By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
Perhaps I am inspired by the Winnie the Pooh movies I have been forced to endlessly watch by my two young ones or perhaps it’s the frustration of working with groups of 7- and 8-year-olds on a regular basis and wondering what happened to thinking in youth sports.
I still have to observe endless game and practices led by coaches at all levels where the only instructional approach used is command and tell. The irony of this never fails to escape me for a variety of reasons:
1) Soccer is a dynamic game with ever-changing movements of the ball and the other players--whatever command you believe you're giving, it is probably the wrong one--unless you have exactly the same height, weight, vision and athletic abilities of the player your giving it to.
2) Perception is a unique and individual thing. How you perceive the options and choices presented by the game are definitely different than how your players do. Why is your choice better than theirs?
3) Most parents send their kids to school in the hope that they learn to think and solve problems at a very deep level. In fact, many would be perturbed if they felt that the school environment was not helping their kid develop thinking skills. Imagine going into a classroom where the teacher asks questions and then screams their perceived answers at the kids to simply regurgitate.
4) Perhaps more than any other sport, soccer is a sport that requires creative thinkers and problem solvers due to the highly complex and ever-changing environments. There is enough evidence based around the likes of Messi and his ability to chunk enormous masses of information and make quick decisions to show that the difference with the truly great players is their decision-making ability.
Perhaps some good aspects of youth training environments that encourage thinking would be
1. Coaches that use questions more than commands.
2. Coaches that allow players to think, talk and collaborate in small groups
3. Coaches that view mistakes as opportunities to grow and exciting times to learn rather than a problem to eradicate.
4. Coaches who avoid drills where there is no thinking and instead create activities and game like situations that are as dynamic as the game.
5. Coaches prepared to have a dialogue with players and let them try their ideas and guide rather than squash their ideas at inception.
As a challenge to any coaches reading this try these two things at your next practice:
A) Just put down the gear and see how long it takes them to set some type of soccer activity up – robots or independent learners?
B) Coach only in questions – go deeper try to prepare one question for each kid ( see how well you know them!
At the next game let the kids run the half time talk.
THINK, THINK, THINK!