We developed the CoachingSphere as a framework to help you visualize your role as coach and to cultivate the best development of players and teams. The five areas are: team management, player psychology, technical skills & drills, soccer tactics and fitness & nutrition. Utilizing this framework enables us to easily break down each of the five building block components and examine them individually and in context for the team and the player for maximum player development.
Before you even meet your players or step onto the field, you are managing the team. This area encompasses all aspects of the game because you are the director. Not only does this include the four on-field aspects of the game, but also all the things that need to happen off the field: coaching philosophy, team meetings, paperwork, interfacing with parents, quickly disseminating information, injuries, tryouts, etc. We will explore in depth the ways in which you can efficiently become the CEO of your team to ensure everyone’s success. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that everyone has more fun on the field and develops – including you as the coach!
We debated a long time on making this the base level (as opposed to technical skills), but had a moment of enlightenment and feel strongly this is the basic tenet of the game. Ultimately, this came down to the basic business principle of “knowing your customer.”
If we strive to understand our players and their capabilities, we are fundamentally in a better position to meet their needs and connect with them as people, so we can motivate and inspire them. One of the biggest mistakes that we make is that we approach the game through our eyes – not our players’ eyes. As a result, we treat kids as “little” adults instead of, well, kids.
Learning about the capabilities of individual age group development helps us. For instance, isn’t it important to know that until age 10 players are not spatially aware? Why? Well, when they dribble the wrong way and score a goal in your net instead of the opponent’s net, you’ll jump up and down and cheer for them (Hey, they scored a goal!). You’ll then turn them around, point to the other end of the field and tell them to put the ball in that net next time. With this information in hand, we won’t get mad at this player for “poor” performance, but rather we will understand that they are not yet capable of always going in the “right” direction. Got it? Good.
Technical Skills & Drills
This is really the core of our work as youth coaches. How do we help develop the necessary technical skills within our players? What are the best drills and where should we start? Dribbling, trapping, heading…it’s all so overwhelming.
At younger ages, soccer is mostly an individual sport. Yep, read that again. Think about your son or daughter at age five, six or seven. Do they naturally share? And why don’t they? They’re naturally selfish and because they don’t get the play toy back. And, so, armed with this information, it is foolish to emphasize passing.
By first understanding the capabilities of our players, we can form “age appropriate” practices where players can succeed. We explore hundreds of drills within this context of core development and provide tips and tricks for inexperienced coaches to make drills “work” – because sometimes even the best, tried and true drills don’t work some days. To me, this is really the fun part of soccer – teaching the magic of touch!
This area encompasses the all the strategies behind playing: formations, set plays and restarts, positions and spacing. Many times, coaches spend far too much time on this area – at the youth level – instead of the more fundamental technical skills. It is curious and looking inside our sports culture provides some insight.
If you compare soccer to baseball, football or basketball, the natural stoppages of the match place the coach in a central position to interject and direct on an almost constant basis. The coach is almost a participant in those games. And, so it is only natural for coaches to try to impact the game through constant direction – it’s what we’ve seen and learned.
This opportunity for coaches to intercede and “call the right play to win the game” is not possible in soccer. The game never stops. Nonetheless, that inherent “Coach Centered” mentality pervades our coaching ranks in soccer and causes coaches to try and focus on the areas where they can make an impact and “help the team.” This occurs at the detriment of focusing on the technical skills that will help the players truly succeed on the pitch.
Your time to direct comes during practice. During games, it is time for the players to perform. Hopefully, you’ve met the challenge as a coach to inspire creatively thinking soccer players. Since the game is fluid, each player has to be their own “coach” on the field moving from situation to situation.
From a building perspective, if you don’t understand your player’s capabilities and your players haven’t developed the ball control skills, it would certainly be futile to try and explain formations and lineups to them. This would be like asking a child to write in cursive without first teaching the letters of the alphabet. First things, first.
Fitness & Nutrition
Fitness and nutrition becomes the top of the pyramid where performance can be impacted by training and is only appropriate at older ages where mastery of ball and tactics, as well as a developed body make sense. While we can all eat healthier and become fitter as adults, it’s important and fundamental to understand that fitness – as a concept – isn’t age appropriate until you reach eleven.
For instance, if you’re coaching U6 players, fitness isn’t really appropriate. These players have one speed: all out. They might as well have batteries inside them. With no understanding of pace, there is no fitness. Furthermore, their bodies simply aren’t ready to handle fitness. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t coaching topics you should be aware of at U6 with regard to fitness. But, as opposed to sharing it with the players, it is something that you must be aware of and manage for the team.