Another typical Saturday, early morning coffee sat in front of the sports news with the laptop running updates ahead of my usual log on to plan pre season sessions and presentations for the weeks and months ahead. It’s a routine, a ritual at this stage if you like. Everybody has various and diverse reasons for taking a route into coaching, some as straightforward as a natural progression from the pitch to the sideline and others more intricate and detailed a road was travelled. Whatever our reasons may be, for those of us that have put the hours in over the years, both on and off the pitch. Countless hours planning sessions, delivering sessions, hours spent on the phone going over minute details that you hope will make a major difference to your preparation and outcome, one thing is for sure , there are moments when we stop and ponder the question , why do it?
WHOS EXPERIENCE IS IT ANYWAY?
For some I’m sure the answer to that question is a simple. Others will espouse a romanticised version of what they believe are honourable and admirable reasons for taking on the responsibility and demands that are presented to us when confronting the sometimes thankless task of youth and grassroots coaching in soccer. Personally after years of consideration and contemplation for myself the answer to that question is quite a straightforward and to the point. I coach FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME.
This very reason is the intrinsic motivation that drives my every want and need to grow and develop both my practical knowledge and ability as a coach,to be able to help the players that I coach to reach the upward limits of their potential. Coaching I have come to realise after years of coach education and time spent on the sidelines and learning from coaches that are infinitely wiser than I could ever hope to be, is a simple and yet strangely complex interaction between you and your players. This process I believe has been over complicated at times by new methods and trends, courses promising to give you the secrets to developing players, techniques and gimmicks disguised in clever marketing has clouded the simplicity of the coaching process.
Our own development as coaches can at times become intertwined with that of the children we coach. As we improve our coaching skill set , we would hope that the kids we coach reap the benefits of this improvement. The important factor for me personally has been to find a balance between seeking my own education and finding the time to spend refining what I have learned in a practical coaching sense on the pitch. Some coaches I find enter into a badge collecting race without sufficient time spent coaching and developing practical coaching competences.
The more coaches chase the “holy grail” of learning , the less it seems they learn. It is my belief that the whole coaching concept at youth level has turned into a proverbial merry-go – round where coaches continually chase the next piece of information that will help them stand out from the crowd and put them at the cutting edge of coaching. This constant race to become the creme de la creme of coaches has left us dizzy, dis orientated and disconnected from the real reasons why we are there to coach in the first place. We are here to facilitate a learning process, but not necessarily ours! We are a facilitator, the kids are the learners and the game environment as set and adjusted by the coach is the teacher. It is my opinion that we must keep this at our core of understanding when it comes to coaching kids, this is their journey, their sporting experience and we are guilty at times of making it all about us adults. We must keep coaching more child centred and as much as coach education and learning is a vital component of our own development, it must never take precedence over the learner! One day we may wake up and realise that we are not as important as we make ourselves out to be in terms of development in soccer, what if given the right environment and circumstances that development is a child centred and child driven process?
With this in mind, where does that leave the coaches role? There are numerous and varied ways we can help aid learning and discovery, without having a hand in every decision. It is my belief that having an atmosphere that promotes risk, creativity and free thinking will ultimately lead to better decision makers and kids that will play without fear. Too often do we micro manage and hijack kids decisions on the pitch.
Coaches can help simply by keeping track of moments during learning that they can help the players to reflect upon during natural breaks in play, a mistimed pass or what we may perceive to be a poorly timed run are crucial parts of the learning process and must be allowed to take place without our needless constant intervention. If we were to use the analogy of a child doing their maths homework, do you think they would develop greater numeracy skills if we shout at them every time they get a sum wrong or on the other hand constantly supply them with the answers, this is their journey, their childhood experience, we must remember this!
There are countless amounts of research currently in circulation in relation to pedagogy and teaching methods in youth sport, I’m not writing this to direct you towards the research, but more to highlight my own general observations into the need for coaches to re-examine our role in the coaching process and bring a spotlight to issues that I believe are crucial to the sporting experience of the kids we coach.
If we can begin to view our role as that of a facilitator of learning and promote a environment free of fear and anxiety for our young players, built on a solid foundation of fun and love of the game, then we may just be on the cusp of a new dawn of coaching, until that day comes I feel we may continue to lose participants at a young age in what has become an adult dominant and driven process.
Yours in Sport