A truly great youth soccer coach understands his job is to teach his young players individual technical skills. Our job is not to teach a 10-year old extended tactical vision for the game, but instead give him the mastery of the tools that it takes to play the game.The creativity and vision for the game will only truly come once this process has ended and they can focus on the GAME as a whole. It's hard to be creative when you keep tripping over the ball while dribbling.
Yes, we do give them some basic vision points for the tactical side of the game. However, it does no good to try and teach them a play that has one player feeding in a ball 30 yards, while another player receives it and finishes, if neither can complete the basic skills to make this play happen.
Many of our technical foundations are thrown out the window when the season starts. We start focusing on scrimmages, set up, positioning and plays. We start lecturing 9-year olds about the "thirds of the field", forgetting that all they are looking at is the ball at their feet.
Coaches have a natural human nature to win. That does not make them bad people, just bad youth coaches. Most of us want to succeed at what we do, we just often define the "definition of success" incorrectly.
Until we can break this cycle of winning at all costs and pressured competition, our kids will continue to suffer. Until the definition of "success" in youth soccer is redefined, there will be kids that are being set up for failure at the expense of adult winning.
Why Can't We Do It?
In order to make this work, everyone has to buy in. There needs to be a strong message--preferably in writing--that explains this trend and how every person contributes to this problem.
Everyone from the program director, to the coaches, the parents and the players need to understand the definition of a successful youth soccer program. A simple parents meeting at the beginning of the season is not enough. Often many miss it and many players will only have one of the parents attending. There needs to be a strong written summary of your goals and all should read, sign and return.
Everyone should realize that while some tactical education will be covered, it will be age appropriate and more on a general, basic and visual understanding level. It should be understood that younger player development will be largely technical-based and competitive games are simply a place to try our newly learn technical skills, not a measure of results.
I will warn you that this is easier said than done. It often takes years of coaching before we realize what we are doing wrong. We when finally realize this mistake we now face the daunting task of selling this theory to inexperienced parents and coaches. (A job no one really wants.)
A Step in the Right Direction
Youth soccer has finally been facing up to these problems around the world. Many international development programs and U.S. Youth Soccer programs are slowly getting this message out to clubs, leagues and coaches. However, this powerful message seems to fall short when it comes to reaching the parents. Coaches must humbly face this reality and focus on moving this message to the parents. Without the parents buying in 100 percent this movement will fail.
I have had the pleasure of working with many soccer programs and players from around the world. It always amazes me at what a poor job the leagues do at communicating these critical points to parents, and coaches as well. A short parent meeting or a 10 line code of conduct will never get this point delivered. Developing a full and thorough plan and getting 100 percent on board is the only way it will work.
You will always find some youth coaches that somehow justify themselves around this basic youth soccer principle. They will still wear their "badge of victories" proudly and debunk this essential and critical understanding. Remember they are not bad people, just bad for youth soccer. They can't help it, it's their nature.
Sadly we as soccer coaches must come to grips with the fact that we are not training a winning team for our sake. Our job is to help young players by teaching them individual technical skills. We then graciously turn them over to another coach hoping they are better with what they have learned.
Young players will remember a good soccer coach for the rest of their lives. That is what we as coaches call our reward. Not winning.
Coach V is the founder and developer of the Blast The Ball soccer training system and the SoccerU training series. He currently works with all levels of players including youth, collegiate and professionals.