Whether you’re new to coaching, or have some experience as well, I think this article will give you some insight on how to be more successful. I have been a soccer coach for 10 years in youth soccer in the Los Angeles Region 78, with amazing success, and I’ve seen the right way and the wrong way to do this.
So, pull up a chair and let’s get started..
1. Define Success
At the beginning of your season, it’s most important that you define “success” for your kids, and especially for your parents (not nearly as easy). But it’s simple, really. Success is when the kids have fun. You’re not going to win every game. None of your players will ever win the world cup (or even play as high up as college). Many are playing for the first, and only time. No one is getting paid.
So, just remember, if it’s not fun, what’s the point? Exactly.
2. Identify with your players.
You need to know everyone’s name by the end of the first practice. It’s actually easy to do. Have them do a drill and shout their name as the complete it (penalty kicks are great here). Not only do you learn the names, but you’ll also remember who can shot the penalties for you. High value. Ask each player about his experience playing soccer, and try to find out a little personal information as well. It’s great to know these things when your players are in a jam in a game, and really need your help.
3. Set boundaries for behavior.
Let the players know how they must conduct themselves (and the PARENTS, TOO!). Explain to them that they represent a class team, and that they’re going to act in a classy manner, win or lose. It is equally important to know how to win and how to lose. There is grace in both. You, as the coach, are in the best position here to set an example for player and parents. Make sure you do. NEVER criticize a ref in a game, and NEVER allow your players or parents to do so. If you question a decision, bring it up privately at halftime, or afterwards. Let your players and parents also know that they should not expect a ref to win or lose a game for them. That’s up to the players, and coach.
4. Be organized.
Make sure you have a plan for each practice to fill up the time with drills, scrimmage, and discussion. Make sure your paperwork is together. Make sure you have a cell phone number for every parent on your team. I like to sit down with the players before and after each practice, and each game, to go over their understanding of what happened last, what’s next, how we can improve, and to also take advantage of encouraging or congratulating each other, and ourselves.
5. Be demanding, but also acknowledge success, and improvement.
Players need a challenge, but they also need to hear it when they’re doing something right. Your best players will run pretty much on autopilot, with little touches here and there, but the rest will need constant instruction, and praise. Even the weakest players will feel a sense of accomplishment with one word from you about any contribution, however small, they may have made to help their team. This truly helps with their sense of self-worth, and it also lets the other players on the team (especially your little superstars) know that it takes 11 guys to win a game.
One year one of my absolute weakest players, Chris, actually had a game where he touched the ball, twice, I think, and he truly made a pass forward (or tried) to another teammate. In the team meeting after the game I told him that her had just played his best game of the season so far. You should have seen the smile on his face. It changed him completely. Next day his mom called to say that he was having so much fun with soccer, in contrast to all the other sports he had already tried, where he had been criticized for not being athletic. Before games, the other players would look for him if he was late, and call his name in unison as he ran up to join them. Success defined, and achieved.
Nothing is really more gratifying to me than to have a parent approach me, years later, and say:
Coach, do you remember Johnny? He was on your team seven years ago and there was that play in front of the goal? (Here is where you smile politely, and nod your head………..). Well, little Johnny still talks about it, what you said, and how it helped him, and on and on.
As a coach you may not know until years later what effect you’ve had on these kids. You have the chance to teach them about life, from the lessons on the field. Use the opportunity, and responsibility, wisely.
6. Delegate wherever possible.
It can be hard to let go, but once you do you’ll love it. Let the parents make phone calls, organize snacks, transportation, and parties. You’re then free to deal with the game, and the game only. Get an assistant coach who can show up when you can’t. Let that person also make recommendations and decisions on players and strategy. He/she will love you for it.
7. Keep the parents involved.
I always say that “it’s the team with the best parents that wins the most games, and has the most fun.”
I always start the season with a private meeting with the parents, to let them know what to expect of me and their kids, what I expect of them, how to behave at games, and to go over nutrition, eating habits, the elimination of fast food on game day, getting enough rest, and getting to games and practices on time. Make sure each one has a list of parent phone numbers, and game and practice times.
Also remember that the parents may also end up being a valuable source of business for you, depending upon what you do professionally. If you do a good job with their kid they actually will end up sending you business…!