This is the final piece in a Three-Part Series from Sebastian Giraldo, PhD, regarding the role of the soccer trainer as a teacher. You can access the prior posts on the home page if you cannot find them. There is also a search feature. Many thanks to Sebastian.
The Trainer as an Actual Human Being
To this point, we have covered some basics on the important role of the teacher in student learning. Let us now move to understanding the teacher as a person. What characteristics do good teachers possess? Do trainers need different skills to succeed? You will quickly realize that research findings in regard to the characteristics of a successful teacher largely overlap with common characteristics possessed by a successful trainer.
1. Effective teachers care and show that they care. Caring can take on many vehicles but the important part is that the caring is acknowledged by the student. Research shows that students believe successful teachers to demonstrate gentleness, understanding, knowledge of the students as individuals, nurturing, warmth, encouragement, and overall love of children (I cannot claim the last one <—-don’t worry, this is a joke). This leads to several implications for youth soccer training. Our players want us to connect with them beyond the soccer level. They want to be treated as individuals, listened to, and understood. Players want teachers who give them focused and sympathetic listening. If you understand your players through their problems and try to help them, they will value you as a teacher. I will use my dad as a perfect example here. Despite being 59 years old, he connects with younger players better than anyone on our GEF staff. This provides a glimpse into his personality .
Parents often tell us that he has a gift and some kind of magic in the way he handles kids. I don’t doubt that he is gifted, but I have also witnessed the effort and relentless work he has put into becoming a great teacher. He always tries to understand his players and students as individual people. He goes well beyond what is expected of a teacher to connect and gain the trust and understanding of his pupils. The lesson is that while he might have an aptitude for teaching, he is a person that has put work into his craft and understands that caring is an essential component of being an effective teacher.
2. An environment of fairness and respect is vital for learning. Effective teachers establish rapport and credibility by emphasizing, demonstrating, and practicing fairness and respect. When people attend GEF sessions for the first time, one of the first observations always has to do with the respect, discipline, and friendliness of the training environment. Be fair and respect your players and they will begin to open up (remember more effective teachers know their students on a more personal level) and will begin to buy in to the message of the training program. We often want to give instructions for every little detail of training, but in reality, as research demonstrates, the more we empower our youth the more committed they will be to their learning and the program itself. Treating players fairly and with respect will go a long way in accomplishing training goals.
3. A teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is an important part of effective teaching. Bottom line is that students view effective teachers as motivational leaders. Effective teachers know how to target individual student needs and be flexible in their teaching. This is a significant concern in soccer training as we have trainers that often develop a certain style and then stay committed to that style for decades. Effective teachers are flexible in their teaching and learn how to motivate players as individuals. High levels of motivation and enthusiasm in a teacher has been positively related to high levels of student achievement.
4. A teacher’s attitude toward their profession makes a large impact on learning. Effective teachers are not only committed to student learning but also to personal learning. This goes back to the commitment addressed earlier in regards to personal professional development. Effective teachers are constantly learning so that they can better know their subject and themselves in order to target students successfully. Teachers must be positive about their profession and their students. Every student can learn. Every player can learn and become a better soccer player.
5. The most effective teachers are constantly reflecting on their craft. We need to accept as trainers that we are involved in a profession that requires endless learning. This should be exciting for trainers and not daunting. We should constantly be searching to refine our craft and examine ourselves. The best trainers are often concerned about the art and science of training, improving lessons, how to better target player learning, and are willing to try new approaches (it is ok to fail). One of the best pieces of advice I have received in my professional experiences is the idea that my learning should never stop. Even from less experienced trainers or unlikely sources, try to learn something.
This discussion on successful and effective teaching has myriad implications for youth soccer training. One of my biggest concerns is that we continue to try to improve our soccer development programs without addressing one of the major problems. The majority of trainers are not trained to teach. Some of the research presented here can be easily applied to current soccer programs at little cost. If we shift from the perspective that soccer trainers are there to train kids in soccer and start viewing trainers more as educators, we are moving in the right direction. We always tell our GEF trainers “an average person could be extraordinary at this.”