Have you ever told someone you would meet them at a certain location at a certain time and you’re waiting, and waiting and eventually you call them asking where they are at? In the end it turns out you were both on time and at the location you had previously talked about meeting, but there so happens to be two different places with the same name in your town. It happens all the time. This misnomer occurred because of a breakdown in communication which could have easily been prevented had they discussed the specific location (“the one on Main Street”).
I’ve always said the key to an excellent working relationship is good communication. This is also true in the game of soccer. There are several different aspects of communication and I’ve set to focus on the three in which I feel are most important: getting to know your players, complementing and creating a positive atmosphere, and communicating on the pitch.
Get to know your players. As a coach, you are not only the teacher of the game but you are also a teacher of life. You are a mentor in these kid’s lives. It is important to get to know each and every player because they are all unique. You have no idea what’s going on outside of soccer and in the homes /schools of these kids. There might be something going on outside that could be affecting the way they are playing. You need to be able to have the trust of your players. Take a look at the article written by Robert Rowan “The Magic of Barcelona Soccer Unveiled.” After reading it, you will notice the emphasis Barcelona’s youth program puts on developing their players as human beings – and not just footballers. And this is coming from the youth development program of the European Champions of the world!
As mentioned before, every kid is unique and comes from a different background. Coming to practice might be an opportunity to get away from what’s going on in their household. If you can talk with your players and get them to realize that you do care about what’s going on in their lives, you might be able to get them to open up about something they otherwise would have no one to talk to about. Within your practice sessions, engage in conversation and ask how their day at school went? Find out about other sports or other extracurricular activities they might be involved in. By doing so, you gain their trust. Who knows what information they want to share with you?
The power of a complement. Famous author Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” When you compliment someone not only do they feel good but there is also a greater chance they make the action reputable. Within a practice session, recognize a player if he does something that you taught him. Even stop the session and point it out: “Did you see that pass you made? Remember when we worked on that last week?” Positive comments within the run of play are also beneficial, and contagious. “Good shot, great pass, awesome tackle,” are all good examples. Your players will follow your actions and words. This can be both positive and negative depending on what message you as a coach are delivering. If you are giving positive complements to your players, your players in turn will start to give positive comments to each other on the field. You really want to create a positive atmosphere. By doing so you will drastically increases Simon Hartley’s three keys to enhanced team performance: focus, confidence, and motivation.
Word of Mouth. You need to market to your players the importance of communicating on the pitch. Unnecessary mistakes and errors will occur if communication breaks down. For example, two players judging a ball in the air go up for a header at the same time without saying “I got it” or “my ball” collide allowing the ball to go through (or even cause injury to one another). A center back (with complete view of the pitch) not letting his teammate know that his mark is behind him allowing him free on a through ball. Not communicating on a set play which could have led for an easy opportunity at goal. These are all common mistakes that could have been prevented with good communication. In your practices coaches should employ a standard set of vocabulary, so everyone is speaking the same language. Encourage the use of soccer terminology such as: let, hold, switch, square, MAN ON, drop through, step, and I got ball. Design drills around this terminology and get your players comfortable with using it. Practice your overlapping runs and force your players to say “hold” every time they get around. Within time, your players will get so used to using the terminology and it will become habit, reducing costly mistakes.
By using these three tools of: getting to know your players, using positive complements, and implementing soccer vocabulary within your training sessions, you will create that Positive Atmosphere necessary for good team chemistry and that feeling of family.
If your team is struggling to understand the importance of communication on the pitch check out my drill called “Awkward Silence.” It will help demonstrate to your players what happens when communication is lost.
How is your team doing with communication? Are you cultivating a positive atmosphere?