The following coaching tips were learned from 30 years of soccer coaching experience. I am not claiming to be a soccer coaching expert, but I do know that the following areas are ones in which I had trouble, and I still see many “experienced” coaches, at all levels, having similar trouble today.
None of us want to learn the hard way, so I hope to be able to give you some easy ways to learn what it took me 30 years to discover. I also believe that by knowing these few tips you will enjoy your coaching experience more and also be able to produce better players and teams.
Never be late for practice: When setting practice times, you should plan to be there at least 15 minutes before the time you want the players to be there. This shows the players you are serious about practice, and expect them to be there on time, ready to practice. Being there 15 minutes early allows you to make sure the practice site is safe, and have the first drill set up. Ending practice on time also shows you respect the players’ needs to schedule their other activities.
What gets rewarded gets repeated: If you like what a player does, tell them so, and see it repeated. Be careful, because some players subconsciously see any response from you as a reward – even negative responses. You certainly don’t want bad things repeated.
I found that when a player does something wrong, they most likely don’t need me to tell them: they know. You can make them better players by relieving the pressure many of them place on themselves when they make a mistake. A positive word, such as: “That was a good try; you’ll get it next time,” will help them put that mistake behind them and regain their concentration.
Discipline is the key to winning: One of the most important things you can do, as a coach is to set standards of conduct for the team and make sure all the players understand them clearly. These standards of conduct are not only for games and practice, but for off-the-field activities also. An example is: “Never say anything, on or off the field, which would discredit a teammate or opponent.” It helps to get parents involved up front, and have them buy into the standards you have set for the team. This will make it somewhat easier to get support from the parents when you must discipline a player.
No coach treats all players the same. It’s just human nature to like some people more than others. However, when it comes to disciplinary standards, all players must be treated alike. If you want to destroy a team’s morale, don’t discipline a star player for an infraction of team rules.
Be a good role model: Always remember it is the coach they follow – good, bad, or indifferent. If you want your players to have good practice habits, you need to plan your practices to meet the team’s needs. That means homework on your part.
If you want your players to say positive things about each other, you say positive things about them.
If you don’t want them arguing with the referees, don’t you question the referees.
I have found that I have more control over most of my players than even their parents do. That’s because I control something they want: more playing time. The trick is not to abuse that power, but to use it as positive reinforcement whenever possible.
Remember people repeat more of what they see than what they hear, so if they hear you say one thing, but see you do something else, guess, which they will do…
Keep the game fun: Research shows that 75% of all youth that get involved in sports drop out by age 12. The research also gives two main reasons why: pressure from parents, and problems with coaches. There is not much we can do about parents, but do encourage them to always make positive comments to their young players.
We can make a difference on the coach’s end of the problem. First is to understand that as a coach you should not be judged by your win/loss record, but by how much your players learn and how much fun they have doing it. Another thing is to eliminate the players’ stress of thinking they must win every game. If you are scheduling only games you can win, you may be feeding your ego, but you are cheating your players into thinking that the effort they are giving is all that’s necessary to be a real winner. They will be very upset when they find they can’t compete at the next higher level, because you made it too easy for them.
Of course, no one likes to lose all the time either, so a balanced schedule of games you can win along with games the players must work hard to win, is best.
Don’t let your need to win keep you from building winners.