This is a terrific column by Will Leitch, discussing the following quote by Juergen Klinsmann, the U.S. National Team Coach (emphasis mine):
“When you talk to coaches and parents, it’s very difficult for them sometimes to understand that the kid in soccer is self-taught. Coaches, different from baseball, basketball and American football, with a lot of timeouts and plays and all that stuff, are really just more the inspiration of the whole thing — the guide, in a certain way. But he’s not the decision maker on the field. This is a very different approach. Parents and coaches think they are making the decisions. I tell them, no, you’re not making the decision. The decision is made by the kid on the field. So maybe here and there you should just shut up and let the kid figure it out.”
The game of soccer moves too quickly for the coach (or parents) to dictate the movements of each player for the duration of the game. Young players need to learn the answers to the game’s problems, but like anything else, the learning becomes permanent if they figure it out on their own.
So what is the role of the coach?
It is up to coaches to help inspire their young charges; to cultivate kids’ passion for their sport. We all want to raise hard-working, responsible kids who learn to think on their own. How can that happen if we’re yelling at them all the time and telling them what to do…all game long?
During training sessions, coaches foster the learning process in part by utilizing games that pose problems on the field – situations the players will face during games. While coaches ask the questions, players then have the opportunity to develop their own solutions to such problems – finding out what works best for them.
Coaches can also provide individual players with specific, tailor-made challenges (e.g., “Tommy – I know you can dribble, but see if you can play simple and limit yourself to three touches today”, or conversely, “Billy, when you’re out wide in the attacking third, see how many times you can take on your defender and beat him 1v1.”). Sometimes being forced to play in a limited manner allows an athlete to work out the advantages of playing in a different way – and to understand how different solutions can be used.
Children (adults too!) will put more effort into something they are passionate about. They often surprise us with how much they think about something that interests them. Guide them, give them some freedom and allow them to develop that passion, and watch them drive themselves further.
“I don’t believe skill was, or ever will be, the result of coaches. It is a result of a love affair between the child and the ball”
- Manfred Schellscheidt