By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
All of my life, I have been something of a poetic dreamer. Those of you who know me are no doubt doubled over with laughter as the image of a gruff Tim jumps to mind. The core reason I started to coach was simple: I wanted to impact as many youth players as I could in a holistic way. Encourage them to work hard, battle against setbacks with integrity, treat others with respect, find time when things were going tough to help those around them and be trustworthy. In short, to be the type of people that everyone would want in their corner and on their team.
I still believe that sports and youth soccer can achieve all the wonderful things above. I also believe that as a byproduct of putting people first. you create excellency in performance. I have been greatly encouraged recently, as part of my work with US Soccer’s grass roots coaching group, our discussions have frequently turned to several key cultural issues that we believe must be address by effective youth coaches.
These key cultural issues are presented below:
1. We must work to change the perception of how players, parents and coaches treat mistakes. Mistakes must be seen simply as opportunities to learn, chances to grow and key moments when you identify areas for improvement.
2. We must strive to have all understand that there is a key time when learning, competing and trying is much more important than winning. That learning is a process and if we cripple the first steps of the learning journey with the pressure of win, win, win, we are stunting the growth of all our players.
3. We must move away from a culture of empty praise. Where good job is now meaningless as it is now shouted out loud whatever the action. We must recognize that empty praise and shouting "Good job" whatever the quality of the action is simply destroying standards and placing players in situations where they really do not know what type of effort and behavior really deserves praise. I can honestly say that in coaching kids of all ages 8 and up, they find empty praise both comical and confusing. Kids like to know where they are and appreciate honesty.
4. We must reinvent the meaning of team and get youth players to understand the meaning of sacrifice and hard work. That is not always convenient or easy to be part of a team. That often putting the needs of your team comes before your own selfish desires. Our youth players must understand the importance of being a team player.
Often when you talk with anyone about changing culture they look at you with disbelieving eyes. The “job is too big," “the task impossible." If we can’t change one parent's mind, how can we change a culture? I have to admit that at times the work is daunting. You hear or see one more screaming parent or coach at a Under-7 game and you think well, what’s the point?
I will tell you why I am encouraged, in teaching clinic after clinic to thousands of parent/coaches, every time I discuss the four issues above they get it. They all understand and see the issues discussed above each and every time they coach a game or run a practice. They are all concerned about the environments they see in youth sports.
To change a culture you need the following
1. People that care and have the same core values they wish to change.
2. Constant and effective communication between those who wish to inspire the change, how they will do it and what they will say.
3. An unwavering belief that what you are doing is for the good of the game.
4. A support network. When you try to create a cultural change (e.g. let’s focus on learning and skill development before results, people fight you!)
Just to state the obvious, any good youth club tied together with a philosophy and educated coaches already has an infrastructure that enables all four criteria above to be met. If your club is simply a collection of teams playing in the same color jersey, life is a little tougher.
I challenge all the true clubs out there, go ahead change the culture be the tipping point we need!