Monday, October 13, 2008
Active Coaching No. 16
We believe that top-level coaches, particularly those in administrative positions, such as club and state directors and national staff coaches must remain active practitioners. In order to gain respect and proactively affect change it is essential that coaches in leadership positions are current in their knowledge and constantly evolving their craft. In addition:
- Soccer continues to evolve rapidly and nowhere more dramatically than at the youth level in the United States. Coaches must have practical contact with the newest trends and be well positioned to proactively test new theories against existing models.
- Many coaching directors in the United States are in their 20's and 30's and still developing their personal philosophy and pedagogy. If these talented young coaches are removed from their fertile learning environment before gaining the lessons of experience, the short- and long-term impact on the next generations of players will be sorely felt.
- Personal growth stagnates without constant challenge. Each new training session is an opportunity to reaffirm or reassess existing soccer knowledge, beliefs and pedagogical skills. Each level of play provides unique coaching challenges and, in order to service the needs of players and coaches at every level, practical and ongoing contact with players of all ages and abilities is essential.
- Top club coaches are influenced by actions, not words. To gain the confidence and respect of these coaches, it is important for the coaching director to demonstrate their knowledge and skills as a field coach. Without respect, the possibilities for positive growth and evolution within the top leagues and clubs are severely hamstrung.
- The director of coaching is often uniquely placed to vertically integrate the technical, tactical, physical and psychological insights gleaned from the regional and national teams programs. Often, these messages can only be delivered through contact with players; this is particularly the case at the area and state Olympic Development Program levels.
- One of the most important messages in the coaching education process is that coaching skills evolve with use and erode through inactivity. This message is true of both experts and beginners. Coaching directors must be seen to practice what they preach.
- The motivation for coaches to administrate can be found in the rewards of the field.
- The vast majority of soccer coaches within the United States are parents with no formal background in the sport. The coaching director must serve as a role model and inspiration for this population by conducting clinics and workshops and by learning to appreciate and focus the unique challenge of the parent/coach experience. This process is practical, ongoing and very demanding.
- The director of coaching must remain connected and sensitive to the balance of competitive pressures that influence those players striving to reach the top level and those coaches making a living from the game. Competition is a necessary and important element in sport and society. Without periodic re-exposure to the stresses of intense competition, coaches in leadership positions can easily lose touch with the balance between the theoretical and the practical: X's and O's must always be grounded in the reality of the playing level.
Playing Up No. 17
The majority of clubs, leagues and district, state or regional Olympic Development Programs in the United States allow talented, younger players to compete on teams with and against older players. This occurs as a natural part of the development process and is consistent throughout the world. Currently, however, there are isolated instances where the adult leadership has imposed rules or policies restricting the exceptional, young player from ""playing up."" These rules vary. Some absolutely will not allow it. Others establish team or age group quotas while the most lenient review the issue on a case-by-case basis. Associations that create rules restricting an individual player's option to play at the appropriate competitive level are in effect impeding that player's opportunity for growth. For development to occur, all players must be exposed to levels of competition commensurate with their skills and must be challenged constantly in training and matches in order to aspire to higher levels of play and maintain their interest in and passion for the game.
When it is appropriate for soccer development, the opportunity for the exceptional player to play with older players must be available. We believe that ""club passes"" should be adopted as an alternative to team rosters to allow for a more realistic and fluid movement of players between teams and levels of play. If there is a concern regarding the individual situation, the decision must be carefully evaluated by coaches and administrators familiar with the particular player. When faced with making the decision whether the player ought to play up, the adult leadership must be prepared with sound rationale to support their decision. Under no circumstances should coaches exploit or hold players back in the misplaced quest for team building and winning championships, nor should parents push their child in an attempt to accelerate to the top of the soccer pyramid. In addition, playing up under the appropriate circumstances should not preclude a player playing back in his or her own age group. When the situation dictates that it is in the best interests of the player to do so, it should not be interpreted as a demotion, but as an opportunity to gain or regain confidence.
Some rationale for the above includes:
- Pele played for Brazil in his first World Cup as a seventeen year old; Mia Hamm earned her first call to the U.S. Women's National Team when she was fifteen. Exceptionally talented young players playing with older players have been an integral part of the game since its inception. Certainly, a player that possesses soccer maturity beyond that of his or her peers should be encouraged to ""play up"" in order that his or her development as a player is stimulated.
- The playing environment must provide the right balance between challenge and success. The best players must have the opportunity to compete with and against players of similar abilities. Players with less ability must be allowed to compete at their own level in order to enjoy the game and to improve performance.
In conclusion the development of players and advancement of the overall quality in the United States is the responsibility of every youth coach, administrator and policymaker in this country. It is our obligation to provide an environment where every player is given the opportunity to improve and to gain the maximum enjoyment from their soccer experience and ultimately, what is best for the player.
Original document compiled by Dr. Tom Turner, Director of Coaching and Player Development for the Ohio Youth Soccer Association North.
Supplemental documentation compiled by Sam Snow, Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.