'Don't hover over the kids' (Q&A: AYSO's Scott Gimple)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

Four players -- Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Nick Rimando, Alejandro Bedoya -- who helped the USA lift the 2013 Gold Cup got their soccer start in the American Youth Soccer Organization, which next year celebrates its 50th anniversary. With more than 50,000 teams and 510,000 players, AYSO continues to rely solely on volunteer coaches. We spoke with AYSO Director of Development Scott Gimple about its new coaching curriculum, its faith in parent-coaches, and how to create the best environment for young players.

SOCCER AMERICA: There is no shortage of curriculums or guides for coaching youth soccer. What makes AYSO’s new “Coaching Series” unique?

SCOTT GIMPLE: Almost all soccer curriculums are written by soccer guys for soccer guys. It’s as if they’re written to show other soccer people how much they know about the game. In some ways they’re overcomplicated. The reality is that the people we are addressing are all parents.

Most of our coaches have never played the game. What we had to do is create tools to show how different soccer is from baseball, basketball, football and hockey from a coaching perspective.

All of the American sports are coach-centric. The coaches call the plays. The coaches call the defense. They send in the signals in all those sports. Soccer’s not that way and we can’t expect our parents just to understand that because they’ve watched one soccer game.

The other thing is that soccer is such a fluid game. It’s a game of mistakes. People are making bad decisions all the time, but it’s the best decision they can make in that split second. As parents, we want to control, so we’re yelling from the sidelines like we would if we were watching baseball: “Throw it to first! … Throw it to second!” … Giving them directions.

SA: Which denies the young players the chance to figure out how to make decisions on their own …

SCOTT GIMPLE: I was refereeing a U-12 girls game and there was corner kick. The girl stopped and turned to her dad and said, "Dad, where do I go?"

SA: You emphasize resisting over-coaching and that parents must realize that making mistakes is part of the learning process, that we shouldn’t be correcting all the time …

SCOTT GIMPLE: I remember seeing a little girl make a mistake and start crying. Nobody necessarily yelled at her. But because she made the mistake she felt like she failed. So something was ingrained in her that taking that risk and making a mistake was something to cry about. ...

There's got to be a cultural change from parents hovering over the kids and trying to prevent them from making mistakes, wanting to do what they think is best for them by giving them instructions, pointing out obvious solutions that they can see, to help their kids be successful ... What we want them to do is sit back and let their kids try something different and not necessarily succeed, and then try it again, and keep trying again until they are successful and have figured it out.

It's like giving a child a puzzle and telling them where to put the pieces because you don't want them to make mistakes. When really what children do by trying different pieces of the puzzle, they learn how to put together a puzzle.

Parents should allow them to do that when they play a sport.

SA: A common refrain is that we need better coaching at the youngest ages, which can also be a way of convincing parents to seek professional coaching at an earlier age. How do you make the case that parent-coaches can provide the right environment for players who may have the potential to succeed at the highest levels?

SCOTT GIMPLE: We attended the U.S. Soccer’s Zone 1 [ages 5 to 12] program [in April 2011] when it unveiled its curriculum and its four pillars pretty much match up with AYSO’s philosophy: Player development over winning; Quality training; Age-appropriate training; Inspiring the kids to have fun.

Sitting in the room with all these big clubs, everyone’s nodding their heads. “That’s got to be the key with U-12 and below.”

Then you go and have a conversation with them at the bar that night. And they’re saying, “There’s no way this will work,” because their clubs are evaluated on the win-loss records of their teams.

For us, having volunteer coaches, we probably have the best opportunity and best chance to truly focus on individual player development.

SA: Even unpaid coaches without big-club pressure go to the field with a great desire to win …

SCOTT GIMPLE: That’s why we’re working hard to make them understand. If you’re so concerned about losing on a Saturday, that leads to kick-and-run. You put your best athlete up front, you kick through balls, and it’s one-on-one with the keeper, and that’s kind of the standard U-10 soccer game.

Our whole focus with the new curriculum is trying to get the parent-coaches to understand the importance developing the player at the appropriate age level, understanding the motivation of the players, and focusing on developing the individual first and less about winning the game.

SA: How do you create coaching guides that aren’t “overcomplicated?”

SCOTT GIMPLE: We put a lot graphics in it. We put in boxes we call “Keep in Mind” and we don’t expect our coaches to read this thing cover to cover, because coaches don’t do that. The referees would. But the coaches don’t.

So we put highlights and pictures in there that draw their eye. (For example: “Players should be encouraged to defend and attack.”) A little block that summarize the important details on the page. Even if they just read what’s in the “Keep in Mind” block, at least it will give them a summary of what they should be learning.

We combined the manuals with integrated online video segments that parent-coaches can get on their smart phone. People comprehend better when they see a demonstration. We’re making it as convenient as possible, to keep them from having to go search somewhere like YouTube, because if they did, most of them wouldn’t and they’d fall back on: jog around the field for your warm-up, get in two different lines, one being a crossing line and one being a shooting line, and that’s practice.

SA: What do you say to parents who might think their kids will get better coaching at a big youth club than with AYSO?

SCOTT GIMPLE: When we presented our new curriculum at the 2013 NSCAA Convention, which was combined with U.S. Youth Soccer’s AGM, we had roughly 80 club people in the audience. Most ran recreational programs but didn’t have mandated training programs for their parent-coaches. They did for their travel teams, which had professional coaches, but few of them had coach education programs for parent-coaches.

AYSO requires all parent-coaches to be trained and certified for their age group.

(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
15 comments about "'Don't hover over the kids' (Q&A: AYSO's Scott Gimple) ".
  1. Paul Stierle, July 30, 2013 at 10:27 a.m.

    Go AYSO, Everyone plays started it and it continues to grow and now we can argue about club soccer VS because it is so big now. Let the chiuldren play, hooray.

  2. Gary Allen, July 30, 2013 at 1:46 p.m.

    Mr. Gimple seems to have missed US Youth Soccer's National Youth License, which has been offered since 1995. This course not only addresses every issue he has raised, but goes much further concerning developmentally approriate age group training and educationally-grounded coaching especially for ages U6-U12. The premise of the whole course is that it must be player-centered, involving problem-solving by the players themselves.

  3. Richard Weishaupt, July 30, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.

    Lot's of good advice, but I feel constrained to talk a bit about "other sports." Having coached and played a lot of baseball and basketball, I can assure you they are much less coach centric than you think. Especially for younger athletes, catching, throwing, hitting, passing and shooting are mistake prone.

    I can assure you parents screaming throw it to first or second is no more helpful than screaming "shoot it". Calling for pitches? The only pitch worth calling under 14 is throw a strike. Plays in basketball? About as productive as trying to script corner kicks when no one can reach the goal box.

    The take away for all youth sports should be show the kids the skills and let them play and make mistakes.

  4. James Madison, July 30, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.

    Scott is a bit behind the times on one point: an ever increasing number of the AYSO coaches I train either have played or are playing or both. When I began conducting courses in the late 1970s, it was 5% or less; now it's 50% or more. And contrary to Gary Allen, Scott acknowledged that the AYSO and the US Soccer Youth License curriculum pretty much parallel each other. One difference is that AY goes at it in 2-year age bites, requiring coaches to return for enhanced training every two years at the next higher age-related level.

  5. johnny c, July 30, 2013 at 3:57 p.m.

    Wow!! Coming from a different country that produces the best players in the world, I can tell you AYSO is wrong. Everything in this organization is about Rules, Regulations and more Rules, Regulations. When you attend the so call training, all they do is talk about Rules and Regulations and very minimum to zero about Soccer.
    "Did you know that it's against AYSO rules for a coach to pass or kick the ball to a player" all because someone sued them when a kid got accidently hit with the ball by a coach providing instructions...Hahaha.... AYSO is a joke. They call themselves a Non Profit but I can bet Mr. Gimple is not doing it for the sport or as a volunteer... But as a business...

  6. johnny c, July 30, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.

    Another AYSO rule: Kids under a certain age can only practice one time a week and play one game on Saturday... Hahaha!! We played every day after school and during school and with friends and teams on the weekend, and we were only 6 years old... I can continue posting more and more AYSO rules and can guarantee you that true soccer lovers would continue to laugh and laugh.....

  7. johnny c, July 30, 2013 at 4:07 p.m.

    AYSO, please reduce your rules and regulations and concentrate on the beautiful game of Soccer.!! Teach coaches soccer and the kids soccer and not so much about laws, rules, and regulations.... I pray Mr. Gimble gets the message...

  8. 0 M, July 30, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.

    Soccer is more coach-centric than you realize. The coaches still call the plays. The problem is American coaches and fans don't understand soccer tactics. Most games you see in US soccer at youth and pro level are like a pickup game with basically no group tactics involved. Individual skills are the main deciding factor in games. Until coaches start to understand this the game will continue to be rudimentary. The title should be 'Don't hover over the kids if you don't know what you're doing.'

  9. Gary Allen, July 31, 2013 at 7:08 a.m.

    What James Madison doesn't realize is that Scotot referred to US Soccer Zone 1 (a bandaid offered on the spur of the moment a couple of years ago to tap into the youth market), not US Youth Soccer's National Youth License, which has been around for almost 20 years. Even though the NYL is now being considered a part of the US Soccer umbrella, it is not the same as Zone 1.

  10. Gary Allen, July 31, 2013 at 7:17 a.m.

    OM is completely out to lunch with his comment that coaches call the plays in soccer. The free flowing nature and ever-changing environment of the soprt means that it is player-centered. It takes on the culture and problem-solving character of the players. This is why it is so important for youth coaches to create practice environments with problems for the players to solve, and then allow them solve them, with guidance, not authority. It is the process of learning as an individual and in groups to solve the problems the game and the other teams present that is paramount. This is what happens in neighborhood games, and is one reason that countries like Brazil flourish.

  11. Rick Figueiredo, July 31, 2013 at 9:45 a.m.

    The article was good enough that I actually scrolled back to find out this man's name. SCOTT GIMPLE. Some excellent ideas. The main focus of this game at an AYSO level should be to learn how to think for yourself. Great point. The point about if you are afraid of losing you kick ball up field and try and score goals that way is incorrect, however. That is how you deplete your teams energy. The game is far more complex than that. AYSO has a niche in this game for many years. They give kids a place to meet friends and learn the basics of competition. They are not going to advance in this sport past perhaps a scholarship. Parent coaches are truly extremely random. Every once in a while you get a good one who can teach your child something about the game. Most of the time you get a soccer babysitter. Nothing wrong with that. While working with Carlos Parreira of the Brasilian national team I noticed one thing that very much stood out in his pre-game talk to players such as Ronaldo, Carlos Alberto, Cafu. He told them at the end of his tactical talk, "GO OUT AND HAVE FUN!" It is absolutely one of the pre-requisites of winning games. AYSO is, though, a strange organization. On one hand it gives kids a place to play the game. On the other hand its lack of knowledge and coaching expertise (and this applies to club level) prevents the USA national team from developing. The USA will eventually find a formula to please both ends. The children and the professionals. But thanks for this article. My first thought was ooh no an AYSO person. But as I read through this story I was impressed. Keep up the good thoughts SCOTT GIMPLE.

  12. 0 M, July 31, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.

    Just because the game is fluid with no timeouts does not mean it is player-centric. High-level team tactics are created by the coaches so the players cannot figure them out in time. No amount of problem solving from players will be enough to win against elite teams that implement coach-centric tactics.

  13. J Hadidian, August 3, 2013 at 5:59 a.m.

    First of all the US National Team is well developed and a global powerhouse. The men's side will eventually catch up.

    Secondly, the value of youth soccer is for children to enjoy a game. Defining the experience of all 6-10 year olds in order to achieve a narrow range of specifically defined competitive outcomes for 1/100,000 of them is not in the best interest of most children, though it does appear to be an insatiable adult desire.

    Children are leaving sport in droves because adults consistently speak and model to them that participation is only worthwhile if they obtain competence demonstrated by immediate competitive success. X-Box and Play Station oblige us our clearly held values.

    Many leaders in youth sports in this country knows this and makes some attempt to tinker with their respective sport's professional youth sport business plan.

    The real reason we have this new found interest in 6-10 year olds is because we can no longer sustain a professional youth sport market with 10-14 year olds.

    We now intend to pre-develop this age group so that we will have greater success in securing what is needed to more successfully determine the highest level of play possible from 10-14 year olds and we tell those children that are unable to meet that agenda to enjoy the game, somewhere else after we have throttled down their game opportunities to reinforce our original premise.

    The most defining relationship of adults to any sporting activity is as fans and consumers of professional sports entertainment. This primary relationship informs much of the discussion and is irrelevant to most children.

    At the very least, AYSO makes the case that player enjoyment is what determines participation and it is participation that determines development for 99% of the children that play sports. They do so with about 50,000 parent coaches that for a time learn enough about the game and already know more about being an adult in a child's game.

  14. B Saltzman, August 3, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.

    Something I've written up where I've tried to capture some thoughts that speak to some of what I see here(you may need to cut and paste the link):

  15. Paul Spacey, October 9, 2013 at 3:47 p.m.

    Great article and some excellent points made by Scott. There is definitely a lot to be said for allowing the kids to just go out and play and learn from their mistakes. I find it incredible how many parents shout and scream onto the field and they genuinely don't realise that their child almost certainly isn't listening. Even if they are listening, they are probably ignoring them anyway!

    Myself and my coaching partner, Rowan, are involved in Santa Monica's AYSO Extra program. We are both ex semi-pro players and now coaches whilst I am also a qualified US Soccer and English FA Referee. It gives me a relatively unique perspective on the game.

    We have designed a fantastic free coaching resource aimed specifically at AYSO parent coaches at
    The skills videos and how-to demo's will be particularly helpful for parents. Feel free to check it out.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications