When my youngest son showed up for his first kindergarten division soccer practice, we were informed that the team had no coach. After a couple disastrous practices run by other parents, I gladly took over the team. Having coached at the high school I assumed I knew what I was getting into. I was wrong. Here are three things to be prepared for when coaching young players.
Short Attention Spans
Even though I read up on coaching youngsters, my first few practices taught me much more. Because I had only coached at the high school, I was unprepared for how restless younger players can be. Drills that I expected would be performed flawlessly fell apart in front of me. Chaos took over if a skill was too complicated.
I learned to make directions short and simple. I modeled what I wanted players to do instead of just telling them. Drills that are straightforward for older kids got turned into skill games instead. For example, instead of warming up by having players pass back and forth, they chased me in a kicking version of dodge ball. It provided similar skill development without as much structure.
I expected players to cry if they got injured, but was unprepared for crying to crop up at other times. I watch one young player cry because he missed making a goal, another because she was subbed out during a game. A third shed tears because he wasn’t first in line for a drill.
The best way to counter crying is with positive reinforcement or focusing a young player’s attention on something else. I reminded the one who missed his shot on goal that he’d already scored twice. The one who cried about his place in line got to be first in the next drill. The substituted girl got to go back in during the second half of the game.
Antics on the Field
I watched two of my players fight to stand on the same painted spot on the ground during one game. Neither intercepted the ball, even when it rolled right past them. My goalie tangled his hands and arms up in the net during one long lapse in play. One fullback got bored and lay down like he was taking a nap.
Youth soccer games consist of loosely organized chaos. Rarely do young players have a sense of space and struggle to keep theirs heads in the game if not directly interacting with the ball. Be prepared to get those players back on track quickly. Shout out the distracted player’s name and give him specific directions.
Even though I was surprised by much of my young player’s behaviors, I thoroughly enjoyed my coaching experience.