By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
One of the most difficult and demanding tasks in youth sports is coaching games. I see intelligent, player-centered coaches turn into ferocious and demanding drill sergeants when put near a competitive game. Before suggesting some best practices which I hope will guide parents and coaches for game day, let us consider why coaching games is so demanding.
1. Pressure-Rather than focus on fun and development, the win at all costs/every game is a World Cup Final Syndrome.
2. Overzealous Parents-Parents contribute to the competitive atmosphere by seeking out organizations/clubs/teams that have winning records rather than development-based programs. Many parents have forgotten that soccer is a team sport and every player needs time on the field to develop.
3. Parents as Additional Coaches-Parents shouting orders to help their child make better decisions. “SHOOT”!
4. Coaches Ego-The "I am only as good as my next win" syndrome whereby coaches believe they are only as good as their team's win/loss record
5. A Transactional vs. Transformational Game Day Environment-Is the game day culture & behaviors of the coaches and parents conducive to fun and learning? Or, does losing cause Armageddon?
Any or all the situations above can cause a frenzy of bad behavior among both coaches and parents. So, what does a good game day environment along with positive coaching behaviors look like?
• Kids arrive approximately 45 mins prior to kick off to go through a player-led warm up that avoids lines; warms up all the skills of the game in game-like activities; and includes some dynamic stretching.
• A coach who makes a short and clear team talk with a maximum of three points of focus for the game today.
• A coach who in addition to the three points give each player one glow (you have been doing this really well, please do more of it today) and one grow (try and focus on doing this today).
• A coach who has made the time to meet with the parents prior to the game to explain that in today’s game will be focusing on these three things (i.e. keeping possession, switching the point of attack and trying create numbers up in the middle part of the field).
• A coach who has arranged to have a large white board at the field where each player writes something they expect of the parents. I have seen kids write things like “Please don’t shout at the ref today” and “Please stop screaming at me when I have the ball."
• A coach who before the game starts allows each unit of the starting 11 (defenders, midfielders and forwards) to meet and discuss how they will achieve the three points of focus presented by the coach.
• A coach who primes the substitutes to know where they are going on (so they do some opposing player ID) and have a statistic to track that relates to the aims of the day (i.e. track how many passes we connect in a row).
• A group of parents who applaud the skills and efforts of both teams.
• A group of parents who avoid shouting advice and commands at the players while they try and make decisions and enjoy the game.
• Parents who never shout abuse at the referee, realizing they need to be a role model.
• A coach who during the game coaches only players away from the ball with questions and allows their players to think. (i.e. Tim how quickly can you give us more attacking width ?)
• A coach who is quietly involved in discussion with the substitutes trying to establish traits in the players they will go on and compete against.
• A coach who knows their team will compete and is smart enough to realize they can learn as much from losing as from winning.
• A coach who connects essential life skills to the game. (i.e. Resilience – “Gary how did Jim show resilience today?)
• At the end of the game, a coach who gives each player a specific glow and allows the units of the team to discuss how they did with problems presented.
If you go to a game where even half of the best practices suggested are being employed, you will be startled at how positive game day can be.