For the parent coach that's new to the game and coaching, the first two questions
they usually ask are "What am I suppose to do and how will I do it?"
This page will offer some information and direction on these questions. It contains
links to other pages so that even novice coaches can get a basic understanding
of how to use small sided games and why they are such an effective learning tool.
How Do I Do This? Choosing A Model
Becoming a coach means adopting a set of behaviors on how to do a job. It amounts
to assuming a role when dealing with the players, parents, opponents and officials.
This can be seen as a coaching style which is based
on a set of expectations of what a coach is and does. But choosing a model for
this behavior is limited by experience. For the new parent coach this experience
might only be the memory of a Physical Education class from long ago. What's important
is that it will form the framework for how the coach sees the game, the children,
learning and themselves. It will be an unconscious, internalized starting point
for every decision.
The Physical Education Teacher - The Physical
Education model is the most predominate model in the game today. It divides the
game into separate, distinct areas. Technique, rules and basic strategy. This
model sees the game as isolated components that can be learned separately in practices
and reassembled later on in the game. It usually employs three different parts
in a practice. A warm-up, the lesson and finally a scrimmage. This is an outline
for the standard PE class lesson.
The strength of this model is that everything
is controlled and quantified. Almost everything can be evaluated on an objective
basis. This is what Physical Education teachers do. Control the environment, and
the students, in order to evaluate them for a grade. The grade will be based on
technical proficiency, knowledge of the rules and basic strategy. Players learn
how to wait in line for their turn and follow directions, they learn little about
problem solving or team work. At no time are end results (winning/losing) a part
of the evaluation. In this way it's easy to justify the activities when the evaluation
is isolated from a larger more complex picture.
But success for a coach
is different than for a PE teacher. Coaches are concerned with results from games.
Mastery of any area is useless if it does not transfer directly to the sport.
The structure used in learning PE (static positions, lines) can only be found
on the field in a few brief moments, i.e. restarts if at all. The PE teacher exercises
all of the control of the objectives and pace of the lesson. Students are dependent
on the teacher as an external source of motivation and evaluation. But soccer
is a player centered activity and children need a to
develop their own source of internal motivation and evaluative skills. They also
need to learn for themselves how to control the pace and objectives of the game
and themselves. So the basic weakness of the PE model is that it prepares the
children for drills and not games by both its focus
Street Soccer Model - It's focus
is on learning how to play games by playing the game or, some modified form. It
takes a holistic approach to learning. The upside of this model is that with it's
focus on games children not only learn how to play soccer but simply how to play.
Playing together without supervision is a rapidly vanishing activity. Children
must learn not only the skills of the game but how
to self assess, take responsibility for their own actions and work together in
a competitive environment.
The downside of this model is that much of the
control is given to the children and they might not go in the direction that you
want. They may choose different solutions or ignore the problem altogether. They
will learn at their own speed, not yours because they are the ones who decide
what is really important. (And since this is their childhood, who can blame
them.) It can also be chaotic and that will be a problem for some adults. There
is an element of uncertainty in the training which matches the uncertainty of
the game itself.
What Do I Do? Setting
The First Seasons Objective
the Physical Education model the seasons overall plan will focus on improvement
in key areas. This usually results in a grocery list
of objectives. Techniques; passing, shooting,
dribbling. Tactical concepts; spreading out, proper
support, defending angles. Rules; proper throw ins, penalty kicks and so on. With
a grocery list, lessons become topics and the children and coach are held in the
straight jacket of the agenda. Success is measured by how much the children improved
in the topic, even if the children don't care about or have little use for it.
"Tuesday we will work on dribbling, Thursday passing. We will be better dribblers
and passers because that is what we have worked on." While this statement
might be true, it does not necessarily follow that they'll be better soccer players.
In the street soccer model the seasons objective will be
to find the correct form(s) of the game and to help the players
to increase their speed of play. This takes into account the players
level and motivation. It will
mean adjusting the resistance to meet the ever changing needs and situations.
It allows the players to face constantly recurring and realistic situations under
varying degrees of difficulty. As they progress in mastering the particular
form their speed of play increases. Decisions, and
their ability to execute them improve. "This week we'll work on the shooting
game, we might not be better shooters but we should be better soccer players because
we have been playing soccer." The goal is not just to improve the tools of
the game, but to improve the quality of the game itself.
A problem with the PE point of view for the new parent coach is that the grocery
list of needs and objectives never ends. You simply keep adding on one more thing
that you think they need to learn. In reality, the vast majority of youth
players stop playing the game before they are 18. Lessons devoted to standing
in lines and passing a ball back and forth or dribbling aimlessly around in a
grid will have little relevance to their adolescent and adult needs. In the street
soccer model the lessons are focused more on communication,
responsibility, and team work with the technical and tactical side being driven
by how the players see their own needs. They'll be as good as they want to be,
not as someone else wants them to be.
Some Age Appropriate Guidelines
The following will
focus on a few general ideas.
5-6 Year Olds - Five and Six year olds
can't play competitive team sports. They lack the experience to understand cooperative
play and the real meaning of winning and losing. Here soccer is a means to an
end, a way to introduce social and motor skills to young children who are just
beginning to experience the world outside of home and school.
Some of the
children may experience a new form of conflict, the difference in what adults
say and mean. One example is between the "just do your best and that's good
enough" mantra and the realization that sometimes "your best is not
good enough." Another is when the coach instructs them to take the ball away
another child, (which isn't nice) while their teachers insist on sharing and being
nice. This can lead to confusion about what adults, authority figures, really
The basic game format (2,
4 goals or use targets)
allows the children to learn direction. 2v2 and 3v3 mini-tournaments
allows for team work on their scale. Proper field
size can teach consequences when the ball goes out. Recessed
goals can help children to get their heads up and to see beyond their feet.
Since children play at two speeds, all out or stop, the activities can be divided
with periods of active rest. All of the technical skills
will come along with the games and the basic lessons of "work together, keep
the ball on the field and let's try going the right way" can be learned.
7-8 Year Olds - One of the biggest problems at this age will be
when children of different levels are mixed. Sometimes
it's between children who have been playing for awhile and those that are either
new or really don't care about it. Sometimes the difference is in physical or
mental qualities. When the levels are too great this puts a stress on everyone's
relationship and is the hardest problem for a coach to solve. Ideally, the club
should have a way to insure that children play with others that are close in their
own level and interests.
If the children have been playing SSG's for a few
seasons they should have enough experience so that the basic games can be modified
and made harder. The number of players can be increased, line
soccer or combined goals can be introduced
and some simple rules set. Changing the
demands of the training games can improve the speed of the basic game and their
real weekend match. If the children have only had exposure to the PE model they
will need some time to adjust to the freedom that SSG's offer. Their speed of
play will initially be slow but can improve over time.
9-10 Year Olds
- The separation between levels becomes more pronounced and often the parents
of the top players bring increased expectations to the situation. Some parents
see these years as a continuation of a hobby while others see it as the final
preparation before the "real 11 a side game." This can cause conflicting
agendas between adults on the same team and add to the stress that the children
and coach already face. However, the separation in levels also means that some
children will be faced with the choice of playing in a secondary role at a higher
level, or, playing their preferred role at a lower level. Children who find themselves
in a primary role but are faced with too much resistance from the too high a level
will find a lot of frustration.
Often this is
the age when some children will start to gravitate to a position or a role. While
it's too early to predict where a child is best suited to play in the future,
they should be allowed the option of sticking to the position or role of their
choice. This allows them the opportunity to experience the game in depth as it
meets their needs. (If a 10 year old wants to play the violin do they need to
practice the trumpet?) Later, if they want to change it's their choice. Soccer
at this age is a hobby. Hopefully the children are there because they choose to
be. If they are forced to play too often outside of their comfort zone they can
simply pick a new hobby. The down side of this position is that the average 12
player team has 8 right wings and will require the coach to work out a some diplomatic
plan for playing time.
Children that have been playing awhile might express
a total commitment to the game, even dreaming of a professional career. The game
has become the center of their lives outside of school, church and home. But this
attachment is like a first love and is subject to change with age and experience.
Unfortunately, many parents don't recognize this and it can also lead to increased
expectations. In addition, some children go through a prepubescent growth spurt
and their physical qualities can change almost overnight, usually for the worse.
Children who only a year ago were stars can rapidly gain 15% in body weight, lose
confidence and develop a fear of failure. This period
of a crisis in confidence must be recognized as a temporary and natural process.
They'll simply out grow it.
At this age children are capable of fairly sophisticated
games. The big goal, two small goals and
5v2 games can help them prepare for the
building up phase of play. The ball will be getting
off of the ground so soccer tennis and
the heading game will help as an introduction
to this part of the game. If the children have mastered the basic
forms of SSG's they should be able to quickly adapt to new problems and situations.
When the resistance is correct this age is capable of quality play at a high speed.
A soccer season is short, perhaps 9 games and 20
practices. Ideally this might mean 29 hours for learning soccer. But some children
will miss practices and games. Practices and games will be rained out. Children
will arrive late and leave early. Many children will not practice at all away
from the team. Time is lost for breaks and setting up new activities. All of these
things will reduce the amount of time that the children have to learn. When the
learning curve of the new parent coach is figured in it's easy to understand why
the training must be first and foremost, efficient and effective. Keep things
simple and soccer.