By Mike Woitalla
Dennis Bergkamp scored 37 goals in 79 appearances for the Netherlands and won titles with Ajax Amsterdam, Inter Milan and Arsenal, where he lifted three EPL and four FA Cup crowns.
Upon retirement in 2006 he helped coach his son’s team in England before moving back to Amsterdam, where he coached U-12s and U-18s and managed the Ajax youth program before becoming assistant coach to the first team.
When he first started coaching kids, Bergkamp had to learn to be patient, he told The Guardian’s Amy Lawrence in a recent interview.
"I struggled a bit," he said. "You look at a player and think, 'Why can't you control that ball?' But you have to take a few steps back.
"There are times not to coach. You have to be balanced to know that. The urge is to step in and show how good you are as a coach and show you know everything and you can tell them.
“Sometimes it is better to let them make a mistake. Sometimes they learn more from that than being told what to do."
Bergkamp, a product of Ajax’s youth program, compares the coaching of his youth to what he sees today:
"If I look at my coaches in the youth at Ajax, with all due respect they were two elderly men who would stand at the side of the pitch, shouting a few things. So in a way you create your own career, you create your own development, and that helps you later on. Whereas now there are a lot of coaches, everyone has got their badge, they all think they are Mourinho or Wenger, even with the 12- to 13-year-olds.
"They know exactly what to do, what kind of exercises they have to do with the kids, and in a way they don't have to think for themselves any more. It is all done for them. It's a problem because they don't think for themselves.
“If they get a new situation, they look to someone as if to say, 'What do I have to do now?' I believe that is over-coaching. It's too much. Let them have their freedom. You have to create the environment where they can be unique and not a clone."
Bergkamp also provided examples of how coaching to win games is a detriment to long-term player development:
"You have to win these games, so the coach is going to manage to win the game instead of developing the player. In my opinion it should be totally the opposite.
“Sometimes you put your strongest player on the bench just to let others shine. Or you put a right-footed player who can't do anything with his left on the left side and force him to use his left foot. Of course in that game you will probably lose because you don't use your strongest players in their strongest position, but in the end you have a player who used his left foot when he was 12 and 13 and 14, and he can use both feet when he comes into the first team. That's what we have at Ajax and I really stand behind that."
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)