Communicating With Players in Practice at Games or Just in Passing

submitted by  Dr. Jay Martin,

Editor NSCAA Soccer Journal

Written By George Perry III

Former NSCAA President

Would you want someone to tell you what to do every step of the way?

I am fortunate to have a job allowing me to watch lots of soccer.  The players range in age from 7 to 18.  When you add in the college teams in the Indiana whose games I attend and our local NASL team (Indy Eleven), it’s a full range.

The NSCAA (a unique coaches association that includes coaches from all levels of the game) is very similar.  As a coach, you have a number of reasons to watch a game. You could be watching your own team to see what they do well and what they need to work on.  You could be watching a team you’ll play in the future to compile a scouting report.  You could be identifying future players for your own team (recruiting).  You could be watching from an educational perspective, to learn techniques and tactics needed to play at a certain level.  And yes, you could be watching a game just for the pure enjoyment and entertainment value.

After 40 years of coaching I have learned a lot from listening to other coaches (and not just soccer coaches).  You have a unique opportunity to learn from coaches of other sports, especially at the collegiate level.  I have learned so much from listening to these coaches in how to communicate with their players in training, in games or just in passing. I felt I could always improve in the area of communication primarily because there are so many different personalities within a program, especially for those of us who have done this for a number of years.

In my new role, one item I add to my list is that of evaluating the behavior of players, coaches, parents and referees.  I normally arrive just as the game starts, finding a place to sit so that I may observe and listen without making my presence known.  What intrigues me the most is what I hear from the many different individuals in and around the game I am watching.

What do I hear the most in my current role as Indiana Soccer League Commissioner?  Unfortunately, I guess that nearly 60-70% of what I hear is players on the field being told by individuals off the field (coaches, parents and spectators) what to do on nearly every touch. There is no doubt in my mind those individuals off the field believe they are doing what is best for the players.  Often what they say is accurate.  But what is the most fun about our game is that it is a player’s game, one where the best players make up their own minds.  They learn from making both good and bad choices.

One of my first coaching experiences was as an assistant coach with U8 players in the Bloomington, Ind., Boys and Girls Club soccer league (with fellow Indiana University player Don Rawson).  I can’t remember how long the periods were, but in this age group we played quarters.  To encourage players make their own decisions, we instituted silent quarters.  During the first and third quarters, no one was allowed to talk but players.  Parents could applaud and cheer but could not give any direction to players on the field.  Coaches could communicate substitutions but, again, could not give direction to players on the field.

During those “silent quarters,” we found you could hear players talking, giving each other information.  Players had to pick up their heads in order to make a decision and while many would play as individuals (appropriate for this age group), some would begin to pass.  As wonderful as that was, when the “silent restriction was lifted in the second and fourth quarters, the outside noise level would rise.  What we saw and heard from the players then was a lot of kicking, very little constructive play and nearly no talking amongst themselves.  It took a few weeks, but the parents and coaches began to catch on (although not as much as we would have liked).  This was a very important moment in the development of my coaching philosophy–give the game to the players.

When I first started playing this wonderful game, I was fortunate.  My parents had never played (and for that matter) never seen a game until I began playing.  While my father was a decent athlete growing up, he never tried to tell me how to play (especially during games).  I learned from my coaches during training and from my teammates and myself during the game. This was another important phase in my coaching development.

There is no doubt that information shared by coaches and parents can be very helpful to the player.  The questions I would ask is when and where is the best time?  Would you want someone yelling instructions to you while you are doing your job?  Driving your car?  Enjoying  a pleasureable activity?

I have seen players take a shot that missed the goal by 10 yards (wide or high) and I have heard coaches and parents yell, “great shot.”  Is that a great shot?  Perhaps it may have been the right time to shoot,but the shot itself should not be praised.  Indiana Soccer has partnered with the Meulensteen Academy (developed by Rene Meulensteen). They have  a saying, “encourage the will, complement the skill,”  is a simple phrase but says a lot.  This has a place in player development, to reinforce the effort of a player but not to praise a skill that is not done well.  Players will work to earn the compliment as long as they know their coach appreciates and supports the time and effort it takes to develop.

As coaches, parents and spectators, we can help the players more by giving them a chance to play on their own and make their own decisions.  Certainly there is a right time and place for teaching them a better way.  My mother taught me to think before I speak (not always done for those who know me).  I try to remember that when watching games.  It may be a good suggestion to share with those who work with our children and watch them play.

George Perry III

President NSCAA

National Soccer Coaches Assoc. of America

President’s Article, Soccer Journal, Oct. 19, 2014

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