COACHES CORNER: Making Meaningful Connections

The recreational soccer seasons are usually quite short and coaches often
don’t get enough contacts or time with their players. As a parent
coach, we can get so caught up in our agenda of the nuts and bolts list of
things we want to teach the players in practice and the season that we can
sometimes forget one of the important basics of coaching at this, and all
levels: making meaningful connections!

  1. Make a one-to-one verbal connection with each player at every practice
    and game day. The kids want to know they are seen and that it mattered that they showed up!
  2. Connect to where the individual player is, emotionally, mentally and
    physically. There can be wide range of abilities at the recreation level: try to
    find a way to simplify things for the child who isn’t coming in as
    naturally coordinated, or to have empathy for the child who has had a rough
    day, or to create an additional challenge for the player who comes in with
    more soccer experience.
  3. Connect what you work on in practice directly to the games. Remind the
    players about the new skill you introduced earlier that week and tell them
    you are looking for them to try it against that day’s opponent.
  4. Remember to connect with the parents! Introduce yourself to the group
    and individually when you see a new face. Ask the kids to thank their
    parents for getting them to practice and games. Let them know, either in
    person or via email, something positive you saw their child do or something
    that you are encouraging their child to try.

These little efforts can make a big difference in giving the entire team a
fun soccer experience.

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

COACHES CORNER: When you first start coaching

When you first start coaching – be it your initial foray as a parent coach or the beginning of a new season with a new team for a more seasoned recreational coach, figuring out what to cover in a practice can be daunting. This is often especially true after you have seen them in their first competition – the list of “things they need to work on” feels endless. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and its best to go in with a plan.

First, give some thought to the skills you would like to introduce and the topics you would generally like to cover over the span of the season and work from there. Be realistic and age/developmentally appropriate with your expectations and goals.

Pick a theme for the practice. Keep it focused. Don’t worry too much about correcting non-theme related “issues” that come up in that practice (might be no need to address a missed passing opportunity if you are introducing and working on moves to get around a defender)

Incorporate that theme into the progressive stages of your session: warm up, drills, game-type situation. Emphasize throughout. Regardless of the theme – keep it fun and keep them active.

Be over prepared. Occasionally an activity will be a bust and you’ll need to change course. Having extra theme related ideas as part of your plan will prevent you from panicking and (hopefully) the 7 year olds from finding the dandelions more interesting than practice.

Keep building on the themes each week. But repeating an entire practice plan (with tweaks based on what worked and what didn’t) can be a good thing for everyone too!

And finally, whether it be at the beginning of practice as players are arriving (great incentive for kids to arrive on time) or at the end as your final activity, it is always a good idea to give them an opportunity to just play at each session– scrimmaging with no restrictions and little to no coaching!

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

COACHES CORNER: The Playground is the Ultimate Soccer Field for Play

COACHES CORNER: The Playground is the Ultimate Soccer Field for Free (and Fun!) Play

When my two boys are asked what their favorite part of their school day was, the answer is inevitably “gym” or “recess.” I know nobody wants to think of the end of summer quite yet, and especially not a return to school, but I also know my kids are already excited about getting to again hang with their extended friend group all at once – something that only happens during recess.

In the case of my eldest son, recess also proved to be a useful soccer recruiting tool. He and his friends play before lunch every single day, even outside in the winter months. This group has grown steadily over the years, which has in turn also grown not only a love of the game amongst the other students, but actual players that went on to join the local competitive club.

As a parent who always emphasizes the importance of academic learning, I have learned to see great value in the lessons my kids are picking up on the playground when they just get to figure out how to get organized in their own way, on their own. Of course it doesn’t hurt that they have also become ambassadors for a sport I adore. And while there’s no doubt it’s great to hear about those magical moments of discovery in the classroom, I also must admit that I look forward to hearing them recount the often funny and heroic moments from their recess free play field.

So, really…back to school can be back to fun? It certainly can be, if we remember to just let them play!

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

COACHES CORNER: Remedy to Summer Soccer Brain Drain

Most teachers are well aware of a little phenomenon called “The Summer Brain Drain.” This is the loss of skills and knowledge that often happens during the months away from school. With many seasons already coming to an end just as official summer begins and a rather long gap before tryouts and then another before the start of the fall season, a parallel concept could be applied to our favorite youth sport: Summer Soccer Brain Drain. While this usually refers to a slide in math and reading skills, in the case of soccer it would be a loss of technical skill in the time away from the game. This is the perfect time to “MOTI UP” and helps combat a summer skill slide with some fun soccer homework.

  • Encourages your player to learn and be active while also getting some bonus tech time.
  • Learn Together! Study the skills on the app with your player and ask some directed but open-ended technique questions: “What do you notice about where the ball stays when doing the lateral four touches?”
  • Opportunity to set up mini-challenges – the adult can participate too. See how many reverse Vs. can be done in a set amount of time.
  • Record the players trying a skill and let them see themselves on the replay. Then give them a turn to do the same with you.

The prescription is in! A few healthy doses of MOTI (with World Cup viewing as an added supplement) to keep skills and learning on track.

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

COACHES CORNER: Parental Advisory! A Beginning Guide Soccer Lingo

If you are looking to gain some credibility with your player(s) or in conversations with those in the know, here is a quick list of some fun dos and suggested don’ts of things to say.

First, two sideline pitfalls to avoid!

Boot it! – Usually used to instruct a player to get the ball cleared or plead with them to just kick it really hard.  The only time the word boot should come out of your mouth around soccer players is when you are quaintly referring to the soccer cleats on someone’s feet or instructing someone to grab some equipment from your car trunk. Think “cool new boots” or “could you please grab the cones from the boot, my car is the white Honda.”

Unlucky – This isn’t a phrase to completely steer clear of, but using it comes with a responsibility not to overuse it. Occasionally, a player is actually unlucky on the field, but more often you can hear “Unlucky!” exclaimed after any errant shot or pass. As a coach, these moments present an opportunity to give some more specific instruction and encouragement or to remain quiet. Further, hearing it repeatedly and inaccurately might discourage a player from a moment of on-field self-reflection, adjustment and correction…and could prove quite unlucky for the team in the long run.

Now, for the fun ones:

Nutmeg – it’s not just for eggnog anymore. Also indicates you have successfully knocked the ball between an opponent’s legs. Often used to be a bit cheeky and embarrass another player, hopefully in good fun.

PK – aka penalty kick, penalty, pen, dot shot. A direct free kick within the goal box against only the goalkeeper.

Nil – zero, zilch, nada. As in “the score was 2-nil.”

Hat Trick – three goals in one game by the same player.

Brace – two goals in one game by the same player.

I haven’t forgotten pitch, match and football, of course…but you might need a British accent to legitimately pull these words off!

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

View the TEAM TERMINOLOGY page here.

COACHES CORNER: The Merry Merry Month of May?!

There might be a poem and a song that declares it to be so, but I mean, is it really? I understand somebody decided to place Mother’s Day smack dab in the middle of it to make us feel like it is “our” month but I think many of us, especially us “Soccer Moms” might wonder why. May feels like it sends schedules into overdrive and moms right to the edge.

So many activities to juggle. The band and choir concerts. The end of year school projects and parties. Remembering which kid needs to be at which field in which uniform as seasons kick into high gear.

As you simultaneously play the top 40 DJ, throw snacks into the back seat and try ever-so-calmly to request (for the third time) that “Player A” get his shin pads on…take a quick peek at yourself in that rearview mirror and give yourself a mental high five.

You are doing a GREAT job!

Wise elders tell us that someday we will miss these moments. I am going to try to believe them and seek a little bit of merry amidst the chaos.

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

COACHES CORNER: The Power of Positivity

In addition to the often recommended “I love to watch you play!”, some suggestions of supportive words to offer and questions to ask the young player that will help them grow as a teammate and in their understanding of the game:

You worked so hard today.

I saw when you helped that opposing player up, that made me smile.

I am sorry that today was rough. I’m so glad you have tomorrow to try again.

It was fun to see you have fun with your friends.

What did you do today on the field that made you feel proud?

I know you felt nervous and you were so brave anyway.

What was your favorite part of the game?

Is there something that you observed that the other team did well?

I noticed you listening intently when the coach was talking at halftime. What made you listen?

You never gave up the entire game!

View another COACHES CORNER article here.

COACHES CORNER: I Love to Watch You Play…HONESTLY!

By now, many parents have probably heard/read that the main or only thing you should say to your young player after a game is “I love to watch you play.” While I wholeheartedly believe this to be true (even if difficult to practice at times), I think that there could be an “also” added to the parental responsibility: also mean it! And by mean it, I mean actually WATCH them play.

I learned early on that my boys were watching me to see if I was watching them. They would occasionally glance over to check in with me, looking for acknowledgment, after doing something on the field or while waiting as a sub on the sideline. Afterward, almost without fail, I would get the post-game questions of “Did you see that time….?” or “Remember when I did….?” They weren’t always referring to a big play they made – sometimes it was something silly that happened, but they wanted to know if I had noticed, if we had had a shared experience. Ultimately, it mattered to them that I bear witness to what they had shown up to do.

This became even more obvious to me when the questions began to change as they got a bit older: “Dad, can you not be on your phone the whole time?”, “Mom, can you not spend the entire game visiting with _____(fill in the blank with another player’s parent’s name)?” While it was by no means the case that I had been chatting through an entire game, my son had likely just never caught me looking because he was engrossed in his own playing. But his perception was important to me, and ultimately, I understood that he just wanted to be seen. This theory was confirmed further when, before a practice, I got a: “Mom, can you watch me play today?”

I don’t think this desire is specific to my kids. In my years of coaching, I have also observed other players behaving similarly, especially in rec programs and early on in a child’s sports playing experience.

Our kids are asking us to be present.

This doesn’t mean that they are asking for additional feedback or critique. It does mean that they actually want you to be more than just their personal Uber and pay attention – which is really great news!

And in the end, you can honestly (and JUST) say “I love to watch you play.”

View another COACHES CORNER article here.