The fall brings a tremendous amount of excitement and motivation towards youth soccer. The start of the season ensures all players, parents and coaches are enthused. The key is to find ways to maintain this level of excitement to ensure it carries through the season. For some, the season may wrap up in four months before cold weather becomes part of your soccer routine. For others, it may run seven to 10 months, depending on the length of your program and success of your team.
Players: practice, practice, practice. This is the easiest way to improve skills and confidence. It is a commonly known fact that children all over the world grow up without a soccer ball, do not have grass on all fields, and can find ways to work on their soccer skills. Avoid using the time you train with your team, or having game day be the only time you work on improving skills. The wonderful thing about soccer is that you can use all kinds of objects to work on skills, which also increases your confidence with the ball. Have you ever tried juggling with a balloon? Heading a volleyball or Nerf soccer ball? Passing or shooting a tennis ball? Running forwards, backwards or sideways to improve mobility? Created an obstacle course to work on jumping or falling to improve balance?
Parents: you are an important part of the creative process when signing your child up for soccer. I hope you are ready to take on this responsibility. It is essential that you learn how to support your child, the coach or team manager, the club and the administrators in positive and healthy ways. Volunteers are what make the game successful in and around our community. Be sure to act in a responsible manner when attending any and all soccer-related events. A positive way to influence your child, the team and the coaching staff is to find ways to encourage any and all experiences the children have both on and off the field. Players want to work hard and impress their parents. Parents have to be conscious of the role they play. Avoid placing too much pressure and un-required expectations on your child when playing soccer. Remember, this is a fun activity with the goal of ensuring they can and will chose to play soccer for the rest of their lives.
Coaches: first of all, thank you for taking on the responsibility of looking after a team. This is a big step, for some of you with little or no background or experience in the sport. For others, a natural extension of a playing career. Thank you. We are certainly lucky to have so many fantastic people step forward and offer to help out. In fact, if you are starting out as a first time coach, here are five keys to success:
1. Enthusiasm: be as enthusiastic as you can at all times with your players. The younger the team the greater amount of encouragement.
2. Organization: try to stay on top of things by planning your practices before training and prepare for games with a plan. The key to success of any soccer coach is to know where you are going before you get there. Training sessions can be lively, intense and fun, especially when they are well planned. Game day is a huge responsibility. Be sure to recruit support from parents to help with field set-up, post-game clean-up and so on.
3. Fun: we all need to make sure the number one reason kids play soccer is to have fun! They automatically find ways to entertain and challenge themselves on the soccer field. Allow them the freedom to continue to do so by treating them with positive feedback and support at all times.
4. Simplicity: the more complex your ideas for your team, the more difficult it is for the team to adapt to your ideas. Soccer is a simple game. There is a ball and two goals. You score on one and protect the other. Within the game there is passing, shooting, dribbling, attacking, defending and so on. Keep the game simple and do not over-complicate the game or training.
5. Positive feedback: we all look forward to being supported in positive ways. Be sure to keep all comments to the players, coaches and/or administrators in a positive light. Sure there will be mistakes. Sure there will be challenges. Sure there will be pressure on all who step-up to volunteer to make community soccer function. Be sure to let those players, parents, coaches and administrators know how grateful you are for their support.
Importantly, the start of the soccer season brings great weather, beautiful grass fields and a lot of motivation from players, parents and coaches. Make sure to enjoy this opportunity and allow the children to explore and learn for themselves with the support of their family.
Shel Brodsgaard is the soccer development co-ordinator for the VIPL Riptide program