Monday, May 14, 2007

Sam's Blog - Too Much Talk is Dangerous - May 14

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.

In the January 2007 issue of Champions magazine, Sir Alex Ferguson states, “You see training sessions where the coach is talking all the time and the words get lost in the wind. I remember when I was a player wanting to get on with it and the coach was rambling on.”

Hundreds of thousands of youth soccer coaches across America do the same thing at the matches as well as the training sessions. When the coach takes center stage in this way it takes the game away from the players. Yet the game is all about the players and the players are the game.

In the National Coaching Schools it is taught to interrupt the training session infrequently. Make a coaching point or ask a guided question at natural stoppages. Rarely “freeze” the activity to interject as the coach. This style of coaching gives a better rhythm to training. If the challenges and rhythm are right then the players get into a flow of play. That flow is a powerful learning environment. Indeed if the coach is constantly interrupting the players’ flow then when do they touch the ball?

These points are not meant to convey that the coach should be silent at a training session. Well-timed questions and comments to the players are crucial for the kids to learn. But they also need a chance to talk among themselves to sort out the challenges of the game. Whether you call it football or soccer and whether you are male or female you certainly are more effective when you put your mind into the game as well as your legs. The skillful and soccer savvy player is the one coaches should strive to develop. Coach this means you are now the guide on the side.

Coaches must be skilled in the art of “asking meaningful questions.” This will give players the opportunity to practice problem solving and will help them to become more capable of solving problems that arise in training sessions and matches.

Our goal is to develop more “soccer savvy” players who are more self-reliant during a match. Players consistently coached with this method will be more adaptable to the demands of the game. This coaching method is also likely to produce more creative players.

While the training session is the best time and place to interact with the players with critical thinking and guided discovery, during matches may be a time to further the coach’s efforts to get the players to “sort it out” for themselves. Questions could be posed to the players on the bench and thus better prepare them mentally/tactically for when they enter the match. Appropriate questions to the team during half-time can get them all on the same page for the second half. Furthermore, if the players are sorting it out among themselves at half-time then the odds of them actually executing the second half game plan improves.

Soccer is easy to teach to children because many of them already know a good deal about it and many are so keen on it. Simple principles, professional organization, appropriate incentives and unlimited encouragement – any coach worth the name can hardly fail. Even more important, he or she will gain enormous gratification from the pleasure and satisfaction gained by the children.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in Latin American, were I played "street Soccer" everyday. Indeed if we see a lot of informal games with the youngters then they will develop instincs. The problem in USA is that after the Saturday game, kids do not play soccer during the week. Soccer fields are rather empty after league games

I am an advocate of freezing the practice to teach specific game situations, this somehow shortens the learning curve that otherwise they would have gotten with more "street" games.

I coach a U7 team currently and this method has give us great results.

Anonymous said...

I think the key to Sam's message was "rarely freeze". He isn't saying don't freeze the practice, but to use this coaching technique somewhat sparingly. At any moment in a youth scrimmage in practice there is something that can be corrected, but it might be minor and may not be what you are focusing on for that practice. I have seen coaches that yell "freeze" a lot. The kids never get playing because they are only being coached. Use of freezing the practice to demonstrate a major point that all of the kids need to see is one thing. Freezing the practice to help one kid be in a better position is another. The later can be coached over the game, or allow the kid to fail and then one on one ask what would have worked better.

I think some kids play more during the week than we realize. I know that the kids that I work with play during recess at school. It is more limited than kids gathering after school and just playing, but at least there is time being spent experimenting with the game. Others that I work with take a ball with them wherever they go. On a walk with a parent, on vacation, camping, to a sibling's soccer game and they spend time just dribbling around, juggling, or find another kid there to play with. It happens today, just in more subtle ways. It would be great if it happened even more.

Freezing the game can be effective in getting results. Constant "coaching" or directing through the entire game can also be effective at the younger ages to get a result, but we have to remember it isn't the result that counts, but the learning of the child. The question becomes what is going to make them a better soccer player, not what will win Saturday's game.

Anonymous said...

In our league they won't let you practice or have informal games on the fields other than official league games.