Principles for Coaching Youth Soccer
These are the rules that guide me when I coach, whether I am coaching my young children, my middle school girls team, or my varsity boys team.
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Number one, without a doubt, this must be the goal of every coach, especially in America. I am fortunate to coach a number of boys who are immigrants to this country and who arrive here with a passion for the game. This passion is sadly lacking in the hearts of many who play the game at the youth level in the States. How many kids are fully clothed in Adidas or Puma, but who have no love for the game? How many kids are sent off to camps or to play club ball but who do not feel in their hearts the need to play? More important than skills, tactics, winning, etc. is this love for the game. Coaches must model and live this passion. Parent-coaches: watch quality soccer, i.e. European club soccer, not MLS. If all you watch is MLS, you will not understand why it is called “the beautiful game”.
At the most basic level, the coach must demonstrate and teach individual skills: dribbling, passing, kicking, shooting, trapping, juggling, etc. It is every coach’s responsibility to work on these skills. Every parent who has been leashed into coaching should try to do what he/she is telling the kids to do. Do the drills with the kids. Scrimmage: my U8’s love the weekly parent v. child scrimmage that we hold at practice more than anything else that we do. The parents will begin to respect the cardio-vascular demands of soccer.
Once the kids have a sense of the skills required to play the game, the coach should begin to introduce tactical drills. These drills may be position-specific, based on area of the field, small zones, focused on attacking, defending, or possession, or full field formational. One of the drills I do at all levels is to have the team take the field in formation. We start the ball from the goalkeeper and, as we lightly jog (or walk for those of lower skill) to the other side of the field–the attacking end–we pass the ball, using square passing, drops, and close diagonal passes, and keep proper spacing. As we travel up and down the field, we start to add defenders to make the passing game more challenging.
Winning and Sportsmanship
Winning is not unimportant, but sportsmanship is far more important, even at the high school level. Every kid keeps score, even if the adults do not. Every kid likes the feeling of winning, but every coach must teach kids to win the right way and, as the cliché says, that “winning isn’t everything”. The chance you have to influence a kid’s life as a coach is significant, especially in this era of broken families. As many in the Italian coaching community stress, an attitude of humility is essential to greatness. Look at Lionel Messi: he is one of the greatest contemporary players, but he carries himself with character on the field. He makes his teammates better, which is one of the marks of a truly great player. Find models in the professional ranks, like Messi, who epitomize good sportsmanship and skillful play.
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