Welcome to SoccerThought to Mr. Justin Neese! Justin played competitive soccer throughout his youth and played four years of college soccer at an NCAA Division III institution, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2003 and a master’s degree in 2005. Since then, he has been coaching as a full-time profession on the collegiate and youth levels (3 years as a head coach at two different DIII institutions, and 3 years as a DIII assistant at two different institutions). He holds an “A” license from US Soccer in 2008, a Premier Diploma from the NSCAA in 2007, and a National Youth License from US Youth Soccer in 2003. He has been an age group coach within the North Texas Olympic Development Program, a member of the North Texas Coaching Education Staff, and a member of the State teaching staff for the NSCAA. He currently is the Assistant Manager of Soccer Programs for our hometown Houston Dynamo.
“No one looks in awe at the gaping hole that is dug, or the concrete laid for a building’s foundations, but in order for a beautiful and majestic building to rise, the solid, but unseen, foundation is necessary. If the game on the highest levels demands free-flowing and spontaneous decisions by the players, the question is what foundations are you laying?”
Gary R. Allen, US Youth Soccer National Staff
I was doing some reading today to prepare myself for some of the coaching courses that I am going to help instruct this summer, and I came upon this paper thanks to the USYSA’sCoaches Connection, which is a great regular email and archive of coaching materials for USYSA members.
Here, Allen discusses how important it is that we, as youth coaches, develop a well-founded and thought through coaching philosophy to inform and direct us in our coaching and stewardship of American youth soccer. For Allen, a coaching philosophy is “the driving force that guide us as coaches and players, and ultimately manifest [itself] in our continued love for the game” (page 2), and he points to the current culture and climate in American youth soccer (a culture that exalts immediate “success” as necessary and desirable, that under trains and over competes its athletes, that holds to a “more earlier is better” worldview) as evidence to suggest that most youth coaches have not done a very good job of developing a coaching philosophy that is based on “underlying values or the ‘driving forces’ that will really help each of [our] player’s development as athletes” (page 4) and as people. This is a stunning point and I think that it absolutely rings true to my observations and experiences at almost any level of coaching that I have been involved in, and it certainly agrees with most of what I have seen with regard to coaching younger players.
However, I think that one could poll a randomly selected group of coaches at a local recreational or competitive soccer event and ask them questions about their values in coaching (about whether they would win today or develop players, about whether they would prefer to teach “soccer” or a “kick and chase” game, about whether they value teaching and modeling the ethics of the game, etc.), and you would probably get the “right” answer more often than not; I really don’t think that too many right minded people would openly and legitimately say that they subscribe to any of the above negatives. In on sense, then, programs like coaching clinics, messages from USYSA, US Soccer, and other like minded groups, etc. have done a good job of changing the coaching conversation at the youth level. But, as Allen points out, though many of these people might be talking the talk, their actions demonstrate that they are not walking the walk. This means one of two things: That coaches are willful deceiving the people asking the questions and they are coaching for their own selfish ends; or that we, as a soccer nation, have not done a good enough job of educating ourselves and our coaches as to why it is that they should be making certain choices as a coach and as a leader, why they should be focusing their time, energies and attention on developing the building blocks of later success instead of on “winning the league” or “keeping their bye,” whythey should be more obsessed with what ought to be rather than what is; we have not done a good job of providing our coaches with the “driving forces” behind the “right” decisions, with the education, the information, and the structure to make informed decisions as to how they ought to be conducting themselves as coaches and as guardians of the game. In my opinion, the fault for this lies with some of the more rigid outlooks on coaching education that I am sure that some of us have experienced, with those of us who are fortunate enough to occupy something like “leadership positions” in our own soccer communities, and with those of us who care about the evolution of our game: It is our task to ensure that the people who are coaching and impacting youth around us have the background information, education, structure, experience, and resources to allow them to make informed decisions as to their coaching practices with our most fragile of players.
When we take on this task, we must be careful not to believe that education is built on dogma and on orthodoxy, as Paul Gardner points out in this article. Rather, we must remember that (coaching) education is about sharing “best practices” with coaches, both novice and experienced, so that the cumulative experience of those who have spent time learning and studying in the game, those with experience and results, as well as solid educational, physical, and psychological science can have an effect on the game at every level in our country; it is about the dissemination of information, of science, of experience, and of ideas and a coaching or teaching culture to a national or international audience. Of course, there are always going to be some absolutes in coaching education (such as the proposition that playing small sided games at the youngest age groups provides our youngest players tremendous technical, tactical, emotional, and physical benefits that serve them well throughout their athletic careers), but coaching education should always be about making the information and practices that our coaches have and utilize better so that we can make the game better; it is not about positions, dogma, or ideologies. Education is meant to free one’s mind, to ignite a passion rather than to extinguish it, to enliven a debate rather than to silence it, to welcome mentalities that question accepted truths in search of real truth rather than to exclude them. Education is meant to make us better (as coaches, as players, as athletes, as people) because it take us on a journey away from servitude and toward freedom, a journey away from the staus quo and towards the ideal; education helps to make us who we were always called to be.
As Allen says, a well founded “coaching philosophy will determine whether you are willing to spend the time required, and whether you will be patient enough, to provide a decision-making environment for players, to will allow them to gain the experience needed to overcome the unpredictable” (page 5), but it is our job, as soccer leaders, to make sure the our coaches have the requisite resources, experience, structure, and values upon which they can build their coaching philosophies; it is our job to make sure that their foundations are strong and sturdy so that the future of our game can be vibrant and enthralling.