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Confessions of a Shouting Youth Soccer Coach

November 15th, 2018 · No Comments · soccer

A soccer-related item popped into my email in-box the other day, and in it a Spanish coach with lots of history with youth players made a fairly simple and probably undeniable statement:

It is a waste of time for a coach to shout instructions at kiddie soccer players.

I knew that because I saw the futility of it, week after week.

But I never quite stopped shouting.

The advice I most often relayed to my players, via my big mouth?

“Get back!”

I was a member of the Boomer generation that had some notion of the game, but never actually played it. A lot of us ended up coaching at the first parents meeting, when somebody said, “Is anyone willing to coach?”

And after a pause, with parents keeping their heads down and waiting for someone to volunteer … I would say, “I will do it.” Because, heck, I had been covering high school soccer for several years, and by 1990 had covered a World Cup.

I had no illusions I would be good at coaching little kids.

But someone had to be responsible for bringing the bag of balls to the two practices, per week, as well as the florescent-orange cones we used to mark the areas of drills … and to show up for the game on Saturday.

Let’s make this clear: This was at the lowest level of youth soccer. If memory serves, I coached the kindergarten division at least once. It was an AYSO-affiliated league, based in Highland, California (not far from where Landon Donovan grew up!)so for the 5-year-olds the field was cut in half and we played with smallish goals — and no goalkeeper.

Eventually, I moved up the ladder a bit, along with my kids, and I peaked at Division IV, I think it was — a boys third-and-fourth-grade team.

I would love to tell you I learned from my mistakes and by the end of four or five seasons my teams were fair to middling. But that would not be accurate. I always was behind the curve, and my teams would have been relegated, often as not. We could be counted on for maybe two victories a season — from 10 or 11 matches.

I apparently never was very effective at getting kids to follow directions when it came to basics — like the throw-in.

I remember practicing throw-ins at every practice at every level. Ball over your head, feet on the ground and outside the touch line … and throw it to someone wearing the same color jersey.

That went wrong so often that eventually I could hear parents saying, “We can’t even get the throw-in right!”

No. We could not. Not even with the kid standing next to me.

The advice I most often imparted to the kids was this:

“Get back!”

Which was pretty much pointless because the two or three kids who had some game awareness already were getting back (and one of them was already playing goalkeeper) … and most everyone else (talking about 6 and 7 year olds here) got back as it occurred to them, or as they found interest in doing so.

I am not proud that I was a yeller, and it is no excuse to note that many parents of kids on my team were also yelling, often giving advice contrary to my own.

But there is a moment, when the other team’s one good player has picked up the ball and is steaming toward goal … when “get back!” is very difficult not to shout.

It is not unkind (I hope) to recall that the kids with less interest or aptitude generally were playing the outside-back positions, a good hiding place for them — except when the other side’s star had the ball at his feet and was very likely about to score. It is a moment of panic, or something close to it, to the youth coach.

I had one advantage, as a coach: Having spent my youth playing or covering sports, I was pretty good (let me flatter myself) at figuring out where the kids should play. Who was quick, who was strong, who had the most stamina. Thus, the best players right up the middle of the field — ‘keeper, central defender, playmaker, striker. Everyone else on the edges.

What I could not do was help kids with technique, because I had never played the game nor, of course, mastered every rule. I knew “don’t touch the ball with your hands” but I am hazy to this day on when a free kick is an indirect free kick.

Other information I imparted by shout were reminders pertaining to which goal we should have been attacking. “OK, you guys! Which way are we going? … (Kids looking nonplussed and pointing at every compass point, at least one completely wrong.) Which would illicit from me, while pointing: “No, that way!”

I was not the noisiest guy out there. Some parents could beat me for lungs, when it came to shouting. Some opposition coaches, too.

And I do like to think I bellowed “attaboys” at the right moment. “Nice job, Jordan!” Like that. Oh, I also shouted “get rid of it!” a lot, because you want your central defender to think about winning the ball, then dribbling out of danger. Just get rid of it! Bomb it into the other half!

When it was over, and we had lost 3-1 again, I would note to myself … that we would practice throw-ins again at practice; that we would practice shooting again; and that next Saturday I would not shout.

Sometimes, one of those even happened.


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