With the official start of preseason beginning Monday for PIAA high schools and the fall season right around the corner for club teams, we asked Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Technical Director Mike Barr to provide insight into how he prepares his team for success. In 20 years as coach at Strath Haven High School, Coach Barr's teams won 13 league titles, five District One titles and five PIAA state championships. He currently coaches the boys’ team at Kennett High School in Kennett Square, which reached the PIAA state tournament for the first time in school history in 2017.
As a coach, how do you develop team culture in the early part of your season?
Mike Barr: I work on our culture throughout the year. We have our 8th through 12th graders play futsal throughout the winter and participate in optional training in the spring. I am not a teacher within the school district, but I have two coaches who are former Kennett players and another coach who is a teacher at Kennett High School. My one assistant, Gustavo Mirales, who played for me as a senior, has been with me for three years and acts as a liaison between the Spanish-speaking players and the Hispanic community. His relationship with the players is more of a brother to every player and all have a sense of comfort in going to him, if they may feel a bit intimidated in speaking to me.
I also try to find out the interests and strengths of individual players and make it a point to show I care and actually have an interest. I have been utilizing my players in numerous coaching courses I conduct, and they know my style and expectations. I am up front in providing information and development needs.
As teams are divided between JV and Varsity (usually at the end of the first week), I pair players together: freshmen and sophomores with older returning players to guide and answer any questions regarding the team or school. They also share their personal goals for the season and outside interests.
Each player is provided a notebook to reflect on training sessions and games. I expect at least minimum responses after every practice or game.
What kind of preparation do you use to integrate new staff and players prior to preseason and during the important couple of weeks prior to your first game? How much training during preseason do you use to develop skills and tactics in specialty situations?
MB: I am a firm believer that the game is the best teacher and all technical and tactical instruction revolves around the game. Even our fitness regimen is related to the game. I have no fitness test or requirement and believe any coach who places a demand of a certain time for a two mile run or other type of measurement does not understand the game or know player psychology. When a first day fitness test becomes the focal point of training and expectations for an individual player through the summer, you have removed the enjoyment from the sport.
I provide all players a copy of possible systems of play and roles and responsibilities of each position.
I have two training sessions the first three days of pre-season. On the fourth day I begin one a day training at the time our day games are played and that will continue throughout the season.
A typical session consists of:
10 Minute dynamic team warm up
15 Minute 3V3 to 5V5 games to small goals
5 Minute Water Break and recording of wins or losses of individual players in small sided games
20 Minutes of 1V1, 2v1, 2v2, 3v2, 3v1, 4v2, 4v3 etc. (always to targets or goals, high intensity, short timed work periods and short timed recovery) Goals and Objectives to all exercises
10 Minute Water Break Guided discovery questions related to the exercise or exercises, allowing for player reflections and responses.
20 Minutes of 5v4, 5v5, 6v4, 6v6, 7v6, 8v7, 7v7, 9v9 etc. (in various thirds or halves of the field, utilizing positional players for both attack and defense to at least one large goal and counter goals or targets, longer intervals in exercises, shorter recovery time)
5 Minute Water Break Guided discovery questions and reflections
20 Minutes 9V9, 11V11 game. Within the game I begin to utilize roles and responsibilities on some re-starts but will often take at least half a training session to explain roles and responsibilities further during the course of the pre-season.
What do you look to achieve during the 2018 season?
MB: Have a positive impact on all my players but not just on the soccer field. Be a strong role model to players and parents. Focus on individual and team development rather than wins and losses. Acknowledge and praise my team for its rich diversity and make an effort to bring doubting adults to see the incredible value of the community I coach. Give more responsibility to my assistant coaches in running training sessions
What words of advice would you give to young coaches preparing for their first season?
MB: Never stop learning. Put your team ahead of your own individual goals. You are coaching young men or women to be successful adults. Have a sense of humor. Recognize referees will make mistakes just as you will through the season.
As a high school soccer coach know the value of learning and practicing proper periodization. No need to run kids into the ground. Provide adequate recovery times within your practice, weekly schedule and seasonal schedule.
As the Technical Director for Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, Coach Barr is responsible for coordinating the coaching curriculum for the Olympic Development Program, coaching courses and the general education of coaches and personnel throughout the state association. Also a National Staff Coach for U.S. Soccer, Mike is a National Youth License Instructor and holds a National "A" License. Mike has played a key role in developing U.S. Soccer's new Grassroots Coaching Pathway, which was implemented in January 2018. A former special education teacher, Mike has been an instructor for TOPSoccer (for special needs players) coaches and volunteers.