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News - Details

"Professional" Trainers: Cure or Curse?

By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Tim_for_Web-smallAssociation

There was a time when only travel teams ages 12 and up would employ a trainer. Those days are long gone and now clubs and teams use trainers from the age of five and up. (I refused to write three as by doing so I somehow legitimize the idea.)

There are thousands of “professional” trainers available in New York  today. They come from different backgrounds in the game and with different qualifications available to reinforce their professional status and therefore, the salary they demand.

Before we move on, there is a need to define the term “professional trainer” many pretend to be yet few are. I believe to have the title of “professional trainer” the following must be true:

  • Coaching is the major source of income.
  • Their typical day is spent in and around the game.
  • They have a background in education, coaching and teaching. 
  • They are on the pathway or have all the major coaching licenses.
  • They have a deep background in the game, ideally with some playing experience or thousands of hours watching.
  • They possess developmentally-appropriate knowledge of the age groups they may coach.
  • They can show a track record of their attempts to continually develop. 
  • They have a Personal Development plan they can share.
  • They can clearly and concisely verbalize their coaching philosophy.
  • Their actions show a clear desire to grow the game.
  • Have current Safe Sport, background checks, etc.
  • Have proof of the necessary insurance to protect both themselves and the players they teach.

I understand that this is a challenging list and acknowledge that many do not or cannot meet this standard. That is fine and being a coach with none or few of the above is also fine, but all trainers should be more transparent and honest about what they bring to the table. This should be particularly true for the huge training organizations that dominate the youth soccer landscape.

The huge number of trainers being employed throughout New York and beyond can be traced to one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Cultural and social demands on parent volunteers. Either too busy or not interested in taking the challenge on.
  2. Change in pressure and attitude toward parent volunteers. Violence toward youth coaches.
  3. Unrealistic expectations and dreams of parent group. If we work with “Fred,” we will all get scholarships.
  4. WIN, WIN, WIN… ultra competitive culture where winning at all ages is key and therefore the “professional” will lead the way.
  5. Common Sense. I would like a trained professional to teach my children  the game that they have come to love as no parent within the group has the relevant knowledge.
  6. The desire for an impartial leader, someone with no emotional ties to any of the players should lead the group.
  7. Growth of the game. More players and more teams has led to a greater demand for professional soccer coaches.
  8. Cultural trend and fashion. Every other team has one and therefore so must we.

Unfortunately, far too frequently, no methodical or set criteria are utilized by the parent or parent group left in charge of the search for an appropriate professional trainer. 

In employing a trainer, the following criteria are the minimum that should be considered:

  • Background in the game to include education, coaching licenses, playing career, profession and lastly, coaching education attended.
  • Coaching style, personality and experience.
  • Resume, references and testimonials. Coaches with a solid background and reputation should have access to many references.
  • Coaching philosophy. Style of play, developmental or problem fixing!
  • Marriage of philosophies. If the trainer is teaching a possession-based style of play and the parent/coach is demanding a direct style of play in games, the players will quickly become confused. The trainer and coach must be transmitting the same message (not necessarily the same way).
  • Core values of the trainer and parent group should resonate rather than conflict.
  • Displayed desire of the coach to continue to grow and develop.

Having considered all the above, the parent/coach should begin to ponder the following issues:

Is the trainer to be employed once or twice a week? Attend games or not attend games? If, as in most cases, one session is to be done, the parents must decide whether they wish this session to be developmental in nature or be more of a problem-fixing event.

If the sessions are going to be developmental ones, the paid trainer should have a clear and concise set of aims and objectives. The skills and concepts they intend to teach should be readily available (probably in written form). If this developmental approach is used, the parent/coach should attempt to communicate at least once a week with the paid trainer so that the trainer can explain the skills being worked on and therefore what skills should start happening in games. 

If the sessions are more of a “problem fixing” approach, there will be a need for more communication with the trainer. Clear and concise descriptions of the problems will need to be supplied to the trainer. Ideally, if this approach is to be used, the trainer should frequently attend games to witness first-hand the problems that occur. 

Session Content 

Whether the sessions are developmental or problem fixing in nature each session should exhibit the following qualities:

  • Be well organized so that each practice follows a logical set of progressions.
  • Have sufficient equipment, cones, balls and pinnies.
  • Start on time.
  • Coach should always look professional.
  • Clear and appropriate coaching points should be made throughout.
  • Due to the practice limitations of most travel teams (once or twice a week), the sessions should be as economical as possible.
  • Players should be technically- and tactically-challenged to play at the next level.
  • Use of lines, laps and lectures should be limited. All three lead to unrealistic and stagnate teaching environments.

Session Participation

It is difficult for even the most skilled and professional coaches to co-coach the same set of players at one time. Those who achieve this successfully fulfill very definite roles. One leads and the other assists, both transmitting the same agreed messages. The assistant normally taking on the role of a technical coach, providing players with individual technical correction. Coaches who have perfected the art of working together have had many opportunities to rehearse and practice their roles. 

Effectively combining the coaching of a parent and paid trainer so that the session is enhanced is difficult at best. If a positive result cannot be guaranteed, then it is more effective to have one-person coach and the other observe so that the necessary reinforcement can be made later.

Any parent coach wishing to use a team coaching approach should also be aware of the background and knowledge that they bring to the coaching equation. Two coaches both with US Soccer A licenses will probably be able to bring a comparable body of knowledge and therefore, a coaching wisdom to a practice. Parent/coaches with a lower-level qualification may not have the same expertise to bring to the same coaching equation and therefore should be more reluctant to step in and coach alongside a professional trainer.