Coaching youth soccer can be a rewarding and exciting journey. This doesn’t come without its challenges. Throughout my time as a youth soccer coach, I have made many mistakes that I wanted to share. It might be of help to you in your coaching journey.
Here is a list of fourteen tips that I have learned about through experience or others that I think are the most common mistakes in youth soccer coaching.
Focus On Outcomes
In life, we often focus on the outcomes over everything else. We follow sports and the only thing people care about is the final score. My team won. Your team lost. We are better than you. And this is totally fine when we are talking about professional teams. It is their job to win soccer games. But in youth coaching, this is a grave mistake.
One of the main responsibilities of coaching is to focus on the development of the players. This means you follow a process, and every season might not end with more wins than losses. It is more important that players become well rounded.
We are bad at the start of any new hobby. Coaches should view soccer sessions and games as a way to learn. Winning is a byproduct of a good development process. Now winning isn’t irrelevant, but it isn’t the main focus. We should examine the process and celebrate the effort.
We must promote a growth mindset to build the process for children to have a strong skillset to carry through life.
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Expecting Kids to Care
Hollywood gives us a false standard of what a youth coach can do. After watching a few movies, you might believe you can turn any struggling player into a superstar.
The reality is many players, especially in their younger years, are still deciding if they even enjoy soccer. Some kids will be very interested. Others won’t show much interest at all; the only reason they showed up is that their parents drove them to practice.
We can feel the need to press these unmotivated kids. But you just have to accept the fact that everyone isn’t going to care. It isn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t take it personally. Focus on having a good time and making it a good experience. It will make your life easier and less stressful!
Not Communicating Properly
As a youth coach, you have many responsibilities including keeping everyone informed as to what is going on and building meaningful relationships. It can be easy to skip this step because you have a lot going and forget to do so.
Effective communication with parents and players goes a long way to reduce your issues long-term. Consistent communication eases parents’ minds. Inevitably, parents are going to have complaints and concerns. The best way is to stay in front of them. Make an effort to send out an update once a month or more if needed.
Another useful tip is to communicate with your players on a personal level. Not only will it make your season more enjoyable, but you will better understand how to get through to your players. If you teach U14 girls and one of your midfielders recently broke up with her boyfriend, you can understand why her mind might be entirely focused.
Once you have context into their personal lives, your job is to navigate around that to help them grow and develop.
Teaching Too Many Topics
With youth teams, err on the side of simplicity. There is only so much one can absorb in a 60 to 90 minute practice session. Coaching too many topics during one time can overload players and have a negative effect on their development.
Give your players enough time to fully understand the drill before moving on. Focus on one or two takeaways that you want your players to walk away with. Add extra time for a drill if needed.
Some players will understand quickly while others struggle. Figure out what the best balance is for the team. Slow and steady is better than fast and sloppy. Confusion takes away from the enjoyment of the players.
Repetition of the fundamentals goes further than anything else. We all need to do the same thing over and over again before we can master it. Ball mastery is crucial.
Too many coaches rush through the fundamentals. A 8 year old doesn’t need to focus on corner kick volleys when he can’t dribble smoothly.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.Bruce Lee
One way to make sure we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves is to small chunk the skill. We break the technique down into its simplest component. For passing and receiving, we might start with passing in groups of 2 in a straight line first before moving to 4v1 keep away exercise before work to 4v2.
Coaches eager to share all the information at once can forget their audience. They are young children with limited attention spans. This is why I advise against lecturing. Kids get antsy and want to play. After a few, short minutes they will tune you. Avoid preaching and focus on playing.
Reduce the amount of time standing around talking. Instead, use the time more efficiently to get kids moving and playing. Add in coaching points as they are working the drill instead of trying to cover all information by standing around in a circle.
Since we are working with kids, we have the tendency to think we know all the answers, so we take up most of the talking time. I have been known to brush off comments from young players because I am the coach. But, we should put our energy into listening as much as we focus on coaching.
Sometimes our kid’s words and actions give us clues to how we should run a practice or explain a technique. Great coaches listen for clues. Be a student of the game. Youth players can teach you as much as you teach them.
The same goes for parents. You will experience an angry parent demanding that you do something for their child either get more playing time or put in a certain position. It happens more often than we wish.
Most of the time people want to be heard. I own some real estate and a large portion of my tenant’s complaints are wanting to talk to someone. Once you give someone your ear without interrupting, they talk themselves dry. Then they feel better.
A common mistake of young coaches is the need to constantly be speaking to all the players. I think is because the coach feels like he is doing his job. The problem is that chatty coaches aren’t coaching; they are commentating.
More often than not, they are making comments about the game such as “dribble the ball” or “defend the goal”. These statements aren’t very valuable. Use silence more effectively and use your voice with intention. Then players will respond more favorably and be able to make necessary adjustments.
People struggle to do two things at once. If we are talking, we aren’t listening. The same applies to your players. If they are playing, it is hard to listen at the same time. Over time, they will tune you out. Or worse, they will be less likely to make decisions on their own because they want to wait to hear from you what to do next.
No Further Education
Many recreational coaches are volunteers. Most coaches are former players, meaning they rely on their experience as a player. Even though if this was many years ago. They don’t invest in becoming a student of the game. The only problem is playing and coaching is two different skill sets.
One way to avoid this mistake is to invest your time into your coaching education. There are several ways to accomplish this. The internet is a great place to start.
First, I wrote plenty of articles on Coaching Tips to help with drills, tips, and other useful information for coaches like yourself. Also, YouTube has plenty of great coaching resources to help people learn.
My personal favorite is going through the Grassroots Course for US Soccer. There is an inexpensive, online module for you to go through at your own pace that will give you the foundational structure to soccer coaching.
Then if you crave more information, you can go through the in-person training as well. I wrote an article about the different levels of coaching licenses for US Soccer that you can view here.
Note, if you live in another country, the path will be slightly different than the US. Most established countries use the licensing system and have different requirements for each stage.
No Laps or Lines
Back when I was playing soccer as a young lad, my coaches would have us run laps around the field to warm up. At the time, I didn’t think much of it.
Today, I realize it is a mistake, and the reason why is that time can be used more productively. Players should have a ball at their feet as much as possible. Even more important is allowing players to make decisions on their own. Running laps fills time but doesn’t help player development.
Before games, don’t make the mistake of having your players perform stationary drills. These come in all shapes and sizes, but you know what I am talking about. A group of players stand in a line and pass the ball to their coach who plays the ball off to his right or left. The player strikes the ball and tries to score a goal against the goalie.
In this exercise, two people get the most touches, one is the goalie and the second is the coach. The problem is the coach isn’t in the game. The exercise should be geared with the players in mind and not the other way around. Design and research drills to keep a ball at the player’s feet while allowing players to make decisions freely.
In addition, lines are the quickest way to lose a child’s focus. Before too long, they will be goofing off with the player next to them. Don’t fight the nature of kids. All lines aren’t a bad thing. Sometimes they are inevitable. But, keep lines to a minimum, maybe 2-3 players at the most.
It can be frustrating when your players are getting it. You might have explained the drill four times already, but the information isn’t sticking. Or you spent a week in practice on a technique, but they can’t execute in the game. At times, you feel like you want to run into the game and do it for them. I know I have been there.
But here is where some slip up. They yell and criticize a player or team at practice or a game. This isn’t a good idea. Remember the other players are watching how you react. In turn, it is affecting the entire team. If this is how you react to one kid. Other players might resist some actions because they fear that you will treat them the same.
Parents need to follow this advice too. They need to be held to a high standard. If this happens often, you need to schedule a meeting with them. We understand parents are excited for their child, but when they rant and rave about their kid, it affects other children.
Adults and coaches shouldn’t be at such a high emotional state for youth sports. It is not necessary.
Taking the Job Too Serious
When coaching is taking seriously, it is usually by coaches whose main objective is to win. Professionals coaches are very serious, and they have a right to be. Everyone is getting paid a large amount of money. Their job depends on it. Youth sports are a bit different, and we should treat it as such.
The prize at the end of a youth soccer season is a trophy that everyone puts in the basement to collect dust. There is no cash prize or incentive to compete for.
In the youth leagues, kids come to play soccer to have a good time and the coach should too. A coach’s responsibility is to keep it fun and instill a lifelong love of the game. If they accomplish this, the season is a wild success. Seriously, you should consider this an epic win.
Coaches often remark that some of their best moments are when former players come back to them and tell them how much they learned and enjoyed playing for them. Become apart of their journey and encouragement to keep going.
Lack of Preparation
Many new coaches put little time into their session or game preparation. They show up to the game and wing it. After practice, they spend time with their families and relax as they should. Everyone understands coaches have lives outside of soccer. But, many don’t think about their soccer team until the next training session. Many are volunteers after all.
To achieve the best performance and advancement from our players, we must maximize the time we have with them. We only have one or two times sessions a week before each game. Therefore, the only way to get better is to plan before and reflect after each session. Here are some questions of things to prepare for.
- What technical and tactical ability will you focus on?
- What drills or small-sided games will support the practice?
- What equipment do you need for each drill?
- What coaching points do you plan to make?
- How long do you plan to do each activity?
Utilize technology to your advantage. There are plenty of sites and programs nowadays that let you schedule and book your entire season electronically where you can carry it with you everywhere you go.
Trying to Make Everyone Satisfied
When I started off in coaching, I tried not to step on anyone’s toes, literally and figuratively. I wanted to make everyone happy. Parents demanded that I address playing time with their child and I tried to resolve it. And then that causes another issue that I had to fix. It was non-stop whack-a-mole. It wore me out.
You can’t please everyone even if you try. Try to focus on what is in the team’s best interest. Understand and be comfortable that everyone won’t be on board or happy. It is okay to make a decision and stand by it. Actually great coaches do this all the time. The advice is easy to type but harder to live by.
One way to accomplish this is to prepare for your sessions and season. Does this new information affect the overall plan for the team’s objective? If not, then put the thought on the proverbial shelf and keep on moving with the plan you have in place.
Putting a Bandaid on the Problem
Players act up. How do you handle it? Do you ignore it or try to stamp it out? What happens if two players get into a conflict? These aren’t your kids, so how much can you really do?
New youth coaches often deal with issues as they arise. But, it might be pointing to other issues. The accurate definition of a coach includes a lot more than a dictionary suggests. A coach plays a part-time counselor, disciplinarian, and motivator to name a few.
However, if this type of behavior continues, dig deeper to find the cause of the smaller problems. While this can take away more time from the team, it is important to understand the root of the cause. This requires the coach to resolve the problem fully instead of putting a bandaid on the situation.
Once you create a coaching environment that allows open and honest conversation, players and parents come to you before a bigger issue takes place. This is the ideal scenario we should all be working towards.