By Christian Lavers
The role of the Director of Coaching (a "DOC") of a youth soccer club is often misunderstood -- by players, parents, and sometimes even staff.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the people who actually do the hiring (or supervision) to be somewhat confused as to what exactly they are looking for from the DOC position. In fact, if you reviewed the job descriptions of the DOC at 10 different youth clubs, you would probably find what appeared to be 10 different jobs.
This begs a major question -- what is a DOC supposed to do?
Fundamentally, the job of a DOC can be summarized in one basic proposition: to develop and improve coaches so that players maximize their potential at all ages.
Accomplishing this lofty objective requires wide-ranging professional skills:
Successful businesses have talented people at every level who are ready to “move up” when their superior is promoted or leaves for another company. Both depth and “upward mobility” of staff are reflective of an environment where employees are challenged, developed, and recognized for their abilities.
The best DOCs have a program for internal staff development -- both formally (licensing courses, seminars, etc.), and informally (regular feedback and observation, mentoring, etc.).
Staff Recruitment and Assignment
Identifying coaches with special talents, or coaches who can help your club in specific areas, is key in creating a staff with depth and breadth.
A DOC should always be looking to attract great coaches, and individuals with the potential to become great coaches, to the club. Just as important, a DOC needs to assign the right coach to the right age group based on the particular strengths of the coach and the demands of the age group.
“I feel that one of the most important responsibilities as a DOC is to make sure each coach is with the proper team with relation to his or her strength, experience and ability,” says Brian Doyle, DOC of the Michigan Hawks and Wolves. “Some coaches are excellent with younger players (U8-U12), but would not be successful with top U13-U18 teams. Understanding each coach’s strengths as well as their limitations is imperative for your club to be successful.”
Club culture can create an environment conducive for success or failure, and an environment that retains players and staff or loses them. Creating positive culture can be as basic as defining (and limiting) the roles and responsibilities of different constituents -- parents, the Board of Directors, coaches, etc.
Positive culture is reflected in an environment where players and coaches internalize the work rate and commitment required for success, and feel loyalty to the organization. At the highest level, the DOC is the most important person in the club in creating a culture that values and rewards player development instead of a culture that focuses solely on winning.
“The role of the DOC will never be a ‘one size fits all’ proposition, but there are some core principles that apply to the position,” says Ian Barker, former Minnesota Youth Soccer Association DOC and current head coach of Macalester College. “While qualifications and experience are key indicators of how a DOC will do, it is critical that the DOC fits the club culture and can help shape it. This is not something understood based on holding a coaching license or having played at a high level.”
One common tenet of coaching is that the system of play should be chosen based on the players, not the opposite. With that said, the style of play within a club should not vary from one age group to the next, or from one coach to another.
At a basic level, the goal of any youth club should be to play possession-oriented, attacking and skillful soccer. Within this guideline, there is room for tremendous variance based on personal preference. The best clubs in the country are marked by the fact that their teams, at every age group, attempt to play with a similar style and philosophy. (This is also a tremendous aid in player development across age groups.)
Understanding the factors above, below are some basic criteria that can be used when hiring or evaluating a DOC:
What is the degree of staff turnover and why? Is it because staff members are unhappy, or is it because good staff are developed and more opportunities are then available to them? (Bear in mind that little turnover can actually indicate a lack of standards and expectations.)
“One of the most important qualities needed by any DOC is the possession of strong, interpersonal skills,” says Tim Lesiak, DOC of Ohio Elite Soccer Academy. “The ability to manage people and solve problems is paramount to developing and retaining a staff that will help foster the culture and playing philosophy that the DOC is driving.”
Do the club’s teams all seem to play the same way, or are there huge differences in style and philosophy between one team and the next? (Keep in mind that a consistent style does not mean that every team will be as successful as the next.)
Are the key values of the club reflected in the behavior of the staff and players? (While any enterprising individual can describe lofty ideals and values -- are they ingrained in the staff and players?)
Is the club consistently developing players who can play at the next level? While there can be many reasons why teams are or are not successful, the ultimate responsibility of a DOC is to create an environment where players can maximize their potential. As a “quick and dirty” measurement, individual player development is a good barometer of a DOC.
Finally, while the personality of every DOC will be different, the following traits seem to be consistently found in the very best DOCs:
* Unquestioned personal integrity -- leadership of any kind demands nothing less, and a lack of integrity will always end up hurting the club and its players, no matter short term success.
* Technical expertise -- you can’t lead if you don’t know.
* Great communication skills -- without a well conveyed message, good ideas are useless.
* Eager to learn -- the best in any field are always trying to get better.
* Visionary -- great DOCs are always thinking about the future of the game, and specifically how their club will adapt to that to best serve its players.
* Controlled Competitiveness -- while everyone wants to win, a DOC must be able to distinguish between short-term wins and long-term success.
Sounds like an easy job, right?
(Christian Lavers is the Executive Vice President at US Club Soccer. He holds the highest coaching licenses in the United States - the USSF "A" License, the USSF "Y" License, and the NSCAA Premier Diploma, and is the USSDA Director and ECNL Director with FC Milwaukee Nationals in Wisconsin.)