Sunday, November 24, 2013

Show Some Respect – I Have a License (Part 2 of 2)

Coach Tjeerdsma
Photo by Northwest Missouri State on Flickr

Following on from Part 1 of this topic, in which Correspondent Scott amazed readers not only with the fact that he and Correspondent Ed had improbably managed to obtain the coveted “E” Coaching License, but also displayed an anomalous ability to regurgitate certain factiods, herewith the finale:

“Are you teaching children or are you teaching soccer?” asked one of the finely uniformed instructors.  We all agreed that it is both.  That youth coaches are teaching children is so obvious, yet also so overlooked.  Giving lectures or drawing complicated diagrams may work for adults but you’ll have a cluster of kids tackling each other if you try that approach.  Instead, recognizing that kids want to be active and 80% learn visually (another regurgitated factoid), show quickly then let them do.  In awe of its simplicity and truth, I eagerly added the following Yoda-like sagacity to my notes: “If they hear it, they will forget it.  If they see it, they will remember it.  If they do it, they will understand it.” 

Yes, we are teaching children.  And teaching children tactics (after teaching technique and skills, of course) is teaching them to make decisions on the field.  Just as a parent’s job is to teach their children to make good choices in life (so they get it right when the parent is no longer there all the time), a coach’s job is to teach players technique under pressure (skill) and to make good choices of the field (tactics) when the coach can’t be there.  And how do we do that?  With directed questions that lead to the right answer.  With positive reinforcement liberally doled out when you “catch” them doing it correctly (instead of simply pointing out all the errors).  And by subtle redirection when they are off course.

Positive reinforcement was nothing new to me.  Nor was redirection when dealing with misbehaving children.  But directed questions?  Sure I might throw back the “How do you spell this?” question to my son or daughter with “How do you think it is spelled?”  But asking questions while coaching?  Wasn’t I there to instruct, often at many decibels higher than a normal conversation?  Why would I ask players a question when clearly I was the one with the crisp “E” Coaching License certificate and the surfeit of knowledge that I must generously ladle into the impressionable brains buzzing around me?

Well, as it turns out, Yoda reappeared with this gem of an answer: “If you tell them, you’ll just have to tell them again.  If you ask them, and if they have to figure it out and answer, next time they will remember and do.”  Thank you Jedi Master Finely Uniformed Instructor.

Of course, teaching soccer to ages 9-12, or any age kids for that matter, isn’t all fun and Star Wars games.  Because they have parents.  Parents are like the really big kid in middle school – get them on your side and all will be fine.  But if they start to rumble against you (because their kid clearly deserves to play more or why didn’t you leave in the best kids to win the game or here are a few corner kick plays you should do next time, etc.), then watch out.  The only fault I suppose I could find with the course was the dearth of information and guidance on this subject for new coaches.  A youth coach of any sport WILL have parent problems.  But they can be mitigated and dealt with effectively.  Perhaps my own thoughts on that matter, gleaned from years of mistakes, will be the subject of another post.  Spoiler alert - Parents are best dealt with proactively.

I suppose I, like Correspondent/Coach Ed, also wax optimistic about the state of soccer in the US.  I sat for 2 days in a room full of coaches who paid to learn, from excellent instructors, how to better teach kids soccer. And our room was only one of hundreds like it all over the country.  The quality of our youth play benefits from this dedication and trickles up to the older ages and, ultimately, to the professional leagues.  One of the Instructor/Coaches told about the US National team traveling to Italy and Poland in the 1980s to play friendlies.  They lost 11-1 to Italy and 9-0 to Poland.  Those days are gone, shoved aside by Paul Caliguiri’s goal that ensured qualification for the 1990 World Cup.  

When we hosted in 1994, shocked Colombia and then earned respect from a 1-0 loss to Brazil, the sky was the limit.  Alas, nothing truly great was ever achieved in linear fashion, and the debacle at France 1998 not only proved that, but also showed the heightened level of our collective expectations.  2002 in Japan and South Korea showed that we had truly arrived on the international soccer scene.  Advancing out of our group, then beating Mexico in the Round of 16 before undeservedly losing to a German team that we thoroughly outplayed, even the soccer-haters begrudgingly applauded (OK, maybe not the soccer-idiot Jim Rome).  Germany 2006 proved to be another downer as Ghana put the final nail in our group play.  But South Africa 2010 showed the American fighting spirit (and conditioning according to one of our finely uniformed instructors) when Landon Donovan’s gut-busting 70 yard run in the 90th minute put him into position to score and lift the USA out of the group.  And here we are in 2013, with the USA having qualified for Brazil 2014 with 2 qualification games to spare. 

How impressive to go from miraculously qualifying in 1990 to qualifying with games to spare (yawn) for 2014!  From not even being able to find soccer scores in a USA paper in 1990 to having a stable domestic professional league and the English Premier League broadcast on NBC in 2014.  Twenty Four years.  Just imagine where we’ll be in another twenty four years….

This is farlieonfootie for November 24.

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