, to finish up my degree at UVA and find an escape from soccer.

At school, new challenges awaited. The damage to my brain was worse than before. I struggled to focus and began experiencing vertigo.

One day in Charlottesville, after finishing a light workout my body suddenly went into shock. My head began pounding. I started shaking. I felt nauseous. I was fading.

Sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car while he rushed me to the hospital, I quickly ruled out any thought of a comeback.

“It’s over,” I said as we drove up Route 29. “I’ll never play again.”

“Dude, what?” my buddy said.

“I’ll never play soccer again.”

“Uh, yeah? I’m taking you to the hospital to make sure you don’t die and you’re worried about whether you’ll kick a ball again?”

The next day, I wrote it down. I’m never going to be a professional soccer player again.

When I look back on my career, I think about dribbling a ball around my dad’s soccer shop and dreaming about playing in front of thousands of people.

I think about the great teams and teammates I played with. I think about how I got to share the field with some of soccer’s biggest stars — Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Pirlo, David Beckham.

Yet something else also happened on those fields that changed my life. And it’s still happening.

It wasn’t until I went through head injuries myself that I realized how many people are struggling with the aftereffects of concussions.

Even over the course of my own recovery, I haven’t wanted to open up about what I have gone through. I didn’t want to talk about the dark places my concussions took me, the depression, the isolation, the helplessness. How could I help others if I couldn’t help myself?

It wasn’t until I went through head injuries myself that I realized how many people are struggling.

But, I’m finally at a point where I have learned to manage my brain injury, and it’s time I start sharing my story about concussions in soccer. It’s time that all soccer players do.

As I’ve started to be more open about my own struggles, dozens and dozens of players of all ages have reached out to me asking for guidance or advice.

I remember when I was recovering from my third concussion, I got a call from my agent. He told me that former MLS midfielder Ross Paule wanted to talk to me. A few days later, my phone rang.

“This isn’t the life you want,” Ross told me, and warned me not to rush to come back. He’d suffered concussions while playing for the Columbus Crew and had tried to play through them — until they eventually forced him to retire.

“I can’t drive after dark,” he said. “I can’t play with my little girl. You don’t want this.”

I remember I was sitting in the Galaxy dressing room after my fourth concussion when David Beckham approached me.

“Mate, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Same thing happened to one of my teammates at Manchester United. He sat in a dark room for a month.”

As an assistant coach now for the NASL’s New York Cosmos, I sat down recently with one of our players who had suffered a concussion. I told him about my experiences and how he needed to be careful.

He just stared back at me. In his face, I saw the same 20-year-old I had been. I knew how much he wanted to be on the field and how all he wanted to hear was that he was cleared to play.

It hurt me that he couldn’t see what I had gone through. If only there was a scar to show….

For all the progress we’ve made in the last few years, education about head injuries still needs to be emphasized more by leagues, coaches and trainers. There is still no clear-cut diagnosis process or treatment method.

I still can’t sit in the back of a car without feeling nauseous. I can’t yell throughout practices or games. I can’t raise my heart rate too high without getting headaches.

But I decided a few years ago to focus on what I can do. And much of that is not taking things for granted anymore — like being able to go outside and run, which led to running in my first marathon this past month.

And another thing I can do is talk about a serious problem — one that is growing —in our sport. We all need to keep talking about it — so that no one has to experience what I did.

ALECKO ESKANDARIAN

alecko-sign

Player development – a legend’s views.

“I used to head 100 balls a day and I don’t remember good times so well.”

You are probably aware of ongoing discussions regarding head injuries in soccer (it’s much much worse for (American) football, of course, but it’s an issue for soccer too).

Full-blown concussions typically take center-stage, but medical professionals are now also worried about the many smaller sub-concussive blows to the head.

And there is increasing evidence that even just rapid head movements can cause long-term damage.

In response, U.S. Soccer recently introduced a powerful educational concussion video and the no-heading rule for players up to and including twelve years of age.

This caused some frustration, including concerns about our youngsters not being able to head the ball well when they are older. 

Some also felt that this was an overreaction and that heading the ball safely (with the front of the head instead of the top or sides) can be taught from a young age.

The risks associated with heading balls is not yet properly understood. Scientists and medical professionals are working to understand this much better, but it will take some time.

In the meantime, I would like to share the experiences of a family friend with you.

Chris Nicholl was a professional soccer player and manager in the English Premier League. He played as a central defender for Aston Villa (1972–1977) (210 league appearances) and then Southampton (1977-1983) (228 league appearances).

Chris also played internationally for Northern Ireland (51 caps). After he retired from his playing career, Chris managed Southampton amongst other clubs.

I’ve added a vintage clip at the end of this article showing Chris’ most famous goal, scored during the League Cup Final against Everton.

But arguably his most memorable feat was scoring all four goals in a 2:2 draw between Aston Villa and Leicester City. 😁
Chris was interviewed by the Daily Mail a couple of weeks ago and I’m pasting a key passage below. Click here for the full article.

“I know I’m brain damaged from heading footballs. I used to head 100 balls almost every day. When I was at Aston Villa I would watch all my team-mates going home in their cars and I would still be there on the training pitch with Ray Grayden who used to send them long. It’s definitely affected my memory. The balls were a lot heavier then.” Nicholl points to his nose which is unnaturally curved and crooked. “Maybe you can tell, I used to head more with my nose,” he adds. “It’s not recommended.”

To be clear, Chris’ example doesn’t prove that heading the ball causes brain damage nor how many headers per day/week/month are safe. His memory loss might simply be age related (he is 70).

However, the medical research community in England and now also the English FA is looking into pre-mature deaths and behavioral changes of former players.

Early evidence is showing that some died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the same condition as American football players.

And three members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, believed to be caused by heading.

According to one health advocate in England, 75% to 80% of the players that contact her are centre-halves and centre-forwards.

“Obviously not all of them are, but the vast majority are. Although any player on the pitch can head the ball, centre halves and strikers head the ball more, especially in those days.”

Researchers at the University of Stirling, UK, found heading the ball just 20 times could make “small but significant changes in brain function” for the next 24 hours, when memory performance was reduced between 41 and 67 per cent.

I hope this serves as a cautionary tale. 

Unfortunately, as a referee I still see too many coaches who ignore or down-play players’ head injuries during games and practices.

Let’s err on the side of caution for our youngsters, folks. The brain is precious and damage to it often doesn’t become apparent until later in life.

That damage is irreversible and fundamentally changes who you are as a person well before your pre-mature death.

Limitations of referee offside calls

This post introduces one of the most difficult decisions a referee has to make. But before we get into the details, I strongly suggest you test yourself using the below video.

It will show you 25 very brief clips that ask you to decide if the player is offside or not. Then at around 4:20 you will be given the answers for each of the 25 clips. How did you do?

What makes it so difficult to correctly decide if the player is indeed offside is the limitation of the human eye and brain. It’s called the Flash-Lag Effect, which makes a moving object appear to be ahead of its actual position.

Click here for a great webpage if you want to dig deeper. I’m quoting:

Top referees are aware of the Flash Lag Effect and practice hard to factor it into their thought process when considering whether a player is in an offside position. They also know that the faster the players are moving, the more tolerance they have to factor in to their decision making.

This is why close offsides are the most difficult calls in the game. The AR has to override what his own eyes and brain are telling him and, if they make a correct call, when it appears to every person in the stadium including himself that he is incorrect, then that call is of genius proportions. 

Here is probably one of the most ‘genius’ decisions in World Cup history. Look very closely at the final still image showing the heal of the defender keeping Chicharito onside.

However, as Offside Explained says, “this decision could have gone either way – at this speed had the pass come 0,02 seconds later we would see a clear offside in the still-image. There is no way for a (human) referee to know if it’s offside or not.

Also, according to the laws we have to evaluate head, body and feet. When players are running fast it is very hard to recognize the position of the feet vs body.

This is why we have to accept marginal mistakes when the player is offside and there is fast movement. But the players and the fans do not accept nor understand this, but there is no other way for the referees.”

The only solution to this is technology – either video replays (as is currently being tested successfully at the top level in select leagues) or somehow tagging and then sensing in real-time the position of every part of each player’s body and the ball, which is much more complicated than video replays.

In the above World Cup example a video replay would have been an obvious decision. The game was halted anyway because a (suspected) goal was scored. The referee would run to the sideline to watch a replay in super slow motion and then determine if the restart is a kick-off for blue (if Chicharito was indeed onside and scored a valid goal) or a free kick for blue (if Chicharito was offside after all).

Unfortunately, at the youth level coaches, players, and spectators will have to accept the errors that the Flash-Lag Effect introduces into the game.

 

Powerful concussion video released by U.S. Soccer

As part of the ongoing efforts to educate the soccer community, U.S. Soccer recently released the below powerful video.

It follows a player through her journey on the road to recovery; from the initial impact, assessment, recovery, and finally back on the pitch.

The message in the video is simple, “Recognize the symptoms, take the appropriate action, and come back to the game 100%”.

This message is one that we cannot fail to share enough with the soccer community. Only with your diligence on the pitch during games and practices, can we make an impact on our players’ road to recovery.

Please share the below video with your players, parents, coaches, administrators and friends in soccer. Also share this U.S. Soccer webpage and this link to useful shareable resources, including impactful printable materials.

The above text is taken, in part, from Cal North’s website and edited for brevity.

Finally, please keep in mind that concussions are just the tip of the iceberg. There is growing scientific evidence that even repeated sub-concussive impacts on the brain can lead to severe lifetime brain damage. Click here for more information.

Offside during recent Liverpool game

Probably one of the two most contentious issues during soccer games are offside decisions (the other is ‘handball’). This comes up during pretty much every game – coaches and parents protesting ‘obvious’ bad offside calls by the referees.

I’m not going to get into the technicalities of precisely what offside is here, but if you want further background please click here for a blog post that includes a discussion of offside and why it’s so very difficult to determine unless you are the AR in the right position. Even the CR can’t make that decision unless it’s blatantly obvious.

Instead, let’s take a look at a very difficult offside decision during a very recent EPL Liverpool game.

First, what does this screen shot tell you? White #8 is clearly offside, correct? He’s closer to the goal than the red defenders when his teammate heads the ball towards him.

liverpooloffside1

Next, let’s rotate our field of view. What does this next screen shot show?

liverpooloffside2

It clearly shows White #8 NOT in an offside position because he is level with Red #11 the moment his teammate heads the ball towards him.

Quite amazing the difference the angle of view makes, right?

However, the play isn’t over yet. Let’s take a look at the next screen shot.

liverpooloffside4

The white player at the top headed the ball towards White #8, but it lands short in front of the white player barely visible in front of Red #6. Both that white player and Red #6 stretch their left leg to reach the ball.

The moment the white player’s leg touches the ball is another potential offside infraction by White #8. However, White #8 is again NOT in an offside position because the red player’s outstretched left leg (or more precisely his left foot) is closer to the goal than any body part of White #8 (please note that hands and arms don’t count for offside decisions).

The ball then landed in front of White #8 who scored. The referees rightfully awarded the goal.

Now imagine all this unfolding in realtime and you’re one of the referees. This is very difficult to get right unless you are highly trained and have the experience to apply the laws of the game in realtime as the action unfolds.

Please consider giving the referees the benefit of doubt during your youth games. Referees do make mistakes, of course, and they are the first to admit it, but please keep in mind that coaches and parents simply aren’t close enough to the action, nor have the right angle of view, nor fully understand the offside law and how to apply it.

For the good of the game and your kid’s enjoyment please think twice before reacting to an ‘obvious’ offside ‘mistake’.

Unprecedented probably in any sport: *opponents* celebrate retiring futsal legend Falcao after defeating his Brazilian team in the Quarterfinals of the Futsal World Cup

Have you ever seen a professional sports team celebrate an opponent during a major competition? This speaks volumes about Falcao’s status in the world of soccer, and futsal in particular.

Falcao retired today at age 39. He brought immeasurable joy to futbol and inspired a generation of players, including Neymar, through his ginga. He lifted futsal to new heights and will be forever remembered alongside greats such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Messi. Thank you for the magic, Falcao!

And respect to the Iranian players for this kind of sportsmanship!

Here’s a 40-second clip showing the celebration immediately after the Quarterfinal and then take a look at the FIFA clip on Falcao.

 

Even mild childhood concussion linked to lifelong health and social problems

The scientific evidence is mounting: even mild childhood head injuries can increase the risk of low educational attainment, psychiatric hospitalization and early death, according to a highly respected team of scientists from the US, UK, and Sweden.

“Even a single mild traumatic brain injury will predict poor adult functioning.”

-Amir Sariaslan, University of Oxford, UK

To be clear, ‘traumatic brain injury’ sounds like a major head injury to us non-medical parents, coaches, and players, but in the medical world ‘just’ a concussion is considered a traumatic brain injury.

Click here for the just-published scientific paper if you’re interested. And click here for an easier to digest article summarizing some of the findings.

And I also wanted to share the following recent comments published in the New York Times by Dr. Omalu, the forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who first discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in American football players. He is featured in the movie Concussion. The last sentence struck me as especially profound so I bolded it.

“Our children are minors who have not reached the age of consent. It is our moral duty as a society to protect the most vulnerable of us. The human brain becomes fully developed at about 18 to 25 years old.

We should at least wait for our children to grow up, be provided with the information and education on the risk of play [in American Football], and let them make their own decisions. No adult, not a parent or a coach, should be allowed to make this potentially life-altering decision for a child.

We have a legal age for drinking alcohol; for joining the military; for voting; for smoking; for driving; and for consenting to have sex. We must have the same when it comes to protecting the organ that defines who we are as human beings.

To be clear, there is a big difference in risks between American Football and soccer. Like probably in any team sport, there are brain injury risks playing soccer, but those are arguably manageable through smart and prudent preventive measures, including heading rules for youngsters and stricter enforcement of challenges on players that risk injury to the brain.

But let’s get ahead of this in soccer. Take the risks of head injuries seriously folks, even mild ones!

Sportsmanship message from NorCal Premier Soccer – unfortunately too easily forgotten as the season unfolds

As we head into the fall season, we would like to encourage players, coaches, family members, club officials, and referees to take a moment to consider how they will behave around their upcoming soccer games. All play an important role in our small piece of the “World’s Game”, all deserve to be treated respectfully.

While we absolutely encourage everyone to give their best effort, trying to win, we also believe a sense of soccer fellowship should be maintained at all times ­among opponents, opposing fans, and referees.

Treat each other with courtesy, remember your opponents are just like you, fans of the game, only in a different uniform, playing for a different club, supporting a different team, or in the case of referees, with a different role to play.

Whatever part you play, be a role model. Set an example. Your positive example is incredibly valuable to those who witness it!

The rules must be respected – they maintain a player’s health and safety, provide everyone a fair chance to win each match, and provide necessary checks and balances to govern a game full of emotions.

Referees must be respected and treated properly ­- without them the games cannot be played. Remember they are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are our fellow soccer fans and they deserve our patience. Our praise, respect and admiration should be shown to them for taking on what is often a thankless task.

Finally, respect the game! Soccer, futebol, fussball, football, whatever you may call it, is the greatest sport in the world – for it to continue to grow and remain healthy in our country it absolutely needs us to respect… its fields, its players, its fans, its referees and its coaches.

Thank you very much,

Norcal Board of Directors

First in-game use of video replay in soccer last Saturday – and it worked well!

One club’s view on parent refereeing: “a paid job”

First off, to avoid any misunderstand, this post is NOT meant to point a finger at a specific club or individuals at that club. The decision makers at this club were acting without malice in what they considered to be reasonable and in the best interest of their club. So the intention of this post is only to help ‘educate’ our youth soccer community, including decision makers at clubs (and leagues), triggered by an actual situation I encountered with one of the big clubs in our area.

One of my kids plays for one of the well-known clubs in the Bay Area and this club collects an additional $100 per player every season that parents can earn back through six hours of volunteering during the season. Any money left over at the end of the season is automatically donated to the club.

Volunteer tasks include activities such as lining a field or manning a tournament booth or helping to sell club spirit wear during a club event.

As you might know, I am a fully certified USSF referee and try my best to officiate as many youth games as I can every weekend to help our Bay Area soccer community, including many games for this specific club.

You probably already know that there is a big shortage of referees, but if you don’t then please take a moment to read this before continuing.

To my surprise, when I submitted my refereeing to this club as my volunteering contribution to claim the $100 back at the end of last season, I was told that this club doesn’t consider refereeing ‘volunteering’ because it is compensated.

The ironic thing is that in response to this same club’s request for parents to consider becoming certified referees “to help make sure games can happen” some years ago, I volunteered to become one.

And every six months or so this club’s referee coordinator sends out an email to all families asking for help officiating and the details of the next entry-level referee course. And, partly in response to this club’s recent shout-out, two of my kids are also now certified referees and volunteer their time on weekends in addition to their own soccer games.

Before I continue, let me emphasize that this is not about the $100. I am fortunate enough not to have to worry about the $100. Instead, it’s about the principle of this policy and the message that it is sending.

Also, let me be clear one more time that I don’t think this club is in any way ‘against’ referees. The club leadership and Board members are good people that want their club and kids to succeed. I have to assume that the majority on the club’s Board simply don’t understand what’s involved in becoming a referee and then officiating every weekend.

I am going to first talk about money, then my non-monetary commitments, and, finally, I will describe arguably the single most important and hidden volunteer contribution that goes along with a parent referee.

The club is correct that referees do get some compensation for games. It’s anywhere from $25 to $55 per game, depending on factors such as whether you’re the CR or AR, the age group, duration of the game, and level of play (e.g. CYSA league game or NPL or ECNL etc.).

So, for example, if I’m the AR for a 50-minute U8 CYSA game then I get $25. And if I’m the CR for a 90-minute U18 ECNL game then I get $55.

The total time commitment for the U8 game is around 2 hours and around 3 hours for the U18 game, when adding halftime (around 10 minutes), pre-game set-up and team check-in (we try to arrive 30 minutes prior to kick-off, but it’s often only 15 to 20 minutes because we’re rushing over from another game), post-game handshakes and paperwork etc. (10 minutes), and then, say, 30 to 60 minutes driving to and from the field. Sometimes we have back-to-back games at the same field so that saves us one leg of the drive.

So that’s $12.50 per hour for a typical U8 game and $18 per hour for a typical U18 game.

But that’s before deducting expenses!

Deduct from this the cost of fuel plus an allocation for wear and tear for my car. This wear and tear includes factors such as added mileage and the effects of usage on parts, tires, brakes, fluids etc. The IRS calculates the fully loaded cost for this to be $0.54 per mile. I drive an average of 10 miles one way to a game so that’s around $10 just for car usage.

Also deduct from the compensation the cost of additional food and drinks that I often grab on-the-go while driving from one game to the next. A per-game allocation of, say, $5 for extra food and a Peets coffee (to get my tired mind and body caffeinated for the fourth game under the sun that day) that I would not have bought if I wasn’t refereeing, and we’re looking at a total per-game cost of between $10 and $15.

And then there’s the cost for annual USSF certification and membership in the referees association, plus the cost for my equipment, which I estimate to be around $500 to $750. And I’m about to spend another round of money on equipment because USSF is introducing new referee uniforms.

I’m probably missing a couple of cost items, but I hope this gives you some insight into the expense side of refereeing. Nevertheless, a referee can come out ahead if he/she officiates enough games and thus covers his/her fixed cost.

Now, I’m fortunate enough not to have to worry about ‘coming out ahead’. Any money I ‘earn’ over and above my cost makes zero contribution to my family’s standard of living. And I can say with 99% certainty that the same applies to any parent at that club who decides to help out by becoming a referee. You would agree with me if you knew which club it was and the neighborhoods the families live in.

Next, let’s focus on the non-monetary aspects of what I do. It’s easiest to simply run a list:

  • 4 to 6 games per weekend (sometimes no games if I’m taking my daughter or son to an overnight tournament, and sometimes more if needed, especially during local tournaments) – a total of 10 to 20 hours per weekend and probably 200 to 300 hours per typical season;
  • I jump into games on short notice and drop whatever else I was planning to do with my kids or wife when I get an urgent email or call asking me to help out because a game is short referees or a referee fell ill;
  • I attend, on my own time and cost, referee association meetings to discuss and learn about becoming a better referee;
  • I attend, on my own time and cost, quarterly referee training seminars to become a better referee;
  • I read, on my own time and cost, articles on refereeing and study case studies on a daily/weekly basis to become a better referee;
  • I mentor, on my own time, new/young referees when asked by assignors;
  • I write, on my own time, about refereeing on this blog to help educate our soccer community here in the Bay Area;
  • I encouraged my two oldest kids to become referees, helped train them, often discuss refereeing decisions and the laws of the game with them, and take them to their games so we have new young referees to fill the shoes of those aging out;
  • I am studying, on my own time, the recently updated Laws of the Game – the biggest revamp of the laws in the history of the game;

I could go on.

Now let’s get to the typically overlooked yet most critical volunteer contribution of all. And this volunteer contribution gets zero recognition. At least a referee can get some personal satisfaction from officiating a game.

This critical volunteer contribution comes from my wife. She sacrifices her time every weekend to enable me (and my kids) to help out with officiating so that games can take place.

My wife puts up with all of this. Who takes care of the kids when I’m gone for the day or even weekend helping make sure youth games can happen? My wife. Who adjusts her schedule when I get an urgent call to help out with game? My wife. And who takes our kids to their games if those overlap with my officiating? My wife.

And my wife earns zero compensation and recognition for this volunteering. In fact, it is often a source of considerable stress in our family.

And, finally, at the end of an especially long weekend officiating, my body and mind are exhausted. I often have no energy to go out on a Saturday or Sunday evening, and Monday then becomes my recovery day – guess how productive my workday is on some Mondays?

I don’t like to talk about this. I’m not into self-promotion. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I do all this for a passion for the beautiful game and to help the kids in our Bay Area soccer community. For futbol…and a smile on the kids’ faces.

Yes, there are often many negative emotions during and after games as you can imagine, dear parents and coaches ;-), but, on balance, the positives of refereeing outweigh the negatives for me.

I couldn’t care less for any ‘compensation’ and I couldn’t care less for the $100 donation for this club. This isn’t about the money. And the same applies to practically any other parent referee.

But what I do care about is that refereeing by parents is viewed as a ‘paid job’. At a minimum, it completely ignores the very real sacrifices of the referee’s spouse.

I simply can’t see how a referee family’s contribution to our youth soccer community, including a specific club’s community, is worth less than spending a handful of hours manning a booth.

I strongly urge clubs to respect and recognize the contributions of parent referee families to our soccer community.

Anyway, I hope this is a useful perspective on parent refereeing that is probably not fully understood in our youth soccer community.

For futbol, for the kids!

If you love your child read this

Please consider sharing this with family, friends, and coaches.

Brown University scientists have captured in real-time video (see below) what happens to a brain cell after experiencing a significant impact on the brain. And, crucially, it’s not just the hard concussion-causing blows that cause permanent brain damage.

When the brain was hit with a slower blow, “the cells gradually retract all their connections to the surrounding networks and sort of silently shut down. What is striking to us is that within the first four to five hours, the brain cells look healthy, and you think everything is OK.

Then you see the cells changing, and then they start to change rapidly and degenerate, and they’re dead within a few hours. [the below clip shows that clearly]

The reason why there is a delay is because it’s a chemical process that plays out inside the cell. There are certain enzymes that, once they become activated, start to chop down the cell from the inside out.” Christian Franck, Assistant Professor at Brown University

So what does this mean for soccer? Well, for one, I believe that we need to err on the side of caution and prevent youngsters from heading balls until they are, say, 14 or older. Coaches and referees also need to be much more vigilant about head injuries.

CYSA now bans heading for all U13 and below games and NorCal for all U11 and below. This is a very good step, of course, but my personal preference is to see this extended to U14 across the nation.

By the way, even medical professionals and scientists don’t yet know what an acceptable number and type of blows to the head should be. Research is underway, but it will take many years. But I just look at the fragile floating brain in our skull in the clip below and just can’t help but feel that we’re not cautious enough.

And what does this mean for American Football? Pull your child out immediately. You are causing lasting long-term brain damage to your child and there is no way to repair that damage. I simply can’t see how American Football can be modified to make it safe.

There is nothing more precious than our brains and especially a child’s developing brain. For some reason, as a society, we are prone to ignore the health of our brains and just assume that the brain keeps working as designed. And we don’t seem to understand that many brain injuries cause devastating effects only years or even decades later.

But why should we treat the brain with any less care than other body parts? If you knew that a certain type of activity causes repetitive micro-fractures in your legs’ bones and eventually complete lifetime loss of use of your legs, would you continue to encourage your child to perform that activity?

So why would you do this for activities that damage the brain and lead to lifetime impairment and possibly even early death? It doesn’t make sense!

Take this seriously folks!

For more background, please see below for an overview of how impact head injuries occur and click here for a CNN clip on the impact of concussions in soccer.

 

U.S. Soccer’s Gender Wage Gap

When coaches lose perspective and hurt youngsters and the beautiful game

Take a look at the 30-second clip below showing one serious foul and then one reckless foul by the same player during the U13G semifinal at US Futsal Nationals this past weekend in San Jose.

These fouls were about 7 minutes apart during the last 15 minutes of the game and earned the offender two yellow cards and then a red.

The first foul could have been a straight red card, especially in a futsal context where the laws of the game are tighter than for outdoor soccer.

The coach had assigned the offending player to man-mark orange #6 and had berated her repeatedly for not being physical/aggressive enough. This coach got increasingly frustrated as the game unfolded and then channelled that into his players.

I don’t believe that this girl had the intention to hurt orange #6 earlier in the game, but she was eventually pushed too far by her coach. She was under increasing pressure and finally snapped.

Orange #6 could not continue playing and had to be carried off the court. Later she had difficulties walking and her lower back and right hip was very painful. She was lucky to avoid serious injury.

And by way of context, the orange team was winning 6:0 when the first offense occurred. And let’s remember that futsal in particular is about footwork, skills, and creativity. So let’s coach those aspects of the game, win or lose.

This is an example of what can go wrong with youth coaching when coaches lose perspective.

The offending player learned nothing from this kind of coaching and ended up evicted from the game. She didn’t strike me as someone who would wear that with pride. I very much doubt that this experience furthered her interest in soccer.

And the injured player could have sustained career-ending injuries, which would have a been a major blow for her, of course, but also soccer more broadly – orange #6 is very talented and very likely to make the U.S. Soccer national player pool soon.

[Update: turns out, this player did take pride in her red card afterall. Due to some social media sleuthing by an observant parent, we also know that at least two parents on that team congratulated this girl on the red card. So it’s clearly not just a coaching problem as was pointed out in the comments below. Disgraceful in my view.]

FC Barcelona values in action here in the Bay Area

My youngest participated in the FC Barcelona Summer Camp here in the Bay Area two weeks ago. My older two participated two years ago.

Authentic FC Barcelona coaches fly in from Spain to run these camps throughout the country every summer.

Before I describe our experiences, take a look at the above photo. Why do you think the kids are lined up like this? I’ll share the reason toward the end of this post.

I can recommend this summer camp because the kids are exposed to a truly positive futbol experience.

The soccer specific coaching is very good, of course, but, just as important, the coaches also emphasize and teach values.

These values are explained on the FC Barcelona website and include respect, effort, ambition, teamwork, and humility. And under ‘ambition’ you will see discipline and patience.

These aren’t just empty words – I’ve seen these in action many times in different situations these last few years – during summer camps here in the U.S. (both outdoor and futsal), during visits to FC Barcelona in Spain where my kids trained with Barça coaches, and during a tournament in Spain where we competed against and were able to observe FC Barcelona youth teams and coaches.

What makes these experiences so positive is the warmth and passion of these coaches. They expect a lot of course, but they don’t let these performance expectations overtake a values-based approach to developing youngsters.

The coaches never raised their voices (apart from making sure instructions can be heard, of course) and I’ve never seen any of them pull their face or turn around in frustration if the youngsters made mistakes.

They applaud effort, not results. They focus on learning, on guided discovery, not ‘answers’ and ‘instructions’.

They focus on creating an environment where experimentation is encouraged. They focus on teaching soccer IQ, a way of thinking about the essence of the game.

And here’s how this values based approach shows itself in more visible ways, through appearance, habits, and conduct:

  • never be late – if you arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled time, you are late;
  • shake hands when you arrive and when you leave – welcome each other;
  • jerseys are always tucked in;
  • uniforms, including bags and jackets, look neat and clean – no exceptions; you reflect yourself, your teammates, your team, your club, and ultimately your region and country (note that FC Barcelona first and foremost proudly represents Catalunya);
  • laces are always tied properly;
  • players line up and walk behind the coach;
  • nobody talks when the coaches talk – you listen and can ask questions;
  • apply what you are being taught to show that you want to learn;
  • youngsters will watch other teams in between their own tourney games…
  • …and they will sit quietly and pay attention, even to weak/boring teams;

The list goes on.

Now let’s get back to my opening question. Why do the FC Barcelona coaches teach the kids to line up in the semi-circle you see in the photo above?

For arguably the single most important value, listed first on this FC Barcelona website: respect. The two coaches taught the kids at my daughter’s summer camp that it is disrespectful to turn your back on your teammates.

Finally, let me comment on an aspect of these summer camps that often leads to misguided parental hopes and motivations.

Every summer the Barça coaches select one or two players from each camp to join a ‘Team USA’ for an international tournament in Barcelona.

A lot of parents I’ve met at these camps appear to be there in the hope that their son is going to be ‘discovered’ by FC Barcelona.

And after every camp there’s the inevitable complaining that x, y, and z youngster shouldn’t have been picked. My son or that other boy was a much better player! He scored many goals! And he was running so much more! He had more skills than that other player!

Well, let’s be clear that none of the youngsters attending these summer camps are being selected for a pro career at FC Barcelona.

The Barça coaches specifically tell the parents that they are not necessarily looking to just select the best soccer players. They are looking for that (relatively rare) combination of soccer ability and positive character. They are being selected because they clearly enjoy the beautiful game and reflect the Barça values.

It’s not about scouting the next Messi and it’s definitely not about encouraging that lone wolf player who might be the strongest and most competitive player and most skillful on the field, but rarely smiles and has no real interest in teamwork, humility, and the other players at camp.

I wish more clubs and coaches and parents would take these values more seriously.

There’s no magic, but you have to truly live and breathe them consistently, both the big picture and the details, every day.

barcacampholdinghandscirclecropped

Stop whatever you are doing and watch this Icelandic commentator react to their historic win today. Got passion?

The story continues: tiny Iceland, with roughly one-third the population of San Jose (!), qualified today in dramatic fashion for the knockout stage of the European Championship.

NOBODY expected this. Sit back and enjoy. This is futbol!

We’re not developing risk-averse robots, right?

Disgraceful parental behavior during little girls game

I had a mind-boggling refereeing experience on Sunday. It was a U10G Bronze game and we kicked off at 6pm on the last day of the Spring season. It was Sunday evening and nice weather.

So after a long soccer weekend I was expecting a pleasant game between little nine year old girls. A celebration of the beautiful game and a fun experience for these little girls.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I have rarely experienced such a rowdy sideline. Pretty much the entire game was played under constant screaming and shouting at the girls, and frequent dissent about pretty much every call that went against the visiting team, including in particular offside and ‘handball’.

When the visiting team dissent became too blatant and interfered with officiating I stopped the game to talk to the parents. I tried to explain that a ball touching a hand or arm is not in itself an infraction – it has to be deliberate, for example. And frankly, dear reader, referees are supposed to be much more lenient when Bronze level nine year olds play the game.

In a final attempt to try to take the edge off their behavior I reminded the coach and parents that these are just nine year old girls trying to have fun playing a game.

It didn’t work. These parents were not interested in reason and were in a combative mood from the beginning. Textbook case.

So when the dissent continued I had no choice but to evict a parent and then ten minutes into the second half warned the coach that I will terminate the game if there’s any further interference. This coach then called to his parents to calm down, but otherwise made no effort to control his parents during the game.

And the tension between the opposing parents was palpable, especially during the second half. It included excessive celebration when a goal was scored.

What made this situation worse is that the AR on the sideline next to those parents was only 12 years old. He did a very good job under a lot of pressure, but the parents used abusive language directed also at him.

He had to listen to an ongoing use of foul language including repeat use of the F-word amongst the parents directed at me and at times also him. He was scared especially about parents throwing things at him because he had to face his back to watch the field.

Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me until after the game, partly because most of that happened during the second half. But all this went into my incident report to NorCal so the team will face disciplinary action.

And the icing on the cake: I was threatened by the evicted parent and confronted after the game as I was walking to my car.

Glad to say that I stayed calm throughout all of this and it didn’t change my motivation to contribute to our soccer community through officiating. But it was a sad moment because these little girls are exposed to this and probably often.

The ironic thing was that just before this little girls game I had officiated a U16 boys game that I was warned could easily escalate. One of the teams got into a fight during a game in SF and already had two suspended players. One of the coaches was also suspended, but turned up. He was evicted. The league had sent an official to observe and help in case of mass confrontations.

All went well, I had full control of the game, and it ended successfully without drama. So I drove over to the little girls game to finish off the Spring season on a lighter note, but little did I know.

This kind of disgraceful behavior has no place in youth sports. It is a terrible experience for these little kids and for those moms, dads, siblings, and grandparents that came to simply cheer.

And you can probably imagine that the twelve year old AR might lose motivation to help officiate games if this happens too often. And we need young referees to fill the shoes of those aging out. No referees, no games.

By the way, this visiting team places last in the Bronze division with only one point. This makes them the lowest ranked U10G team in all of NorCal. Probably no coincidence.

Creativity is intelligence having fun

This headline quote is from Albert Einstein. You probably know by now that I believe in the importance of teaching, encouraging, and celebrating creativity of play in our youngsters. I firmly believe that our youngsters need as large a problem-solving toolkit as possible.

Well, here’s another reason to foster creativity: our kids need to be able to express themselves creatively on the field otherwise they will sooner or later lose interest in this beautiful game.

Soccer is played and enjoyed as much with the brain as it is with the body.

The more we enforce rigid systems of play and ‘simple’ risk-averse behavior the more likely it is that we will lose our youngsters to boredom.

When they are younger they are more heavily influenced by external factors such as parental expectations and the social aspect. They are more likely to go along with whatever the coaches (and parents) want them to do, irrespective of how challenged they might feel mentally.

But this changes rapidly as they become more independent as teenagers. The risk of losing interest increases as they get older because they increasingly have to be self-motivated to put the time and effort into practicing multiple times a week and competing on weekends.

If youngsters aren’t having fun they will sooner or later stop playing the game. It’s as simple as that.

So by not encouraging creativity from an early age we end up with players that can’t compete internationally, a much less entertaining experience for spectators, and a much smaller pool of youngsters that stick with the game.

What is creativity in soccer?

Creativity is used a lot to describe the better soccer players. And many of us probably recognize it when we see it during a youth or pro game. I have posted many times about the importance of encouraging creativity in our youngsters, most recently an article on the lack of top midfielders in our country and a post about risk-averse defenders.

The impact of creativity cannot be underestimated. It massively impacts the quality and entertainment of every soccer game across all age groups and levels. It’s as relevant for lower-level U9 games as it is for elite pro games.

And a lack of creativity isn’t just an issue here in our country. For example, it’s arguably the single biggest reason for England’s relative underperformance on the international stage (and until recently, but to a lesser extent, also in the country where I grew up, Germany) and why the English Premier League is so dominated by elite foreign players. (English teams have the resources to buy talent from all over the world because more than in any other country England focused heavily on the business of sports these last two decades. So the English clubs and the League are doing well, but not the English national team.)

According to one English youth soccer coach: “So many England internationals from the past 30 years have grown to become more functional than creative, and the fact that I have to hark back to players like Hoddle and Gascoigne to remember truly creative, unpredictable, England players is a concern for English football. This rigid, predictable footballer is a product of the coaching they received when they were young.”

But what is ‘creativity’? More technical elements such as dribbling or super skills? Or more team-based elements such as pass-and-move patterns? Or something else?

Before I suggest a definition of ‘creativity’ let’s take a step back and read this excerpt from a recent article on how U.S. Soccer is attempting to improve coaching quality (slightly edited for clarity and brevity; blue font is my emphasis):

“Soccer is a player’s game. The 22 people knocking a ball around a big field are bound by few rules. Predictable patterns rarely occur. As a result, coaches can’t succeed by designing plays and ordering players to execute them, as they can in, say, football. Players have to make judgment calls in the moment, on their own.

This means that rote skills, while essential, are not in themselves adequate. The thing that makes better players is decision making. They need to integrate not just how to do something but whether, when, and why. There are parallels to the difficulty many students have solving problems independently. If you give kids a math problem and tell them how to solve it they can usually do it. But if you give them a problem and it’s not clear how to solve it, they struggle.

Jürgen Klinsmann, a former German world soccer star, World Cup winner, coach of the German National Team, and currently coach of our U.S. men’s team, has remarked that it’s hard to get Americans to see that a soccer coach cannot be “the decision maker on the field,” but should instead be a guide. “This is a very different approach. I tell them, ‘No, you’re not making the decision. The decision is made by the kid on the field.’ ”

Outside the U.S., most soccer players learn to play independently very early on.  We don’t have a lot of unstructured play where kids can develop creativity. It’s a lot of tournaments and pressure and sideline parents and trophies.”

So with that background in mind let’s turn back to ‘creativity’. When you break down a soccer game into its smallest, most fundamental elements it comes down to this:

Players are faced with an endless series of problem-solving micro-moments during games.

These micro-moments could last anywhere from a split-second (for example, controlling the ball in very tight spaces or a goalkeeper reacting to a sudden shot on goal) to a handful of seconds (for example, a midfielder moving with the ball looking for passing options).

Some of these micro-moments repeat themselves over time and youngsters simply learn from experience what to do in those moments.

But many of these micro-moments are new or different and force a player to make immediate decisions about how to solve them. And as the standard of play increases the player has to use increasingly creative ways to deal with these micro-moments.

For example, simply physically shielding the ball against a physically inferior and ‘simpler’ player won’t work against clever/crafty players (physically inferior or not) because they know how to fake you out and poke the ball away. Or clever players know how to use teamwork to double up on you and take the ball away.

Another example is that athletic youngsters can have much success simply touching the ball into space past a defender and then sprinting past them toward goal, especially when they are younger and/or playing against inferior players.

That’s certainly one way to repeatedly solve those how-do-I-get-past-a-defender micro-problems. But this won’t work anymore when matched up against athletic defenders and a defensive team working well together to cover each other. So now what? Is this athletic youngster able to get past the defenders other than through speed and/or physicality?

Often ‘unpredictability’ goes hand in hand with creativity. In general, the more unpredictable the way the micro-problem is solved the more likely it is that he or she will outfox the opponent and succeed.

And, just as important for the longer-term growth of the game in our country, the more entertaining it is to watch the game across all levels and age groups.

And what does a youngster need to creatively solve those micro-problems?

  1. Soccer IQ – a fundamental understanding of the game, including the relationship between the ball, the players, space and movement;
  2. Large toolkit – broad and deep technical skills, ball control and touch, accurate passing, ability to shoot, ambidexterity, off-the-ball movement, etc.
  3. Mental agility – is the youngster constantly paying attention and reading the game, processing split-second decisions, coming up with clever solutions, imagining a couple of moves ahead;
  4. Confidence – especially with the ball in tight, pressured situations in your own defensive third; does he or she have the confidence to do the unexpected and experiment with new solutions or is he or she worried about making mistakes?

So ‘creativity’ is not just one thing. It’s not just dribbling skills or accurate passing movements or sprinting or great shots on goal. It’s all of the above (and more) applied at the right moments to solve the endless series of often unpredictable micro-problems players face during games.

And the earlier and more often our youngsters attempt to solve those problems creatively the sooner their conscious thought (which is measured in seconds) becomes instinct (which is measured in a second or less), further speeding up and improving the quality of their game.

And it’s the coach’s job to help his youngsters develop as large a toolkit as possible and the positive mental attitude to become smarter, more creative players over time even if that means losing many more games.

Encourage that eight, nine, or ten year old defender to dribble past an attacker even if your team is more likely to lose possession.

Celebrate the attempted Maradona move by the midfielder even if a simpler touch past the opponent would have had a higher chance of working.

Applaud your speedy attacker for working with his teammate on a series of two or three wall-passes instead of simply using his or her speed to leave that obviously slower defender in the dust.

Admire a beautiful sequence of one-touch passing movements even if two touches would have retained possession for longer.

The list is endless.

For the good of this beautiful game, coaches and parents, please teach, encourage, and celebrate creative problem solving across all age groups and levels. Coaches will develop better players, parents will be more entertained during games, and our youngsters will enjoy playing more and for longer.

And then one day in the not too distant future we will bring the World Cup trophy to our country.

Mastery comes from trying. Let the kids try and fail, coaches and parents! Encourage it, celebrate it.

Real time decision making for referees

A careful person, a wise person, when faced with an unexpected situation says, “Hold on, I’ll think about this for a minute. I’ll mull it over and then I’ll decide”.

When a lawyer finds himself being asked a tricky question by a client he the possibility, or rather the duty, of saying, “I’ll see you in a week, let me consider this”.

A doctor can ask for further analysis before deciding on the best treatment. And even the figure the referees most often compared to, the judge, before pronouncing his verdict, retires to his chambers to ponder, to evaluate, before making his decision.

We’re not allowed any of this.

What we are asked to do, even in the most unexpected, unforeseen of situations is to make a decision in what’s called ‘real time’, in a fraction of a second. This is not a simple matter.

I wish this enormous difference were understood by those who sit in an armchair…

Pierluigi Collina, the man whose stare could reduce celebrity soccer players to silence is considered the best referee in the world, having been named FIFA’s ‘Best Referee of the Year’ six consecutive times. Currently head of UEFA Referees (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierluigi_Collina).

PierluigiCollina_crop_north

Warning signs

Your son or daughter…

  • is scoring too many goals;
  • is faster than pretty much everyone else on the field;
  • is one of the tallest and/or physically strongest players on the field;
  • responds too often with ‘ok’ when you ask how the practice or game was;
  • looks uncomfortable on the field;
  • seems to be excluded mostly from play by other players;
  • never really gets a buzz from playing the game;
  • often blames the referees or his teammates for outcomes of games.

The coach…

  • consistently gives risk-averse instructions to the youngsters;
  • punishes and/or scolds mistakes;
  • plays some players much more than others (at ~U12 and below);
  • complains about the referees pretty much every game;
  • wants to be liked (too much);
  • spends time with some families outside soccer;
  • doesn’t bring the same commitment that he/she asks of the players (and parents);
  • rarely if ever goes the extra mile;
  • isn’t working with each individual youngster during practices and games;
  • takes on another commitment and asks parents and kids to be flexible to make this work.

Parents on the sideline…

  • respond enthusiastically to ‘big kicks’;
  • celebrate wildly a goal scored because the nine (or ten or eleven….) year old goalie made a rookie mistake;
  • encourage overly aggressive/physical behavior;
  • get annoyed with youngsters for not passing quickly;
  • rarely recognize, celebrate, and encourage creativity and skills;
  • complain about the referees every game;
  • celebrate red cards as a badge of honor;
  • forget that it’s 8, 9, 10, 11…year olds playing.

I’m sure there are more, but these are hopefully food for thought. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect and that the significance of these warning signs depend on the objectives for your child.

Behavior of visiting North American parents during youth game in Barcelona

I came across an interesting blog post about behavior of visiting North American parents during a couple of youth games in Barcelona.

Most of us probably recognize this kind of behavior from our games? Do the ‘instructions’ sound familiar?

I’m pasting it here with some edits for clarity and brevity:

About three weeks ago we had some visiting teams from North America in the Barcelona area. Two of my sons (2003, 2004) had the opportunity to play a game each against their North American opponents.

English is also not very common in these parts so when we had these visiting teams from North America it was a good excuse to practice my English just in case I am forgetting it.

I quickly got in some conversations with visiting parents. Many had questions as to how we like it here, how is the soccer, how is the coaching, schools and many other questions about Catalonia and Spain and general.

The conversation was good and I learned about the visitors as well, where they were from, what people did as a profession and…..how good their team was.

I was taken back by the last comment. Perhaps they were good but just surprised how easy the last sentence rolled off their tongue.

As we spoke I was watching both teams warm up similarly with passing, dynamic stretches, possession game etc. As we were approaching the start of the match the parents said to me, “nice talking and meeting you, we will speak later again but we need to get into game mode.”

I just smiled but then thought to myself what the **** is game mode? 🙂.

As the referee brought the captains in for the coin toss these parents went on the sidelines as if they were hired to work as assistant referees.

Typically in Catalonia, most mini stadiums provide seating for all the spectators and this stadium was no different but all the visiting parents lined up on the sidelines.

I know from my time in Canada that this often happened and usually an observant referee would move the parents back to provide some room between the side line and the parents. But there wasn’t much room between the sideline and a wall.

This was what they were used to so perhaps they didn’t know, which was ok, but what happened next was surprising.

As our team was in a team huddle getting ready to begin the match, the opposing team was just standing around quietly waiting and the parents were the ones yelling, “let’s go boys, we can do this, we didn’t come here to lose, let’s goooooo.”

It continued for a few minutes and many of their players would look at their parents. It was very easy and very quick for me to match the player with the parent.

So the game started and both teams were a bit nervous but it brought me back to Canada very fast. The famous call of “send it” rang in my ears like a bad dream of the past and I was not sure to whom they were supposed to “send it” to as no player was in an advanced position.

The “send it” continued for the whole match, then there were some others of my all-time favorites like, “not down the middle”, “kick it out”, “just give it a big boot” but the one that really took the cake was “what the hell are you guys doing?”

It was 5-0 for us after about 8 minutes and it ended up 6-2. The parents were giving instructions the whole match, most of it was wrong, they were all zoned in on their kids and conversations were going back and forth with their kids during the game.

The next day my younger son played their younger group and it was much of the same from their parents. The same instructions were being yelled out, constant dialogue between player and parent. Some scolding from parents to the child like “don’t embarrass me, we travelled all the way to Spain for this”.

This game was a complete disaster on the pitch for the other team.  It ended 17-2, which really was a flattering score for the visitors in all honesty but it showed the huge gap between the two teams.

Many parents involved in the game today, especially in North America, did not grow up in the sport, never played the sport and even those that may have don’t realize that many changes have taken place.

It is important for clubs to educate their parents.

Very good post on what is holding us back. Read the comments also!

 

Referees welcome: One club’s radical attitude towards officials

I came across this article on how one club in England radically changed their attitude to referees. The below insights are just as relevant for any club, team, and game here in our country.

In many ways, Seel Park is a forbidding venue. Perched on a Pennine hillside, the home of Mossley FC is no place for the faint-hearted on a cold winter’s night. For referees, however, it’s a warm and welcoming place.

While many managers talk of building fortresses, Mossley co-bosses Peter Band and Lloyd Morrison want their ground to be somewhere match officials know they can do their job free of intimidation and abuse, and which they are pleased to visit.

If this makes you think of the two as a couple of choirboys, think again. As a player with Hyde United and Altrincham, Band was totally uncompromising. He proudly describes himself as old-school — maybe not the greatest in terms of skill, but definitely among the most committed. And by his own admission he received more red and yellow cards than Christmas cards.

The Mossley charm offensive is less to do with being goody-goody and more to do with realism. If you antagonise referees there is only going to be one winner. Band and Morrison have learned that through bitter experience.

Band explained: “When I first became a manager, a couple of years ago, I thought I had to be the same way I was as a player. I was also influenced by Graham Heathcoat at Altrincham and my predecessor at Mossley, Steve Halford. So I screamed, shouted, swore and complained as much as anyone. And it did me absolutely no good. It got me nowhere.

“The club ended up with a terrible disciplinary record. We had players running 40 yards to get involved in incidents and at one point we seemed to be having a man sent off every match. The FA weren’t impressed.

“Lloyd and I realised it had to stop if we were ever going to make something of the place. Money being spent on FA fines was money being taken away from the wage bill. It was a bit like putting lots of effort into a long sponsored walk and then just giving away the funds you’d raised.

“Things are much better now. Players know bad discipline will hit them in the pocket, and we do our best to make the officials feel welcome.

“Every match I make a bee-line for the ref, take him a cup of coffee and ask if there’s anything I can do to help. We try to have a bit of banter too, especially with the linesman near our dug-out.

“I’m happy to say that officials are relaxed enough now to come into our social club for a drink, and at our recent game with Radcliffe they stayed chatting to Lloyd and me after a lot of the players had gone.”

Making the squad aware of this standpoint is an important part of the new strategy. Players have been told in no uncertain terms that they will have to pay — literally — for any dissent or abuse. Their job is to focus on the game, perform to the best of their ability and leave all other matters to the management. Arguing with the officials is to be avoided at all costs.

Band added: “I know referees are impartial in the way they do their job but it can’t do any harm to get them thinking of Seel Park as a friendly place and of Mossley as a club with discipline.

They’re just people with a love of the game like me, Lloyd and the players. And let’s be honest, we’d all struggle not to react if someone called us effing so-and-so’s to our faces.

“There’s nothing to be gained from bad behaviour. It’s self-defeating.”

Source: http://you-are-the-ref.com/referees-welcome-how-mossley-fc-changed-attitude-towards-officials/