Last week, Seattle United reached out to United Soccer Coaches with a contemporary question. Since then, many other youth coaches and clubs have asked us the same question. How can we engage and encourage our players while training in person is suspended?
Youth coaches have long considered ways to keep their players connected to the game beyond weekly training and games through various forms of "soccer homework." These efforts are especially relevant now when players are not getting in-person contact with the coach and teammates.
There are many potential answers to fit the various contexts of each coach and team. I reached out to colleagues and friends who are fostering engagement in creative ways. From their experiences and my own, here are five ideas to engage players who are home alone. These solutions are not exclusive and the list could be longer. What follows is a nice mixture of options that might engage the body, the mind, and the "spirit" of a youth player:1. Many websites offer excellent "how to" videos with narration. These challenge the player by providing clear images of techniques they might execute alone. Some sites set "levels" of achievement for self-referenced improvement, and others gamify the experience. Many of these resources are "open source," that is, free, while others offer features that can be purchased. Dave Jervis and his staff coaches at New York Red Bulls, Abby Katz and Richard Scott, shared with me this impressive site the club has developed:
2. My colleague and friend David Newbery, who coaches with a Phoenix Rising affiliate club in Arizona, shared with me an excellent modern engagement tool that uses video tagging. Coaches can share videos of their training and games with players and tag important action to watch. Players can also be trained to tag moments within videos and share them with their coach and teammates. These types of resources can be purchased at reasonable entry prices. As an expression of value to parents, they are impressive. Coaches can learn more at:
3. While I cannot speak from personal experience, Coach Educator Vince Ganzberg suggested asking players to enter the “practice mode” in the FIFA video game. Certainly the player is not getting off the couch in this solution, but the game in this mode engages the player’s creativity and imagination. Players can also save their highlights and share with their teammates.
4. One of my favorite ideas comes from James Brown, a colleague in Pennsylvania, who built a kick wall for his son and then shared the costs and specifications on Twitter. A garage door, a wall, or any rigid surface offers a rebounder for a youth player. James’ website shows how to use multiple rebound surfaces and how to build a kick wall that gives the player more freedom to create technique and skill challenges. It also provides instructions on how to build a kick wall.
5. Finally, I am eager to promote a creative and contextual way to put players in virtual field scenarios where they must make strategic choices. The United Soccer Coaches website offers this activity in the form of multiple choice quizzes I have created. In each scenario the player is asked, “What would you do?” The player then chooses an action from among several options. Sharing responses electronically within the group creates a shared learning experience, because players can give and receive feedback on their ideas. See the picture below for an example. To access this resource for free, go to the United Soccer Coaches website and search “quizzes” in the Online Resource Library. Alternatively, coaches can create their own game scenarios by using any session planning software.
Online Resource Library | United Soccer Coaches (search or filter: "quizzes")
When engaging players online, it is important that parents are made aware of all forms of electronic communication, and that players feel safe sharing their soccer videos, thoughts, and ideas within their team. Coaches must make clear that all rules and standards of interaction on the field apply to online engagement as well.
When in-person training and games are not possible, the coach can still coach. For little to no cost, technologies and social media can keep individual and team connection high. Ideally, soccer homework will be self-directed with coaching support. And of course, players should also be encouraged to stay physically active.
(Ian Barker, the United Soccer Coaches' Director of Coaching Education, previously served as men’s head coach at Macalester College, director of coaching for the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association (MYSA), and assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin when it won the 1995 NCAA Division I title. Barker has served on the national instructional staff for United Soccer Coaches, U.S. Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer)