By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Education, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
There were many good educational sessions at the National Soccer Convention in Los Angeles this past January. Some good field sessions and many great classroom sessions. One of the classroom sessions was a private session held for members of US Soccer education staff and US Youth Director of Coachings from around the country. The session was basically designed at the request of Sam Snow and was titled "Coping with the Carpet Baggers." It was 10 minutes in before it became clear that carpet baggers in this context was being used as a term to describe people who take advantage of those not paying attention and provide less than professional services for considerable monies.
After 30 minutes of the interactive lecture it became apparent that:
1. All states across America have their share of imposters and carpet baggers.
2. Youth soccer is recognized as an area where a vast amount of money can be generated.
3. The majority of soccer parents are willing to pay good money for those offering to coach their children.
4. The majority of soccer parents cannot identify good training from bad and often harmful training.
5. Many parents are prepared to go to extreme lengths to be on a winning team.
6. There are a huge number of trainers and soccer companies that are very happy to take monies knowing they offer mediocre services and these people have no concern for the good of the game.
Any team club or league employing professional trainers or a training organization should carefully consider the following facts. There are only four ways in which professional training can really benefit a club or a team. These four are:
• Providing well trained and highly qualified expert coaches. Coaches with deep expertise in the game which is displayed on their resumes. Any creditable training organization will also have some type of professional development program for all their staff to imprint their company philosophy. (Beware any organization that just trawl around the local community searching for a body they can put in a brightly colored shirt and then call them a coach)
• Well-written, developmentally appropriate curriculum provided for all ages within the club for coaches to follow. Basic lesson plans written and designed for American players (implanting curriculum from Spain, Holland or England where kids have a completely different soccer background is not really appropriate)
• Access to high quality year round facilities. Yes, if in some magical way your club or team are provided full access to quality facilities and fields in a year round manner this is a real concrete plus (as long as they are not on the opposite coast or a six-hour flight away)
• Money. Yes if any organization trying to infiltrate your club will give you a vast amount of money to help provide training for free then this has real value too. (In most situations they will be taking your money so buyer beware)
As in the vast number of situations, none of the four above are provided, it is left to individual soccer parents to try and make sensible informed decisions on behalf of their children. This being the case I advise all soccer parents to consider the following checklist when involved in the decision on what environment should I place my child in:-
• What is experience of soccer educator?
• What are professional qualifications of soccer educator?
• Are they trained to educate players of set age - (college coaches training 10 year olds maybe a bad idea. If they are trained as college players and not 10-year-old players the sessions are simply not appropriate.
• Do they have a developmental philosophy or win at all costs?
• Do they have holistic approach and show genuine concern for all aspects of child development.
• Do they communicate with your child in a respectful teacher like manner (the image you have of a good coach screaming and cursing at players is not the image of a good coach - retrain your mind, Hollywood got it wrong)
• Are the sessions they run active, fun, challenging and player-centric (players allowed to make their own decisions?)
• At game time, do they allow players to think and put development before winning or stand on the sideline screaming orders as players try to think paralyzed by fear?
Be wary of the coach trying to win the popularity contest as players need to be challenged in a fun way. Any coach whose main aim is to win the popularity contest maybe sacrificing player development to placate the parent group.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to any soccer parent is the need for them to retrain their mind and give it a new image of what a soccer coach looks like. One where the coach is not the guru on the sideline shouting orders at his troops as they obey every command with army like discipline. One where every game is not win at all costs and development is thrown away as the trophies get collected. Rather your image of a coach should be an educator who lets their players think, recognizes that each mistake is a learning opportunity, uses questions far more frequently than demands and presents highly challenging sessions that are activity based. A sharp image with a coach that wants to win but realizes that player development must come first and treats his/her players like people and not mini professional athletes.
Any parent that can retrain their mind to fight all the stereotypes of a coach that our culture has imprinted upon them has a good chance of finding a good developmental situation for their child.