Monday, February 19, 2007

Sam's Blog - Playing Experience to Coach - Feb. 19

Sam’s Blog will be a weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Director of Coaching Education for US Youth Soccer.

Some folks feel that the most effective coaches are those who have played the game. The logic is that the coach without that experience will lack the ‘feel’ for the game or not fully understand the situations the players experience on the pitch during a match. Read this excerpt of a message from a volunteer coach with a US Youth Soccer club.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. I found the information you sent very useful and it addresses much of what I struggle with as a coach. Not a day goes by that I am not attempting to expand my knowledge, whether it is reading a book, watching a video or being on the pitch. My Achilles heel as a coach has been that I wasn’t even exposed to the game until the early 1990’s so I have had to do a lot of catching up to be (what I feel) is a credible coach. With my only field experience being adult league play, it causes much anxiety. I hear that nothing teaches the game like the game itself and I worry that since I haven’t played as a youth, how can I hope to teach my kids to “read” the game when I never did so? How can you teach someone to fly if you have never had someone to instruct you in being aloft? Subsequently, I immerse myself in instructional material knowing that it does not replicate the first-hand knowledge I wished I had been able to attain.

I appreciate all you do to help coaches such as myself who want to increase the skills and development of the kids while still keeping the game enjoyable so that a life-long love of soccer can be fostered. I do not think there is any coach who would be disappointed with such a legacy.

The fact is that as a nation we have risen as a soccer power with the majority of our coaches never having played the sport. Without volunteer moms and dads across America coaching kids’ teams soccer would still be a minor sport confined to ethnic enclaves. Soccer owes a great deal to coaches who had no prior soccer playing experience and in many cases no coaching experience. Nevertheless their kids wanted to play the game and they took on the challenge. Now we are beginning to have Americans who have played the game all of their lives become coaches. Slowly more and more of our coaches, paid and volunteer, will have played the game, but that is still one or two generations away. So if you have not played soccer before don’t let that stop you from becoming a coach. You do have something to offer!

What do you think?


Zac Crawford said...

Socrates, in defense at his trial in Athens, once said, "what I don't know, I don't think I know."

What Socrates meant was that the more you learn, the more you should find out that there is a plethora of information that you do not know. In other words, as one's circle of knowledge expands, the periphery around the cirlce (which contains everything one does NOT know) also expands. Recognizing this is where wisdom comes from.

As a former college player, I thought I knew the game well enough to become a good coach, but boy was I wrong! The education courses and clinics have taught me many new ideas, confirmed some things that I was already using, and tightened up a few other areas that needed it. Also, I have met other coaches with which I have been able to share ideas and exchange philosophies.

I applaud people that get into coaching without having previously played the beautiful game. I cannot begin to tell you the respect that I have for someone like the volunteer coach you mentioned in your blog.

The social structure of soccer is one that can be very difficult to integrate. But, through taking courses, attending clinics, and/or going to conventions one can improve one's knowledge not only through the materials and classes, but also (and sometimes more importantly) through personal relationships with peers. It should also be noted that simply watching or talking soccer, or even playing a video game can also help improves one's knowledge and understanding.

The soccer community can only get better by accepting new members with open arms, applauding them, and encouraging them to continue to make an impact at their community/experience/skill level. The slanty line concept also applies to coaches. It is important to have this happening not only at high level clubs, but also at the grassroot and inner city levels to continue to turn people on to soccer. Essentially, what we are discussing is fostering and expanding a love for the beautiful game.

This is why soccer should always be FUN for the children.

Steve Ole Olson said...

Well stated Zac. I also came to the game late, as a college student, and discovered coaching clinics as the best way for me to "catch up" as a player, coach and manager (I'm an inveterate organizer). So I shared the Youth Coaches same concerns.

I think he has achieved what I found to be realistic. That is his experience as an adult player and a coaching 'sponge' will lead to improvements in the game for his youth. If he were to try and coach a select boys team or higher, he might face issues of credibility but that's not the case here. He offers a lot to these kids because of his desire to learn, to teach and most importantly, for the obvious enthusiasm he brings to the game.


John Gillis said...

I am also a dad coach who has never played. My opinion is the dad coach is crucial to the future of American soccer.

I agree with Zac and Socrates. As I progress my way through the coaching education I become more aware of the vast complexity of the beautiful game, and how little of it I truly understand.

The youth license I am currently taking has opened my eyes to the challenge of teaching soccer, while making the players fall in love with the game.

If we as a community hold to the approach to make people fall in love with the game dads and players alike, we have forever made better our community.I do not believe we can do this without the dad coach.

kahealani said...

I agree with the experience. As a player I could not respect a coach that had no "playing" experience. I cant learn how to play from a "textbook"!

Richard said...

Having coached kids who have parents that have never played the game, I have been impressed with the knowledge and understanding of soccer that some have developed. I know a few dads who have credited their child's participation with turning them into "soccer junkies". You would be surprised after a conversation with a few of them on the finner points of soccer to be told , "They have never played before." It is never too late to learn the game, and if a manager like Jose Mourinho can inspire and motivate world class players to achieve great things, having never played at such levels himself, it proves this point; knowledge and application in soccer are not limited to those who played the game. Be a student of the game, seek knowledge and learn from those around you who have played. The best players do not often become the best teachers of the game.