Coaching youth soccer can be very satisfying but it also can be a headache. Even if you've played soccer at any level coaching is quite a different beast. In requires the tools needed to teach a class, lead a group, and entertain kids. It also requires a great deal of organization, planning, and lesson plan execution. Don't get me wrong it very fulfilling and enjoyable to give back to kids what you received as a child. What you receive from coaching when done right is very rewarding and memorable. Lets look at what makes an enjoyable experience and what makes it a not so happy experience.
The beautiful sport is very simple and player driven. If you’re a baseball or football coach this may be a bit challenging. Soccer is not coach driven. It is a sport that is not based on plays or memorized drills. Playing soccer is the best teacher you are the facilitator. A soccer coaching drill is not what you might expect it to be. On this site you will find resources to help you understand your role and help you develop soccer players. Soccer drills for kids, yes, are part of the practice plan but before you get to that point let’s focus on your role.
As a soccer coach your role is to change the environment to facilitate what you want the kids to develop or learn. Before you manipulate field sizes, games, and technical drills you first must know what your teaching and if it is age appropriate . Developing soccer players are like developing kids. They have developmental milestones dependent on age. You can’t expect a recreational 6 y/o to shoot with their left foot if they are right footed. You can’t teach a 9 y/o the Cruyf turn and expect him/her to perform it in a pressure situation before he/she can perform a cut-in or pullback.
As much as you may want to have a drill book or a systematized practice plan it will not serve the purpose. The purpose is to develop players and expose them to soccer. Winning will be an extra bonus from your hard work. A lot of coaches have winning as first purpose and development being secondary. How to play soccer milestones are key to knowing development stages.
To have a great experience coaching soccer one needs to have:
Organization, planning, patience, energy, and the know what is age appropriate.
What makes a coaching experience no fun and a burden?
doubt in what your teaching, poor organization, lack of confidence, lacking energy, and little support.
There are three phases to player formation. The first is initiation. Initiating a child to soccer is much different than the second phase. The second phase is formation phase and is very extrinsic in nature. The last phase is performance phase. This phase is where the player is under contract to perform. Let's all make it clear that none of your players are under contract to perform. Now, I have met parents that have told their child they don't get ice cream or that dollar if they don't make a goal. This is dangerous! Here the parent is treating the young child as if he/she is in the last phase of formation. I see coaches try to form 6y/o by telling them everything they need to do and how and then say execute. This is the formation phase and not appropriate if the child has not been initiated into soccer.
So what is initiation?
Soccer initiation is the phase where the player simply learns to enjoy and through joy begins to code the sport and the intricacies of the sport. This doesn't mean we let them loose and don't coach. No. We do, however, become more like facilitators than coaches. We facilitate the session to make sure it is intrinsic and global.
Intrinsic means the player is in an environment where he/she needs to make sense of it to get results. Now the formula to get it right has to be age appropriate and achievable. Next is it needs to be global. This means it needs to mirror a match in energy and fluidity.
There is no way around this. Initiation to me is the most important phase of player formation. Now depending on the soccer culture and location this initiation will be rich and fruitful or it will take hands on development. A child in Brazil initiated much different than a child in the USA. It is what it is we just need to compensate for the ecosystem we live in. A child in Brazil will arrive to their first practice probably already halfway through initiated to soccer. A child in the USA (depending where and the family) may not be at all.
Choose your age and let's make this experience a great one.