Lessons from National D Course

US Youth SoccerI recently finished the National D Course.  As the instructors noted, the course material has changed in recent years.  Each license is progressively more difficult to obtain than in the past.  I received my “E” license in 2008 so I was unfamiliar with the “E” buildup to this course.  Several of the members of the class were recent graduates of the new “E” license and there seemed to be some transition.  Last spring, I completed the National Youth License.  In all, I have enjoyed each course and find that the participants are, generally speaking, engaging and interested in improvement.  Also, it is nice to be in courses with people as tilted on soccer as I am.  So, to the D…

The D course description says “The course combines field and classroom instruction relevant for coaches working with 13 and older players. This is the most comprehensive course offered and is preparatory for national licensing.”  Having completed the National Youth License in the last 12 months, there was a sharp difference in the material and focus of the two courses.  The National D is focused on 11 a side soccer.  Everything that is being done is, the sessions that are requested, represent a tighter blend of tactical with technical work.  To me, the NYL focused more on the technical (even though there needs to be some practical applications even then).  In any event, as a trainer, the D emphasizes an important principle:  your session plan should lead up to expanded small-sided game that “looks like soccer.”  Whatever portion of the game your are emphasizing needs to be done in a manner that, in the end, looks like a soccer match (7v7 on a shortened field or whatever you have).  This is a valuable nugget I walked away from the class with.  (It is also true for U10 sessions, it just seems to me that in the older kid sessions, the blend between technical and tactical is different — truth be told, that blend, in my opinion, should not necessarily be based on age but on the ability (mental and physical) of the players in your session).

For example, if you are working on zonal defending, your expanded small-sided activity should be numbers up for the defenders — and your defensive line should look like how it is played.  If it is 4 in the back, it should be 4 in the back in the expanded small-sided game.  If you are working on overlapping runs, you should structure your expanded small-sided game where there are opportunities to run from a position that looks like your left or right back.  The best way I saw this in the course was through the instructor-lead sessions, as well as the sessions of some of the participants.  If you are working on building up from the back, your expanded small-sided game should have all the parts you would use to build up in a match (keeper, back 4, midfield, etc.) I absolutely loved being a part of the instructor led sessions (high quality) as well as a bunch of 12 minute sessions with the participants.  There is so much to learn from other people in this game.

The course continues the concept of “guided discovery” as a teaching device.  This is a focus in all the courses and is a wonderful teaching tool.  Rather than micro-manage our teams, we need to guide them with questions and allow them to solve problems.  For example, if your fullback is having a hard time seeing when to overlap, you might ask the player: “Given the pressure on the outside mid, where can you go to alleviate the pressure on the outside mid? (easier question) or “….., what can you do to alleviate pressure on the outside mid?”  Or, even easier, “can you see how you can improve numbers on offense in the wide channel to assist the winger in attacking?”  There are lots of ways to ask, the main idea is to do it in the flow of the session and at a level that your players can understand.    If you have to freeze the session, be quick, ask the question or demo the point, and get out.  Knowing how to ask the right question requires preparation.  Trainers and coaches should take time to prepare questions as they do small-sided games.

The D has very little classroom work.  That is good and bad for participants.  For participants enjoying practical experience, it is a wonderful course.  And tiring.  Participants will have opportunities to be involved in all the practical sessions.  I find that it is best to volunteer as much as possible — it is a good way to understand the concepts and ideas that instructors are using in their sessions as well as the other participants.  While there will be some extremely talented players in your courses, do not be intimidated.  Participate.  I have found that the players fresh from college or professional soccer still enjoy the game and playing it during the course.  And, I have yet to see a “great” player-participant in the course be anything other than encouraging to coaches who aren’t at their level.  Plus, you get to play soccer! (And, if you are like me, I have been running sessions since 2006, it is nice to be a participant of the session rather than the coach!)   There is real value in being a “player” to understand what a session looks like from a player’s perspective — is it too confusing, too hard to succeed, too easy???  No better way to answer those questions than being in the sessions!

The D is a wonderful course for anyone interested in coaching soccer.  The course material is great, the practical components of the session are wonderful, and the opportunity to meet other great people in soccer, learn from them, share ideas, is priceless!