I am so tired of seeing great coaches not hired, kids not being selected, and soccer organizations making decisions based on egos and keeping adults happy, to the detriment of the kids.
Here are examples of common situations and potential solutions:
Adult Politics in Youth Sports:
Solution: We need good people to run for local sports boards. We need people who can see the big picture and beyond their child’s team. But perhaps, in the long run, I often wonder if the model of parent-run non-profit boards and sports organizations will ever be able to make proper decisions regarding the well-being of many children when so many decisions are made because of egos and the well-being of one child – their own. Perhaps it is time for a rethink (but that is for another article).
Competition and Match Sizes That Do Not Fit the Feeds of the Child:
Solution: After Belgium bombed out in the group stage of Euro 2000, they knew they needed a revamp. The result was a total rethink of how children’s soccer was done. In my podcast with Belgium FA Coaching Education Director Kris Van Der Haegen, we speak about these changes, including what they call “Dribbling Soccer” for 5-7-year-olds. They play 2v2, one field player and one goalkeeper, with short games and constantly changing opponents. It fits the needs of young children learning to dribble, not wanting or needing to pass, and scoring lots of goals. They play small-sided games until U14, as does Spain and many other countries we want to emulate in soccer. Belgium has gone from #66 to #1 in the world soccer rankings; Spain won a World Cup and 2x European Championships. In the US, we still have grumblings on every sideline about how 11-year-olds need a larger field to play correctly. Ahhhhh!
Forcing Children to Choose a Single Sport
Solution: Let young children sample multiple sports. Forcing a 9-year-old to play only soccer, basketball, baseball, or any sport and making them promise to not play other sports DOES NOT SERVE THE BEST INTEREST OF THAT CHILD! Yet it happens all the time! Not providing fundamental movement training within your sport also does not serve the interest of the child. We must stop short-changing our children’s physical literacy development in order to win some meaningless competition or increase the bottom line of the business.
Joystick Sideline Coaching From Parents and Coaches
Solution: Clubs and schools should have a zero-tolerance policy for sideline coaching and abusive behavior toward referees. They need to stop being afraid some parents might take little Johnny and leave if they tell dad to be quiet. Good riddance. You will gain far more members by serving the needs of the kids and not Johnny’s dad. And along with that, slowly but surely the intelligence and problem solving will happen on the field and not on the sidelines. We need to Win the Race to the Right Finish Line.
Coaches Who Create Least Effective Learning Environments:
Ask yourself – Does it happen in the game?
If the answer is YES -Then do it in practice.
If the answer is NO -Then don’t do it in practice.
Appropriate soccer activities have to be your main objective when planning and running a practice session. You need to remember that, Players come to practice to Play –SOCCER and not soccer-related games.
A flexible plan such as the ’ FUNdamental ‘9-Step Practice’ fulfills this goal by giving you the guidance to organize:
a. Individual (1 vs.1 games)
b. Small Group (i.e. 2 vs.1; 2 vs. 2; 3 vs.1; 3 vs. 2 etc. games)
c. Large Group (i.e. 5 vs. 5; 5 vs. 4; 5 vs. 3 etc. games) and
d. Team games (scrimmage)
Play games, and add defenders as soon as possible if you are practicing to be better during the competition, instead of just at practice. (Read this book, Make it Stick by Peter Brown if you want all the direct research links.) Just stop hitting 50 x 7 irons in a row and calling it learning or saying it is the most effective way to make someone better. Mark Bennett’s, founder of PDS Coaching, has what he calls the Rule of 3, a three-step process to solving problems where:
(1) the player works it out.
(2) the player with another player works it out.
(3) And finally the coach and players work it out.
Our job as a coach, as Mark O’Sullivan says, “Is not to correct everything, it is to observe them solving the problems themselves.”
Please let’s stop making decisions without asking “Does this serve the needs of the children/players playing soccer?”