Coaching mentality

“Small sided games, while no guarantee, are the best way to get children interested in soccer…”

“Over and over again during matches and training sessions, situations occur that are suitable for “mental training”. This is because these situations have emotional ballast and it concerns a hobby they enjoy. That and playing in a team make it possible for coaches to tactfully mould talented (and not-so-talented) players” Rinus Michels

Small sided games provide an excellent tool for this “mental training.” In fact this is the biggest element that separates them from football drills and exercises. These are useful for developing technique in a clinical sense and insight in an academic form. Important details for advanced players. Small sided games can also be useful in developing technique and insight into the game but they also add the extra dimension of developing mental qualities in an efficient and effective manner. Taken together this is the most practical way to mould the basics of the game at the earliest possible age.

What is Coaching Mentality?

Enjoyment. The most important consideration is that the practices and games are enjoyable. This is harder then it sounds because in any group what is “enjoyable” is going to be different for everyone involved. This is the hardest job for the youth coach, catering to all of the different demands, expectations and agendas inside of the team. It can create win-lose situations for the coach where he/she appears to favour one person/group over another and usually centres on the disparity between the levels and agendas inside of the team. The bigger the gap the greater the friction, miscommunication and mistrust. The bottom line is, if the players do not enjoy the activity they will not invest much effort in it, and they are the one’s playing the game. The best advice for adults involved in youth soccer is to remember that it is a hobby that centres around playing the game of soccer. When the expectations are anything more or less then this enjoyment for enjoyments sake is jeopardized. Children “perform out of a sense of duty instead of passion” and this base line mentality stifles growth. (It’s interesting to note that the number one reason given for dropping out of the game is “it’s not fun anymore.”)

Hobbies are activities that fill leisure time, are an individual’s choice and can be easily replaced. For most children their introduction to the game is not voluntary. They are signed up to a team and placed in a league before they even know what the game is, let alone if they like it. New coaches find this out quickly. Children come to ‘practice’ and immediately practice on the swings, playing tag or just hanging out with their friends. Usually it takes an adult to call them in and begin the activity. An indication that the children have embraced soccer as a serious hobby is in how quickly they start practice on their own. Children who need 30 minutes of an hour practice simply to take the field are demonstrating their level of commitment to the game. Their interest in the game is low and this is a big problem for any youth coach. If the game doesn’t hold significant appeal it won’t hold their attention. If it won’t hold their attention they’ll be easily distracted. If they’re easily distracted they’ll become interested in other things. These other things can begin to fill their leisure time and soon become their new hobby. Small sided games, while no guarantee, are the best way to get children interested in soccer as a hobby. Essentially, they offer soccer for soccer’s sake and children can get as much out of the game, and invest as much into it, as they like.

Games involve problem solving, competition and a result. These provide motivation, a goal, and feedback. Even a game of solitaire includes all of these elements. A game of soccer includes all of the elements of soccer. So, if the children value soccer as a hobby and they are offered the opportunity to play a soccer game the motivation is intrinsic, the coach doesn’t need to invest any effort in getting the children engaged. It will contain a clear goal and then provide feedback to the children as to how they did. Not only do the children learn about solving the problem but this also reinforces soccer as a hobby creating a positive feedback loop. Playing better soccer is more fun which makes you want to play more soccer which provides more opportunities to play better soccer and so on. This can lead to an individual investing free time and doing homework because they value the activity. Soccer strange activities and games serve a useful purpose after players are engaged in soccer as a hobby. These activities are good for children who can differentiate between the activity and the objective, they are secure in their relationship to the game. When dealing with children who aren’t as committed the best advice is to concentrate on, and offer what is being advertised, playing a game of soccer. Let each individual choose their own level of commitment. Get them into the game before concentrating on the finer points.

Concentration. See the concentration page for some key ideas. In coaching mentality the focus is on lengthening the time that the players can concentrate and the resistance they can work against. While age plays a big role in this, experience is another key factor. Many adult ‘occasional golfers’ can only maintain their concentration for short periods, i.e. the front nine while professionals can play 36 holes a day three days in a row and be as sharp at the end as they were at the beginning. Think of the resistance as the amount of distractions that a player can handle before it interferes with his focus on the task. It’s learning how to minimize or ignore the interference that’s important. (Bring an eight week old puppy to a 10 year olds soccer practice and watch how fast soccer is forgotten.)

Small sided games address both elements in developing concentration. The more children engage in continuous play the longer they can play both physically and mentally. Free form games just keep going, the game never stops for long and this helps to develop ‘mental stamina.’ The best way to increase mental capacity to resist distractions is to decrease the amount of time that players have to think and act. Making the field smaller, having a new ball played in as soon as the ball is out of play, giving players 5 seconds to get the ball back into play are ways to increase the speed of play, therefore the resistance. This helps children to maintain focus, to rapidly determine what is important and what isn’t by not allowing them to simply dwell on things.

Transition. Soccer is a game with two different mind sets. Attacking and defending change rapidly and often yet most youth players only function in one mode or the other. Timing some youth players while they mentally switch gears can require a calendar instead of a stop watch! Drills that only go one way, i.e. dribble and shoot at goal, or technical training, i.e. dribble in a grid and avoid other players, never address this change in mentality, in fact they reinforce the opposite. That the players job is over at the change of possession. To stop playing is acceptable. Considering the amount of time that young players spend in drills like this and it isn’t surprising that speed of thought and play is a big problem in many teams. Small sided soccer games address the change in possession and both ways. They provide abundant opportunities for mental training simply in the run of play. See four main moments.

Fear of failure. The biggest fear of failure is the fear of losing the game. “What if I make THE mistake?” When winning and losing is restricted to game day it takes on even greater significance. There is no middle ground. Practice is meant to prepare the players for the match. When winning and losing has no place in training then arguably the most important element of the game is being neglected, the result. Children need to learn how to deal with both sides of this. That winning or losing today doesn’t mean much tomorrow, that both are necessary for growth. Small sided games end with a result and with several small sided games in any practice every player will have several opportunities to experience both sides. This helps children to lower their fear of failure and leads to a more stable appreciation of what the results really mean.

Styles of play. As children get older they begin to encounter a more sophisticated game. Tactics begin to play a bigger role. The most basic tactical decision is what style the team will adopt, the playmaking or counter attacking style. These styles incorporate different mentalities, they approach the game differently. Even games like 2v2 or 3v3 allow children to learn some of the basic elements of these styles. With early and simplified exposure children can begin to understand how, when and why a particular style is appropriate and what to do in order to use each one. This makes for more adaptable players and helps to prepare them for the more complex levels of soccer.