(With the fall season upon us, we reprint this article from 2014. Updated are the resource links at the end of the piece, including the online U.S. Soccer National F License course, for coaches and parents of players ages 5 to 8, which I highly recommend.)
By Mike Woitalla
“I got recruited to coach my kid’s soccer team. Any advice?” The most recent time I heard this question, it came from a parent of a 6-year-old. It
prompted me to put an answer in writing, based on some of the best insight I’ve gotten from coaches and players I’ve interviewed and observed over the years.
11 Tips for Coaching the Little Ones
1. If all you do is set up goals and have them play as much soccer as possible during that hour of practice -- you’re doing a good job.
2. Familiarize yourself with the various age-appropriate games/exercises to facilitate individual skills -- but don’t use ones that bore the kids. And if it takes more than a minute for 6-year-olds to comprehend the activity -- it’s the wrong one. (In other words, plan your practice but be ready to improvise.)
3. No lines, no laps, no lectures.
4. Enjoy yourself! If for some reason you’re grumpy, act like you’re enjoying yourself. Kids pick up on body language and you’ll get the best out of them if they sense you like being their coach.
5. Greet each player when they arrive in a way that lets them know you’re happy to see them.
6. Always end practice on an upbeat, happy note. (Even if they drove you absolutely crazy).
7. See the game through the children's eyes. This will remind you that your main objective is helping them discover the joys of soccer. And not to expect a 6-year-old to play like a 16-year-old!
8. Do not yell instructions at them! Do not coach from the sidelines during games! This interferes severely in their learning process. It also makes you look rather silly -- an adult screaming at 6-year-olds while they’re playing.
9. Sit down during games, instead of prowling the sidelines, which only creates tension that unnerves your players.
10. Always have a first-aid kit (including ice-packs) with you.
11. Keep plastic bags in your coaching bag in case you need to pick up dog poo.
YOUTH COACHING RESOURCES:
U.S. Soccer National F License
This well-produced online (iPad-friendly) course, for coaches and parents of players ages 5 to 8, costs $25. It takes about 2 hours, but you don't have to do it in one sitting, as one can stop, rewind, and restart the webinars. The information is concisely conveyed by 11 instructors -- Dave Chesler, Lewis Atkinson, John Cone, Heather Dyche, Dan Freigang, Vince Ganzberg, Carlos Juarez, Shannon MacMillan, Rene Miramontes, Deb Ognar, Christopher Winter -- and complemented by video clips of practices sessions. U.S. Soccer Digital Coaching Center.
(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 refs youth soccer in Northern California and coaches at East Bay United/Bay Oaks.)