‘Give it wide…pass, pass, SHOOT! Oh Jesus Christ…’ and, much to everyone’s relief, he was gone. Frustrated beyond belief that these players were eleven, and not seasoned professionals. This particular soccer dad was an extreme case of the tunnel visioned, win at all costs, overly competitive type who spoils the game for everyone…most of all his own child. But soccer coaching too attracts those who love to win. That is a natural, and praiseworthy characteristic. There is nothing wrong with winning in a fair, constructive way against equally matched opponents. Just as there is nothing wrong with losing such a game.
Developing Players v Winning Games: No Contest
Still, for many of us, it is one of the dilemmas of soccer coaching to determine how much time we give to developing players against developing a winning team. What we are going to argue below is, over the long term, the two are far from mutually exclusive. In fact, the latter is fully dependent on the former.
Why Do We Become Soccer Coaches?
True altruism is very hard to find. Most soccer coaches give up their time because we enjoy it. But we must ask ourselves a question – does our pleasure come from the satisfaction of winning – of proving that we are a better coach than our opponent? Or does it come from seeing the happy, determined faces of our young charges?
Because if the answer is found in the first question, then we really need to review the motivation behind our work. Of course, quite legitimately, we might argue that seeing our team win gives pleasure to our players, and that in turn makes us happy. A fair point. But watch the faces of our team when they lose. If it was a big game, then maybe they are down for five minutes. Then kids bounce back. We might spend the rest of the day moping, regretting that substitution or not paying quite enough time to drilling the back three. Our players will have moved on to the next part of their lives. Rightly so.
But we might also argue, cunning grin upon our faces, if we keep losing, players will move away, parents will become frustrated. Our team will become a laughing stock. More significantly, our players will be the butt of derision.
However, as we say, by placing emphasis on the development of players, as opposed to employing the tactics most likely to lead to victory, we will over time make our young soccer players better at the game, and thus deliver a greater proportions of victories. Coaches who neglect individual development, who focus far too young on tactical manoeuvres, fail to instil the correct mental strength, technical ability and decision making in their players, produce players who quickly begin to fall behind their peers.
The heart of our approach when coaching soccer beats in our training sessions. It is in these that we help our players to develop. We might base our sessions around the following tenets:
Mistakes are opportunities to learn and improve. Reset the problem and let the players learn from their errors. Mistakes are a positive, not a negative. Good goals, strong tackles and teamwork should all be rewarded with plenty of praise, but so should making a decision, or trying a skill – even if it does not work.
Instil positivity into our players and they will not shy away from making decisions in matches. Every coach knows that success comes from taking risks, trying things out and being ambitious.
Young players need to drill and drill until their skills become second nature. The challenge for the coach is to work on these individual skills in a way that makes them interesting for the players. Especially very young ones, whose attention span can be limited.
The secret is lots of action, little sitting around watching or, even worse, listening, and repetition through games and challenges.
A teacher in any walk of life is assumed to have greater knowledge than their students. The same is true of soccer coaching. But because we, as coaches, have greater skill and experience than our team does not mean that our role is limited to demonstrating and encouraging our players to copy us.
We set problems: Where do you shoot to score most often? How do you position yourself to receive a pass? What words do you use to communicate on the pitch? Only when players are struggling do with offer them tips and advice so that they can modify their technique.
By allowing players to learn for themselves, they become more independent and able to adapt in matches to new situations and unexpected challenges.
End on a High
Some sessions are great; sometimes, despite the best laid plans, training just does not work out as we wanted or expected. It happens. The temptation then can be to show our frustration with our players.
Rarely, though, will it be the whole team who have let us down. If the behavior of an individual or two has disrupted the session, a quiet word with them, rather than a loud one with the entire team, is much more effective. More likely, it will be an error on our part, as coach, which has impacted on the last couple of hours.
For our players, mostly they will have had a great time just running around and playing the game. So, end with a fun match and lots of praise.
Hopefully, we have given an insight into the way that developing players makes them physically, technically and mentally better performers on the soccer pitch. OK, we might lose the odd game in the short term because a player makes a mistake, or we have kept up our philosophy of playing the ball on the ground, with lots of short passes and movement. Perhaps, against a particular opponent, hoofing it long might have delivered a very short-term benefit. But, at a cost to our players’ long-term development.
Soccer coaching is about one thing, and that thing is not winning. Our focus is each of those young, enthusiastic players who turn up to our club, and whom we help to turn into better soccer players, more confident people and the most productive members of society they can be.
And if we win a few games along the way…all the better.
The video below is worth a look. It lacks a bit of subtlety, but makes the point that soccer coaching is about fun and development, not solely winning the game.
Permanent Substitution – The Earliest Bath
The dad mentioned at the beginning is a genuine person. His son was a promising player…a little slow in decision making but with excellent technique. He was probably never going to become a Lionel Messi but could have gone on to play at a reasonable amateur level and gained a lot of joy out of his soccer.
He was around thirteen when he stopped playing. Any pleasure he was getting drained away by the embarrassment of a dad who thought he was at the World Cup final every time he turned up for a Sunday morning under twelve game.
As for dad, if he hasn’t already expired – a victim to ludicrously high levels of blood pressure – then presumably he has had to find another valve to press to let off his over-competitive stream.
Your Soccer Coaching Home
p.s. Here’s a few soccer drills that you can implement to significantly improve the skills of your team.