It all started innocently enough, with a youth soccer discussion at work. “It looks like I am going to coach my daughter’s under ten team again this year,” said my friend, not entirely enthusiastically. As my children are older and beyond my modest coaching skills, I had considered volunteering to coach a younger girls’ team and with little thought I open my mouth, “I will help you coach if you like.” Thus began the journey you now read about. Sometimes the best things are initiated without the burden of analysis and deep thought, and clearly, I put little thought into my commitment.
With no preparation, we arrive at draft night. We review the player evaluation cards completed by the previous year’s coach to glean as much insight into the player as possible; “Weak foot” – sounds like someone who needs to learn technique, let’s take her. “Tires easily” – sounds like someone who could benefit from conditioning built into her practice, let’s take her. “Boots the ball well” – ok, let’s draft one of those too! Though this was not my first experience with the wiles and charms of coaches, the creativity expressed by the other coaches was amazing, so many reasons why particular players have to play for particular coaches. “She has to play for me or she won’t play.” “She is in our carpool and she can’t get to games.” “She has to play with her best friend or she won’t play.” At times it feels less like drafting a team and more like bartering for goods. Of course, everyone wants to play with their friends and if it just happens that they are also great soccer players, well then, who are we to stand in the way of the player, and their coach, achieving self-actualization. Despite some tempting trade offers, we keep all the players we draft.
We had our team. Next up, we explore the fun stuff of practices.
We have to decide how we are going to approach soccer training. We believe that developmentally, 8 and 9 years olds are far too young to pigeon-hole a child into a particular position so we agree to teach everyone everything. As if that were not daunting enough, we also decide to follow the FUNdamental SOCCER 9-step coaching model for practices. Inspired by the developmental article in June’s Soccer California, we further decide not to withhold any training because of the girl’s age or skill level with the exception of heading. In other words, we are going to give them a steady diet of skills drills and games just like we would an older, competitive level team; all we adjust is our expectations regarding results and our attitudes to make sure it is fun. After much thought, we include some conditioning in our practices.
Our regime will not change throughout the season. We will hold three 1-1/2 hour sessions per week; games would count as one such session. Thus with no games in a week, we would practice three times and if there were two games in a week, we would practice once.
Armed with a plan and some papers to explain our plan to the parents, we start practice. My, oh my, I had forgotten how un-coordinated and immature 8 and 9 year old girls could be; surely, this would not work as well as the books said it would! But we persevere, using lots of encouragement for the girls and patience for the coaches.
We had lain out a curriculum that combines the teachings of Karl Dewazien, Tony Waiters, Wil Coerver, and Dr Spock. From the very beginning we strongly emphasized combination play, communication, and foot skills. As the 6 weeks of practices progressed, we could see improvement in each of the players. We might not be a great team but we would be a team.
Our First Scrimmage
After some rudimentary goalkeeper and position training, and with no training on set pieces, it was time to try a game. We make arrangements to scrimmage with a fellow coach we had met at draft night. At the game, the girls are very excited, in fact far too excited. As the game starts, the other team repeatedly dribbles down to score. For five agonizing minutes, the girls appear frozen, as if they don’t know what to do and are surprised that the other team would dare move the ball so quickly. I manage to remain calm but my stomach was doing flip-flops; “How could this be happening,” I think to myself. Self doubt about our approach appears briefly on the horizon. After we kick the ball into our own goal to give the other team a 5-0 lead, the team slowly begins to thaw. They actually begin to spread out and pass! Before halftime, we are not only getting the better end of play but we had score on a beautiful pass from our left forward to our right forward.
In the second half, our girls play like a completely different team as they work the ball combining for up to three passes in a row! It is heaven! I can clearly see that our approach is working; we are actually outplaying the other team now. And the coaches have a clear idea of what we still need to work on. But the best thing that happens at that scrimmage is after the game, when the mother of the right forward who had scored tells me that they had quite a celebration on the sideline after her daughter scored. It seems that in the years her daughter had played, she had never been given the opportunity to play where she could score goals, and todays had been her first! I left the field that night with a spring in my step.
We play another scrimmage a week later and the team is spreading out for passing. We are ready for the real thing.