Evaluating and Selecting Youth Soccer Coaches


Having fun at Soccer? (PopofAtticus)

In youth sports, when we think of talent and performance evaluation, we think of the coach’s or trainer’s evaluation of a player.   The youth soccer coach is a person who can have a great deal of impact on a young soccer player, either positive or negative, often making important decisions such as how much playing time a child will get, what position they will play, whether or not they will make a team and most importantly, the manner in which the game is taught.   The behavior of a coach towards a child can significantly influence that child’s self-esteem; whether that influence is for the positive or negative is going to depend largely on the coach.

As parents, we decide what teams our children will try out for.  Soccer clubs ultimately select the coaches for their teams.   So in combination, it is the parents and soccer clubs who have the input into who will be coaching the kids.  With so much influence placed in the hands of one person, the coach, it would make good sense that parents and clubs put some careful consideration into who these coaches are and the training, messages and philosophy that we are allowing them to expose our children to.

Consider that when we sign our children up for singing, dancing, music, ballet, art or any other type of extra-curricular activity, we put a good deal of thought into who will be teaching them, what their credentials are and whether the instructor appears to be a good fit for our children.  With significant time, and sometimes money, being invested in youth soccer, shouldn’t the same scrutiny be afforded to trying to ensure that the soccer experience will be a good one for our kids?

I think it’s high time that the tables are turned. Soccer clubs and parents interested in providing a quality soccer experience to youth players should wisely invest some time and effort in qualifying and evaluating their prospective or current coaches.  If a parent or club finds that the quality of a coach does not measure up, then go out and find a replacement coach who can do better.  Another option is to educate current, willing coaches so that they are able to provide the same quality.    Fully recognized is the fact that the vast majority of our youth soccer coaches are volunteers, and most of them are parents of one of the children on the team.    However, just because the coach is a volunteer does not grant license to dole out lousy coaching that will have the net effect of turning kids off soccer, stagnating and sabotaging the development of our kids.  On the flip side, just because a soccer coach or trainer is licensed and/or paid for their efforts should not lead to concluding that the coach is able to provide quality.

U.S. Soccer has published their guidelines for coaching youth soccer (free resource):

Best Practices

Soccer Curriculum

U.S. Soccer makes some very good suggestions in these documents.  But the key points are hidden is the details.  The message is there, but the problem is where the rubber meets the road; when you walk the fields and go from practice to practice and game to game, it is apparent that the message is not being effectively delivered to the coaches and trainers.    From my point of view, this is not based on a lack of communication by clubs to their coaches, but instead by the coaches’ unwillingness to hear and adopt unfamiliar concepts and their stubborn insistence to hold on to traditional coaching methods that may work well with other American sports, but have no place in the world of soccer.

There is one more thing to note here.  Some clubs require either state certification or licensing of their coaches.   Make no mistake about this:  While coaching licensing and furthering education should be pursued, it does not, in and of itself, produce quality coaches – there are many lower level licensed coaches today who have no business (beneficial to anyone but themselves) “coaching” soccer.

What should parents and soccer clubs look for, and even demand, in youth soccer coaches?   As you read on, you’ll find common traits, acceptable behavior, philosophy and coaching approach that should be common to all soccer coaches.  If you encounter a coach that does not exhibit these qualities, the suggestion here is to either find another team for the child that has a better coach, find a different coach for the current team or hope for club intervention so that the coach becomes willing and able to evolve to the point of becoming a better coach.

Establishing Guidelines for a Youth Soccer Coach

Below are suggested guidelines to be used by soccer clubs and soccer parents for selecting and evaluating youth soccer coaches.  Specifically, we will look at the mindset, demeanor and philosophy of a coach.

Purposefully omitted here are specifics of effective training sessions, such as working on ball skills, dribbling, passing, shooting and even tactics.   It is believed that within the framework of these suggested guidelines, each coach has a great deal of latitude and creativity as to what comprises their training sessions, what tactics and formations they employ and what approach they take in communicating with their players.  There is an abundance of resources that a coach can find in bookstores, on the web and at www.ussoccer.com that will help in the formulation of training plans.  The training exercises that one good coach uses are not necessarily the same as what another successful good coach would select.

Basic Goals of a Good Soccer Coach:

  • Teach the Game:  A good soccer coach shall be able to impart knowledge of the game to players or all ages.  This coach shall also be able to teach skills and facilitate the player’s acquisition of skills.  The good soccer coach will also help develop the player’s decision making, introducing the right concepts and tactics at age appropriate levels.
  • Build Esteem: Confidence and esteem go a very long way in the development of a successful soccer player.   It is confidence that will enable a child to be successful both on and off the field today and in their future.  A good soccer coach will always have this in mind when interacting with players and making decisions regarding players.  There is no place for a coach contributing to the diminishment of self-worth of a any age child by giving them significantly less playing time than other players.  Likewise, ridicule, berating and other punitive actions should be left out of the coaches “playbook”.
  • Keep them wanting more:  One measure of a good youth soccer coach is one who can find many of his or her former players still playing and enjoying the game, at all levels of play, years after the coach’s last session with that player.  The good coach wants the young player to look forward to practice as the best part of the day.  This good coach instills a love and interest for the game that inspires the player to seek more soccer play outside of practice, and to seek more play in the years to come.  In the world of youth sports coaching, one of the biggest problems – and this goes across all sports – is the child with talent and potential who stops playing the sport because “it’s not fun (anymore)”.   Good coaches must consider themselves ambassadors of the game – pied-pipers of soccer – because they understand that it is the love for the game, and the fun of playing it, that keeps players wanting more, and this is instrumental in player development.  To those discipline minded coaches … FUN is not a 4 letter words.  FUN does not mean lack of order, focus or effort.  FUN as defined here is the full immersing into the game and the experience of joy through this active engagement.  The best learning in soccer will take place when the child is having fun.

Ajax Football Club’s world famous youth academy (aka De Toekomst — The Future) has produced some of the most talented soccer players ever such as Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Dennis Bergkamp.  The academy continues to be among the most prolific in developing top notch talent who become starters on some of the best teams in the best European leagues.  According to Jan Olde Riekerink, Ajax’s Head of Youth Development “ … enjoyment must come first. That’s the basis for all our coaching: if they don’t have fun, we don’t do it. We don’t make them run in mud just because it’ll make them stronger.”

PCA (Positive Coaching Alliance), whose mission is to transform the culture of youth sports to give all young athletes opportunity for a positive, character-building experience, has authored a coaching job description, which defines the expectations and traits for coaches that sign up for the program.

How many times have we heard something like this:

My high school coach was such a mean SOB.  He was so tough on us with all the yelling and running.  We all hated him.  He didn’ t put up with any crap or excuses.  But you know what, he was a great coach.  He really taught us how to be tough and play to win.  

 Here we have a self-perpetuating model where the kids who become coaches when they grow up act in the only way they have been taught.  They adopt qualities of the hard-boiled high-school coach that has been put on a pedestal.   So what do we do with these coaches when we have seen countless studies claim and substantiate that children learn more effectively in a positive environment, and that would be one which is free of fear of the yelling, abusive, overly-dominating and intimidating coach ?

I’ll close this topic with an anecdote from a few years ago.  I was searching for a professional trainer for a team of 8 year old girls I was coaching, and I was interviewing a highly respected trainer for the spot.    When I asked him to walk me through some of the drills he would conduct if he were given the job, I was corrected by the trainer for using the word drills.  He thought this was a far too military and strict connotation to associate with soccer training for young girls, and gave me the impression that he really cared about making sure his students had fun while training.   I actually didn’t think that one word could really adversely impact 8 year old girls. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the gentleman’s commitment to making soccer fun.    He got the job for the fall season.

As it turns out, this guy was a bit of a disciplinarian. There were mixed reviews from the parents.  Some thought that the discipline was just what some of the girls needed.  After all, they were 8 year olds who, for 10 straight weeks, were going to war for an hour on Sundays.    Mostly the feedback we got was that the girls hated the trainer and they were not having fun.    The trainer was not invited back for the spring season.

I can only hope that this trainer has softened his approach over the last few years.  As for me, I will continue to use the word “drills” (even if they are modified games) mostly because it just rolls of the tongue a little easier for me than exercises.

Qualities of a Good Soccer Coach

Referencing US Soccer’s Best Practices Document, you’ll find the following statements regarding the best qualities for a soccer coach specific to age:

Age 6 and under:

  • Patience
  • Good Humor
  • Willingness to see world through a child’s eyes

Ages 7-8:

  • Understand players’ capabilities and limitations
  • Ability to demonstrate (or use others to demonstrate)
  •  Appreciate the power of learning by watching

Ages 9-11:

  • Energetic
  • Stimulates Ideas
  • Plays while facilitating practice

Ages 12 – 14:

  • Sensitive teacher
  • Enthusiastic
  • Possess Soccer Awareness
  • Give Encouragement
  • Appreciation for Creativity and Independent Thinking

Ages 15 +:

  • Well informed
  • Experienced
  • Articulate
  • Disciplinarian

It can be inferred from US Soccer’s Best Practices that some of the attributes that are important at a younger age will also carry over to the older ages, at an equal or perhaps diminished level of importance, while others will no longer apply for coaching the older players.   The ability to demonstrate and stimulate ideas are qualities that would apply to all levels of coaching, something like seeing the world through a child’s eyes will not really benefit a coach of 16 year olds.

It is important to note that it is not until age 15 that we see mentioned of the word discipline.

Equally important to take note of is the absence of any reference to winning.  The good soccer coach will consider winning a by-product of successful coaching.  The good coach will recognize that in order to teach the game properly, he will be encouraging specific behavior from his players which may not result in wins in the immediate future.

A Love for the Ball

If we were to speak with any of the world’s greatest soccer players, current or past, they would tell you that they had an absolute love for having the ball at their feet.  This is a key element that you will find present in any successful soccer player, and they will spend hours of their time, away from any organized practice, just juggling, dribbling or kicking a ball against a wall.

US Soccer Federation advocates that in order for a child to become a skillful player, they should have 1 million soccer ball touches before they are 16.

We all realize that it is the very rare youth that will become the next Pele, Diego Maradona or Mia Hamm.  But if we put any credence into this concept of the more touches the better, then why do we have so many coaches yelling “boot it”, “send it” and “get  it out of there”?

Youth coaches should be allowing the player the freedom to discover the best thing to do with the ball with each touch.  Sometimes, that best thing may be a one-touch pass, but many times, the player should be allowed to dribble, to create or figure a way out of a tight spot, under pressure.

We want to develop players who want the ball, who embrace the ball when they get it, and to value their opportunities with it.

So we need coaches who recognize this and who do not yell pass, kick or shoot to the player with the ball, as if it is a hot potato, and the game demands you don’t get caught with the ball.

We want coaches who do encourage individuality at the right time, and do not yell or punish the player when they try something creative with the ball that does not work.

We want coaches who foster an environment where the player wants the ball and is eager to do something when he gets it.  Contrast this to a coach who instills anxiety in is players, who, in-turn, become less than eager to get the ball for fear that they might do something to make the coach angry.

Coach Guided vs. Coach Directed

Can you recall the images of Pat Reilly or Bobby Knight pacing the basketball court sidelines shouting impassioned instructions to their teams ?   Picture Vince Lombardi, with veins popping, yelling at his players while pounding the rolled up play book in his hands.  These are great examples of what a soccer coach should not be doing.

Let the Players Play the Game

Some of the most successful and influential professional soccer coaches of the modern era spend the majority of the time during a game sitting, observing and making either mental or written notes.  With the exception of an occasional reminder or word of encouragement to a player, these coaches do not instruct their players during the action of a game.   They realize the time to coach and instruct is during training sessions.

During games, a good coach will allow his players to play, free of constant instruction.  This coach will not tell a player what to do when they have the ball.  You will not hear shouts of “shoot”, “pass” or “kick it up field” from these coaches.  Instead, they let the player make their own decisions based on how they perceive the game situation.  This uninterrupted, undirected play is a critical element in teaching the youth player to think for themselves and learn from trial and error and from their own successes and failures.

You will find a good coach communicating with a player during games at the following times or circumstances:

  • Away from the ball, after a play, to correct or offer an alternative that might have worked better.  There is no time like when a play is fresh in a players mind to give constructive criticism.
  • Positioning:  A good coach may instruct a defender to move up the field to not give the opposition too much space or to link up with his teammates.  This is, of course done, away from the play and when the player does not have the ball.
  • Positive Reinforcement:  Delivering praise after a good play.
  • Encouragement (general or specific) and again, away from the play
  • At a substitution when some specific critique, advice or encouragement is warranted.

As some additional resources, Soccer America touches on this point about creating robots or creative players. And here is a video taking a more humorous look at coaching soccer. And for one more perspective on this topic, let’s read what Claudio Reyna, U.S. Soccer’s youth development director, has to say on letting the players play the game.

Making practices engaging and game-like

Most time spent in youth soccer training should be dedicated to games or game-like exercises.  While there certainly is room for skills training, once a player is shown the proper technique, they can work on these skills individually before or after practice, and be encouraged to incorporate them into the practices, scrimmages and games.

Coaches should develop session plans that revolve around small-sided games to goal, where the soccer principles of attacking and defending are prevalent in the same fluid and continuous manner that exist in a real game.   Long stretches of uninterrupted play are key.  Aside from water breaks, short “freezing” of play for coaching points are acceptable and advised.

Contrast this to the coach who creates drills with one or two lines, having the team queued up in these lines.  In a common two line drill, one player from each line passes the ball to the other as they run down the length of the field, where the activity ends in a shot on goal.  Not only is this an unrealistic scenario, as there is no opposition and no pressure, but if you do the math, you have 2 of 16 girls engaged in the exercise while 14 are standing around waiting for their turn.  Congratulations coach.  Your drill results in 12% productivity for your team; 88% of your team is doing nothing.

The funny thing is, this is probably the same coach who:

a)     Makes kids run laps after practice and games to improve their fitness, which they observe is lacking

b)    Complains to the parents about the attention span, behavior and focus of some of the players

The good coach realizes that his most effective use of the limited time he has with his team are game-like practices which keep each player engaged and moving.  The attention and fitness issues will typically take care of itself.

Coaches should look to avoid the 3 L’s of sports: lines, laps and lectures:

  • Lines:  As mentioned above, they are unrealistic, ineffective and unproductive.  They are to be avoided in practice and definitely in pre-game warm-ups, when the goal should be to get the players loose and comfortable with the ball, re-establishing their touch.   The last thing you want to see are players standing around waiting their turn before a game when this limited and valuable time can be more effectively spent passing and moving, playing keep-away or Rondo and performing a lot of the movements that will be demanded of the players during the course of the game itself.

This is not to say that there is no place for lines at all.  Some exercises do can only be done when moving players from station to station in sequence.  The important thing to understand is that when you do use them, keep the lines small and keep the time spent standing in line to a minimum.  Not only will you increase time on the ball and game-like situations, but you will also improve on fitness as a direct by-product of keeping the kids moving. At the same time, you’ll reduce the potential for boredom and distraction.

  • Laps:  Avoid this as punishment.  Advanced and older soccer players may want to use running as an effective training tool.  Let’s not give running a negative connotation in a child’s mind.  And let’s try to deliver fitness to the players as part of the practice, as the effective practice has lots and lots of running and movement that will build fitness.  The smart coach will conduct training that keeps players active, engaged, interested and running all in the context of soccer-specific drills and games.   And they will get more touches on the ball this way, whereas with running, there is none.  Running as part of practice:  let’s not turn our youngsters off to the joy of the game when there is an obvious and intelligent alternative.  At the older ages, as competition increases, running can be introduced, but should never take away from time with the ball and playing the game.
  • Lectures:  Know your audience.  A coach may have a lot to say, but the team, depending on their age, may not be capable at understanding it, especially after a long day at school.  The younger the players, the shorter and more to the point the message should be.

Another article from Mike Woitalla at Soccer America speaks about the effectiveness of long speeches with soccer players.

Recognize the Flow and Spontaneity of the Game

Unlike most other American sports, soccer is a game of fluid movement which develops based on the situation.  In baseball, a pitcher stands on the mound, a catcher behind the plate, an infielder in the infield and so forth.  In football, the center snaps the ball, to the quarterback.  The running back lines up behind the QB, the nose tackle directly across from the center.  In basketball, we expect the tallest player, usually the center to be the closest to the basket, both on offense and defense.  Contrast this to soccer, where it is not unusual to find a defender making a long penetrating offensive run, with the ball, or even a prospective run off the ball.  Similarly, a forward may find himself in a position to block a shot or intercept a penetrating pass.

A good coach recognizes this and allows all players to gain experience playing all positions, especially at the younger ages, knowing that this will create more well-rounded players.

A good coach does not instruct his defenders to not move beyond the midfield line.  Instead, he recognizes that the player should find the game and learn to develop instincts to move himself based on the position and movement of the ball and other players.

The good coach does not speak in absolutes but coaches based on situations.  Little Suzie, playing left midfield, would not be told that she should never set foot on the right side of the field.  Better advice would be that when her team is advancing the ball on the right side, her target as a left midfielder will be to move into space to the left of the center of the field where she can ask for a ball and be in a good position to attack, shoot or score.

You’ll not hear a good coach say “Never pass the ball to the middle on defense” or “Don’t make back-passes.  We are going the other way.”  In soccer at its highest levels, passing back to the keeper or to a central defender is a vital element of a team keeping possession, regularly used to relieve pressure on a player when other forward or lateral options are not present.  The young player should not be instructed not to pass back, but instead, encouraged to do so at the right time, so as not to lose possession of the ball.  Sure, the younger the players are, the more likely that the pass back is errant or the receiving player loses the ball, and this could result in giving up a goal.  But the player should be allowed opportunity to make those mistakes, and learn from them.  The passes over time will become more accurate, be hit with the right pace and be safely handled by the receiving player.  The good coach is not driven by a fear of losing games and fear of conceding goals.  This coach will teach the player the right time to make such a back pass, and when they make mistakes, which they will, use it as an opportunity to teach and help the player understand what they can do better the next time that the same or similar situation arises.

Here is an article that speaks to this same concept coaches who coach giving rigid, static orders, over-controlling and over-orchestrating players.

And for good measure, the following as taken from US Soccer Best Practices

…. the team of year olds who hold their positions and maintain a steady group of defenders who rarely, if ever, venture into the attack, looks like a well disciplined and well organized team.  However, U.S. Soccer does not recommend this as a proper approach to developing players at this age.  It does not develop good soccer players.  This approach hinders the player’s ability to experience and enjoy the natural spontaneity of the game.  It does not allow the players to have an equal opportunity to go and “find” the game based on what they see from the game, or to handle the ball and develop instincts for the game.   These are skills they will need at the older ages and that are often lacking in the older players.  This approach, while “successful” in the short term, fails the players in the long run because the environment does not allow the players to develop the tools they will need to be truly “competitive” i.e., prepared to deal with the game , at the older ages. 

Soccer is the Game

American soccer youth does not watch enough soccer, either by attending games or on TV.    We’ve heard countless stories of successful professional athletes who, as kids, had an idol in their sport that they looked up to, whose mannerisms and style of play they imitated and adopted.   Soccer coaches should consider encouragement of watching soccer as a tool in coaching.   A good coach will encourage a player to watch soccer at a high level, college or professional, and look for elements of the game that impress them, whether that is special dribbling skills, a fantastic shot or something more subtle like off-ball movement and first touches.  The professional game provides an abundance of ideas and examples for the developing soccer player, and encouraging these youths to gain an appreciation for the game can inspire their own creativity and elevate their own aspirations for the game.  The 13 year old girl who watches the US Women’s National Soccer team play and is in awe of how Carli Lloyd controlled a difficult pass and then within 2 steps, took a blistering shot, all while running at full speed may starting practicing this and eventually executing it on her own in competition.   Do not underestimate how often this does happen for those who do watch the game.  This is one of the most powerful and inspiring tools that can be used to aid in the development of youth soccer players.

Because soccer is the game, a good coach will:

  • Know, and be able to instruct, the proper basic techniques of the game, even if not able to demonstrate.
  • refrain from making references to other sports as examples of how things should work.  I recall a coach of a U9 girls soccer team instructing his girls in a shooting drill to look at the goal when striking the ball (no, not before shooting to pick out the spot to aim for, but actually to look at the net when striking the ball).  This may have worked well for him in hockey or basketball, sports with which this coach may have been more familiar.  But not soccer.
  • refrain from promoting off-season involvement in other sports to make them a better soccer player.

To be clear, this is not a statement to say that a child who plays soccer should not play any other sport.  On the contrary, if a child excels in and enjoys other sports, then they should not be denied the opportunity to play.  Let’s just not fool ourselves into thinking that spending time away from the soccer field on other sports is going to help a player’s soccer game.   Nothing will help teach soccer as well as the game of soccer itself.

Getting the Parents On Board

There is little worse than a parent criticizing the play of a child which the coach is advocating.  Or the parents applauding the 30 yard aimless kick of a 10 year old player on a team whose coach, during practice, instructs his players to dribble the ball and make an intelligent play when presented with space and time.

The coach should instruct parents that the only words the players should hear from them during the game are words of encouragement.  Even praise, at times, needs to be tempered, to try to avoid the situation above, where the less-than-soccer-savvy parent shouts words of praise and applauds, and gives positive reinforcement to behavior that in reality warrants a correction.

Guidelines and expected and acceptable behavior of parents should be established and communicated at the beginning of the season and reinforced throughout.

A Word on Winning

Once a quality coach has established his goals and priorities and communicated them to the team’s parents, the pressure to win should not be allowed to compromise the objective, which is player development.   Winning being the objective, unfortunately, is far too prevalent in this country.   We are a now society we (Americans), as the adage goes, do not like finishing 2nd.   Once winning becomes the focus, the result is a gravitation away from player development, and the future is sacrificed for the present.  This can be seen in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, in training, positioning decisions and game-day coaching.   So prevalent is the coach who preaches player development, but then makes decisions in practices and on game day that show how the need to win actually wins out over the goal of development.

Do not confuse the pressure to win, as discussed above, with the desire to win that all players should have when they compete.  A coach should challenge his players to fight hard to win every ball, to work hard on in training to improve their game, to be first to the ball and to try their best to win their battles and work individually and as part of a team to compete to the best of their ability and try to win each game they take part in.   Nurturing and developing this winning mindset is certainly something a coach should focus on.

But this is different than a coach who determines amount of playing time given to players, player positioning and in-game tactics all on maximizing his chances of winning.   In this approach, the coach will give some of his less impactful players significantly less playing time, or opt for long-ball (kick and run) style of play, instead of possession, because, for one reason or another, he feels the pressure and need to win.

More benefitting player development is the coach who is willing to sacrifice some short-term winning for the long term, bigger picture of developing the players they currently have over time, and not putting an over-reliance on the physicality, athleticism and intensity, the qualities that many “winning” pre-teen/teen players and teams currently exhibit.  But, this would be embracing a philosophy that says that results at the youth levels are not really all that important.   It takes a certain mindset and maturity for a coach to get to this point where he will provide equal opportunities to both the smaller, perhaps slower, but more skilled and intelligent player and the taller, stronger, faster player who is more likely to make an impact on the game today, due to his speed, strength and overall athleticism.

Touching on the point of accentuating the physical aspect of soccer ahead of the technical, here is a snippet from a recent Anson Dorrance interview in Soccer America:

SA: Why are the U.S. women’s and girls national teams no longer as dominant?

ANSON DORRANCE: We’re not as slick as we should be. We’re not as technical as we should be. We’ve relied on the classic American mentality and American athleticism because our genetic pool is so large, but we’re just not as polished and not sophisticated enough.

As a result these other countries, who could never get on the field with us, like a Mexico, now actually can steal a game from us. We have to get back to work.

The full interview can be found at Soccer America.

Now, bringing ourselves back to the basic theme of winning, in a recent interview, Xavi Hernandez (current Spain World Cup Champion, Current Barcelona UEFA Champions League champion and someone who was taken into the Barcelona youth academy at age 11), who was was quoted

… “Some youth academies worry about winning, we (La Masia – Barca training academy) worry about education. You see a kid who lifts his head up, who plays the pass first time, pum, and you think, ‘Yep, he’ll do.’ Bring him in, coach him. Our model was imposed by [Johan] Cruyff; it’s an Ajax model. It’s all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day.”

Games do have winners and losers and players should be guided to accept a loss and learn from it.  I am not an advocate of the “we’re all winners here” movement.   The real world awaits our kids where coaches cut players, some students will not get into the colleges they apply to and they may not get the job offer they want.  We’re not looking to build a shelter from reality for these kids – that could cause more harm than good in the long run.  Disappointment happens, for everyone, and successes are sometimes reached by using that disappointment as motivation.

Summing up the desired philosophy on winning that a youth soccer coach should have:   Coaches should maintain the premise that winning can be a result of talent, skill, teamwork, dedication and hard work, properly directed passion and sometimes even luck.  Practice content and game day decisions should not be made to get the win while sacrificing player development.  The good coach will take the approach that the wins will eventually come as a result of the proper training and player development.  These wins may not come this weekend or even this season, but the benefits will show, and more of the players in their charge will have brighter soccer futures as a result.


Taking this new coaching approach requires that the coach buys into something that may be completely foreign and uncomfortable to them.  It requires:

  • letting go of previously learned coaching techniques that may work well in other sports
  • having patience and faith that even though the team may not win today, they will be better players in the long run
  • having the willingness to accept the counter-intuitive ideology of letting the game be the teacher

Parents and Soccer Clubs:  The first step is to understand the difference between good and bad coaching.  The 2nd step starts now by looking for quality coaching, and even demanding that our soccer playing kids are exposed to the better soccer training.    To this end, U.S. Soccer has put forth the right ideas, but U.S. Soccer, as an organization, are far too centralized and disconnected to the masses of kids, in formative youth stages, playing soccer across the country.   They simply do not have the influence they would need to successfully push the right ideas down to the thousands of soccer clubs across the U.S., and then to find a way to track the successful implementation of these ideas across the coaching ranks.  This is where you as parents and soccer clubs need to step in and make the difference that will matter in the long run.

Published by

Barry Saltzman

Parent-Coach Barry Saltzman leverages his love of and insight into soccer to advocate improving the youth soccer experience. Barry owes his passion for the Beautiful Game to watching the New York Cosmos in his youth and having the opportunity to meet and knock the ball around with some New York Cosmos like Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens, Carlos Alberto and Pele.

7 thoughts on “Evaluating and Selecting Youth Soccer Coaches”

  1. Very insightful, especially as I struggle with my role as a U12 volunteer coach, who has never actually played soccer – our town did offer a coach’s training but I was away and unable to attend.
    Our team is a true example of the issues with line drills that don’t involve the whole team at the same time. We barely get thru the explanation before losing the boys interest – and the only way to re-engage the whole team is by having them scrimmage, which often results in unsafe play and arguing among the team.
    This has given me some things to think about and re-evaluate during the break between seasons


    Comment by Barry Saltzman
    October 27, 2011


    Thanks for your comments.

    Playing soccer does help, but I don’t think not playing should hold you back in becoming a good coach. It may help to watch some pro soccer to see what you are building towards.

    It sounds like you have your hands full. And I am not sure I have the right advice for you. I have mostly worked with girls. I have 2 girls of my own. And if you look at my article, I am advocating learning through fun. But they need to be engaged with it. Getting away from lines where they are standing around with time on their hands is the first step.

    The asusmption is that the kids have to want to be there.

    I think if you make the drills in your practice more game like, and challenging with competition involved, that should help. You should be able to find some ideas right here on this site.

    Where do you coach ?


  2. Howdy! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I
    came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Great blog and wonderful design and style.


    Comment by Mark Thompson
    November 5, 2012

    We are glad that you enjoy the site. Thank you for sharing our site with your friends. Feel free to engage and comment on any of our articles or posts on Facebook. We love conversing with our followers and getting different views of the beautiful game.


  3. I will immediately grab your rss feed as I can’t find your e-mail subscription

    link or newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Kindly let me know so that I

    could subscribe. Thanks.


    Comment by Mark Thompson
    May 3, 2013

    If you go to our homepage at http://www.soccerclassroom.com, in the top right corner you will see a section where you can enter your email to subscribe to our newsletter. Thank you for your interest and have a great weekend!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *