|Being a youth soccer coach involves a lot more than
taking a bag of balls and cones to your soccer coaching sessions and teaching children how
to pass, shoot and tackle.
You are also a counsellor, psychologist, first-aider, secretary
and diplomat. You also need to have eyes in the back of your head, be a
superb organiser and be an expert at tying laces that are only two inches long
and coated with mud.
Additionally you have to be able to read
It's not sufficient to prepare your players
technically and tactically to play in matches. You need to understand
that their performance on the field is determined, to a surprisingly
large extent, by what is going on inside their heads.
Are they feeling confident? Do they really believe
they can perform well? Do they feel that they have to win? That
losing would let down their significant others – you and their parents?
No matter how skilled a player is, if he is
thinking about how other people are reacting to how he plays, he won't
be able to perform to his potential. It's similar to stage fright and
it affects thousands of youngsters every week.
A clear sign that this is a problem for your
players is the difference between how they play in coaching sessions
and how they play in matches. If you have players who shoot on sight
and tackle without fear during training yet when match day comes, they
are quiet and won't take the slightest risk, they are being
adversely affected by pressure. And you have to do something about it.
Pressure on young football players comes from two
directions – parents and coaches – but most of it comes from parents.
Parents are, on the whole, well meaning.
Unfortunately they often don't realise what effect the little chats in
the car on the way to matches that they have with their children have
on their performance.
Comments like: "Score five goals for me today,
John" (to a striker). "Let's keep a clean sheet" (to a goalie). "No
mistakes today!" (to a defender) and "it's an important game
today... let's make sure we win" (to any player), won't motivate their
children to do well.
Instead, the parents' words will be rattling
around in your players' heads while they're playing and if they don't
look like meeting expectations, they will become frustrated and scared
to take risks.
What can you do about it? Well, you can't be in the
car with them on the way to the match. But you can take the time to
meet with your parents and explain how they can best prepare their
children for match days.
Instead of putting pressure on their child to do
well (the "or else" is unspoken) it would be better to talk about
school, what they're doing on Sunday, where they're going for lunch
after the game... anything except what they want their child to do on
If parents feel they must talk about the game, they need to
remind their child the result is not as important as playing their
best for the team. That everyone makes mistakes and they will be their
most loyal supporter no matter what happens. Exhortations to score
goals, avoid mistakes or win the match almost always backfire and must
All this might seem pretty obvious to you and me.
But, sadly, it isn't to most parents. So you need to tell them how to
talk to their child before matches.
is an essential part of coaching but it needs to be done in the right
way. If you constantly nag at a player: "Joe, I've told you loads of
times, aim at the corners of the goal when you shoot" or are harsh with
them: "Lucy, that's a terrible pass", they will carry your words like a
millstone around their neck on match days.
Joe will be too scared to shoot at all and Lucy
will be tempted to kick the ball anywhere rather than attempt – and
fail again – to make a decent pass.
You should always:
on what a player does well rather than what they are not so good at.
them to get better by teaching, not criticising.
In Joe's case, that would mean watching him shoot
straight at the goalkeeper for the umpteenth time then taking him aside,
praising him for getting into a shooting position then showing him how
to strike the ball accurately. Lucy needs to be praised for spotting
passing opportunities then shown how to strike the ball more
But even if you consciously avoid unhelpful
criticism of your players, there are other ways you can put them under
- If your players feel that you want them to win
matches rather than try to win them, they will feel as though they are
letting you down if the other team scores more goals than they
- If your pre-match talk consists of dire warnings
not to make mistakes, that they MUST WIN TODAY or includes the words:
"Don't let me down boys... ".
- If you prowl the touchline during matches, kicking
the ground in disgust every time a player makes the "wrong" choice.
- If you substitute a player immediately after they make a
If you do any of these things your players will be
too scared to shoot on sight, go for a tackle or try a long
So make sure your players know that you value
effort more than achievement, that the way they play is more important
than the final score and you like players who take calculated risks.
Impress on your players that the worst shot is the one that isn't taken
and they won't get better unless they make some mistakes.
Take the pressure off and you'll free your players to be the best they can
be. And that's what youth football coaching is all about.