Get Licensed!

My advice to all coaches, regardless of their playing experience is to "Get licensed!" The kids you coach will benefit immensely.

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I was lucky enough to have been able to play professional soccer. Playing soccer was a difficult way to make a living at the time in the U.S. (1980s and early ‘90s). You had to love the game. After I finished playing, I took a long break from soccer until my son started playing five years ago. Other than being a supportive parent, I had little desire to coach or take an active role on my son's team.

Five years ago, when my son's recreation coach couldn't commit to the season, I was asked to take the U8 team that was full of his classmates. I reluctantly accepted.

My first practice was a disaster. It was so complicated that I lost everyone. I had to make major adjustments in my thinking to make things fun and simple for the kids, while teaching them about the game as best I could. I loved being around the kids and caught the coaching bug.

After the season, I went into the "competitive" system for U9s. A fellow coach said that I should take the "F" coaching license. I didn't know anything about the CYSA licensing program. In the back of my mind, I thought, "Why do I need this? I played at a fairly high level, at least by U.S. standards. Can't I skip a few of these?

I didn't enjoy the "F" class. Server patterns, receiver patterns, figure eights — I felt like I was in a foreign language class! What did this have to do with playing soccer? The instructor chewed me out a few times for not pushing and peeking. I dreaded the "E" class that I knew was ahead if I wanted to coach "competitive" soccer the following year.

A few of my ex-professional soccer friends who now coach told me to petition and skip up to the USSF "B" license. They were able to do this several years ago. I took the "E" class, where my instructor was an ex-professional player who held an USSF "A" license. He was fantastic and spoke the same soccer language — I could totally relate to him. However, I still struggled with the course concepts.

I tried again to petition up to a higher license, but didn't get anywhere. A CYSA official said that I could skip the pre-"F" license course. Gee, thanks!

I signed up for the "E/D" course after learning that the same instructor that taught the "E" course would be teaching. Two full weekends of classes (including Friday nights); I thought this was nuts. However, mid-way through the "E/D" course, a few things started clicking. Several weaknesses in the way I coached became apparent:

  • I discovered that just because I "played," didn't mean I could coach children. Having the knowledge of the game from playing and translating that knowledge to teaching a child soccer techniques is quite different — they are two completely unrelated skill sets. In most cases, if a child has no fun playing for me and quits, I have failed as a coach. Who cares what the child learned from me or how they developed? Too many coaches and parents associate a winning record or being a "ranked" team with having fun. This is both scary and ridiculous.
  • I developed a much better understanding of the basics of sports psychology with children. This is absolutely critical in being successful as a youth coach. Kids want to have fun. That's it! It is your job to make their experience fun, while at the same time teaching them about the beauty of the game of soccer.
  • I became significantly better organized and disciplined as a coach. I used to have multiple themes for my practices — this was a great way to confuse everyone (including myself) and stunted the development of my players. I didn't realize this, but my practices were chaotic and confusing for the players. With my playing background, I incorrectly assumed that players knew certain things that I skipped over when demonstrating various themes. I did not pay attention to the details. As a result, I was not very successful at teaching. You can't go from Step 1 to Step 4 without mastering the steps in between.
  • Building one theme around the 9-Step Practice Routine works! You must have a plan and a theme for each practice based on the previous game and stick to it. Over the course of a season, this consistent approach will dramatically improve your kids. More importantly, the kids will have more fun and want to return to play the next season. The children having FUN should be your most important priority, by far.

I was pleased that positive coaching behavior was heavily emphasized in each of the CYSA coaching courses I took (from "F" to "D"). Always be positive and give constructive feedback to your kids. Encourage and motivate them. I guarantee that your kids will remember.

I'm now in the last weekend of getting my "D" license. It's difficult. To say that the principles of the "E/D" course are hammered into you in the "D" course is an understatement. I see myself improving significantly as a coach during the class. It makes me realize that the quest for becoming a better coach never ends; it's a continuous process. I'm already looking forward to the challenges of getting my USSF "C" license next year.

Playing experience is terrific, but it will not guarantee success teaching soccer to children. Get licensed! You and, more importantly, the children you coach, will greatly benefit.

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