Dr. Dina Gentile on the field coaching her team
Youth Soccer: The Role of Goal Setting in Developing Soccer Players
Dr. Dina Gentile on the importance of setting proper goals for youth soccer players.
As the spring season quickly approaches, all coaches, especially travel coaches, should take the time to identify core goals for all of our individual players and our team as a whole. As leaders of a group young people, it is our mission to be sure we understand the importance of setting and communicating goals to the team.
Goals can be set at the start of the season and reinforced after each practice or game. As coaches we must recognize there are two types of goals: outcome goals and performance goals. Outcome goals force soccer players to be compared to another person or to measure success through scoreboard results. On the other hand, performance goals allow players to control their own success by putting forth effort toward the achievement of their own personal standards.
When coaches incorporate performance goals they demonstrate to players that they value effort and learning from challenges. Through performance goals, athletes are not judged by their dominance over others, their success is measured by their achievement of beating their personal best. The focus is not on wins or how many goals are scored instead athletes can play free of anxiety because they will be evaluated on what they can control: hard work and effort.
With performance goals, players have the ability to enhance their skill base regardless of the competition. The players will focus on their own output of effort, dealing with challenges, and/or bouncing back from mistakes. Performance goal setting is a player-centric approach to coaching versus a scoreboard mentality to coaching (where goals matter over player development).
Tips for a successful season of practices:
1. Create Team Goals: Coaches should construct goals that utilize the SMART method. Goals that are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely are more likely to be accomplished. It is okay for a team to have the ambition to win the state title, but each player and the entire team need to set performance goals to achieve that level of success.
For example: In order to be state champions, the forwards need to possess the ball in the offensive third and hold the ball until midfielders make themselves available out of transition. The midfielders need to be able to change fields quickly throughout the game, the defenders need to maintain high pressure on the attackers to deny penetration, and the goal keepers need to be able to come of their line quickly in order to prevent through balls deep in the defensive third of the field.
2. Written Practice Plan: Many successful coaches will indicate the key to success and winning stems from preparation. Coaches need to take time to craft and write out practice plans to make sure each activity has an outcome and each activity serves to enhance the performance capabilities of each player.
3. Communicate Expectations Clearly: Coaches need to spend time embedding the norms of the team into practices and games. Expectations need to be set early and continually expressed/reinforced throughout the season. If players know what the coaches are looking for in terms of effort, chances are they will respond accordingly. If players do not know what coaches value, then how can they truly be able to meet those expectations?
4. Keep Instruction Clear and Concise: Some coaches have a tendency to continuously stop play and have players sit and listen to their instruction. Coaches who can teach as play is happening or can stop, explain, and let the players learn from that point of instruction create dynamic learning sessions. Soccer is not a game of stops and starts. Soccer is a game of constant movement and play. Our soccer practices should be active, movement-oriented and mirror the flow of the actual game.
5. Be Encouraging: Our job as coaches is to create a passion so we can unlock our players’ talents. Mistakes are part of the game. Coaches must recognize that players can only get better if they feel safe to make mistakes in the games and at practices. As coaches we should value having players take on challenges and we should support players who get right back into the play after a mistake.
We would be out of our jobs if players were perfect. They are not, and that is where the teachable moments happen. As coaches we just need to catch those moments and find ways to utilize every chance to help players improve their talents.
Every time a player steps on the field, they are learning. Coaches need to find simple ways to measure the performance goals of their players. At the end of the season what really will matter are the ways we as coaches made a positive impact on developing each player and the team as a whole.
Related Articles: Mental Toughness in Youth Soccer: Preparing our Players Better, Dr. Gentile on the Parents' Role in Player Development, Learning Valuable Lessons in Soccer from Other Sports, Preparation for Youth Soccer Tryouts and Dr. Dina Gentile's Column
SoccerNation News is proud to welcome Dr. Dina Gentile as our highly valued 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 theoretical 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. Gentile has been in the role of Pre K and K soccer coordinator and player development director in Beverly, MA. 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 proud coach of her daughter’s 2nd Grade team in the Wilmington Youth Soccer Association and son’s Pre-K Team in the Reading United Soccer Association. Gentile recently joined Benfica USA as a Technical Advisor and Clinician.
Check out Dr. Dina Gentile's practice plan ideas