by Rodney Kenney
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.
You don’t coach the referees: A very serious mistake that many coaches make is to tell the players after a loss that: “If we had a good referee things would have been different.”
A coach who blames his losses on the referee, and dwells on referees’ mistakes during the game is missing things that could help his team do better in the next game. As a coach, you will not get a chance to work on correcting the mistakes the referee made in your last game. You will be able to work on the problems your team had in the game.
You also give your players the impression that they don’t need to improve since it was the referee’s fault they lost.
I have seen teams go for years looking for that elusive winning referee.
Coaches who lose 1-0 on a penalty kick, and then blame the referee for giving the other team the game have always amazed me. How did that coach expect to win when his team couldn’t even score a goal?
Referees make mistakes, but I have won as many games on referees’ mistakes as I have lost.
A good coach never stops learning: A good coach is always reviewing drill books, training tapes, and other coaching publications. You see them taking advantage of any coaching clinics that are offered. They see as many higher-level games as they can, looking for new tactical ideas to bring to their team. They make themselves aware of the new law changes, and club, league, and state association rule changes. They have their CPR and first aid certification, and are familiar with the common soccer injures and their proper treatment.
A good coach has an open mind and is willing to learn from anyone. If you think you know it all, you probably don’t know much…
Don’t wear out your players: The human body, like a car engine, will break down from excessive use if not properly tuned up and cared for. Many coaches over train their players until their bodies and minds just will not function at 100% anymore. At that point, these coaches think their players are just lazy.
When muscles are tired, the chance for injury increases dramatically. The fact is that rest is sometimes more important than practice.
The year I was head coach at the University of North Florida, we were an average Division 2 team. Part of our regimen was a number of rest days a week. On those days the players were not allowed to touch a soccer ball. At the end of the year, we were beating teams that were ranked in the top 10 in the nation, because our starting 11 were all healthy, both physically and mentally. Many of the opposing teams’ starters were injured or just not mentally sharp. Don’t forget to take a break; it could make you the winner in the end.
Coaching girls versus boys: There are a few generalizations that seem to hold true when coaching boys as opposed to girls. With boys you coach egos and with girls you coach emotions.
Boys come ready to compete on the soccer skill and ability level, while girls tend to put their social skills ahead of their soccer skills. Knowing this can help you manage your players. As and example, when one of my high school players showed up ten minutes late for practice I sent her home, telling her she could return tomorrow on time, ready to practice. Punishment for a boy would be to do extra drills. Sending a boy home is more like a reward, to a girl, being sent home is devastating, because they will miss some social time with their teammates. Challenging their egos motivates boys. Saying something good or bad about their behavior in front of their teammates usually produces the desired results. In the case of girls, saying anything good or bad in front of their teammates will offend them or someone else on the team. The best way to get results with girls is to scold or praise them together as a team, but only scold or praise them individually in private.
Now, after saying all of that, every player is an individual, and some may not fit the generalizations I just mentioned, so as I said before, know your players.
Coaching is also teaching life skills: Always remember playing in all youth sports is a life-skill learning experience. By that I mean what is learned from playing youth sports will teach the participants how to work as a team, cope with physical and mental stress, and deal with losing, winning, and authority.
Other life skills learned through sports include how to develop a good work ethic, and maintain physical fitness for the rest of one’s life.
As coach you are teaching all these things, so take your coaching job seriously. We are not only producing good soccer players but also good citizens.