By Rob Smith
A great youth soccer team should be full of learners. Good learners will make great players. By allowing players to come up with their own solutions you’ll have indirectly created a stronger team.
During a practice game, it’s often you’ll see things that your players are doing wrong or could be doing better. Use your whistle to stop the action and point out errors or ask questions of your players. It also doesn’t hurt to stop the action to point out something that was done correctly. When you stop a scrimmage and make pointers, you’re helping your youth players understand the game at a higher level by instructing them on how to reach an objective and the best skills to use.
An important part of teaching is asking the right questions. You’ll be asking your players “What do you need to do in this situation?” Sometimes players simply need to play to discover what they should do, or you may need to further modify the game to make it even easier for them. This approach may take more patience on your part, but it’s a powerful way for kids to learn. For example, assume your players are playing a game in which the objective is to make three passes before trying to score, but they are having trouble doing so. Stop the game and ask:
- What does your team have to do to keep the ball for three passes in a row?
- What do you need to do when you pass the ball to help your team keep the ball?
- Where would you move to when your teammate has the ball to support him?
If your players have trouble understanding what to do, phrase your questions to let them choose between one option and another. For example, if you ask as simple question such as “What’s the best way to get a ball to a teammate?” you’ll likely get a lot of different answers. Then ask “is chipping or dribbling the ball to the person the most accurate way to get it to him?”
Asking the right questions may seem difficult at first, because your players have little or no experience with the game. Don’t be tempted to tell your players how to play the game rather than asking questions. Resist the temptation to tell your players what to do. Instead, through and skillful questioning on your part, your players should come to realize on their own that accurate passing and receiving skills are essential to their success in controlling the ball. Set up the conditions so they reach the answer themselves.
The atmosphere that a coach creates is crucial to learning. Players must see the soccer environment as physically and psychologically safe. The atmosphere should be comfortable for everyone and should not cater exclusively to only the best players. This is an environment where questions can be asked by anyone without retribution of any kind. It’s in the questioning that players come to the correct conclusions.
Rather than having told them what the critical skills are, you will have led them to this discovery which is a crucial process in learning. Although it takes longer to teach a ball skill or tactic to players in a question and answer mode, the lessons they learn will remain with them permanently.