More importantly, how do you explain that fact to the hundreds of coaches who volunteer their time and energy for several weeks each spring and fall?
Aaron Dean, varsity soccer coach at Grand Haven and the director of coaching for the Tri-Cities Strikers, took time out of his busy schedule to speak with the dozens of TCYSO coaches who attended Wednesday’s informational meeting, and his suggestions were invaluable to new and experienced coaches alike.
Dean’s most pressing message was that the No. 1 goal of youth coaches should be technique development in the form of fun-filled games.
“You should not be worried about winning at all,” Dean said. “Winning is absolutely not an indicator of you as a coach. You’re the soccer universe to the kids you’re going to coach. Be good role models. How you react to referees, to goals, to wins and losses, the kids are going to mimic that.”
One fail-safe guideline to follow is to avoid the “Four L’s:” Laps, Lines, Lectures and Losing Games.
• “Running laps has absolutely no benefit,” Dean said. “It’s not a good warm-up, and it’s not helping player development. Even if you have them dribble around the field with a ball, that doesn’t help, because that’s not why you play soccer.
“Instead, make a box out of cones, throw all the balls in there and tell the kids to dribble around. They’re still being active, and it’s much better than having them run laps.”
Last year, my daughter’s coach felt it was his place to whip the girls into shape during the 60 minutes each week he had them under his tutelage. Most of them couldn’t dribble or pass a soccer ball, but instead of concentrating on the basics of the game, they spent their time running laps around the field, then running sprints up and down the field. If one of the girls slacked off during the run, or if one of them complained, they ran again, and again, and again. These are 7-year-old kids.
Not surprisingly, my daughter isn’t playing soccer this year. I don’t blame her, but it still breaks my heart that she was driven away from a game that she really enjoyed because it became less fun and more like work.
• Lines have no place in a youth soccer practice. Kids standing in the back of a line inevitably get bored and don’t pay attention. To keep your kids’ interest, make sure they all have a ball and keep them all active all the time.
“I live by a park, and I can’t tell you how many times I walk by and see the players standing in a line,” Dean said. “The players pass the ball to the coach, who kicks it back to the player, and they have a shot, then head to the back of the line.
“By the end, each kid has touched the ball once and the coach has had 20 touches.
“Plus, if nobody’s standing in line, nobody’s going to be screwing around at the end of the line,” Dean added.
• When it comes to lectures, kids just don’t have the attention span to listen for more than a few moments at a time, especially when they’re out on the practice field with 10 other little kids. Give your kids quick instructions, then get them started with an activity. You as a coach can then go around and provide further instruction as needed.
“The kids aren’t there to listen to you talk,” Dean said. “Let them play.”
• Losing games are activities where kids are eliminated from the competition and have to sit around and watch the remaining players compete. They’re detrimental for two purposes. First, the worst players, the ones who need the most work, are typically the first ones out. Instead of practicing, they sit out and watch the remainder of the kids play. They aren’t getting the help they desperately need, and at the same time, their self esteem is taking a hit.
“Everybody knows how to play knock-out, where all the players have a ball and when your ball’s kicked out of the circle, you sit out and watch the rest of the kids play,” Dean said. “But who’s always the first one out? The weakest player, so he or she always ends up sitting out watching the three best players.”
Instead, Dean recommended making two circles, and each time you’re knocked out of one circle, you dribble over to the other and continue playing the game.
“We want everybody with a ball and everybody doing something,” Dean said. “What we want is to see a group of kids having a ton of fun playing soccer and being with their friends, learning how to interact with each other.”
I tried explaining that to my 4-year-old, and he seemed to get it for a minute. Then he said, “OK, but do you think we’re going to win?”
This is going to be a long season.