Dr Dina Gentile with her team of youth soccer players at practice
Youth Soccer News: Creating Real Winners
How Coaches can Influence Success in Soccer and Beyond
We are getting late into the soccer season, with some wins and some losses. We have watched young players demonstrate a new move and advanced players elevate their level of play on the field. We have created new relationships with the families who sit next to us each Saturday morning to cheer on our children. This is a perfect time to ask our children how they are feeling about soccer: asking them what they have learned, inquiring about their favorite soccer activities, and finding out what they are learning from their coaches.
The Power of Coaches
A parent whom I was trying to encourage to volunteer to coach told me he would never consider coaching a youth team. The reason was simple: he did not want to be the one to influence players’ decisions to stop playing a sport. This parent was very concerned with how coaches can negatively impact a team, which led me to think about all of the positive influences coaches can trigger in youth sport.
Last weekend my daughter won a game of knockout at a basketball clinic. I asked her how that made her feel and she said like a “winner.” It made me think about the same games and activities we use at our practices that can create winners on our team. This small level experience at a two-hour basketball clinic made my daughter feel confident and also created a desire within her to continue to play basketball. I asked my 6 year old daughter if she thought that everyone she knows feels like a winner like she did at that clinic. She really did pause and think about the question. In the end we had a nice discussion about how coaches can make everyone feel good about themselves through these enriching experiences.
At that same clinic the following week, my daughter was not partnered with any other player for a dribbling activity. It took a while for the coach to notice that my daughter was standing with her hand held high and some tears starting to form in her eyes. The key is that the coach did notice and quickly responded by becoming her partner. The coach was sensitive enough to realize the player was getting emotional and savvy enough to recognize the best partner at that time was her (the coach). In the end my daughter got some one-on-one attention from the coach. The coach turned an almost sad/negative moment into a winning moment for that athlete. What she remembered about that clinic session was not that she was without a partner, but rather that the coach picked her to be her partner.
How Can Soccer Coaches Make a Lasting Impact?
Players should be infected by a coach’s enthusiasm and love for the game of soccer. Coaches do not have to be soccer stars in their own right, they just need to be excited about all that soccer can offer. I have always felt that my role as a coach (no matter college or Pre-Kindergarten level) was to build a passion for dribbling, passing, shooting, and having fun playing with teammates. How can we do this? Use your voice. Get loud when you need to explain something, be creative with the terms you use to address your team, have the team repeat what the three goals of the practice are throughout the practice, and get involved in the practice session.
Our words reinforce that we believe in our athletes. From the start of the season to the end of the season, the coach must be the force for the team for all positive emotions and words. Sure, we will have our down times as players and teams, but those moments can be turned into teachable moments where negative experiences can be turned into the best example of learning on the soccer field.
As a coach, all of my focus goes into creating practices that build self-confidence, motivation, technique building, and respect for teammates. Practice time is the arena where all athletes can excel, regardless of talent level. In practice, all players should have the same chance of being a winner. Practice may be the only time some of our players will feel successful and important on the team. Coaches can influence success during practice time by creating programs that any player, from the top athlete to the bottom athlete, has the same opportunity to win.
Practice Time Examples Which Influence Success:
Juggling contest: Coaches can create rounds of play at the beginning of the practice. In order to move on to the next round you need to be the highest juggler for your group.
Shooting for accuracy:
There are many formats for shooting games (individual play or group challenges). One variation can be to have three groups and the player who knocks down the most cones wins, or the player who places the ball through a hoop in the upper corner wins.
Players can be challenged to compete in the longest kick at practice (on the ground, driven ball, chip ball, long ball). A variation can be alternating left and right foot.
Some player may never win the challenge competitions but they should feel successful at practice. A simple slogan competition or cheer challenge can be an appropriate and inclusive way to make all players feel special.
Creating Success within a Team
All of these activities demonstrate to the players that you care about them as people versus just soccer athletes. Players love to engage in challenges or games during practices that take them away from the normal practice setting. Changing the practice organization may do wonders in motivating athletes. Coaches may find that players will ask for new challenges or create some on their own because they recognize the importance of team building.
Setting up activities so that the least talent players can find success shows that coaches have understanding of the needs of their players. All players set out to play great each and every day. I have never encountered a player who wants to make a mistake or lose a game. Players have a need to achieve. Coaches can create energizing activities at practice to satisfy those needs and in the process build a winner who has confidence. Sensitive coaches will take these activities to another level when the recognize those players at practice for their work ethic and team spirit in front of the players who may get the majority of playing time. This act shows the entire team at one time, that regardless of skill every player on the team is equally important.
In the end, coaches do mold and shape the behaviors and attitudes that soccer players display on the soccer field. I would suggest that coaches can also influence how players behave in groups in school, at home, and in other community programs.
Creating winners does not mean creating the most talented athletes, it means transforming an athlete (a young person) into feeling like they can achieve and they do matter on a sports team. When athletes feel a sense of success, you will see them blossom into young people who are confident and determined on the soccer field and beyond.
REALTED ARTICLES: Burden of Winning The Psychology of Winning and When It Can Be a Burden and Soccer Volunteers The Force Behind the Fall Season
SoccerNation News is proud to welcome Dr. Dina Gentile as our newest contributing writer. Dr. Gentile is a Professor of Sport Management at Endicott College. A volunteer youth coach herself, Dr. Gentile understands from both practical and theorectical experience what happens on the soccer field.
Gentile has also coached the Endicott College Soccer Team for 11 years. Gentile is the owner/director of Precision Soccer, LLC, which operates camps, clinics, and coach education training throughout the year. She is a former All-American and Academic All-American at Adelphi University.
Gentile has been inducted into the Adelphi University and Endicott College Halls of Fame. She is the Pre Kindergarten and Kindergarten Coordinator for Beverly Youth Soccer Association. This season she is the proud coach of her daughters 1st Grade team in the Wilmington Youth Soccer Association. Gentile is also a Soccer Ambassador for Korrio.