Coaching soccer? Here's what I'd say to any beginner soccer coach looking to be a better coach and help soccer players to grow.
I've been out there on the soccer field for a few years now and I've spent what feels like a lifetime browsing through soccer coaching resources. Here's what I've learned so far.
Soccer coaching 101 - The FUNdamentals
Is soccer fun?
Yes it is. So why isn't that a key goal of your training sessions?
Shift your focus from training players and "drills" to developing individual skill sets through fun games.
The shift from being a beginner soccer coach that trains players - to being a coach that develops players, should be considered a first priority.
Understand how learning occurs and how it can be applied to youth sports teams regardless of age or ability level.
You have seen this before: two groups doing soccer drills side-by-side with one focusing on mindless repetition and the other with a session plan where every kid has a soccer ball and there are plenty of chances for dribbling, scoring goals and developing ball skills.
As a beginner soccer coach, ask yourself "what does the best experience look like for these players."
Play games to make practice more entertaining
If in doubt play a few small matches or games that have some form of direction e.g. you score at either end.
Allow players to be creative and have fun. That might mean setting them a new ball mastery challenge and encouraging them to take risks.
You can praise them for trying a new skill!
Players will not always want to play the same way, so try implementing new rules or activities that will encourage them to try new things.
If we feel like we have greater autonomy, mastery and pupose then we tend to thrive!
How to coach positions
As the coach of your team, you are responsible for developing players' knowledge of soccer through structure and feedback, providing an optimum environment for learning by creating a balance between improving technique and tactical understanding.
The big challenge is where to begin with different kinds of formations and at what age do you introduce different formation concepts?
For example, 8 year olds aren't going to understand the idea of full-backs, wingers and forwards. However they do understand the idea of an aeroplane with wings, a Pilot and a tail.
They understand that when under attack, an animal makes itself small and when it is attacking, it makes itself big.
What stories can you tell to kids to help them understand the basics of positioning?
Providing opportunities for children to learn from mistakes whilst being supported within a positive group dynamic, knowing when it is appropriate to correct mistakes but also when it is better just to support what the children are doing without correcting every mistake made.
Here are some things for soccer coaches to consider:
It's important that you give information about how each player is developing. If you are just praising the good things that they do, then you are neglecting to inform them of the areas that they can improve on.
What you can do right now
Use feedback as a valuable learning tool! Players want to improve, so knowing how to provide feedback in an appropriate way will allow them to better themselves.
Providing guidance for improvement is important, but being told what your weaknesses are isn't great for confidence or self-esteem. Use coaching tips like "for this situation I would suggest trying X because of Y" rather than saying "you should have done Z". This makes players feel empowered and gives them the opportunity to make decisions and think about the game.
Make it about the players, not you
When focusing on developing players, it is important that they feel like their development and improvement is what matters most. The best soccer coaches do not get the praise or attention; the best soccer coaches get results through other people. As a coach it should be about making sure your players improve and develop to the best of their abilities rather than how many wins this season you will have.
It's all about Growth Mindset: Having a "growth mindset" means understanding that success comes by putting in effort and then learning from mistakes and failures along the way (Dweck, 2007). If we can provide our children with an environment where failure isn't frowned upon but instead seen as a learning experience, then we're heading in the right direction.
Let players play
Having an environment where players are not worried about making mistakes actually allows them to develop more quickly because they are focused on what they are doing rather than their coach's reaction.
Leverage small successes
Building on previous points, it is important that you focus on the positive things that your players do well instead of the things that need the most improvement. The coach should always provide accurate feedback that will further help each player improve, which in turn results in a win for the team through better execution and stronger play. The best soccer coaches realize this concept by praising small successes along the way while staying humble but committed to continuous improvement.
Keep kids active throughout the training session
It is very difficult to learn something if the participants are standing around listening. Use multiple learning formats so that players can be constantly active, whether it would be through small-sided games where you coach one side, or individual challenges for each player with rewards at the end.
Praise effort, not talent
Our youth players should feel like they are improving and developing gradually over time instead of just naturally being good at things. If we want our kids to be resilient and develop a growth mindset, then praising their effort is much more beneficial than praising what innate abilities they may have. Conversely, telling them what natural ability they have doesn't actually help them improve.
What soccer equipment do you need to be a soccer coach?
At a minimum a ball. Ideally a ball for every player. However, most young coaches will find themselves equipped with bibs, soccer cones and even mini goals.
A successful session is one that considers the size of the training area, whether marked out with cones or lines, how safe the area is and how much time you have for the session.
What are the requirements to be a soccer coach?
There are no requirements to be a soccer coach in America. You can literally show up on your local park field one day with cleats and ball in hand and start coaching! In fact it's estimated that there are over 2 million youth coaches in America alone! That being said, many states do require background checks for youth club coaches. If you're looking to move into coaching at an elite level, then many countries like Spain or Germany require that all their national team coaches have certain qualifications (up to UEFA A Licence).
Having qualifications helps, but nowhere near as much as having experience.
How to plan a soccer training session:
Planning a training session is an important step and can be difficult to do.
Set a simple theme that you want your players to be better at by the end of the session. It could be as simple as dribbling into space when you have the ball at your feet, or it could be a specific skill, like a feint that you want players to try.
Next you can plan a few simple games that encourage players to follow the theme of the session. Each game can have progressions in that make it more difficult or hard.
How long should soccer practices be?
There really isn't any research out there on how long practices should last, which makes it more challenging for coaches.
I've worked with 5 and 6 year olds on hour-long sessions and then moving to 1 hour 30 minute sessions at they get older. You can adjust based on what your players are physically able to execute in terms of high-intensity activities. Also keep in mind that if your team is playing a game on Saturday, you shouldn't have them training too hard on Friday's practice.
How can I motivate my players?
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic . Intrinsic motivation is someone who performs an activity because they like doing it (Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996). This means that they play soccer for the sake of playing soccer and not for some external reason such as money or fame. Extrinsic motivators occur when we do things to gain something outside of ourselves (such as money) so we'll be more likely to perform the task at hand (Tapaszto, Szabó-Kozma, & Fábián, 2011).
The point about that is that you need to give players the tools they need to be successful, loving football is one of them.
Delivering the session: Coaching soccer on the sidelines
At some point during many games there will be a loose ball or an infraction that requires you to make a decision. This may be as simple as deciding if one of your players kicked another player too hard or something more complicated like determining if a foul occurred inside or outside of the penalty box.
How are you supposed to correctly determine these things?
The answer is coaching! While this seems daunting at first, with experience you'll develop confidence in your decisions and know what you're talking about when giving feedback post-game. An important note here is not to focus so much on coaching skills but to focus on your players.
How do I find a team?
The best way to find a team is to get connected with local soccer organizations and ask them about current opportunities.
In addition, feel free to post in places like your local club's Facebook page or other social media networks. The easiest places to look are youth soccer clubs or elementary school PTA meetings.
If you're feeling adventurous, try creating your own club!
Picking the right kids: How young should my players be when I take over?
This will depend greatly on your experience and comfort level in working with young children (and their parents). We recommend starting out with an age group that you're comfortable with.
Reviewing your session
After a session, take the time to reflect on what you've done. This will help you determine if your session was successful or not and if any adjustments need to be made for next time. Here are some questions to consider:
Did I make sure my players understood everything?
Was my training focused? In other words, were we working on one skill at a time or were we doing a little bit of everything?
How did my players perform? Were they able to execute what we worked on in practice? If not, why not?
How can I improve next week's session?
Asking these kinds of questions will help you adjust your sessions based on player performance and keep practice fresh every week!
Soccer coaching and communication: How to connect with your players
Let's face it, coaching is intimidating for a lot of people. We are being looked to as the leader of a team and expected to guide players through everything from soccer practice sessions to difficult decisions on the field. This is why it's so important that coaches are able to communicate effectively with their players. The easiest way for this communication process to break down is not being sure how you're coming across or whether your message is getting through.