Youth soccer programs thrive thanks to volunteer coaches. Without people to lead, encourage, and motivate these young players, it would be impossible to build their skills and foster teamwork and camaraderie.
If you’ve volunteered for your first season as a coach, then you’ll want to check out this soccer training guide that gives you all the ins and outs on how to do it right.
We’ll break down the top eight qualities of a great coach and then dive into coaching aspects like evaluation, free play, teaching players the game, and how to make the most of the practice sessions. Finally, we’ll give you tips on working with other parents to produce a fun and safe program for everyone involved.
This guide has all the tools you’ll need to get started and give this season your all. Let’s get started.
Qualities of a Great Soccer Coach
The experts at US Youth Soccer say that you don’t have to be an all-star soccer player to be an amazing coach. In fact, you just need be someone who loves the sport and wants to get more involved with the youth in your community to do it well.
If you work to incorporate these eight elements into your coaching style, you’ll guarantee that the kids you work with will thrive.
1. HAVE FUN
Team sports are supposed to be fun, and as a coach, you’ll set the tone for your players. If you’re having a good time, staying positive with the kids and other coaches, and keeping everyone engaged, you’ll cultivate an exciting atmosphere that ensures everyone will enjoy themselves.
2. Strive for Fairness
Depending on the team and league in which you coach, it may not always be possible to be one hundred percent inclusive. That said, as a coach the burden falls to you to ensure that each of your players has a fair experience.
If possible, make sure every participant gets equal playing time and are allowed to play each position so that no one feels left out or excluded from the game.
3. Stay Positive
You will set the standard for how your team interacts with one another, other coaches, parents, and officials. If you stay positive during every exchange, then that energy will carry through your practices and games the entire season.
4. Get Parents Involved
Although you’ll be working alongside a few other volunteer coaches, and possibly paid coaching staff, you’ll still want to recruit other parents to help during practice and throughout the year.
Start the season by asking for assistance from other parents during practice sessions to help balance out the player to coach ratio on the field. Particularly if you’re working with young players, it can be helpful to keep a ratio of four kids per one adult figure during practice.
Older kids will have more skills and independence, and you can move towards an eight to one ratio for those more advanced.
5. Teamwork is Top of Mind
Many youth leagues have players who range in skill and ability, and you’ll likely have one or two star players who stand out from their peers. As a coach, it’s important to both help these players improve and become even stronger while also teaching teamwork and getting everyone involved in the success of the group.
6. Start with Ground Rules
Getting and keeping everyone on the same page is one of the most challenging aspects of coaching. Before you begin to establish your soccer training schedule, you’ll want to have a pre-season meeting with all of the players and their parents to lay out some ground rules.
Cover details like:
This meeting will help you to establish a positive atmosphere focused on teamwork, and will be the foundation for future discussions with parents and players should the need to correct behavior arise.
7 Know How and What to Coach
The age and ability of your players will help dictate what games, drills, and skills you’ll need to teach your team as their coach.
Use resources to find appropriate drills that are both fun and age appropriate and create lesson plans for practices and games to ensure that everyone is learning and growing under your leadership.
8. Continue Your Coaching Education
Although it’s not a requirement of most volunteer coaches, it’s a good idea to explore if there are associations or organizations in your area who offer coaching classes.
These can be lead by experienced coaches who share their tips, tricks, and best practices, or can be more formally held by accredited organizations.
Not only can this help you to develop your skills, but it will give you an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others and improve upon their results.
Essential Components of Soccer Coaching
There are many elements that go into coaching a youth soccer team, but there are three components that every new coach should consider before the season starts. Free play, practice sessions, and how you’ll teach players the game are three aspects that are used in most programs, and here we’ll explain them in detail.
One of the most important things to do early on in the season is to evaluate your team and individual players. As a coach, you’ll need to understand their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses so that you create structured training based on the needs of the kids.
Although you’ll use free play as an initial tool, you can continue this evaluation process throughout the season at matches and in ongoing training sessions so that your coaching technique constantly evolves with the skills of your team.
Free play is one of the simplest and most constructive ways you can see the level of competency, commitment, and creativity of each of your players. To use it, divide the kids into teams and allow them to play the game without enforcing restrictions or rules around the time and space they use.
Give them basic, general directions and a goal to accomplish, and then watch and see what happens.
During this time, encourage the team to work hard, use their natural skills, and come up with creative ways to achieve their goals. As a coach, observe if there are any breakdowns among team members if anyone becomes isolated, and look at the strengths and weaknesses of the players.
Free play is a fun way to let kids explore the sport without feeling criticized. It’s also helpful if you have a group who is having trouble paying attention and doesn’t respond well to highly structured or organized drills.
Once you understand your team dynamic, it’s then your job to work with the members to give them the tools and skills they need to solve match problems.
There are often many ways to play the game and achieve the goal, and you’ll be responsible for communicating those options to your players and then run them through training scenarios that mimic match conditions.
You’ll want to set up the training situations in such a way that the tactic, skill, formation, or combination of all three can be executed repeatedly until it becomes second nature to your team.
As you set up the practice sessions, you’ll want to start with simple scenarios and progress to more complex situations. You’ll also need to take into consideration the skill level and age of your players.
Use language that they will both understand and relate to, and avoid complex terminology that might be confusing.
Always communicate the goals or objective for the drill or exercise, and describe in detail what success looks like. This will help your players to internalize the skill and know when to use it during gameplay.
Work to make the situations as realistic as possible, and give active coaching advice during the drills to ensure that corrections are made, and the skill is learned appropriately.
Following the training session, talk with the team about what they learned, and how they can implement it in their next game against opponents. You may also want to draw comparisons between previous games and ask for feedback on where or how this new skill may have been successful to help it resonate with your players.
Teaching the Game
Particularly in youth leagues, you may find that your players have vastly different levels of knowledge about the rules, skills, and techniques used in the game.
You’ll want to ensure that everyone is brought up to speed and operating at a similar knowledge base early on in the season.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to teach all new skills the same way to create a learning pattern for your team.
Begin by talking about the technical or tactical objective that you will accomplish when you learn the new technique. Then, demonstrate the drill or skill they will learn.
Next, it’s time to get everyone involved. Let all of the players try the drill, and if necessary, swap out positions so that everyone has a chance to learn how to do it.
During this time, analyze the skill level of the teammates and give active coaching, feedback, and positive reinforcement. Once everyone has learned the skill, given it adequate effort, and has committed it to memory, then incorporate it into a free play or structured training session.
How to Interact with Parents
No soccer training guide would be complete without touching on one of the trickiest pieces of being a coach; working with the parents of your players.
It’s critical that you and they are on the same page throughout the season so that it flows smoothly and everyone has fun. Here are a few tips to make that happen.
First, as we mentioned above, start by involving the parents and enlisting their support. The more they feel that they contribute to their child’s success and the team as a whole, the better off everyone will be.
Clearly communicate your philosophy to foster teamwork and a positive attitude, as well as any goals you have for the team. Accept their feedback, and if necessary make adjustments so that you are all working towards a common objective this season.
When it comes to enforcing rules and consequences of poor behavior or sportsmanship, you’ll want the parents of your players to support your decisions. Talk with them about the situation and what will happen next so that they understand and can reinforce your policies.
Finally, help to educate parents on best practices as spectators, players, and coaches so that they understand how to be the best supporter they can be.