Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sam's Blog - Experience in Coaching - Nov. 6

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.

I shared this information with the National Youth License instructors a few days ago. As the article discusses issues in coaching I thought you would enjoy reading it. Regardless of the sport you coach this article provides good insights into the craft of coaching.

Article by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook at www.akcoach.com

Let's not be too quick to condemn the "bad" coaches. I'll bet the reason Coach Sar gives such good advice is he's paid his dues and learned over time to be the coach he is today. A saying I like: "If you're the same man at 50 as you were at 20 then you've wasted 30 years".

I believe head coaches (for any level team) go through an evolutionary philosophical process if they continue to work with kids. You learn all kinds of lessons and make many important observations along the way. If you accept the fact that most coaches change with time, it gives you a different perspective when you see them behave in certain ways. When you see a coach do something that seems reprehensible, there is a temptation to assign a label, such as "he's a hothead" or "he's way too competitive to be coaching that age group", and overlook the good work that has been done.

Now, such labels may be fitting, but it is important to realize the labels only fit for a given point in time. As an administrator, or a parent whose child may play for such a coach, it may be unfair to write him off, especially if he (or she) is young. People will change as they learn. The same is true of coaches. Give them a chance to grow. Sometimes coaching peers, parents and administrators come down much too harshly when a new coach strays from path of popular acceptability. In most cases, coaches have little or no training in their new role. A little advice from the right folks may be all they need, rather than an avalanche of criticism.

So, when you meet a coach or see him perform in a game or practice for the first time, you can gauge where he's at in his philosophical evolution. There is a progressive path from the neophyte coach (like some young player's ordinary dad or mom) to a coaching ideal like John Wooden. Obviously, most people won't coach long enough or be dedicated enough to go the whole distance, but it is a path that should be followed as best and as far as you can while you coach.

The first thing most brand new coaches want is validation that they CAN coach. They get that feedback from their W/L%, and somewhat from parents and peers. That's why new coaches are into the trick Ds and are hollering at their ten year olds. This is especially true if the coach used to be a good player. They will assume they can coach because they were successful in the past. They will assume they know more than their peers. And, because former players are inherently competitive, they will be highly motivated to prove their assumptions are true. If they are unable to achieve the validation they usually quit.

The next phase, for the survivors, is education. They realize they could do better. They go to camps, buy tapes, read books and websites. They listen keenly to other coaches hoping to absorb their experience as quickly as possible. This is an exciting phase as they gain more coaching tools. The point is, with more tools, they can make their teams better and win more games. It’s an extension of the validation process. Winning is extremely important because it proves the coach is qualified.

Some people, again they are usually former star players, come into coaching convinced they do not need to learn anything. The know-it-alls won't educate. They'll coach as long as they win. As soon as they don't get the validation (like they have a weak team one year), they quit. They'll blame the kids for lack of desire, ability or whatever else applies.

What's next? Explanation. Coaches start speaking out as an authority, praising those who coach like them and criticizing those who do not. In this phase, they can see what's wrong with everything. As a spectator, when they watch other teams play, they like to point out what the players need to work on, what the coach should be doing, things like that. If there are other spectators who nod and confirm their observations, it bolsters the coach's own opinion that he is an expert.

With time, coaches move into the edification phase. This is a big improvement over the explanation phase because now their purpose is to simply help people rather than feed personal pride. Coaches in this realm are as happy to help a kid from a different school as they are to help a kid from their own program. They become open with other coaches in sharing ideas and knowledge rather than keeping all they have to offer close to the vest to maintain a competitive edge. Instead of pointing out what others are doing wrong, they encourage others for what they are doing right.

Realization of their true mission as a coach, that's the next phase. Something happens for the better and the coach realizes what happens on the court changes a player off the court. The coach starts emphasizing character traits as well as skills, rethinks playing time, and develops the bottom of the bench. The coach sees his/her team as a waypoint for journeying players rather than a one time seasonal event.

Remember that coaches are very competitive people. Winning is still important, but now it is done through developing people instead of players; teaching fundamental skills, not trick plays; motivating through discipline, not emotional speeches. Developing people means training and conditioning the mind as well as the body, and considering both the spiritual and physical aspects of the person. Once a coach realizes and accepts this mission, coaching becomes much more than a job, much more than a won/loss record.

Given the opportunity, the next phase is implementation. This is the chance to build your own program, doing it the right way, building not just a team but a system where proper fundamentals and discipline can be taught at the outset. At first you may think that it is unfortunate that there are so few opportunities to run your own program given the limited number of schools and similar organizations that promote team sports. I have seen, though, many people who have built their own systems, starting with one team, then adding more, and gaining momentum as others join in the cause to help their kids play better basketball. These grass roots basketball communities are out there and they have high-quality, motivated people.

Last phase I can think of is compensation. Not the money (ha ha!) but the chance to see players who have been in your care and are now grown with kids of their own - maybe even coaching their own teams. That's when you have the satisfaction of knowing you played a part in the bigger picture. As parents and coaches, they will be passing on what they learned from you.

There are probably more phases, I don't know. Ask me in a few more years. Where do you rank in the coaches evolutionary ladder?


Anonymous said...

This posting really hit home for me. Because to many times I see some coaches never "evolve" past the first phase. It is all about Wins and Loses, and that season.

This is especially true in the Rec leagues, where you have parents who know nothing about soccer or former players that think that 6 year olds should be able to follow a tactical plan for the game. These "coaches" will sacrifice long term development of a player for short term gains like a win that weekend.

I hope that more coaches would be able to see the bigger picture.

Coach Balcarcel said...

I think this is great way for coaches to keep moving toward a goal. I have been coaching for about 10 years and I think I am on still very much at the EDUCATION
stage and hope to soon move on to Authoritive once i gain a little more knowledge.Great Post