Monday, April 4, 2016
Sounders U23 and Sounders Women grow with Thrive Sports and Derrek Falor
When you are developing players to reach their full potential, there are many variables that come into play with the catch all “Technical, Tactical, Physical, and Psychological” pieces coming up often in the discussion about players. The mental skills portion of this development is an evolving phenomenon with many elite players buying in and seeing the benefits of this training to compete at the highest level of sport. Derrek Falor, of Thrive Sports, works with the top college players in the United States through his work with the Sounders U23 and Sounders Women teams, respectively. Falor also has clients in the professional ranks in many sports across the globe as his expertise and business grow with each year.
We sat down with Falor to find out about his background and more importantly, to see how he works with these developing players as they work to make the leap to professional soccer. Below is the discussion from Sounders U23/Sounders Women with the answers coming directly from Falor.
1) What is your coaching background and how did you find your way into your current profession?
In 1994 I started coaching while in grad school with both a local club team and as a part of the Washington State ODP system. For my internship during my graduate school studies, I worked with both the Men’s and Women’s teams at Western Washington University to provide them mental skills training. In 1995 I graduated from Western with a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. My first actual paying coaching job was in 1995, when I was named as the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Western. I coached at WWU through the 2000 season. In 1997 I also served as an assistant coach for the Bellingham Orcas PDL team where my primary responsibilities were to provide mental skills training.
From 2001-2003 I was the 1st Assistant Coach for both the Men’s and Women’s soccer programs at DePaul University in Chicago. In 2003 I earned my USSF A license and was also named as the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Cleveland State University where I started the program from scratch. This time period really began to demonstrate to me the value of mental skills training, as building a NCAA D1 program from the ground up presented many difficult challenges that couldn’t be handled simply by improving our player’s fitness and technical skill.
While my schooling was all about sport psychology, it wasn’t until I started running into the challenge of putting together a competitive D1 program with very little resources, that I began to see the massive need for soccer specific mental skills training. Over the last year and half I have been going through a rigorous process of becoming a Certified Consultant for The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP). AASP is the only certifying body for sport psychology practitioners in the world. In February I achieved a Provisional Certification through ASSP, and will achieve full certification in June. So in combing over 20 years of elite level coaching, with a UUSF A License and
A CC-AASP, backing makes the perspective I bring to the field for our two teams quite unique.
1) What is Thrive all about and how do you see it fitting into the modern game of soccer/sport in the United States?
My goals for Thrive are to offer functional mental skills training programs to my clients. There is a lot of sport psychology theory available to the public, but much of it is very general and hard for teams, coaches, and athletes to understand how to effectively apply to their sport. While I work with many sports, my main focus has been to create a soccer specific mental skills program in order to offer players and coaches tools they will actually use to improve their consistency and overall performance levels.
Today, our game is faster than it’s ever been. Time and space are at a premium. Much of the game is built on applying high pressure or being able to effectively respond to pressure. Defenses have become so much more organized in the last 10-15 years that there is much less time and space available for players to make decisions. Thus, to be effective, players must do more than just improve their fitness and sharpen their technique in order to succeed. My work helps players learn how plan out their solutions to this pressure. I firmly believe that increasing one’s speed of play at the upper levels of the game stems from increasing one’s speed of thought.
2) How do you know the staff here at Sounders U23/Sounders Women? What do you think of the opportunity here for you and for the players that play here?
I began working with the Sounders U-23’s and Sounders Women in 2015 with the expressed focus of helping aspiring pros understand how to think and act effectively with respect to the pro game. The opportunity that these players have to experience a snap shot of what the pro game is all about, will provide them with lots of knowledge of how to deal with playing after college. Quite a few players from both teams last year were drafted and/or signed pro contracts and I hope that the environment that we created has helped them to succeed with their new clubs.
3) What are some of your short and long term goals for your players and for the teams you work with?
During the initial phases of working with clients I assess a player’s individual mental skills strengths and areas of needs through my mentor, Jack Lesyk’s, 9 Mental Skills of Successful Athletes (9MSSA) Platform. This mental skills tool is the only one of its kind in the sport psychology realm that assess an athlete’s core applied mental skills competencies. Once I have a player’s assessment results I am then able to develop a personalized mental training plan for them based on their profile and competencies we established through the 9 MSSA Assessment Results.
Over the course of a season we are able to present a variety of mental skills topics to both the U-23’s and Sounders Women that apply to the team as a whole, as well as help individual athletes make progress on their own personalized mental training strengths and areas of need. By the end of the season my goal is for them to be ready to handle the next level of soccer with effective decision making, the ability to manage their emotions, and the knowledge to which variables they should be applying their attention while playing.
“I’ve worked with Derrek to gain an extra edge in my training. Everyone goes through difficult transitions in their sports career, and having the right mental attitude is critical to success. Derrek has been accessible at all times and has helped me tremendously in being prepared on a daily basis to make advancements,” Explains Jonathan Campbell, starting central defender for the Chicago Fire in MLS. Campbell starred for the Sounders U23 in 2015.
4) How has the game changed and how does your role within this change affect the future of soccer in America?
During my time as a coach I have seen players become more and more technical, which is great! However, as a mental skills coach I can’t help but notice that this advancement in technical skills has not necessarily produced improvement in on-field problem solving from players. I think we see that with our men’s national team right now. In many ways they are more technical players than their predecessors due to receiving a higher quality of coaching, but their ability to problem solve and make effective decisions under pressure has not necessarily improved at the same rate. If I can help players learn to manage their emotions, lock their attention on to controllable variables, and end up being more effective on the field through quality decision making, then I will have succeeded in helping players consistently play at their best.
5) What do you want people to know about mental skills in modern sport?
For me the common theme with most of my team and individual clients is how to learn to dial out all of the distractions and noise surrounding them as a player. As a society we are bombarded with huge amounts of stimuli that we allow to easily get in the way of quality performances. In the last 16 years the average attention span of a person towards one item/concept has decreased by 4 seconds! On average people can now only concentrate on a thing for 8 seconds straight before losing focus (McSpadden, 2015). That’s 1 second worse than a goldfish. Worse yet, one build-up or one transition in our game often lasts longer than 8 seconds, so how effective are players being if they lose concentration during that build-up or transition?
Mental Skills in the modern game are about being proactive. A player who has mental toughness is effective at managing his or her emotions. Effective players now need to be able to pre-plan responses to the increasingly organized high pressure defenses. Effective players build confidence by focusing their thinking and training on the variables of their game they can control, rather than allowing themselves to be undone by stuff outside of their control. An effective mental skills program will teach players how to handle effectively adversity and challenges and no matter what comes their way. Through the work I do with the Seattle Sounders U-23’s and Sounders Women this spring and summer, we will work diligently to help the players learn and apply these skills each and every day.
“Having someone with Derrek’s knowledge and expertise to help me make the transition to the next level in extremely helpful,” said Jordan Schweitzer, Sounders FC homegrown player and current S2 central midfielder.
With the increasing technical, tactical, and physical components in the modern player getting more and more attention, the mental part of the game also needs to keep pace and allow the players to grow in the problem solving categories along with the soccer and athletic pieces. Derrel Falor is working on this piece to great success and will evolve with the Sounders U23, Sounders Women, and the players that have moved from these teams to the professional ranks.
Falor’s work can be seen directly in the games for both the Sounders U23 and the Sounders Women this summer in Washington. Game schedules can be found at www.soundersu23.com and www.sounderswomen.com. Falor and his business at Thrive Sports can be found at www.thrivesp.com.