Youth Soccer Coaching Suppositions #1

A recent soccer coaching discussion centered on some interesting suppositions related to youth soccer and soccer coaching in general.

One supposition discussed was that "youth soccer coaches in America are far less experienced than any other youth sport."

I was asked my opinion of this thought. At first glance, I was prone to agree when considering how well versed most youth coaches in America are with baseball, basketball and football coaching, but then I had to square that thought up with what I had been witnessing in my own recent soccer coaching experiences, as compared to where we were as youth coaches even 15 years ago.

I found that I was impressed by what I was seeing today amongst trainers, technical trainers and coaches, albeit my experiences have been at a higher level of soccer lately then in years past. Most recently, my coaching and training has been at the collegiate level, men's/women's NCAA Division-II. I've also had the opportunity to train/coach at the high school level and some youth clubs over the past several years. I had to admit that I've been pleasantly surprised at the coaching experience level I've observed and the vast improvement of technical training in general.

In fact, coaches today, whether at the club or even high school level, have impressive resumes. The second generation of players are now starting to enter the coaching ranks. These are the players coming out of the better collegiate programs, MLS and European training systems (Ajax), and are products of the more sophisticated club programs coached by the first-generation coaches who had earned numerous coaching credentials and certifications.

The difference? These newer coaches have trained and played in modern systems that introduced standard soccer touches and fundamentals to every practice session. These newer coaches understand the need for being technically sound and the importance of ball touches in each and every practice. These newer coaches can adjust technical deficiencies.

The practice sessions they grew up in started to follow universally recognized methodology in the session's structure. Almost unheard of today (in the better organized programs) is the practice session that involved long periods of running in an aerobic sense (laps) and few ball touches (fundamentals), followed by an unstructured scrimmage (free for all). Although there is a place for the competitive scrimmage as a learning tool (i.e., 4v4, 7v7, etc.), it is not an every-practice, stand-alone item.

That doesn't mean that every soccer practice in America is run with organized precision, just as every baseball, basketball and football practice isn't run with organized precision. This certainly doesn't mean that all youth soccer coaches have mastered the session content. There are still many soccer coaches who have never played the game, grown up in a well run soccer club and have difficulty correcting technical behavior.

It also doesn't mean that every player at every club is now technically proficient -- they're not, as I'll talk about later. Most of the newer generation of coaches I speak of have submitted themselves to soccer licensing and credentialing classes to refine what they learned as players, and now bring forth their own sessions, adding their own creativity.

In the spring issue of Coaches' Quarterly, published by the National Federation of State High School Associations, authors Scott Moss and John Stott discuss risk management and best practices for coaches. Moss and Stott mention that, "All regular practices should include warm-up exercises, flexibility exercises, aerobic exercises, skill training and a cool-down period at the end of practice".

This describes the template every practice plan should be designed around. Sound familiar? This is precisely the methodology taught in the FUNdamental SOCCER "9 Step Practice Routine."

Stott and Moss discuss these key components in a universally accepted best-practice scenario for reducing coach and institutional liability. Essentially, this means conducting every practice in an organized fashion that incorporates the key points mentioned above and keeps all of our student athletes safe and fundamentally sound. Coaches who don't follow recognized practice procedures expose themselves to potential liability issues should one of their players become injured in a practice session.