By Mike Singleton
In a recent column by Soccer America's Paul Gardner, the author maligned orthodoxy and posited that curricula are where "problems start." If taken to the extreme, these points have some validity, however, when thrown into the context of coaching education in our country they prove somewhat amiss.
Soccer in this country is supported by millions of volunteers, many of whom who have no soccer experience and end up coaching simply because they were the last person to step backward when a club administrator told parents that if they could not find a coach their child would not have a place to play.
What is this goodhearted yet fearful volunteer to do when faced with 12 bubbling 6-year-olds or 8-year-olds? Where does this volunteer gain advice, knowledge, and confidence? Through coaching courses and curricula, this coach can find these needed supports.
What would this class and curricula say?
Whether it be with an English accent, a New York accent, or a Brazilian one, the message would be “let the game be the greatest teacher.” This voice may not sound the same and likely is not, but the message does need to be the same.
Novice coaches need to be warned of forcing younger players into locked positions, always telling players to pass the ball, asking players to kick the ball out of bounds whenever under pressure in the defense end and telling defenders never to cross the halfway line.
These are a handful of examples of many coaching mistakes made every day throughout this country and we need courses and curricula to help minimize the number of people coaching in this manner. Without coaching eductation courses we may be shocked to see how many are trying to teach 8-year-olds how to play in a zonal back four!
This message needs to tell young children to discover new ways to manipulate the ball, to take risks, and to teach us a new thing whenever they can. Whether this voice is gruff, deep, perky or soft, this message needs be the same and this message need be concise and clear as well.
Coaching education in this country has taken amazing steps over the years, and through the collaborative work of coaches, doctors, kinesiologists and psychologists, the curricula for our national courses are top notch.
We encourage coaches to allow players to problem solve and use guided discovery to help them come to solutions for the problems the game presents. Not only do we try to give inexperienced coaches insight into how to make a pass, with all surfaces of the foot, but we encourage them to ask players to determine when different methods should be applied.
This is crucial in skill development, not just technical development. Introducing coaches to the principles of play and to the importance of 1v1 and 2v1 and 2v2 and so on are vital components of our lower level courses. In these areas, I pray for orthodoxy!
Coaching has taken on more than the soccer X’s and O’s these days and courses include learning theory, understanding varying methods of communication, being sensitive to childhood developmental issues and many topics one would not typically think are in a coaching course.
This is because one voice does not suffice. We have to see how to connect with different players at different times. We have to understand how individuals learn best and at what times they accept coaching optimally.
True, we do not want every player playing the same way, but there are fundamental principles of quality coaching that need to be the same. Whether a child is in San Diego or Boston, I would hope they are exposed to the points made above. I hope they are not told there is only one way to do things and I hope they are allowed to make mistakes. I hope they are encouraged to be great in whatever way and accent works for them best. And yes, some English ones may be best in some circumstances.
With the new added attention that U.S. Soccer is putting on younger age players my optimism is peaked. Conversations such as the one previously started and now continued need be commonplace.
With added attention to information such as this we can all help move this game forward. Taking a page from these courses it is time for us to learn from our mistakes, to test out different techniques at different times, and to problem solve.
(Mike Singleton is the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association's Head State Coach and Excecutive Director. He is a Region I ODP Senior Staff Coach and a U.S. Soccer and US Youth Soccer National Staff Coach.)