Following the youth soccer boom in the 1970s, soccer has become more and more ubiquitous in our lives as each successive generation produced more and more players than the one before. “Growing up with the game” is much more common than it ever was. A generation ago, parents willingly (or unwillingly, as the case may be) volunteered to coach. While they may not have understood the nuances of the game, they were able to introduce their children to a sport loved by people all over the world, and in doing so furthered the game little by little.
In the U.S., we now have adults who understand the game and its nuances. Coaching, however, is not merely about what a coach knows. It’s about many things, not the least of which is knowing how to communicate so that the players can learn. Understanding the game is a starting point. Understanding how kids learn is far more important, and good coaching education is critical in this regard as the wrong approach can turn a kid away from the game. I hate hearing about kids who quit the sport because “they didn’t like the coach.” It’s rare that the reason a child stops playing is the sport itself (games – by their nature – are fun). The reason is more likely related to their interactions with the adults in charge. Think about being in school – we can all remember classes where the teacher bored us to tears – but we also remember the ones where the teacher really inspired us.
Youth clubs expend a great deal of effort ensuring that talented players have access to professional trainers. We now need clubs that are willing to invest time and resources to make all their coaches better. With the plethora of professional coaches and coaching directors, nearly every youth soccer club has the resources to provide new volunteer coaches with a basic platform from which to train young players through a season. Training of volunteer youth coaches does not need to be extensive or intensive, but rather provide a rudimentary insight into the game and how to educate young players. Most American sports are coach-centric; possibly the biggest challenge for parents and parent coaches is to understand that the game is the best teacher – it provides all the lessons for students willing to learn.
Even if the training serves only to ensure that coaches are not constantly yelling all game, and not keeping kids in lines at practice, it would be a positive step. All children have a right to play the game in a positive learning environment. Ensuring that those who coach the game – specifically at the grassroots levels – are trained is a big step to making that happen.