By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
Every coach is at some place on a developmental trajectory. My journey, like that of many of those I have worked with and watched, has been punctuated with some key learning moments. Some of these highlights and lowlights have included moments when I became aware of things like:
1) No matter how much I wanted them to be fitter, no amount of running without ball helped with soccer fitness
2) Prepubescent stretching was simply a waste of time
3) Kids get bored by standing in lines and doing drills where no thought was required.
4) I was right as a kid when I hated rote learning and taking turns.
5) That no matter how many times I thought I had taught it and therefore it was learned, it was simply not true.
6) That when you show genuine interest in your players as people first and athletes second, they will walk through walls for you.
7) That no matter how well I understood the game, screaming a solution at the players as they play the game simply causes stress and confusion.
8) That coaching is so much more than X's, O's, technical and tactical and kicking a ball.
I've been blessed in the last four years in that I have had chance to interact with some truly great soccer educators from all over the globe. Due to these interactions I have become acutely aware of the following undeniable truths:
A) I will never stop learning about the learning process, how to coach and how best to teach players and coaches about the game. The layers of the onion are just too vast for me to un-peel in one lifetime.
B) At last I understand that mistakes are not something to hide and be embarrassed about but simply moments that I should take as opportunities to learn.
C) That players learn best when they are encouraged to think and that my long-term aim should be to create independent and autonomous learners, players who can eventually see the problems in a game and decide along with the players around them how best to address them. Players who can decide which formation and shape best fit the puzzle in front of them. Players who can figure out how to best address their teammates to get the best out of them. Players who can decide when to slow a game down and maintain possession and also when to speed it up and penetrate quickly.
These types of problem solvers are not created in coach-centric sessions where coaches shout commands as kids react like herds of sheep. They are not created by pre-game, halftime and post-game talks that are coach dominated with players afraid to express any thoughts or opinions.
With all the above in mind and in an attempt to punctuate some coaching development pathways, I challenge any and all coaches that maybe reading this to try the following
• Try and coach a few sessions where you only ask questions ?
• Invite groups of players at halftime to solve the problem of the other team (Do it by units – defending, midfield and attacking)
• After a drink and presenting the problems, have each unit present their solutions.
• In each session, plan both the questions you will use and the ways and time that you will create where players collaborate and solve problems together.