This comment was left to my post on Can a Parent-Coach be a Professional Coach. I received a lot of email regarding that post – Sam Snow, our U.S. Director of Coaches, distributed it to all 55 State Association Technical Directors. But this particular comment was left by a parent who I have great respect for and who has navigated the elite youth soccer world. I think her comment is great and enlightening to any parent who has a soccer player and are worried about their development. It was just too good to bury as a comment to a post — here goes:
Love the post. I read it just before going on a trip with my daughter to visit a soccer school, so it was the perfect time to reflect on her experiences and how it relates to your post. The college coach sat down and told us why he was recruiting her. “She has courage on the ball…she plays creatively…she wants to control and possess, which is our style….” This school we were visiting is ranked in the top 10 in the country, and I couldn’t help but pause and think of how she developed these skills that got them to notice her. She has only played at the ECNL level for two years. For the rest of her career, she was “parent coached”. She was given the creativity to “make something happen”. She was challenged to take a player on. She was never afraid to make mistakes. She was taught a concept called “magic” where you could give the ball away…run to space, and it would magically come right back. (That is now a style that defines her.) She learned soccer in an environment that was rewarding in every way…which includes socially and psychologically. It was the right amount of focus on winning/developing. It had the social elements the right environment (sometimes low pressure…sometimes more pressure) that must exist in order to avoid player burnout by the time they get to high school. Her parent coaches had an almost obsessive desire to learn more about “the beautiful game.” The coaching never got stale. There was always something else to master…a new skill or formation or style to learn and try out. It was always exciting to her…always like playtime.
In my opinion, “professional” is a term that indicates ability/effectiveness as a coach. I think listening and paying attention and then knowing what to do with the information is the first step. (I listen and pay attention, but I don’t know what to do with that information. I look at skill and technique, but I don’t pay attention to the game as a whole as well as a professional coach. My brain doesn’t work that way.) My oldest daughter’s piano teacher couldn’t play that well…so he said. I don’t know. I never heard him play. But he would listen with his eyes closed, and then stop my daughter and correct her again and again…the same measure over and over. Until it was perfect. He was a genius at listening and paying attention to the details. At times, he wanted my daughter to hear the piece played, so he would bring in his wife to play it because he couldn’t…then he’d go back to teaching. He was a brilliant teacher because he paid attention to every single detail and then knew exactly what to do with that information.
Enthusiasm and ability to motivate the young kids, especially when the newness is over and it is hot and you might be losing…or when a player isn’t as good as they want to be (or think they are) …that’s tough. A professional coach can do that. They can keep the kids engaged and willing to work day after day. They can keep the intensity up in practices. They teach the kid to “compete”…an invaluable trait in a soccer player. It is easy to do that the first season…but what about the 10th…or longer. It is a long journey—a marathon. You have to know when to sprint and when to jog, and even when to rest… When to push and when to back off. It is a skill that requires an ability to understand people—kids in particularly. You have to push them hard, but still delicately at the same time. You have to be able to get them to listen to you…to want to make you proud of them. They have to think, “I can’t let my coach down.”
Humility and hunger to learn: A great coach has to be confident but also have a desire to learn from the experts. When they feel that their player/team needs more, they need to bring in the help. Both of my daughter’s “parent coaches” were continually seeking out the experts to run special sessions. There were so many. They were like master classes. A “professional” coach will soak up new information and then get excited about passing it on to the player. They will learn new drills and teaching methods that allow for maximum player development. They are not intimidated by those who know more and who are better. They are in fact drawn to them.
Not every parent can be a professional coach. I can’t. I have the enthusiasm and love for the game. I could watch it all day every day. I can identify talent and appreciate a great play. But I’m not a coach. I have one or two of the necessary elements (such as a love for the game), but not enough of them. You have to have a coaches mind. You have to see the game in a way that is at a different speed/level than others. Coaching is a talent that combines a certain combination of several skills, and when someone has it, you know it. You can see it immediately.
As we drove home from the college visit, we asked our daughter what she liked about the different schools. Her answer is not surprising. It’s all about the coach. She wants to play for an amazing soccer coach who inspires her and motivates her and is obsessive about helping her get better. That…and blue bell ice cream. One of the schools had a cafeteria with a huge freezer full of blue bell, right around the corner from the room she’d be staying in. That was impressive too.