Coaching from the Bench
Coaching at any level, in any sport, is an emotional endeavor. Coaches never feel that they’ve got enough time to teach everything their players need to know, but since the Laws of Soccer were first put into writing in 1863, FIFA had banned the practice of coaching from the bench. That meant that soccer coaches at every level, from youth to the pros could do little more than sit on the bench with their substitutes and suffer in silence, if their team failed to execute during the game. Since most youth soccer coaches in the U.S. only have 3 or 4 hours a week to teach their players, (figure that it takes ten thousand hours for any athlete to become a master of their craft) it’s a safe bet that the team won’t know everything the coach wants them to know by their first game of the season… or even their last.
In 1993 however, the IFAB (International Football Association Board) recognized the coach as an important part of the game, and allowed for him to “convey tactical instructions” to the players on the field (as per Decision N°13, tacked on to Law 5, then moved to Law 3, Decision 2).
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!“
The repeal of the sideline-coaching ban has now evolved from simple transmissions of strategic information, to coach/player interaction that was never intended. Sarcastic, non-directional, abusive screams of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!“, “WAKE UP!”, and pleadings of “OH, COME ON!” can be heard every weekend, in every soccer complex in the nation.
Emotional outbreaks from coaches on the player’s side of the field are as common as parents complaining about playing time or bad coffee from the concession stand. The real problem, however, is that most parents expect it, and most coaches think it’s ok.[box_style_one]
In fact, any parent standing in their yard, yelling and screaming at their own children the way many youth coaches scream at their players, might very likely be visited by a government official the following work day.[/box_style_one]
All screaming and blood-vessel-popping aside, the basic act of coaching from the bench is actually looked down upon by soccer purists who believe that barking orders from the sidelines is the sign of a bad coach. The United States Soccer Federation and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America both discourage what’s known as “joy-stick” coaching to control play on the field (imagine using a video game controller to play a soccer match). Both coach certifying organizations believe that it detracts from the “beautiful game” and destroys the confidence of players. After all, soccer is a thinking man’s game. If you take the freedom to make decisions away from the players on the field, their passion for the game will soon follow. That hurts the entire nation, and substantiates the theory that we don’t have the best-of-the-best soccer players representing the United States soccer program in International play (read Understanding Athletic Potential to learn more).
[testimonial company=”International Referee Instructor” author=”Stanley Lover”] A coach only needs to convey occasional tactical instructions during play, unless he is incompetent and has not established his ideas in training.[/testimonial]
Coaches who have failed to train, teach and condition their players during the week feel that they must resort to other measures to get them to perform on game day. That usually means yelling & screaming step-by-step instructions to each player. Most yelling and screaming goes far beyond instruction, though.
Coaches in the purest sense of the word are teachers. Their role is to teach the game to their players. Game day isn’t a test of how well the players have learned – it’s a test of a coach’s effectiveness to teach his players how to play the game of soccer. If a team fails to execute certain strategies or if players fail to display certain skills, this is a failure of the coach to teach those skills and strategies.[box_style_one]
The test of a coach takes place on game day, when his or her players take the field and (hopefully) execute the skills, philosophies and strategies set forth by their leader.[/box_style_one]
In today’s over-priced “pay-for-play” youth soccer environment (read Where Does All the Money Go? to learn more), clubs advertise and set high expectations regarding the level of training and player development parents can expect. Fees equaling thousands of dollars per year have set high standards of accomplishment for coaches in competitive environments, for children as young as 8 years old. Low or non-existent wages for coaches, however, means that qualified, certified youth soccer coaches are hard to find. This results in frustrated parents and mediocre (at best) player development, season after season.
… and the U.S. fails to win again…
For Love of the Game?
Part of the art of developing players is keeping them passionate and interested in learning the game. The pitfall of the American soccer system – and the reason we struggle to qualify for the World Cup every four years – is that our grassroots system is focused more on generating income for club directors and winning trophies, than actually teaching our kids how to play soccer.
[testimonials_style_two]Many youth soccer clubs are starting to look like third-world mega-corps with 6 figure salaries for Executive and Technical Directors, while the bathrooms are filthy, the fields & equipment are deteriorating, and the coaches are getting paid just over minimum wage. Budget cuts are made at the lowest levels, resulting in high coach turnover, frustrated parents and emotional coaches.[/testimonials_style_two]
Coaches who are frustrated and emotional create frustrated, emotional players. This is why we see such a huge drop in registrations and participation as players get older (that, and The Car Ride Home). Kids who played soccer from 4 to 12 years of age suddenly take up football, tennis, golf or cross-county running when they get to middle & high school – or quit playing sports all together. They’re either priced-out or stressed-out of the American soccer system.
For Better or Worse
Club soccer started out as small community service oriented organizations, but after 4+ decades, the unspoken rule of most clubs seems to be “win today” rather than develop skilled players for tomorrow. Aren’t we all on Team USA? Shouldn’t development take priority over winning? As players get older and the demands are higher, talent that was very promising at 8, 9 or 10 years old has retired at 12, 13 or 14. Isn’t that a problem?
Every youth player has great potential. The American Soccer program suffers each time a player is lost, because competition becomes lighter for the remaining players.
Mike Slatton is a USSF & NSCAA Nationally Licensed 30+ year youth soccer coach, player developer and father of two teenage soccer players.