Monday, March 31, 2008
A recent movie release, "Mr. Woodcock" starring Billy Bob Thornton told the story of a boy's elementary school coach returning years later to woo and marry the now grown student's mother. Woodcock was a coach from you know where and the beleaguered student experienced every stereotypical horror from the dreaded rope climb to dodge ball. Now he gets to relive the misery. While the movie wasn't a masterpiece it did illustrate the affect a coach can have on the development and psyche of a player.
Coaches can be volunteers, part-time professionals, or full-time professionals. Most players are taught first by volunteer coaches who can range in knowledge from learning that soccer balls are round to former professional players helping out with their kids. It used to be that volunteer coaches were a largely unsupervised cadre of men and women which resulted in the early years of soccer being hit or miss on the development level. Now coaches are asked to get a coaching license, which certainly helps increase both the quality and the consistency of youth soccer.
Parents should make sure their child's coach is licensed. The main purpose of licensing for volunteer beginner coaches and an important purpose for veteran coaches is to insure that they go through a background check. No coach can be licensed without the check and more and more soccer organizations are requiring that all coaches be licensed.
The second purpose of licensing for all coaches is to insure some consistency in how kids are coached. Every year changes in the structure of the game at the youth level crop up, so licensing helps coaches stay current with rules and requirements. Under-8 soccer for most states has moved to 4 v 4, with Under-10, Under-11, and Under-12 soccer seeing similar changes in the number of players on the field. In addition, field, goal and ball size are dictated by the new organization of the age groups. Coaches need to be sure that they are coaching both for and to the right level. A seven-year-old player is lucky if she can manage a dribble cross field. Learning complicated step-overs wouldn't be appropriate.
Coaches need to understand their role as teachers. Therefore, coaches should be free with the praise and minimal with the criticism especially at the younger ages. They also need to understand age appropriateness. Walking across a field once I heard a coach screaming four letter expletives at his team. I looked over to see a group of six or seven year old boys, wide-eyed and near tears. In many clubs, coaches will be called upon to cover teams from Under-8 up to Under-17, so they need to be sure to adjust their coaching methods to the age.
Parents should ask to see a coach's pass to reassure themselves that a background check has been done. The pass should indicate the expiration date of the pass and the license level the coach has achieved. Coaches can be licensed as G, E, D, C, B, or A with a national level possible for D – A. Most volunteer coaches will have a G or an E license. E licensed coaches usually selected that level because they wanted to coach older as well as younger players and want to move up the licensing ladder. G coaching clinics are held regularly in most states and can be located on the state's Youth Soccer Association website. Parents should expect their child's coach to be licensed and for their child's soccer organization or club to require licensing.
Parents should definitely attend practices, also. Clubs need to remember that they are providing a service for which they are paid. Parents have the right to be sure that they are getting their money's worth. On the same page, parents shouldn't interfere with practices. That includes forcing their child to practice when he or she doesn't want to. Sometimes it's just too much and kids need to slide into the experience slowly—my youngest son was that way. All he really wanted to do was talk to his friends and watch the ball get kicked around. It took him about three weeks to finally decide to fully participate. Now I can't get him off the field! No coach should have to deal with any player who doesn't want to be there. So have some mercy on both the child and the coach. Watch the practices to see if the coaching style fits your child, if the coach works well with all levels of players on the field (does she ignore the weaker players in favor of coaching the stronger ones?), and if the team respects the coach.
If a coach seems to be out of hand – yelling, swearing, driving the kids, belittling them – parents absolutely have the right and even the responsibility to approach someone from the administrative staff about that coach. A difficulty arises at the older ages when kids have to try out for a team. Parents are uneasy about "rattling the cage" when it comes to a coach. And I have seen vindictiveness played out for parents who dared to question a coach's demeanor. I think it is important to separate out coaching knowledge from coaching behavior.
I don't think most parents are in a position to question a coach's decision about playing time, position, formation, practice drills, and the like. However, I do think that parents have the right to question how a coach behaves on the field and in practice, just as parents have that right with teachers or health professionals. If behavior becomes abusive or coarse, then administrators need to refrain from a defensive posture and listen. Standards of behavior should be required and maintained by soccer organizations. Nevertheless it is a difficult subject since many clubs basically pull the wagons in a circle around the coach and don't address his or her behavior. Instead they attack the parent or player for questioning the coach's demeanor.
Finding the right coach and the right team for a child takes some effort. The right team may not be the one that all of his or her friends are on. It's hard to resist the popularity or the car-pool convenience factor of a team, but if a child isn't happy, it won't matter how popular or convenient a team turns out to be. Don't be afraid to visit some soccer teams in your area to observe prior to placing your child on a team. Parents do the same for school, so it makes sense to do it for after-school as well. Don't be afraid to talk to the coaches and to other parents to see what philosophies, demands and expectations exist. Do they all mesh with yours?
In end, if you make a selection and it isn't working, there's nothing wrong with fulfilling the season commitment and then moving on. It's a rare soccer team that retains more than 30 percent of the players throughout the lifetime of the team. Few players will move on to high school and college playing. Therefore, the years in youth soccer should be above all, fun and filled with happy memories. Parents shouldn't let the seduction of higher level soccer convince them to leave their child on a team where the coach is abusive and the atmosphere is miserable. If you can't change it, then move on to a place where people smile and say "good job."