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The most important coaching tool ever...
by Mike Woitalla, July 24th, 2014 8:31PM
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TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls


By Mike Woitalla

I've said various things to the opposing coach during the postgame handshake:

The standard “Good game” … “We got lucky” … “Your team played great.” … Or sometimes just a handshake and no words.

When I ref I usually just say “You’re welcome” when coaches thank me during the postgame ritual.

But at times I’ve wanted to ask these questions:

“Do you even like soccer? … Do you enjoy coaching? … Do you like being around children?”

I want to know because for an hour I’ve watched them prowl the sidelines, screaming, chagrining, huffing and puffing.

They’d probably sincerely answer "yes" to my questions. Perhaps they simply don’t know what they look like out there or they actually believe that’s how a coach should act.

I get that it’s difficult to control one’s emotions around sports, and that we have an innate urge to advise and correct children. But we also know how counterproductive it is to coach in such fashion. If yelling at kids -- when to pass, where to run, when to shoot, when not to dribble -- was the recipe for developing talent, American youth soccer would be producing superstars by the thousands.

And while I think that overall youth coaching has improved significantly over the years, far too many children -- while they're supposed to be enjoying the game and trying to figure out how to master it -- are being interrupted by the screaming, prowling, gesticulating coach.

“Part of that comes from the models of coaching they see live on TV, usually other sports but also soccer,” says Sam Snow, U.S. Youth Soccer Coaching Director. “The camera pans on coaches when they’re animated.”

Says Ian Barker, the NSCAA Director of Coaching Education, “Watch the game so that you can help the players with the game. If you’re very animated, you’re probably not watching the game critically, you’re just joy-sticking. … The coach should open up the folding chair and sit.”

Before his 2010-13 stint as U.S. Soccer’s Youth Technical Director, Claudio Reyna traveled the world to observe the most successful youth programs: “At the best places, the youth coaches are sitting down. And if they get up to give instructions, they sit right back down again.

"When the game is going on, all the coaches should just sit down. I think if you ask any player at the youth level, if the coach is on the sidelines standing, it brings tension. You can sense it."

So here’s the most important coaching tool to bring to the field:

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at Woitalla refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)

Soccer America on Twitter: Follow Soccer America | Mike Woitalla

  1. Michael Borga
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 10:10 a.m.
    I would add that it doesn't matter what age the players are, adults don't like the whacked out coaches/managers screaming and gesticulating either.
  1. Wesley Hunt
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 10:34 a.m.
    Well said. I have often wondered the same thing. Some of the nicest people I know turn into raving lunatics when ever they are coaching youth soccer games. I make a point of sitting when coaching. Any advise given is off the ball or during a substitution. I remind myself that this is not the world cup final. I try to help the kids learn to laugh at themselves when they make mistakes. Makes it easier to keep trying and realize ones weaknesses to work on them.
  1. barbara jesberger-mcintosh
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 11:17 a.m.
    I love all your articles as they relate to these screaming , ranting and raving parents and coaches. I've often wondered if these individuals ever played sports? Probably not!!! This article is missing one picture to go with that chair ~ it's called a MUZZLE!!!! Thanks for another great article !!!!
  1. Kent Pothast
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 12:54 p.m.
    For years I had a sear behind Clive Charles, the University of Portland's highly successful coach.He seldom got up and rarely raised his voice. It was a stark contrast to most of the opposing coaches. Santa Clara's Smith lets his assistance do the yelling. Particularly his wife Brandi.
  1. Brian Something
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 3 p.m.
    If you can't control your emotions around kids (and by this I don't mean you have to be perfect, just generally pretty good), then you shouldn't be working with kids.
  1. Brian Something
    commented on: July 25, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.
    One of the problems is this. I am a coach who rarely yells, screams, rants or raves. I try to be in control so my team will play with the same discipline. I've had a few parents tell me that they think I am disinterested because of this. For many parents, the ranting and raving coach gives the illusion that he is "doing something." That something is, more often than not, alienating his own players.
  1. G O
    commented on: July 26, 2014 at 2:41 a.m.
    I agree with Brian's two comments above. Well stated. Why people think the Mike Ditka approach is good baffles me. Thank you for this article Mr. Woitalla. I'm a big believer that the players at most levels just have to figure it out for themselves. So the coach should be on a stool, on a bench, in this blue chair, smiling. I'll often bring a few of the kids who are the substitutes beside me when sitting and ask their assessment of what they are seeing in the game.
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: July 26, 2014 at 5:08 a.m.
  1. Kevin Brink
    commented on: July 26, 2014 at 10:21 a.m.
    I had a player lean over to me and say "Their coach has anger issues." That was a U10 team, but I think my player was correct. I have also asked (and to a large extent it is working) my parents not to coach. They get to yell and cheer and even congratulate the other teams players when they do something well. But, I have had to ask the parents to not give any technical instruction and once they stopped it made a huge difference for the players. I think coaches often get animated to compete with the other "coaches" around the field and we overload the players.
  1. G O
    commented on: July 26, 2014 at 11:52 a.m.
    The beauty of soccer, something that so greatly distinguishes it from, for example, gridiron football, is that the 11 players in a team have much more (if not full) autonomy in their on the field play decisions/actions. This is to be celebrated! We stifle it and then make ugly this beauty if we provide "instruction/coaching/imperatives" from the sidelines. I like the autonomous decision-making and actions in young minds and bodies because this is then necessary building blocks to solid adulthood. Don't you also cringe when basketball features numerous timeouts in the final minutes of a tight basketball game? During each timeout the coaching staff specifically tell the five players what they will do (as if like robots) in the next 5 - 15 seconds on the clock. I shall always prefer the available freedoms of soccer over that.
  1. James Madison
    commented on: July 27, 2014 at 8:02 p.m.
    When I give youth coaching clinics, I frequently recall a moment in a community college match I refereed a few years ago. Midway in the second half, I gave a free kick to one of teams. The coach of that team was a "shouter." As the captain of the team came up to take the kick, she said, "Please red-card our coach."
  1. G O
    commented on: July 28, 2014 at 12:06 p.m.
    Isn't this (for old folks like me on this site who can look back three and four decades ago) why we appreciate coaches like Tom Landry, the man who skippered the Dallas Cowboys for so many years - and so successfully. He was not not just well dressed. He just simply stood and observed. No wild gesticulations. No antics. No theatrics. No running this way or that, waving arms about. No in your face with a linesman over a questionable officiating call. He's but one example. But he stands out for me in my lifetime of a coach who showed the dignity that more ought to try to emulate. That's my 2cents. Sorry to now post already for the third time on the same page. But I just really like Mr. Woitalla's article here and the overall points & topic. It is spot on. I will keep the title of this article (and the object lesson) from Mr. Woitalla with me until I no longer am involved in amy way in this game.
  1. Philip Carragher
    commented on: August 8, 2014 at 10:13 a.m.
    I understand and agree mostly with what has been said here but, depending upon what the specific coaching/team situation is, standing and being animated while coaching a team may be (temporarily) helpful to the players. I have coached AYSO teams as well as college, and, yes, if I'm coaching a high school/college team, I get them everyday for a couple of hours with a preseason to help prepare for the regular season, so I can usually accomplish what I need to accomplish come game time so I can sit and keep quiet...not so with AYSO (unless I've coached that team for more than a year). One hour per week practice and then a weekend game is not enough to achieve my two main goals (which are also how I measure my success as a coach): do they show-up for practice and do they sign-up for next year? So I do stand and instruct during AYSO games (parents have been asked to "only cheer, no instructions") and it is very helpful. Most of my sideline instruction involves asking defensive players to "move up" so we can keep our shape, but all of my instruction is aimed at getting the players to be the only ones giving each other instructions (square, thru, support, man-on, etc.) and me to smile and shut up. Beside this sideline instruction, I'll provide encouragement for and animated recognition of intelligent play. Good coaching is an art form and how a coach handles game coaching should be entirely dependent upon the situation at hand. Sometimes sitting and remaining quiet is not in the best interest of the players but should be an outcome to work towards. I've seen it happen and it's magical.
  1. Austin Norton
    commented on: April 9, 2015 at 11:25 a.m.
    Has anyone tried the NexStar ipad training system? I found a coupon code “SPRING” that reduces the cost by $20. It looks really nice but wanted to see if anyone has one.

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