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'Relate to the kids' (Q&A with NSCAA's Ian Barker, Part 1)
by Mike Woitalla, October 12th, 2012 1:48AM

TAGS:  high school boys, high school girls, youth boys, youth girls


Interview by Mike Woitalla

Ian Barker became Director of Coaching of the 30,000-member National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) in February. A longtime ODP coach, he served as Minnesota Youth Soccer Association Director of Coaching (1997-2007) and spent more than two decades coaching college ball. In Part 1 of our interview we spoke with Barker about youth coaching in America.

SOCCER AMERICA: What advice would you give to someone about to start coaching youth soccer for the first time – whether it’s a parent without soccer experience or someone with an extensive soccer background who has never coached children?

IAN BARKER: Do not force it. Instead feed off your strengths as a parent and communicator and relate to the kids. That is not to say you should not try to acquire some knowledge of content and method. To get started see if you can effectively copy someone who keeps things flowing and keeps the kids engaged. The less, despite reasonable angst, you can make it about you and more about being with kids in a sport environment the better. Do not be afraid of your "ignorance."

SA: What is a common trait of youth coaches that you would like to see less of?

IAN BARKER: I really think many youth coaches would do better with less formal structure and that includes lengthy verbal explanation or revision of the obvious. If the youth coach can manage a safe environment and find activity that reflects the "organic" nature and flow of the game I think kids can learn and enjoy.

SA: When you observe youth soccer practices at the younger ages what would make you think the coach is doing a good job?

IAN BARKER: A good job would see the kids moving, that the activity is soccer relevant and that frequency touching the ball and making decisions is very high. Certainly the coach must be engaged, but that does not mean they have to be moving or talking a great deal. Kids moving, experiencing the game with minimal, but pointed interjections from the coach is a session I would look for.

SA: Besides the NSCAA, other organizations such as U.S. Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer, offer coaching education courses. How should youth coaches decide where to take their coaching courses?

IAN BARKER: As many of our youth coaches are parents then I think look for role models among your peer group and find out how they got to a level of proficiency you respect. Perhaps consulting a paid, experienced club director is less helpful than seeking to emulate someone "like you."

For the younger coaches, high school and college players, the same applies, observe what you like and do not like and understand how these behaviors were trained. Very often the things that impact us most as effective coaches are acquired in formal coaching schools through the presentations and the interactions with other candidates, and also outside of schools by observing good practices.

SA: How much of a problem is an emphasis on winning games in American youth soccer?

IAN BARKER: It is a real problem, but one I feel is much easier to fix than we understand. Rather than wholesale changes in the structures of competition, coach training, rules and regulations etc., I think it comes down to how adults act and how you can impact a culture by continual examples of good practice.

I believe the more coaches and parents who make the effort to keep things in a context, the more that others will see that and will follow the example. Wanting to win is not the problem; it is the overemphasis that is placed on winning and losing relative to kids playing, learning to love the sport and learning to play it effectively. The problem is placing value in winning so far ahead of a long-term development of the child, the player and the sport.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: October 13, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.
    I couldn't agree more that wanting to win is not a problem. Everybody wants to win, and their is nothing wrong with that. A desire to win is often associated with increased effort, which should be encouraged. The issue is what are you willing to do to win, and how much emphasis do you put on winning? Problems arise when coaches sacrifice development in order to win, doing things like making kids specialize at early ages, only playing the best kids, cutting weaker players, playing kick and run, etc. Critics of the de-emphasis on winning seem to believe that those who advocate player development don't care about winning, which is generally not true. We don't care about winning until it actually means something, which is when the kids get older. De-emphasizing winning at the youngest ages enables us to develop skill instead of just athleticism, allows us to be inclusive and keeps kids in the game longer (both of which allow the player pool is larger, which gives the older teams more talent to draw from).
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: October 15, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.
    Allowing teams to win at all costs has caused most of the bad practices we see in the youth game. How do you allow winning without facilitating kick-and-run? Leagues have bastardized "travel" soccer (class 1) by allowing class 3 to tag along for the fun of it. That's all well and good for the legion of class 3 teams, but one of the two should be required to: 1) follow FIFA substitution rules, 2) not allow keeper punts until U12, since that specific tactic bypasses back line development, 3) follow claudio's curriculum and 3-4-3 structure. I have seen only a handful of youth teams actually play possession--the rest is all lip service.
  1. Luis Arreola
    commented on: October 16, 2012 at 8:37 p.m.
    There are way too many factors that strongly favor and encourage winning at all costs. Most parents want their kids to win with the better player on "ranked teams". Rankings are strongly encouraged from the to down and is entirely based on wins and tournament points and not so much on style of play or individual talent developed. A playevcan easily switch clubs at any time during the year. Coaches know this and take care of the players that will secure their coaching future and fees with wins or by playing the kid that gives him the extra private session money. My son played for a team that made it to State Cup Finals that would not pass the ball back. The coach later said that this was a key coaching tactic and reason for his coaching success. The kids were U13. My son was the target and pretty much only forward. We left that team. We will probably have him tryout for a Mexican club next year. It doesn't look too good here.

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