By: Director of Instruction Tim Bradbury
I really wanted to title this article the "soccer circle of insanity" but realized that half of you would not read or share with the soccer parents that need to read this. So who is driving the bus?
Over the last 24 months I have taught, talked with, and worked alongside hundreds of youth coaches. The majority of these have shared experiences both good and bad. The interesting or increasingly disappointing issue is the one that concerns player development and health.
A portion of each of the revamped USSF E and D licensees, and the NSCAA Level 1 through 5 diplomas is centered on the phrases; developmentally appropriate and periodization.
Developmentally appropriate coaching refers to a session that considers the cognitive, physical and psycho-social level of each player. By doing so, the coach ensures that all players within the practice are challenged by learning skills that ARE possible for them to learn. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this for the average soccer parent is by considering stamina (aerobic) training for five year olds (or for that matter 10 year olds). The Sports Science shows us that it is IMPOSSIBLE to improve the lung capacity, and therefore the stamina, of a 10 year old player which means the developmentally aware coach never tries.
Now imagine the scenario above with a group of parents on the sideline who have decided to lobby for stamina training for the u10s. Ultimately they know nothing about the science involved, but they seem all too willing to have loud voices on the topic nevertheless. I am told the conversations are like this:
Parent 1 … "coach I really think we are losing because the kids are not fit enough. How about we do a 2 mile run before each practice?
Coach…."Thanks for the idea but the sports science involved proves that we can do nothing to improve their aerobic capacity at this age, so I am going to focus on skill developmental."
Parent 2... "well if you’re not going to listen we are thinking of finding a new coach"
Periodization is planning a soccer season or year with a sensible game and practice frequency that enables the body to both perform at its maximum and rest so that it is able to do so when needed. The educated coach is fully aware of the amount of rest needed after a game and the appropriate workload that is safe on the day, before a game, or after five days of high school practice etc.. ( basically a rest day)
So let’s examine the above scenario from the perspective of an educated coach and novice parent.
Coach… "The u14s have just played 2 games in 5 days and had practices every day in between so instead of a formal practice today I am encouraging them to rest"
Parent 1…. "I have heard that the New York Tremors…. never have rest days, so if their kids are doing it, we should be doing it as well"
Coach… " I really have to do what is right for the players and what their bodies can handle. If we don't give them the necessary rest, their bodies will never recuperate and injuries will happen"
Parent 2… "you’re too soft and if we don't train we will lose players to the New York Tremors. Either we train or I am leaving"
By far the most common conversation that fits into the mold of the above scenarios is of course the one on development vs. winning or, possession vs. whacking it forward. To their credit, the majority of coaches seem to understand that players develop by touching the ball, playing out of the back, and players being allowed to make their own decisions. They fully understand that in the modern game full backs frequently attack and goalkeepers are used to switch the point of attack after their central defenders have passed back to them.
The conversations in these situations I know all too well and they go like this;
Coach …although we did not get the win today we managed to string 8 or 9 passes in a row together and completed several two player combinations. Our 1v1 take on ability was great and bright things lay ahead.
Parent 1… "I'm not interested in this pretty soccer nonsense. We just need to win. If we play Alex up top and whack it forward we will get the wins we need."
Coach.. "If we play that directly and never try to possess, our players will never master the skills of the game. Development must come before win at all costs".
Parent chorus… "If we don't win you’re gone or we all leave".
All the above, accurately reflect real conversations held with young coaches who both know and want to do the right thing. These coaches are placed in very tough situations by parents and team managers, who with no knowledge of the science or developmentally appropriate action to take, simply insist on getting their own way.
The number one consideration for both coaches and parents in all discussions must be what is best for the development of the players. It would help if those people involved in these discussions, who have no real knowledge of the honest answers, take time to listen and learn rather than force a direction based on their own personal interests.
I am not sure who is driving the bus, BUT I hope and pray that it is someone with a driving license.