Soccer great on building teams where kids truly care for each other
By Greg Bach
Cultivating a team atmosphere where young athletes support, encourage and genuinely care for each other should be high up on every coach’s to-do list.
And one of the focal points of every practice.
“It’s something that you have to implement and encourage in training,” says former U.S. Olympic soccer star Josh Wolff, now an assistant coach for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer. “When you look out on the field during games you want to see a group of players who are encouraging each other.”
After all, when kids care, teams flourish.
It’s inspiring to see it in action on game day, too.
“When you score a goal you want to see the kids on the field, and the guys on the bench, have this camaraderie and this enjoyment of togetherness,” says Wolff, who scored a pair of goals for the U.S. during the 2000 Summer Olympics.
These displays of affection and support should not be limited to just those instances when the team has netted a goal, though.
A well-timed defensive play; a great stop by the goalie; or even a player hustling to chase down a loose ball are all golden opportunities for kids to praise, recognize and pump up their teammates.
The more kids are invested in the entire process, and in tune with the ups and downs of game action and what their teammates are doing, the more enjoyable the experience will be for everyone.
“Just like when a goalie makes a save to see your forwards and attackers show their appreciation to the goalie and defenders,” Wolff says. “It’s a collective unit out there.”
When kids embrace that team mentality it makes those victories even sweeter because everyone feels a real part of the experience, regardless if they scored a goal or simply made a solid defensive play early in the game that they recall generated cheers from their teammates on the bench.
Plus, losses are more easily dealt with and moved on from, because one or two players don’t feel the burden of the result being on them – everyone shares in it, learns from it and moves on.
“The way you train allows you to perform a certain way on game days and you need to share in both the successes and failures,” says Wolff, a member of the 2002 and ’06 U.S. World Cup teams. “And that’s part of soccer certainly and it’s part of any sport.”
But it only happens if coaches are building and reinforcing that team culture every time they gather for practices.
Are players being reminded of the importance of recognizing others’ efforts? Are they applauding good plays by their teammates and pumping them up if they’re struggling during a drill?
It has to happen in practice for it to show up on game day.
“One of the biggest things is get down on the players’ level and understand your audience and understand your team,” Wolff says. “With younger kids there needs to be energy, there needs to be smiles, there needs to be encouragement and there needs to be enjoyment.”
Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Olympian for Team USA, shares how to help young athletes work through disappointment, embrace change – and have some all-important fun throughout the process, too
Are the messages you’re delivering creating a team-first atmosphere or destroying it? Use these tips from Raegan Pebley, Texas Christian University’s women’s basketball coach, to cultivate a true team environment
Samantha Peszek faced – and conquered – incredible pressure on her way to becoming an NCAA champion and Olympic medalist. Use the insights of this elite performer to help your young athletes excel when the pressure rises
Nikki McCray-Penson, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and head coach of the Old Dominion University women’s basketball team, on speaking with passion and enthusiasm to young athletes