We caught up with Patrick McCrory, the US Youth Soccer Boys Recreation Coach of the Year, to discuss his soccer philosophy and coaching strategies. McCrory, who coaches in Vilona, Ark., stresses focusing on every player’s development as opposed to the star players and early bloomers. McCrory also talks about how he keeps soccer fun for his players and how an involved and excited player will more easily develop.
How did you initially get involved in coaching soccer?
It was four and half or five years ago. We started getting involved with coaching my son’s team.
Do you have a specific coaching philosophy?
I make sure everybody plays, because you are in the best interest of all the children and not focused so much on the outcome of the match that you are pushing kids to the bench and only putting kids in the strongest position to get you the most goals. Rather you want to make sure all of the kids are developing no matter if they are strong now or they might be a late bloomer. They have to experience a variety of skills and all the positions. They have to become players and not just focus on the early developing athletes that are the stars of the show. You have to teach all of your players and not just focus on how I am going to reach the outcome that the parents want. That way they can feel good when they leave because the kids won the game, even if they didn’t develop as a player they got the win. You have to train your parents and get them on your side. You have to do what is in the best interest of all of the children so they can all learn the game and develop as players. You have to make it a positive experience, and create a place where they can come and have fun and not make mistakes. You don’t want them to think if they make a mistake they won’t play, but rather if they make a mistake to learn from it and grow as a player. Something with youth sports on the rec level they can develop all the things in their body whether it is agility or balance. You should create an environment that is fun without too much pressure where they can really develop at their pace. Some develop faster than others. Some take time, use repetition and have patience. That is the most important thing, patience.
How do you keep it fun for the kids?
I try to be prepared and have a plan. You can’t just stick to something that doesn’t work. You can’t try to make them do it if they aren’t enjoying it. You have to find something where they can work on their skills and still make it fun. We try to do things to build retention. We have drills where they can succeed in, and if they do well we let them pick the music for the next practice. We try to create a fun environment. They are recreational players. They aren’t on the national team. So we have fun and play loose where they are excited to be there and see their friends, but also build focus and work on their skills
Do you have a favorite practice activity that your team really likes?
One of my favorite practice activity is a figure eight shooting drill. I like it because it works a lot of different aspects. They have to use their brain and think, they have to stay focused and play at full speed and make extra practice. Returning players know it, but we don’t do it every week. We do it once or twice a month depending on the skills we are working on. I like anything they can win at. It is not necessarily like a score, if they can do it and succeed at it and grow as a player while they are doing it, then I really like it. Whether it is 2v2, 2v1 or 3v2, a lot of coaches like drills where they have a lot of space and can play on the ball. We usually start every other practice as a warm up with a slalom dribble that creates a lot of touches and gets everyone involved early. You try and have goals so they know what they are working. You put your favorite stuff that they are comfortable doing. If they know the activity and know they can do it, but if you sprinkle too much into it they might feel they aren’t succeeding because they haven’t done it before. You always want to put a couple of old drills so they have something they can fall back on, and they know they can do it.
Do you have a favorite moment as a coach?
I have been coaching a lot of the same kids, but you get a couple of new kids each year, and I like to see them excited to come and have a place where they can get away from whatever is in their lives, whether it is school or family. They can be around their peer group and have fun. I like to see the development of players. We get kids who have never played coming in at U-10 or U-11, and I like watching them develop and become more confident. They develop athleticism and confidence, and use it in other places in life. I really love to see their development. I enjoy seeing them getting better and the joy they get when they figure it out. I also like seeing them get more confident and find things they are excited about, and they can’t wait for soccer to start. That means you are doing something right. If they aren’t having fun, then the development isn’t going to be there, because they aren’t enjoying it. If they really want to be there, maybe not even consciously know they want to get better, but it is easier for them to improve when they are excited and focused. If they are tired and don’t want to be there and dreading the work, they aren’t going to focus and develop.
When I first started playing it was win-win-win and play only the best players and only focus on coaching them. I’ll get to you when I have time. We want everyone to develop because we don’t want late bloomers to get pushed out. My coaching philosophy is to make sure they are having fun so they come back and you have years instead of months to help develop the players. Not all of them are going to play high school or college, but soccer is something they can do recreationally in an adult league with their friends. It is something they can do for the rest of their life and improve on the functionalities of their body. Soccer can teach that.
Is there anything you do that is a little unconventional or unique?
I root on the other team as much as I root on my own. That’s pretty unique. Some of the coaches are really competitive, and I try to cheer on the other team. We make sure all the players thank the ref after the game. I’m not a big talker on game days on the sideline like a lot of coaches. They are trying to direct during the game, and I like to watch and see what we need to work on in the next practice.
Anything else you want to say or winning Coach of the Year?
It was a surprise. It was a big honor. I think it is one of those things that is a lot of hard work, and a lot of parents don’t see a lot of the work that is behind the scenes. If you are doing it right, you aren’t just showing up five minutes before practice. You are planning days or weeks before. You are reading, and it is a lot of hard work, and you wonder if the parents are behind you and getting what you are trying to do. This kind of shows the support we are getting for not just my parents, but the club overall is buying into what we are trying to do. It was nice to see the support and know you are on the right path and doing the right thing. You are doing it for the kids, and the convention was amazing. I learned a lot from there. Now I have to find a way to pay for it every year. It was wonderful. Looking at the schedule I didn’t know how I was going to do everything I wanted to do. There was so much to learn, and I didn’t have time to do it all. It has been a great experience, and it really gives you confidence and reinvigorates you to keep doing what you are doing and work even harder. It is a grind being a youth coach, and it isn’t just two seasons. I think about soccer all day, and it is always on my mind. This whole experience has been really refreshing and reinvigorating and reawakens you to everything you are doing is for a good cause. When you are getting warn down I can think back to that.