The Importance of Environment
Our job as coaches is to to create the right learning environment for our young players to reach their full soccer potential — fun, positive, safe, and creative (where they are free to take risks and learn from their mistakes). It is our job at D.F.C. to deliver two things: (1) the highest possible quality soccer instruction, and (2) a positive soccer experience that provides joy and turns the beautiful game into a life-long passion for our players. Passionate young soccer players are more motivated and are often willing to self-train when away from their teams and coaches. This is when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
The New Integrated Coaching Model
While always evolving, it is fair to say that soccer coaching today is undergoing a major revolution around the world. Although arguably a bit slow to catch on, US Soccer has begun to implement what is considered a sea-change in player-development best practices. This new approach will dramatically impact player development in our country. Historically, soccer technique and tactics have been taught separately — you have technical exercises (ie. ball skills and techniques) designed for skill-building and you have tactical exercises (ie. decision-making) designed to teach players how to play the game. However, there is now a greater recognition of the benefits of teaching the technical and tactical elements of the game in an integrated model while obviously keeping everything on an age-appropriate level (which can be a challenge). To be clear, this does not mean that we should be teaching an offsides trap to U8s — it means that we should try to incorporate the development of perception and decision-making wherever possible at all levels of soccer training and even possibly when the focus of a given exercise is more technical in nature. Further, it suggests that as coaches we must find a variety ways of teaching a given technique or tactical element that progressively incorporate a number of game-like scenarios and simulations. To boil it down, a player’s skills are his or her tools, but in order to be effective, the player must recognize (perceive) in real-time which tool to use at every moment in the game. By integrating the training of technique and tactics, we are simultaneously teaching the tool and its applications.
The thinking behind this change is tied in part to a deeper understanding of what makes a truly great soccer player — both the physical/athletic and technical components of the game are crucial to the success of any given soccer player, but if that same player cannot make the right decision time after time while under pressure in a game environment, in other words, in the absence of time and space, then that player will never succeed playing soccer at higher levels, where the game is about speed of play.
To quote Horst Wein, “Soccer is a game that begins in the head, flows through the heart, and ends in the feet.” The point is that soccer is a game that we play with our minds — a thinking person’s game — and our feet are simply the tools that our mind uses to play. The bit about the heart seems rather obvious — to be played well, soccer must be played with joy, with a love for the game. For anyone that wants to developing a much deeper understanding of this concept and how it can be applied in coaching youth soccer should read Our Competition is the World by Stan Baker.
Coaching in the Socratic Method
Coaching is teaching. The socratic method is based on the teacher continuously using probing, open-ended questions to guide the student to self-discovery, which a much more powerful and ingrained state of learning. This approach is challenging and requires the teacher or coach to give up some control of the situation, to be patient, and to listen attentively. It is strictly a two-way process. Don’t bother if you are unwilling to actively listen to what your players have to say and to use their responses to create a map to where you want to lead them. Don’t cross-examine your players or ask them framing questions that telegraph answers or lead to a yes or no response. It needs to be a process.
This is a challenging but also very rewarding approach to coaching. It is much more about the player than the coach, which can be uncomfortable for some coaches, but the results can be phenomenal. Here is a presentation by US Youth Soccer about using guided discovery as a soccer coaching tool.
Additional Links to Valuable Coaching Resources
Links to Coaching Videos:
Advice to Young Coaches from Pia Sundhage, the former coach of the USWNT
NSCAA Webinar — Using Guided Discovery as a Coach
A great Small-Sided Game Exercise from The Coaching Manual — 3v3 + 1 with GKs — can be used with any age group U9+
A great possession warm-up exercise from The Coaching Manual — 2 Teams of 4 Playing for Possession with Interference — can work for U12+
The Coaching Manual channel on youtube
The Coerver Coaching channel on youtube
The Football Skills Coach channel on youtube
The NYRBTrainingPrograms channel on youtube
Links to Coaching Education:
National Soccer Coaches Association of America