Why I Coach
I coach for three primary reasons. The first is that I love making a difference in the lives of the players. I have never regretted the time and energy I have put into the players whether it is helping them with soccer or the challenges of growing up. The second reason I coach is I love the Beautiful Game. For me, it truly is and has been for me since I was a boy. Lastly, coaching soccer is a way for me to give back to my community and to make a difference. I love coaching.
Play Practice Play
Climbing the Coaching Ladder
Within the last year or so I have begun the process of climbing the national coaching ladder sponsored by US Soccer. They start with several very good online courses for coaching 4v4 up to 11v11. They are all built on top of the play practice play methodology which I will cover later. After completing some of the online course I moved on the D level license. It required two weekends of class room and field training separated by six weeks. For me these classes were in Olympia and then Tumwater soccer fields. I learned a lot and really enjoyed meeting fellow soccer coaches. One of the very big ideas (or approaches) that challenged me was the play practice play methodology.
Play-Practice-Play is a Grassroots developed philosophy designed around a player-centered approach to coaching. Taking a player centered approach places the needs and motivations of the player at the forefront of a coach’s approach to coaching his or her players. The concept of Play-Practice-Play is to allow young players to experience the game and game-like situations as much as possible. This approach differs from traditional practices that may have children standing in lines, running laps and participating in drills that don’t resemble the game of soccer. US Soccer
Applying and Assessing the PPP Methodology
For me, some of the challenges of PPP was the lack of skills focused. I was concerned that certain skills (trapping and shooting in particular) would not significantly advance under this method. Additionally, one of the other approaches about PPP that concerned me was on the focus on "fun". I will address this later. Back on the issue with skills development. After taking the D level first weekend of training I embraced the idea of more playing and more focus during the practice session on game like situations. I was very pleased to discover a number of areas where the methodology worked very well.
First, the players did indeed enjoy all the play time. We started every practiced with small sided games that always included lots of scoring whether on small sized goals and full size goals. As part of this, I really saw a tremendous improvement in the ball control skills below the knees. Every practice they got hundreds of touches with the ball from their knees down. I also saw an improvement in shooting as we often played 4v5 small size goal versus full goal. This also was a strong plus. Additionally, I saw an improvement in short give and go style control and play. Lastly, all these challenged touches on the ball improved their confidence with the ball and reduced their hectic stress and response to getting challenged with the ball on the big field. This improved our ability to control the ball and play.
For many of the small sided games I also grouped players by defense, midfield or offense. Our defenders would be on one small team and play against our midfielders. This was also very positive because it improved section communication and shared understanding that translated onto the big field.
Another aspect that came out of the D level license, that I think was really driven home by our instructor and less so the "doctrine", was the idea of keeping the practice session really focused on one or two main teaching points. Every human being and soccer player can only take in and process so much information. It is much better to hit one point over and over again during a practice than a smattering of points. Smatterings feel good as a coach, but have no impact on the players. It does not stick.
The challenge of skills development as part of PPP was an area that I really put a lot of thought behind. PPP did very well with below the knee skills development and some shooting and small sided defending, but it really did little for certain other critical skills. Skills that did not get effectively covered were above the knee trapping, heading, long passing and thinking large tactics on the big field. With this challenge I really began to focus on two aspects of the player development. The practice portion of the PPP and homework.
I really bought into and fully support the idea of making the drills in PPP as game like as possible. Potentially start with a brief five minute example and set piece practice of a particular skill to ensure a solid understanding of good form and why that form matters, but then create a drill that simulates a particular instance in the game where they must apply that skill. Each drill should be competitive where one play can win. Ideally it involves goals of some sort. This skill should also re-inforce and enable the one big idea for the practice. It must not be just a random disconnected skill. You want the players to be able to apply that improved skill in the last Play portion of the practice to re-inforce the learning on the one big idea.
Like with any area of skill, to get excellent at something you need to practice. And in the case of Recreational soccer with our limited number of practices, a player must develop the habit of practicing on her or his own. Depending on their age and passion determines how much they should practice. In support of this, I need to do better at enabling and focusing that practice on skills and tactical decision making that will best improve their game and reward their independent work. In large part that is why I have created this website. One of the main uses of this website is to help players do meaningful homework for self-improvement.
In short, I fully embrace the Play-Practice-Play approach to grassroots coaching.
My Thoughts on Fun
One of the aspects of PPP and the US Soccer approach to coaching and parenting a player is that the Beautiful Game must be fun. During the classes on this I had a good deal of friction with this thought and I still do. There are portions of this that I agree with, but only at a superficial level. In the end, if playing soccer is fun and that is why they come then soccer will not have a lasting impact on the child and they will leave it like they leave every other fun transitory game and activity they come across in their life. A kid plays fortnight because it is fun and when it is no longer fun they move on to another game. For us, parents and coaches, to be successful with creating life long lovers of the Beautiful Game of our kids we need to move soccer from fun to rewarding. When the kids are young it truly is all about fun. But, as they age, it has to become more about fun AND rewarding. The young adult has to get deeper meaning out of their time with the Beautiful Game then simple fun. They have to feel they are developing meaningful relationships, healthy habits, being self-rewarded for hard work and many other aspects of rewarding behaviors. As such, they have to face challenges and fail and win in good measure. They must experience frustration and suffering along with joy and deep satisfaction in order to grow as a player and a person. If we only focus on fun we miss that deeper and more meaningful aspect of being a player and lover of the Beautiful Game.