A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
By Greg Bach
Colorful uniforms, grass stains and halftime orange slices are common sights at youth soccer games nationwide.
So too are well-intentioned coaches – caught up in the game day excitement – attempting to orchestrate their players’ every move.
Instructions on when to shoot, who’s open to receive a pass, and who’s going to chase down that opposing player racing downfield with the ball typically fill the air.
And can put the squeeze on youngsters developing some valuable decision-making skills of their own.
“The common mistake that coaches make are trying to control the players’ every move,” says Jeremie Piette, a former Major League Soccer (MLS) player for the Vancouver Whitecaps who has played professionally in 17 countries and on four continents. “We, as coaches, need to do better in certain moments of letting them play and not overcoaching them.”
That all starts in practice. Of course, coaches need to teach and instruct during these sessions, pointing out positives and correcting mistakes along the way.
But it’s also beneficial for all involved when coaches can step back at times, allowing players to make their own decisions during a drill or scrimmage, and figuring out what works or what doesn’t.
And then translating that to game day, giving kids the freedom to make some choices on their own; and understanding that some of those decisions will lead to success and others will flop and maybe result in surrendering a goal. It’s all part of the development process.
BOOSTING CONFIDENCE, BUILDING SKILLS
One of the many challenges that accompanies coaching kids is working on those skills they’re having trouble grasping. After all, many kids aren’t thinking long-term development; their focus is on the now and having fun performing skills they’re already good at.
“It’s a balance of working with them on their strengths and their weaknesses,” says Piette, owner of Global Fútbol Training, where he focuses on long-term player development and works with players of all ages and skill levels. “Of course, my main goal is to work on their weaknesses because that’s what is going to make them a better player. But what I see, especially from boys ages 9 and under, is that if we only work on their weaknesses they get frustrated and that’s not any fun for a kid.”
“You add in little things that they are good at,” Piette says. “And then explain to them that it’s ok to make mistakes. And then once they are 10 they start to realize ‘ok, I’m not that great at this certain element of my game but it’s ok, I just need to practice it.’”
So, by blending drills that allow kids to perform skills that they are proficient at, along with some that require practice, coaches can keep players engaged and confident.
Plus, they’ll gradually make progress in their overall development, which creates a greater likelihood of them enjoying the sport and sticking with it.
“Kids want to improve,” Piette says. “They like challenges and if you do the same things all the time they are going to get bored with it, so if you make it a competition they love it. We’ll do shooting challenges and they’ll get candy or gum for a prize and they love that. Especially for the kids who are 12 and younger if it’s something so small like that that’s what is going to get them in the car smiling and ready to come back again.”
Dr. Katherine Tamminen was the lead author of a study on helping adolescent athletes cope with stress. Use her insight to help your young athletes understand stress, manage it, and excel on game day.
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