Creating a coaching philosophy is fairly simple. Living up to it all season long is the tricky part. What's a coaching philosophy? Basically, it reflects the standards you set for yourself and your team, and it's the foundation of your coaching values and beliefs.
Entering the season without a coaching philosophy is like driving across the country without a road map. Sure, you eventually arrive at your destination, but not without wasting a lot of time and energy with wrong turns and dealing with unnecessary problems and aggravation along the way. A thoughtful coaching philosophy keeps you on the right track as you negotiate your way through the season.
Even with a carefully planned philosophy firmly in place, adhering to it at all times can be difficult. Challenges show themselves when Billy's mom confronts you halfway through the season about why the team isn't winning more games or when Jennifer's dad questions why the lesser-skilled kids are receiving as much playing time as the team's best players. (Explaining your coaching philosophy to the parents before the season gets under way helps you steer clear of many of these potential headaches.)
Your coaching philosophy speaks volumes about you — not only as a coach, but also as a person. Take the time to put some real thought into it; you'll be glad you did. Lead your players in the direction you know is right. Strive to instill in them the values that you want your own kids to exhibit throughout their lives. Accomplish this goal, and regardless of how many games you win this season, you and your team will be winners in the truest sense.
Tailoring your philosophy to your age group
Although each child has his own unique strengths and weaknesses, all youngsters possess general characteristics that are dictated by age. Children are continually changing, and part of your responsibility as a coach is to know what to expect both physically and emotionally from youngsters at various age levels.
Being fully aware of the general age-related differences we cover in the following pages enhances your coaching skills and your ability to relate to your team. It also ensures that you don't favor the players on your squad who are more mature and skilled at the expense of players who are less skilled and developed.
No matter what the age or skill level of your players, always be supportive and enthusiastic. Pile on the praise, and never stop encouraging them. This approach builds their confidence and self-esteem, and whether they're 6 or 16, you give a gift that will last for years to come.
Ages 6 and under
Children in the 6-and-under age bracket have probably never played soccer before, and this season may be their first experience in an organized team setting. Your job is to introduce them to some of soccer's most basic elements and whet their appetite for future participation. Children at this age generally aren't concerned about how their soccer skills compare with those of the others on their team; they're primarily interested in being with friends and having fun learning and playing the sport. Competition is usually the furthest thing from their mind, which is why most beginner soccer leagues don't keep game scores or standings for this age group.
Ages 7 to 9
Youngsters in the 7-to-9 age bracket start focusing on mastering some of the basics of the sport. They crave feedback from coaches and parents on how they're performing certain skills and how they're progressing with new ones. They begin noticing their teammates' abilities and skill levels. When coaches verbally recognize one of their peers for properly executing a skill, the kids want to earn that same feedback. The desire to compete carries much more prominence for some youngsters in this age range than others. Children who have older siblings may be particularly competitive because they've watched their brothers and sisters compete in soccer or other sports, and now it's finally their turn to display their skills.
Ages 10 to 12
More than likely, children ages 10 to 12 have had some experience playing soccer in the past and are continuing with it because the sport has piqued their interest. Keep the positive momentum going by adding to their foundation of skills. Fuel their desire to continue playing by conducting practices that are both challenging and fun.
Quite often, sports take on added importance at this juncture in their life, and they really want to do well. As children hit this age range, many become more competitive, and winning and losing take on more importance in their lives. They begin embracing the challenge of putting their skills to the test and trying to outperform other kids their age. When they help the team prevail, they feel immense satisfaction accompanied by a unique feeling of accomplishment that can be attained only through the wonderful world of playing youth soccer.
Ages 13 and 14
Welcome to the challenging world of the teenager! Kids ages 13 and 14 have already developed many of the basic skills needed to play the sport, and now they want to improve on them. Children at this age are typically searching for their own personal identities as well, so try getting to know them on a personal level by learning who their favorite soccer players or their favorite soccer teams are. Of course, this tip is great for building special coach-player bonds with kids of all ages.
Ages 15 and above
Gaining the respect of your players is always important to your coaching success, and that's particularly true for kids ages 15 and older. These teens have developed a real passion for the sport. They attend soccer camps, perhaps play in leagues year-round, and, in some cases, may actually be more knowledgeable in some areas of the sport than you are.
If you volunteer or get recruited to coach this age group, don't be scared! You don't need to panic. Instead, welcome the chance to enhance your coaching abilities, and embrace the opportunity to coach kids who have a deep-rooted love for the game. Be sure to let them know that you value their opinions, suggestions, and input regarding the team. A youngster's passion for soccer is wonderful, and it actually helps make your job easier.