Welcome to an incredibly rewarding experience! On this page I will share my thoughts about what makes a new recreational soccer coach successful. Some of this depends on the age group that you are coaching, but for the most part the demands are similar. Being a successful new coach is about having the right attitude and a good framework.
The players want you to be in charge and to care about them. They want you to set the boundaries and enforce the rules. Additionally, they want to know that you care about them as players and people. As I said previously, this changes some as the players age, but it is remarkably consistent with any group you lead. Additionally, you should have a love for the Beautiful Game.
Team Culture - Boundaries
Boundaries, rules and playing environment are all the responsibility of the coach. That is your responsibility. You must not and cannot delegate the final responsibility for this to the players. Those are the boundaries the players expect you to set and that is your responsibility. With the younger teams you are the originator of these boundaries. You set the rules for how players interact with each other and the team. You determine the structure of practice and the attitude during games. As the players age it is likely you will choose to empower the players to influence these boundaries and structure, but in the end it is still your responsibility as coach.
Care About Them
In the end, they, like all people, want you to care about them. They want you to care about them as players and people. Take the time to talk with them whenever you can. Learn what they care about and then care about what they care about. Always be sincere and respectful. And remember, your words and approach to them matters. You are validating who they are in the way you deal with them. If you accidentally say a mean word or disrespect them unintentionally they will notice it and it will hurt them and your relationship with you. Your relationship with them and their fellow players must be deliberately nurtured in order to build up a level of trust that is so important for a team. As a coach you have the ability, responsibility and honor to make a difference in their life.
Here are a few tangible actions you should take when dealing with the players in regards to building a strong and trusting culture.
- Greet every player by name when they arrive
- Make time during every practice to ask every player how they are doing - then LISTEN (hear how they are saying what they are saying and what they are and are not saying)
- Clearly layout the rules for the team on how we deal with each other
- Enforce those rules and lead by example
- Praise in public and discipline in private (except in rare occasions when it is an attack on the team values of respect)
The practice framework or structure is very important. It is immoral and a sin and simply wrong to waste people's time. This is true in and out of soccer. No matter what you do you cannot give someone back time. Additionally, when it comes to competitive sports you are in a competition with other teams as to how quickly you can get better. You owe it to the players and the teams to never waste their time. A good practice framework helps ensure that time is never wasted.
I am a believer in the Play Practice Play methodology as provided by US Soccer for youth grassroots soccer in America. Without going into a lot of detail on that methodology we start the practice with small sided games, we do a game like drill, and then scrimmage. Each practice should be focused on one, maybe two big ideas (protecting the goal, pressuring forward, spreading out, etc). I have discovered it takes for the younger teams 4-6 practices for them to really grasp the idea. For the High School age teams it takes 2-4 practices depending on the complexity of the subject.
Start the practice by having the players play small sided games. Present them the focus of the practice and let them think about that topic as they play. Remind them of that focus. After done with the small sided session ask them what they learned and talk with them about that. While they are in small session set up the drill that is part of the practice session if you were not able to set it up at the start. Run the drill during the practice session talking with them while running the drill. Stop occasionally and have them explain what they are thinking and why. The drill should be game like. You may want to start certain skill focused drills by demonstrating and practicing the specific technique, but then they need to do that skill in a game like setting. Once that is done have them scrimmage and remind them what the focus for learning us during the scrimmage. But, do not interrupt the scrimmage. Let them play and learn and have fun.
All of this should be done within an hour practice for the elementary and middle school players and an hour and a half for the high school age players. These are about the maximum amount of time they can focus. This is important because the culture of practice that you have at the end of practice is the culture of practice you start the next practice with.
I have found that using a crawl-walk-run methodology with players regarding their skills development works best. For new players take the time to demonstrate the skill and then let them run through it a few times at a crawl pace where they can think about it as they do it. Then challenge them a bit and make the drill a bit harder and more challenging. Finally, make the drill game like and have them repeat the skill in a game like situation until they no longer think about it and they can just do it.
Tactical Decision Making
Tactical decision making is about making decisions on how, when and where to apply your skills in the game. In the game of soccer it is often about the creation, destruction and usage of space. There are very few people who can act and really reflectively think and learn at the same time. People often learn tactical decision making best when they have just done something and you can stop and discuss it and learn.
Strive to Improve
I think it is important for all coaches to strive to get better. The players deserve it and the game deserves it. As such, I would like you to complete the online introductory course and the 7v7 course at US Soccer Coaching. This will make you a better coach and will introduce you to the path of coaching at higher and higher levels.