Key to Player Development: Coach Less

Accelerate the development and learning of your young soccer players by talking less.  Less advising, explaining, theorizing, strategizing and, well, talking overall.  Give them a little something then let them go at it and figure it out.  Then add a little more and let them go.


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Season Talking Points Delivered to Your Inbox

I’m a big fan of the Positive Coaching Alliance because if you follow their advice you’ll be a better coach.  Period.  So when I saw this I had to share.

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10 Tips for Developing a Good Training Session

My guess is that, while there are a few clubs that have well thought out practice sessions developed for each age group, there are a lot clubs that do not.  I’m talking grass-roots clubs.   In an all-volunteer club you are dealing with borrowed time and there’s just not that much of it.  Even if you do have some material to work with, there are likely some gaps.This means you will need to do some homework when you put your training sessions together.

While I can’t tell you where to go for passing sessions or the best place for rondos, there are some guidelines I use when I pull mine together.  I find that the more of these tips I hit, the better the session.  I’ve got ten of them.

10 tips for developing a good training session:

  1. Lot’s of touches on the ball.  I don’t know of there is a magic number here, but I try to aim for as close to 1,000 as I can get.
  2. No lines.  The girls should be active the vast majority of the time.
  3. Physically demanding.  While I don’t want to kill them, these practice sessions should be enough to get them in shape for the games.
  4. All activities with a ball.  When I say “physically demanding” I mean intensity with ball work and small-sided games.  No laps, suicides, etc.  Just keep it moving.
  5. Progression in your sessions from simple to scrimmage.
  6. Activities should mimic what the girls will see in a real game.  Limit cone work and add pressure.
  7. Uses as few cones as possible.  This might sound silly, but getting your practice area setup so you’re wasting as little time possible moving around your cones between each activity can make a big difference.  I try to setup the whole field at once and I don’t want it to look like a cone manufacturing plant exploded there.
  8. Simple.  It’s not like I can go out and do a test run on a variety of plans/activities on a random group of players to work out the kinks.  I need to be able to understand it, “see” myself coaching it and feel my girls would do well with it just from reading it.
  9. Age and developmentally appropriate.  In addition to be right for them at their age, it should also be not too easy or too hard for them.  There are some areas where they are stronger than others, plus there are definite gaps.  So the activities need to be calibrated for where they are.
  10. Make sure it’s fun! If you follow most of the other tips, this is more likely to happen than not.


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When it’s OK to Yell at a Referee During a Youth Soccer Game


That should be the end of the post. It is that simple. But I know there are some out there that will say “Yeah, but what about…?” so I’ll do my best to explain why you don’t yell even when the What Abouts happen.

Before I go into some specific scenarios let’s try something.

What if…?

Imagine you are at a youth soccer game and the referee doesn’t show. One of the coaches approaches you and asks if you would be willing to ref the game. Says the other coach is OK with it and we’d just like to not have to cancel the game. We just want the kids to play. What would you say?

If you would say “No” there could be a variety of reasons. It could be that you are not confident in all the rules of the game. At the younger ages, there is only one ref so maybe you are unsure you would be able to keep your eye on every play. Or be able to make the right call from a potentially bad angle from a far distance. And what would be the reaction you’d expect from the coaches or the parents if you made the wrong call?

If you said “Yes” then that’s great! Not many will step up so you are the exception and a wonderful example. OK, so you are on the field, the game is going just fine, you see a foul and call it. You feel it’s a good call, but what if the coaches don’t agree with it, how should they treat you? The parents? What about if you call a foul and quickly realize it’s a bad call? How should they treat you then? Or let’s say that you aren’t perfect. What about the calls you aren’t making? How should the coaches and parents respond to your mistakes?

My guess is that if you let that scenario sink in a bit you will get why it is never OK to yell at, or openly criticize, the ref regardless of whether you are a coach, a player or a parent.

For those of you that are still saying “But what about…?” there are two scenarios where you are most likely to be dying to give the ref a piece of your mind.

The ref has it in for my team!

The first is where you feel the outcome of the game is being directly affected and not in your favor. Yes, that can be frustrating, but the fact is that the quality, background, experience and approach of referees at the youth level are highly variable. Some are good and some not so much.   Accept that fact and, regardless of quality, they all deserve your respect.

Remember you are setting the example for your players. They are kids and are learning what is acceptable, and what is not, by watching you. Instead yelling a few choice words at the ref with your best are-you-kidding-me? face, you need to switch your mindset in this situation because this is an excellent teachable moment on how to handle adversity.

  1. Do you really want to convey the message to your kids that it is OK to shout at someone when you disagree with them or you don’t get your way? Or worse – berate, antagonize, insult, ridicule or threaten?
  2. Take a page from the Positive Coaching Alliance and teach them to Honor the Game by using the ROOTS acronym. Respect the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates and Self. Showing respect does not mean yelling at the ref from the sideline.
  3. Explain to the players that there are times in soccer, and life, were things just will not go your way. It is not fair, but it happens. Complaining about it does not change the outcome. You do not have control over other people’s actions, but you do have control on yours. Brush it off, dig down and give your best effort – that’s the only way things have a chance of turning around. Players show respect for Self by holding themselves to a higher standard. Players show respect for their Teammates by not embarrassing them by disrespecting the officials.
  4. Games are venues for learning. If you are focusing on developing your players as the priority, this is good way to teach some of the psychological skills they’ll need to compete at a higher level.

Concern over safety…

The second scenario is where you feel that the game is unsafe for your players.  Keep in mind that soccer is not ballet.  It is a contact sport.  There are times when your players are going to get knocked to the ground, get their foot stomped on, be shoved around, take a ball to the gut or head, be tripped and so on.

However there are games where, because the referee is systematically not calling blatant fouls, he or she is encouraging unsafe play to the degree where you feel it is just a matter of time before someone is injured.  Even still you need to Honor the Game.  There are better approaches.

Referees are going to call a game the way they call the game. Some are more lax.  Some are strict.  Some act like this is a World Cup Qualifier.  Some are “whatevs.”  Some will give your girls a pep talk and you’ll wonder if some have vocal cords at all.

However you can, and should, bring the awareness of safety as one of your top concerns. When speaking to the ref prior to the game, I always ask “Safety is one of my biggest concerns – what do you look for in the game to help make sure the kids are safe during the course of play?” I’m basically asking him how he’s going to keep my players safe on the pitch.  I purposely use the word “kids” or “children”, instead of “players”, because it helps put what I’m asking into stronger context.

If that doesn’t work and you find things are going from bad to worse in the first half, and you feel strongly that the calling is so severely sub par, with an extremely aggressive opponent, talk to the ref at half time.  Simply state that your concerned about the safety of the kids and it looks like there are a lot of late tackles, kids not pulling up when the keeper has the ball or whatever.  Then ask him what he’s seeing.  Don’t drive it into a debate.

When the second half is underway if the situation is still severe, or possibly getting worse, and the ref is completely incapable or unwilling to control dangerous play then calmly pull the team off the field and walk.  You are entrusted with the safety and well being of your players.  This is the way to keep that promise and send a message more powerful than yelling ever will.

The good news is that this the worst case scenario.  It should, hopefully, never come to this.

Let the parents know.

It is not enough that you and your players know what it means to respect the referee.  You need to tell the parents that you expect them to Honor the Game the same way, why it is important and explain how you will handle different situations.  This should be part of your parent’s meeting and reinforced if you feel it needs to be during the season.

Getting them on-board early will save you a lot of headaches.  Unfortunately many think that if a coach is silent during times like this it is a sign of weakness or ineptitude.  The truth is it’s easy to yell and blame the ref.  That takes no skill and it isn’t leadership.

Honoring the Game makes your job tougher, takes more guts and requires more hands-on coaching.  But it will teach your players powerful life lessons, make them stronger mentally, help them deal with adversity and teach them leadership skills that take them beyond the pitch.

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10 Things All New Volunteer Soccer Coaches Need To Do

So you are now a brand-spanking new volunteer coach for a youth soccer team? Congratulations!

This is going to be a great experience for you and all those kids who have been entrusted to your leadership, skill, mentorship, coaching and values by their parents. You have effectively been made the custodian of a part of their childhood. The experience they have with you will help shape their confidence in themselves, their resilience, ability to handle adversity, grow their technical, tactical, physical and psychological ability and their love of the game.

You should be very excited…and be doing a fair amount of freaking out too. If this feels like a big deal it’s because it is. You have quite a few children under your wing now and a lot of things to accomplish. You might not have ever coached before. Maybe not even played soccer that much or at all!

It’s OK. You can do this.

Whether you enthusiastically jumped into this role or the only reason you “stepped forward” is because everyone else took two steps back. It doesn’t matter. It’s easier to sit on the sideline than it is to be on the field and you didn’t take the easy road. You are a volunteer coach and you rock.

So let’s get started.  These are the things you need to start working on as a new volunteer coach for youth soccer in no particular order.

  1. Get some help. Assistant coaches to help run training sessions, games and give you different points of view.  Team managers can help with the logistics and administrative stuff for the team – clears your plate to focus on trainings and the players.
  2. Write out your coaching philosophy. Sure you might have it in your head, but you want to get it onto paper (or a Google Doc).  You’ll want to share it with parents. It’ll also help you focus on what’s important throughout the season.
  3. Take stock in your own strengths and weaknesses.  Figure out where your gaps are. Try to be honest here. It’ll be important to identify what can frustrate you and what can make for less effective practices. If you know what to look for you’ll be able to plan for it or work around it.
  4. Set your development goals.  For the season or the year if you play in Fall and Spring. These should be age appropriate and specific around the technical, tactical, physical and psychological.  At the younger ages, it’s going to be a long list of technical, followed by shorter lists of the other three.
  5. Map out your training topics for the season. You don’t have to detail each training plan. Simply having an outline of what you will focus on each week will help guide you through the season.
  6. Start building your coaching network. The only way to get good at anything is to practice it and you’re freshly minted. Learn from the experience and, more importantly, the mistakes of others. You will want to begin reaching out to other coaches that have been doing this for a little while. They will be able to give you advice and perspective that will be invaluable.
  7. Look for ways to get coaching training and, ultimately, certified.  The more I coach the more I realize that the “how” to coach is much more important than the “what” to coach.  You can have a training session laid out with wonderful things to teach, but if the kids are bored, getting frustrated and you’re white-knuckling through then it’s not going to be a very effective session.
  8. Schedule a parent meeting.  Set parent and player expectations up front and in person.  When will practices be? When should they be at games? How will you be rotating players through positions? How will substitutions work?  What type of behavior do you expect from them on the sideline? And more.  Do this at the beginning and your season will go much smoother.
  9. Build out your bookmarks, and bookshelf, for resources to pull practice plans from.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Unless your club has a well defined training program mapped out, you will need to come up with these yourself.  There are plenty of resources online and in print.  Too many, actually.  You’ll want to find age appropriate ideas.  As I build out this site I’ll begin adding some of my favorites.
  10. Prepare to be patient.  There’s no way to cover everything for your first game, fourth game and even seventh.  Soccer is a complicated game and the only way to learn it is over time.  A long time.  And these aren’t mini-adults – they’re kids.  Make it fun and take the long view.

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This Is How It Starts

Ignoring that this is an odd site to have this kind of story, this is how it goes for most of the volunteer soccer coaches I’ve talked to.  Of course we don’t always get a Bob Bradley as a mentor.

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December 3, 2013 · 9:29 am

What Starting a Blog and Coaching Youth Soccer Have in Common

Where do I begin?

Starting this blog is very much like coaching youth soccer.  Especially the younger ages.  And especially if you’re a volunteer coach…who hasn’t played a whole lot of soccer growing up.

There is so much that I’ve learned over these last few years and that I still have to learn.  Things I wish I knew when I started out.  It reminds me of an old Psych 101 professor I had who’d said “the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.  So the more I learn the stupider I get.”

I’m getting more stupid every day.

It just feels like one post is not enough to get going. If it were me, I’d want to know more and pronto.  But if I sat down and tried to pre-write very article before I went live I’d never get this thing going.

This is just like coaching youth soccer at the U9 and below stages.  There’s sooooo much the kids have to learn.  They look down at the ball the whole time they dribble.  Pass with their toes.  Can’t receive the ball properly.  Don’t know how to tackle well, let alone know how to close down an attacker.  They run around the pitch in a big blob.  They even take the ball away from their own teammates!

And I could go on.

With only one practice a week (maybe two or maybe none at the youngest levels) what should the first practice be?  The second practice? There isn’t enough time to learn everything these kids need to learn.  OMG…the games are going to be a disaster!

Relax.  Breath.  Find your Happy Place.

Calmer?  Good.

The fact is it takes a long time to develop young soccer players.  Think of progress over the season. Accept the fact that the kids will only get better as they get more and more time with the ball at their feet.  Soccer players don’t peak until their mid-to-late 20’s and goal keepers around 30.  Soccer is a more complex game to learn than most other sports (perhaps all sports).

And these are kids, not mini-adults.  Their age will dictate what they are capable of learning and what should wait. So it’s going to take some time.

Take your trainings as they come and focus on being the best coach you can be for those sessions.  The rest will fall in place over time.

I’m going to take some of that same advice for this blog.  My hope is that there will be useful information for beginning youth soccer coaches that will help to not reinvent the wheel, put things in perspective and give a view from the trenches of what works and what doesn’t.  It will take time to get to critical mass but it never will if its not started.

Patience. Focus. Happy Place.


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