Coaching the Beautiful Game

(image: Jeffery F Lin)

Coaching soccer practice is a lot of fun. I enjoy setting up drills, demonstrating technique, and watching players challenge themselves in a controlled and repetitive environment. But practice would mean nothing without the game. When two teams come together pitting talent against talent, and strategy against strategy the adrenaline rises and players and coaches can feel the pressure.

Before I get into how to coach a game, think about what a player goes through each game. Put yourself in their cleats. There are a lot of decisions to make on that field:

“Should I dribble or pass?” “Can I control the ball this time?” “Should I shoot?” “That kid is fast! Can I steal the ball without getting hurt?” “What if it hits me in the face?” “I don’t want coach to be mad.” “Did my mom see that!” “Where am I supposed to be?”

Their minds are filled with their own voices when they step on the field, so we need to be careful when we add ours to the noise.

My coaching mentor and friend Sasa Kostic modeled great coaching from the sidelines. He taught me to quiet down, observe the game, and find the right moments to inspire players to success. Here are a few keys to remember when coaching during a game:

  1. Remember you are passionate as well. Filter out what is necessary to say and what is simply your emotions.
  2. Use substitutions, stoppages in play, and breaks to give key instructions to an individual or to the team.
  3. Keep those instructions simple. The time to really coach is during practices not during the game.
  4. Keep a small-notebook to record observations and instructions for after the game.
  5. Remember that at younger ages the games are a tool to teach and form a player’s overall skill not simply to win.

Thoughts to consider if your not yet convinced to keep your mouth shut:

  1. Coaches who yell instructions constantly often have players with poor decision making.
  2. You are not playing a video game. They are not yours to control they are yours to coach.
  3. Most of the time players can’t really hear what you are saying.
  4. Do you demonstrate trust in your players when you are constantly correcting or instructing them from the sidelines?
  5. Do you trust your own practice preparation?
  6. Does yelling at your players help them stay confident and composed on the field?
  7. You are creating a fear of failure which is already very prevalent in youth.

I know that some coaches are just vocal people. I am one of those vocal people. So if you must say something, make it in the moments between the plays and make it encouraging! Your time on the field is over. Let them explore and enjoy the game. Let them make memories and work through their successes and failures. Be there to champion them and help them to challenge their talent.