High school coaches: Rise Up!

By Greg Winkler

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

How many times, as a high school soccer coach, have you felt, unappreciated, underappreciated, or inferior? Well it is time for change, it is time to make the high school game relevant again. As the saying goes, "worry about what you can control," let’s explore how to make that happen.

As I prepare for my upcoming high school soccer season in Florida, I always pick a slogan for my team. The slogan represents an attitude I want the team to embrace for the year. This season I chose ‘Rise Up,’ we need to challenge ourselves to be better in every aspect on the field and in the classroom. I am calling on the high school coaches in this country to Rise Up as well. Our place in the soccer hierarchy, high school, is often passed over, we are sometimes led to believe we are inferior, our place in the big picture is not significant. We face challenges we have never had to face before with the U.S. Soccer Development Academy prohibiting its players from high school ball and some coaches in other organizations discouraging players from participating in scholastic soccer. High School players are told that their school programs are inferior, just recreational programs, and a waste of time by many of the coaches trying to grab the high school-age player.

It is time for us, as high school coaches, to Rise Up! We are not inferior because we offer so much more than just providing our student-athletes a chance to play the game. We do not need to speak badly of academy or club programs, for a select few those programs fill a need, if players want to leave our programs, we should wish them luck and let them go. If we do things correctly, those players may never leave our programs in the first place or we could quite possibly lure them back.

That means that you, as a coach, need to Rise Up! You need to take a look at your program and make sure you are doing everything in your power to provide the best high school experience you can. You have so many tools at your disposal, yet many of us fail to capitalize on them, we fail to sell our programs to our athletes, our parents, and our communities. Let me help you explore the avenues that will help put your high school program on the forefront.

Players ultimately want to play for their high school teams, they get to play with their friends and in front of their peers. They do not have to travel hours just to practice or play games, many of their games are at the school and in front of their teachers, their classmates, and their families. They wear the high school soccer shirt in school with pride while students talk to them about the team and the latest game. Their names are on the school announcements, they are recognized at school pep rallies, and they wear their letter jacket with pride. They are part of a school athletic department and their team is a source of community pride. Nobody cares what the club team did last weekend or where they are traveling this weekend. High school athletics, high school soccer is part of the American teenage experience.

The local media will cover the games, report the scores and often post who scored, had assists, or who made the saves. Many community papers do feature stories about athletes and the better your record, the more frequent your media coverage. Sports writers often recognize all-county and all-state players, seniors have the opportunity to participate in all-star contests when their seasons are over.

Coaches can also organize team-building activities with their high school group. Many coaches organize team camping trips, kayak or canoe adventures, paintball battles, team obstacle courses or scavenger hunts. These team-building experiences create a buzz around the school and help enhance a player’s experience while building stronger connections to the team and to the school.

Coaches can also easily organize community service projects for their teams. Having the team involved in a community project helps promote the sport and school in a positive light and brings more attention to the team. These experiences are easy to organize when all the players live in the same area and play for the same high school.

High school coaches can also boost their credibility by enhancing the experience for the parents as well; promoting the benefits that participation in high school sports provide their student-athletes along the way. High school players are also often held to higher academic and behavioral expectations. High School athletics can help a improve a player’s studies by motivating them to achieve higher grades in order to participate. Many states have athletic code of conduct policies that expect the athlete to attend classes and make positive choices outside of school. There are also many leadership opportunities for student athletes as well: Captaining teams, mentoring younger high school athletes, and even influencing middle- and elementary-age students in the school district. A student’s association with the high school team can give them instant credibility to younger athletes in their communities.

High school sports also build a strong emotional connection with the school and the community. Parents are often involved in fundraising efforts across many different sports and a bond is built within the parental network. Parents seldom only have one child attending the local high school. Their children are involved in many activities bringing the parent along for the ride. Strong emotional bonds are developed within the parents as they have a part in educational development of their child. Those bonds are not the same and often non-existent in a club setting.

Even with an adequate number of games, the ratio of practice time to game time has a good balance. High school coaches can offer a lot of training throughout the course of the season, enhancing a player’s soccer development. Many on the outside of high school soccer may argue about coaching credibility and experience. That falls back on the coach. What coaching credentials can you showcase? Taking courses, attending conferences, reading the latest books and journals, should be something that is shared with your administrators and parents.

High school athletics continue to be cornerstones of the communities in which they are located. They are a great source of school pride and if your soccer program isn’t standing out and getting attention, then you need to Rise Up! Take every opportunity to promote and celebrate your program. It could be the number of players on the honor roll, a high team GPA, the number of players graduating and attending college, or the number of championships you have won. High school soccer coaches accomplish great things with their student athletes, make sure you are doing things to create a buzz in your school and community. Do not ever let yourself feel like a second-class citizen again.

Rise Up!

(Greg Winkler is the NSCAA’s Boys High School Advocacy Chair. Currently boys head coach at Ida Baker High School in Cape Coral, Florida, he was 2012 NSCAA National Youth Coach of the Year, 2006 Wisconsin Youth Soccer Coach of the Year and 2005 NFHS Midwest Boys Coach of the Year. Winkler is the author of Coaching a Season of Significance.)

24 comments about "High school coaches: Rise Up! ".
  1. David DErrico, September 9, 2016 at 3:35 p.m.

    Greg, Great Article. Love to discuss your book and HS Soccer program more. You can email me at Look forward to talking with you. David DErrico

  2. Georges Carraha, September 9, 2016 at 3:48 p.m.

    I have always supported the notion that playing for your High School town is a good thing for young players and their families. With that said, I do not believe that it is physically and mentally healthy for young players to have 5 weekly practices during Summer months and having practices in a Boot Camp style. There is a lot of focus on physical fitness and winning and less focus on learning the game. last week, a player of mine told me that his High School Coach will not allow him to play for his club during the Fall. Is that a new trend? Also, weekend High School games and scrimmages are now conflicting with club games. Many of these Freshmen are nursing injuries in pre-season because their bodies cannot adapt to the over - intense training with lots of running and senseless conditioning drills. We need to maintain a balance.

  3. Bob Chinn, September 9, 2016 at 5:37 p.m.

    I always enjoy your articles and it helps to get folks thinking and talking about some very good issues. I am blessed to be an off campus Asst HS Coach, A head coach for Middle school and a u18-19 Club coach. All of the long term goals are the same and that is to help make the players better on and off the field. HS is a great place to play and improve your soccer skills. You get to play for your school and can play some high level of soccer depending on your program and area. I even think HS coaches can have a larger impact on soccer in America as they have a tremendous amount of resources and time time with the players that not all clubs do. Players from different economic levels as well as skill levels can come together and help form strong relationships that cross over club lines or colors. You do not have the pay to play concept that has now grown into a major challenge in the youth soccer programs across the world. With Tournaments bringing in well over six figures for some of the clubs and coaches the dark side has taken a strong hold on the game. The issues of player development over winning is still be an issue at all levels. I know HS programs where winning is the bottom line as it can be with a lot of clubs. True development of players is not the number one goal. For HS and club we do monthly Team bonding events that will not break the bank and allows the players to have a more positive experience on and off the field. Winning over player development is a loss for all in the long run for the game and the players as well as the coaches.

    One of the challenges I think WE ALL face now is how do you balance the overall needs of the player vs the program. For example I do not practice with our U18/19 players during HS season unless they ask for extra help on touches, strikes etc. I want them to enjoy HS and not worry about Club soccer during the HS season. The challenge for Club becomes with HS coaches in other sports that want full dedication to their sport. In a lot of cases HS coaches have replaced the same challenges we face from ECNL, Academies etc. For example with track, flag football etc.... we have had coaches tell their players THEIR program comes first. In what i call the Baskin Robbin generation where the player, parent, and coach wants it all finding a balance is not an easy task. Injuries occur due to over use and no recovery time. I have been blessed to have helped get a lot of girls get into college to play soccer but it takes a true family of HS coaches, teachers, club coaches, and most of all wise parents and players to really make a difference in our players lives vs just looking at your our program and wins vs losses in HS our Club sports.

  4. uffe gustafsson, September 9, 2016 at 5:44 p.m.

    MR Winkler
    I don't really get carraha's comments.
    My understanding is no HS soccer team can start any conditioning/games until November after the try outs. How can they havie practice during summer? It does not make any sense to me.
    And telling any player they can't play club?
    Usually I heard the other way, as in academy not playing HS. Can u clarify this?

  5. Wooden Ships, September 9, 2016 at 5:45 p.m.

    There use to be a moratorium on club soccer during the high school season, haha years ago. There also wasn't nearly as many ACL-MCL injuries. The young player is experiencing excessive training and stress to the body, without sufficient recovery time while doing both. Club soccer is big money and too many parents are reluctant to step in and slow down the merry go round.

  6. uffe gustafsson, September 9, 2016 at 5:55 p.m.

    Yes wooden ship, as soon as we play our first HS game then no more club games. So that is still the rule. Besides club season is over before we play HS. Only issue I have heard is if club played a thank giving tornament and practice is over lapping.

  7. mike renshaw, September 9, 2016 at 6:19 p.m.

    I am a high school girl's soccer coach and would put my credentials against ANY ECNL club coach in North Texas. Since May 2015 I have had 5 starters quit ECNL because they have 'seen a better way' of coaching playing for their school. We NEVER run laps, NEVER do 'fitness training' without a soccer ball. NEVER train too long and are one of the very best high school teams in the USA, ranked highly in Texas and the Nation by TDS. I have watched many ECNL games and practices and am generally un-impressed....The negativity, verbal abuse and belittlement these teenage girls are subjected to is just awful and most of the ECNL players play scared to death....scared they will get yelled at, screamed at, yanked from the game should they make a mistake. ECNL in North Texas is nothing more than a money grab....plain and simple.

  8. beautiful game replied, September 10, 2016 at 2:07 p.m.

    M.R. u amplify every H.S. soccer player's dream to play for a coach that understands the game. Granted, not every H.S. squad has a majority of good players, but developing the J.V. freshmen is that much more crucial for future varsity rosters who lack talent.

  9. Brian Something, September 9, 2016 at 7:22 p.m.

    Georges Carraha: There SHOULD be a ban on kids playing club and high school at the same time. Most HS teams play or train 5-6 times a week. To add club training and matches/tournaments on top of that is insane! In our area, club teams simply aren't active from August to October during the HS season.

  10. Goal Goal, September 9, 2016 at 8:01 p.m.

    The stand that the DA has taken on participation in high school soccer is a rediculous one. The high school experience is not only a athletic one but it is a social one and has value. What kid doesn't want to play for their high school and who is the DA to make them chose. Can US SOCCER guarantee that the coaching the kids receive in their programs are superior across the board than the training received by top HS coaches? I think not. Can US SOCCER convincingly say that the training and direction given by HS coaches is detrimental to the well being of the player? I think not. There are many club coaches and national team coaches that came up through the HS SYSTEM. I have seen many DA teams in all age brackets play over the years and it is apparent the training and coaching leave a lot to be desired. I have had the same experience with HS games but I also had good experiences with both. US Soccer needs to get off their high horse until they can prove their idea is the better one. Where there are adults useing common sense there has to be an agreeable middle road that works for both.

  11. Bill Wilson replied, September 12, 2016 at 10:37 a.m.

    High school coaches make a living (or at least part of their salary is paid by) coaching school soccer. Coaches involved in clubs and the DA make their living from coaching so-called "elite" players. This fight is all about how to divide up the money when you get down to it. From my experience, most non DA clubs and high schools coexist perfectly well. So the argument is about the small slice of players that are good enough to pursue professional careers and be recruited by college programs. US Soccer's job is to develop players for our National teams. People may argue otherwise, but in the next breath they are criticizing the inability of our youth programs to produce world class players. The best way for these kids to have a chance at the highest levels is through the US Soccer sanctioned DA program. If these DA clubs want players to focus on their club and not play high school, so be it. If a kid wants to play high school soccer, leave the DA and open a spot for some other kid who accepts the rules. High school coaches need to get out of the way, stop fighting the system and focus on other things. Most high schools, soccer is completely irrelevant and on an "influence" level with other team sports like softball and track and field that few care about. I do applaud most of the suggestions in the article, especially the ones that improve the experience for the 98% of the players who aren't going to help you win State Championships. But then it isn't really about them is it? It is really about ego, money and glory for the coaches and that is why they are fighting so hard. All of this nonsense and we graduate kids year after year who have no real idea how to live a sensible life-long health and fitness lifestyle. That is the real crisis.

  12. Miguel Vidal, September 10, 2016 at 8:20 a.m.

    I coach varsity HS soccer and I agree that there are some coaches that do too much conditioning and very little tech/tactical training. Our season of 18 games is compressed and sometimes we play 3 games in a 7 day period. Next week we will have a Monday game then a Wednesday game. On Tuesday we will have low intensity recovery exercises for those who played 50+ minutes and more intense for those who played less than 20 min. Our practices are focus on technical work and the tactical parts are based on the next opponent. We vary our formations and tactical attack/defend so players can adapt to quick changes during a game. Most of our more advance players go on to play in in college. Most years is about 3 or 4 out of a squad of 20 players in ave.

    Most activities are performed with a ball; most activities resemble a game.

    For our players, there is a sense of community, friendship and "belonging" to a team that is much more that just a team.

  13. beautiful game replied, September 10, 2016 at 2:03 p.m.

    M.V. Unfortunately, you're type of coaching is far less prevalent than the grind it out mentality of many more H.S. soccer coaches.

  14. Goal Goal replied, September 10, 2016 at 6:40 p.m.

    Nice job Miguel and your effort, commitment and dedication is appreciated. In reference to I W's response to you. His comment is self serving. I really don't know where these folks live that complain about HS coaching and I sure don't know where you live Miguel. I played in the HS system many, many years ago and so did my sons and daughters. I coached Varsity soccer at the HS level along with probably thousands of other HS coaches across the country. Everybody complains about five day a week practices. Every HS and college sports teams practice five days a week. Those practices aren't spent running players into the ground physically. Not even football. There are uncountable number of HS coaches across this country that are far better than some of these DA coaches I have seen over the years. Go to California out west, ILL,,Ohio Missouri in the Midwest. PA, Jersey, Mass, NY in the east and you have some of the best programs around. They send players year after year into the college ranks. US Soccer is so far out of line with their views and now they have dug their claws into the girls game.

  15. Patrick Palmer replied, September 13, 2016 at 11:45 a.m.

    Mike Renshaw - I'm a new HS Coach this year and am looking for ways to build my program so that my players enjoy and develop further in Soccer. You're the second person I've heard/read stating they don't do conditioning. Do you have a resource that helped you develop that? A book, website, training course, etc that I can learn more from?

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, September 13, 2016 at 6:18 p.m.

    Patrick, that is not what he wrote. He said that they never ran laps and never did fitness training without a ball. A widely accepted approach--making training specific to the sport.

  17. Bob Ashpole replied, September 13, 2016 at 6:37 p.m.

    Patrick I realized I didn't answer your question. There are a lot of materials out there. The three sources of information and books I use are NSCAA, NSCA, and Human Kinetics. Just add a dot com to get their web address.

  18. Dave Vanole, September 10, 2016 at 1:24 p.m.

    Ellie Roosie was never a woman of color in the south or anywhere else during her time. An excellent and poignant example of a statement of white privilege, however...while we're on the topic. She mostly hid her devotion to she certainly was battling against the tide. While we're on that topic as well.

  19. Kevin Sims, September 10, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    Greg ... Thanks for your fine article on the value of high school soccer. As I suspected would happen, I am seeing numerous cases of kids leaving their high school programs as suggested by the Development Academy and then deciding to return to their high school opportunities. Some of these are fringe DA players who were not being developed by the Development Academy, but used for their money and to provide a venue for elite players to shine. If you are called the Development Academy, it seems to me that you must invest in each player's development by providing substantive playing time in competitive matches. That said, several elite players are bypassing the Development Academy now to celebrate soccer with their high school buddies and communities. It is a shame players are put in this situation. Ideally, the DA truly focuses on elite players with legit potential to excel rather than promoting a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that just isn't there. Coaches: indeed, sympathize with players and families trying to navigate these waters as you look out for the health and well-being of the child.

  20. Kevin Sims, September 10, 2016 at 2:49 p.m.

    FYI ... activity levels for HS players in the off-season, pre-season and in-season with their HS groups is governed by each state's high school athletic association ... the policies vary considerably.

  21. David Mont, September 11, 2016 at 9:54 a.m.

    Not that it matters much, but Eleanor Roosevelt never said that.

  22. Fire Paul Gardner Now, September 12, 2016 at 11:20 a.m.

    My two girls are currently playing in college now, and while the quality of coaching throughout their careers was a mixed bag, the coaching they received in high school was easily the worst. Honestly, their rec coaches in first grade were better.

    Absurd scheduling (4-5 games a week sometimes) only compounded this. If a girls equivalent to DA existed back then I (and they) would have been happy for them to skip HS ball altogether.

  23. Goal Goal, September 12, 2016 at 7:29 p.m.

    Four to five games a week? Really?? That's a tough schedule. All games no practice.

  24. Grant Bruce, September 13, 2016 at 8:28 a.m.

    High school coaches (and parents) are delusional. If the girl is headed D1, HS soccer is well below their ability and they wont improve by playing it. We can all agree it's fun but stop acting like you are putting out quality. Not to mention HS coach motivations to appease the SR's and JR's who have no bus in the field.

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