I’ve received a number of requests from readers to share my own personal coaching philosophy. These requests mostly came from the article about “How to Develop a Coaching Philosophy” as well as people who signed up to receive our free soccer coaching book. This is my letter of introduction to the parents of a competitive U11 soccer team. It also weaves my coaching philosophy throughout. Obviously, your philosophy would need to change based upon age, level and focus. I’m happy to share it with you as it has successfully helped me guide many teams to a shared vision, understanding and expectations for a great season. Yes, it’s long. But, in this case, I’m happy to trade thoroughness for brevity. Otherwise, I set myself up for a longer season.
Introduction to U11 Soccer
This note is for the parents, who at this age, U11, are still very much involved in your son’s soccer experience. As a result, I believe it is critically important for you to understand the coaching philosophy I’ve developed over ten years of coaching as well as twenty-five years of playing. While your son will have the opportunity to learn it first hand, I think it is only fair to provide an insight to this refined thought process as you serve as an advocate for your son.
Who are You?
As an introduction, my name is Jerry Macnamara (most people go with JerryMac or JMac) and I will be coaching and training the team. It will depend on the needs of the club, but it is my hope to work with them for their entire youth soccer careers and send them into high school after the U14 season. I am also delighted to announce that the two head coaches of the U10 teams, have enthusiastically agreed to join with me in continuing to cultivate a positive experience for our players. While it is my normal tact to only take one assistant with me, I felt as if the quality of these coaches’ work with the kids warranted having two sound assistants in the fold for the season.
Haddonfield is an amazing place to grow-up! I was born and raised in the wonderful little community just as you are now. As someone who has traveled a bit, please believe me that while it may – at times – not seem like it, Haddonfield is an exceptional place to live and grow-up. I proudly represented our town at every level of soccer including winning two soccer state titles in high school. I was an average player, yet was still selected as Captain of our state championship team proving that everyone can contribute. I constantly battled to find playing time and believe that courage, character and hard work are some of the most important attributes to a successful player – and person. Those concepts reside in the core of my being. While not everyone has the pure talent to become the next David Beckham, everyone can display those core characteristics and find a level of success on a field by doing so. I am a true believer in the overall team concept where everyone can find a role.
I would consider myself a soccer aficionado and have been fortunate to make a living in the soccer industry. I began training teams in 1997 – my first boys’ team were successful in their own soccer pursuits, falling in the state semi-finals their senior year. Over the past years, I trained and coached a multitude of teams both on the boys and girls side. All of them experienced success – winning conference, regional and even, state championships. In short, I coach because I strongly believe in giving back to the community, because other people did it for me and I’m passionate about helping people grow and develop. I do not have any kids in the soccer program.
Enough about me, let’s talk about the upcoming year and the expectations:
Developing Soccer Players…And Young Men
I am a staunch proponent of allowing your son to own his soccer experience as sports provide a non-threatening environment for growth and understanding. If he can’t make practice, I ask that he call or email me. If he has a question about playing time, he should ask about it. I believe it is important to understand accountability for actions – or inaction – as a vehicle for growth. Sports are a wonderful platform for understanding the world – I will always try to take those moments to provide more clarity into life – not as a substitute for parenting, but as another voice of reason and developing respectful young men.
Based around my track record, I am quite confident that I will help develop your son into a better soccer player. Our team will win games because we will develop faster than other teams. But, if I don’t cultivate kind, gentleman that will cross the street when they see me downtown to look me in the eye and shake my hand, I will consider my work a disaster. I’m sure to develop soccer players; I hope to develop quality young men.
During the season, we will examine soccer within the context of life. Some will say that soccer is a microcosm of life: if you can learn to be successful on a soccer field, it will work wonders for your development and character as a young person. All of the traits necessary to be successful on the field – courage, composure, creative thinking and hard work to name a few – are directly applicable to success in family affairs, school and life. Developing this understanding is critical to the overall success of the season.
Earning Playing Time
Playing time above the mandated club time requirements in games is based upon a player’s ability to positively contribute to the success of the team as a whole. At this level of soccer, simply showing up to practice does not entitle you to significant playing time; showing up to practice is a baseline expectation. A player earns playing time in games by his actions, preparation and attitude before, during and after practice leading up to games. A player does not “get his chance” during the game. You “get your chance” before, during and after practice. The game each Sunday is a simple measuring stick from one week to the next to examine our development as a team and as individuals. A few – but certainly not all – of the traits I am looking for include: technical skills (passing, dribbling, etc.) positive attitude, courage, composed thinking, preparedness, creativity, maturity, understanding of player role, coachability and fitness.
An area where I believe I excel is player feedback. I will continually provide players with feedback regarding what is going well and the areas of the game that need improvement. If a player would like to earn more playing time and is unsure what he needs to do to secure more playing time, please have the player ask me (part of learning responsibility and courage) and I will clearly review it with him again in a non-threatening manner. If you, as parents, are unhappy with your son’s playing time, please ask your son first the areas of improvement for him to contribute more to the team – and encourage him to put the time in off the field. I’m certain the player will know his areas of improvement. If the player doesn’t know, please have him come to me and I will be happy to explain the areas of necessary improvement in a different way. If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Please keep it positive and focus on your son’s play – not your son’s play relative to other teammates.
Competing and Developing…Not Winning
Even though we are in a competitive soccer environment, the goal of soccer at this stage is cultivating a safe, fun, interesting and challenging environment where players can learn the game and develop. I firmly believe that players who enjoy their experience will develop faster than those who do not. In short, the goal is to compete successfully. The goal is not strictly to win. Winning or losing is simply a by-product of playing the game. As we can all attest, there are many games we have been a part of where we played like warriors and “got unlucky” in a result, but had tons of positive experiences to take away from the match. Conversely, there are games where we’ve played like doggie-do and been fortunate enough to score more than the other team in the game. We take solace in the fact that we were “good enough” and “lucky enough” that day to find a way to win. We will always try to keep the focus on the process of player and skill development and fielding a competitive team. Sometimes that will be hard in waning moments of matches, but I remain committed to the philosophy.
I’m sure this will come up along the way, so I want to address it now. I’m a huge proponent of sporting behavior and modeling behavior. We will face teams that are short on players. I will play as many players as they have on the field. If they have 10 players; we’ll play with ten players. With a focus on developing players and cultivating a competitive environment, this is the right thing to do in my opinion. We want to earn it on the field. Besides, blowing out a team 6-0 because their players didn’t turn up doesn’t result in a “win” for anyone. My exception to this is a self-inflicted red card that leaves the other team shorthanded. In this case, we play man up.
If someone had to pin me down, my goal for each season is to win 50% of games and have all the games decided by 1 goal. Why? The means we were: a) appropriately placed in a competitive division by the league and b) were in competitive dogfights each week which ensures we have to be at the top of our game and promotes development. Please don’t get caught up in wins and losses…enjoy the journey of growth and development. I promise we’ll win our fair share of games…it’s just not the metric we will use to determine “success.”
Baseline Player Expectations
May I suggest the following list of priorities during the competitive soccer season: Family, church, school and then soccer.
My baseline expectations of your son are simple as a young player on the cusp of greatness:
- Show up on time every time for everything; it is not your parent’s responsibility to be your golden chariot and they are never the reason you are late. Things like a bike, car pool or the Amazin’ TTE (Ten Toe Express) are always available to you to ensure your timeliness. If you are late, you will work on your fitness.
- On-time means the following: Cleats are already tied with appropriate soccer gear on, mentally focused on having your best practice ever and taking touches on a ball ready for me to start the team. Appropriately dressed means the following: shinguards on with soccer socks over them just as required in a game; dressed for the weather in comfortable athletic clothing (no cargos, or dress-type shorts or bow-ties). Your bag and water bottle are placed in a safe and out of the way place. On-time does not mean sprinting from the car as I’m calling the team in together. Typically, it takes a player ten minutes before the actual start of practice to ready himself in this manner.
- As the weather becomes colder, please dress in layers to ensure your comfort. After living in Toronto, Canada for a few years, please believe me that it is incredibly hard to focus when you are cold.
- Bring your own water bottle or hydration supplies. We will work hard and I would expect you to get thirsty. For your body’s sake, take care of it and bring water to every practice. We will take appropriate breaks to hydrate.
- Bring your own soccer ball to practice – the same one you will use to juggle and practice in your backyard this summer. If you do not bring a soccer ball, you will have the opportunity to work on your fitness that day.
- If you are going to be late or absent for practice or a game, it is your responsibility to call me. It is not your parent’s job to call me.
- Don’t be late or absent. Your team is counting on you.
- Excused vs Unexcused Absence: An example of an excused absence would be your grandmother’s 100th Birthday dinner. It’s unique, special and family. An unfinished school project is not an excused absence. You have chosen not to complete your work in a timely manner and as a result failed your team. Plan and use your time wisely.
- Please schedule all avoidable appointments (dentist, eye exams, etc.) outside of our practice times. There are 168 hours in a week – I’m only asking for about 3 hours practice time total. We will only have the opportunity to meet for a limited period and your teammates are counting on you to learn, grow and develop during each practice – as well as on your own time.
- Come to practice and games prepared and with enthusiasm. Make sure you eat your Wheaties every morning and arrive ready to practice with a purpose.
- Take accountability for yourself. No excuses – do the work. I’m not your parents, teacher or best friend. Anything you’ve tried to get away with, I’ve already done and been caught for – don’t kid yourself. We’re out here to give our best – not fake giving our best.
- Learn and exercise the following mantra: Learn. Commit. Do. Learn what you need to do. Commit yourself to doing it. Do it with everything you have.
Baseline Coaching Expectations
The baseline expectations I have for myself as a coach and leader of young players:
- To create a fun, challenging and interesting environment that encourages player development in a safe way.
- Bring a passion and energy to everything that we do.
- Take a moment to reflect on the experience and what we learned.
- Be prepared with a plan.
- Be on-time for practice and games.
- Hold myself accountable.
- Hold my players accountable to the highest standards of sportsmanship and safety.
- To never place winning above player development or “doing the right thing.”
Areas of Growth in Soccer
We practice two and sometimes three times per week for 75 minutes each. I believe the game is the best teacher, so we will work to be active on the field as much as possible. I will come prepared to each session with a plan that meets the team’s needs. Again, the focus is on skill development, cultivating positive thinking, creative players and, as they are now mentally capable in understanding time and space, we will start to mix in tactics to cover positions, set plays, etc. We will concentrate on four areas of the game:
Technical: We will hone individual fundamental skills. These are critical to the overall success of the team and your ability to positively contribute. Technical skills can be developed by yourself on a field or in your backyard by simply taking touches on a ball. Dribble, dribble, dribble. Juggle, juggle, juggle. The ability to confidently dribble is the single distinguishing factor for players at this age level.
Tactical: We will work towards understanding the flow of the game and critical concepts like “time” and “space” on the field. Understanding how the game works will enable us to create advantages on the field and showcase our technical play as a team. During the summer, check out ESPN2 for Major League Soccer’s “Soccer Saturday” – it is a great way to develop a better understanding of the game. Always keep your eyes peeled for soccer games, so we can inspire our players.
Mental: We will work towards individual composure and confidence on the field culminating in excellent team effort and the ability for teammates to positively address concerns on and off the field. I will work very hard to help cultivate confidence within your son and will encourage at every turn. It may be the most important aspect we cultivate.
Fitness: We will overcome the sedentary “Nintendo” generation by working our way into finely tuned individuals that can hit the field for the full match on a larger field. When the body is weak, the mind falters easily. To compete successfully, we must be strong physically and mentally. Typically, I work fitness into practices through increasing intensity and not in your traditional sense of fitness. We kill two birds with one stone.
Do the Right Thing
Please remember that when our players are on the fields, in the community, or in the game, we are no longer solely representing ourselves. The player is representing your family, your school, your community and your team. Please behave in such a manner that if your actions were on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper you would be happy to cut it out and send it to your grandparents. Always remember: There is never a right time to do the wrong thing.
Sideline Behavior & Referees
The South Jersey Soccer League has strictly mandated clubs and coaches to be responsible for their fans. As a certified referee and longtime coach, I take this mandate seriously. Referees are paid roughly $30 per game and are critical to the overall success of our league; imagine if we didn’t have referees! This is a youth sport and not a multi-billion dollar World Cup final that is going to impact the rest of our lives. Please keep the game in perspective. To those ends, the team rule for sideline conduct is simple: Keep quiet on the sideline with regard to referee’s calls. Please rest assured that I will vigilantly protect our team’s safety on the field. With regard to missed calls, offside, tripping, handballs or any other perceived infraction – real or otherwise – start with this thought: the referee is going to miss at least ten calls per game – out of approximately 800 decisions during a game. That’s an amazing “correct” rate! My experience is that it evens itself out over the season. Give the referee a break. Imagine if you were getting paid a small stipend to allow kids to have fun and grow and someone showed up to yell at you for every micro-managed mistake. I fully anticipate that we will have the best behaved sideline in South Jerseys. Given a kids-first, soccer-cultured perspective, there is absolutely no reason for us misbehave. After all, the kids are watching and the thought must be: “What are we teaching our kids?”
In my younger years, I certainly could be heard from the sidelines. I’ve learned this isn’t the best method of coaching to develop creative and thinking soccer players. If I’m simply yelling direction, my players become drones conditioned only to do what they’re told. You’ll find that I am generally very quiet on the sidelines of games. This is the players time, not mine. My coaching occurs on the sidelines with the players standing right next to me. You’ll note they’ll be like ducklings following me. These players will be learning – even if they are not in the match. Unimpeded by trying to play, watch the ball, make decisions and take direction, the players on the sidelines are the ones you can coach and positively impact – not the ones on the field. It also keeps them “into the game” and developing, so they can perform when they get back out there.
Everyone Has a Role…Here’s the Parent Role
Providing player direction is critical to the success of the individual and the team. I appreciate the respect, love and energy you will have for your son on the sidelines. As a parent, grandparent or significant other in the player’s life, your voice holds exceptional importance to them – good and bad. It is everything from adulation, “Great job on your report card” to reprimand “I told you to take out the trash.” I ask that you use your special voice only after the game to praise and congratulate your player. I, along with the other coaches, will take care of the changes that are required for the entire team to be successful. Since you will not have a handle on the technical and tactical aspects that we are cultivating for the team during practice, it would be unfair for you to use that special voice to distract the players or undermine what we are developing as a team. I think we can all agree the kids are confused enough already at this stage. It would be unfair to confuse them further with instructions like “Kick it!” or “Run!” as those are concepts we coach “against.” For instance, we don’t want to “kick it”, we want to pass with purpose; we don’t want to “run”, we want to come back to the ball to help our teammates and make ourselves available for a pass. Your child – and the team – will grow faster if you allow the coaches to have one united voice that is clear and understandable for the entire team’s benefit.
When in doubt, we should all adhere to the following code of conduct:
- Players – play
- Referees – ref
- Coaches – coach
- Parents – cheer
Communicating with Me
As with all of us, we’re very busy people. I run my own company, do this for the love of the game, spend a multitude of hours on the fields with kids who aren’t mine, so I ask that you respect my time; it’s the only way this relationship works. (Note: Yes, my least favorite part of coaching is tracking down parents for answers. Please don’t be “that” parent.) I have found the most efficient method of communication is email and will keep you abreast of upcoming events/changes/etc. as it happens or as I know about them. In general, I live at my desk and am usually extremely prompt in answering inquiries. I have secured email addresses from the soccer club database, but have found in the past families have multiple email addresses – work, home, personal, etc. Please forward along all of the email addresses you would like for me to send the relevant information.
Other tips on being a great soccer parent? Read how to make it into the Parent’s Soccer Hall of Fame. I will make myself available to anyone at anytime to discuss the season. Please let me know.
As a non-administrative note, I am incredibly enthusiastic to take on this challenge and create a positive culture for and with the team. Personally, I have had tremendous experiences with teams in the past and despite all of the “official-ness” of the above in simply communicating our platform, I think you’ll find me very fair, fun-loving and interested in developing players – and people – for success. I love to coach and take the role of cultivating positive experiences very seriously. I look forward to meeting all of you along the way and an incredibly fun journey for everyone.