Director of Coaching: What's the job?

The role of the Director of Coaching (a "DOC") of a youth soccer club is often misunderstood -- by players, parents, and sometimes even coaches themselves.

Unfortunately, it is not even uncommon for the people that actually hire a DOC to be somewhat confused as to what exactly they are looking for from this position. In fact, if you reviewed the job descriptions of the DOC at 10 different youth clubs, you would probably find what appeared to be almost 10 different jobs. This begs a major question -- what is a DOC supposed to do?

Fundamentally, the job of a DOC can be summarized in one basic proposition: to develop and improve coaches so that players maximize their potential at all ages. Accomplishing this lofty objective requires wide-ranging, and very different types of professional skills:

Staff Development: Successful businesses have talented people at every level who are ready to "move up" when their superior is promoted or leaves for another company. Both depth and "upward mobility" of staff are reflective of an environment where employees are challenged, developed, and recognized for their abilities. The best DOCs are great at managing coaching development -- both formally (through licensing, courses, seminars, etc.) and informally (through regular feedback and observation, mentoring, etc.).

Staff Recruitment and Assignment: Identifying coaches with special talents, or coaches that can help your club in specific areas, is key in creating a staff with depth and breadth. A DOC should always be looking to attract great coaches, as well as individuals with the potential to become great coaches, to the club. As importantly, a DOC needs to assign the right coach to the right age group based on the particular strengths of the coach and the demands of the age group. There are very different personal and teaching skills required, and very different areas of focus for player development, from U-8 to U-14 to U-18. Matching the player age and level to the qualities of the coach, as well as helping the coach become better in the most important areas required for success in the age group, is critical.

Culture Development: Club culture creates an environment of growth or stagnation, and an environment that retains players and staff or loses them. Creating positive culture begins with something as basic as defining (and limiting) the roles and responsibilities of different constituents -- parents, the Board of Directors, coaches, etc. Positive culture is evident in an environment where players and coaches know and internalize the values of the organization, and feel loyalty to the organization. At the highest level, the DOC is the most important person in the club in creating a culture that values, incentives, and prioritizes player development. "The role of the DOC will never be a 'one size fits all' proposition, but there are some core principles that apply to the position," says United Soccer Coaches Director of Coaching Education Ian Barker, formerly Minnesota Youth Soccer Association DOC and head coach of Macalester College. "While qualifications and experience are key indicators of how a DOC will do, it is critical that the DOC fits the club culture and can help shape it. This is not something understood based on holding a coaching license or having played at a high level."

Methodology and Philosophy: One of the most important factors that transforms multiple teams wearing the same jersey into one unified club is a common training methodology and a clearly articulated style of play within the club. Fundamentally, the philosophy of play within a club, and the training methodology to develop this philosophy, should not vary from one age group to the next, or from one coach to another. Setting out a clear game model and methodology, and insuring that all coaches adhere to it, is the responsibility of the DOC.

Understanding the factors above, below are some basic criteria that can be used when hiring or evaluating a DOC:

Staff Turnover: What is the degree of staff turnover and why? Is it because staff are unhappy, or is it because good staff are developed and more opportunities are then available to them? (Bear in mind that little turnover can actually indicate a lack of standards and expectations.) "One of the most important qualities needed by any DOC is the possession of strong, interpersonal skills," says Tim Lesiak, DOC of Ohio Elite Soccer Academy. "The ability to manage people and solve problems is paramount to developing and retaining a staff that will help foster the culture and playing philosophy that the DOC is driving."

Playing Style: Do the club's teams all seem to play the same way, or are there huge differences in style and philosophy between one team and the next? (Keep in mind that a consistent style does not mean that every team will be as successful as the next. However, it does mean that players are being consistently taught to play the game the same way, and in the long-term they will be more successful in doing so.)

Culture: Are the key values of the club reflected in the behavior of the staff and players? (While any charismatic individual can describe lofty ideals and values -- are they ingrained in the actions of staff and players?) Do players across age groups know each other and interact in training, and do coaches across age groups regularly support each other?

Player Development: Is the club consistently developing players who can play at higher levels? While there can be many reasons why teams are or are not successful, the ultimate responsibility of a DOC is to create an environment where players can maximize their potential. As a "quick and dirty" measurement, individual player growth and development is a good barometer of a DOC. When the majority of players across every age group can identify new ideas, understanding, and abilities from month to month, positive things are happening.

Finally, while the personality of every DOC will be different, the following traits are consistently found in the very best DOCs:

Unquestioned personal integrity. Leadership of any kind demands integrity, and a lack of it will always end up hurting the club and its players, no matter the degree of short term success.

Technical expertise. You can't lead if you don't know.

Great communication skills. Without a well conveyed (and often rephrased and repeated) message, good ideas are useless.

Eager to learn. The best in any field are always trying to get better and learn more.

Visionary. Great DOCs think about the future of the game and ways to be better as a leader, and ways for their club to better serve their members.

Controlled Competitiveness.  While everyone wants to win, a DOC must be able to balance the positive value of competition (and the drive to compete at every age) with the perspective of long-term learning and development -- for themselves, their coaches, and the parents.

Sounds like an easy job, right?

(Christian Lavers , whom you an follow on Twitter at @clavers1, is the President of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). He is also the Technical Director of FC Wisconsin, and has been an assistant in the NWSL with the Chicago Red Stars for multiple years.  He holds the USSF "A" License, the USSF "Y" License, and the NSCAA Premier Diploma. A version of this article appeared in the Youth Soccer Insider in 2011.)

4 comments about "Director of Coaching: What's the job?".
  1. Bob Ashpole, March 7, 2018 at 9:30 a.m.

    I call this the Foosball view of coaching: "One of the most important factors that transforms multiple teams wearing the same jersey into one unified club is a common training methodology and a clearly articulated style of play within the club. Fundamentally, the philosophy of play within a club, and the training methodology to develop this philosophy, should not vary from one age group to the next, or from one coach to another."

    Where is the "player" in this? I have no doubt that Mr. Lavers is very good at what he does, but his writing indicates his mind is bound up in the viewpoint from the top as an adminstrator of a national league. The further the distance of the soccer person from the field, the more important appearance, not individual players, becomes. 

  2. frank schoon, March 7, 2018 at 10:33 a.m.

    Bob, you're RIGHT ON! I'm afraid the position of Technical Director reminds me of how the school districts choose their superintendants- lots of slick talk, great adminstator, blah, blah, but at the end of their term nothing really has changed, all cosmetic. The Technical Director job becomes just another position to be filled with the " right papers" not necessarily the right "technical/tactical playing know-how". 
    I remember when Cruyff became Coach of Ajax and immediately introduced revolutionary changes( not new but how he grew up and developed) in how the youth were trained and developed at all age levels, including the pro team. 
    These technical directors will just follow the standard procedures as taught by the USSF Coaching School, same old ,same old stuff -nothing creative, any changes they introduce are more cosmetic in nature. Is it any wonder we haven't really improved our game ,player wise, in the past 50 years.
    Look at these 'brain trusts' we bring over here from Holland, class room types who have never done anything on the field as player and perhaps played at level of having played for Joe's Pizza Hut. But since they carry the "right papers" ..... these are types that run the show...

  3. Nick Daverese, March 7, 2018 at 1:26 p.m.

    We went for decades without a true technical director of coaching and still won of lot of hardware. The coaches in the club virtually ran the club.

    We all owned businesses so during the week a lot of us would be at our practice field and help train the teams. So you could see 8 coaches working with one team at practice. So with so much help the teams would really improve.

    so we all knew a lot about each other’s team.

    we fixed the schedule so all our home games were played at the same day one game after the other. So we all watched each other’s game while the game coach did their games.

    if we saw something we did not like one of us would go and tell the game coach what we thought whether the game coach wanted to hear it or not. We had had a lot of fun during those games.

    no one get paid to coach in those days we did it for love of the game. Except the adult team and we spent the money on the players not on us.

    now we have a technical director and have not won anything major since

  4. Nick Daverese, March 7, 2018 at 1:32 p.m.

    When players improve and the team improves the result of that is wins not more looses. If the team still loses fire him and get someone new because he can not do the job. 

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