By Mike Woitalla
For the second time in six years, the U.S. Soccer Federation has produced a handbook designed to improve youth coaching in America.
Claudio Reyna, the USSF’s Youth Technical Director, unveiled the “U.S. Soccer Curriculum” last week. It offers specific, age-appropriate guidelines on how to run practice sessions throughout a season. The aim -- besides turning the USA into the soccer world power it certainly has the resources to become – is to coach children in a way that helps create an American style of play.
The first sentence of the “Curriculum” addresses what we’re shooting for: "All teams will be encouraged to display an offensive style of play based on keeping possession and quick movement of the ball.”
And Reyna remarked in his presentation that our nation should strive to play soccer that is enjoyable to watch. Amen.
The key to achieving these goals is how our players are coached at the youngest ages. This too was addressed in U.S. Soccer's "Player Development Guidelines: Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States." That document was produced during Bob Jenkins’ tenure as Director of Coaching Education and Youth Development and complements the “Curriculum” perfectly.
The “Curriculum” is full of color-coded graphs explaining how much emphasis to put on which components -- technical, tactical, physical, psychosocial -- at each age group. And includes exercise diagrams and practice plans.
“Best Practices” explains in detail the coaches’ relationship to the young players and the perils of overcoaching:
“Coaches can often be more helpful to a young player’s development by organizing less, saying less and allowing the players to do more. Set up a game and let the kids play.”
This should be a mantra for youth coaches, especially in a country in which so many children are coached by soccer novices so heavily influenced by coach-dominated American sports.
The “Curriculum” includes the statements, “Players must learn to find solutions without constant coaching” and “Keep the essence of the game in the majority of the practices.”
The diagrams in the “Tactical Terminology” section and the “Technical Terminology” glossary should serve the novice and intermediate coach well.
Indeed, the “Curriculum” is supposed to serve newcomers to the sport as well as the elite coach and director of coaching. But when it comes to the novice coach, it’s important to realize how difficult it can be for volunteers with little coaching, teaching or soccer experience to run a practice.
Just imagine this situation. After a day of sitting in a classroom and obeying adults, a bunch of 6-year-olds arrive at soccer practice full of energy. The novice coach is placing the 16 cones for exercise No. 1 -- but these cones soon turn into hats and Frisbees. And that’s before coach has divided the players into four groups to put on their bibs. So the coach -- being watched by the parents -- gets nervous and starts barking, which makes it worse.
Novice coaches should strive to run practices such as the ones outlined in the “Curriculum” -- but they shouldn’t be discouraged if they can’t orchestrate a Barcelona- or Ajax-like training session on their first tries. So I would like to see one more statement made to the newcomer coach to preface all coaching handbooks, clinics and courses …
“If all you do is set up goals and let them play, you’ll be doing a good job. As you build up the confidence and skill to incorporate more sophisticated facets into a training session and still keep the kids engaged and active, here's what you can do ..."
“U.S. Soccer Curriculum” is available for download HERE.
“Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States” is available HERE.
(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.)