Becoming a GREAT Youth Coach

By Doug Pillsbury

You have just volunteered to become the coach for your child’s youth team. “How hard can it be?” you think to yourself. You buy an e-book with 50 drills and feel prepared to coach the team.

However, after your first practice, you feel overwhelmed. The kids didn’t listen to your well-rehearsed ten minute speech to start the practice, two of the players got into a fight, you lost your cool when some of the kids couldn’t understand your complicated drill, a dad kept hollering instructions to one of your players (often that were the opposite of what you wanted the player to do), and some players showed up late while others left early. To top it off, a parent sent a nasty e-mail after practice saying you weren’t a good coach because their kid got picked last during scrimmage time and went home crying.

You feel like quitting but don’t want to let your child down. Here are some helpful hints to make this season a success!

  1. Understand Your Role as a Coach – you can’t be all things to all people so by understanding your role as a coach you can focus on what you CAN control and not worry about what you can’t control.
    1. You are a Facilitator – your role is to establish the environment and conditions where your players can learn. The few hours you have the players is your time to create an environment that is fun, safe and enjoyable. You need to be enthusiastic and create a practice where there is a spirit of learning, creativity, and accomplishment. Even more important than knowing all the technical and tactical ins and outs of soccer, is to create a fun environment where the child will want to continue their soccer journey.
    2. You Are A Role Model – You must remember that at all times the players eyes are on you, even when you think they are not paying attention. They will learn as much from how you handle mistakes, parents, refs, and opposing coaches and players, as what they learn about the game of soccer. Learn to control your emotions and realize that this is a fun sport and everything involved needs to be treated with respect. Whether you win or lose, your lasting impact will be how you handled yourself during the season.
    3. Communicating with Parents – It often surprises a new coach how demanding parents can be. Although you want parents at practice and games supporting their child, you need to make it clear that they are not to become involved in coaching from the sidelines. A sit down with all parents prior to the season is critical. You can review your philosophy, rules (such as showing up on time to practice and games), substitution strategy, and goals for their child and the team. It is important to establish that you are the coach and understand the responsibility entrusted to you by the parents to guide their child over the next season. Also, it is important to not get too defensive when a parent complains, but do your best to explain the rules or your thought process on how you handled their situation and then move on.
    4. Understand the “Age” of the Child You Are Coaching – one of a youth coach’s biggest learning curves it to understand the physical, mental, and social age of their players. Often, their chronological age is not the only indicator of their physical, mental or social development. A coach needs to be able to understand he or she is dealing with children who are maturing and developing at their own pace. It’s critical to teach each player as an individual and that they are likely participating in soccer for a variety of wins, least of those is to win games. After a few weeks with your players, seek to understand where each player is “age” wise and tailor your comments to be appropriate for that player. For example, if you have a mature 12 year old and an immature 12 year-old, don’t coach and communicate with the players in the same way. The mature 12 year-old may be able to take specific technical instruction, while the other 12 year old might need constant encouragement, even when the skills are not there. Both parents and the player will appreciate you getting to know the players and coaching them where they are at in their development process.
  2. How to Best Teach Youth Players – another key is how you approach teaching soccer to your players. You will soon learn that a ten minute “speech” is not the way young players learn. Here are some guidelines on become a more effective teacher:
    1. Preview – at the beginning of practice let the players know what you are going to teach them, why it is important they learn, and how it will help them do better in the game. Keep your instruction simple and short.
    2. Demonstrate – as a coach, you need to paint a clear picture of the exercise they are going to do to. Explain the rules of the activity and remember to “Show it – Talk it – Do it!”
    3. Organization – when you go into practice, know exactly what you are going to do and have the field laid out appropriately prior to practice. You will lose players’ attention when you spend a great deal of practice time setting up the next activity. In the span of a quick water break, you should have the next grid ready to go so there is no down time. Players and parents will learn to respect you as a coach once they know you have a plan and are prepared each practice. If you are organized and move the practice along, you will better keep the attention of your players!
    4. Play Games and Keep Score – kids love competition and keeping score. When you are doing an activity, make sure there are some ways to score points, besides just scoring a goal. That will reinforce what you are teaching, and the kids will be excited and involved because there are points involved.
    5. Correcting Players – be careful about how you correct players. It is certainly the job of a coach to point out mistakes and provide training to correct those mistakes. But NEVER yell, berate, or ridicule a youth player when making a mistake. As a coach, you want to create an environment where players can make mistakes and not be yelled at. Instead, continuously look to encourage players when they do something right, and then when they do something wrong, they will be far more open to hearing from the coach.
  3. Understand Your RESPONSIBILITIES As a Coach – in addition understanding your role and improving your teaching abilities, you need to know your responsibilities as a coach. Becoming a great coach is not easy, and the more you know your responsibilities, the better the players will receive your instruction.
    1. Safety – as a coach, you must know the laws of the game, especially as they pertain to safety. For example, make sure your players wear shin guards to games and practices, proper shoes, remove all jewelry, ensure the field is in safe and playable condition, and make sure the game and practice length are suitable for the players’ age and weather conditions. Your responsibility is to inspect and maintain the equipment used in practice and a game.
    2. Handling Injuries – soccer is a physical game and your players will get hurt. Make sure you know the proper medical knowledge to handle injuries. NEVER play a player who is complaining of an injury, even if the game’s outcome is on the line. You should have a medical kit and ice available each time your team practices or plays.
    3. Game & Practice Organization – as coach, you need to organize all the practices and develop a game strategy, which at the young age mainly involves a substitution plan.
    4. Learn the Game of Soccer – whatever level you coach at, spend time learning the great game of soccer. Attend coaching clinics, download articles in the internet, purchase DVDs on how to become a better coach, and connect with other coaches to learn from each other. You have a responsibility to know and learn to love this game and pass that passion on to your players.

If you can focus on these three areas of coaching, you will find that you have more respect from players and parents, will develop more enjoyable learning environments for your team, and will be able to create a safe and fun experience for your players.

Check out this link for a great resource on how to run an effective practice:
All Access Practice…With Bobby Clark

Let us know what you think about this article by leaving your questions, comments, and suggestions below…

5 Responses to Becoming a GREAT Youth Coach

  1. Josh Young June 9, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    I coach high school & youth rugby & couldn’t agree more. Well state & great article I’ll be sharing on Twitter.


  2. Fabian June 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Great information, this is my first time coaching 6to8, and all information from your weeb sie and e-news are helping my TEAM. Keep up with the great information.

  3. dauda jawara July 16, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    another fantastic and fabulous article,keep going guys.i enjoy every bit of it .thanks.

  4. Beth December 4, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    I coach u7 and middle school and these are great tips!

  5. tsele jabo moruri April 27, 2016 at 4:10 am #

    I would love to coach youth scholl

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