The Silent Voice

The game is the best teacher.

The challenge in coaching youth players is found in enabling them to listen to and understand what the game is trying to teach them. Too often a substitute voice, that of a coach or parent, tries to impart knowledge of the game to the player. There is, and can be, no substitution for the game itself being the best teacher of the game. Players are the sum total of what they have personally experienced on the field of play. At best, a coach or parent can hope to aid the player after the fact in interpreting the information the player gathers as a result of playing the game.

Let us consider for a moment some of the sounds often heard at a soccer game.

Pass the ball!


Clear it!

Kick it out!

These are but a few examples of instructions being shouted out to players during the run of play in a game. When we consider these instructions it is easy to discern that they all deal with tactical aspects of the game. For example, when was the last time you heard someone shout to a player to employ a specific technique? Do we hear people yelling use a push pass or drive the ball with the laces? When was the last time you shouted use a Ronaldo, or try a bicycle kick during a game?

I have seen a couple of studies and heard about others that estimate the typical soccer player makes between 1 to 3 decisions per second. Over the course of a game that is a staggering number of decisions. Let's pare that number down a bit. Consider for a moment attempting to convey to your child your input on only the obvious or "important" decisions over the time frame of a game. That is still a fairly difficult concept to grasp, isn’t it? Yet that is basically what some parents try to do from the sidelines.  Heck, let's be completely honest here, some coaches try to do so for each of the players they put on the field. 
Reality tells us we do our best to prepare our children to make good decisions on their own. We as parents prepare them to go out into the world and apply the decision making skills we have provided them with. That's what we do as soccer coaches as well. We use training and practice to develop good decision making skills in the athletes we coach. The game is the test.  How well did we do in preparing the team to play?  In real life you will not follow your child around shouting instructions at him while he goes to school, to worship, when he is at his job or even when he is socializing with friends.  No, you do your work with him and then send him off with the expectation he will use the decision making skills you have provided him with and when he makes a mistake you work with  him to prevent it from happening again. The same is true for soccer. Players need to be allowed to exercise their decision-making skills without interference from the stands or the sidelines.

Realistically, the only voice a player should listen to during the run of play in an actual game is the voice of the game itself. The game is a living, breathing thing that is actually talking to the player. The player listens to the game by living or participating within the game itself. He lives the game through his eyes and those of others actively involved in the game. His ears are alive to the sounds of the game – the sounds of a foot striking the ball or of feet pounding the ground. The sounds of his teammates making calls and passing on information help him to coordinate movement with them. The player learns not only to physically feel the game but to sense its flow. He learns to anticipate and adapt to its constant and continuous changes and in doing so learns to control the game environment.

We as adults must remember that the most important voice for the players to listen to is the one we seem most intent on talking over… the often "silent" voice of the game.

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