Coaching youth soccer: how will you be remembered 20 years from now?

Youth Soccer – Training in an Extreme Youth Soccer League

One of the best things about doing youth soccer clinics across the county is that you get to hear some great stories from some very interesting youth soccer coaches. Recently, after a youth clinic I did, I met privately with a coach from Alabama. He went into great detail describing the league and the program he would be training in.

Starting at 11 both ways

In the league of your teams, it is very common that when the ball changes hands NO PLAYER LEAVES THE FIELD. Yes, even with teams of 24 or more, when the ball changes hands quite frequently, not a single player leaves the field. This is the 10-11 year old unselected youth soccer.

This coach is training in this league for the first time, but he has had a son playing last season and knows several of the coaches and many of the parents. Not only do teams in this league play their top 11 both ways, but some even try to get non-starters to quit before the season starts. One of the parents of these coaches, the newly assigned players, was told by his coach from last season that he “would not see the field” even before training began. This was told to the father of the children flatly and this boy is very well behaved and has struggled for 2 years. Most of the non-starters on these teams play only 2 plays per game and those plays are mostly special teams plays.

Why do they do this?

While I am a firm believer in playing competitive soccer (we’ve gone 78-5 in the last 8 seasons) with a winner and a loser and playing with some kids more than others on merit, I find this absolutely appalling. While I have coached on both select and non-select shows and many different youth soccer leagues and tournaments, thankfully I have only seen this type of behavior a handful of times. What is common in the coaches that I have seen do this is that they have always been extremely weak coaches who are desperate to win games.

It’s almost always the “Jimmies and Joes” coaches who feel that the only way they can compete or win is by having the best players. They do not have a schematic nor are they capable of teaching techniques that allow anyone other than a stud to be successful. Usually these are trainers who cannot “train” a weaker player or turn an average player into a stud. These types of coaches attach great importance to recruiting players and are almost always “greener coaches”, always looking to coach the team with the most talent. These types of coaches are only successful when they have the best players in the league.

Who wants to play for this type of coach?

In my opinion, it takes little to no coaching skills to take a group of extremely talented kids and get it right, the question is what can you do when you don’t have that kind of a group? Starting 11 kids both ways says a lot about these coaches’ abilities to develop players. It’s certainly not where I’d like my kids to play, especially if the kids were talented. If this coach can’t train average or weaker kids, how the heck is he going to make decent players better? A good youth soccer coach can “train” someone who starts out as a weak player to be a competent player, he can train the player who starts out as a competent player to be an average player, he can train the average player to Be a Stallion player and his stallion players can reach new heights when properly trained.

A better plan

My new friend from Alabama had a different view of his team than his teammates. He is a very successful father, husband, businessman, and youth baseball and lacrosse coach. His vision is to take the group of discharges that has been assigned to him and not only have them succeed on the field, but also coach everyone and give everyone a reasonable playing time. He has no intention of starting 11 both ways. Of his 25 children, he hopes to start from 16 to 17 children, but he intends for the other 9 non-starters to play well more than 2 plays each. I have every confidence in the world that he will make his vision for this team a reality.

If you implement a scheme that allows average players to be successful, use techniques that average kids can execute, teach them properly, and have the right priorities, almost any team can be competitive AND get kids to play. These are not mutually exclusive goals for well-trained youth soccer teams. What a shame that so many kids in this league have been pushed out of the game by such poor coaches.

You can do it in real life, not in a pipe dream

A very brief example of how my teams have been able to overcome these kinds of obstacles. In 2004 I moved to a rural area outside of Lincoln Nebraska. The local youth team up to that point had done pretty badly, if I remember correctly, winning something like 4-5 games total in the previous 5 seasons combined. They told me this was a “cross country and basketball zone” and that it didn’t matter what I had done in previous years in other areas. Well, to make a long story short, we went 11-0 that first season and the second season we were 12-0. Not only did we win our own league (we won the championship game by the mercy rule), we beat the top two “select” teams in the state from 2 different leagues.

Our average group of 24 kids who just showed up, no cuts, no draft, not only beat, but defeated a select team from Omaha Inner-City that was a 3-time defending league champion and had chosen from over 150 players. Imagine the best of 150 vs 24 that just appeared. The “select” team has ZERO weaker, more competent or even average boys, all are studs. They had us very oversized and with much more speed too, but we had them 24-0 in the middle. The other select team was a perennial powerhouse, a suburban Omaha team coached by a good friend of mine and a former ASU quarterback.
We were up 30-0 in that game at the half. I assure you that in both games we started with 17 different kids and all of our substitutes got reasonable playing time in the first half, we literally substituted from the get-go.

The moral of this story is that you don’t have to have the best players to be competitive in youth soccer. You can get everyone involved in the game AND compete if you are a good coach, have a good youth soccer scheme, and have a great plan.

How are you going to be remembered?

Think ahead 20 years from now. What are you going to think of your season and how are they going to view your players this season when they are between 30 and 40 years old? I hope the kid who starts out with 11 kids both ways is 100% embarrassed by this memory. I wonder what the kids he played for just 2 plays or ran away 20 years from will think about their coach and his season. Think of all the life lessons those kids who dropped out will never learn from our great game.

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