Coaches are often searching for the latest drills in the hopes that they may turn average teams into the best. The best advice for these coaches is to “keep activities real to the context of the game. If something happens in a game (whatever age), then re-create it in a practice activity. There is little need for hundreds of cones, poles or small goals with marked off zones. Instead, watch the game and mimic your goals within the practice.
Another common mistake is trying to copy published midfield passing activities performed by a team such as Barcelona. Well, since your U8 team doesn’t have Lionel Messi in the squad, mimicking Barcelona drills may not be appropriate for your grassroots teams and their needs. Instead, focus a grassroots session on the needs of your specific – considering how each activity will impact their playing environment.
Next time you’re seeking to plan a session, ask the following questions to guide your planning:
- What are you seeking to achieve?
- How does this happen in a game?
- Where does it happen in a game (this may include time of the game, area of the field, number of opponents within the event)?
- What are the realistic outcomes you are seeking to achieve?
- What are the observable markers of success to achieve this goal?
To recap: the essence of planning a session is to ensure it meets the needs of your players and the game they play.
Research suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice – or ten years of development – to become an expert.
This theory applies to the time it takes a child to develop their soccer skills between 8-18 years of age. But what about coaches – does the same rule apply?
Most coaches in Grassroots soccer have limited playing or coaching experience, and as a result, communities often provide introductory coach training programs. Is this enough to prepare adults for the important coaching role? In short, no. This brief training may fuel them, but doesn’t serve them. Most high performance coaches have been in the game for numerous years, developing through their experience in a variety of programs and competitive environments.
With this in mind, what should parents expect from their child’s Grassroots Soccer Coach?
Regardless of qualification or experience all coaches should display the following traits:
- COMMUNICATION SKILLS: Engaging and positive rapport with players and parents
- ORGANIZATIONS SKILLS: Planned and prepared with sufficient equipment and field preparation
- COACHING SKILLS: Willingness to demonstrate, provide concise instructions and feedback
- LEADERSHIP SKILLS: Acceptance of responsibility and accountability for actions
Remember, despite the experience and qualities of your child’s coach, most give freely of their time and spend many hours training and preparing for this rewarding role. So, next time you drop your child off at soccer, take the time to thank the coach for their support and acknowledge that it takes many hours to develop as a coach. Through positive support, encourage their continued involvement as they journey toward the ‘expert’ level, just as you encourage your child’s ongoing development.
Soccer is often seen as a positive ground for encouraging team work and sharing. However, this perspective negates the child’s true desire. Young children often don’t mature and understand the concepts of team play until later in their development. In order to be part of the team, players must first learn and develop individual skills.
Rather than shunning the ball hog as a selfish player, perhaps these players should be celebrated. When a player decides to show their potential and hold onto the ball – coaches within the FUNdamentals stage of development (U6-U9) are encouraged to celebrate these endeavours with praise.
What is the potential impact of this approach?
Most players are motivated to please others with their performances. If a coach offers vocal support to players who exhibit dribbling moves, then other players will seek to replicate these moves – encouraging more players to dribble.
Through trial and error, players will develop an understanding of when to pass. The opposition will seek to stop the dribbler with more players, and children will not continue to attempt moves if they are repeatedly unsuccessful. Instead, they’ll seek other ways to gain success
A dribbler, by holding onto the ball, will create space for team-mates to play once the ball is turned over.
Coaches should resist the desire to insist that players pass the ball – the game thrives on exciting players who can make things happen. These players can open up games and become game changers. So rather than inhibit potential, encourage and nurture it!
The game of soccer is evolving all the time and it is not good enough to justify activities by suggesting that they were “good enough for me”. As an example, many of today’s parents would have run laps as part of their sport warm-up, but running laps only benefits those who wish to run. Running does not make soccer players – but soccer can make runners.
Today, coaches are discouraged from assembling players in line drills and mass player games, instead players are encouraged to gain as many touches on the ball as possible and play in smaller teams that challenge their development. In games, they should be encouraged to try new moves and plays – stressing the importance of development over outcome.
Coaches and players should also embrace new ideas and support: one of the best tools for any aspiring coach or player is ‘YouTube’, it is scattered with video examples of new techniques and tactical plays.
So when watching your child play, encourage them on their performances and willingness to try things, not from the viewpoint of they should have done this or that. For those who have played or competed in sport, recognize the anxiety and rush that comes from participating within organised sport and representing a team.
We all wish to do well, and in order to learn, mistakes and errors are part of the game. So embrace the desire of young players to try new things within the game. Celebrate their invention and joy at seeing the game through fresh eyes.
What are the most common questions you ask your child after a game?
What was the score? Did you score?
These two questions focus purely on the outcome and don’t take into account any learning or improvement that you child may have experienced. Questions like, “Did you have fun?” or “What did you learn?”, will shift the focus from the result and get children talking about their experiences. Win or lose, these questions will help focus your child on working hard to improve their game with a smile.
Every player or athlete will confront a better player, tougher opponent, or will have a day when things just don’t go to plan. So, avoid measuring performance by outcomes and encourage your child to reflect upon the amount of effort they put into the game.
Effort presents one measure that everyone can be judged against equally. Sport is littered with examples of will, desire, and effort overcoming talent. Players should be encouraged to reflect upon their games by the degree of effort they exert rather than the goals scored or saved.
Positive Feedback for Positive Habits
Praise from coaches and parents is the most effective method of enhancing motivation, pride and belief. This is not just for children, but each of us. So, why is so much commentary and feedback around sports negatively phrased?
Parents and coaches should take a moment to reflect on what is the most effective feedback they receive in their daily life – from a partner, employer or colleague. Then reciprocate that message to the ones they have so much vested interest in – their child or young player.
Given praise, a child will continue to pursue a task. On the other hand, criticism is a sure way to trigger negative emotions and behaviours. As the popular saying goes, “if you have nothing positive to say – say nothing at all.”
Next time you observe a game of soccer (or any sport), spend a few moments studying how children react to varying types of feedback from the observing adults. Then reflect how you would like to impact your own child. Two key pieces of feedback every soccer parent should express to their children:
- “I loved watching you play.”
- “Did you enjoy that game?”
Everyone starts with a dream, a big goal.
But how is success measured in sport? Is it playing Tier I, on a Provincial team, a medal count, or simply in the display of passion and enjoyment?
“Many are called, but few are chosen” rings true in many things. Whilst many hold the dream of playing at a high level, this is only attainable to those who overcome more measurable and developmentally focused goals. Goals should be based upon the player and not their peers – to maintain the players’ passion for development.
The first goal of any sports program is to engage children and nurture a passion to play – but does this ever change?
As children develop and mature, the challenges get tougher and goals harder to achieve – but so should the passion to overcome these challenges. A true goal is to identify and embrace the challenge of soccer with a passion to play. If you consider the likes of Messi, Beckham, and Maradonna before them, they each have an intrinsic desire to play the game. Diego Maradonna – despite many injuries and limitations to his health, still loves to play the game. So should any child wishing to progress in the game.
The seed of this passion is nurtured within grassroots soccer and it is within this environment that players are often molded. An environment that is shaped by coaches, parents, competition, games, and challenges.
The best advice for young players is to simply play for their enjoyment – not to impress coaches, parents, scouts etc. It is these players (that simply play) who are chosen. They exhibit the traits of a champion – playing with intrinsic desire. Striving to be best they can and take the next step in their development.
So next time you observe your child playing, don’t talk about winning. Ask if they’re enjoying the challenge of playing soccer. This challenge is what drives us. Watch a veteran’s soccer game, those who choose to play, and look at their faces. There will be a sparkle – a child’s fascination and joy of playing the game – when that sparkle fades so does the player’s dreams.
For many, soccer is simply a ‘kick in the grass’. However, the grassroots rule for Alberta Soccer is ‘NEVER’ kick the ball!
So how do you play then? Soccer is a game to be played with purpose. The purpose is for one team to keep possession of the ball and score in their opponent’s goal. So the components of maintaining possession are to shoot, pass and dribble the ball.
For many years soccer fields have been enclosed with parents and spectators screaming and encouraging players to simply ‘kick’ the ball – to get it either away from one goal or into another. In this crude vision – the ball ping-pongs from one part of the field to another and the game is usually left to chance – the team who kicks it successfully goalbound wins.
If coaches, parents and players could change the vocabulary of soccer, to omit the word ‘kick’ from one of intent, it could make a dramatic shift in how we perceive and play the game. Watch the professional game, very rarely is the ball seen to be merely ‘kicked’ down field! Passes are often stroked with care to allow the receiver to continue the play, instead of wrestling for control. So at your next game, bite your lip and encourage good play as opposed to kicking – see the difference it makes for all in our game.
So remember it is “good pass”, “great shot” and let’s “play soccer”…
Being a soccer parent is tough, it includes many tasks; taxi, nutritionist, counsellor, equipment manager, and cheerleader. However, what is the most important role that children wish from their parents?
Experiential research amongst 1,000, 7-year old children in Alberta soccer programs, found that 80% of children would love to see their parents simply PLAY soccer with them.
Within an age of increasing inactivity amongst younger children, one colleague suggested a drastic measure to reverse this trend – stop parents from watching! How is this possible as it is often a requirement that parents attend soccer practices with their children? Well, this proposal suggests that more parents could and should get involved and play with or coach their children, not sit and watch.
Soccer must be fun to keep us playing, whether as an adult or child. So parents are encouraged to share, nurture and develop a passion for playing. Can you shoot as many goals as your young soccer star? How about trying a simple soccer slalom or being the goalkeeper who saves the penalty?
If you enjoy playing, then why not coach and make your child’s development more engaging and fun. Coaching can be as fun as play, and we can all coach since many activities have their origins in childhood activities, such as ‘tag’ and ‘what’s the time Mr. Wolf’.
So, the first role of any parent is to encourage their children to play, and the most effective method of this, is for the parents to also play.
For many years, coaches have coached soccer – this is a logical expectation. However, Long Term Player Development (LTPD) advocates the need to encourage physical literacy before
game techniques. This confounds many parents who register their young children in soccer for the team and social components, forgetting that many children are too immature to grasp the concept of sharing and team play at an early age.
The first stepping stone for children playing is to develop the key physical movement patterns. Physical movement provides the basis of self-worth in developing children. To stand, walk, run, and fall comes long before spelling one’s name and academic scores. This is not to say that young children should not be encouraged to develop soccer techniques with a ball. Lionel Messi was a supreme athlete before soccer player and this was established in his early play of un-organized games as a child.
Physical Health Canada describes the importance of Physical Literacy as “individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.”
Once this foundation has been established through play, the learning and performance of more sport specific skills becomes more attainable. Then as the player develops a broader range of technical skills in small fun-based activities, they will be more able to develop a game related and tactical understanding of soccer.
The expectation that a player can develop movement, technical and tactical understanding all at an early entry level of sport is unrealistic. It takes many years of development to become a professional in any area of life. Sport should be viewed in the same context: starting with a sound foundation, adding individual technical skills, a passion for playing the game, and then team based foundations that will allow for success in the open and dynamic environment of team play.
In essence, parents and coaches need to recognize that we all need to walk before we can run…young children should be encouraged to run, hop, skip, jump, and fall, long before any team components of soccer are considered.