Coach Development

By Dave Simeone

Player Development
A remarkable amount of time now goes into structured programming. The reasons for this vary. There’s the issue of insufficient free play that turns into structured play time. This moreover eliminates younger kids playing with older, wiser and more sophisticated players. This has an impact on players’ technical capability; their comfort level with the ball under pressure or developing a broader and more urbane set of “tools” that allow them to solve the problems the game presents them.

The mechanics of passing, receiving, heading, crossing, turning, or striking with laces all deserve some time in environments that don’t involve pressure from an opponent or the restrictions of time and space. There’s a need to balance this type of training out with activities that are game like which include restrictions of time & space along with opposition.

The same can be said for game understanding and developing the choices a player makes in the course of play. Often time we choreograph and set up situations in training that mechanically resemble coordinated movements but lack the “when” and “why” that are so instrumental in all the decision making in the game.

Stoppages Changing Methodology
Coaching takes on several roles. One is to set up the correct environment; the correct types of activities. Another, and equally important, is as an interactive means of instruction.

Our experiences, in part, that we take from our playing backgrounds shape and form our individual coaching methodology. This is also true via valuable experience from coaching education. In each instance we are influenced, in some way, by the personalities and behaviors of other coaches.

The emphasis has been shifting and there is a different approach prevalent in our coaching schools that reflect incorporating coaching appropriately in activities. We’ve always stressed the significance of creating the right game like environment for learning. The trend has continued to move towards when and how to coach within the context of games and activities without creating undue stoppages.

A Departure from “Stop, Freeze…..”
In the past the emphasis has been on identifying a coachable moment, stopping the activity, giving the player’s information, restarting the activity. The intent of this methodology is to interject coaching and information into the players. This contributes to a lack of flow in training; an absence of uninterrupted match play combined with an increase in “coach oriented” learning.

Affecting technical development in games or activities has more to do with application. Whether turning a ball into pressure, poorly crossing a ball into the opponent’s six yard box or playing a pass with the incorrect weight or accuracy speaks to application. We can implore players to have greater sensitivity of touch when dealing with the ball but most improvement comes by way of experience which involves trial and error and improved awareness.

There are also the situations which deal with decision making and choices. Many times coaches “freeze” an activity and patently move players around adjusting their angle or distance of support or instructing them to get tighter in defending. These points may be valid but they lack the “how, when or why” that is necessary in improving a players’ choice or behavior. Moving players around in this manner and then restarting the game is the equivalent of moving any inanimate object.

If we realistically expect decision making to improve then we need to incorporate what we, as coaches, read in the game as information we give to players. As the ball is moving through a certain part of the field or as a touch is taken; what is it that we read “in the game” and feel that players must notice and pay attention to that would change their decisions and ultimately the outcome of the circumstances?

The challenge for coaches is to find ways to interact with players in ways that don’t necessarily begin with “stop, freeze”.

Natural Stoppages
The most obvious of all these is when the ball goes into touch or out over the end line for a restart. The game or activity stops naturally and this presents the chance to coach.

The additional factor in these natural stoopages is that they are moments of transition. So whether it’s going from attacking to defending or vice versa we can address organization, decisions, communication as well as understanding the sheer significance of these pivotal moments in the game. These instances are when goals are given away or taken sometimes too easily.

Near stoppages can be just as opportune and also correlate with moments of transition. As a result of crossing or shooting and when the ball ends up secure in the goalkeeper’s hands; the game goes into transition but is also an opportunity for the coach to interject information without stopping the activity. As coaches we can encourage players going from defending to attacking to take up correct starting positions to get forward, goalkeeper distribution or once the goalkeeper distributes the ball how players stay connected to eventually possess, penetrate and create goal scoring opportunities. As players go from attacking to defending we can similarly coach defending; either drawing a line of confrontation, recovering to get goal side as the game goes into transition or if the game is played through the air how to get the correct starting position in order to head and compete in the air.

Near stoppages can also occur when one team is clearly in possession of the ball. This example allows the players from the attacking team further away from the ball to receive coaching. In attacking, if back players possess then we can address high players; how they create length in the game or how supporting teammates can become more mobile while the game is being played.

Insight: Reading the Game
The methodology to coach and teach in the context of games and activities requires the same sort of insight and “reading” that we expect from players. Much of the timeliness and information involved in coaching during near stoppages is founded in understanding how everything happening on the field, how it’s all connected, inter-related or effective in terms of its application to the game.

For coaches this process needs constant attention; being students of the game, an interest and willingness to continue refining our observational skills and instructional capacity. All together this is what helps impact the experience and development of players. Remember, play is the key word in player development!

Dave Simeone brings nearly thirty years of coaching and managing experience combined from youth, college, Olympic Development, U.S. National Teams and the National Coaching Schools. Simeone earned his “A” license and National Youth License from U.S. Soccer and the National Diploma from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. His website, Soccer Development Strategies is a valuable resource for coaches.