Coaches – Think About the Players Before the Team

The title to this article is something every club should be trying to convey to its members according to the standards of the US Youth Soccer Player Development Model.  There are far too many clubs and coaches that think of their team as an “island.”  This mindset needs to be removed from youth soccer in order to benefit the players and truly develop successful local, regional, and national programs.  In order to do this coaches will need to rethink training sessions and the allotment of playing time, which could ultimately come at the cost of winning.  With that statement you can see the dilemma many clubs face when implementing this model.  However, the best coaches out there realize winning isn’t everything and will do their best to ensure every player on their team improves significantly over the course of a season. sjsoccer

An “island” is a team within a club, that acts of it’s own accord, for the benefit and successes of just that group of players.

Coaches Need to Stop Thinking About Just Their Team:  Every single team is a part of a club and the team’s success IS a success for the club.  I understand that one highly successful team can put a new club on the map, and attract outsiders to tryouts, but building around a single team is dangerous.  Especially when the shelf-life of teams is at its all time low due to competitive options all across New Jersey.  The measure of a successful club is one that is generating quality players at every level.  This will not happen without a cohesive coaching staff that will move players between teams during training and games to develop and challenge the athlete.

I have heard stories of clubs with 2 or more teams at the same age group (or birth year) that refuse to work together.  Both teams have players of high quality as well as fringe players that are struggling to keep up with the rest of the group.  However, each coach wants to keep their team together because of continuity, parent relationships, or general disregard.  What is going to happen to those teams is painfully obvious:

  1. Top end players are going to leave because they are fed up with the lack of challenge.
  2. The next tier of the group will follow because their team just got worse.
  3. The team will then become low level, piece it together season to season,  or ultimately collapse.

I beg you, if you are a coach of a young team and your philosophy is to keep the original group together for as long as possible, change the way you think.  Your team will move players in and out every year – this is the nature of the youth soccer landscape – and a result of the movement to the new USYS model.

Erasing the Must Win Culture:  This is probably the biggest challenge USYS faces as we shift to a more player-centric model.  Winning is still vitally important to the longevity of teams, the retention of players, and the sustainability of clubs.  We have bracket style tournaments, team rankings beginning at 9 years old, and college exposure tournaments in which flights are determined by your current run of form.  In the near future coaches will continue to put an over-emphasis on winning (especially at the elite level) simply because it matters.

nationalyouthchampsWhen you can receive a few hundred GotSoccer points for winning a league game or a few thousand for winning a tournament, coaches are going to go for it at the expense of players.  Over-playing the top players and under-playing the bottom is doing an injustice on both ends of the spectrum, but it will continue to happen until coaches and parents recognize the detriment it is causing.  The best coaches will go to games and play their players based on merit and work ethic as well as give everyone a chance, especially in the college showcases.  If a player doesn’t have it that day or is greatly affecting the team, then playing time should be adjusted accordingly.  However, in the new USYS model players affecting a team due to their level of play should no longer occur as they were most likely wrongly placed with that group at the onset.

What coaches should be communicating to their players is a strong work ethic within games and not much more.  Understand that most of the kids you coach want to win the game naturally and you don’t need to stress the importance of a W.  I remind my players before every game that we want to win – that is the essence of competition – but the last thing I say before they walk on the field is “have fun,” because if they are working hard and having fun while doing it, the end result is often a win anyway.  

Did Every Player on Your Team Improve?  This is the question each coach should ask themselves at the end of the season.  This is how I measure the success of my coaching methods.  I believe this is what the USYS Player Development Model is all about.

  • Completing a Proper Evaluation of each player and writing a detailed paragraph to the parents of their child’s improvements and areas of need is a good way to assess your own work as a coach.  Compare progression to a past season to see if the player accelerated or decelerated development and in what areas.
  • Rate your players on work ethic and form weekly.  This is something I do with my older groups to assess them against their peers and to corrcoachevaluateplayersjpgelate improvement over the course of the season with how hard the player works.
  • Create and evaluate player tiers within your team.  I typically find about 3-4 tiers in each team.  The ideal team will have tiers that are hard to distinguish.  This means players are challenged consistently within the group and the ultimate goal of a player development model.  If 1 or 2 players are at the top or bottom of this evaluation method, then you need to make a conscience effort to find a more suitable level of play within the club, either in training or in games.

The movement to a player centered model is real and the effects will begin locally in New Jersey, but will ripple to the National Level.  We all want the U.S. to win a World Cup right?  Well as youth coaches, you are the foundation of this model and need to implement it.  I hope all coaches in NJ take this seriously and evolve their methods to adapt to the new model. In the end it will benefit what all parents really care about, their own child, and not the team they are a part of, but the club that it calls home.

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