In the FUNdamental SOCCER philosophy, we firmly believe the game is for the players. In our sliding scale of active coaching, we are least vocal when the performance anxiety and competition are the greatest and more vocal only when competition is secondary to learning. Thus, we decrease performance anxiety and enable learning in the training situations we structure. No matter what tone a coach adopts or what neutral information is given, few coaches escape the perception that they “yell at” their players when coaching during a game. Singling out any player during a performance increases their anxiety. For players to feel more powerful and creative on the field, they need to be on their own.
At the same time, among the national and cultural hindrances to the American soccer player’s development is our emphasis on same age teams. Consider soccer in less organized situations where families and neighborhoods are the basis for choosing teams. A mix of ages allows for the development of younger players at a faster rate. Contrast the bunch ball tactics of U-6 players in United States organized soccer to a six year old playing with six to twelve year olds. Precociously, the six year old moves off the ball because the twelve year old can hold the ball and cue the six year old to go. The six year skips the stage of hovering because he gets service (and is rewarded with the ball) by following the twelve year old’s cues. Further, the twelve year old learns composure with the ball because he is not constantly under pressure in the game. Not all of the opponents are twelve and his moves can work against a ten year old.
So, here is advice to advocate for coaches to play with youth teams in practice. The role adopted must be understood to be one of holding midfielder or organizing defender or distributing target player, as examples. Making one’s thoughts transparent by coaching and verbalizing on the field will help young players develop more quickly than on their own. Distributing wide will make wingers more active and demonstrate the value of sending the ball out to relieve pressure. Laying a ball off encourages midfielders to go forward to support the strikers in attack. Covering a defender allows her to experiment with winning a 50/50 challenge. All are situations where an older player enables a younger player to play above normal development.
Further, when careful of size and strength differences, by playing non-contact with their own teams, coaches develop rapport with the players. A golden soccer example comes from stopping by a Middlebury (VT) High School soccer practice to watch the great Doc Seubert, a twenty plus year veteran coach, play in a warm up game of six versus six scoring to both sides of their kickboard. Doc makes clever choices that his team recognizes. He is easily the most valuable player, yet not at all winded for a forty plus year old. His confidence and light-hearted play make him fun to play with, for sure, and he elevates the level of his players by being in the game.
Remember, you are bigger, faster, stronger and smarter than players up to a certain age. You can help players be more precocious by playing and cueing them or even by having a prudent, safety-conscious older player be your coach on the field. Save on the field coaching for practice. Look like the cool master of the soccer universe during a game.