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US Soccer Best Practices for Coaching

(excerpts from US Soccer Federation Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States)
U.S. Soccer believes that first and foremost youth soccer is a sport that players should experience and enjoy as a game with a focus on individual experimentation and development.  U.S. Soccer encourages creating soccer environments that will help promote the players’
lifelong love of the sport. These environments should allow for the creativity, spontaneity and experimentation that the game of soccer naturally encourages. Too often, children are put into situations where development is secondary to winning, which leads to burnout and stifles individual skill development.

We believe that a player’s development is enhanced when the short-term goals of a coach are pursued within the perspective of the player’s long-term needs. This is achieved when emphasis is made on continuity and perspective in player development and in allowing children to experience soccer in ways appropriate for their age and level of soccer maturity.  This addresses the theoretical stages of player development and how each successive step is built upon the foundations established in the previous stage.  A player’s chances of success at the Senior level are greatly enhanced by mastering the building blocks of soccer that are best addressed at the Youth level where ball skills, enjoyment of and experimentation within the game are key for a player’s development.

Our challenge is to develop players that are:
• Technically Gifted
• Tactically Sound
• Composed
• Creative
• Risk Takers
• “Own the Game” and are focused on solving the problems that the game presents, instead of
primarily thinking about coach imposed solutions to the game

In order to affect change on the players a shift in coaching methodology may need to take place. The development of creative, intuitive players is greatly impacted by coaching style and demands.  When conducting training sessions, we encourage a greater reliance on game oriented
training that is player centered and enables players to explore and arrive at solutions while they play. This is in contrast to the “coach centered” training that has been the mainstay of coaching methodology over the years.

“Game centered training” implies that the primary training environment is the game as opposed to training players in “drill” type environments. This is not to say that there is not a time for a more “direct” approach to coaching. At times, players need more guidance and direction as they are developing. However, if the goal is to develop creative players who have the abilities to solve problems, and interpret game situations by themselves, a “guided discovery” approach needs to be employed.

This approach taps in to certain essentials that are always present within the team. Players want to play and enjoy playing the game first and foremost. Since the “game” is used in training, this allows for players to be comfortable with the pace, duration, and physical and mental demands that the game provides. The reason why the players play is because they enjoy the game. They have a passion for the game. This is where they find and express their joy and creativity.

Many “drills” are not realistic. Therefore, players find it difficult to transfer the things learned in “drill” environments to the game itself.   This is not to say that “drills” that closely replicate one aspect of the game should not be used in training. Dynamic, demanding, “drill” environments, used at the beginning of the training times, often prepares the players to play the game as it breaks down the more complicated “picture” that the game provides in to manageable pieces. However, care must be given to making sure that the “drill” is active, and mirrors the demands found in the game.

We discourage lines of kids standing at cones waiting for a turn  Continuous play in training activities reflects the real game.  It demands rhythm. The players can not go “all out” for an entire 90-minute stretch. They need to know how to control the rhythm of the game so that they can last the entire time.   Continuous play also demands focus. Players must stay focused for lengths of time, just like they need to do during the game.  In order to have continuous play during training, the coach must coach “in the flow” of the game, and not interrupt play with stoppages to make coaching points.  Coaching “in the flow” provides immediate feedback for the players.  Feedback applies to the real game and is therefore directly beneficial to the players.

The Brazilians have always been noted for their touch, creativity, dynamic and instinctive play.  Their individual brilliance with the ball sets them apart from the rest of the world.  Allowing for uninterrupted play during training times helps to develop these characteristics in players. These characteristics are learned on the “streets” without the guidance or even presence of a coach.  This opportunity must be provided for the players as the prevailing culture in our society does not find players seeking out these opportunities on their own.

Which type of player do we produce?
• Structured or Instinctive
• Coach Dependent or Independent
• Carries out Instruction or Solves Problems
• Thinks about the Coach or Thinks about the Game

Roles Defined:
Coach’s Role in the player centered approach:
• Focus is the Player
• Creates a challenging game environment
• Provides options
• Asks players what they think
• Develops Players

Coach’s Roll in the “command style:”
• Focus is the Coach
• Creates exercises and directs session
• Provides solutions
• Tells players what to think
• Develops Clones

Player’s Role in the player centered approach:

• Primarily learn from playing the game
• Focus = Playing
• Solve Soccer Problems

Player’s Role in the “command style:”
• Primarily learn from the coach
• Focus = Coach’s Expectations
• Execute coach’s direction

The goal of all of this preparation is to produce players that:
• Are instinctive
• Are creative
• Take initiative
• Express individuality
• Think independently
• Understand options
• Solve problems
• “Own the game”

Download the entire document from USSF / US Youth Soccer