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Lecture them not
by Mike Woitalla, April 1st, 2011 1:09AM

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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls

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By Mike Woitalla

If being told how to play enabled children to master soccer we’d have an excess of great players and superb teams.

The game, it is so obvious, is the best teacher. That’s not to say the coaches’ choice of words doesn’t have an influence. The question is how a coach can communicate with youngsters to help them improve, inspire them, and make their soccer experience an enjoyable one.

“Obviously it depends on the age group,” says Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer’s Coaching Director. “My dialogue with U-6 players is going to be different than with U-19s. But right away, there’s part of it. It should be a dialogue not a monologue.

“And that’s one of the big issues for a lot of our coaches. They indeed want to lecture the players.”

Says Manny Schellscheidt, “Lectures are for the birds.”

“Every good coaching manual I see now starts with the three L’s: ‘No laps, no lines, no lectures,’” says Tony Lepore, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy director whose background in education includes a decade as an elementary and middle school guidance counselor.

Schellscheidt, head of U.S. Soccer’s U-14 boys national development program, Lepore and Snow agree that one of the most misguided approaches coaches can take is hold postgame lectures.

“We definitely teach coaches: No postgame mortem!” says Snow. “No match analysis right after the game. After the game, if it’s U-12s, for example, the sportsmanship piece comes first. Shaking hands with officials, opposing coaches and players, and my players. Then take care of any injuries and rehydration, and do a cool-down.

“And if I have any wrap-up stuff to say, I want to point out some positives. Then, ‘Next practice is on Tuesday, 5 o’clock on Field 7. See you there!’

“If you need to do some match analysis, we’ve always taught coaches that it’s best to do that 24 hours later, at a minimum, where you get yourself on an emotional even keel.

“Right after the game, you got the emotions. I’ve done it in the past -- we’ve all made this mistake -- standing there going up and down the players in regard their performance. That’s just the coaches dealing with their emotions about the game rather than anything constructive in terms of helping the team improve.”

Schellscheidt has coached at every level of the U.S. men’s national team program, in addition to winning national titles at the youth, amateur and pro level.

“After the game, we do nothing,” Schellscheidt says in regard to coaching the U-14s, “because they’re way too charged up, way too emotionally wound up, be it positive or negative.”

When the time comes to discuss the game, Schellscheidt says, “It’s very much a back and forth -- asking the players what it was like and how it felt.

“How did we succeed? What were the problems? What could we do? What could we not do? It’s all about engaging a soccer conversation. A lecture? Forget it.

“In these long-winded, drawn-out speeches -- after the second sentence, they’ve lost us already. I’m at the point where I don’t give answers anymore. I only ask questions. Because it doesn’t matter how much I know. It doesn’t matter how much I can tell them. It matters whether they involve themselves in the thinking part.”

Snow says the US Youth Soccer national youth license course advocates the “guided discovery” approach.

“We’re taking it straight from education,” says Snow. “That is to pose questions to players to get them to think for themselves and guide them toward the right answers.

“Get the players where they’re thinking for themselves rather than just being told what to do.”

Of key importance is age-appropriate communication. Avoiding coaching jargon that youngsters won’t understand and focusing on aspects of the game they can comprehend.

“It’s really important to speak their language,” says Lepore.

Snow: “As they get older the questions get more challenging. At U-6 it could be, ‘Can you dribble with your other foot?’ For U-19s, U-18s, it might be, ‘Why are we playing zone defense.’”

Regarding the postgame, Lepore says that players do appreciate some closure – a few words from the coach – but always in a positive tone and in a discussion rather than lecture form. He recommends pointing out things the team did well that are unrelated to the final score.

“They know what the score was and they’re probably going to get that on the way home,” Lepore says.

During practice, all three agree that a coach should introduce one concept at a time, and then let the players have a go before expanding on it.

Schellscheidt says the key to all coaching communication is to be concise.

"If you can’t say it in 20 seconds, you probably don’t know what you’re talking about anyhow,” Schellscheidt says. "The coach is really a substitute voice. We want the players to hear the silent voice, the game. The game is actually talking to you."

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)



8 comments
  1. goddy akama
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 8:54 a.m.
    There is a lot of truth to these comments and this should be food for thought to coaches. To Snow's point of asking a player if they can dribble with the other foot, I vehemently disagree with that. If they can shot and pass with their weaker foot that's great not dribble. Perfect the stronger foot and use the weaker one to direct the ball once in while to the stronger foot.

  1. Rick Figueiredo
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 12:24 p.m.
    Great article Mike. That post game lecture is very American. The NFL does it. Of all the countries I have worked with the USA national team is the only one that has a post game talk. Players are done after a game. Let them go. All the youth coaches I have been with also have this post game talk in the USA. Maybe they need to consolidate their own thoughts and do it by talking to players, because any advise given to a player after a game is almost useless when it comes to retention. Again. Great thoughts. Thanks

  1. lorenzo murillo
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 12:27 p.m.
    Something I find peculiar about these articles is how the author is in need of readers to know that the interviewed coaches are experienced and won championships. Is it necessary? How many of these coaches have a degree in sports science? Do they know about principles of training? Scientific principles, based on studies, and not on empirical experiences, because they have won silverware. In regards to asking questions... why on earth would you ask a 6 year old any question? 99% of players around the world, amateur or pro, and 99% are amateur, cannot dribble with both feet. When it comes to coaching, its not an issue about asking questions. It is an issue of teaching the principles of the game correctly, and no amount of words, whether lectured or asked, is going to achieved that. Principle of training: Theory of Specificity. better known as you better train the way you play... in other words, create an environment where players discover and learn to play the game, from the game, because the game is the best teacher. Now in order for coaches to be efficient, they need to be educated, but I can write a book about that.

  1. Rick Figueiredo
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 1:07 p.m.
    The point here is simple. It deals with conversation - usually one way - AFTER A GAME. The second point here is that Americans need to understand that this is a waste of time. Simple. To the point. The rest of the article is icing on the cake!

  1. Ian Plenderleith
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.
    Ha ha, try getting 16 teenage girls to sit still and listen to you blather on post-game when they have a weekend of more alluring activities ahead. You have to feel sorry for those circles of entrapped players, sitting with heads bowed as coach pontificates and gesticulates while dissecting a defeat that was probably way more important to him than his players.

  1. Rui Filipe Bento
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.
    Eh man, when I read this and find that this is going on, my brain just stops. Eh man, lecture is before the games! Who in the world wants to lecture after the games? After the game is "have a nice day and a have a "Serra cheese" like we say back in Portugal, see you at practice Tuesday, then on Tuesday is "lets get ready for saturday game". The soccer world got nothing to do with that, everyone is messing up the kids. Thank you anyway, that makes feel good about the job I do!

  1. tim francis
    commented on: April 1, 2011 at 3:18 p.m.
    Right on! Players have little, if any attention, desire to learn, energy and interest in what is perceived by most as comparatively 'boring' talk after a game. Discussing highlights of play fits media coverage, and works pretty well to get coaching points across. (tfsoccer.com)

  1. john davies
    commented on: April 15, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.
    Totally agree with no lectures after the game. But football coaching(English) is much more complex and you cannot simply have one major point that covers all levels and ages of play, coaching a under 19 classic boys team requires different approaches than coaching a Under 12 rec girls team where half of them have never kicked a ball in their life, and the terms penalty area and Offside are a foreign language. Yes the game is of course the best teacher, but explain how you get a 12 year old girl who does not know the rules of the game ready for a real game in two weeks when you only get them for two hours a week, there is no other way to get their attention other than to lecture them a little, especially when in that two weeks half of them will not turn up to practice, or your practice gets rained out. Yes you can send them home with handouts about the game, but what chance is there that they read them if it as taken 12 years for them to become football players, they are more likely to go home and watch their favorite singer than read about football or indeed watch it. My point is that the article is of course correct, but it depends on what level the players are at and the circumstances you are in, if I was coaching as I have done under 19 boys Classic level, of course at practice I will not be lecturing them, but Under 12 girls Rec which i am coaching now, I defy anybody to try it and not find themselves doing a bit of lecturing, at the very least to get their attention.


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