A few coaching pointers.

I have undoubtedly written on this subject before (Coaching Tips) , but it occurs to me I am not the same coach I was when I did. So, I have decided to provide an updated list of coaching pointers.  As with many of the articles I write the content for this one was suggested to me by a fellow coach. This particular coach volunteered to lead a youth team without full appreciation of what would be involved. He admittedly felt he was floundering and asked for help in organizing his approach to coaching. 

1)  Preparation: The coach needs to properly prepare for both practices and games.  For a typical training session I will devote an hour plus to planning for it. Each position group requires work specific to their responsibilities.  This does not necessarily mean each group should train separate of the others. For example, I believe strongly in cross training individual field players for all positions. Therefore how each group interacts and links with the other groups is a constant focus and it can take some time to formulate a proper plan for addressing this within the theme of a days practice session.

On game day, having a line up prepared before hand with scheduled rotations in mind frees the coach for other pre-game duties. Warming up the goalkeeper, talking with the opposing coach and referees to establish a relationship for the game. And in some cases, prepping the field for play.

1 A) Have your practice plan or game line up and rotations written down on a note card for quick and easy reference. While I pride myself on being adaptable and flexible during training sessions I never wish to stray far from my preparations. On match day, I might alter rotations to take advantage of a specific on-field matchup by I do not want to stray far from the training we did to prepare for the match or the game plan prepared for the match.

2) Be First to Arrive: I typically arrive at least 30 minutes before each training session, up to an hour early for a match. Be properly dressed and prepared to take the field in your role of coach.  My expectation is before the designated start time the players will be properly dressed, properly equipped and ready to train. I must meet the same standard.

2 A) Walk the field to make sure it is safe to practice on. Remove any debris that could pose a hazard to players. Make sure the goals are properly secured to the ground and in good repair.  Check for holes, standing water, mud and remedy the situation or mark these areas as off limits for training.

2 B) Set up for practice before the players begin to arrive. Place cones and other training equipment where and how you will use them. This might include coaching sticks, practice bibs, portable goals, et al.  This helps both with organization and pace of practice.  As you become more experienced you might use the teams players to help set up especially in-practice. I do this when a break from physical activity or mental strain from an activity is required.  It is an exception to the rule.

3) Welcome every player and coach with a smile and a handshake.  Inquire about their day, their family, any injury they might have sustained and how rehab is progressing.  This is perhaps the most important thing you will do.  Think of how impersonal our lives have become with the advent of video games and social media. You want players who are comfortable interacting with others. You want players who are able to communicate with one another.  I insist the players shake hands with one another as well.  They will thank you after the begin interviewing for jobs and are able to meet and greet with prospective employers.

4) Promptness: I begin every session on time. If a player is still gearing up, he's late and I do not wait. I stand so the sun is in my eyes and demand the players give me their eyes. I want eye contact when anyone addresses the team. I will provide a brief outline of the sessions theme and the activities we will use. It is both a business-like and relaxed approach.

5) Coaching Methodology: Each session should focus on the Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological aspects of playing soccer.  Warning: Talking too much is counter-productive in coaching.  Most of my words in training come when addressing techniques. Almost always this is a gentle reminder involving proper preparation to execute the technique the player has chosen to utilize. I encourage mistakes in the context of exploring the game to its fullest and finding the best solution to problems the game presents. Coachable moments occur when the same decision results in the same mistake repeatedly - we then discuss how to correct (prevent) that mistake from occurring yet again.  The hope is for the player solving the problem without stopping play, but this isn't always the case.

Use the Oreo or PIP method whenever possible. Acknowledge something done well.  Provide information or critique. Then finish on a positive.  Positive. Informative. Positive.   And keep it short and sweet. An economy and efficiency in communication is valued. Belabor your points and the athlete will tune you out.

6) Involve everyone! No lines. No standing around waiting. Don't waste time having athletes run laps as punishment.  Keep everyone actively involved.  Provide adequate breaks both in terms of number and length to allow athletes to refresh both body and mind.

While it is good to have team captains do not exclude any player from providing input during training or games. This is especially true during half times and post match analysis. Everyone has something to contribute and must not only be allowed, but encouraged to do so.

Give your assistant coaches specific roles.  Allow them to lead parts of the training sessions. Give them in-game duties.  It is good when the parts of training they lead mesh with their in-game duties. Consistency is a good thing!

While we must designate head coach and assistant coaches I try to always refer to assistant coaches as "Coach" and treat them as equals in training and at matches. Sometimes you need to coach the assistant coaches.  Never do this in the midst of training or a game. This is done before or after training or a game. You must convey your expectations for your assistants clearly and concisely to them.  The selection process for assistant coaches is extremely important.  You must be able to trust them. Buy-in begins with the assistants.

Always allow player and assistant coach input.  It is the players team and they need to feel ownership if they are to play to potential.  Their perspective of the game on the pitch will be different than yours from the sidelines.  Value their input and opinions.  The same goes for your assistant coaches. While you do not want insubordination from assistant coaches, you do want differing opinions. Listen to them. Value their input.

7) Dismissal: Bring the team together at the end of training and matches.  Briefly summarize the main points of the training session. Make announcements about the next team function.  End the training session on a positive note.  Share a quick laugh about the days training. Praise effort if not results. 

For dismissal after a match keep it short and sweet no matter the result.  If a defeat, acknowledge the result then move immediately to positives to take away and end with a word of encouragement conveying progress you saw in their collective game.  As victors, a word of praise and expressed excitement about the next gathering. Remind the athletes to rehydrate and eat properly until next you gather again.

8) Last to Leave: I am always the last to leave the field.  I check for any equipment or clothing left behind. I police the area for any debris left behind by us. I make sure every player has a ride.

While I will have set equipment up for the training session and perhaps have set out corner flags, game balls and the like for matches, I ask the players to gather all these things and put them in storage or take them to my vehicle after training or games.  When items are left at training or games there will be consequences decided by the team captains or leadership group.  Peer pressure tends to be far more effective than a coach demanding laps or some other form of punishment must done.

9) Coaching Journal: I carry a pad of paper and pencil everywhere. I am always making notes.  My team, your team, or just some team I stopped to watch for awhile.  I take notes.  This are then gathered into my coaching journal.  Each training session is in the journal in great detail. Notes on individual players are in the coaching journal. Notes of assistant coaches, referees, opposing teams and coaches are all in my coaching journal.  I note what went right, where we struggled and what we need to do going forward.

From these coaching journals I compile seasonal plans for individual players, the team, assistants and myself. I evaluate where we are and what needs to be done to get to where I think we need to be. I document every goal of every match - how we scored and when applicable how they scored against us. 

The coaching journal is the single most important thing I do to improve myself and the team.

10) FUN:  Always keep things in perspective. Winning or losing - its not life or death.  Success is found in improvement. Are you better when you step off the pitch than you were when you stepped onto the pitch?  That's the single most important question for individuals or team. As long as we continue to improve we are successful.  I find it's difficult not to enjoy yourself when you are improving, progressing, being successful.

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